Today in AgBioView: July 7, 2003:
* Food-derived illnesses
* Experience of starvation sheds different light on GM debate
* UN food body calls for strict new rules on GM crops
* Ministers set to give GM food all-clear
* EU should adopt use of GMOs
* CSIRO scientist warns against over regulating GM foods
* Vatican Looking Closer at Genetically Modified Organisms
* Grower Associations Say EU Labeling Laws Are Too Costly
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 07:43:56 +0000
From: "Professor Vivian Moses"
Subject: Food-derived illnesses
In his recent article in the Independent on Sunday, Michael Meacher wrote
"What is known is that coinciding with the introduction of GMOs in food in
the US, food-derived illnesses are believed by the official US Centres for
Disease Control to have doubled over the past seven years. And there are
many reports of a rise in allergies - indeed a 50 per cent increase in
soya allergies has been reported in the UK since imports of GM soya
Does anyone know of relevant sources in support or otherwise of these
Professor V. Moses
Department of Life Sciences,
150 Stamford Street,
London SE1 9NN, UK.
Experience of starvation sheds different light on GM debate
Sydney Morning Herald
By Stephen Cauchi
July 7 2003
Florence Wambugu, who grew up in dirt-poor poverty in Kenya, is a
passionate believer in genetically modified food. In Australia the debate
over GM crops remains academic, but in famine-stricken Africa it is a
matter of life or death.
Dr Wambugu is in Melbourne for the international congress on genetics,
launched last night by the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks. She will be
given a receptive audience in the Nobel laureates and other leading
geneticists at the conference, but it is the public and governments who
In Australia, although trial GM crops have been grown for years,
commercial GM crops are banned (although biotech giants Monsanto and Bayer
are awaiting approval by the federal regulator to grow GM canola).
Similarly, the African nation of Zambia refused a shipment of GM grain
last year. Unlike Australia, but like other African countries, Zambia is
"In the case of Zambia, there was outright lying from the [GM] opponents,"
Dr Wambugu said. "[They said] it was toxic and untested and poisonous."
Dr Wambugu knows about the importance of food. Born in 1953 in Kenya, she
was 10 when her father was dragged off to work on a white settler's farm.
She, her mother and nine siblings scratched a life from the land by eating
sweet potatoes. She attended secondary school, an unfashionable option for
Kenyan women, thanks to her mother selling the family's only cow.
Via the University of Nairobi, she studied in the United States and
Britain and gained a doctorate. She is executive director of the
Kenyan-based A Harvest Biotech Foundation International, dedicated to
using GM crops to boost yields.
Is so-called "Frankenstein food" a concern for health? "Once you go beyond
the lies, it's not," she said. "I would say that the technology is good
and it is solid, and they [Australians] need to support it . . . there is
absolutely no reason to reject the technology. It is going to help
In the US about 39 per cent of crops are GM. But in the developing world
the figure is minuscule. In China and India, for example, the figure is 2
per cent and 0.1 per cent respectively. Part of the reason is that little
GM research is aimed at the crops grown in these countries.
To combat this, Dr Wambugu worked with Kenyan and Monsanto scientists to
develop the country's first GM sweet potato plants. The plants carry the
gene for resistance to feathery mottle virus and are now being tested.
Dr Wambugu says suspicion of multinational GM food giants is another
concern in Africa. She welcomes their involvement.
"The Australian [biotech] companies should donate some of their
technologies for food security in Africa.
"We need some of the technology the Australian companies might have so we
can increase production, so we can stabilise yields, so we can control
disease and be able to make a long-term increase in production." The
University of Virginia's Jay Hirsh is using fruit flies to investigate the
link between genetics and drug addiction. His early work involved cutting
off the fly's head (it survives), then feeding cocaine down the tube left.
Result: the headless fly reacted by going in circles. Problem: he could
not breed from those flies. Solution: feed the flies freebased, or crack
cocaine. Problem: unlike with mice, which can demand more, there was no
way to tell whether the flies wanted more cocaine.
"We can't even tell at this point if the like it," Professor Hirsh said.
Nonetheless, the work has identified genes involved in regulating the
response to the cocaine which could - because fruit fly and human genes
have similarities - lead to ways of countering human drug addiction.
Professor Hirsh's research is part of a public debate - Addiction, is it
genetic? - to be broadcast on ABC Radio National's All in the Mind at 1pm
UN food body calls for strict new rules on GM crops
By Severin Carrell
06 July 2003
A powerful United Nations safety body has warned that the failure to carry
out full health checks on GM foods could lead to toxic reactions,
allergies and increased resistance to antibiotics.
