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Date:

March 8, 2004

Subject:

BMA Statement on GM Food Welcomed; Uganda to Allow GM; Intellectual Property

 

Today in AgBioView: March 9, 2004

* Genetically modified foods & health: a second interim statement
* ABC welcomes new statement from BMA on GM food
* Comments on GM Foods: evaluating the Farm Scale Trials
* GM CROP GO-AHEAD IS A VICTORY FOR SOUND SCIENCE AND FREEDOM OF CHOICE
* Monbiot: Starved of the truth
* Seed Purity and Biotech Crop Reality
* GM under fire again
* Uganda To Allow Some Genetically Modified Food
* Is GM food safe to eat?
* Malthus, Mendel and Monsanto: Intellectual Property and the Law and Politics of Global Food Supply
* Hugh Grant Speech on the Future of Biotechnology

r /> http://www.bma.org.uk/GMFoods

Genetically modified foods & health: a second interim statement

- British Medical Association Board of Science and Education, March 2004

The BMA produced an interim report in 1999 on the health implications of GM food crops. In accordance with our intention to keep the public informed, we held a round table meeting of experts in June 2003 and have recently reviewed the emerging evidence.

In producing an update of our 1999 report, the BMA seeks to support balanced debate. As an organisation of doctors, we are not experts in agricultural techniques and crop science, but we are concerned with all issues of public health.

The environment in which we live, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat, all have an impact on our health as individuals. It is this context that the statement has been prepared.

The BMA shares the view of the Royal Society that that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe. However, we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.

To download the statement (PDF - 107 k) go to:

http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/GMFoods/$file/GM.pdf
********************************

http://www.abcinformation.org/pressrelease.php

ABC welcomes new statement from BMA on GM food

- Agricultural Biotechnology Council, 9 March 2004

abc this morning welcomed the announcement by the British Medical Association (BMA) that “there is very little potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects” and “many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods”.

abc welcomed comments by BMA Head of Science, Dr Vivian Nathanson who
said:

"While the take home message from our position statement is that research and surveillance is still needed, we do not doubt that genetically modified foods have enormous potential to benefit both the developing and the developed world in the long term”.

abc also concurs with the BMA view on the need to move away from the hysteria that has surrounded the GM debate in the UK and welcomes today’s contribution from the BMA towards making this happen.

NOTES TO EDITORS

• The Agricultural Biotechnology Council (abc) was set up in 2002 to provide a forum for the debate and education surrounding GM technology in the United Kingdom.

• The members of abc are BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta. These companies are working together to promote a fair debate surrounding the production of GM crops and also to provide education about GM in the UK.

FURTHER INFORMATION
• Tel: 0207 395 8944 or 07909 521 949
• Email: enquiries@abcinformation.org
• Website: www.abcinformation.org
**************************************

http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/environment_select_committee_report.htm

Comments on GM Foods: evaluating the Farm Scale Trials: report of the Environmental Audit Committee

- PG Economics Ltd, 2 March 2004

PG Economics Ltd [1] notes inaccuracies and the use of unrepresentative material contained within this report. It is evident to us that in drawing conclusions for the report the Select Committee has taken evidence presented by some Green pressure groups ‘at face value’, without researching and checking the accuracy or otherwise of such evidence. In particular the section ‘The north American experience’ (paragraphs 27-31) contains the following inaccuracies and/or mis-representation of the ‘real’ experience in north America:

1) EXPERIENCE OF GROWING GM CROPS IN NORTH AMERICA HAS NOT BEEN 'PRE-DOMINANTLY NEGATIVE.'

Whilst some organisations and individuals portrayed a negative image to the Committee in the provision of evidence, this picture is totally unrepresentative of the actual experience. A simple question to ask in relation to this is, if the experiences were as negative as portrayed then why, in 2003, was 81% of the US soybean crop, 40% of the US maize crop, 84% of the US canola crop, 48% of the Canadian soybean crop, 58% of the Canadian maize crop and 68% of the Canadian canola crop planted to GM varieties? In total this amounts to 41.7 million hectares, an area that is nine times greater than the total UK arable crop area. The simple answer is that the majority of farmers (the ‘stewards of the land’) have positive experiences (eg, low tillage cultivation, reduced use of toxic pesticides, higher and more secure yields) – for a review of literature on this subject read ‘Consultancy support for the analysis of the impact of GM crops on UK farm profitability’ (appendix 5), a report PG Economics completed for the Cabinet Office in 2003, that has been available on the Cabinet Office web-site since July 2003;

