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News Updates--July through December 2002

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December 2002: 14% of U.S. Bt corn farmers still breaking the rules

November 2002: EPA tightens rules for growing Bt corn

November 2002: Soybeans contaminated with "biopharming" corn residue, harvest impounded

October 2002: Biotech industry adopts voluntary limits on pharmaceutical plantings

October 2002: Accusations fly over GM corn shipped to Africa to avert famine

August 2002: Report says GM genes increase environmental fitness of wild sunflowers

August 2002: U.S. government proposes food safety reviews before GMO field trials begin

July 2002: Bacteria in human gut may be able to take up GM DNA

July 2002: EU approves broad labeling rules for GM foods

 

News Updates--StarLink corn in the food supply

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

 

December 2002: 14% of U.S. Bt corn farmers still breaking the rules

One in seven Bt corn farmers in the United States is still breaking the rules established by the Environmental Protection Agency for pest management, according to a survey commissioned by an industry group representing several agbiotechnology companies. In 2002, 14 percent of Bt corn farmers failed to meet minimum requirements for a non-Bt insect refuge, essentially unchanged from the 13 percent figure in last year's survey (see our news item on last year's survey).

Bt corn farmers are required to plant insect refuges according to size and distance requirements established by the government. The refuge policy is intended to delay the development of resistance to Bt, prolonging the number of years during which Bt corn will be effective against insect pests. The EPA and companies that develop Bt corn varieties agreed in the fall of 2002 to bar farmers from growing Bt corn if they fail to comply with the rules (see our news item from November 2002). In the 2002 survey, 12 percent of Bt corn farmers still were unaware of the rules and 7 percent did not believe that the refuge policy was important. Compliance has increased since the first survey was done in 2000. In that survey, 29 percent of Bt corn farmers broke the rules (see our news item on the 2000 survey).

A story on the 2002 survey is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/12-2002/agnet_december_20-2.htm#STUDY: CORN. Pioneer Hybrid explains the rules for planting a refuge at http://www.pioneer.com/usa/agronomy/insects/yg_pug.pdf.

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November 2002: EPA tightens rules for growing Bt corn

U.S. Bt corn farmers who fail to comply with the government's insect resistance management program will be barred from growing the crop in subsequent years, according to a new agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee, an industry group representing the companies that have developed commercial varieties of Bt corn.

Bt corn farmers are required to follow rules designed to delay the development of resistance to Bt among insect populations. It is believed that failure to follow the rules will result in widespread development of resistance to Bt in insect populations, reducing the efficacy of the genetically engineered trait in Bt corn. Surveys indicated that 29% of Bt corn farmers broke the rules in 2000 (see our news item from February 2001) and 13% broke the rules in 2001 (see our news item from February 2002). Survey results for 2002 are not yet publicly available.

An announcement of the recent agreement is available on the web site maintained by the National Corn Growers Association at http://corninfo@ncga.com/news/notd/2002/november/111502.htm. A summary of the rules is available at http://corninfo@ncga.com/biotechnology/insectMgmtPlan/compliance_program.htm.

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November 2002: Soybeans contaminated with "biopharming" corn residue, harvest impounded

The U.S. government has impounded the harvest from a soybean field because it was contaminated with pharmaceutical GM corn from a previous planting. The GM corn was part of a "biopharming" experiment in which the company Prodigene attempted to grow medicine in genetically engineered corn. Prodigene later planted soybeans in the same field, but some pharmaceutical corn plants remained and were harvested along with the soybeans. Prodigene has been experimenting with pharmaceutical varieties of GM corn that would produce several medicines, including a vaccine for hepatitis B and an enzyme for making insulin.

The contaminated soybeans, worth nearly $3 million, will not enter the human food supply or the animal feed supply. The harvest may be destroyed or converted to an industrial use. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating Prodigene for potential violations of its permit to grow GM crops in Nebraska and in Iowa.

