Richard Wolfson, PhD
Biosafety Success At the United Nations Biosafety Conference in Montreal earlier this year, the "Miami Group" of big agricultural countries (Canada, the US, Argentina, Australia, Chile and Uruguay) used pressure tac.
At the United Nations Biosafety Conference in Montreal earlier this year, the "Miami Group" of big agricultural countries (Canada, the US, Argentina, Australia, Chile and Uruguay) used pressure tactics to allow genetically engineered (GE) foods freely on the world market. Europe and most of the remaining 134 countries represented were pushing for segregation, clear mandatory labeling and the right to refuse GE crops.
Following intense negotiations and consumer pressure by hundreds of protesters, delegates agreed that GE shipments need to be labeled, stating they "may contain" genetically engineered organisms. More specific labeling will take effect within two years. The delegates also agreed that countries may refuse GE crops because of unknown environmental risks, thereby instituting the "precautionary principle." Environmentalists were cautious about expressing too much optimism until full details are worked out, including the relationship of this agreement to the World Trade Organization.
Ann Clark Speaks Out
Dr Ann Clark, Associate Professor of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, recently reported that of the 42 GE crops approved in Canada, two-thirds weren’t tested for toxicity and none of them was tested for allergenic effects. Even for the 30 per cent studied for toxicity, the tests were quite limited. Dr Clark was particularly concerned at the lack of testing, because foreign genes can affect other genes, produce unexpected toxic or allergenic effects or weaken plants.
Several biotech advocates criticized Dr Clark, saying she should not comment on topics outside of her specialty. However, other scientists at Guelph and across Canada came to Dr Clark’s support, citing freedom of speech and stating that Dr Clark should not be muzzled.
Acting in response to consumer pressure, Frito-Lay will not use GE corn in its corn chips and other products in North America. Seagram told Canadian corn growers that it would not accept GE crops this year.
In the US, the two largest natural foods retailers--Whole Foods and Wild Oats--are removing GE corn, soy and canola oil from their own label foods. Sun Valley, Britain’s largest chicken producer and one of the main users of GE soy in Europe, has banned biotech soy from its chicken feed.
Prince Wins Green Award
Because of his outspoken opposition to genetic engineering, support of the environment and backing of organic farming, Prince Charles was named "most inspirational figure worldwide" in an award by the environmental magazine Green Futures.
Superweeds Resist Herbicides
Cross-pollination of biotech canola with wild weeds (gene crossing) has resulted in superweeds that are immune to three major herbicides: Roundup, Liberty and Pursuit. The weeds were found on a farm near Sexsmith, Alberta. Herbicide-resistant weeds force farmers to move on to more toxic chemicals, further dispelling the myth that genetic engineering is more environmentally friendly.
Fish Face Extinction
Fish have been genetically engineered to grow faster and larger. However, these biotech fish are slower, less agile and not as able to withstand conditions in the wild. Government and private scientists are concerned that whole populations of fish face likely extinction, due to the weakening of wild fish when they breed with GE fish that escape.
Canola Yields Down
A new Agriculture Canada study shows that herbicide-tolerant canola does not consistently give greater yields than conventional seeds. Since biotech seeds cost more, farmers are worried they could lose money if they plant GE canola.
Monsanto Modifies Name
Monsanto, the transnational biotech giant, is merging with the US-Swiss drugs group Pharmacia & Upjohn. The $50-billion (US) corporation will be known as Pharmacia. Monsanto’s name became tarnished due to its association with GE crops, terminator technology and related environmental and human safety concerns.
In response to concerns that insect-resistant biotech corn may cause environmental damage, the US Environmental Protection Agency is now requiring that farmers who grow GE corn plant 20 to 50 per cent of their acreage in conventional corn. Farmers are wondering whether it is worth planting GE corn at all.