2) EVIDENCE FROM THE CANADIAN FARMERS UNION

Evidence from this organisation should be put into context. This body represents only 2%-3% of Canadian farmers and is therefore not representative of canola farming experience in Canada. For a more rounded and representative perspective read research undertaken by the Canadian Canola Council in 2001 – reviewed in the PG Economics report for the Cabinet Office referred to above. This report identified $300 million worth of additional production and/or reduced cost of production.
Evidence from bodies like the Soil Association should also be placed in context – its well publicised report ‘Seeds of Doubt’ (2002) from which most of their evidence will have been based, was largely drawn from reading press articles and undertaking interviews with a total of 25 farmers, two-thirds of which were organic farmers. This is against a background of there being, for example, over half a million farmers in the US alone growing soybeans. Such evidence is therefore biased and unrepresentative;

3) THE CANADIAN EXPERIENCE

Some facts to take into consideration include the following:

Ø All farmers growing GM (herbicide tolerant) canola crops are provided with advice on managing volunteers. This covers aspects of an integrated weed management system, the majority of which is equally applicable to non GM varieties and other herbicide tolerant (non GM) canola crops;

Ø Some analysts (eg, Van Acker) suggest that there is a widespread problem of herbicide resistant volunteers in Canada. However, the Canola Council’s 2001 research amongst both GM and non GM growers of canola did not find the issue to be problematic for farmers. Furthermore several research papers exist that demonstrate that volunteer GM herbicide tolerant oilseed rape is not a significant problem and can be relatively easily controlled (eg, Downy 2000, Pekrun et al 1998). Lastly Monsanto even offers a free volunteer removal service to farmers but reports few calls and requests for the service;

Ø The reference to ‘a lamentable picture of the potential effect upon biodiversity and agriculture in general of the contaminatory effect of GM wheat cultivation’ (paragraph 27), is inaccurate and out of context. No GM (herbicide tolerant) wheat is currently planted commercially anywhere in the world and hence there is no experience or evidence to support such a statement. The claims made in this evidence submitted to your Committee are speculative and based on assumptions about herbicide usage patterns and behaviour by farmers that may not exist in the future. Furthermore they bear little, if any relevance to the UK context largely because the scenario examined in the evidence presented to your committee is one in which glyphosate tolerant canola is grown in a rotation with glyphosate tolerant wheat. Glyphoate tolerant canola or oilseed rape has not and is not expected to be bought forward for regulatory approval for planting in the EU (the GM trait currently in the EU regulatory approval process is glufosinate tolerant oilseed rape). Also, if glyphosate tolerant wheat were to ever be made commercially available to European farmers, this is at least ten years in the future. In sum, we are extremely unlikely to ever see glyphosate tolerant oilseed rape and wheat being made available commercially to UK farmers;

Ø Despite claims stating otherwise, organic canola is still grown in Canada. This area is extremely small (about 2,000 hectares or 0.04% of total canola plantings in Canada) but its insignificance as a crop largely reflects a lack of demand for domestically grown organic canola, and difficulties in growing the crop within an organic rotation (eg, is high nutrient requirement relative to other break crops and the difficulty in controlling weeds). It is also possible for organic and GM canola to co-exist satisfactorily provided both GM and non GM growers adopt good husbandry practices and make sensible use of measures to minimise co-existence problems arising (eg, organic farmers using only organic seed (or testing conventional seed used prior to planting) and/or planting brassica rapa varieties that flower slightly earlier than the more commonly planted brassica juncea varieties.

