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News Updates--January through March 2001

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March 2001: FDA provides more information on transgenic crop consultations

March 2001: Scientific committee says proposed EC rules may not be achievable

February 2001: 29% of Bt corn farmers in U.S. broke the rules last year

February 2001: Most American consumers want GM food labeled

February 2001: EU countries must reveal GM crop sites in public register

February 2001: GM crops to be introduced in Britain

February 2001: 'Golden rice' benefits may be exaggerated

February 2001: Removal of antibiotic resistance markers

February 2001: Transgenic crops unlikely to become weeds

January 2001: 'Anti-science hysteria' blamed for drop in research funds

January 2001: Crop acreage up for cotton and soybean, down for corn

January 2001: FDA proposes labeling

January 2001: Consumer group says U.S. government regulation lax



March 2001: FDA provides more information on transgenic crop consultations

The FDA is making available more information about the consultations it has with developers of transgenic crops. A newly expanded page on the agency's web site lists the crop, the developing company, the intended use of the crop, the transgene and the source of the transgene, the intended effect of the transgene, the FDA's letter to the developer after the consultation, and the FDA's final memorandum on the consultation. The full range of information will be provided only for completed consultations, pending finalization of the agency's proposal to provide more information about all applications for approval of transgenic crops. A letter announcing the new policy for completed consultations is available at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/bioltr.html. The expanded page, "List of Completed Consultations on Bioengineered Foods," is at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/biocon.html.

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March 2001: Scientific committee says proposed EC rules may not be achievable

The European Commission's proposed tightening of rules regarding transgenic crops may be too ambitious, according to that body's Scientific Committee on Plants. The Scientific Committee was asked to give its opinion on several proposed changes. The proposed threshold of 0.3 percent contamination in the planting seed of cross-pollinated crops and 0.5 percent in the planting seed of self-pollinated and vegatatively propagated crops would be possible only under ideal conditions, the committee said. Even the current 1 percent threshold for transgenic contaminants in food might have to be revised, the committee warned. Current isolation distances to prevent the spread of transgenes via pollen to neighboring conventional fields may be adequate for some crops, but even the proposed doubling of isolation distances may not be sufficient for other crops, the committee said. The full report, in pdf file format, is available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scp/out93_gmo_en.pdf.

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February 2001: 29% of Bt corn farmers in U.S. broke the rules last year

Some farmers who grew Bt corn last year failed to comply with the requirements for planting a non-Bt refuge, according to a survey commissioned by divisions of major agrobiotech companies including Aventis, Dow, du Pont, Monsanto, and Syngenta. And many farmers were hazy about what the requirements were, or whether there were any requirements. Based on their reports of what they had done, 29 percent of farmers either failed to plant a large enough refuge or planted the refuge too far away from their Bt fields. Overall, 80 percent of U.S. farmers said they knew there were rules about planting Bt corn, but only 58% of farmers in the South said they knew there were rules. When asked about the refuge size requirement for their area, about 30 percent of farmers in the northern Midwest knew the correct answer, while 16 percent in the southern Midwest knew and only 8 percent in the South knew. Similar percentages of farmers correctly answered a question about the required distance of the refuge from Bt fields. Despite the low awareness of the distance requirement, 52 percent of farmers reported that they had planted their refuge right next to their Bt fields. Many of the farmers who violated the distance requirement said that it was "just the way it worked out" or the "way the farm is set up." Later in the interview, when prompted with the correct answers, 69 percent in the Midwest and 36 percent in the South said they were aware of the refuge size requirement for their area. And overall, 39 percent said they were aware of the distance requirement. Only 32 percent were aware that they should not use Bt sprays in their refuge. Because the sample size in the South is small, percentages from this area may not be as reliable as percentages from the Midwest.

The full report is available from the National Corn Growers Association site at http://www.ncga.com/biotechnology/insectMgmtPlan/pdf/finalIRMsummarysurvey.pdf.

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February 2001: Most American consumers want GM food labeled

Two recently released surveys, one done by the Food and Drug Administration and another done by the International Food Information Council Foundation, found that most American consumers want labels on genetically engineered food.

The FDA's study, done in May 2000, involved 12 focus groups in 4 cities. According to the FDA report, "virtually all participants saw value in having ‘mere disclosure' labeling. They thought it would allow them to make more informed decisions about whether or not to buy a product. This desire to be informed did not imply any specific health and safety concerns about the labeled product, but rather concerns about unknown long-term consequences of food biotechnology." The ‘mere disclosure' label said only that the product contained genetically modified ingredients. Many participants also liked labels that had the disclosure statement plus additional information about the change in the food or the purpose for it, such as increasing vitamin A content or making the plant resistant to pests. Participants rejected labels that said "caution" or mentioned that long-term effects were unknown. When told how many foods contain bioengineered ingredients, many participants expressed surprise and outrage that they had not been informed. A Washington Post story on the survey is available at http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A60737-2001Feb12.html. The full report is available at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~comm/biorpt.htm.

