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Genetic Engineering:
The Nature of What's to Come

or Biocolonialism

9AM – 3PM
Chapel Auditorium, Our Lady of the Lake University
$10 (students: $5), includes lunch catered by Fuerza Unida

Email or call 830/537-4327 by Wednesday, January 21


Opening Ritual: Honoring Sacred Corn
María Antonietta Berriozábal and Xochitl Codina
President of the Board and Program Coordinator, Santuario Sisterfarm

Columbian Exchange: 500 Years of Modified Foods
Dr. Elizabeth de la Portilla
Anthropologist/Ethnobotanist on the Faculty at UTSA

21st Century Food Crisis & Food as Sacrament: Catholic Social Teaching
Sister Sharon Zayac, OP
Author, Earth Spirituality: In The Catholic & Dominican Traditions

GMO Corporate Claims & Community Concerns
Margaret Weber
Coordinator of Corporate Responsibility for Adrian Dominican Sisters

What Can We Do?
Speakers & Participants

Co-sponsored by

Benedictine Sisters, Boerne; Brigidine Sisters; Peace & Justice Committee of the Sisters of Charity of Incarnate Word, San Antonio; Peace & Justice Committee of the Sisters of Divine Providence; Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate; Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament; Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Houston, and Adrian; and Santuario Sisterfarm; and Supported by Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence

native corn


Cows Ate GM Maize & Died

The Institute of Science in Society (Isis)
Press Release

GM maize and dead cows

Twelve diary cows died after being fed GM maize and silage. This happened on a farm in Woelfersheim in the state of Hesse, Germany.

According to the report by Greenpeace Germany, "common errors in feeding and infections had by and large been ruled out as the cause of death", and the farmer involved, Gottfried Glöckner, a supporter of GM crops, now suspects that Syngenta's GM maize Bt 176 is to be blamed.

Bt 176 contains multiple complex traits, including insect resistance - conferred by a toxin from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis - and tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate. It was produced initially by the company Ciba-Giegy in 1994, and acquired subsequently by biotech giant Syngenta.

Glöckner has been growing Bt 176 increasingly in his fields since 1997, and in 2000 and 2001, switched over entirely to GM maize. Shortly thereafter, five of his cows died within four months in 2001, and another seven in 2002. The rate of milk production decreased in some of the remaining cows and others had to be slaughtered because of unknown illnesses.

Syngenta obtained a European license to market GM maize Bt 176 in 1997 and is currently growing 20 000 hectares commercially in Spain. The US license for the crop expired in 2001 and was not renewed. Austria, Luxembourg and Italy have banned its cultivation.

In Germany, safety concerns were raised in early 2000, causing the German Robert Koch Institute to announce " the suspension of the authorisation for putting the maize line 00256-176 and its derivatives on the market, unless it is cultivation for research or trial purposes."

In November 2001, Glöckner reported the demise of his herd to Robert Koch Institute in Hesse, who were regulating the GM trials on behalf of Syngenta Corporation. In 2002, he was awarded compensation of 40 000 euros by Syngenta for five dead cows, decreased milk yields and vets bills. In February 2002 he decided to stop feeding his cattle GM maize altogether, but by October 2002 a further seven cows had died. The distraught farmer, who by this time was over 100 000 euros out of pocket called upon Syngenta and the Robert Koch Institute to conduct a proper investigation.

Cause of death unknown

The Robert Koch Institute impounded neither the dead cows nor the GM feed from the farm and carried out no comprehensive tests on the soil from the farm or any dung samples from the cows in question. What investigations they made on the GM maize feed from the farm ended in December 2002 with inconclusive evidence as to what caused the death of the cows. This was backed up by the local district council in Giessen who issued a statement in August 2003 that "the cause of the incidents referred to could not be determined."

But only one of the five dead cows in 2001 was examined at the pathology institute at Giessen. Additional tissue samples were sent to the University of Göttingen, "where they vanished in unexplained circumstances", according to Greenpeace's report.