4) CITED EVIDENCE OF GM CROPS LEADING TO INCREASED USE OF HERBICIDES TO DEAL WITH RESISTANCE PROBLEMS (EG, DRAWING ON VARIOUS PAPERS FROM CHARLES
BENBROOK)

As above, this evidence is essentially not representative of actual
experience:

Ø Whilst some (a very small number) may have experienced incidences of weeds developing resistance to herbicides such as glufosinate and glyphosate (the herbicides used on GM crops in North America), this is an issue of herbicide resistance per se and not a GM-specific issue. Farmers have been managing such issues in conventional agriculture for years – they do not cause significant problems - again see the PG Economics report for the Cabinet Office for a review of literature on the subject;

Ø USDA pesticide usage data does not support Benbrook’s assertions.
Benbrook makes adjustments and amendments to USDA data in order to draw conclusions about US farmer herbicide usage on GM crops (eg, for 2003) and hence assert that herbicide usage on GM crops has increased. These are not supported by USDA data and therefore to imply otherwise is misleading and inappropriate. He also fails to highlight the eco-friendly nature of glyphosate compared with alternatives used before the introduction of GM crops;

Ø There is a reasonable body of evidence in North America that shows that the use of herbicide tolerant GM crops has resulted in reductions in total herbicide usage (eg, Gianessi et al 2002, Fernanez Cornejo et al 2003, Canola Council 2001) and/or resulted in switches to more environmentally benign products. Again much of this work was reviewed by PG Economics in its report to the Cabinet Office in 2003.

Web-site link to original Environmental audit Committee Report:

http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environmental_audit_committee.cfm


[1] PG Economics Ltd is an agricultural economics consultancy that specialises in examining the impact of new technology. It conducts objective analysis and is independent of any interest groups. PG Economics staff are not employees of or on retainer contracts for biotechnology companies. We have undertaken work for both organisations with interests in GM technology and those with interests in non GM production methods
***********************************

GM CROP GO-AHEAD IS A VICTORY FOR SOUND SCIENCE AND FREEDOM OF CHOICE

- SCIMAC, 9 March 2004

SCIMAC welcomes today's confirmation that the Government will move forward with commercialisation of GM crops in the UK on a case-by-case basis, according to EU regulations and the scientific evidence.

SCIMAC is also pleased that the Government has accepted the advice from the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment - that the commercial cultivation of GM herbicide tolerant forage maize can proceed safely and with positive benefits for the environment.

Commenting on today's Government policy statement, SCIMAC Chairman Bob Fiddaman said:

'As global adoption of GM crops continues to increase, UK farmers and their customers should not be denied access to this technology once individual crops have cleared the necessary regulatory approvals.

'Today's announcement is a much-needed injection of common sense into the debate by the Government and its scientific advisers, both in confirming that there are no grounds for an outright ban on GM crops, and in highlighting the need for case-by-case, science-based assessment of each individual application.

'Our priority now is to contribute positively to the forthcoming Government consultation on co-existence and liability, to establish a framework relevant for the UK in which the managed commercial introduction of GM crops can be integrated effectively and equitably alongside other forms of production.

Notes to Editors:

The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) is a grouping of industry organisations representing farmers and the agricultural supply trade. Member organisations share a commitment to the open, responsible and effective introduction of GM crops in the UK.

SCIMAC membership comprises the National Farmers Union, British Society of Plant Breeders, Crop Protection Association and Agricultural Industries Confederation.

SCIMAC has developed a programme for the managed introduction of GM crops in the UK. The core aims of the SCIMAC Code of Practice are to provide identity preservation for GM crops, so allowing consumer choice, and to ensure effective co-existence of GM crops within UK agriculture through best practice guidelines.

The SCIMAC approach builds on existing principles of good agricultural practice, and closely mirrors the proven system operated for more than 30 years to control the production of certified seed crops. All aspects of on-farm operations are covered, from seed storage and planting procedures to crop separation distances, harvesting procedures, post-harvest management and record-keeping.

The FSEs were established by a unique agreement between Government and SCIMAC. Industry voluntarily submitted the crops to independent scientific scrutiny. No other agricultural technology has ever undergone such a comprehensive programme of testing and evaluation.

SCIMAC's primary role within the Government's farm-scale evaluation programme was to identify potential sites for final assessment and selection by the Scientific Steering Committee. All GM crops involved have been grown according to the management guidelines developed by SCIMAC and endorsed by the UK Government in May 1999.

