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News Updates -- July through December 2003



Click on a headline to read the story.

December 2003: DNA in food persists in the digestive tract for hours after a meal

November 2003: Pesticide use in the United States increasing as a result of GE crops

November 2003: More U.S. farmers are following the rules for Bt refuges

October 2003: U.S. imposes tighter enforcement in wake of violations by biotech companies

October 2003: Monsanto pulls out of Europe

October 2003: British field trials of GM crops show two will affect wildlife

October 2003: Mexico finds StarLink and other GM genes in 9 states

September 2003: Brazil will allow farmers to grow GM crops

September 2003: People in U.K., U.S., and Europe still uneasy about GM food

September 2003: Dispute over decision not to publish all reports on GM trials

September 2003: Percentage of GE plantings in the U.S.

July 2003: EU approves comprehensive labeling law

 

News Updates--StarLink corn in the food supply

Archive: News Updates for January through June 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

 

December 2003: DNA in food persists in the digestive tract for hours after a meal

DNA in food is not completely digested for up to 18 hours after a meal and can be taken up by cells that line the digestive tract, according to research on the fate of DNA and proteins in food. The findings are of special interest because of concerns about the effects of genetically engineered food on humans and animals. Scientists (Palka-Santini et al., 2003) in Germany tracked identifiable DNAs and proteins as they traveled through the digestive system of mice. The proteins disappeared after about 30 minutes as they were digested, but small amounts of DNA could be detected up to 18 hours after a meal. Previous research by Schubbert et al. (1994, 1997, 1998) shows that DNA from food can enter the bloodstream of mice and travel to various body organs. Research by Forsman et al. (2003) detected rabbit DNA in the blood of people who had recently eaten rabbit meat. To study this phenomenon, scientists use particular segments of DNA that can be easily tracked, but it seems likely that the same phenomenon occurs to the DNA in all the meats and vegetables that humans and animals eat. Further research will be needed to determine the final fate of the DNA that enters the bloodstream after a meal. For more information about eating DNA, see our discussion on this site.

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November 2003: Pesticide use in the United States increasing as a result of GE crops

The use of pesticides on crop land is increasing as a result of widespread planting of genetically engineered crops, principally GE soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup, according to the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center. Charles Benbrook, an agricultural economist and director of the center, says Bt corn and Bt cotton reduce pesticide use, but Roundup Ready soybeans increase pesticide use by far larger amounts. Roundup Ready soybeans are engineered so that Roundup can be sprayed on them without damage to the crop. Farmers who grow Roundup Ready soybeans reduce their use of other herbicides, which are typically much more toxic to wildlife and to people, and increase their use of Roundup, which is less toxic to wildlife and people. A news story on Benbrook’s report is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/11-2003/agnet_nov_25.htm#story2. The full report, “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: the First Eight Years,” is available at http://www.biotech-info.net/technicalpaper6.html.

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November 2003: More U.S. farmers are following the rules for Bt refuges

Eight percent of United States corn farmers are still failing to comply with the federal rules for planting Bt corn, despite increased efforts on the part of the biotech seed industry, but compliance is improving. The annual survey on compliance, conducted by an independent firm for the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee, shows that 92 percent of Bt corn farmers planted a suitable refuge for insects to help delay the development of resistance to the toxin that protects Bt corn. Federal rules govern the size and location of the refuge. When the first survey was done in 2000, 29 percent of farmers were breaking the rules. That number changed to 13 percent in 2001, 14 percent in 2002, and dropped again to 8 percent this year. The seed industry has stepped up publicity campaigns about the need for refuges, and rules are now in place that make it possible for seed suppliers to refuse to sell Bt corn seed to farmers who repeatedly fail to comply with the refuge requirements. A story on this year’s compliance survey is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/11-2003/agnet_nov_13-2.htm#story0. See also our news items on the previous surveys in 2002, 2001, and 2000.

