3 articles:
Protest in Oakland on Genetically Altered Food Debate over safety grows lively at FDA hearing
FDA holds Oakland hearing to discuss genetic labeling
3) OCA Spearheads Largest Anti-Biotech Demonstration in USA Thus Far at Oakland FDA Hearings
F.D.A. Hearing Draws 2 Sides of Altered Food Issue

New York Times

OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the Food and Drug Administration held
the last of its three public hearings on bio-engineered food
on Monday, hundreds of protesters staged what organizers
said was the largest rally ever in the United States against
the use of genetic engineering in food.

But in a sign that scientists might more actively defend
biotechnology, about 30 professors and graduate students
from the University of California campuses in Berkeley and
Davis held their own demonstration.

Many of these demonstrators were from Berkeley's department
of plant and microbial biology, which last year entered into
an arrangement to receive $25 million in research funds from
Novartis, the huge Swiss drug and agriculture company.

The protests, which coexisted peacefully outside the federal
building here, reflect increasing public concern about
genetically altered crops, which have swept largely
unnoticed into American agriculture over the
last decade. Because of that concern, the F.D.A. held
hearings in Chicago and Washington last month to inform the public about
its rules on biotech foods and seek comment on whether they need to be

The Novartis contribution, which represents 30 percent of
the department's research funds, has caused
dissension both on campus and off.

"The circumstances in which it is being set up give just too
much space for suspicion that it is tainted by the contribution of
Novartis," said Ignacio Chapela, an assistant professor of microbial ecology
who had opposed the deal, saying it would undermine the university's
academic integrity.

But Wilhelm Gruissem, a professor of plant and microbial
biology who is chairman of the committee overseeing the university research
financed by Novartis, said that scientists retain academic freedom under
the contract with the company.

Dr. Gruissem, who was the main organizer of today's
pro-biotech demonstration, said the biotech supporters had
come of their own accord out of their concern that the public was not being informed
about the benefits of biotechnology.

"We are public sector scientists no matter where the funding
comes from, and we are free to say whatever we want," said Dr. Gruissem.

Charles Margulis of Greenpeace said it was the largest
protest in this country against bio-engineered food, not counting those at
the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, which involved other

Protest in Oakland on Genetically Altered Food Debate over
safety grows lively at FDA hearing

Tom Abate, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials heard sharply
divergent views about the safety of genetically engineered
foods during a daylong public hearing in Oakland yesterday.

Biotechnology industry advocates and many academic
scientists argued that gene- splicing techniques give
farmers a powerful tool to grow more and better crops. But
opponents raised fears that the technique might create
mutant foods capable of causing allergies in humans, or
harming beneficial insects and plants.

Oakland was actually host to two -- very different -- public
debates on the issue. In a plush auditorium, behind the
metal detectors at the
Federal Building, two dozen invited experts on all sides of
the issue spent several hours politely agreeing to disagree.

Meanwhile, in the plaza, several hundred protesters carrying
butterfly posters and munching organic salads chanted,
``Hey, hey, ho, ho, Frankenfoods have got to go.''

Yesterday's event was the last of three public hearings the
FDA has held nationwide about whether it needs to institute
stricter safety tests and
mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.

Since the first genetically modified foods went on the
market in the early 1990s, more than 43 different altered
plant varieties have been approved for sale, ranging from 12
types of corn to one gene-spliced radicchio. About half of
the U.S. soybean crop and a third of the corn crop are
genetically modified.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Sharon Smith Holston, who presided
over the hearing, did not say what, if any, action her
agency might take.

But with one congressional bill already pending to require
mandatory labeling and European countries refusing to import
genetically modified products, activists think the tide is
turning their way.

``We don't see how the FDA can just do nothing,'' said
Marnie Glickman, political director of Organic Consumers
Association in Washington, D.C., one of the organizers of
yesterday's rally.

Inside the auditorium, the crux of the expert debate was
whether genetic engineering is simply an extension of
traditional plant breeding practices, or whether DNA
splicing represents a radically new technique that demanded
more safety studies than foods grown the old-fashioned way.