For further information visit the SCIMAC web-site at http://www.scimac.org.uk

Contact:
Bob Fiddaman, SCIMAC Chairman 07770 935117
Daniel Pearsall, SCIMAC Secretary 01733 231133 or 07770 875455
*****************************

Britain OKs genetically modified corn crops http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4485895/

U.K. Approves Commercial Use of Bayer Genetically Modified Corn
http://quote.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000102&sid=a4FUX_vXETY8&refer=uk

******************************

NOTE: Comments can be sent to The Guardian editors at politics.editor@guardianunlimited.co.uk

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1165017,00.html

Starved of the truth

Biotech firms are out to corner the market, so they have to persuade us something else is at stake

- The Guardian, George Monbiot, March 9, 2004

The question is as simple as this: do you want a few corporations to monopolise the global food supply? If the answer is yes, you should welcome the announcement that the government is expected to make today that the commercial planting of a genetically modified (GM) crop in Britain can go ahead. If the answer is no, you should regret it. The principal promotional effort of the genetic engineering industry is to distract us from this question.

GM technology permits companies to ensure that everything we eat is owned by them. They can patent the seeds and the processes that give rise to them. They can make sure that crops can't be grown without their patented chemicals. They can prevent seeds from reproducing themselves. By buying up competing seed companies and closing them down, they can capture the food market, the biggest and most diverse market of all.

No one in her right mind would welcome this, so the corporations must persuade us to focus on something else. At first they talked of enhancing consumer choice, but when the carrot failed, they switched to the stick. Now we are told that unless we support the deployment of GM crops in Britain, our science base will collapse. And that, by refusing to eat GM products in Europe, we are threatening the developing world with starvation. Both arguments are, shall we say, imaginative; but in public relations, cogwency counts for little. All that matters is that you spin the discussion out for long enough to achieve the necessary result. And that means recruiting eminent figures to make the case on your behalf.

Last October, 114 scientists, many of whom receive funding from the biotech industry, sent an open letter to the prime minister claiming that Britain's lack of enthusiasm for GM crops "will inhibit our ability to contribute to scientific knowledge internationally". Scientists specialising in this field, they claimed, were being forced to leave the country to find work elsewhere.

Now forgive me if you've heard this before, but it seems to need repeating. GM crops are not science. They are technological products of science. To claim, as Tony Blair and several senior scientists have done, that those who oppose GM are "anti-science" is like claiming that those who oppose chemical weapons are anti-chemistry. Scientists are under no greater obligation to defend GM food than they are to defend the manufacture of Barbie dolls.

This is not to say that the signatories were wrong to claim that some researchers who have specialised in the development of engineered crops are now leaving Britain to find work elsewhere. As the public has rejected their products, the biotech companies have begun withdrawing from this country, and they are taking their funding with them. But if scientists attach their livelihoods to the market, they can expect their livelihoods to be affected by market forces. The people who wrote to Blair seem to want iwt both ways: commercial funding, insulated from commercial decisions.

In truth, the biotech companies' contribution to research in Britain has been small. Far more money has come from the government. Its Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, for example, funds 26 projects on GM crops and just one on organic farming. If scientists want a source of funding that's unlikely to be jeopardised by public concern, they should lobby for this ratio to be reversed.

But the plight of the men in white coats isn't much of a tearjerker. A far more effective form of emotional blackmail is the one deployed in the Guardian last week by Lord Taverne, the founder of the Prima PR consultancy. "The strongest argument in favour of developing GM crops," he wrote, "is the contribution they can make to reducing world poverty, hunger and disease."

There's little doubt that some GM crops produce higher yields than some conventional crops, or that they can be modified to contain more nutrients, though both these developments have been overhyped. Two projects have been cited everywhere: a sweet potato being engineered in Kenya to resist viruses, and vitamin A-enhanced rice. The first scheme has just collapsed. Despite $6m of funding from Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government, and endless hype in the press, it turns out to have produced no imprwovement in virus resistance, and a decrease in yield. Just over the border in Uganda, a far cheaper conventional breeding programme has almost doubled sweet potato yields. The other project, never more than a concept, now turns out not to work even in theory - malnourished people appear not to be able to absorb vitamin A in this form. However, none of this stops Lord Taverne, or George Bush, or the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, from citing them as miracle cures for global hunger.

But some trials of this kind are succeeding, improving both yield and nutritional content. Despite the best efforts of the industry's boosters to confuse the two ideas, however, this does not equate to feeding the world.

The world has a surplus of food, but still people go hungry. They go hungry because they cannot afford to buy it. They cannot afford to buy it because the sources of wealth and the means of production have been captured and in some cases monopolised by landowners and corporations. The purpose of the biotech industry is to capture and monopolise the sources of wealth and the means of production.

