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Syngenta's Bt10 Corn Found in Japanese Imports

By GM Free Cymru
For Immediate Release
Friends of the Earth
June 2, 2005

Illegal Genetically Engineered Corn Found in Shipments to U.S. Largest Grain Importer

Washington D.C.-The discovery of a new batch of unapproved genetically engineered corn in Japan this week shows that current regulations of such genetically engineered foods are woefully inadequate, and need to be significantly strengthened, according to Friends of the Earth, a Washington, D.C. based environmental advocacy organization.

"Negotiators from the U.S. and around the world are meeting right now in Montreal," said Lisa Archer, Community Health and Environmental Coordinator at Friends of the Earth. "This contamination occurred because of carelessness and weak U.S. regulations. The Japanese incident reinforces the necessity of bringing the biotech industry under control in the U.S. and around the globe."

Officials from Japan, the biggest importer of U.S. corn, said that a shipment of corn from the U.S. was found to be contaminated by an illegal, experimental genetically engineered corn, called Bt10. The Swiss-based biotech company, Syngenta, admitted in March that it had mistakenly sold the wrong maize to farmers in the U.S. for the last four years. This is the second discovery of U.S. grain exports contaminated with Bt10 in as many weeks. On May 25, a U.S. shipment of corn gluten feed was blocked in Ireland. The shipment was contaminated with Bt10.

On May 11, 2005, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety sent a letter to three federal agencies demanding that the government remove Syngenta's unapproved genetically engineered corn from the nation's food and seed supply pending a thorough risk assessment. Bt10 produces an illegal pesticide not registered by the EPA, yet U.S. agencies have claimed that the corn is safe, without conducting a full risk assessment as has been performed for all previous commercialized genetically engineered crops.

Bt10 contains a gene for resistance to a commonly used antibiotic, ampicillin. Many medical organizations that have examined the safety of GE crops have expressed concern about the use of such genes in engineered food crops, including the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, UK Royal Society, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Pasteur Institute, European Food Safety Authority, and Codex Alimentarius. The British Medical Association has cited the use of such genes as one of their reasons for proposing a ban of GE crops. These groups fear that these antibiotic resistant marker genes will transfer to pathogenic bacteria in humans and exacerbate the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, already a huge medial problem.

"Syngenta's genetically engineered Bt10 corn has not been tested or approved for human consumption anywhere in the world," said Archer. "The U.S. government's negligence is now jeopardizing the safety of the food supply all over the world."

The latest contamination occurs as negotiators on the Biosafety Protocol, in Montreal, Canada, begin discussing the issue of the export of GE crops that are not licensed for consumption in the importing country. The talks are at a critical stage with a small number of countries - New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and Peru - blocking regulations that would reduce contamination from GE crops. An agreement on these rules is expected in the next 24 hours, despite the huge lobbying efforts by the biotech industry for regulation.

The Syngenta corn contamination follows the discovery in 2000 by Friends of the Earth of hundreds of products contaminated with StarLink corn, another variety of genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption. Starlink was unapproved because of concerns that it could cause allergic reactions, but is still being detected in corn supplies five year after it was banned.

On Monday, Friends of the Earth International released a report showing that tougher measures are needed to prevent contamination from GE crops.

Footnotes available on request


Genetic Trespass

The Non-GMO Report
June 2005

Organic farmers continue to report problems with "genetic trespass" from genetically modified crops. Some say the problem is getting worse, but no one knows how bad it is. Research is needed to determine the extent of the problem and to alert stakeholders.

Little research has looked at the impact of GMOs on organic. The Organic Farming Research Foundation's (OFRF) 2002 survey of organic farmers documented the first impacts of GMOs on organics (see The Non-GMO Source July 2003). While only 8% of farmers surveyed reported direct costs or damages resulting >from genetic trespass, the survey was nationwide in scope and included farmers in areas where no GM crops are grown.

