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August 8, 2007


Codex Rejects Precautionary Principle; Activists Issue Apology; Brazil Develops GM Soy


* Precautionary principle left out by Codex
* Dynamics of transcription in cells
* GM Free Ireland issues an apology
* Seed sleuth on hunt
* GM feed for Finnish pig farms
* Labelling of GM food is expensive, unjustified
* Brazil develops its first GM plant
* Accusations of Push-Polling Unfounded
* Fourth-Generation Pig Cloned
* Letter to Organic Consumers Association


Precautionary principle left out by Codex

- Alex McNally, Food Production Daily, July 30, 2007


Codex has agreed to exclude the controversial precautionary principle in its risk analysis standards, marking the end of a long battle between the EU and trade groups.

The final decision was made at the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in Rome this month when the 'Working Principles for Risk Analysis for Food Safety for Application by Governments' was finally adopted, excluding the precautionary principle.

The controversial plan would have allowed governments to take certain preventative measures for foods in cases where scientific evidence on the safety of the food is uncertain, but were seen by many governments and organisations as a tool to create unjustified trade barriers.

The principle, which has already been formally established by the European Commission (EC/178/2002), granted food risk managers the ability to take measures to protect health if they feared an unacceptable level of health risk exists. These measures ranged from a total ban on the substance, to food manufacturer's being ordered to carry out further safety tests.

The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA) and the US Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN USA) both feared the precautionary principle would create unfair trading opportunities around the globe if it was adopted.

It was omitted from the set of principles for risk analysis adopted by Codex in 2003. However, since then a number of countries have tried to introduce it into Codex texts, to no avail.

David Pineda, IADSA's manager of regulatory affairs, said: "Despite the numerous attempts to introduce this principle into the text, there has again been sufficient resistance from both governmental and non-governmental organisations to prevent it from happening."

Pineda added that consumers were not being put at risk by the exclusion of the precautionary principle.

He told NutraIngredients.com this morning: "Scientific evaluations are carried out when there are justified doubts about the safety of a food product and therefore there are systems in place to protect the health of the consumers. However, the use of the precautionary principle is often abusive in cases where there is no scientific proof of the unsafety of a food product.

"It is encouraging for the dietary/food supplement associations that this principle is not adopted by Codex and therefore not being applied worldwide."

There have been three unsuccessful attempts by the EU and other countries to include the principle in key Codex documents.

In April, the full Codex Committee of General Principles (CCGP) debated the new draft and, after rallying of both government and non-governmental organisations - notably the CRN USA - agreed to omit the precautionary principle.


Scientists discover dynamics of transcription in living mammalian cells

- PhysOrg.com, August 6, 2007


Transcription - the transfer of DNA's genetic information through the synthesis of complementary molecules of messenger RNA - forms the basis of all cellular activities. Yet little is known about the dynamics of the process - how efficient it is or how long it takes. Now, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have measured the stages of transcription in real time. Their unexpected and surprising findings have fundamentally changed the way transcription is understood.

The researchers used pioneering microscopy techniques developed by Dr. Robert Singer, co-chair of anatomy & structural biology at Einstein and senior author of the study, which appears in the August issue of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

The study focused on RNA polymerase II--the enzyme responsible for transcription. During transcription, growing numbers of RNA polymerase II molecules assemble on DNA and then synthesize RNA by sequentially recruiting complementary RNA nucleotides.

To visualize the transcription process, the researchers used living mammalian cells, each of which contained 200 copies of an artificial gene that they had inserted into one of the cell's chromosomes. Then, by attaching fluorescent tags to RNA polymerase II, they were able to closely monitor all three phases of the transcription process: binding of the enzyme molecules to DNA, initiation (when the enzyme links the first few RNA nucleotides together) and elongation (construction of the rest of the RNA molecule). As they observed the RNA polymerase II molecules attaching to DNA and making new RNA, they saw many cases where enzyme molecules attached - and then promptly fell off.

"One surprising finding was how inefficient the transcription process really is, particularly during its first two stages," says Dr. Singer. "It turns out that only one percent of polymerases that bind to the gene actually remain on to help in synthesizing an RNA molecule. Transcription is probably inefficient for a reason. We're not sure why, but it may be because all the factors needed for transcription have to come together at the right time and the right place, so there's a lot of falling off and adding on of polymerases until everything is precisely coordinated."

The researchers observed that the binding phase of transcription lasted six seconds and initiation lasted 54 seconds. By contrast, the final stage of transcription - elongation of the RNA molecule - took a lengthy 517 seconds (about eight minutes). The possible reason: The "lead" polymerase on the growing polymerase II enzyme sometimes "paused" for long periods, retarding transcription in the same way that a Sunday driver on a narrow road slows down all traffic behind him. But in the absence of pausing, elongation proceeded much faster - about 70 nucleotides synthesized per second - than has previously been reported.