The food standards body, part of the UN's Food and Agriculture
Organisation, has called for strict worldwide safety checks and scientific
studies to stop dangerous GM foods being sold.
Its decision - seen as the legal standard for GM food regulation worldwide
- will increase pressure on ministers and the Food Standards Agency to
introduce tougher, more up-to-date safety checks on new GM crops and
The guidelines - agreed in Rome last week by the FAO's Codex Alimentarius
Commission, which sets food safety rules for the UN - are welcomed by
consumer and health campaigners who say they are a substantial defeat for
the US, which is trying to overturn a temporary European Union ban on the
sale of many GM foods and crops.
Many observers believe the guidelines will weaken US claims that the EU's
moratorium is unjustified, though anti-GM campaigners accept the
guidelines make it more likely that GM foods will soon be widely sold in
Last week, the European Parliament cleared the way for the sale of GM
foods and the lifting of the EU's moratorium by voting for a strict regime
which means any product with more than 0.9 per cent GM ingredients has to
be labelled as GM. Britain's GM crop trials end this summer and commercial
planting is expected within months.
The Codex guidelines state that GM foods should be free of genes from
allergenic plants or foods, such as peanuts or gluten, unless cleared by
They also ban GM foods from using DNA from any antibiotics used by
doctors, or genes which pass on known toxins or cut the nutritional value
The FAO commission also criticised claims that some GM foods can be seen
as safe because they appear to be genetically identical to conventional
Ministers set to give GM food all-clear
THE EVENING STANDARD
By Ben Leapman
4 July 2003
Ministers are set to clear genetically modified food as safe to eat with
no further tests on humans, it emerged today.
If the Government’s food watchdog — known as a strong supporter of GM —
gives the food the all-clear, then ministers will not object or demand any
The decision, set out by Environment Minister Elliot Morley in an
interview with the Evening Standard, dashes hopes among anti-GM
campaigners that the Government could step in to order further
investigation into alleged health risks. The decision removes one of the
two main hurdles standing in the way of GM crops being grown and sold in
The other hurdle is that biotech companies must still convince ministers
that there will be no harm to the environment.
Critics claim the evidence on the health effects of eating GM food is
sketchy. The main watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, has carried out
only one such study, with inconclusive results.
It is not planning any more before the first decisions on whether to
approve contracts to allow biotech companies to begin commercial crop
cultivation are made. These decisions are due in the autumn.
Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe said: “The FSA’s support for GM is well
known. Letting it decide whether this food is safe is like leaving a
hungry fox in charge of a chicken coop.”
Mr Morley said that most of the GM crops currently proposed for commercial
cultivation in Britain are “fairly modest” modifications of traditional
crops, and that all must go through “a pretty thorough process” of
evaluation before they can be approved.
Asked whether he might order more research to reassure the public, even if
the FSA deemed it unnecessary, Mr Morley said: “We would not feel the need
to if the FSA was satisfied. We made a decision some years ago, after the
BSE debacle, that we would separate the food safety functions from the
promotion of the food industry, so that there is absolutely no possibility
“All food safety regulations, advice and monitoring goes through the
The minister’s hands-off approach puts a question mark over the value of
the current “public debate” which is supposed to weigh the strength of
feeling on GM. He added: “There have been studies (on humans). I know that
there are criticisms that they are limited in their nature. Testing GM
foods on people is not an easy issue, there are quite difficult technical
“I personally feel the stronger questions to be answered are more on the
environmental side than on the health side.
“Most of the modifications on the crops which are in question at the
moment are fairly modest in terms of the makeup of the food.”
Mr Morley became the public face of the GM debate when Tony Blair
appointed him to replace the sacked Michael Meacher, now campaigning
against the technology from the backbenches of the Commons.
GM food has been consumed in the US for many years but there has been no
authoritative study of its long-term health impact. Critics claim that
Downing Street is determined to support the biotech companies behind GM.
EU chiefs have dragged their heels over allowing GM technology to come to
Europe. President Bush, a supporter of the technology, claims that it has
the potential to solve many of the problems facing the Third World.
EU should adopt use of GMOs
Pressure from the United States and famine in Africa make GMOs a viable
By Midhat Farooqi
July 07, 2003
On June 23, President George W. Bush gave a speech at the Biotechnology
Industry Organization's annual convention. This year, 17,000
representatives from biotech companies and universities around the globe
were scheduled to attend. In front of this audience, Bush justifiably
criticized, the European Union's stance on genetically modified organisms
-- a stance which may indirectly be contributing to famine in Africa.