The International Food Information Council Foundation, funded by food and beverage companies, conducted a series of surveys, with the most recent one done in January 2001. They found that 58 percent of respondents wanted to see labels on bioengineered food. That number represents an increase from 43 percent who responded to a similar question last May. Respondents were also asked whether they wanted more detailed information to be available through toll-free numbers, brochures, and web sites. In previous surveys done in 1999 and 2000, 81 percent and 86 percent of respondents said they wanted information to be available via those channels. In 2001 the question was reworded to ask if consumers wanted companies to make information available via those channels instead of putting labels on food. Seventy-five percent of respondents agreed that information should be available through toll-free numbers, brochures, and web sites instead of via labels. Questions and responses for the International Food Information Council Foundation survey are available at http://ific.org/research/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=1491.

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February 2001: EU countries must reveal GM crop sites in public register

Member countries of the European Union will have to reveal the locations of all GM crop sites, commercial as well as experimental, under the new GM crop law. The Independent, a British newspaper that campaigned for full disclosure, reported that the EU's legislation requires detailed locations to be published in a public register despite the opposition of several governments to making such information available. The British government had promised to be open about GM crop research, but the discovery last fall that secret crop research was underway in five counties in Britain angered opponents of biotech foods. The Independent's story is available at http://131.104.232.9/agnet/2001/2-2001/ag-02-19-01-01.txt. Scroll down to the story "Victory for our 'name GM sites' campaign".

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February 2001: GM crops to be introduced in Britain

The moratorium on development of GM foods in Britain will end as new European Union legislation overrides single-country bans, according to a report in The Guardian. Fourteen applications for licenses to plant GM crops for commercial use have been on hold while Britain mulled the benefits and risks for human health and the environment. Trial plantings to assess risk have occurred, but commercial use has been prohibited. New applications must be made to a committee representing all EU member states. Commercial uses that are approved at the European level cannot be stopped by individual member states without a demonstration of serious environmental or economic impact. It could take two years for GM crops to arrive in stores, and distribution is not guaranteed. Two major supermarket chains, Tesco and Asda, recently announced that they will not sell meat or milk from animals fed on GM soy or GM corn. They will also switch their imports from the U.S. and Canada to Brazil, which officially prohibits commercial GM crops. The Guardian's report is available at http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,436507,00.html.

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February 2001: 'Golden rice' benefits may be exaggerated

Golden rice, the transgenic rice that has been promoted as a way to save the sight of millions of children on vitamin A-deficient diets in developing countries, may deliver only a small fraction of the needed vitamin dose, according to the Rockefeller Foundation. The foundation, which is funding development of the beta-carotene-enhanced rice variety, says advocates have "gone too far" with their claims about the benefits of the crop. An adult would have to eat 9 kilograms, or 20 pounds, of cooked rice per day to get the necessary amount of vitamin A, according to some scientific estimates. Golden rice has been promoted by biotechnology companies as an example of the benefits that can be provided to consumers, and several companies have capitalized on the public relations potential by offering to make the patented technology available free to impoverished farmers in developing countries.The Guardian's story on the statement by the Rockefeller Foundation is available at http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,436161,00.htm.

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February 2001: Scientists may be able to remove antibiotic resistance markers from transgenic plants

New methods for removing antibiotic resistance markers from transgenic plants may improve consumer acceptance of GM food. Scientists (Zuo et al., 2001) at Rockefeller University report that they can cause targeted sequences of DNA to be excised from chromosomes in plant cells. The technique works in both somatic cells--the roots, stems, and leaves--and in germline cells that develop into seeds. Scientists (Iamtham and Day, 2000) at Manchester University had previously reported a method for excising DNA sequences from chloroplasts. The use of markers for antibiotic resistance has been widely criticized as creating the potential for development of antibiotic-resistant microbes in the digestive systems of consumers. The excision method would allow scientists to use the markers during development of transgenic varieties and then remove the markers before releasing the crops for use as food.

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February 2001:Transgenic crops unlikely to become weeds

A 10-year study shows that several transgenic crops are no more likely than their conventional counterparts to survive outside of cultivation. Biologists (Crawley et al., 2001) in Britain studied herbicide-resistant canola, corn, and sugar beets, and insect-resistant potatoes planted along with conventional varieties in three natural habitats in 1990. Numbers of all crop varieties, both conventional and transgenic, declined as a result of competition from native plants. Seeds from transgenic plants did not become established at a higher rate than did seeds from conventional plants. The results indicate that herbicide resistance and insect resistance did not give these transgenic plants an advantage in natural habitats. The scientists cautioned that other transgenic traits, such as drought tolerance, would have to be assessed independently to determine their possible impact.

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February 2001: Canadian expert panel issues recommendations

The Royal Society of Canada has released a report by an expert panel calling for increased safety testing of transgenic organisms and longterm monitoring of possible impacts on human health, animal health, and the environment. The panel rejected the use of "substantial equivalence" as a standard for exempting new GM products from thorough safety assessment. Substantial equivalence is used by the U.S. government in deciding whether to require rigorous testing of new GM food products. The Canadian panel also recommended that developers of transgenic plants stop using antibiotic resistance markers in plants intended for human consumption. An executive summary of the report and the full report are available at http://www.rsc.ca/foodbiotechnology/indexEN.html.

