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Tillamook Creamery Bans Artificial Growth Hormone

By William McCall
Associated Press
February 18, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. - The No. 2 maker of chunk cheese in the nation has banned a genetically engineered growth hormone made by Monsanto Co. for dairy cows after consumer complaints.

The Tillamook County Creamery Association said Friday it has asked all of its 147 member farmers to halt use of the recombinant bovine somatotropin hormone, or rBST, despite pressure from Monsanto.

"After a nearly two-year process of developing and implementing a policy requiring our dairy suppliers to forgo the use of artificial bovine growth hormone, Tillamook County Creamery Association is facing an aggressive intrusion by Monsanto into the association's decision-making process," the association said in a prepared release.

The rBST hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac, is used to boost milk production in dairy cows.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the hormone in 1993, allowing one of the first major biotechnology-related products to enter the nation's food supply.

But demand for milk and dairy products labeled rBST-free has continued to grow, said Rick North, spokesman for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"We're really very appreciative they're taking this step," North said of Tillamook.

The medical group estimates that about 10 percent to 15 percent of dairy farmers are using the hormone on their herds nationally, and the figure is about the same in Oregon.

Christie Lincoln, spokeswoman for Tillamook said Friday the decision to ban the hormone was driven by consumers.

"Consumers of Tillamook dairy products expect Tillamook to do the right thing," she said. "They're asking us to remove the recombinant bovine hormone from our product, and we're just responding to that."



GM Foods to Undergo Close Scrutiny, Says Fawaz Al-Alami

By Javid Hassan & Nasser Al-Salti
Arab News
February 9, 2005

RIYADH — An experts’ committee has been set up to formulate draft standards for genetically modified food.

This was disclosed to Arab News by Dr. Fawaz Al-Alami, deputy minister of commerce and industry, who said the Kingdom is currently importing genetically modified products with a threshold of one percent for safety considerations. This threshold applies to agricultural plants (genetically modified organisms). Animal GMO is banned not only in the Kingdom but in many countries in view of its cloning possibilities.

"But we are not going to use genetically modified seeds as they are banned. We have adequate stocks of conventional seeds," the deputy minister said.

Dr. Al-Alami also announced that his ministry has issued 74 licenses for setting up accredited laboratories in the private sector for issuing certificates under the International Conformity Certificate Program (ICCP). An internationally known company will open an office in the Kingdom to inspect and certify the facilities of new labs yet to be established. Based on its certificate, the ministry will issue the license.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a symposium on genetically modified food (GMF) at the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO) yesterday. One of the themes of the symposium — "Food Labeling" — proved a controversial issue. US delegate Richard White objected to food labeling on the ground that the display of ingredients on the label could discourage consumers from buying the product and constitute a technical barrier to trade.

Acknowledging the sharp differences, the minister said the issue remains to be resolved, given the sensitivities in the Kingdom. "The consumer has a right to know the contents of the foodstuff that he is going to buy."

Dr. Al-Alami hoped the issue would be resolved at an international symposium that SASO is organizing. The US, Canada and Argentina have expressed concerns over the food labeling practice; the European countries as well as Australia and New Zealand support food labeling. He said the practice is compatible with the concept of transparency, one of the requirements for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"The experts committee will be given 90 days to produce the draft standards. These draft standards will be circulated among various countries in line with our commitment to transparency required under the WTO regime. They will be given another 90 days for reviewing these draft standards followed by an additional two-month period to incorporate the changes in the draft," the deputy minister said, adding that the final drafts will be submitted to the board of directors of SASO. A final decision will then be taken on whether the GMO threshold will be one percent or more.

A key element of the exercise, he pointed out, would be the fixing of threshold for GM food — the minimum quantity of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food chain that could be safely tolerated. "This percentage ranges from five percent in some countries to one percent in Saudi Arabia."

Richard White, director of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Affairs Office of the US Trade Representative, said: "We have some concerns over labeling restrictions on biotech foods that have been in place for sometime in the Kingdom. We see this as an opportunity for the US and other countries to provide information to representatives from a number of Saudi ministries on our experience that biotech foods are safe for consumption.

"We have just heard that there is a lot of misinformation in the public about biotech food. We would like to share our experience with everybody here that in the US we have approved biotech corn, soybeans and canola as well as other vegetable products. The 250 million population of the US has been consuming these biotech food products since 1997."