"Acting on unfounded, unscientific fears, many European governments have
blocked the import of all new biotech crops," he declared. Bush is right.
Not only is the EU's regulatory policy on GMOs based on "unscientific
fears," it prevents developing countries from accepting biotechnology and,
according to international trade law, is illegal. When these developing
countries refuse to use GM foods, often to guarantee that their exports
will sell to the EU, they do so at the expense of their own citizens'
The president's words reinforce the lawsuit the United States filed last
month with the World Trade Organization against the EU. The court case
says the EU freeze on approving GMOs is not based on scientific proof that
genetically modified products cause environmental or health problems.
Thus, the GMO 'moratorium' is illegal under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary
Agreement, which says that all regulatory policies are to be based upon
scientific principles. Not only is the moratorium illegal, but it also
denies many starving people access to food -- food they may needlessly
fear will harm their health.
But to date, there is no credible evidence that genetically modified foods
adversely affect the environment or human health. Lester Crawford, the
deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, testified before
Congress that there was no data showing that any bio-engineered foods
currently sold were unsafe to eat. "The evidence shows that these foods
are as safe as their conventional counterparts," he said.
Europe's own scientific associations, such as Britain's Royal Society and
the French Academy of Sciences, maintain that there is no evidence that
GMOs pose a risk to human health. Professor Patrick Bateson, vice
president of the Royal Society, even challenged critics of biotechnology:
"The public have been told for several years that GM foods are inherently
unsafe to eat ... We have examined the results of published research, and
have found nothing to indicate that GM foods are inherently unsafe. If
anybody does have convincing evidence, get it out in the open so that it
can be evaluated."
However, Pascal Lamy, the EU Trade Commissioner, criticized the United
States for blaming EU regulations. "The U.S. claims that there is a
so-called 'moratorium,' but the fact is that the EU has authorized GM
varieties in the past and is currently processing applications." He
neglects to mention that the EU has approved no new agricultural GM
product since October 1998. Thus, in practice, there is a moratorium.
Also, in the same speech, Bush correctly argues that, "because of these
artificial obstacles, many African nations avoid investing in
biotechnology, worried that their products will be shut out of important
European markets. For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge
the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology."
The EU, however, refused to acknowledge that its position on GMOs
contributed, if only indirectly, to the famine in Africa. "These
suggestions made by the U.S. are simply not true," said an EU spokesman.
This flies in the face of truth. Last year, Zimbabwe, a country in famine,
rejected a shipment of U.S. corn, because it was not certified as GMO
free. The country's government feared that local farmers would plant the
corn or use it to feed livestock, and would result in crops and animals
that could not be sold to the EU.
Zimbabwe is not the only country to express such worries. Namibia refused
to buy South Africa's cattle feed because it contained GM corn. The
country wished to keep from hurting its beef exports to Europe. Uganda
would not plant a disease-resistant type of banana because of fears that
it would endanger exports to Europe. India, China and various Latin
American countries have similar misgivings.
Bush did well to criticize the EU's anti-GMO policy. The moratorium is
invalid, and its adverse effects are felt far beyond Europe's borders.
Since 1998, it has caused American farmers to lose $300 million annually.
For five years, the United States has been patient with the EU on this
issue. It is about time the EU relaxed its restrictions.
CSIRO scientist warns against over regulating GM foods
7 July, 2003
By Natasha Simpson
ELEANOR HALL: To Melbourne, where one of Australia's leading agricultural
geneticists is warning that the nation's farmers risk falling behind other
first-world producers unless Australian politicians become less cautious
in their regulation of genetically modified crops.
Chief of Plant Industry at the CSIRO, Dr Jim Peacock, has been speaking to
scientists from around the globe, who are meeting for the first
International Congress of Genetics ever to be held in Australia, and his
concerns have been echoed by one of Africa's top genetics researchers, who
fears the debate in countries like Australia could adversely affect
research funding in her continent.
From the conference in Melbourne, Natasha Simpson reports.
NATASHA SIMPSON: Organisers added some world music razzle-dazzle to what
they've called the Genetic Olympics. The world's leading geneticists are
in Melbourne to release their latest research and debate its implications
for the genetic revolution. The hot topic is the future of food.