Now in some places governments or unselfish private researchers are producing GM crops that are free from patents and not dependent on the application of proprietary pesticides, and these could well be of benefit to small farmers in the developing world. But Taverne and the other propagandists are seeking to persuade us to approve a corporate model of GM development in the rich world, in the hope that this will somehow encourage the opposite model to develop in the poor world.

Indeed, it is hard to see what on earth the production of crops for local people in poor nations has to do with consumer preferences in Britain. Like the scientists who wrote to the prime minister, the emotional blackmailers want to have it both ways: these crops are being grown to feed starving people, but the starving people won't be able to eat them unless er ... they can export this food to Britain.

And here we encounter the perpetually neglected truth about GM crops. The great majority are not being grown to feed local people. In fact, they are not being grown to feed people at all, but to feed livestock, whose meat, milk and eggs are then sold to the world's richer consumers. The GM maize the government is expected to approve today is no exception. If in the next 30 years there is a global food crisis, it will be because the arable land that should be producing food for humans is instead producing fweed for animals.

The biotech companies are not interested in whether science is flourishing or whether people are starving. They simply want to make money. The best way to make money is to control the market. But before you can control the market, you must first convince the people that there's something else at stake.
**************************************

Seed Purity and Biotech Crop Reality

- The Washington Post, March 9, 2004

The Feb. 29 editorial "Demon Seeds" ignored the biological processes of plants. Anyone working in agriculture and plant biology knows that low levels (0.05 to 1 percent) of conventional seed may contain traces of DNA from biotech-enhanced crops regulated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department.

Commingling can occur through pollen flow, volunteer seedlings, or mixing during harvesting, transport, storage and processing. Even before the introduction of biotech crops, international seed purity standards in the United States allowed for as much as 7 percent of "foreign material."

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2002 proposed a policy to adopt standards of acceptance for low-level, intermittent incidence of biotech grains that have been reviewed for safety by the FDA, EPA and USDA. We hope that the Union of Concerned Scientists report adds momentum to enact the White House policy as soon as possible -- domestically and internationally -- to allow farmers from the 16 countries that have adopted biotech crops to continue to reap the benefits of this technoloFgy.

CARL B. FELDBAUM
President
Biotechnology Industry Organization
Washington
*************************

GM under fire again

Weed-killer ban will reduce benefits of GM maize.

- Nature Science Update, March 5, 2004, By MARK PEPLOW

An impending European ban on certain weed-killers will slash the environmental benefits of genetically modified (GM) maize, according to UK scientists. But the GM crop is still better for wildlife than conventional maize, they say.

The findings are the latest from the UK's Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE), a four-year test of GM crops' impact on the environment. They follow results published in October last year, which showed that herbicide tolerant GM maize allowed more weeds and bugs to thrive in the environment than conventional crops. The UK government is still considering what action to take as a result.

Now a new study, published1 by Nature today, predicts that around one-third of GM maize's biodiversity benefits will be cut if the common herbicides that were used on the conventional crops are withdrawn.

The herbicides, called triazines and including atrazine, are no longer approved for use by EU farmers because they harm wildlife. They are being phased out by 2006.

But a UK government committee has concluded that the triazine ban will invalidate the results of the Farm Scale Evaluations and that the trials should be repeated. Their report, by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), is published today2.

Joe Perry, of Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire who led the most recent analysis, says that the EAC did not consult ecologists involved in the farm scale trials when drawing up their report. "Perhaps they should have called us to give evidence," he says.

And scientists say that they had already accounted for the effects of the impending atrazine ban in their initial reports to the UK government. A group called the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment is responsible for interpreting the results of the FSE and advising the UK Government about GM crops. "This new study is perfectly consistent with the information that we have already presented," says ecologist Les Firbank of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Merlewood, who led the FSE trials.

Non-GM maize is usually treated wtih atrazine. The GM maize studied in the trials was genetically engineered to resist another herbicide, called glyphosate. This means that weed-killer can be sprayed later in the growing season. This allows weeds more time to develop so that their rotting matter and seeds can feed birds and creepy crawlies.

Some critics of the FSE pointed out that the atrazine used on conventional maize is so harmful to weeds and other wildlife anyway, that almost any alternative would be better, whether or not the crops were GM.

