Click on a headline to read the story.
May 2002: GAO:
testing of GM foods is adequate, monitoring of health
risks not needed
May 2002: U.S. farmers
say it's an economic decision to go GM or not
May 2002: EU report
says GM crops would increase costs for organic farmers
May 2002: Biotech
companies and governments misunderstand public's opposition
May 2002: Trade
dispute possible as US and EU stick to positions on
labeling GM food
April 2002: Some canola
may contain unapproved GM material
April 2002: Scientific
journal says article on transgenic corn in Mexico unwarranted
March 2002: GM
cotton approved in India amid controversy about consequences
March 2002: Report
rates GMOs for risk of gene flow to environment and
February 2002: USDA
regulatory process needs significant improvement
13% of Bt corn farmers in U.S. still breaking the rules,
February 2002: Britain's
Royal Society issues new report on GM food
More GM crop trials in UK
corn in the food supply
Archive: News Updates for July through December
News Updates for April through December 2001
News Updates for January through March 2001
News Updates for September through December 2000
Archive: News Updates for March through
May 2002: GAO: testing of
GM foods is adequate, monitoring of health risks not
The current U.S. process for testing GM foods is adequate
to ensure the safety of such foods, but random verification
of the test data that are submitted by companies would
improve the process, according to the General Accounting
Office. The FDA, which reviews foods for safety, could
also increase consumer confidence by describing the
scientific rationale for its decisions, the GAO said.
Monitoring of long-term health risks from eating GM
food is neither necessary nor feasible, the GAO concluded.
The full report is available from the GAO's web site
May 2002: U.S. farmers say
it's an economic decision to go GM or not
Acreage for transgenic soybeans and corn planted in
the United States will increase in 2002 while acreage
for transgenic cotton will remain at about the same
levels as in 2001, according to projections released
by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Based
on interviews with farmers, the NASS estimates that
transgenic soybeans will make up 74 percent of the total
soybean acreage in 2002, an increase from 68 percent
in 2001. Transgenic maize is estimated to make up 32
percent of the corn acreage, up slightly from 26 percent
in 2001. Transgenic cotton is estimated to be 71 percent
of the total cotton acreage, essentially unchanged from
last year's 69 percent figure. The full report on acreage
projections is available at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/nassr/field/pcp-bbp/.
Choose "Prospective Plantings 03.28.02" for the 2002
projections. Both a text file and a pdf file are available.
Pages 20 and 21 of the report contain the information
for biotech varieties.
Farmers say they choose between conventional and genetically
engineered crops based on economics. Interviews with
farmers giving their reasons for choosing one or the
other are available at http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=57
Opinions on whether international trade issues influence
planting decisions are available at http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=58
May 2002: EU report says
GM crops would increase costs for organic farmers
Organic farmers would encounter higher costs to maintain
their products free of GM presence if GM crops are widely
grown in Europe, according to a European Commission
report. Organic maize and potato farmers would be able
to maintain a level of 1 percent or less contamination
with price increases of 1 to 9 percent even if Europe's
GM production rose to 50 percent of the cultivated area,
according to the report. For oilseed rape seed production,
organic prices would rise 10 to 41 percent because of
the greater difficulty in maintaining purity in that
crop. However, organic farmers would find it very difficult
to maintain a threshold of 0.1 percent GM contamination,
and probably would not be able to continue production
in regions where GM crops were grown, according to the
report. The 1 percent threshold represents the level
discussed for European legislation, while the 0.1 percent
threshold represents the lowest amount that can be quantified
with current testing methods. The scenario of a GM production
area of 50 percent was chosen to be similar to the acreage
under GM soybean production in the United States.
A summary of the report, which was leaked to Greenpeace,
is available on the Greenpeace site (http://www.greenpeace.org/%7Egeneng/reports/eu_ge_coexist.pdf).
Greenpeace is alleging a cover-up of results unfavorable
to pro-GM factions (http://www.greenpeace.org/pressreleases/geneng/2002may16.html).