These two phenomena - pausing and rapid RNA synthesis during elongation - may be crucial for regulating gene expression. "With this sort of mechanism, you could have everything at the ready in case you suddenly needed to rev up transcription," says Dr. Singer. "Once the 'paused' polymerase starts up again, in a very short time you could synthesize a new batch of messenger RNA molecules that might suddenly be needed for making large amounts of a particular protein."


GM FREE IRELAND issues a correction with an apology.

- Shane Morris, GMOIreland, August 6, 2007


From GM FREE IRELAND, Accessed 4 August 2007

Gmfreeireland.org would like to correct a claim previously made that Shane Morris made "fraudulent scientific claims". Gmfreeireland.org acknowledges such a claim has no legal basis and would like to point out that:

- No findings of fraud were ever made by the British Food Journal in regards to the claims in the publication in question.

- The paper in question remains published as a valid piece of scholarly research.

- The academic award for the paper remains valid.

- A letter of explanation on the matter was published in the British Food Journal 2006 Vol 108, Issue

It should be noted that GM WATCH in the UK also made changes to the claims on their website at my written request.


Seed sleuth on hunt for daily, eternal bread

- Daniel Lewis, Sydney Morning Herald, August 7, 2007


LIKE an agricultural Indiana Jones, Ken Street searches the cradle of civilisation for ancient treasures that can help feed the modern world.

From his base in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the 44-year-old Australian roams the wilds of places like Armenia and Tajikistan looking for the ancestors of modern cereal crops before they become extinct.

He is racing to help build a global genetic Noah's Ark, despite dangerous mountain roads, lawless valleys, bandits, war zones and landmines.

The Australian grains industry helps fund Dr Street's assignment with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas because ancient varieties hold unique DNA that can help modern crops increase resistance to enemies like disease, drought, salinity and frost.

Dr Street said the Caucasus and Central Asia were a "hot spot" of genetic diversity where wild plants were first domesticated 10,000 years ago. He has collected 5000 unique seed samples since 1999 and enjoyed several "eureka" moments of discovery, including a famous wheat, thought to be extinct, in a mountain village in Tajikistan.

In Australia, wheat paddocks are monocultures of modern breeds, but in places like Armenia are a "genetic soup".

In Armenia,"in a field of half a hectare I found 34 distinctly different varieties of bread wheat", Dr Street said. "Armenia is where bread wheat evolved originally and it has got all these mountainous little villages that nobody gets to - little genetic islands."

Dr Street is back in Australia to speak at a grains industry conference in Melbourne today.

He wants to encourage a better understanding of the biotechnology needed to make the most of the gene bank.

Dr Street said modern crop varieties were genetically uniform but breeders were reluctant to add useful diversity through traditional breeding techniques "because there's this thing called linkage drag that drags across good stuff, but a whole heap of junk as well".

"We're very excited about the opportunity biotechnology presents because you can very concisely cut out a gene and introduce it ... without all that bad linkage drag."

He believes people will be more accepting of genetically modified food when they know more about it. "We have been eating genetically modified organisms for 10,000 years.

"People need to look at the benefits rather than just the potential risks. People need to get behind genetic resource conservation and its use. Without the tools to use this biodiversity we are going to be in a sorry state.

"We have lost something like 80 per cent of our agri-biodiversity in the last 100 years. That's shocking. Let's not lose any more. China used to have 10,000 different forms of wheat. Now they have only got a thousand of those left. It's the same for all of our major crops, fruit and vegetables. Which means that really useful diversity - unique sequences of DNA - have just gone extinct."


Genetically modified feed to be introduced to Finnish pig farms

Farmers' union leader says he would not use GM feed on his farm

- Helsingin Sanomat, August 8, 2007


Consumers in Finland will be introduced to pork grown with feed containing genetically modified soybeans. Shoppers will not necessarily notice any difference, because the packaging will not include any mention of what the animal ate.

LSO Foods, which supplies meat to the meat wholesalers HK Ruokatalo and Järvi Suomen Portti, announced in July that it will start delivering imported GM soybean feed to its pork farmers later in the year.

Another company planning to introduce genetically modified feed is HK's competitor Atria; CEO Matti Tikkakoski says that financial pressures are forcing it to make the move.

With the largest meat producers switching over to GM feeds, smaller companies feel that they have no choice but to follow suit. Gradually almost all of the pork grown in Finland is expected to come from pigs raised on genetically modified feeds.

Although Atria's contract farmers are still using traditional feeds, Tikkakoski says that the company will soon begin importing the genetically modified product.