The regulatory maze surrounding another Syngenta Bt maize

Further concerns are being raised over another Syngenta GM maize, Bt 11, destined for human consumption in 2004, if approved by the European Council of Ministers, because it contains the same protein that according to Syngenta, was in the Bt176 maize fed to the German cows.

Despite the UK Food Standards Agency's recommendations to the Standing Committee of the Foodchain and Animal Health in December 2003 that GM maize Bt 11 is safe for human consumption, the five-year old de-facto moratorium remains in place in Europe, thanks to other member-countries who voted against approving Bt 11.

However, the approval process for Bt 11 as food is being processed under the Novel Food Regulation, which is not as strict as the new GM Food and Feed Regulation. The new legislation provides for approval under the old rules, if the application received a final scientific assessment before the new rules apply, as in the case of Bt 11. Nevertheless, Bt 11, if approved, will be subject to the new labelling and traceability legislation. Indeed Bt 11 sweet corn will fail to meet new EU food safety criteria, which clearly state that short term and long term effects of food safety on future generations must be taken into account, according to Article 14 (4) of EC Regulation 178/2002 (the general legislation on food law and food safety, not the Novel Food Regulation).

"Poison protein" in Bt maize?

A chief suspect for the death of the cows in Hesse is the Bt protein contained in Bt 176, which Syngenta says is Cry1Ab, the same as in Bt 11.

Studies conducted in Japan in 2003 clearly showed that undigested Bt toxin Cry1Ab is present in calf stomach, intestine and dung after being fed Bt 11 maize; and these results have been replicated in further experiments in pigs. Both transgenic DNA and toxin protein fragments were detected in pigs fed Bt 11 maize (see "Transgenic DNA and Bt toxin survive digestion", this series). Both normal and transgenic DNA break down much more slowly in vivo than Syngenta previously assumed.

The Austrian Government is putting up a valiant fight to resist the introduction of GM products into the food chain, and has issued a report questioning the validity of Syngenta's evaluation of GM maize Bt 11 for human consumption. Their report concludes that Syngenta has based the safety of Bt 11 on assumptions rather than scientific evidence.

To date there are no scientific studies on the long-term effects of eating Bt 11 and no toxicological testing on the whole GM maize plant. Tests for allergic reactions to Bt 11 were insufficient and relied on theoretical argument rather than scientific evidence.

Farmer Glöckner now fears that his pastures are contaminated with the Bt 176 toxin by decomposing dung from his cows leaching into the soil where it can bind with the minerals in the clay, and remain harmful to many organisms. He has called upon Greenpeace to lobby Robert Koch Institute and Syngenta to re-open the investigation into the death of his cows.

Bt 176 worse than it appears

But worse is in store. Molecular analysis recently carried out suggests that the toxin in Bt 176 may not be Cry1Ab, but Cry1Ac, and that Bt 11, which is engineered with Cry1Ab, may be contaminated with Bt 176, so it will have Cry1Ac and well as CrylAb (see "Unstable transgenic lines illegal", this issue).

Molecular analysis has recently been carried out both by French and Belgian government scientists.

Their results revealed that the Bt gene in Bt 176 showed 94% similarity with a synthetic construct of crylAc gene, but only 65% homology with the native cry1Ab gene of Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki strain HD1, from which it was supposed to have been derived. This suggests that the company has misreported or misidentified the transgene present. This is extremely serious.

Syngenta is maintaining that Bt toxin can only deleteriously affect certain insect larvae, thus bestowing insect resistance to their GM maize. But many Bt toxinx are potential allergens and immunogens. A study in 2000 found that the Cry1Ac protein is a potent immunogen and does bind to the intestinal wall of mice, causing significant changes in the gut cells. Bt 176 expresses very high levels of the toxin (see "Bt toxin binds to mouse intestine", this series).

Many Bt transgenes are synthetic, including the one in Bt 176. They are hybrids of multiple toxins. That means Bt transgenes not only risk killing more species of insects than intended, but may also contain previously unknown toxicities for other animals and human beings (see "Regulatory sham on Bt crops", this issue).