The EU has released a version of the summary (http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int/default.asp?sIdSz=our_work&sIdStSz=focus_on),
but not the full report.
May 2002: Biotech companies
and governments misunderstand public's opposition to
Biotech companies, governments, and other groups with
a stake in the outcome of the controversy over transgenic
foods misunderstand the reasons for public resistance
to GM products, according to a study funded by the European
Commission. The study, Public Perceptions of Agricultural
Biotechnologies in Europe, found that biotech companies
and governments hold the following beliefs about public
- The cause of the problem is that lay people are
ignorant about scientific facts.
- People are either for or against GMOs.
- Consumers accept medical GMOs but refuse GMOs used
in food and agriculture.
- European consumers are behaving selfishly towards
the poor in the Third World.
- Consumers want labeling in order to exercise their
freedom of choice.
- The public thinks - wrongly - that GMOs are unnatural.
- It's the fault of the BSE crisis: citizens no longer
trust regulatory institutions.
- The public demands zero risk and this is not reasonable.
- Public opposition to GMOs is due to other - ethical
or political - factors.
- The public is a malleable victim of distorting
These beliefs are misperceptions of actual public attitudes,
the study found. For example, although many members
of the public lacked specialized information about GM
technology, they had information on which to base their
- common knowledge about the behavior of plants and
- past experiences with human failure to fully comply
with regulations, and
- past behavior of institutions responsible for regulating
Consumers are ambivalent about GM technology, the
study found. They recognize that substantial benefits
might be obtainable, but are unconvinced that biotech
companies are directing their efforts toward such benefits.
A news article discussing the study is available at
A nine-page summary of the study is available at http://www.checkbiotech.org/pdf/pubpercsum.pdf.
The full 113-page report is available at http://www.checkbiotech.org/pdf/pubperc.pdf
and also at http://www.pabe.net
May 2002: Trade dispute possible
as US and EU stick to positions on labeling GM food
U.S. objections to the EU policy to label transgenic
food don't garner much support among UK consumers. A
mid-April poll shows UK respondents are generally cautious
about GM products. Fifty-one percent said they would
prefer not to eat GM food and 76 percent said such foods
should be labeled. Fifty percent said the EU's measured
pace toward granting government approval for commercialization
is the right approach.
The United States, the world's biggest producer of
GM products, has threatened to file a complaint with
the World Trade Organization, saying the EU's mandatory
labeling policy is a restraint of trade. EU commissioners
say labeling is the only way to gain public acceptance
for GM food. Observers have been predicting for months
that the impasse will lead to a trade war.
For more information on the poll results, see the
story on the Guardian site at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,711074,00.html.
April 2002: Some canola may
contain unapproved GM material
Monsanto has asked the U.S. government to permit the
accidental presence of unapproved GM material in canola
seeds after the agbiotech company discovered that some
of its products may be contaminated. The unapproved
sequence, called GT200, turned up in Monsanto's Canadian
canola last year, prompting a recall of canola seed
shipments before harvest. The product would not have
been exportable to Canada's foreign buyers because of
the presence of the GT200 DNA sequence. GT200 was not
intentionally included in the Canadian varieties and
has not been intentionally included in Monsanto's U.S.
varieties, but the company has told the government that
the sequence may nevertheless have been present for
the last few years.
Monsanto has asked the USDA to allow low levels of
GT200 in canola despite its unapproved status. If the
USDA grants the request, Monsanto would avoid the massive
recall and testing program that Aventis carried out
corn was detected in human food in 2000. More information
on this story is available in two news articles on the
AgBios web site at http://www.agbios.com/_NewsItem.asp?parm=neIDXCode&data=2921
The Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group concerned
about genetically engineered food, opposes granting
Monsanto's request and has filed a petition with the
USDA in connection with the possible presence of Monsanto's
GT200 and another sequence produced by Aventis in commercial
canola seed. An announcement by the Center for Food
Safety and the text of the petition are available at
The FDA considers GT200 canola safe to eat. A report
on the FDA's position is available at http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=
April 2002: Scientific journal
says article on transgenic corn in Mexico unwarranted
The editors of the scientific journal Nature have backtracked
on their decision to publish a report that native corn
varieties in Mexico have been contaminated with genetically
engineered DNA from biotech varieties. The article prompted
concern among scientists and environmentalists because
Mexico is the genetic center of origin for corn. (See
our original story.) Nature received heavy criticism
for publishing the story. In an advance online publication
made available on April 4, the journal's editors announced
that, after review of the criticism, they have concluded
that the report was not researched well enough and did
not warrant publication. The authors of the article,
Dr. Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, of the University
of California at Berkeley, stand by the main thrust
of their report.