In the Midwest, where millions of acres of GM corn and soybeans are grown, the impacts were much greater with up to 80% of organic farmers reporting direct costs or damages. "If this trend continues, what we're seeing now will probe to be just the tip of the iceberg," said Bob Scowcroft, OFRF executive director.

Don't know how large the problem is Mary-Howell Martens, an organic farmer and co-owner, with her husband Klaas, of Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan, New York, says GMOs are increasingly threatening organic. "The problem is probably getting worse as more GM crops are being grown, but we don't have a good assessment of how large the problem actually is," she says.

Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens are in a good position to see the impacts of GMOs. They buy organic grains, including corn, soybeans, and sunflowers, from 50 farmers, as well as grain suppliers in the Midwest. Their certified organic feed mill converts the grain into feed, which they sell to 250 farmers in New York, including dairy farms.

Don't want to test for GMOs The problem may be extensive because some food companies and feed mills are reluctant to test organic grains for GMOs because they are afraid grains will test positive.

A representative with a large US corn processor told The Non-GMO Report that his company buys organic corn and sells it to food manufacturers. The company tests incoming corn for GM material. The representative said that some manufacturers who buy organic corn are strict about GMO contamination, but others only want to know if the corn is certified organic. They aren't concerned if the corn tests positive for GMOs.

In addition, Martens says she knows of few organic feed mills that test for GMOs.

Because organic is a process-based system, US organic rules do not require GMO testing. As a result, if corn is grown according to organic standards, but becomes contaminated, it is still considered organic. Buyers can decide whether or not to use it. "It is a fine line of decision to make," says Martens.

Roger Lansink, an Iowa organic farmer, says if organic feed corn is tested, "we would be losing a lot. If feed buyers rejected corn to a minute trace (of GMOs) that would cripple our corn market," he says.

However, many buyers of organic and non-GM grains say they require GMO testing.

Arran Stepens, president, Nature's Path Foods, says, "Certified organic farmers and processors are very concerned about this issue and are doing their best to prevent contamination. We have not seen any evidence that there is a lack of concern or that there is a lack of effort in complying to the practice standards in regard to this issue."

Lansink says GMO contamination is "a real problem." Even organic corn seed doesn't test 100% pure. We do the best we can to keep it as pure as we can," he says.

Martens concurs. Purity and reality are two different things. In an ideal world we would test everything and reject anything that showed even a minute trace, but we are scrambling most of the time. The unfortunate reality is that we have to do the best we can," she says.

Seed is main problem Seed is the biggest source of GMO contamination. "Contaminated seed is a pervasive problem," says Martens. "People are not aware of how much risk there is in growing conventional seed, especially of certain crops like corn and soybeans."

The National Organic Program states that organic farmers can purchase conventional seed if commercial quantities of organic seed are not available. Martens sees problems with the exemption. "If we continue to allow the loophole of using conventional seed, there's going to be a gradual erosion of the non-GMO status of organic grain," she says.

However, organic certifiers are becoming stricter and requiring that farmers try harder to locate organic seed.

The Martens have seen some of their seed become contaminated. Two open pollinated corn varieties from Canada were tested using the DNA-based PCR method. One tested negative, but the other tested positive for GMOs at a very low level. "We're trying to figure out where it came from," says Martens. It was grown in good isolation >from pollen drift, so we're assuming it was probably in the seed when we received it."

Other sources of GMO contamination include commingling during harvest. Organic farmers often hire combine operators to harvest their fields, but the operators may not thoroughly clean the combines of residual GM grains >from previous harvests. Even tarps used on trucks carrying organic grains can contain dust from GM grains that can cause contamination.

Cross pollination, particularly with corn, is another contamination source. Bob Howe, a New York-based organic inspector, says some organic farmers don't even plant corn due to the risk the GMOs will cross-pollinate with their organic corn. "It's too much of a bother because they can't find an isolated spot to grow it. It's a shame," he says.


There has been talk in recent years of fostering "coexistence" among GMO, non-GMO, and organic. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack said such coexistence should be a "national priority."