White pointed out that around 80 percent each of soybeans and cotton as well as 40-45 percent of corn are biotech products. Referring to the obstacles in the way of biotech products distribution in the Kingdom, the US delegate observed that the labeling policy now in place "is negative, because it implies that there is something wrong with the product and, therefore, US food companies may not use such labels."

Bart Bilmer, director, Office of Biotechnology, Canada, said food labeling is mandatory in his country. "We also have mandatory labeling for food that has been changed in composition of their nutritional elements which should be mentioned on the label. In Canada, 70 percent of canola and 40 percent each of corn and soybeans are genetically engineered products."

Dr. Jamil M. Al-Khayri, associate professor of plants biotechnology, King Faisal University, noted that information on labels should be educative or it would look like a statutory warning. He assured the gathering that biotech food is completely safe. He believes it is important to educate the people on the biotech products.

Dr. Ines Gabriela Fastame from the Ministry of International Trade, Argentina, said her country is a main producer and an international exporter of transgenic crops. As much as 99 percent of soybean and 50 percent of corn, 20 percent of cotton produced in Argentina are genetically modified.

Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of corn, the first in soybean oil, the first in soy meal, and the ninth in corn oil. She said GMOs are not labeled in Argentina, because biotech products can reach commercial status after they pass all scientific risk assessment tests.

Giovanni Monastra, scientific coordinator, National Institute for Research on Food and Nutrition, Rome, said a GMO could be a virus, a bacterium, a fungus, a plant or an animal and is defined by the European Commission as "an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination."


The Beef About Clones

By Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times
February 10, 2005

Ranchers with carbon-copy bulls are fenced in by the public's distaste for food derived from such animals and delays in FDA approval.

CHARLO, Mont. After 30 years of raising cattle the old-fashioned way, Larry Coleman decided six years ago to plunk down $60,000 to clone the best Limousin breeding bull these parts had ever seen.

First Down, a hulking black creature that died in 1999, produced semen that sold for as much as $700 a vial and he filled thousands of them. Now a new First Down, along with fellow clones Second Down and Third Down, are ready to kick off their careers as professional sires. Second Down has already been relocated to a semen collection facility in Billings.

Fliers have been printed. A three-ring binder contains orders from eager customers. Thousands of semen straws are waiting in a freezer.

And waiting - and waiting - and waiting.

"I thought for sure we'd have our investment back by now," Coleman said.

Blocking Coleman's leap into the cloning revolution is the Food and Drug Administration, which despite four years of study has yet to rule that products from cloned animals are safe to eat.

Thousands of other ranchers are in similar straits, holding back prospective steaks and milk as the FDA studies the issue, although some meat is quietly making its way to the dinner table.

The main concern is not the clones themselves, which are too precious to butcher for burgers. Rather, the government is worried that milk from clones or meat from their offspring might pose some unknown health risk.

The FDA did its own study in 2003 and found that "food products derived from animal clones and their offspring are probably as safe to eat as food from their non-clone counterparts."

But the ranchers acknowledge there is an inescapable queasiness about cloning that complicates the government's decision. Even though the first animal clone - Dolly the sheep - was born nearly a decade ago, the public still has a hard time grappling with the new science.

It's even harder to think about eating it.

According to a survey last year by the International Food Information Council, a trade group, 62% of consumers said they would be "very unlikely" or "somewhat unlikely" to buy meat, milk and eggs from cloned animals.

A separate poll conducted by Gallup found that 64% of American consumers believed cloning animals was "morally wrong."

As Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute, explained: "The yuck factor is very large."

Lounging in a slushy pen with a few dozen other cattle, First Down and Third Down don't seem like much of a threat to the nation's food supply.

Their faces and hindquarters caked in mud, they look pretty much like all the other bulls — except bigger.

Coleman can't help but think of the original when he looks at the two clones.

"Every wrinkle - everything about them, even the disposition and character - are the same," he said nostalgically.

The spirit of the first First Down looms large on the Coleman ranch.

A metal cutout of his blocky silhouette is soldered to the family's mailbox. His jet-black likeness adorns the tan baseball caps worn by the Coleman clan. More than 5,500 calves are registered as his offspring.

When he was born on the ranch in 1994, First Down was small like a puppy dog, hardly remarkable. But he soon outgrew his fellow calves. His yearling weight of 1,580 pounds made him several hundred pounds heavier than many adult Limousin bulls.

In the rating system for breeding bulls, First Down had phenomenal stats. He ranked in the top 1% of his breed in terms of growth, docility, muscle marbling and scrotum size, a measurement used to predict the fertility of his daughters.

