Say No To GMOs! logo
April 2006 Updates

Safety Checks on GMOs Flawed: EU Environment Chief

By Jeremy Smith
April 5, 2006

VIENNA (Reuters) - Europe's environment chief attacked the EU's top food safety agency on Wednesday for flawed risk assessments of genetically modified (GMO) crops and foods, saying it relied too much on data given by the biotech industry.

In a strong hint he was unwilling to process new requests for approval of GMOs for growing until their potential long-term impact was known, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas also warned against using such data as a sole information source.

His comments on EFSA, Europe's Parma-based food safety agency, which conducts scientific risk assessments of GMO products awaiting EU approval, echoed similar criticisms made last month by the bloc's environment ministers.

"There are questions like whether scientific opinions rendered by EFSA have relied exclusively on information provided by companies that look at short-term effects," he said.

"EFSA cannot give a sound scientific opinion on long-term effects of GMOs. There are also questions on whether GMO companies are providing the right information to the European Commission," he told a news conference.

EFSA's opinions are required by law if any country objects to a company's application to authorize a new GMO product on EU territory. The agency, set up in 2002, conducts its assessments based on data given by the biotech companies that make the GMOs.

At their last meeting in March, several of the EU's 25 environment ministers accused EFSA of failing to take independent and national studies into account for its GMO risk assessments and of not allowing proper access to its research.

This is not the first time EFSA, set up in 2002, has drawn fire on its GMO reports, mainly by green groups that say the agency shows repeated bias in favor of the biotech industry.

This view is disputed by industry, which says EFSA's independent work is undermined by a small number of countries that oppose GMO crops on political and not scientific grounds. EFSA says it is not influenced by commercial or other interests.

New Approvals 'On Hold'?

Later, in a speech delivered to a two-day conference on GMO crop separation, Dimas gave a clear indication that longer-term studies on the potential impact of GMOs were needed before the EU could consider new applications for approval.

Three such applications are now sitting in his department of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, back in Brussels -- two modified maize types and one GMO potato variety.

"Applications for cultivation of GMO products raise a whole new series of possible risks to the environment, notably potential longer-term effects that could impact on biodiversity," he told conference delegates.

"No new GM varieties have as yet been approved under the new regulatory framework. And it is essential that we address such potential risks before granting approvals for their cultivation," he said.

Dimas was referring to the 2001 Deliberate Release directive, the EU's main GMO law that is used for approvals of any GMO destined for growing in Europe's fields.

While the EU has authorized a few GMO crops for cultivation -- the only one that is grown commercially is maize, mainly in Spain -- these approvals were granted before 1998, when the EU began a six-year unofficial ban on all new GMO authorizations.


Health Risks of GE Food

By Hugh S. Lehman, Ph.D.
April, 2006

Dangers From Consumption of Foods Containing Transplanted DNA

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have been produced when DNA from other organisms is incorporated into the cells from which the GMO develops. The inserted DNA becomes part of the genome of the GMO and becomes active in the cells of the GMO. If this GMO is consumed, then the inserted DNA enters the digestive tract along with any products that result from the activity of that DNA. For example, if the inserted DNA produced a toxic substance then consumption of the GMO entails consumption of that toxin. There are many food products available to consumers in the United States that contain GMO's. Among these are corn and soybeans. Presumably there are many American consumers who consume significant amounts of food containing GMOs since, aside from the direct consumption of corn and soybeans, these foods are used in producing many other food products. The United States government regards these food products as safe for human consumption even though there were no experimental tests to determine that consumption of such foods caused no harm. [1]

There are good theoretical reasons to be concerned about the possibility of harm resulting from the consumption of GMOs. Some of these arise from the nature of the DNA that is inserted; some of these arise from the instability of inserted DNA generally. First let's talk about some questions that arise from the nature of the inserted DNA. Along with the DNA that is inserted to produce a desired trait in a plant or other organism there is additional DNA that is used to show that the insertion has succeeded and further more DNA that is used to activate the DNA that produces the desired trait. To show that the insertion of DNA into the organism was successful, DNA that produces antibiotic resistance is used. To activate the desired DNA, some DNA from the cauliflower mosaic virus is widely used. Possible harms that might result from consumption of inserted DNA include spread of antibiotic resistance to disease-causing intestinal organisms. In addition other foreign DNA, not described by the producer, has been found in GMOs. [2] This creates additional uncertainty regarding possible harms that could result from consuming the GMOs in question. Due to the instability of the inserted DNA there is also risk of harm to the organism from the cauliflower mosaic viral DNA.[3] Indeed, in 2002 a histopathologist, Dr. Stanley Ewen, warned that the DNA from the cauliflower mosaic virus could contribute to the growth of malignant tumors.[4] In the same year the Institute of Science in Society warned of such dangers from horizontal gene transfer[5].