He says that non-modified feed will soon be both prohibitively expensive, and difficult to get.

Tikkakoski does not believe that it will be possible to deliver separate kinds of pork products to food stores - those raised on GM soybeans, and those from pigs that were fed unaltered types. He says that when they are imported from around the world, the different types of beans are bound to get mixed up at some point.

Tikkakoski says that nine out of ten pig farmers under contract for Atria welcome the arrival of the new feed.

LSO Foods CEO Tero Hemmilä points out that 15 per cent of meat consumed in Finland comes from abroad. "It is most likely that the animal that the product is produced from, has eaten genetically modified feed. This means that GM food already exists on consumers' tables."

He predicts that domestic pork raised on genetically modified soybeans will begin arriving in Finnish stores in the autumn. LSO products will not contain any mention of the modification.

"EU legislation is straightforward. The genetic modifications in a plant are not passed on to an animal's tissue through the digestion, or from there into meat or milk. Consequently there is no need to mark it down", Hemmilä says.

Environmental organisations have criticised the use of genetically modified material in animal feed. The Finnish League for Nature Protection is calling for mandatory labelling on packaging to reveal whether or not GM feed was used in the production of meat.

The issue also poses a dilemma for the Finnish Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK). On the one hand, the organisation is keen to promote Finnish food as pure and unadulterated, but on the other hand, it needs to advance the economic interests of Finnish farmers.

MTK chairman Michael Hornborg says that there is a diversity of opinion within his organisation on the GM issue, with dairy farmers generally shunning modified feed, while pig farmers are more willing to accept it.

"I would not use GM feed on my farm, because its long-term effects have not been sufficiently studied. I don't want our members to be blamed if something unfortunate happens. Let's let the big countries do it first. We'll have time to follow later."

Hornborg also feels that consumers have the right to know what their food contains. "If a gene label is required on Finnish meat, it should be included on foreign products as well."


Call for labelling of GM food is expensive and unjustified wishful thinking

- Business Report (South Africa), August 8, 2007


Demands by Andrew Taynton for the labelling of genetically modified (GM) food are wishful thinking. ("GM debate a biotech industry red herring", August 3).

In the first place, it is not the GM industry that decides about the labelling of food. That decision is taken by the departments of health and agriculture, and other regulatory government bodies. The GM industry has nothing to do with it.

According to the UN Codex Alimentarius Commission, GM-derived food must be labelled if its composition or nutritional value differs significantly from conventional food. There are no scientific or medical data anywhere in the world to prove that GM food is any different from its conventional counterparts. And our own highly qualified independent and world renowned medical and agricultural scientists and nutritionists agree.

Let me quote just one: Professor Jennifer Thomson from the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town, who has been involved in researching biotechnology projects locally and in Africa for the past 15 years, and is a recipient of the L'Oréal/Unesco Award as the most outstanding woman scientist in Africa for her work in genetic engineering.

She says: "To date there is no peer-reviewed substantiated scientific evidence whatsoever available anywhere in the world to prove that GM food poses a health risk to man or animals or that it could contaminate the environment." I challenge Taynton to provide validated scientific evidence to the contrary.

After 10 years of producing GM crops in South Africa, there have been no medically or scientifically proven adverse reports from the 40 million people eating GM food every day.

Food processors have calculated that labelling would increase the price of food by up to 23 percent. And Taynton's fears that export markets are being threatened by GM food are absolute rubbish.

Over the past three years we exported more than 1 million tons of maize (all we could spare) to 20 African countries. In addition, over 85 000 tons were exported to Indonesia, Iran and Japan. Our maize is not labelled.

Last year 44 percent of our maize production was GM; this coming season it will top 50 percent. And last year we planted more than 1.4 million hectares of GM crops, with small-scale emergent farmers leading the way.

Hans Lombard, consultant to the biotechnology industry Johannesburg


Brazil develops its first genetically modified plant

- Xinhua, August 8, 2007


RIO DE JANEIRO -- The Brazilian Enterprise of Agropecuary Research (Embrapa) said Tuesday that it had developed Brazil's first genetically modified soybean for commercial purposes with the world's largest chemical company BASF.

The transgenic soybean contains a gene of the plant Thale Cress, scientifically known as Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the watercress and mustard family that is commonly grown in the lab. The gene provides the soybean with resistance to imidazolinone herbicide.

Imidazolinone competes in the international herbicide market with glyphosate which is the main ingredient of herbicide Roundup developed by the U.S. Monsanto Company, Germany-based BASF's main competitor.

The partnership between the two companies started in 1997, with BASF providing the gene patent and Embrapa developing the genetic modification technology.

According to Embrapa, several bio-security tests are being carried out to check the plant's impact on the environment and human feeding. The results will be sent to the National Bio-security Technical Committee in charge of authorizing the project.

