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Wildlife Refuge Used for Genetically Modified Crops

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
November 7, 2005

Farmers Given Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Land

WASHINGTON - November 7 - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has decided to expand a controversial give-away in which local farmers grow genetically modified soybeans and corn on Delaware's at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today released a letter protesting the move as wreaking ecological havoc and violating the Service's own policies.

"Plowing under high-quality grasslands to plant soybeans does wildlife no good and sets a terrible precedent affecting the entire National Wildlife Refuge System," stated Gene Hocutt, the head of PEER's Refuge Keeper program and a former long-time refuge manager. "Prime Hook is supposed to be a National Wildlife Refuge - not a national soybean patch!"

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge covers some 10,000 acres but 500 of those acres are being used by local farmers to grow soybeans and corn. The farmers switched over to genetically modified crops in 2001. At that time, the Refuge took 150 acres (3 fields each about 50 acres in size) out of the farming program to participate in a regional Grassland Bird study. The study found rare plants and insects as well as unique birding opportunities. Despite those findings, the Refuge now plans to put the 150 study acres back into cultivation.

"The Fish & Wildlife Service dropped its fig leaf when it decided to give away even the little bit of acreage needed for the biological study," Hocutt added, noting that data collection on natural plant communities and bird use will have to cease and the $200,000 spent on the study will be wasted.

In a letter of protest that it sent to the Service, PEER contends that the Refuge cultivation program:

  • Violates Service rules banning non-native plants and regulations requiring that "economic activity," such as farming, must be determined to be compatible with the biological diversity on the Refuge - a determination that has not been made at Prime Hook;
  • Trades off early successional grassland-shrub habitats for fertilizer and pesticide intensive row-crops, to the detriment of wildlife; and
  • Continues even though Prime Hook lacks required conservation and habitat protection plans. PEER is now recruiting local conservationists and organizations to join a lawsuit to end the Prime Hook farming program.

"What is happening at Prime Hook is not just poor biology, it is illegal as hell," Hocutt concluded.


GM Crop Scrapped As Mice Made Ill

By Selina Mitchell and Leigh Dayton
The Australian
November 18, 2005

CSIRO (Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) scientists have abandoned a decade-long GM crop project in its last stages of research after learning that peas modified to resist insects had caused inflammation in the lung tissues of mice.

It is only the second time in the world a GM project has been abandoned after a gene transfer from one crop to another, deputy chief of CSIRO Plant Industry T.J.Higgins said yesterday.

The findings - published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry this week - suggest the allergic-style reaction in the mice was triggered because the protein was altered by a natural process.

Dr Higgins said it was disappointing to have to discontinue work on the genetically modified field pea, which had proved almost 100 per cent effective against insect attack.

But he said the case demonstrated the effectiveness of strict regulations on research into genetically modified crops.

The regulations did not allow the commercial release of a genetically modified crop unless it satisfied all health and safety requirements.

"It's a good example of why the regulations are necessary," he said. "This work strongly supports the need for case-by-case examination of plants developed using genetic modification and the importance of decision-making based on good science."

But Greenpeace GM campaigner Jeremy Tager disagreed.

"That's complete nonsense," he said. "Withdrawing a failure doesn't show the success of the regulatory system.

"It just shows the failure of the science in relation to this gene product."

Director of the GeneEthics Network Bob Phelps was pleased the project was scrapped.

"Not only are these experiments on a minor crop a waste of public money, they highlight the growing concern worldwide about the health impacts of all GM foods," Mr Phelps said.

The GM peas will be destroyed, Gene Technolgy Regulator Sue Meeks said.

"The whole proof-of-concept study will be wrapped up under contained conditions - nothing has entered the human food chain," Dr Meeks said.

The CSIRO was working with the Grains Research and Development Corporation to genetically modify peas to resist attack by the pea weevil (Bruchus pisorum) and fungus.

Pea weevils alone can cause yield losses of up to 30per cent a year in the $100million-a-year field pea industry.

