Uproar over Cancer Causing
Genes Spliced into Crops


For Immediate Release, 11/25/02


US Biotech industry out of control

Brussels, November 25th, 2002 -- Friends of the Earth today expressed
"shock and anger" at yesterday's report in United Kingdom (UK)
newspaper The Observer that Morphotek, a US-based biotechnology company,
were planning to use the genes that cause colonic cancer in humans to
generate new crops varieties by speeding up the evolutionary process.
The new technique is called morphogenics.

Morphotek is based in Pennsylvania. It is currently trying to persuade
transnational biotech companies, such as Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta,
to adopt the new technique they have developed following research at
John Hopkins University, Baltimore. "It is staggering that this
technology which raises huge ethical and safety issues has progressed so
far in the US without being challenged by the regulators and been
subject to a full public debate. For many people in Europe, the use of
human cancer genes in producing crop plants will be a step too far, "
said Geert Ritsema, GMO Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth

Genes that trigger colonic cancer in humans were isolated by the team
which set up Morphotek. The genes create a chain of mutations in all
plants, mammals and micro organisms which can produce thousands of
mutated offspring which are then screened for useful characteristics.
In plants the selected offspring are then breed to produce new crop
varieties with a range of character, such as drought and pest
resistance, that Morphotek claim would be impossible using conventional
breeding in the same time scale. The technology has been likened by
some commentators to speeding up evolution with a "rocket powered

Morphotek uses Genetic Modification (GM) techniques to get the cancer
genes into crops and claims that they can be bred out before the mutated
varieties are put on the market. US patents have been granted to
scientists on the Morphotek board and more have been applied for.

"The US Administration seems to accept any GM development without
question so the EU has a vital role in ensuring that GM technology is
controlled and rejected if unethical or high risk. Morphotek is
already touting morphogenics to the big biotech companies in Europe.
Friends of the Earth trust that the European Commission and the European
Parliament will be very critical of this new GM technology. We urge the
EU to organise a public debate on morphogenetics and scrutinize this new
gene technology very carefully. Only after consultation of the public
and thorough scientific research a decision can be taken whether to
allow morphogenetics in the EU or not ", added Geert Ritsema.

For more information contact Friends of the Earth in Brussels:

Geert Ritsema, GMO Campaign Coordinator
Phone: +32-2-542 0182
Mobile: + 31-6 -290 05 908

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