But Perry maintains that their study reflected farming practices at the time the trials started, and that the results were always dependent on which herbicides were used. "We only knew that atrazine was going to be banned three weeks before the launch of the FSE results, long after we finished the research and wrote the papers," he says.

Scientists also point out that GM maize should still be more beneficial to wildlife than conventional maize, even in the absence of triazines. Although atrazine was the herbicide of choice for conventional maize in about three-quarters of the FSE maize fields, there were enough sites that did not use any to estimate the environmental impact of GM maize after the ban.

Perry thinks that after the ban farmers will use a range of different weed-killers, possibly applied earlier in the season. And he supports outlawing triazines on environmental grounds. "They are very persistent herbicides that should not have been continued, so it was the right decision," he says.

References

1. Perry, J. N. et al. Nature, published online, doi:10.1038/nature02374, (2004).
**************************

http://www.sacobserver.com/news/030804/uganda_genetically_modified_food.shtml


Uganda To Allow Some Genetically Modified Food

- Reuters, March 8, 2004

Uganda's government has said it will allow genetically modified (GM) foods to be imported but that it won't allow them to be grown there, reports the UK-based Science and Development Network.

The Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) released a statement saying that the government ''recognizes the controversial nature of this subject and has therefore decided to proceed with caution, building consensus at all stages.''

Meanwhile, a draft law to regulate GM cultivation and research has been submitted to the cabinet. If passed there, parliament will get to vote on it.

Until the NARO statement, released last month, Uganda hadn't announced any policy on GM foods, although Ugandan biotechnologists are reported to be preparing to research genetic modification of coffee, bananas another other local crops.

The government's announcement was met with cautious approval from some scientists, and with condemnation from several consumer groups.

"We will oppose the government's stand," consumer activist John Bigyemano is quoted as saying by SciDev.net. "Our position is that GM foods should be considered as dangerous until proved otherwise."

World opinion is divided over GM crops, which can be resistant to pests or herbicides but force farmers to pay a royalty for using them and don't allow farmers to harvest the crops for seed.

America, where many GM crops are grown and consumed, argues that GM crops would help feed more people in Africa.

But the European Union and many developing nations have pushed for a more cautious approach and has called for more research into the effects of eating and growing the foods.

Last week at an international conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, delegates from more than 90 countries reached an arrangement by which GM crops would have to be more clearly labeled than they have been.

This, many argued, would allow importers to make an informed decision about what they are buying.

The Ethiopian negotiator Tewolde Egziabher represented a number of developing nations in the talks.
********************************

Is GM food safe to eat?

(Note: At Press time we were not able to get any industry scientists to comment. The writers can be contacted at features@nstp.com.my)

- New Straits Times (Malaysia), March 9, 2004, By Elizabeth John; Sarah Sabaratnam

IN a series of articles over the coming weeks, ELIZABETH JOHN and SARAH SABARATNAM will explore the issues, scientific studies published and unpublished, anecdotal evidence and experiences about the controversial subject of genetically-modified organisms.

EIGHT years after the first genetically-engineered or modified seeds were released into the field, there is still no scientific consensus on how safe it is for the environment or for human consumption. Yet, GM food and its derivatives are already on supermarket shelves and in our daily diet.

How do we know what we are eating is safe? After all, genetic engineering involves the changing of characteristics of living organisms by transferring genes from one organism to a totally unrelated species - something that does not occur in nature.

More and more, independent scientific studies are showing GM food is causing strange things to happen in mammals. At the same time, every single study commissioned or funded by biotech companies proclaims GM food is safe to eat.

In the face of such opposing views, how does the consumer choose?

To help you make the right decision, we spoke to several scientists and experts who were in Kuala Lumpur recently for the first Meeting of the Parties, to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Here is what they said.

Q: Is GM Food safe to eat?

Prof Terje Traavik: "That's a good question which no one can answer. Eight years after the first GM plant went into the field there has not been enough science and research to actually answer your question satisfactorily. I am certainly concerned that there are a number of theories and hypotheses that they may be harmful to health and the environment. I am certainly concerned about it as a scientist but also as a father and grandfather and as a citizen. But I don't want to tell people whether they should be concerned or not. I want to tell them what the situation is and they can decide for themselves. I also want to tell them that for the same reason, all kinds of GM food should be labelled just to give people the opportunity to choose. And if they are not concerned than that is okay with me. My duty is to present the situation that we have now in a scientifically correct way."