The scientists added a gene that produces a bean protein to the peas that causes weevil larvae to starve. Humans have been eating the naturally occurring bean protein for years.

But a team at the John Curtin School of Medical Research found that when mice were fed the GM peas, they suffered an adverse reaction and their lung tissue became inflamed.

"It was not life-threatening, but nonetheless it was a concerning reaction," Dr Higgins said.

However, he said the search for weevil and fungus-resistant peas would continue, using the gene transfer system that was developed at the CSIRO as part of a $3million project.

In an earlier case of GM research, work on a protein-enhanced soy product was abandoned when it was discovered that the brazil nut gene transferred to the soy produced a protein that could cause allergic reactions in some people.

Grains Research and Development Corporation managing director Peter Reading said it was good to be able to identify problems "early in the piece".

A spokeswoman for Bayer Crop Sciences, also involved in researching GM products, said the CSIRO's decision had no impact on the firm's GM work.

Melbourne-based Monsanto - which has developed several GM food products, including corn - was unavailable for comment yesterday.


GM Pea Causes Allergic Damage in Mice

By Emma Young, Sydney news service
November 18, 2005

A decade-long project to develop genetically modified peas with built-in pest-resistance has been abandoned after tests showed they caused allergic lung damage in mice.

The researchers – at Australia’s national research organisation, CSIRO – took the gene for a protein capable of killing pea weevil pests from the common bean and transferred it into the pea. When extracted from the bean, this protein does not cause an allergic reaction in mice or people.

But the team found that when the protein is expressed in the pea, its structure is subtly different to the original in the bean. They think this structural change could be to blame for the unexpected immune effects seen in mice.

The work underlines the need to evaluate new GM crops on a case-by-case basis, says Paul Foster of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the immunological work. He also calls for improvements in screening requirements for genetically engineered plants, to ensure comprehensive tests are carried out.

Jeremy Tager, Greenpeace Australia’s campaigner on genetic engineering, agrees. “These results indicate the potential for unpredicted and unintended changes in the structure of transferred proteins. And I’m not aware of any country that requires feeding studies as part of its approval process.”

Completely resistant

Field peas (Pisum sativum) are susceptible to the pea weevil Bruchus pisorum, which lays its eggs on the pea pods. The weevil frequently devastates crops not only in Australia but across the developing world.

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) contains alpha-amylase inhibitor-1, a protein that inhibits the activity of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that is used by pea weevils to help them digest starch.

CSIRO Plant Industry researchers hoped the developing weevils would starve after eating the protein, before they could cause any real damage to the crop. Trials showed that the GM peas were almost completely resistant to the pea weevils.

Hypersensitive skin

Foster and his team then used mice to investigate whether eating the GM peas might have any undesirable immune impact. Generally, digested proteins do not create a specific immune system response.

But researchers found that mice that ate transgenic pea seed did develop antibodies specific to the protein. Some of these mice were later exposed to the purified protein, either through injection into the blood, or by putting the protein into their airways.

This approach is a standard "multiple immune challenge" procedure and is designed to determine if the immune system is tolerant to a protein. The injected mice showed a hypersensitive skin response, while the airway-exposed mice developed airway inflammation and mild lung damage.

The effect was the same whether the protein was taken from raw or cooked peas – so whether the protein was active or denatured. “To my knowledge, this is the first description of inducing experimental inflammation in mice” with a GM food, Foster says. In the early 1990s, researchers engineered a more nutritious strain of soya bean by adding a gene taken from brazil nuts. But the project ended when it was discovered that the hybrid was likely to trigger a major attack in people with brazil nut allergies.

Human consumption

Further investigations by Foster’s team revealed slight differences in the molecular structure of the protein when it was expressed in the bean and in the pea. They think this was caused by differences in the way the two plants produce proteins – particularly in a step called glycosylation, which involves adding saccharides to the protein.

“When expressed in the pea, the protein was glycosylated at different points – that’s the only structural change we’ve been able to identify so far,” says Foster.