Several biotechnoloy companies, including Prodigene, recently announced a voluntary agreement to avoid growing pharmaceutical crops in areas where there is a risk of contaminating crops intended for human consumption. Some consumer organizations have been calling for mandatory government regulations instead of the voluntary industry agreement. The USDA's announcement that it is investigating Prodigene is available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/news/2002/11/prodigene.html. News stories announcing the violation and tracking the progress of the controversy are available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/11-2002/agnet_november_12-2.htm#FDA ORDERS, http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/11-2002/agnet_november_18.htm#FARM GROUPS STILL, http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/11-2002/agnet_november_19-2.htm#PRODIGENE.

Calls by consumer groups for mandatory government regulations are available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/11-2002/agnet_november_18.htm#CSPI ON POSSIBLE, http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/11-2002/agnet_november_19.htm#USE OF MAJOR.

A summary of actions as of early December is available at
http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/12-2002/agnet_december_3.htm#PHARMACEUTICALS.

Post script: The USDA has ordered Prodigene to pay more than $3 million in fines and expenses in connection with this incident. A news story is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/12-2002/agnet_december_8.htm#BIOTECH. A consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has complained that the government gave Prodigene an interest-free loan with which to pay the fine, costing taxpayers an estimated $264,000. Details of the loan and the repayment schedule are available in a Washington Post story at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29223-2003Mar25.html.

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October 2002: Biotech industry adopts voluntary limits on pharmaceutical plantings

Biotechnology companies that intend to use GM plants as living factories to produce medicines and chemicals have agreed to locate their acreages away from food-producing regions to avoid the spread of exotic genes into food. The policy, a voluntary agreement among several companies in the United State and Canada, was prompted by concern that pollen from a pharmaceutical crop might carry genes to nearby fields used for food crops. The spread of genes via pollen is one of the mechanisms that was blamed for the accidental appearance of the StarLink gene in corn destined for human consumption. The immediate effect of the new policy will be the relocation of pharmaceutical test plots from the U.S. corn belt to areas where corn is not a major crop.

A news story on this topic is available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61908-2002Oct21.html.

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October 2002: Accusations fly over GM corn shipped to Africa to avert famine

The shipment of genetically engineered corn to feed starving people in Africa has raised a storm of controversy, with each side claiming that the other is milking a tragic situation for political ends. Several African counties are facing potential famine this year as a result of drought, the AIDS epidemic, and political struggles. The United States has offered to send shiploads of corn to Africa, but an estimated 20 percent of the corn is likely to be genetically modified because the U.S. does not routinely segregate GM and non-GM corn. Several African countries have been reluctant to accept the shipments, citing human health safety concerns and potential disruption of future trade relations with Europe. If African farmers plant some of the GM corn and the GM genes spread to local corn populations, future exports to Europe may not meet the EU's standards. Advocates of GM technology say opponents are planting groundless fears in people who may die if they do not receive imported food. Opponents of GM technology say the U.S. is dumping supplies of corn that are not marketable elsewhere. Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia initially refused the U.S. offer of food aid, but Zimbabwe and Mozambique later agreed to take the corn if it was ground into flour before delivery so farmers would not be able to plant it. In early October, Zambia was still refusing to allow delivery of GM corn.

An examination of the controversy is available from the Pew Foundation at http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=77. Statements from Zambian officials are available in news stories archived at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/8-2002/agnet_august_16.htm#ZAMBIA TO REFUSE and http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/10-2002/ agnet_october_1-2.htm#AFRICANS. Allegations from advocates and opponents of GM crops are contained in a story at http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=news&doc_ id=3937&start=1&control=117&page_start=1&page_nr=101&pg=1. A report from a village in Zambia is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,813220,00.html.

Postscript: In late October, Zambia announced that it has decided not to allow delivery of GM corn. A report is available at http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=news &doc_id=4066&start=1&control=175&page_start=1&page_nr=101&pg=1.

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August 2002: Report says GM genes increase environmental fitness of wild sunflowers

Wild sunflowers that acquire the Bt insect-resistance gene from GM sunflowers can produce 50 percent more seeds than wild sunflowers that cross-pollinate with conventional sunflowers, according to a recently completed study. The results suggest that GM genes in cultivated crops may move into closely related weed populations and make them hardier. Sunflowers are native to North America and weedy versions of the cultivated sunflower are common. The experiment, done by Allison Snow, an ecology researcher at Ohio State University, involved crossing a GM sunflower (not available commercially) with weedy versions. The hybrid progeny suffered no reduction in fertility and were effective at warding off damage from insects. The research was partially financed by two commercial seed companies, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Mycogen. Before the completion of the research, both companies decided not to proceed with commercialization because there was no market for GM sunflowers in North America, according to a spokesperson from Pioneer.

