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News Updates--January through June 2002

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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 to GM

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 crops

February 2002: USDA regulatory process needs significant improvement

February 2002: 13% of Bt corn farmers in U.S. still breaking the rules, compliance improves

February 2002: Britain's Royal Society issues new report on GM food

February 2002: More GM crop trials in UK


News Updates--StarLink corn in the food supply

Archive: News Updates for July through December 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 2002: GAO: testing of GM foods is adequate, monitoring of health risks not needed

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 at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02566.pdf.

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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 .

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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.

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May 2002: Biotech companies and governments misunderstand public's opposition to GM

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 attitudes:

  • 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 sensationalist media.

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 opinions, including:

  • common knowledge about the behavior of plants and animals,
  • past experiences with human failure to fully comply with regulations, and
  • past behavior of institutions responsible for regulating technology.

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 http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index. cfm?fuseaction= newsletter&topic_id=5&subtopic_id=21&doc_id=3242. 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 and http://www.inra.fr/Internet/Directions/SED/science-gouvernance.

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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.

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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 when StarLink 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 and http://www.agbios.com/_NewsItem.asp?parm=neIDXCode&data=2926 .

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 http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/inthenews/CanolaPet2.htm.

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= newsletter&topic_id=2&subtopic_id=11&doc_id=3081 .

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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
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58267-2002Apr3.html. 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 at http://www.agbioworld.org/jointstatement.html. 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 http://www.nature.com 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 at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2002/oct02/021022/014n2pol.php?origen=political.html. A statement from Food First criticizing the decision by Nature not to publish the report is available at http://131.104.232.9/agnet/2002/10-2002/agnet_october_24-2.htm#NATURE REFUSES.

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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 seeds,
  • 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.

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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 at http://reports.eea.eu.int/environmental_issue_report_2002_28/en/GMOs%20for%20www.pdf

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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 the findings:

  • 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 decisions.
  • 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 of ecology.
  • "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 resources."

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.

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February 2002: 13% of Bt corn farmers in U.S. still breaking the rules, compliance improves

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 (see 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.

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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.

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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 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scp/out93_gmo_en.pdf).

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 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,642854,00.html.

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Archive: News Updates for July through December 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 10, 2006

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