(Traavik is from the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology. He is engaged in a number of research projects including feeding trials of GMOs to mice. He is an active lecturer and advisor to a number of scientific organisations and committees, including the United Nations Environmental Programme. In 1992, he received the Foundation Erna and Olva Aakre's prize for outstanding achievements in cancer research.)

Dr Arpad Pusztai: "We don't know. On the basis of my studies, certainly GM potatoes are not safe and it puts a huge question mark over all GM foods. Personally, I will avoid them. The science shows that it is very possibly, unsafe."

(Pusztai was head of Protein Chemistry at the Rowett Research Institute, Scotland. His main research interest is biologically active food components. In 1998 he led a team of experts in a study of young rats fed with GM potatoes. There were adverse effects on the rats' gastrointestinal tract. This finding sparked off the debate on GM food safety in the UK and the rest of the world.)

Mae-Wan Ho: "We should avoid it as far as possible. But there is no need to get hysterical. As long as you maintain a healthy and nutritious diet and you have a good immune system, your chances of falling ill aren't high."

(Ho is the director of the Institute of Science in Society in Britain, which she co-founded in 1999 to promote socially accountable and ecologically sustainable approaches in science. She studied biochemistry and neuroscience and is a lecturer in genetics. Within the past 15 years she has pioneered research in the physics of organisms and sustainable systems. She has over 250 publications including 10 books.)

Susan Bardocz: "For me it is easy. I don't think it is safe. The technology which created GM crops is based on very bad science. So I am convinced that it is not safe and try to avoid it as much as I can. The safest way to avoid is to buy organic food. If I travel to the US I avoid all soya- and maize-based food."

(Bardocz has been a lecturer and senior lecturer in biochemistry. She was head of the Gastroenterology Unit and Food Gut Microbial Interaction Group at the Rowett Research Institute from 1987 to 2000. She was also collaborator in the research which found that rats fed with GM potatoes suffered adverse effects in the gastrointestinal tract. She has published about 180 refereed scientific papers.)

George B. Fuller: "There are literally thousands of reports and we can refer you to websites and CD-ROMs, anything you want, where scientists and not just industry scientists but scientists throughout the scientific community have published in peer-reviewed journals. If peers don't feel the information passes the standards of scientific rigour, it doesn't get published. But if they do, you can have some confidence in it. There are thousands of papers in peer-reviewed literature which support the safety of biotechnology. You don't find many which support the claims people talk about - these very rarely get into reputed journals.

(Note: we did a check and found that there are only 12 scientific studies published on the safety of GM food. Eight say it is safe, the three done by scientists not influenced by funding from biotech companies show that there is cause for concern.)

(Fuller is executive director of CropLife Asia based in Bangkok, Thailand. CropLife is a global trade association which represents the six biotechnology companies involved in plant sciences. In the area of biotechnology, it has programmes to increase public awareness about the
benefits.)

Note: At Press time we were not able to get any industry scientists to comment. The writers can be contacted at features@nstp.com.my
*****************************

http://www.morsechair.uoregon.edu/MMM.php

Malthus, Mendel and Monsanto: Intellectual Property and the Law and Politics of Global Food Supply

- Morse Center, University of Oregon, April 9, 2004 (Thanks to Rick Roush for the alert)

Over the past decade, genetic engineering has created patented "improvements" in seeds used to grow staple crops, such as corn, soybeans, and wheat, with new international agreements backing up those patent rights. These intellectual property rights have allowed multinational corporations to capture much of the global agricultural market with their patented seed.

This symposium will examine how these "intellectual property" rights in seeds affect farmers, such as Saskatchewan canola grower Percy Schmeiser, who was sued for patent infringement by Monsanto because his non-GE canola crop was cross-fertilized by a neighboring farm's patented GE-canola pollen. It also will examine how recent Supreme Court decisions and new technologies imminently threaten global food security and the conservation of plant genetic diversity.
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Video: Hugh Grant of Monsanto Speech on the Future of Biotechnology

February 19, 2004

To view the speech go to http://www.danforthcenter.org/media/video/

Then choose the conversation from February 19.