More information on this story is available at
A statement signed by supporters of the Berkeley researchers,
entitled "Joint Statement on the Mexican GM Maize Scandal,"
is available at http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/ge/jointstatement2002.html.
A statement signed by those questioning the research
findings, entitled "Joint Statement in Support of Scientific
Discourse in Mexican GM Maize Scandal," is available
Criticism of the research by the editors of the journal
Transgenic Research is available at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/articles/transresearch.html.
The announcement from the editors of Nature, along with
two letters critical of the research and a response
by the researchers, are available to subscribers at
as on-line publications, DOI 10.1038/nature738, published
on-line April 4, 2002.
Postscript: The Mexican government confirmed in April
that GM material is present in maize in the states of
Oaxaca and Puebla. About 95 percent of the sites that
were tested showed evidence of transgenic corn. A story
on the announcement by a member of Mexico's commission
on biodiversity is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,686955,00.html.
Postpostscript: The scientific journal Nature has declined
to publish a report by Mexico's National Institute of
Ecology that reportedly confirms the presence of GM
material in traditional cultivars. One peer reviewer
said the results were "too obvious" to merit
publication, while another said they were "unexpected"
and "not credible." A news story in the Mexican
daily newspaper La Jornada (in Spanish) is available
A statement from Food First criticizing the decision
by Nature not to publish the report is available at
March 2002: GM cotton
approved in India amid controversy about consequences
Transgenic cotton that fends off a major insect pest
has been approved for commercial planting in India.
Bt cotton is protected from much of the damage inflicted
by the cotton bollworm, so farmers will not have to
spray as much insecticide on their crops to reap a good
harvest. Opponents worry that the social consequences
of the decision will be bad for India. Among the concerns:
- India's poorest farmers may be driven off the land
if they cannot afford to buy the more expensive GM
- control of the seeds by just a few foreign companies
will reduce India's economic independence.
Approval of GM cotton is expected to lead to approval
of other GM crops. A thorough look at the controversy
surrounding the decision is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,674661,00.html.
March 2002: Report rates
GMOs for risk of gene flow to environment and crops
A new report from the European Environment Agency
concludes that several existing and future transgenic
crops carry a high risk of gene flow to the environment
and to the fields of nearby farmers. Transgenic oilseed
rape varieties (including canola) are rated high risk
for gene flow to the environment and to conventional
crops in neighboring fields. Transgenic sugar beets
are rated medium to high risk in both categories. Maize
is rated medium to high risk for gene flow to other
corn fields, but has no risk for gene flow to the environment
in Europe because there are no known wild relatives
of maize in Europe. Transgenic varieties of fruits such
as apples, grapes, plums, strawberries, raspberries,
blackberries, and currents are rated as medium to high
risk for gene flow to both the environment and conventional
crops. Transgenic potatoes, wheat, and barley are rated
as low risk in both categories. The full report is available
February 2002: USDA regulatory
process needs significant improvement
U.S. government regulation of transgenic crops needs
substantial improvement, according to a report by the
National Academy of Sciences. The Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS), which handles crop regulation
for the USDA, should increase the rigor of its risk
assessments before a crop is approved for sale to the
public and should begin long-term monitoring for environmental
impacts, the report said. While noting that the APHIS
process "has improved substantially since it was initiated,"
the report highlighted areas in which more improvement
is needed. Although the EPA and the FDA also regulate
transgenic crops, the review panel was commissioned
specifically to study the performance of APHIS. Among
- APHIS needs to tighten up the safety considerations
for field tests under the "notification" process,
a fast-track option that requires only a 30-day notification
to APHIS that a biotech company intends to begin field
tests. Under the notification process there is no
public input, no external scientific input, and no
limit to the acreage that can be planted. In one case,
according to the report, "a transgenic plant with
toxic properties (avidin-producing corn) was grown
under the notification process."