A report from Ohio State University on this research is available at http://www.osu.edu/researchnews/archive/sungene.htm. A story in Science News Online is available at http://www.sciencenews.org/20020817/fob2.asp.

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August 2002: U.S. government proposes food safety reviews before GMO field trials begin

The Office of Science and Technology Policy is proposing that developers of new GM crops ask for a safety assessment before they begin large field trials. The assessment would be similar to the current review process, but would occur at an earlier stage. The proposal is prompted by concerns that GM crops not yet approved for commercial purposes may spread their genes into the food supply, either through cross-pollination between experimental fields and commercial fields or through seed mix-ups. If the spread of genes occurs and the GM crop under development eventually fails to win approval under government guidelines, then unapproved GM DNA would be present in U.S. agricultural products. Concerns about unapproved GM DNA in the food supply led to the recall of domestic corn products in 2001 and to the rejection of some U.S. food shipments to other countries. The government is proposing a voluntary review, but a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America said food companies would prefer mandatory reviews.

The text of the government's proposal is available at http://www.ostp.gov/html/redregbio.html. A story on the proposal, including comments from pro-GM and anti-GM advocacy groups and from the Grocery Manufacturers of America, is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2002/8-2002/agnet_august_2.htm#EARLIER SAFETY.

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July 2002: Bacteria in human gut may be able to take up GM DNA

Researchers at the University of Newcastle have reported that microorganisms in the human digestive system took up a herbicide resistance gene after the human subjects ate a meal of GM soy. The experiment was small, involving 12 people with intact digestive systems and 7 who had undergone colostomies, in which their lower intestines were removed. Stools were collected from people with intact digestive systems and the contents of colostomy bags were collected from the others. In people with intact digestive systems, no GM DNA was found in the stools and no microorganisms in the stools had taken up GM DNA. But in people who had undergone colostomies, about 4 percent of the GM DNA from the meal survived the trip through the abbreviated intestinal tract and a small number of microorganisms in the colostomy bags had taken up GM DNA. The results suggest that transfer of GM DNA from food to microorganisms can occur in the human digestive tract under some circumstances. News reports on this experiment are available at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992565 and http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,756666,00.html. A report from the researchers at the University of Newcastle is available at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/gmnewcastlereport.PDF. The information pertaining to this experiment begins on page 22 of the report.

Britain's Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the research, has released the results of four other studies on this topic. They are available at
http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/science/sciencetopics/gmfoods/gm_reports.

Post script: This research was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Volume 22, Number 2, pages 204-209, February 2004.

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July 2002: EU approves broad labeling rules for GM foods

Human food and animal feed containing half a percent or more of GE material will be labeled in the European Union, the European Parliament decided. Advances in technology that allow detection of lesser amounts of GE material may lead to lower thresholds of tolerance. Supporters of the measure say it will bolster consumer confidence in food safety. The United States government opposes the move, saying it discriminates against U.S. products. Several U.S. farm products, such as soy and corn, contain large percentages of genetically engineered material. The U.S. does not segregate GM from non-GM products and does not require labels on GM foods. The EU is moving toward a system that would require both measures.

Two news articles on the European Parliament vote are available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,748691,00.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,748928,00.html.

The text approved by the European Parliament, "Texts adopted at the sitting of Wednesday 3 July 2002," can be accessed at the EU's web site, http://www3.europarl.eu.int/omk/omnsapir.so/pv2?PRG=CALDOC&FILE= 20020703&LANGUE=EN&TPV=DEF&LASTCHAP=16&SDOCTA= 5&TXTLST=2&Type_Doc=ANNEX&POS=1 .

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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

News Updates--StarLink corn in the food supply


Page last updated : January 11, 2006

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