He adds that slight differences in protein synthesis might also occur in other plants with other genes, meaning each new GM food should be very carefully evaluated for potential health effects. “If a GM plant is to go up for human consumption, there should be a detailed descriptive list of how one should go about analysing that plant,” he says.

Tager agrees. It is rare for an investigation of the potential health effects of a GM product to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, he adds. “If it had been a private company doing this, it might never have seen the light of day,” he says.

Transgenic Expression of Bean-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity

Agric. Food Chem., 53 (23), 9023 -9030, 2005
October 15, 2005 (Web Release Date)

Vanessa E. Prescott, Peter M. Campbell, Andrew Moore, Joerg Mattes, Marc E. Rothenberg, Paul S. Foster, T. J. V. Higgins, and Simon P. Hogan*

Division of Molecular Bioscience, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia, Division of Allergy and Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229, and Divisions of Entomology and Plant Industry, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Canberra, ACT, Australia


The development of modern gene technologies allows for the expression of recombinant proteins in non-native hosts. Diversity in translational and post-translational modification pathways between species could potentially lead to discrete changes in the molecular architecture of the expressed protein and subsequent cellular function and antigenicity. Here, we show that transgenic expression of a plant protein (-amylase inhibitor-1 from the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L. cv. Tendergreen)) in a non-native host (transgenic pea (Pisum sativum L.)) led to the synthesis of a structurally modified form of this inhibitor. Employing models of inflammation, we demonstrated in mice that consumption of the modified amylase inhibitor and not the native form predisposed to antigen-specific CD4+ Th2-type inflammation. Furthermore, consumption of the modified AI concurrently with other heterogeneous proteins promoted immunological cross priming, which then elicited specific immunoreactivity of these proteins. Thus, transgenic expression of non-native proteins in plants may lead to the synthesis of structural variants possessing altered immunogenicity.


First Documentary on Genetically Engineered Trees Released

Sierra Club, Global Justice Ecology Project
November 10, 2005

Dangers of Genetic Engineering in Forestry Explained

Hinesburg, VT- Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign announced the release of A Silent Forest: The Growing Threat, Genetically Engineered Trees, a 45 minute documentary narrated by Dr. David Suzuki, renowned geneticist and host of PBS' The Nature of Things.

In A Silent Forest, Dr. Suzuki confronts the rush to commercialize the unproven products of biotechnology: "In any revolutionary area [of science], and biotechnology is a revolutionary area, most of our current ideas are wrong. Then I ask you, what the hell is the rush to apply these ideas? We're still at the very beginning of understanding what we're doing. The rush to apply these ideas is absolutely dangerous because we don't have a clue what the long term impacts of our manipulations is going to be."

"At the same time that corporations such as Arborgen, the company at the forefront of genetic engineering in trees, are preparing to begin selling dangerous and unproven genetically engineered trees, A Silent Forest sends a powerful message about the dangers posed by this type of manipulation," stated Orin Langelle, Coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. The STOP GE Trees Campaign is an alliance of thirteen U.S. and Canada organizations, including the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Dogwood Alliance, Southern Forests Network and others opposed to genetically engineered trees.

The biotechnology industry has been focusing recently on stacking the legal deck in their favor. During the past year, in response to grassroots campaigns for GE-Free zones, the industry has been working to establish pre-emptive state laws that prohibit local governments from regulating GE plants.

Genetically engineered trees have the potential to transfer pollen for hundreds of miles carrying genes for traits including insect resistance, herbicide resistance, sterility and reduced lignin. They have the potential to impact wildlife as well as rural and indigenous communities that depend on intact forests for their food, shelter, water, livelihood and cultural practices.

"Genetically engineered trees are being developed with almost no research on the inevitable negative impacts- we know they will rapidly contaminate natural forests with engineered characteristics," added Alyx Perry, Coordinator of the Southern Forests Network. "There is almost no public debate about genetic engineering in forestry, and our federal agencies have taken a facilitative rather than regulatory approach. Public agencies are supporting the development of this technology with little regard for the public's interest."