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October 2003: U.S. imposes tighter enforcement in wake of violations by biotech companies

The United States government has established a new compliance unit to ensure that biotechnology companies and university researchers follow regulations when dealing with GM plants. There have been 115 violations since 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, although none of the violations resulted in harm. In widely publicized events over the past year, Pioneer Hi-Bred was fined $72,000 for a violation at its test site for rootworm-resistant corn in Hawaii, and Prodigene was charged more than $3 million in fines and expenses for improper handling of a pharmaceutical corn test in the American corn belt. The new compliance program will try to prevent violations in hopes of improving consumer confidence. Articles on the new compliance unit are available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/10-2003/agnet_oct_19.htm#story0 and http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/10-2003/agnet_oct_20-2.htm#story0.

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October 2003: Monsanto pulls out of Europe

Monsanto, a giant in the world of GM crops, has decided to close its operations in cereal foods in Britain and western Europe. Expectations that GM wheat would soon become profitable were not met, and a sizeable percentage of European consumers continues to express opposition to GM foods. Articles on the announcement are available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1064022,00.html and http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/10-2003/agnet_oct_15-4.htm#story5.

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October 2003: British field trials of GM crops show two will affect wildlife

GM beets and GM oilseed rape (similar to canola) will affect wildlife in and around cultivated fields, according to the results of multi-year tests carried out in Britain. The two GM crops were engineered to tolerate applications of herbicide to kill weeds. Fewer weeds resulted in less cover for insects and fewer seeds for birds to eat, according to the tests. A herbicide-resistant GM corn that was also tested did not affect wildlife. Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has called for a ban on the crops. The results of the field trials are available in eight papers published in the journal and on the web site of the Royal Society's Philosophic Transactions: Biological Sciences. Articles on the field trial results are available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/10-2003/agnet_oct_16.htm#story0 and http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1064295,00.html. On the web, the full texts of all eight papers are available at www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/phil_bio/news/fse_toc.html.

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October 2003: Mexico finds StarLink and other GM genes in 9 states

Tests of corn samples from nine Mexican states show that GM genes have entered the native corn populations of Mexico despite a ban on growing GM corn. Samples contained

  • Bt-Cry1ab/1ac, the gene commonly used in insect-resistant corn,
  • Bt-Cry9c, the gene used in StarLink corn, which is banned for human consumption in the United States and which was taken off the market in 2000 after tests revealed that it was present in supermarket foods, and
  • CP4 EPSPS, the gene that provided resistance to glyphosate herbicides such as RoundUp.

The samples were collected under the direction of several groups, including the Center for Studies on Rural Change in Mexico, the Center for Indigenous Missions, the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, the Center for Social Analysis, Information and Popular Training, the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca, the Jaliscan Association of Support for Indigenous Groups, and individual representatives of farming communities in several Mexican states. More than 400 samples of native corn in rural areas were tested with commercially available protein detection kits, using a method known to scientists as the ELISA. One hundred and five samples were tested by members of the groups that collected the samples, with the help of scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. An additional 305 samples were tested by the laboratory Fumigaciones y Mantenimiento de Plantas S.C. The samples showing the presence of GM genes came from the states of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. A press release is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/10-2003/agnet_oct_14-2.htm#story3.

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September 2003: Brazil will allow farmers to grow GM crops

Brazil has announced a one-year "emergency" period during which farmers will be allowed to grow GM crops. Although Brazil has seen its trade increase with European countries as a result of its official GM-free policy, there have been complaints that the policy has not reflected reality. For several years, farmers in southern Brazil have been smuggling GM seeds across the border with Argentina, where GM crops are grown legally. Monsanto, one of the big GM companies, has been pressing for royalty payments on the GM soybeans grown in Brazil, and the U.S. has complained that Brazilian farmers gain an unfair price advantage when they do not pay royalties on black-market GM seeds. The change in policy is a reversal for new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose party opposed GM crops before it came to power. Da Silva's environment minister and environmental groups are opposing the move, while pro-business ministers support it. Stories on the announcement are available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1050042,00.html , http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/9-2003/agnet_september_25.htm#BRAZIL and http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=news&doc_id =6201&start=1&control=208&page_start=1&page_nr=101&pg=1.