One US government-fund-ed coexistence project was launched in North Dakota involving all stakeholders, including organic farmers and certifiers, GMO farmers, biotechnology/seed company representatives, and university agricultural officials. But the project collapsed after organic and non-GMO proponents resigned, claiming that responsibility for coexistence fell on the organic and non-GMO farmers, while the biotechnology companies refused to accept responsibility. In Europe, several nations, including Germany, Italy, and Denmark, have passed laws aiming to ensure coexistence of GMO, non-GMO, and organic. These laws place responsibility and assign liability for GMO contamination on GMO farmers. It is interesting that Europe has addressed coexistence issues before GM crops are widely planted, while the US has only begun to talk about the coexistence after millions of acres of GM crops have been planted.

"We have to do it" One of the best ways to avoid GMO problems is to buy from reliable suppliers. "We deal with reliable suppliers who share or philosophy of organic integrity," says Martens.

Another key is for farmers to become more proactive. "GMO problems are increasing because organic farmers haven't taken responsibility for the fact that avoiding contamination is up to them," says Martens. "Our attitude has been that this is unfair, and it should not be our burden, which is true. But unfortunately that is not how things are. As a community, we haven't shifted to realization that if we want to keep GMOs out of organic we have to do it."

Martens and her husband have developed a GMO management plant to minimize the impacts of GMOs on organic crops.

More research is needed to determine the extent of genetic trespass into organic. The OFRF has made genetic trespass a higher priority, says Jonathon Landeck, assistant executive director. One suggestion has been to track incidents of GMO contamination of organic to determine the scope of the problem and use it to alert stakeholders. "We definitely need that type of information," says Landeck.


Worldwide Register of Genetic Contamination Introduced

Environmetal News Service
June 1, 2005

LONDON, UK - Greenpeace International and GeneWatch UK today opened the world's first online register that lists incidents of genetic contamination with engineered organisms. The searchable website details all the known cases of genetic contamination of food, animal feed, seeds and wild plants that have taken place worldwide.

Timed to coincide with the ongoing meeting of Parties to the Biosafety Protocol now considering rules to guide international trade in genetically modified organisms, the new register shows that 27 countries have experienced genetic contamination of food, animal feed, seeds or wild plants.

"This register is being launched at the moment when governments are meeting in Montreal to decide on international liability regulations for GM crops," said Greenpeace campaigner Doreen Stabinsky. "The sheer number of contamination incidents collected in the register to date makes it clear that unless states take action to set strict rules now, GM crops will further spiral out of control."

The register lists a total of 62 cases where genetically modified organisms either contaminated other plants or failed to perform according to the manufacturers' promises. The largest number of these, 11 incidents, have taken place in the United States, which is the country where most genetically modified crops are grown.

Some incidents listed are cases of contamination, such as the protein from genetically modified Starlink maize that has been found in seven countries - Canada, Bolivia, Egypt, Japan, Nicaragua, South Korea, and the United States.

In 2000, StarLink maize, or corn, was discovered in taco shells being sold for human consumption even though it was approved only for animal feed. There are concerns that its Cry9C gene sequences could be a human allergen.

The manufacturer, Aventis, was forced to remove StarLink from sale and a formal recall order was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for all 350,000 acres of StarLink corn planted across the United States in 2000. Although the U.S. government has purchased over $13 million of Starlink seed since then, the Cry9C gene sequences were still being detected in seed in 2003, possibly because contaminated seed has been used in hybrid seed production.

Other incidents in the new register are cases of failure to perform. In 1997, 54 farmers in Mississippi sought compensation when Monsanto cotton genetically modified for tolerance to the Monsanto herbicide Roundup failed to grow properly. Bolls were deformed and some fell off prematurely.

The Arbitration Council, which moderates between farmers and seed companies, ruled that the Monsanto’s Roundup Ready cotton failed to perform as advertised and recommended payments of nearly $2 million to the three farmers who had not settled out of court.