University of California at Davis Professor Calvin Qualset,
a seed expert, argued the view of the scientific majority
that bioengineering is faster, and at least as safe, as
traditional plant-breeding techniques, in which similar
crops are mated in hopes of transferring traits, like
disease resistance, from one plant to another.

Qualset said genetic engineering allows plant breeders to
splice a specific gene into the target plant with greater
precision than hit-or-miss pollen transfer.

``If the risk is very low and the benefit is very high, I
say go for it,'' Qualset said.

But Philip Regal, an ecology professor at the University of
Minnesota, argued that genetic engineering is a radical
technique, demanding
additional safety tests, because it allows scientists to
splice genes from bacteria, fish or other organisms into
plants -- something that could never have been done by
pollen transfer.

``I talked one company out of splicing spider venom into
corn,'' said Regal, adding that the novelty of genetic
techniques makes them prone to
``unexpected surprises'' that might cause new allergies in
humans or mutations in wild plants, if pollen from altered
crops jumps over to weeds.

In addition to arguments about safety testing, speakers
sparred over whether the FDA should require labeling of
genetically modified foods.

Susan Hefle, an allergy expert at University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, said there is no evidence that genetically
modified foods have caused any spike in allergies.

But John Fagan, chief scientist at an Iowa company, Genetic
ID, that tests foods for genetic alterations, said that
without labels, doctors could not know whether a person who
had never been allergic to corn, for instance, might have
developed a reaction to a genetically modified variety.

Fagan said companies such as his routinely test U.S. exports
before they are shipped to nations that demand labeling.
``The American food industry is already doing it for Europe
and Japan, they're just not doing it for U.S. consumers,''
he said.

But Paul Betancourt, a cotton farmer from the Central
Valley, said he came to the hearing to argue against such

``Perception becomes reality,'' Betancourt said. ``Mandatory
labeling would be an automatic question mark thrown up over
legitimate products''
by implying they were somehow more risky than other foods.

Betancourt was among some 90 speakers who registered in
advance to testify during the public comment period. FDA
officials, who said they
sorted the requests to ensure a balance of views, gave each
speaker two minutes at the microphone.

Washington, D.C., attorney William MacLeod, who spoke on
behalf of a group called Alliance for Better Foods, which is
financed by farmers and
major food companies like Kraft, said the FDA and other
federal agencies have conducted tests on genetically
engineered food and have deemed it

``We have been changing food since the Pilgrims,'' MacLeod
said. ``No one would recognize an ear of corn that the
Pilgrims had 300 years ago. The difference today is that
it's more precise and more regulated than ever before.''

Matt Metz, a graduate student in plant biology at the
University of California at Berkeley, used his two minutes
to urge the FDA to reform, not reject, genetic engineering.

``We see labeling as one way for industry to show its
confidence that these products are safe,'' said Metz.

Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee contributed to this

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

FDA holds Oakland hearing to discuss genetic labeling

By William Brand
Oakland Tribune STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND Should a tomato that has had a gene in serted into
its genetic
code to provide an unusually long shelf life be labelled for
what it is - a genetically manipulated organism?

In a day of sometimes pas sionate debate, the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration held a public hearing Monday in Oak land
to gather
information about the issue and determine whether genetic
labelling is nec essary.

Hundreds of protesters rallied peacefully outside. The FDA
has no genetic label ling requirement, yet more than 40 food
products derived
from genetically altered plants now reach consumers. The FDA
esti mates a substantial portion of U.S. cropland is now
planted with seeds produced through genetic technology,
including most soybeans, much of the na tion's corn and, of
course — to matoes.

The debate is much hotter in Europe, where legislators have
proposed banning American produced, gene-altered food
products. The FDA's present position is that these foods are
safe and there is no scientific evidence to the contrary.