Bt 176 is also the worst GM crop in terms of stability and uniformity. There are multiple transgenic inserts, the number of inserts depending on the source. This makes it very difficult to pin down the precise problems with the GM crop. There may be more than one problem with Bt 176 from different sources, or due to continuing instabilities in one seed lot, depending on where the unstable inserts have landed in the plant genome.

The transgenic inserts of Bt 176 have undergone rampant rearrangements - since characterised by the company - many involving the well-known recombination (fragmentation) hotspot, the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter.

The CaMV 35S promoter, as ISIS has repeatedly warned, is a very powerful promoter active in all species including humans. It leads to over-expression of genes downstream from it. Over-expressing of certain oncogenes are involved in cancer. Transgenic DNA containing the CaMV 35S promoter is an invasive DNA, capable of inserting into all genomes, including those of animal cells, and hence carries the risk of triggering cancer.

The molecular analysis of Bt 11 reveals that it may be contaminated with Bt 176, and we have warned various European governments as well as the European Food Safety Authority's Scientific Panel on GMOs against its market approval.

Public enquiry needed

Greenpeace is demanding an immediate ban on Bt 176 and a full scientific investigation into the death of the cows at Woelfersheim in Hesse.

It is clear that farmers who support GM run the risk of being under-compensated for their livestock and harvests should anything go wrong. It appears that environmental risks and hazards on the farm even during field trials are not something that GM companies accept full liability for.

Syngenta has been growing Bt 176 in Spain at low levels since 1997, and is relying on that as a showcase of how GM and non-GM crops can co-exist in Europe (see "Syngenta's Spanish GM trojan horse", this series). It has been kept at 4-5% of the total maize acreage, and all of it has been mixed with conventional maize that's not specifically labelled GM-free, which is mostly fed to cattle. The Woelfersheim experience shows that increasing the level of GM feed may end in disaster. Furthermore, contamination of Spain's organic maize has already been found, which can destroy the growing market for this commodity.

The cows at Woelfersheim are by no means an isolated case indicating that GM feed is far from safe. It must be seen in the light of already existing evidence in the scientific literature that GM feed had adverse effects on laboratory rats and mice (see "Liver of mice fed GM soya works overtime", this series), largely corroborating the findings of the much maligned senior UK scientist Arpad Pusztai and his collaborators. To that must be added a host of anecdotal reports by farmers and others that animals avoid GM feed, if given the choice, and if force-fed GM, fail to thrive (see "Animals avoid GM food, for good reasons", this series).

Apart from a full scientific investigation into the safety of GM food and feed, we demand a public enquiry into the serious abuse of scientific evidence by our government's scientific advisors, which have allowed GM crops to be grown commercially (in some countries) and GM food to go on sale in our markets.


Biotech Critics At Risk

By Mark Dowie
San Francisco Chronicle
January 11, 2004

Economics calls the shots in the debate

Four biologists from Europe and North America met face to face for the first time on the UC Berkeley campus last month.

Although none of them is particularly famous as a scientist -- not one Nobel among them -- they know each other's names and work as well as if they had been working together for 10 years in the same laboratory. They share a painful experience.

Between 1999 and 2001, unbeknownst to the others, each made a simple but dramatic discovery that challenged the catechism of the same powerful industry -- biotechnology -- that by then had become the handmaiden of industrial agriculture and the darling of venture capitalists, who are still hoping they have invested their most recent billions in "the next big thing."

If any one of the experiments of these four scientists is proved through replication to be valid, the already troubled agricultural arm of biotech will be in truly dire straits. No one knows that better than Monsanto, Sygenta and other biotech firms that have so aggressively attacked the four discoveries in question.

When he was the principal scientific officer of the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, Hungarian citizen Arpad Pusztai fed transgenically modified potatoes to rodents in one of the few experiments that have ever tested the safety of genetically modified food in animals or humans. Almost immediately, the rats displayed tissue and immunological damage.