- The process should be made significantly more transparent
and rigorous. Advice from outside scientists, solicitation
of public input, and more explicit presentation of
data and methods will improve risk analyses and policy
- Environmental assessments should stop using the
term "no evidence" in its risk assessments. Such use
is misleading because "the term ‘no evidence' can
mean either that no one has looked for evidence or
that the examination provides contrary evidence."
- APHIS should involve more groups in the process.
Public comments in response to notices in the Federal
Register have declined to almost zero, partly because
of a perception that APHIS is "only superficially
responsive to comments."
- APHIS is understaffed and current staffers are not
trained appropriately in their areas of responsibility.
More people should be hired, especially in the area
- "The United States does not have in place a system
for environmental monitoring of agricultural and natural
ecosystems that would allow for adequate assessment
of the status and trends of the nation's biological
The full report is available from the National Academy
Press at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309082633/html/.
For a review of the U.S. regulatory process, including
the roles of the USDA, EPA, and FDA, see our
page on Evaluation and Regulation.
February 2002: 13% of Bt
corn farmers in U.S. still breaking the rules, compliance
U.S. farmers who grew Bt corn last year did a better
job of complying with government requirements for planting
an insect refuge of non-Bt corn, but some farmers are
still breaking the rules, according to an industry-sponsored
survey. According to their own reports of what they
had done, 71% of farmers complied with the requirements
for both size and distance during the 2000 growing season
our news item from February 2001). During the 2001
growing season, compliance rose to 87% of growers in
the Corn Belt and 77% of growers in the South. The percentage
of farmers who were aware that there are rules for planting
refuges held steady at 80% in the Corn Belt and increased
in the South from 58% in 2000 to 74% in 2001. However,
only 37% of farmers were able to correctly state the
requirements for their area.
To delay the development of insecticide resistance
in the target insects, farmers who plant Bt corn must
also plant a specified area of non-Bt corn within a
specified distance from the Bt fields. The requirements
vary locally, but in general the refuge must equal 20%
of the farmer's acreage in the Corn Belt and 50% of
the acreage in the South. Refuges must be planted within
one-half mile of the Bt fields. The majority of farmers
planted their refuges either within the Bt field or
right next to it, according to the survey.
A summary of the survey is available at http://www.pioneer.com/biotech/irm/survey.pdf.
February 2002: Britain's
Royal Society issues new report on GM food
The Royal Society has issued a follow-up report on
potential risks posed by GM foods. More detailed guidelines
on nutritional assessments would be beneficial, the
panel of scientists concluded, but other risks that
are often raised, such as an increased rate of allergic
reactions and harm from eating transgenic DNA are not
significant. The report, "Genetically modified
plants for food use and human health--an update",
is available at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/files/statfiles/document-165.pdf.
February 2002: More GM
crop trials in UK
Environmentalists and organic farmers in Britain are
objecting to the continued planting of experimental
plots of genetically engineered crops, saying the isolation
distances should be increased to prevent accidental
spread of GM genes to farmers' fields. The government
has announced 44 more test sites for oilseed rape and
sugar beet, to be planted this spring. GM oilseed rape
is one of the crops for which an increased distance
from conventional fields has been considered by EU officials
Commercial planting of GM crops is not currently allowed
in the UK. The government has been planting field trials
of GM crops to assess the potential for damage to the
environment or to nearby commercial plantings. A story
on the announcement of the new crop trial sites is available
Archive: News Updates for July through December
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Updates--StarLink corn in the food supply