Monday's session was the last of three FDA hearings held
across the country as the discussion grows more intense
— with many scientists and food industry
representatives stating that experience shows the prod ucts
are safe and opposing labelling. They are part of the
emerging field of plant genetics that is changing the face
of American agriculture — begin ning with the "Flavr
Savr" to mato in the early 1990s.

On the other side, organic farmers, environmental activists
and some scientists urged label ling, and the most
passionate among them called genetically altered foods
"frankenfoods" — a reference to the fictional
Frankenstein character created in a laboratory.

Some speakers also said that genetic research is funded by
large corporations that care little about the fate of the
con sumer.

"That's nonsense," one scien tist snapped. "We're talking
about food. No one wants to hurt people. If these products
weren't safe they wouldn't be on the market."

But speakers on both sides of the issue said there is a
pressing need to provide the public with accurate informa
tion about genetic advances.

The day was punctuated by a noontime rally of about 500 genetic
manipulation opponents-- who served organic
salad and heard state Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles,
promise to try to get the Legislature to pass a bill
requiring genetic labelling.

Hayden urged the crowd to "stop the unexamined rush to a new
genetic world order." Rally organizers said it was the
largest genetic food protest ever held in the United States.

FDA officials listened to in vited panelists on both sides
of the issue, then heard from nearly 90 members of the
public who had to wait seven hours for a chance to speak.
Speakers came from a variety of groups, including the Sierra
Club; Food First, an Oakland-based group; and scientific organizations.

"Plant genetics are a continuum," said panelist Calvin
Qualset, director of the genetic resources program at the
Uni versity of California, Davis. "Food plants were
developed from wild species, resulting in dramatic genetic

Inserting genes in the labora tory is safe and carefully
tested and watched, Qualset said.

But Philip Regal, professor of ecology at the University of
Min nesota College of Biological Sciences, said he sees a
tendency of scientists in the field to mini mize potential
problems. He noted that an attempt to make wheat
non-allergenic by in serting a bacteria turned the wheat
into slime. And an illfated attempt to take a gene from a
Brazil nut and insert it into corn made it very aller genic.

"We need testing. We need more investigation," he said.
Regal added that pollen in genetically manipulated corn has
proven 20 times more potent than ordinary corn.

A Hudson, Wis., organic food company found that out the hard
way. Company vice presi dent Melodi Nelson said a German
laboratory found traces of genetically manipulated corn
organisms in the firm's Apache Organic Tortilla Chips. So,
Europe rejected 87,000 bags--the tiny company's
entire output, valued at $500,000.

"The company found genetic pollen came from a field near the
organic corn field and pro duced corn with genetic traces,"
she said. The company has joined a Greenpeace lawsuit
seeking labelling where geneti cally manipulated corn is

But another scientist, Kent Bradford, director of the UC
Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, suggested that such
findings use previously unavail able DNA testing. Perhaps
the test finds traces that were al ways there, he said.

The vast majority of toma toes, for instance, have genes
from another species, Bradford said.

"I've been engaged in genetic engineering research since the
1970s," said Peggy Lemaux, a UC Berkeley cooperative extension
specialist, who spoke during the public comment period.

"I grew up on a farm. I'm a consumer and a mother," Le maux
said. "Should these prod ucts be labelled? I say no. There's
no such thing as zero risk, but these products are no more
dangerous than ordinary food produced by ordinary plant

"Labelling a fresh fruit or veg etable might be simple," Le
maux said. "But with processed food, it's difficult. Ketchup
might have six different varieties of tomato, each with its
own set of genes. How would that be la belled?"

Police anticipated up to 5,000 protesters would attend the
noon-time rally outside the Fed eral Building at 1300 Clay
St. But fewer than 500 showed up.

During the peaceful protest, many carried signs saying "Get
Your Pig Gene Out of My Tomato," or "Save our rice from the

A protester dressed as a ge netically mutated Tony The Tiger
addressed the crowd, put ting a new twist on the cereal's
famous "They're Grrrreat" slogan.

"They'rrrrrrre FAKE!" he yelled.

STAFF WRITER Ben Charny contributed to this report.