There was a time when genetic researchers thought that consuming the DNA inserted into GMO's would not cause harm as the inserted DNA would be destroyed in the digestive tract. However evidence has been available for several years that the inserted DNA is not fully digested. As early as July 17, 2002, a report published in the Guardian in the United Kingdom asserted that research by British scientists, from Newcastle University, shows that transplanted DNA survived the digestive process and was able to enter bacteria resident in the human gut.[6] Our digestion depends on the wide range of bacterial organisms that inhabit our digestive tracts. We have evolved to live in commensal relationships with these microorganisms. The introduction of novel DNA could change those relationships in harmful ways. Were they modified by incorporation of novel DNA they could either fail to contribute to our digestive functioning or become toxic and produce injury or illness. While this is a significant consideration for young healthy adults, it is a consideration that should be taken7 even more seriously for people whose digestive system is compromised by illness or injury. The novel DNA produces proteins that may be toxic to humans, possibly causing problems only after prolonged exposures. Large populations are being exposed and potential toxicities aren't being studied; nor is there long-term surveillance or even labeling.

On June 13, 2003, The Institute of Science in Society (a group of scientists not affiliated with the agricultural industry) published a report calling attention to scientific evidence suggesting danger from consumption of GMOs. The report notes that genes for Bt toxin and the toxin that it codes for are taken up into bacteria in the human gut. As we have observed there is risk that such bacteria may become pathogenic. [8] The dangers posed by the consumption of GMOs may be more than theoretical.

Furthermore, even though GMO's were approved for human consumption in the United States without experimental tests to determine whether such consumption was safe, there is growing evidence from observations of animals that consuming GMOs may indeed cause injury or disease. While there has been subsequent research the most well known studies were performed by the distinguished food scientist Arpad Pusztai. Pusztai's research rats were fed GMOs and suffered modifications to many of their organ systems, e.g., liver, testicles, etc. More recently, in an April 2002 report of the British Broadcasting System it was asserted that research in which chickens fed genetically modified maize were compared with chickens fed on conventional maize. Twice as many of the chickens fed genetically modified maize died.[9]

In an article from the French newspaper Le Monde, reported by GM Watch in April 2004, rats suffered harm to their organs.[10] In an article in January 2004, the Institute of Science in Society noted reports of the death of cows fed genetically modified maize. In a report published May 27, 2004, GM Watch reported that the liver cells of mice fed on GMO's were abnormal.[11] That research was performed in Italy. In a report in April 2004 the Institute of Science in Society published a report concerning the deaths of chickens that had been feed genetically modified maize. Not only are there apparent dangers from the consumption of GMOs, there are reports of debilitating illnesses to farm workers who lived near fields containing a GM hybrid maize crop (reported in the April 28, 2004 report of the Institute of Science in Society.) Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating, has reported on much of the observational and experimental harms associated with the consumption of GMO's in that work and elsewhere.

We have discussed only some reasons for questioning the safety of consuming GMOs. While GMOs are consumed widely in the United States and Canada, to our knowledge there is no systematic effort to monitor the health of consumers to detect harms from such consumption. The health of consumers may already be affected but, since nobody is investigating, it is virtually certain that such harm will go undetected for a very long time.