"The genetics of a bull like that are of extreme value to our population," said Kent Andersen, executive vice president of the North American Limousin Foundation in Englewood, Colo.

He declared First Down the "most influential" Limousin in the country since the first bulls arrived from France in 1971.

He couldn't have been born at a better time.

Coleman and his wife of 35 years, Anita, live a modest life in a town of 439 where the lone grocery store sells farming magazines at the checkout stand. He manages about 800 head of cattle on land homesteaded by his grandfather in 1908. Larry's father, brother, nephew and one son all live within a few miles.

In the mid-1980s, a depressed farm economy forced Coleman's ranch into bankruptcy.

First Down saved them. Coleman entered 10 of First Down's sons in the 1998 stock show and won the grand champion prize. Animals sired by First Down commanded a hefty premium at auction.

"He was our million-dollar bull," Coleman said, exaggerating slightly.

The idea of cloning First Down was not obvious to Coleman. The technology was still experimental at the time: The first calves cloned from an adult cow were born in Japan in 1998. But as word of the breakthrough spread, suggestions made their way to Charlo.

A few months before First Down died of natural causes, Coleman sent a small piece of the bull's ear to Infigen Inc., a biotech company in DeForest, Wis.

To clone an animal, scientists start with a piece of ear skin and mince it up in a lab. Then they induce the cells to divide in a culture dish until they forget they are skin cells and regain their ability to express all of their genes. Meanwhile, the nucleus is removed from a donor egg and placed next to a skin cell. Both are zapped with a tiny electric shock, and if all goes well the egg grows into a genetic copy of the original animal.

The first two clones died. It took a couple of years, but three healthy clones were delivered to Charlo in the spring of 2003.

Soon after, Coleman received a reassuring message on his answering machine from John Matheson, a senior regulatory review scientist with the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "A decision on whether or how to regulate them is probably going to be into the early spring of '04," Matheson said.

That would be just in time for Coleman's clones to reach sexual maturity.

The spring breeding season passed without a decision. The first batches of semen stayed put in a freezer.

Now, the melting snow reminds him that spring is approaching again.

"The breeding season is coming upon us," he said, "and if you don't hit that, you got to wait a whole year."

Cattle ranchers have long embraced advanced reproductive technologies in their quest to efficiently produce higher-quality milk and beef.

In the 1960s, they began using frozen semen and artificial insemination. Then, they employed in vitro fertilization.

Such techniques allow prized animals to pass on their desirable genes - but they don't ensure those genes will make it to the next generation.

"When you breed animals, they only donate 50% of the DNA, and it's totally random," said Cindy Daley, a professor of animal science at Cal State Chico's College of Agriculture. "Cloning takes the guesswork out of it."

A squad of First Downs, fathering legions of desirable offspring, could raise the quality of the entire Limousin breed.

But as with any new technology, there are always unknowns.

Some scientists believe all cloned animals have subtle genetic defects that arise from their unnatural start to life. Dolly the sheep, for example, suffered from arthritis and died at an unexpectedly early age.

The Japanese have conducted the most thorough studies of cloned meat.

The scientists, from the Operation of Urgent Research for Utilization of Clone Technology, subjected meat from cloned cattle to a battery of tests.

They compared its chemical composition to samples of regular beef. They analyzed amino and fatty acids. They subjected pieces to simulated gastric and intestinal juices to measure digestibility. They fed the meat to rats for 14 weeks and tracked their motor activity, reflexes, grip strength and other characteristics. Then they killed the rats and conducted autopsies.

In a 2004 report, the researchers concluded that there were "no significant biological differences" between natural and cloned beef.

The U.S. FDA began studying the safety of food produced from cloned animals and their offspring in 2001. The agency commissioned a report from the National Academy of Sciences, which found that clones present "a low level of food safety concern" based on the limited data available.

The FDA issued a draft summary of its risk assessment in 2003, concluding that cloned animals and their offspring posed no increased risk to food safety.

However, the FDA emphasized that it had "made no policy decision that these products may be sold" and asked ranchers to voluntarily keep clones and their offspring out of the food supply until a final decision was made.

FDA officials won't say when they expect that to happen or discuss other aspects of their deliberations.

The North American Limousin Foundation decided on its own to include clones in its breed registry only if their owners refrain from selling semen until the FDA signs off.

Everyone assumed it would be a short wait.

"We were pretty confident that science would prevail in a timely fashion," Andersen said.