In Canada, the register lists the first evidence of genetic contamination of a wild relative as a result of commercial growing of a genetically modified crop. A herbicide tolerance gene from genetically modified oilseed rape, Brassica napus, was found in wild turnip in 2003.

While the register documents discoveries of contamination reported by a wide variety of government and academic sources, Greenpeace claims at least one discovery of contamination.

In April, Greenpeace found that genetically modified rice, unapproved for human consumption, has been planted and sold illegally in China for the past two years. Investigations found samples of rice seed as well as unmilled and milled rice containing transgenic strains.

An independent testing laboratory confirmed the presence of transgenic DNA in 19 samples. Two of the samples tested positive for the Bt protein indicating they were Bt rice - a form which has been genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide.

Although genetically modified crops were grown on over 80 million hectares (197.7 million acres) worldwide in 2004, there is no global monitoring system.

"No government or international agency has yet established a public record of contamination incidents or of other problems associated with GM crops," said Dr. Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK.

GeneWatch UK is a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest, environmental protection and animal welfare perspective. GeneWatch believes people should have a voice in whether or how these technologies are used and campaigns for safeguards for people, animals and the environment.

"Turning a blind eye is not good enough when dealing with a technology like GM because it involves the uncontrolled release of living organisms into the environment," Mayer said. "We hope this register will form an important resource for citizens and regulators in the future."

The register is found online at


University of Newcastle Research on the Transfer of DNA from GM Food into Bacteria in the Human Gut

Soil Association
June 1, 2005


In July 2002, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) put the results of new research on its website which showed that genetically modified DNA material moves out of GM food and into human gut bacteria. These were the result of the first known human trial of GM food, carried out by the University of Newcastle and they disproved claims by the biotechnology industry. Although the findings were surprising and some scientists expressed concerns, the FSA denied that the study was significant. The research was published in Nature Biotechnology in January 2004.

We believe that in the absence of research showing otherwise, this means that the safety of GM food is in doubt; the approval procedures for GMOs are inadequate; and that the FSA is not taking a precautionary, science-based approach to the safety of GM foods or adequately informing the public or Government of the uncertainties.

1. Background

Some GM soya and maize has been allowed in UK food for several years. However, no human safety trial had ever been officially carried out and the approval procedures have not required data on the rate and effects of "horizontal gene transfer" compared to non-GM food. Horizontal gene transfer is when genetic material moves from one organism to another, usually of a different species, in a way that is different to the transfer of genetic material to another generation through reproductive processes; it occurs most commonly between micro-organisms.

In genetic engineering, the insertion process and the genetic material inserted in GMOs are designed to be particularly mobile and active to overcome the various cellular defense mechanisms that constitute the natural 'species barrier' against DNA transfer between different species. Some scientists are concerned that this means GMOs may have an artificially high potential for horizontal gene transfer compared to non-GMOs and that many or all GM characteristics, such as antibiotic resistance or toxin production, could possibly transfer from GMOs into other organisms.

The most immediate concern is over gene transfer from GM food or pollen into bacteria in humans, livestock and soil. Potential negative health effects include: undermining the medical use of antibiotics for controlling infections, causing bacteria or cells in our body to produce Bt toxin, or the creation of new viral diseases.

For years, the biotechnology companies have either denied that transgenes could transfer to gut bacteria or, more recently, asserted the opposite - that gene transfer has always occurred between micro-organisms and so there is no cause for concern with GMOs. Worryingly, the UK Government's GM science review in 2003 also assumed that transgenic DNA is no different from other DNA and concluded that the transfer of GM DNA from GM crops to bacteria "is unlikely to occur because of a series of well established barriers", ( uk/report/pdf/gmsci-report1-full.pdf). However, there is no body of scientific evidence or even serious rationale to support this view. GMOs have different features to non-GMOs and these are specifically designed to cross species barriers. So, in the view of those concerned about GMOs, that there is a real concern that the rates and negative effects of horizontal gene transfer could be higher than non-GMOs. We are greatly concerned that the FSA and European authorities publicly state that they are taking a precautionary science-based approach but, in this and other respects, are approving GMOs for use in food and feed on the basis of assumption alone.