After he reported his findings, which eventually underwent peer review and were published in the United Kingdom's leading medical journal, Lancet, Pusztai's home was burglarized and his research files taken.

Soon thereafter, he was fired from his job at Rowett, and he has since suffered an orchestrated international campaign of discreditation, in which Prime Minister Tony Blair played an active role.

While Pusztai was fighting for his professional life, Cornell Professor John Losey was patiently dusting milkweed leaves with genetically modified corn pollen. When monarch butterfly larvae that ate the leaves died in significant numbers (while a control group fed nongenetically modified pollen all survived), Losey was not particularly surprised.

The new gene patched into the butterfly's genome was inserted to produce an internal pesticide, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), intended to attack and kill the corn borer and some particularly troublesome moth caterpillars.

What did surprise Losey was the vehement attack on his study that followed from Novartis and Monsanto, their open attempts to discredit his work and the extent to which mass media leapt to their support. Losey is still at Cornell, where his future seems secure.

Not true of Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist in the plant sciences department at UC Berkeley. In 2000, Chapela discovered that pollen had drifted several miles from a field of genetically modified corn in Chiapas into the remote mountains of Oaxaca in Mexico, landing in the last reserve of biodiverse maize in the world.

If genes from the rogue pollen actually penetrated the DNA of traditional crops, they could potentially eliminate maize biodiversity forever. In his report, Chapela cautiously stated that this indeed might have happened. He expressed that sentiment in a peer-reviewed study published by Nature in November 2001.

After an aggressive public relations campaign mounted for Monsanto by the Bivings Group, a global PR firm that began with a vicious e-mail attack mounted by two "scientists" who turned out to be fictitious, Nature editors did something they had never done in their 133 years of existence. They published a cautious partial retraction of the Chapela report. Largely on the strength of that retraction, Chapela was recently denied tenure at UC Berkeley and informed that he would not be reoffered his teaching assignment in the fall.

When Tyrone Hayes, a UC Berkeley endocrinologist specializing in amphibian development, exposed young frogs in his lab to very small doses of the herbicide Atrazine, they first failed to develop normal larynxes and later displayed serious reproductive problems (males became hermaphrodites), suggesting that Atrazine might be an endocrine disrupter.

Hayes' subsequent experience differed slightly from the other panelists', but was no less troubling to academic scientists. As soon as word of Hayes' findings reached Sygenta Corp. (formerly Novartis) and its contractor, Ecorisk Inc., attempts were made to stall his research. Funding was withheld. It was a critical time, as the EPA was close to making a final ruling on Atrazine. Hermaphroditic frogs would not help Sygenta's cause.

Hayes continued the research with his own funds and found more of the same results, whereupon Sygenta offered him $2 million to continue his research "in a private setting." A committed teacher with a lab full of loyal students, Hayes declined the offer and proceeded with research that he knew had to remain in public domain.

This time he found damaging developmental effects of Atrazine at even lower levels (0.1 parts per billion). When his work appeared in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sygenta attacked the study and claimed that three other labs it contracted had been unable to duplicate Hayes' results.

Hayes, who keeps his head down on the Berkeley campus, has obtained tenure and continues to teach. But his studies that could affect approval of the most widely used chemical in U.S. agriculture are being stifled at every turn.

In a public conversation attended by 500 people and Webcast to 4,000 more worldwide recently on the Berkeley campus, Pusztai, Losey, Hayes and Chapela shared their experiences and together explored ways to prevent similar fates from ever happening to their peers. Their similar stories provide a unique window into a disturbing trend in modern science.

None of the four complained that his science had been challenged, although in each case it had. All science is and should be challenged. No one knows that better than a practicing scientist, who also knows that if tenure depended on a perfect experimental record, there would be very few tenured scientists anywhere in the world.

These four men were not attacked because of flawed or imperfect experiments but because the findings of their work have a potential economic effect. The sad part is that the academies and other allegedly independent institutions that once defended scientific freedom and protected employees like Hayes, Chapela, Losey and Pusztai are abandoning them to the wolves of commerce, the brands of which are being engraved over the entrances to a disturbing number of university labs.