DVD's of A Silent Forest are available for purchase at

The Stop Genetically Engineered Trees Campaign includes the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Dogwood Alliance, Polaris Institute, Global Justice Ecology Project, WildLaw, Southern Forests Network, Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project, ForestEthics, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Forest Stewards Guild, Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering and GE Free Maine.


Voters Reject Sonoma Ban on Genetically Modified Crops

Associated Press
November 9, 2005

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - A proposed ban on planting or cultivating genetically altered crops was rejected by Sonoma County voters Tuesday night.

With 68 percent of precincts reporting, Measure M lost 57 to 43 percent in one of the county’s most expensive ballot fights ever.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed 10-year ban spent a combined $850,000. Only three counties in the nation - all in California - ban genetically altered crops.

Sonoma County anti-biotechnology crusaders placed Measure M on the ballot earlier this year, hoping to join neighboring Mendocino County in officially banning biotechnology from its farms, spread out over a region best known for pastoral vineyards and lush orchards.

Mendocino County voters in March 2004 were the first in the nation to enact such a ban, overwhelmingly approving the measure despite a well-funded counter campaign from the biotechnology industry.

In November 2004, voters in Marin County, a mostly suburban region just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, enacted their own ban on genetically modified crops, while voters in Humboldt, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties voted down proposed biotechnology bans.

The Board of Supervisors in tiny Trinity County also passed a similar ban.

Opponents of genetically modified crops have lobbied for outright bans in Hawaii and Vermont, but California remains the only state in the nation where voters have enacted such bans.

The bans are largely symbolic because few - if any - genetically engineered crops were grown in those counties. The same is true for Sonoma County, where the winemaking grape is king. No genetically engineered grapes are commercially available.


China Slows GMO Rice Plan as Concerns Mount

November 23, 2005

HONG KONG: China is applying the brakes to its plan to produce the world's first genetically modified rice for human consumption as concerns mount over safety, especially with reports that illegal transgenic rice is already being sold in some provinces.

Scientists and activists say that China's biosafety committee is unlikely to reach a consensus at a meeting this week on commercialisation of genetically modified, or GMO, rice for the world's biggest producer and consumer of the grain.

The government has added more food and environment safety experts to the committee, which is to examine and make recommendation to Beijing on four varieties of insect or disease resistant GMO rice varieties in the pipeline.

"I don't think they'll come to a consensus. There will be different opinions," Angus Lam, a campaigner from Greenpeace in China, told Reuters. "There has been some setback for GMO rice. It's not moving as fast as we expected."

Early this year China, already the leading producer of GMO cotton, looked set to approve commercialisation of a GMO rice, which would lead to the release of the world's first major transgenic crop for direct human consumption.

Yet so far, Beijing has not given the green light to the disease resistant Xa21 rice, recommended by the committee last December. Its added gene is derived from a wild rice, which some said should help convince sceptics of its safety.

"Last year the committee said yes to the Xa21 GM rice, but it was not approved by the government," said Lu Baorong, professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, one of the 74 members of the new committee, who was also a member of the previous committee.

"The safety requirement is getting tougher and tougher because of the concerns. Because rice is for food, the government really wants to make sure that they make no mistake," said the deputy director for Institute of Biodiversity Science.

Other rice varieties, which are at the advanced stage of field study, include the insect resistant rice that contains a toxic bacterial gene, the insect resistant CpTI rice with a gene from cowpea and the Bt/CpTI rice that contains both genes.

The scientists and activists said Beijing was caught off guard in April when Greenpeace announced that the unapproved GMO rice was on sale in the markets in the central province of Hubei, one of China's major rice producers.

Greenpeace also found illegal sale of the rice in the southern province of Guangdong in June, which it said showed the transgenic rice was spreading across China and could enter markets overseas.

