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News Updates -- January through June 2003



Click on a headline to read the story.

May 2003: US files trade complaint against EU over GM foods

March 2003: Bt-resistant moth grows bigger when fed Bt toxin

March 2003: U.S. government approves corn resistant to rootworm, scientific advisory panel objects

March 2003: Consumer groups, government butt heads over biopharming risks

February 2003: Genes can jump from chloroplast to nucleus

February 2003: U.S. delays trade war with EU over GE food

January 2003: GM gene flow may not make weeds weedier

January 2003: British scientists develop a wildlife-friendly way to farm with GM crops

 

News Updates--StarLink corn in the food supply

Archive: News Updates for July through December 2003

Archive: News Updates for July through December 2002

Archive: News Updates for January through June 2002

Archive: News Updates for April through December 2001

Archive: News Updates for January through March 2001

Archive: News Updates for September through December 2000

Archive: News Updates for March through August 2000


May 2003: US files trade complaint against EU over GM foods

After months of threats, the United States has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, claiming that the European Union is blocking trade in genetically engineered crops despite a lack of evidence that such crops are unsafe. The U.S. is the largest exporter of GE crops in the world, and the EU is a large importer of agricultural products. U.S. farmers fear that they are losing millions of dollars as the EU finds alternate suppliers for conventional agricultural products formerly provided by the U.S.

EU officials have been developing mandatory labeling regulations for GE foods along with a farm-to-fork tracking system designed to ensure that all GE products are labeled. There is deep opposition to GE products among European consumers, and officials say labeling is needed to allay suspicions. The U.S. opposes labeling, both at home and abroad, and is casting the dispute as a trade war rather than a consumer choice issue. A story on this development is available from the BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3025217.stm and from the Agnet news archive at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/5-2003/agnet_may_14.htm#U.S.. A response from the EU is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/5-2003/agnet_may_13.htm#EUROPEAN.

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March 2003: Bt-resistant moth grows bigger when fed Bt toxin

A moth that has developed resistance to the Bt insecticide grows bigger when fed a diet spiked with the insecticide, according to researchers in Great Britain and Venezuela (Sayyed et al., 2003). The research results appear to contradict previous findings that insects pay a price, what scientists call a fitness cost, for developing resistance to insecticides.

The researchers measured the growth of three groups of the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella. One group was a particular strain known to be susceptible to Bt, one group exhibited no particular susceptibility, and one group was specially chosen for its ability to survive in the presence of Bt. For each group, 50 caterpillars were fed plain cabbage leaves and 50 caterpillars were fed cabbage leaves with Bt added. The caterpillars were not given enough Bt to kill them, and 94% or more of the caterpillars in each group survived the treatment. The resistant caterpillars that ate the Bt diet had a significantly higher average weight than the resistant caterpillars that received no Bt in their food. The other two groups showed no significant differences in weight between the two diets.

The researchers speculate that the resistant caterpillars were able to use the Bt toxin as an additional source of protein, enabling them to grow heavier than their counterparts on the non-Bt diet, but further research will be needed to determine whether that idea is correct.

A news story describing the experiment is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/3-2003/agnet_march_31.htm#INSECTS. The research was published in the journal Ecology Letters 6:167-169 in March 2003.

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March 2003: U.S. government approves corn resistant to rootworm, scientific advisory panel objects

A new corn variety that is resistant to damage from the corn rootworm has been approved by the U.S. government for commercial use. Corn rootworm is one of the most damaging pests of corn in the U.S. The government estimates the financial impact of corn rootworm at $1 billion annually $800 million in yield losses and $200 million in costs for insecticides. The new corn variety uses a gene transferred from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to make a protein that is toxic to larvae of the corn rootworm. The strategy is similar to that used in developing the well-known "Bt" corn variety that is resistant to the European corn borer. Both corn varieties use genes from Bacillus thuringiensis, but different genes are needed to kill the two insects. The new rootworm-resistant corn is not protected against attack by European corn borers, and the older "Bt" corn is not protected against rootworms, although Monsanto intends eventually to develop a variety that is resistant to both pests.

The government's decision to approve rootworm-resistant GE corn for use with a 20 percent "refuge" is drawing fire from some entomologists. Eleven of 14 scientists on an advisory panel recommended a 50 percent refuge, or area that is planted to non-resistant corn. The refuge is designed to extend the number of years during which the insect protection is effective against the target pest. Monsanto and three of the scientists on the panel recommended a 20 percent refuge.

A story on the approval of rootworm-resistant corn is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/2-2003/agnet_february_25.htm#MONSANTO'S ROOTWORM-PROTECTED BIOTECH CORN RECEIVES FINAL. A story on the objections from scientists is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/3-2003/agnet_march_6.htm#AGENCY.

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March 2003: Consumer groups, government butt heads over biopharming risks

A coalition of consumer groups and environmental groups has begun legal proceedings to sue the U.S. government for alleged mishandling of its responsibilities regarding GE crops used as pharmaceutical factories. One day after the coalition filed its letter of intent to sue, the required first step in the process, the government announced stricter rules for such crops, but the new rules were dismissed as inadequate by the food industry and the environmental groups. Concerns about biopharming came to the fore last fall when the biotech company Prodigene was discovered harvesting small amounts of pharmaceutical corn along with a field of soybeans. The company ignored a government warning to remove the corn. See our story on this incident.