Mark Dowie lives in Point Reyes and teaches a science writing class at UC Graduate School of Journalism


Berkeley Denies Tenure to Ecologist Who Criticized University's Ties to the Biotechnology Industry

By Sharon Walsh
The Chronicle, Volume 50, Issue 18
January 9, 2004

The University of California at Berkeley has denied tenure to Ignacio H. Chapela, an assistant professor of ecology and an outspoken critic of the university's ties to the biotechnology industry.

The professor and other scientists critical of academic links to corporations and of genetically modified crops have anxiously awaited the tenure decision for three years.

"My immediate reaction was extreme disappointment in the chancellor," said Mr. Chapela, who joined the university's department of environmental science, policy, and management in the fall of 1995. "I hoped he could see the evidence and take his role as a leader," he said of Robert M. Berdahl, the chancellor.

The university's decision, which was first reported in the December 11 issue of the British journal Nature, overruled recommendations for tenure by a faculty committee in Mr. Chapela's department and by an ad hoc panel of specialists in his field. A committee of the Academic Senate had recommended against tenure.

Mr. Chapela and his research became controversial when he published an article in Nature in November 2001 that said that native corn in Mexico had been contaminated by material from genetically modified corn. (A 1998 law had made it illegal to plant transgenic corn in Mexico.)

Six months after the article appeared, and after receiving a number of letters contesting the research, the journal published an editorial note saying that "the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the original paper" and that the editors wanted "to allow our readers to judge the science for themselves."

Mr. Chapela said at the time that he suspected he was the target of pro-industry scientists and of the biotechnology industry itself. He had been a vocal critic of a deal the university made in 1998 with Novartis, a Swiss-based biotechnology company, in which the company paid Berkeley $5-million each year for five years in exchange for early review of all proposed publications and presentations by faculty members whose work the company supported.

George A. Strait Jr., assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, said he was surprised that the news media would be interested in Mr. Chapela's case.

"He didn't get tenure, period," Mr. Strait said. Berkeley's tenure process, he added, "is among the most strenuous, the most fair, and the toughest in the country. ... No one person, no one institution, no one group has any undue influence."

Mr. Chapela's findings, made with a graduate student, David Quist, and reported in the 2001 article about Mexican maize, were important - and controversial - for several reasons. First, agricultural companies that have produced genetically modified plants have said that the engineered material does not travel from one field to another. Second, Mr. Chapela and Mr. Quist contended that the transferred genes that appeared in the genetic material of native Mexican corn were multiplying and hopping around inside the plant's genome, which could interfere with the normal functioning of other genes.

"This opens up the whole question of what happens in the next generation of transgenics," he said. "The finding means there is no control ... especially in plants that are wind pollinated," like corn.

Unanimous Recommendation

Mr. Chapela had been unanimously recommended for tenure by his department's tenure committee. The decision then went to a committee of the Academic Senate, which appointed the ad hoc group of specialists to give an opinion. The ad hoc committee, whose membership is normally secret, unanimously said tenure should be granted, according to Wayne M. Getz, a professor of environmental science who identified himself as a member of that committee after he found out that Mr. Chapela was not getting tenure.

"I've been here 24 years, and my understanding is that if the department and the ad hoc committee recommend for tenure, you get tenure," he said.

Mr. Getz wrote a letter to the vice chancellor for academic affairs questioning the process, and sent copies of the letter to the ad hoc committee members. The chairman of the ad hoc committee then notified Mr. Getz that the senate's committee had asked him to reconvene the ad hoc committee to review Mr. Chapela's research again.

At that point, Mr. Getz says, the chairman resigned and disavowed the committee's report, saying he did not have the expertise to judge Mr. Chapela's research. The chairman, whose name Mr. Getz declined to reveal, did not tell any of the members of the committee about his decision at the time, Mr. Getz said.