  1. Report of Institute of Science in Society, September 1, 2004.
  2. Windels, European Journal of Food Research Technology, v. 213, Issue 2, pp. 107-112, 2001.
  3. Report of Institute of Science in Society, October 23, 2003.
  4. Press release from Crop Choice News, December 12, 2002.
  5. Report of Institute of Science in Society, November 10, 2002.
  6. John Vidal, Guardian Unlimited, Special Report, July 17, 2002. See also report of Institute of Science in Society, June 13, 2003. See also article by Jonathan Leake, Sunday Times Online, May 4, 2003.
  7. The report of the Institute of Science in Society of March 23, 2004 mentions the existence of evidence of harm to mammals from the toxins produced from inserted DNA constructs.
  8. Report of the Institute of Science in Society, June 13, 2003.
  9. BBC News, "GM Safety Tests Flawed", April 27,2002.
  10. Report of the French Commission for Genetic Engineering (CGB), October 28,2003.
  11. Malaatesta, M.,, "Ulstructural Morphometrical and Immunocytochemical Analyses of Hepatocyte Nuclei from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybeans", Cell Structure and Function, Vol. 27. No.4, (2002), pp 173-181.

GM Debate: Coexistence Made to Measure for EU

By Mariann Fischer Boel, European agriculture commissioner
April 5, 2006

A one size fits all approach to GM coexistence does not work, flexibility is required, argues European farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

The debate on the regulation and use of genetically modified foods is never far from the headlines.

We in the European commission take the issue extremely seriously. That is why we plan a thorough debate on GM policies at one of our meetings during April.

There is no doubt that the legal system we have put in place for the authorisation and accurate traceability and labelling of GMOs is among the most stringent in the world.

It ensures that no such products are put on the market if there is any question about their safety or environmental credentials.

Likewise, it gives consumers the right to choose whether to buy products made or derived from GMOs and means they can be certain of what they are buying.

As commissioner for agriculture and rural development, my specific role is to ensure an efficient and cost-effective system to ensure the coexistence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming.

This is vital to ensure a practical choice between GM and non-GM produce for farmers and consumers.

I must stress that it is not a question of health or environmental protection, because no GM are allowed on the EU market unless they have been assessed to be completely safe.

Coexistence measures are designed to protect farmers of non-GM crops from the possible economic consequences of accidental mixing of their crops with GMOs from other farms.

Segregation measures must ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in conventional or organic products are kept within the strict ranges defined by EU legislation.

If this is not the case, an organic producer, for example, could lose the premium he or she enjoys for producing organic products with the extra cost this entails.

Back in 2003, the commission adopted guidelines to help member states develop national legislative or other strategies for coexistence.

Since then, member states have been busy developing their national approaches. Indeed, the Danish law on coexistence was one of the last pieces of legislation I managed to get through the Danish parliament before taking up my duties as commissioner.

Denmark is one of five member states, which already have legislation on the books. In other countries, work is still underway.

For this reason, and given the limited experience with growing GM crops in the EU, the commission concluded in a report published on March 9 that the time is not right for EU-wide legislation on coexistence.

We must now communicate the new insights gained to stakeholders and policy makers and listen to their views.

We believe that this dialogue is essential to decide about the most appropriate way forward on this important issue.

That is why the commission and the Austrian presidency have organized a major conference on coexistence, to be held in Vienna on April 5-6.

This conference brings together policy makers, scientists, and a broad range of stakeholders, such as farmers and consumer associations, NGOs, seed producers, importers, and food and feed processors.

The presentations and discussions will focus on the political and societal aspects of coexistence, with particular attention on regulatory, technical and economic approaches as well as consumer attitudes and market responses.

Experience with the cultivation of GM crops remains extremely limited in the EU. Commercial cultivation has so far been limited to two types of GM maize.

In Spain, GM maize cultivation amounted to 58,000 hectares in 2004, or about 12 per cent of total Spanish maize cultivation.

In other member states, cultivation is limited to a few hundred hectares. In Spain, GM maize has been grown since 1998 under a non-binding code of good practice.

In contrast, specific coexistence legislation has been adopted in five member states (Germany, Denmark, Portugal, the Czech Republic and six of the Austrian Länder).

Monitoring programmes still have to be set up and implemented in order to verify the effectiveness and economic feasibility of the measures taken.

The commission's 2003 guidelines underline that coexistence measures should not go beyond what is strictly necessary to ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in non-GM products stay below EU labelling thresholds.

Measures should be science-based and proportionate and must not generally forbid the growing of GM crops.

So far, most member states have based their approaches on management measures applicable at the level of individual farms or in coordination between neighbouring farms. The onus of implementing segregation measures has generally been placed on GM crop growers.