Evidence that horizontal gene transfer from GMOs happens in animals has existed for a few years. In May 2000, German researchers at the University of Jena found that a herbicide resistance gene transferred from GM oilseed rape pollen to micro-organisms in the gut of bees. Researchers at the University of Leeds showed that the transgene for kanamycin resistance transfers to E.coli bacteria after being exposed to saliva in a sheep's mouth (Duggan et al., British Journal of Nutrition, 2003, "Fate of genetically modified maize DNA in the oral cavity and rumen of sheep"). Until this study, gene transfer from GM food in humans had not been investigated.

2. University of Newcastle Study

In response to concerns, the FSA commissioned five studies into the fate of transgenic DNA. It was particularly interested in whether antibiotic resistance genes could transfer into the bacteria in the human gut. These are inserted into GM plants during the engineering process as 'markers', to enable successfully modified cells to be identified. This briefing covers one of the studies, "Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract", Netherwood et al, 2004, which was the world's first known trial of GM food on humans.

Part I - persistance of transgenic DNA in the gut

Nineteen volunteers were used, of which seven had had their lower intestine removed and used colostomy bags, enabling bowel samples to be taken from the small intestine. They were all given a meal containing GM soya. This comprised 190g of a deep fried burger made of 150g soya protein (plus eggs and water) and 264g of a milkshake made up of 600ml of soya milk and 100g of soya protein supplement, all purchased from retail outlets. (The soya meal was the brand El Corte Ingles and the protein supplement and soya milk were from Holland and Barrett.) Each meal contained an estimated 3000 billion copies of the epsps transgene (length 2,266 base pairs) which codes for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate. This transgene is originally of bacterial origin, but had been modified for greater expression in plants. The GM construct also included the Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter.

The researchers collected their stools every 30 minutes for up to 6 hours after eating. The samples were freeze dried, ground and heated to 58C for three hours, and then tested for the presence of a specific portion of the transgene. From all seven of those without a lower intestine, they found "to their surprise" that "a relatively large portion" of GM DNA passed through the small intestine, ranging from 100,000 copies of the targeted portion of the transgene, up to 111 billion copies or 3.7% of the total. In six of the seven volunteers, the entire length of the transgene was identified in the samples. The levels of theepsps transgene in the samples was similar to the levels of a gene native to soya, for lectin, indicating that the transgene was being degraded at similar rates to the rest of the soya DNA. No transgenic DNA was found in the faeces from those with a complete intestine.

Part II - uptake of transgenic DNA by gut bacteria

To see if horizontal gene transfer was occurring, they tested the bacteria in the stools of the seven using colostomy bags before and six hours after the GM meal for the presence of the transgene. The wet bowel samples contained c.1 million bacteria per gram.

They could not detect any transgenes in the gut bacteria using normal PCR methods. However, after multiplying the bacteria in a broth to make detection more sensitive, they found that, in three of the seven volunteers, they had taken up a fragment of the transgenic epsps gene (conventional culture techniques cannot recover more than a tiny minority of the microbes in the gastrointestinal tract). The frequency of the transfer was low: 1-3 copies of the transgene fragment per million bacteria. None contained the entire transgene. The researchers say that the levels of transgene in the bacteria were similar in the samples before and after the GM meal (though no data for the latter is given). Sequence analysis confirmed that the transgenic material was identical to the GM plant transgene, rather than the bacterial one, confirming that the source was GM. Interestingly, they could not detect any transfer of one of the native genes in soya, that for lectin. None of the bacteria sampled from the stools of subjects with complete intestinal tracts contained the transgene.

Part III - uptake of transgenic DNA by human gut cells

To test if there had been horizontal gene transfer into the cells lining the gut (the enterocytes of the intestinal epithelium), they genetically modified Lactobacillus bacteria (which lives on the surface of the gut) and Salmonella bacteria (an intra-cellular pathogen). No gene transfer was detected.