The senate's committee then advised the chancellor to reject Mr. Chapela's tenure bid which the chancellor did.

"I have no direct evidence of anything," Mr. Chapela said of the chancellor's decision. "But the crown jewel of Berdahl's chancellorship is a bioengineering building."

"There's still an enormous amount of animosity against me because of [my criticism of] Novartis," Mr. Chapela said. "I cannot help but think that this influenced the decision" on tenure.

Mr. Chapela said the Academic Senate's tenure committee had recognized him as an excellent teacher, but cited the serious challenges to his research and an inadequate publications record.

Mr. Getz said that the ad hoc panel had carefully considered Mr. Chapela's research record, but after noting both the Nature controversy and the amount of research, decided to recommend tenure anyway. "It's clear that plant geneticists don't contest his findings, but his methods," he said.

"I believe the [Academic Senate] committee was pushing to get a different outcome" from the ad hoc committee, he said. Mr. Getz is in the same department as Mr. Chapela, but he is not close to him either personally or professionally, he said. He called the tenure review's result "disgraceful" and added that he feared that powerful researchers who benefited from the Novartis deal had made Mr. Chapela a victim of politics.

In June, Mr. Chapela staged his own protest, decrying the length of his tenure process. He moved a small desk, two chairs, tea, biscuits, and books outside of California Hall, where the senate's committee meets and where the chancellor has his office. For five days and nights, he held a vigil to protest the unusually long time that the university was making him wait for a tenure decision.

Now Mr. Chapela says he plans to appeal the decision within the normal university process. However, he says he also plans to sue the institution: "In the last few days, I've had a lot of phone calls from attorneys." ree/v50/i18/18a01001.htm


Lawsuit Filed To Block Sale Of First Genetically Engineered Pet Fish

Press Release
Contact: Craig Culp, CTA, 202/547-9359, 301/509-0925,
January 14, 2004

Washington — The Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) and Center for Food Safety (CFS) today filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court to block the sale of the first ever genetically engineered pet, called the GloFish. The lawsuit seeks a court order stating that the transgenic fish are subject to Federal regulation and cannot be sold further without proper approvals. Yorktown Technologies, LLP, of Austin, Texas, began selling the gene-altered fish nationally this month, claiming that it needs no Federal permit to do so. The bright red fish was created by adding genes from a coral species to the genome of the common, black and white zebra danio.

Recent research also has revealed that the GloFish was engineered to contain animal and human viruses and as well as antibiotic resistance genes, all of which can pose human and animal health hazards.

"Allowing the unregulated sale of GloFish will provides a gateway for genetically engineered fish to find their way onto our dinner plates and into our environment,” said Joseph Mendelson, CFS Legal Director. "By not stepping in to regulate these fish, the FDA and USDA will be establishing a dangerous precedent for all future gene-altered animals, whether created as food or pet fads. We are suing to prevent the GloFish from opening the floodgates for all manner of genetically engineered animals.”

The CTA/CFS action seeks a ruling that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority over genetically engineered pets. In November 2003, CFS requested that FDA formally announce its policy on engineered ornamental fish. So far, FDA has declined to regulate genetically engineered pet fish or to offer a timetable for issuing the agency’s policy.

The California Fish and Game Commission is the only state agency to rule on the engineered zebra fish. On December 3, the Commission said federal regulation was needed and cited ethical concerns in refusing to allow the sale of the genetically engineered fish .in that state.

"The genetic engineering of domesticated and wild animals creates profound moral and environmental issues for society,” said CTA Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell. "The Bush administration’s hands-off approach to this technology has created a regulatory and ethical free-fall. It is time for the courts to intervene and force our government agencies to protect the public, not the just the interests of a few biotech companies.”

The National Academy of Sciences echoed the need for federal regulation in a 2003 report on transgenic animals that emphasized the risks of genetically engineered fish.

The complaint in the lawsuit represents the first-ever legal action seeking to block sale of a genetically engineered animal and can be downloaded at:

For more information, please visit

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