It is clear that the very diverse nature of EU farming means that coexistence measures have to be adapted to local conditions and crop types, and makes it imperative to ensure the maximum degree of flexibility for the member states in developing their national approaches.

We in the commission believe there is a need to gather further experience before departing from this approach of devolving responsibility to the national or regional level.

In the meantime, we will redouble our efforts to ensure maximum cooperation between member states.

This will help us analyse the latest scientific and economic information available on segregation measures, develop best practices for technical segregation measures leading to crop-specific recommendations, and obtain more information on national civil liability systems.

In 2008, we will report on the progress made, including an update on the development and implementation of national coexistence measures.

I truly believe this is the most pragmatic and responsible approach to this most emotive of issues. And I look forward to hearing what I'm sure will be a wide range of viewpoints at the Vienna conference.

This article originally appeared in the April 3 edition of the Parliament Magazine


EU Commission 'Admitted GM Food Uncertainty'

By James Sturcke
The Guardian, UK
April 18, 2006

The European commission has been approving genetically modified crops for human consumption while secretly warning about their impact on health and the environment, a report published today reveals. Papers obtained by two environmental groups under freedom of information laws show the commission pushed through the approval of seven GM foods.

They were approved despite admissions that there were "large areas of uncertainty" and "some issues have not yet been studied at all".

The released papers formed the backbone of the commission's case during a dispute with the US, Canada and Argentina - which produce 90% of the world's GM crops - over a Europe-wide ban on GM foods in member states between 1998 and 2004.

The 340-page document reveals that, in support of its stance, the commission told the World Trade Organisation that "it is apparent from the scientific advice ... that there is no unique, absolute, scientific cut off threshold available to decide whether a GM product is safe or not".

It also said that because of a lack of data concerning chronic conditions such as cancer and allergies, there was "simply no way of ascertaining whether the introduction of GM products has had any other effect on human health".

As the WTO case continued in 2004, the commission ended its six-year moratorium on GM foods and has since approved more than 30 GM crops.

"We have found that the European commission has had double standards over crops and the safety to the environment with regard to GM foods," Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, which co-authored the report with Greenpeace, said.

"On the one hand, they have been pushing forward with new GM foods and saying they are safe. But the commission clearly knew this was not the case and was prepared to recognise the risk behind closed doors."

The commission said the report's authors were selectively quoting from "a very long and complex document". "The commission naturally rejects the accusation of double standards made by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace," it said in a statement.

"It is perfectly normal that the commission seeks to make its legal case to the WTO to the best of its ability, based on scientific and technical arguments where necessary.

"These documents set out the case that the commission has made to the WTO and in public - that scientific uncertainties and disagreement for some applications covered by the WTO case explain the time which needed to be taken before authorisations could be granted."

Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have called for the immediate suspension of the use and sale of all GM foods and crops until the safety issues have been addressed.

The report also shows the commission told the WTO that it was "a reasonable and lawful position" that insect-resistant crops - the only GM crops being grown in the EU - should not be planted until all the effects on the soil were known.

In addition, commission officials told trade negotiators that a key study used to support the environmental safety of a GM crop was "scientifically flawed".

The report's authors say that, at the same time as the commission submitted these documents to the WTO, it pushed through the approval of seven GM foods and commercialised 31 varieties of Monsanto's GM maize for cultivation in the EU.

"The truth is now out in the open for all to see," the Greenpeace campaigner Christoph Then said. "The released EU papers outline detailed scientific concerns about the safety of genetically modified food and crops.

"These revelations are astonishing - they show contempt for humans and the environment and prove that Europe's safety net is not working."

Mr Then said the European Food Safety Authority, on which the commission depends for advice, came out particularly badly and needed urgent reform.

Ms Oxborrow said the seven approved crops were likely to be destined for animal feeds or highly processed foods.

Most British food retailers, responding to public concerns over GM food, do not stock genetically modified products.

The US, Argentina and Canada made their complaint to the WTO in May 2003, claiming Europe's moratorium on approvals for importing and growing GM crops broke international trade rules.

In February, the WTO decided in favour of the GM producers in an 800- page ruling that has not been published. The commission is appealing against the decision.