Time is relative in a place like Charlo. Nestled in a flat valley in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, it is a landscape where life often seems measured more by season than by clock.

Downtown Charlo is little more than a widening in Montana Highway 212. There is a post office, a fire department, a grocery store, a senior center, an Exxon station, Tiny's Tavern and the M Bar 7 Cafe.

Amber Doty, the cook, is a meat-eater in a community built on cattle. But the thought of cloned beef is just too futuristic for her.

"It's just not right to clone anything," she said.

Even if regulators declared the meat safe, she wouldn't eat it. "You never know how well science works," she said.

Barry Ambrose, who guides tourists on the Lewis and Clark Trail and prefers to eat elk he kills with his own bow, hasn't caught up to the idea either.

"I just don't like fooling around with nature," said Ambrose, son of the late historian Stephen E. Ambrose.

Such ambivalence in the heart of cattle country doesn't bode well for those anticipating a favorable FDA decision.

"The scientists and ranchers always want to say it's just about the science, but it's not," said Foreman of the Food Policy Institute. "We have all sorts of emotional attachments to our food. And to think that people are going to choose without this question coming up - it's just not right."

Most ranchers are simply exasperated. Out on the plains, where tens of millions of cows graze each year, a steak is a steak is a steak.

Ranchers and dairy farmers are losing patience with the moratorium.

Frank Regan spent $65,000 to clone his prized Holsteins Dellia and Deborah. Now, he has five clones producing nearly 500 pounds of milk each day at his family farm in Waukon, Iowa.

He can't sell the milk so he's diverting it to a tank to feed calves. All he can do is wait for the FDA.

"It's kind of like taking a girl out for about 10 years and then telling her you're never going to marry her," he said.

In August, Colby Collins of Frederick, Okla., will begin delivering the first of 50 calves sired by a clone of Full Flush, a popular Chianina bull from a nearby ranch.

Collins could have bought semen from the real Full Flush for $50 a straw. Instead, he paid just $20 for semen from one of the five Full Flush clones.

"When you can cut a dollar here and a dollar there, you've got to do it," he said.

The calves will be sold to youngsters, who will raise them for a year and enter them in county fairs and farm competitions, collectively known as the club calf circuit.

The circuit has come to occupy an odd spot in the clone conflict. Everyone knows the club calves will be sold for slaughter after their last turn in the show ring. But no one likes to dwell on it.

Don Coover, a vet and semen broker in Galesburg, Kan., has promised two clone offspring to kids to raise for the circuit. The FDA has no way to track them.

"They will go into the food chain, no question, in six or eight months," he said.

And that's just the beginning.

"I'm selling hundreds - maybe thousands - of units of semen from bulls that were cloned," he said. "They're going to be slaughtered, and the FDA can't do anything about it."

There is no way to distinguish calves fathered by clones from those fathered by the original bull. A DNA analysis would reveal only that they have different mothers.

"If this turns into a crime," Coover said, "it would truly be the perfect crime."


Cornell Staggered By Legal Blow

For Immediate Release
February 14, 2005

Today, the New York State Court of Appeals issued a decision in "The Matter of Jeremy W. Alderson vs. The New York State College of Agricultureand Life Sciences at Cornell University, et al".

The decision affirmed that the Cornell Ag. School is subject to NY's Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL), gave guidelines as to the types of documents that might or might not be subject to FOIL, and sent the case back to the lower court to determine document-by-document specifics. This is the first definitive ruling that any division of Cornell must comply with Freedom of Information requests.

Alderson commented, "This shows that when you take a swing at a bully, his head snaps back like anyone else's. My personal concern is for the way Cornell is endangering us all with its reckless release of genetically modified organisms. I hope this judgement encourages all of Cornell's critics to legally pummel the university until it goesdown for the count."

Alderson also noted, "In no area of human endeavor is a person more undeservedly praised than when he has a good lawyer. The credit for this victory goes to my attorney, Diane Campbell. I'm just the bimbo on the case."

Campbell reacted to the judgement by saying, "We have breached Cornell'sfortress of FOIL. The court of appeals stated that Cornell is subject to Freedom Of Information Law, which is what we contended all along. We believe that freedom of information law should be construed as broadly as possible, because the ability of citizens to oversee their government is integral to democracy."

Alderson added, "I would also like to thank Ray Schlather for taking this case, and the entire firm of LoPinto, Schlather, Solomon and Salk of Ithaca, NY for pursuing the public good without seeking private gain."

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