Some of China's top trading partners, including the European Union, Japan and South Korea, expressed concern about the reports and they asked Beijing for clarification. At home, it led Guangdong to suspend rice purchases from Hubei.

"Our view is still the technology offers great potential," said Ren Wang, a Chinese scientist at International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

"However, these countries really need to put in place a biosafety regulatory scheme that ensures proper use of the technology. No transgenic rice should be allowed into commercial production before approval."

Now Japan tests rice and rice products from China to prevent transgenic rice from entering the country as consumers are not convinced of its safety.

Though China no longer belongs to the world's top five rice exporters, it sells rice and rice products, including organic rice, to Japan, South Korea and Africa.

Ironically, China just ratified a United Nation's protocol pledging more transparency and control over trade in GMO products.

"Domestic trade is also an issue," said Wang of the international rice institute. "There are different views towards transgenic rice and different controlling mechanisms in different provinces."

Sze Pangcheung from Greenpeace, agreed: "If you know you have a regulatory gap and you do have market should do something before you make the decision for commercialisation. Because once you make that, there's no way to turn back," he said.,2106,3487776a6026,00.html

China Committee Not Recommending GMO Rice

By Nao Nakanishi
November 28, 2005

HONG KONG - A Chinese government committee has failed to reach a consensus on the safety of genetically modified rice, putting off the world's first large-scale production of the transgenic grain for human consumption.

Committee members told Reuters on Monday the biosafety committee was asking for more data to prove the safety of genetically modified (GMO) rice before recommending that Beijing approve its use.

"There has been no safety agreement for commercial release," said Lu Baorong of Shanghai Fudan University, who is one of 74 members of the committee, which comes under the ministry of agriculture.

"Next year, if they provide sufficient safety information, we will assess again," said Lu, also a deputy director at the Institute of Biodiversity Science.

An official from the agriculture ministry's GMO office declined to give details of the three-day meeting that ended on Friday, saying that it was collecting expert views on GMO rice.

Activists and scientists have said China, the world's top rice consumer and producer, is reining in plans to introduce GMO rice as concerns mount over safety.

The government has added more food and environment safety experts to the new committee, which they said had made it more difficult to reach a consensus on GMO rice.

Beijing was caught off guard in April when environment group Greenpeace said unapproved GMO rice was on sale in markets in the central province of Hubei, one of China's major rice producers.

Greenpeace also reported sales in the southern province of Guangdong in June.

Early this year China, already the world's largest grower of insect resistant GMO cotton, looked set to approve commercialization of a GMO rice known as Xa21 that includes a gene from an African wild rice.

Yet Beijing has not given the green light to the disease resistant Xa21 rice.

China has been conducting field trials on four varieties of GMO rice, including Bt rice, which has a gene that makes it toxic to pests, the insect resistant CpTI and Bt/CpTI rice.

"We are just waiting," said Jia Shirong, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, whose team had applied for the commercial release of Xa21 rice after more than eight years of study and field trials.

"We have submitted additional data...Whether it will be approved for commercialization depends on the government. I don't know when it will happen," the professor told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Niu Shuping in Beijing)


Switzerland 'Backs GM Crop Ban'

BBC News
November 27, 2005

Swiss voters have approved a five-year ban on the use of genetically modified crops, partial results from Sunday's referendum suggest.

Results from most of the country's 26 cantons show that more than 55% have voted in favour of the moratorium.

Supporters of the ban include farmers, who believe that the introduction of GM crops would undermine organic produce.

But the biotechnology industry had campaigned against the ban, saying the country must accept new developments.

The BBC Imogen Foulkes in Berne says the Swiss have long been suspicious of genetically modified crops.

Only one tiny experimental GM crop of wheat has ever been grown on Swiss soil, by scientists at the University of Zurich.

Surveys show Swiss consumers would not buy GM produce.

The EU lifted its own moratorium on GM crops last year. Switzerland, although not a member of the EU, was under pressure to do the same.

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Genetically engineered food is corporate bioterrorism