An EFSA spokesman said the organisation was considering how to explain the scientific basis for its assessments, and in particular how it dealt with uncertainties over human health and environmental safety, more clearly.


Poland Set to Approve Gene Crop Ban Despite EU

By Ewa Krukowska (additional reporting by Jeremy Smith in Brussels)
April 20, 2006

Poland's upper house of parliament may ban trade and plantings of genetically modified (GMO) seeds on Thursday and put Warsaw on a collision course with Brussels for endorsing a law that breaks EU rules.

The chairman of the Senate's agriculture committee said he expected senators from the ruling conservative Law and Justice party and several fringe groups to support the draft law, which has already been approved by the lower house of parliament.

"Senators from Law and Justice will back the bill and I have not heard any objections from several other parties, so it should pass," Jerzy Chroscikowski told Reuters.

The legislation would still have to get final approval from lower house deputies after the Senate vote. It also has to be signed by the president to become law.

Poland's plans for what is effectively a national GMO ban have drawn criticism from the European Commission, the EU executive, for threatening to break EU laws, especially those that aim to preserve the bloc's single internal market.

The Commission takes the view that if a region wants to ban GMO crops, such a restriction has to be scientifically justified and crop-specific -- not a blanket ban on all biotech seeds or crops.

"We might have to consider excluding an individual GM product from a given area if, for scientific reasons, it genuinely could not co-exist with non-GM crops in that area," said EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

"But...we cannot simply ban all GM crops from an entire region because of hostility to GM products per se. Where a product has been shown not to be harmful, in principle the rules of the free internal EU market apply," she told a conference in Vienna earlier this month.

The Commission's position was put to the test a few years ago by an Austrian region whose proposed regional GMO ban was slapped down by Brussels. The Court of First Instance, the EU's second highest court, upheld the Commission's view last October.

Early last year Italy adopted a law imposing a ban on GMO crops until all its regions had agreed laws on how farmers should separate biotech crops from organic and traditional varieties. The Commission has already warned of legal action.

No biotech seeds have been planted in Poland and the ruling conservatives, who have long said they wanted to make Poland GMO-free, fear that potential future sowings of genetically modified crops could lead to contaminatation of other crops.

So-called coexistence laws -- or rules for separating biotech crops from organic and traditional varieties -- have become the most controversial area in the biotech debate across the EU.

Environmental groups in the bloc say no GMOs should be grown in Europe until an EU-wide coexistence law is in place. The biotech industry sees no problems in growing GMO crops next to non-GMO types.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski told Reuters this month the government wanted to ban sowing of GMO plants to protect Poland's image as an enviromentally friendly state and that it might seek changes to the bloc's biotech policy.

EU Authorizes Polish Ban on Biotech Corn Seeds

The Associated Press
May 08, 2006

European Union officials on Monday authorized a Polish ban on the use of around 700 types of maize seed, including 16 genetically modified varieties, which had been cleared for sale throughout the EU.

The European Commission said the Polish ban was justified because the corn varieties had a long growing cycle that would prevent the crop ripening in the Polish climate.

The 25 EU nations unanimously voted to back the Polish ban in March. Biotech products remain controversial across Europe, where many see them as potential health and environmental risks.

In February, police removed about 30 environmental activists from the entrance of the Polish prime minister's office after some of them chained themselves to railings to call for a ban on imports of genetically modified organisms.

Poland has said it would try to prevent the cultivation of all GM crops in the country, a move also being considered by Luxembourg, Greece and Austria.


1600 Sheep Die After Grazing in Bt Cotton Field
April 30, 2006

Hyderabad: Sixteen hundred sheep died in Warangal district after grazing in fields on which Bt cotton had been harvested.

A survey conducted by a seven member team of Centre for Sustainable agriculture working in Bt cotton issues revealed that about 1600 sheep died from Bt toxin near Ippagudem in Ghanapur mandal, Madipalli in Hasanparthi mandal and Unikicherla in Dharmasagar mandal in Warangal district.

The sheep started dying after continuously grazing on the leaves and pods of Bt cotton plant residues in the fields for seven days.

The symptoms did not correlate to any of the diseases occurred during the season, the study said.

The team urged the Government to carry out an exhaustive study of the impact of Bt toxin on livestock, a release said in Hyderabad.

top of page