The coalition wants the government to

  • ban open-air cultivation of GE crops that contain biopharmaceuticals such as vaccines and heart medicines, limiting such cultivation to indoor facilities,
  • ban the use of food crops (such as corn) for biopharming, and
  • establish a tracking system to ensure that no environmental contamination occurs as a result of handling or disposal of byproducts.

The government's stricter rules would

  • increase the number of inspections of pharmaceutical plots,
  • require greater distances between pharmaceutical plots and fields with food or feed crops, and
  • require that farmers use separate equipment to plant, harvest, and store pharmaceutical crops in order to avoid contamination of food.

The coalition's letter of intent to sue is available at http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/facts&issues/GEPPV60daysFinal.pdf. A story on the lawsuit is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/3-2003/agnet_march_5-2.htm#COALITION. A story on the government's announcement is available at http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction= news&doc_id=4850&start=1&control=217 &page_start=1&page_nr=101&pg=1. The U.S. government's announcement is available at http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2003/03/aphis030603.htm. A response from the food industry calling the new rules inadequate is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/3-2003/agnet_march_7.htm#USDA BIO-PHARMA.

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February 2003: Genes can jump from chloroplast to nucleus

GM genes that are inserted into a plant's chloroplasts can move into the nucleus, although the rate of transfer is low and the wandering genes may not function in their new home, according to a report by Australian scientists that was published this month in the scientific journal Nature. The findings have mixed implications for the use of chloroplasts as fail-safe systems for containing gene flow from GM crops.

Because chloroplast DNA usually is not conveyed along with nuclear DNA in pollen, scientists have proposed that foreign genes could be safely confined in the chloroplasts of crop plants, where they would perform their function without the risk of being transferred to nearby weeds or to conventional crop plants. However, Australian scientists who tested the rate of transfer from chloroplast to nucleus have shown that the rate is much higher than previously believed, although it is still very low. They inserted an antibiotic resistance gene into tobacco chloroplasts and then looked to see if it had moved to the nucleus. About 1 in 16,000 pollen grains was discovered to be carrying the GM gene that had been inserted into the tobacco chloroplast.

The movement of genes need not spell the end of chloroplasts as useful compartments for confining foreign genes. The molecular machinery in the nucleus works somewhat differently from that in the chloroplast, so genes that function in the chloroplast may not function in the nucleus. GM genes can be tailored to work only in the chloroplast, not in the nucleus, according to the Australian scientists. The report by Chun Huang, Michael Ayliffe and Jeremy Timmis was published on line by Nature on February 5, 2003. The summary of their findings is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/2-2003/agnet_february_6.htm#DIRECT MEASUREMENT. News stories about the implications are available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/2-2003/agnet_february_6.htm#JUMPING GENES, http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/2-2003/agnet_february_6.htm#JUMPING GENES LIVEN, and http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/2-2003/agnet_february_6.htm#DON'T JUMP.

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February 2003: U.S. delays trade war with EU over GE food

U.S. government officials say they will postpone a threatened showdown at the World Trade Organization over GE food exports from the U.S. to Europe because of the crisis over a possible war with Iraq. The EU is developing a comprehensive system of labeling foods for GE content in response to widespread consumer concern. The U.S., the largest producer of GE crops, opposes labels. The dispute is being relegated to the back burner in order to maintain good relations with European allies during the current crisis, but will probably heat up again later.

A news story on the postponement is available at http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/ index.cfm?fuseaction=news&doc_id=4640&start=41&control=200&page_start= 1&page_nr=101&pg=1. The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology has sponsored a discussion of the controversy, entitled "Should the U.S. Press a WTO Case against Europe's Genetically Modified Food Policies?". A press release is available at http://pewagbiotech.org/newsroom/releases/021303.php3 and a video of the discussion can be viewed at http://www.connectlive.com/events/pewagbiotech/.

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January 2003: GM gene flow may not make weeds weedier

The flow of GM genes from crops to weeds may not make the weeds more competitive, according to experiments done at the University of Tennessee. Wild Brassica rapa weeds that acquired a Bt gene from a cultivated crop had 20% less effect on yield in wheat fields than did weeds without the gene. The researcher, Neal Steward, speculated that the transfer of conventional crop genes along with the Bt gene caused the reduction in fitness. An estimated 10% of the genetic material in the modified weeds came from the crop plant with which they had hybridized. The findings were presented in January at the conference "Assessment of the Impact of Genetically Modified Plants," organized by the European Science Foundation Programme. A report on the presentation appeared in the scientific journal Nature (Adam, 2003).

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January 2003: British scientists develop a wildlife-friendly way to farm with GM crops

Scientists in Britain are experimenting with a new weed-management method that would use herbicide-tolerant GM crops to maintain weed cover in fields during the summer when birds and insects use weeds for food and shelter. Instead of spraying the entire field to kill weeds, the new method involves spraying only the rows where the crop is planted. Aisles between the rows are left unsprayed and weeds are allowed to grow there for most of the summer. Entire fields would be sprayed only at the end of the season. The new method has the potential to benefit wildlife around farms and to maintain populations of beneficial insects that eat pest insects.

A news story on this research is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,874862,00.html. The research is reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. A press release from the Royal Society is available at http://www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/proc_bio/news/pidgeon.html.

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Archive: News Updates for July through December 2003

Archive: News Updates for July through December 2002

Archive: News Updates for January through June 2002

Archive: News Updates for April through December 2001

Archive: News Updates for January through March 2001

Archive: News Updates for September through December 2000

Archive: News Updates for March through August 2000


Page last updated : January 11, 2006

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