BASF's Biotechnology Manager in Brazil Luiz Carlos Louzano expects the new soybean to take over up to 20 percent of the Brazilian market and will enhance its competition with Monsanto.

"We want to offer an option that is economically and technologically interesting to soy growers," said Louzano.

Local media reported that the companies expect to launch the soybean in the market by 2012.


Accusations of Push-Polling in Biotechnology Poll Unfounded and Unjustified

- Biotechnology Australia (press release), August 7, 2007


Accusations of push-polling in a survey of public attitudes towards biotechnology, conducted by an independent research company for the Australian Government agency Biotechnology Australia are unfounded and unjustified.

Responding to criticisms of the survey by anti-biotechnology activist groups, including Greenpeace and the GeneEthics Network, the Manager of Public Awareness for Biotechnology Australia, Mr Craig Cormick, said: "These accusations seem hypocritical when you consider the fact that the groups were involved in the round table with industry groups and researchers that workshopped the questions for the survey, and they were happy with the questions when they were developed.

"However, now that the survey has found a large change of public attitudes in favour of gene technology and biotechnology they have suddenly decided they are unhappy with the survey.

"Interestingly, two years ago, when the last similar survey was done, industry groups criticised the survey because it found that the public had many concerns about gene technology," he said.

"The fact is, the survey is statistically valid, is well regarded internationally, and many academic papers have been published based on the findings revealed by these biennial surveys of community attitudes to biotechnology. They are conducted by a highly-reputable independent research company, Eureka Strategic Research.

"The NGO criticism is misleading in calling the study push-polling, as this is when a survey is conducted with a hidden objective to disseminate information, rather than collecting opinions. This study is clearly not push-polling as it has used questions identical to those used in the past, it explored the public's view of both risks and benefits of GM and was carefully balanced. The same questions have been used deliberately so that we can track changes in public attitudes over time.

"The NGOs who are taking issue with the survey are really taking issue with the Australian public, as it is their change of attitude towards biotechnology that is causing the NGOs most concern."

The full study, and the questions used in the survey, are available from Biotechnology Australia's website: http://www.biotechnology.gov.au/reports.


Fourth-Generation Pig Cloned in Japan

- Carl Freire, Associated Press via PhysOrg.com, August 8, 2007


A Japanese geneticist said Wednesday his research team created the world's first fourth-generation cloned pig, an achievement that could help scientists in medical and other research.

The male pig was born at Tokyo's Meiji University in July, said Hiroshi Nagashima, the geneticist at the university who led the project.

Earlier attempts to clone animals for several generations were problematic. Scientists had thought that was because the genetic material in the nucleus of the donor cell degraded with each successive generation, Nagashima said.

But the team's findings show that a large mammal can be cloned for multiple generations - in this case, the clone of a clone of a clone of a clone - without degradation, he said, while acknowledging that mice have already been successively cloned for multiple generations.

Akira Onishi, a geneticist with the government-affiliated Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council, said Nagashima's animal could be the world's first fourth-generation cloned pig, an achievement that could help other cloning researchers.

"I am not aware of any other cases," said Onishi, a member of the team that produced Japan's first cloned pig.

"The cloning success rate has been rather low until now, regardless of species," Onishi said. "Researchers have been trying to improve efficiency, but there hasn't been any real progress. We've needed to see this problem resolved."

The results may prove important to breeders of other large animals, such as racehorses or bulls, looking for ways to keep a prized animal in the gene pool, Onishi said.


Letter to Organic Consumers Association

- Dr Colin R Merritt, External Affairs, Monsanto UK Ltd

TO: Organic Consumers Association

The article recently posted on your web site "Monsanto Goes GMO-Free - in its Cafeteria" is completely incorrect and I must request that you immdeiately remove it or correct the errors within it, and issue an apology for the errors published

I can categorically state that Monsanto UK Headquarters, based near Cambridge for over 7 years, does not have a cafeteria and has not since 2003. Prior to that we did not operate a GM-free policy. On the contrary, we displayed a notice explaining that our foods may contain GM ingredients.

Back in the last century, our former company headquarters in High Wycombe did discover that an outside catering supplier had adopted such a national policy, and indeed, your own release at the time, 21st December 1999 (http://www.organicconsumers.org/Monsanto/moncafeteria.cfm) accurately reported this. The external supplier has never been used by our Cambridge HQ. It is unfortunate that your standards of reporting have so declined since 1999 that you should make this totally false allegation at this time.

Our policy remains to allow our staff the choice whether they eat foods with GM ingredients. Many people prefer to choose foods from GM crops because they are often grown using less pesticides and result in lower levels of harmful contaminants such as mycotoxins.

*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net