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January 2001: Australian scientist blames media, "anti-science hysteria" for drop in biotech research funds

Sensational media reports are causing a drop in funds devoted to agricultural research, according to a panel of Australian and international scientists. Efforts to solve the problems of poverty and starvation in developing countries are being "threatened by the hysteria, the anti-science hysteria" generated by recent stories on transgenic foods, according to Dr. Richard Jefferson of the Centre for the Application of Molecular Biology to International Agriculture. A story by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/research/2001/01/item20010123081901_1.htm.

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January 2001: Acreage for transgenic cotton and soybeans up, corn down

The percentage of U.S. acreage planted to transgenic crops generally increased in 2000, according to a report from the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.

All transgenic cotton varieties combined constituted 72 percent of the cotton acreage, up from 60 percent in 1999. Bt cotton constituted 11 percent of the cotton acreage, down slightly from 16 percent in 1999. Roundup Ready® cotton constituted 26 percent of the cotton acreage, up from 21 percent in 1999. Varieties containing both Bt and Roundup Ready® transgenes made up 28 percent of the cotton acreage, up from 16 percent in 1999. BXN® cotton, which tolerates applications of the herbicide bromoxynil, constituted 7.2 percent of the cotton acreage, only a slight change from 7.8 percent in 1999. Farmers had increased net revenues of $92 million in 1998 and $99 million in 1999 from transgenic cotton, according to the report.

Roundup Ready® soybeans were 54 percent of the soybean acreage, up from 47 percent in 1999. Farmers had increased net revenues of $220 million in 1998 and $216 million in 1999 from transgenic soybeans, according to the report.

Bt corn acreage was 19 percent of the U.S. crop, down from 26 percent in 1999. The reduction in use of Bt corn is attributed to recent very low levels of infestation by the European corn borer, which is the principal target of the Bt varieties. Farmers who grew Bt corn lost an estimated $26 million in 1998 and $35 million in 1999 in net revenues, according to the NCFAP, because profits from increased yields did not balance the higher price of the Bt corn seed. Population numbers of the European corn borer vary from year to year, so farmers do not know in advance whether there will be enough insects to warrant the extra expense of Bt corn seed.

Bt potatoes were 2 to 3 percent of the potato acreage, essentially unchanged from the last three years.

The 46-page report, Agricultural Biotechnology: Updated Benefit Estimates, is available at http://www.ncfap.org/reports/biotech/updatedbenefits.pdf.

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January 2001: FDA proposes labeling guidelines and written notice of biotech crop introductions

Companies that want to voluntarily label their products as containing transgenic ingredients or as being free of transgenic ingredients may soon be able to do so under guidelines proposed by the FDA. Examples of suggested phrases that could be added to labels include "genetically engineered" and "This product contains cornmeal that was produced using biotechnology." Companies could specify a chemical difference, for example, "This product contains high oleic acid soybean oil from soybeans developed using biotechnology to decrease the amount of saturated fat." Companies could also describe some other characteristic, for example, "These tomatoes were genetically engineered to improve texture." Examples for non-transgenic labels include "We do not use ingredients that were produced using biotechnology," "This oil is made from soybeans that were not genetically engineered," and "Our tomato growers do not plant seeds developed using biotechnology." Companies would have to substantiate their claims. The phrases "GMO free" and "GM free" would not be permitted, in the grounds that they may be technically inaccurate and confusing. The proposed guidelines are available at http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/biolabgu.html. Companies planning to introduce transgenic crops to the market would have to give written notice four months in advance, according to new rules proposed by the FDA. Companies already consult voluntarily with the FDA, but the agency has received input suggesting public support for making the process mandatory. The FDA's announcement of the proposal for mandatory notification and labeling guidelines is available at http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2001/NEW00747.htm.

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January 2001: Consumer group criticizes U.S. government's "laissez faire" approach to regulation of GM foods, calls for labeling

The U.S. government's rules for transgenic crops contain "huge loopholes" that allow GM foods to be marketed without sufficient review, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Carol Tucker Foreman, head of the CFA's Food Policy Institute, called the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a "cheerleader" for biotechnology and blamed lack of federal regulation for the current trade dispute with Europe over GM foods. A report commissioned by the CFA recommends labeling of GM foods, more rigorous testing by the FDA, and mandatory notifications to the government of plans to market GM foods. A New York Times story on the report is available at http://nytimes.com/2001/01/13/health/biotech-report.html. The press release from CFA and a 24-page report, "Breeding Distrust: An Assessment and Recommendations for Improving the Regulation of Plant Derived Genetically Modified Foods," which was commissioned by the CFA, are available at http://www.consumerfed.org/releases.html.

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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 September through December 2000


Archive: News Updates for March through August 2000

Page last updated : January 10, 2006

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