The CSIRO's Chief of Plant Industry, Dr Jim Peacock, is the country's top
agricultural geneticist. He believes Australian farmers are being held
back by nervous politicians, with various State governments freezing the
development of GM crops.
JIM PEACOCK: I do feel that many of our politicians have been too
If we aren't able to use GM modifications in our crops in the future, I
don't think there's any doubt that we would have extreme difficulty in
being competitive in the global markets.
The benefits for the production system and for the health of the
environment and for the health of humans, and animals, are undoubted.
NATASHA SIMPSON: But there are doubters.
GeneEthics Network Executive Director, Bob Phelps, maintains Australian
governments should further slow the GM pace with a nation-wide five-year
commercial crop ban.
BOB PHELPS: There are environmental issues, there are many, many
unresolved public health issues, there have been no pre-market human
testing, and the long term impacts of these foods are not known.
And thirdly, the market implications. We shouldn't throw our lot in with
our competitors when we have the advantage of being GE-free and having
ready access to any market anywhere in the world.
NATASHA SIMPSON: It's a frustrating debate for African geneticist, Dr
Florence Wambugu. In her continent, population growth is far outstripping
FLORENCE WAMBUGU: GM advances are very important for Africa because they
give us the opportunity to reach out to millions of farmers and the reason
I believe they are so important is that the technology is packaged in the
seed, that the delivery system to millions of farmers can be achieved
without any change of cultural practice or taking the farmers for training
and so on and so forth.
NATASHA SIMPSON: While he's a world away geographically, scientifically Dr
JIM PEACOCK: GM, the introduction of these helpful genes, by themselves is
not going to suddenly solve the food supply, but you know, even, if you've
got a technology that can help the smallest family farmer be more sure of
having, being able to grow that family's food supply for the year, who
would want to stop that?
NATASHA SIMPSON: For the moment, Bob Phelps would.
BOB PHELPS: To monopolise African agriculture with patented, intrusive,
monopoly-owned seed would be a great disadvantage and potentially very
destructive to African agriculture.
ELEANOR HALL: Bob Phelps, Executive Director of the GeneEthics Network
ending that report from Natasha Simpson.
Vatican Looking Closer at Genetically Modified Organisms
Participates in California Conference
Zenit News Agency
JULY 4, 2003
VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 2003 (Zenit.org).- With an eye toward addressing
world hunger, the Vatican has asked for additional information on
genetically modified organisms.
Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice
and Peace, made that announcement following the Ministerial Conference on
Biotechnology, which was held in Sacramento, California, from June 23-25.
"The Holy See realizes the urgent need to provide food security to all
people, especially those who suffer from poverty, hunger and
malnutrition," the archbishop said when addressing the conference to which
ZENIT had access.
"The presence of a delegation at the meeting provided the Holy See with
the opportunity to observe, to listen to the testimony of experts, and to
learn about the various programs and projects involving the use of
genetically modified organisms," or GMOs, he explained.
"The Holy See is well aware of the existence of plants that produce an
abundance of food," the archbishop said. "Feeding the hungry is essential.
Finding ways to accomplish this is an imperative. At the same time, the
Holy See continues to study the widest use of GMOs."
"Information leads to participation," he added. "Participation brings
empowerment. The use of GMOs needs to be openly discussed so that informed
decisions can be made by those who might receive and use these products.
This will enable those people to continue on the way toward sustainable
The Sacramento meeting attracted agriculture officials, scientists and
health-care experts from about 100 countries.
Grower Associations Say EU Labeling Laws Are Too Costly
July 7, 2003
Following the announcement of the EU regulations for mandatory labeling of
biotech crops, U.S. grower associations have announced their frustrations
with the new laws.
The National Corn Growers Association, St. Louis, says mandatory labeling
is too costly for growers and will further prohibit exportation of biotech
crops to European countries. "The vote (on labeling) does not give us
confidence that the European Union is serious about trade nor that the de
facto moratorium on biotechnology will be lifted anytime soon," says NCGA
president Fred Yoder.
The American Soybean Association has also expressed concerns that the new
regulations will negatively impact consumers in the European Union. "The
EU claims that these new rules will somehow restore consumer confidence
and allow consumers to choose what they eat," says ASA first vice
president Ron Heck. "To appreciate the hypocrisy in that statement, one
only need understand that major food manufacturers have already stated
publicly that they will not put 'GMO warning labels' on their products.
How will these rules help give European consumers a 'right to choose' when
the products containing biotech ingredients are eliminated from store