3. Conclusions

The first part of the study shows that a proportion of GM DNA consumed is only fully degraded once it reaches the large intestine, where remaining naked DNA is hydrolysed by DNAases. The researchers considered it "surprising that even a fraction of GM soya DNA survives passage through the small bowel." Nevertheless, this is consistent with the findings of the Duggan et al study on GM DNA in sheep, as the microbial system in the human colon is considered similar to that of the rumen.

The second part shows that during passage in the small intestine, horizontal gene transfer occurs with some of the GM DNA moving out of GM food and into the human gut bacteria. The fact that the transgene was detected after the population was amplified "indicates that that the DNA was stably maintained in the bacteria [over generations] and thus had integrated" into the bacterial DNA (as opposed to being present simply because the bacteria has eaten the GM material, as suggested some).

The levels of transfer were similar before and after the GM meal, suggesting "that gene transfer did not occur during the feeding experiment" and "that these subjects had consumed the transgene before enrolling in our study". As they could not detect transfer of the entire transgene, the researchers concluded, "it is unlikely that the gene transfer events seen in this study would alter gastrointestinal function or pose a risk to human health. Nevertheless, the observed survival of transgenic DNA from a GM plant during passage through the small intestine should be considered in future safety assessments of GM foods."

We consider these findings to be very worrying as there are only small amounts of GM material in the UK diet because of the non-GM policies of most major food manufacturers and retailers. While this study indicates that a single meal may not have an immediately significant effect, it shows that the current small amounts of GMOs in the diet, present as contamination or from the use of GMOs in a small number of foods, are resulting in transformed bacteria in the human gut in the UK and these are persisting. Moreover, that the native lectin gene did not transfer is consistent with the concern that GMOs may have special characteristics that promote horizontal gene transfer. This raises serious health issues for GMOs.

On the results of the third part, the researchers say that any conclusion "that gene transfer from bacterial cells to enterocytes is unlikely must be treated with caution" as the complex environment of the intestine surface cannot be simulated perfectly.

4. The response of the media, scientists and FSA Unfortunately, only the results of the first part of the research were widely publicised. The Guardian was the only newspaper to cover the key evidence of gene transfer. On 17 July 2002, it reported that "British researchers have demonstrated for the first time that genetically modified DNA material from crops is finding its way into human gut bacteria, raising potentially serious health questions".

Michael Antoniou, senior lecturer in molecular genetics at King's College Medical School, London, said, "To my knowledge they have demonstrated clearly that you can get GM plant material in the gut bacteria. ... it suggests that you can get antibiotic resistance marker genes spreading around the stomach which would compromise antibiotic resistance." (The Guardian, 17.7. 2002).

In an article in Nature Biotechnology in February 2004 (Vol 22, no. 2, pp 170-172), John Heritage of the University of Leeds and one of the researchers in the Duggan et al study said "on balance, the data presented in the paper support the conclusion that gene flow from transgenic plants to the gut microflora does occur. Furthermore, because transfer events seem to have occurred in three of the seven subjects examined, it may be that transgenic gene transfers are not as rare as suggested by the UK GM Science Review Panel". He said that the risks of horizontal gene transfer should be assessed in the approval process for GMOs.

The FSA, however, which advises on the safety of GMOs and is responsible for the approval of GM foods in the UK, mostly ignored the significance to human health. In its public statement in 2002, it chose to focus on the first part of the study saying that it "showed in real-life conditions with human volunteers, no GM material survived the passage through the entire human digestive tract." However, whether GM material survives to leave the digestive tract is an environmental issue; it is what happens before it is degraded that is important for health.

On the evidence of gene transfer, the FSA said "the research concluded that the likelihood of functioning DNA being taken up by bacteria in the human or animal gut is extremely low". This is a major generalisation and downplaying of the findings as persistant DNA uptake by human gut bacteria was found in nearly half the subjects apparently from general exposure to GMOs, despite the low level of GM material in the UK food chain, and scientists have said that the issue should be addressed in future safety assessments.

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