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September 2003: People in U.K., U.S., and Europe still uneasy about GM food

Opinion soundings released in September show that segments of the public in Europe and the United States continue to be uneasy about GM foods. The debate "GM Nation?" in Britain gauged public opinion in cities and villages around the country. More than 37,000 people provided comments in addition to the people who participated in live debates. One of the major objections to GM crops was that the spread of transgenes via pollen would put an end to non-GM farming, given the lack of space for buffer zones between adjacent crops on the island. Many people worried that the government had already decided to proceed with commercialization of GM crops and was sponsoring a sham public debate to give the appearance of considering public opinion. That fear was given some support by the publication of leaked letters appearing to show that UK representatives intend to support proposed European Union guidelines that require member countries to allow GM farming.

A story on the results of the "GM Nation?" debate is available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1048807,00.html. The executive summary of the report is available at http://www.gmpublicdebate.org/ut_09/ut_9_6.htm#summary. The full report is available at http://www.gmpublicdebate.org/docs/GMNation_FinalReport.pdf. A brief article on the leaked documents is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/9-2003/ agnet_september_21.htm#LEAKED.

Consumer opinion in the United States has not changed much over the last two years, according to a poll by the Pew Initiative. People continue to have little knowledge of GM technology and to underestimate the likelihood that they have eaten GM food. The results are available at http://pewagbiotech.org/research/2003update/. Results of a similar poll done two years ago are available at http://pewagbiotech.org/research/gmfood/survey3-01.pdf.

A New Zealand marketing survey on the possible international trade impacts of GM food production in New Zealand found that European sentiment continues to be strongly negative toward GM products. Genetic engineering of animals was viewed very negatively, while the use of GM pasture plants as feed for animals also was perceived as objectionable. The survey recommended that the New Zealand

  • defer commercial release of GMOs associated with farm animals,
  • exercise "great caution" in approving GMOs in crops that are exported to European markets because of the perceived potential for accidental mixing of GM with organic or conventional produce,
  • pursue GM applications in non-food areas such as forestry and pharmaceuticals.

The full report, Trust and Country Image, done by the business school at the University of Otago, is available at http://marketing.otago.ac.nz/Marketing/ trustandcountry/trustandcountry.pdf.

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September 2003: Dispute over decision not to publish all reports on GM trials

Scientists who supervised the trials of GM crops in Britain have complained that the Royal Society has declined to publish one of the nine reports they submitted for publication. The rejected report is claimed to be the paper that is most accessible to the public, summarizing the other eight reports, which are of a more technical nature. The Royal Society says the ninth report was rejected because it contained no new information. A brief article on the decision not to publish is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/9-2003/agnet_september_22.htm#UK.

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September 2003: Percentage of GE plantings in the U.S.

The latest U.S. government figures for the usage of GE crops indicate that herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant cotton are the most popular crops with farmers. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans are grown on approximately 80 percent of the U.S. soybean acreage, while herbicide-tolerant cotton is grown on about 60 percent of the U.S. cotton acreage. The data, obtained through a telephone survey, are current for the 2003 growing season. A graph comparing GE acreage of corn, cotton, and soybeans from 1995 through 2003, along with state-by-state acreages, is available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/BiotechCrops/.

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July 2003: EU approves comprehensive labeling law

The European Parliament has approved legislation that establishes a "farm to fork" tracking and labeling system for all GM foods. The legislation covers both human food and animal feed, and includes all products of GM origin. Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said the new regulations will enhance consumer confidence. A story on the labeling law is available at http://archives.foodsafetynetwork.ca/agnet/2003/7-2003/agnet_july_3.htm#WALLSTROM. Further information on the legislation is available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/health_consumer/library/press/press298_en.pdf.

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Archive: News Updates for January through June 2003

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Page last updated : January 11, 2006

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