E.Telegraph: US alarm grows over GM foods

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From Sunday's ET:

US alarm grows over GM foods By David Wastell in Washington

AMERICAN consumers are finally waking up to the international controversy over genetically modified food, with members of Congress joining a growing clamour for compulsory labelling and leading companies searching for alternative ingredients for some products.

In a country where 70 per cent of the items on supermarket shelves have some kind of GM content, there are signs that American shoppers are gradually taking up the concerns over GM food that have swept Britain and Europe.

With half of American corn and one third of its soya beans containing transplanted genes, most of the country's best-known household products would be at risk if a consumer backlash took hold - from Coca-Cola to tomato ketchup, breakfast cereals to cake mixes.

Until recently, most American consumers were oblivious to the fact that they routinely eat and drink artificially-altered combinations of genes. But recent publicity, including last week's high-profile climbdown by the American company Monsanto on plans to insert a so-called "terminator gene" into its cornseed, is leading to a sharp increase in awareness.

It has led to farmers across America's corn-growing heartlands wondering whether the bumper crops they are harvesting - at least half of them from genetically-engineered seed - will be worth growing in the same form again. A Gallup poll published in America last week surprised many in the food industry by finding that 68 per cent of adults surveyed wanted labelling of food that contained GM ingredients.

Tom Hoban, sociology professor at North Carolina State University, who has been tracking public opinion on the subject for the past 10 years, said the survey showed awareness had risen sharply over the past six months - from one third of Americans saying they had heard either "some" or "a great deal" about it earlier this year, to 50 per cent being aware of the issues last month.

Environmentalists in America have been encouraged by the fact that 27 per cent said that they believed that foods produced using bio-technology posed "a serious hazard" to consumers, although it is a figure that is well short of concern in Europe.

A flurry of articles in American newspapers and magazines, from Time to the Wall Street Journal, has contributed to the changing climate. Criticism has been heightened since earlier this year when a laboratory study at Cornell University found evidence that pollen from GM corn can kill the larvae of the popular monarch butterfly.

Mark Whiteis-Helm, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: "Most Americans don't know that they are eating GM foods. They are the subject of a massive experiment and they are not aware of it. We are making it our business to let them know about it."

Greenpeace revealed on Friday that two products made and sold in America by Quaker Oats contained ingredients from GM crops, although most Americans said in a survey that they did not believe that such a food manufacturer would do so. In the same survey, 41 per cent of consumers said they would not buy labelled GM foods.

A small but growing number of companies are taking steps to avoid using GM ingredients. Heinz, which took action in Europe to exclude GM ingredients from all its foods before the recent scares, is eliminating them from baby foods sold in America, following a rival baby food manufacturer, Gerber.

In America, GM crops are regarded as identical to conventional crops unless their composition has been substantially changed. But a cross-party group of Congressmen, led by David Bonior, a Democratic party whip from Michigan, wrote to the US Food and Drugs Administration on Friday urging compulsory labelling.

Mr Bonior said: "It is particularly disconcerting that the effect of recombining the DNA for nearly 70 per cent of all foods in US stores is essentially unknown." Charles Margulis, a Greenpeace spokesman, said: "It is a myth that attitudes in the US are different. The biggest difference is awareness, and that is changing. The more people know, the less they want to buy it."

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 09, 1999


In one of my farm magazines there was an article that told how farmers felt that they had been lied to by the seed companies about growing GM seed and how it would not affect their marketing, but make their farming easier. Many would not grow GM seed or much less of it in the future.

The sad part is that farmers are struggling and are looking for anything that will make their farming easier and costs cheaper. I am not saying that GM seed is the answer since I don't, but look at things from the farmers perspective. $1.50/bushel corn doesn't even cover the planting and harvesting cost of corn much less have any kind of a profit. What is the farmer to live on if he can't even break even and where is he to get the money to put in next year's crop???? The cattle market is the only market that is "ok", but certainly not great.

In addition to being concerned about GM seed, people ought to be real concerned about the family farmers survival (I could give a complete lecture on my feelings about corporate/factory farms). Sometimes people lose track of the fact that the food starts out on the farm, not the grocery store.

-- Beckie (sunshine_horses@yahoo.com), October 10, 1999.

Can someone please tell me why fruits and vegetables bought at the store no longer taste like the past. I spent summers while growing up at my grandparents' farm in the Midwest and everything had a taste to it, now there's virtually no taste at all. It can't be that they're not ripe yet, because even that which is picked early has a taste. Just curious.

-- claurann (claurann@aol.com), October 10, 1999.

The reason is hybridization - farmers need an easier/faster/more profitable product - packers/distributors need a product that is uniform, attractive and easily transportable - retailers need a product that is resistant to bruising, scarring and has a long shelf life. Apparently most consumers like "pretty" produce - and this is achieved thru producing products and developing hybrids with that end in mind. Unattractive produce doesn't end up in the fresh market - it ends up processed as canned/frozen product or juice.

Support your local fruitstand. Develop a relationship with a truck farmer that likes the "old-style" produce. Grow your own heirloom vegetables and fruit.

My daughter never cared for "grocery-store" vegetables and fruit. When she tasted freshly picked peaches and apples this summer, she couldn't believe how wonderful they tasted.

-- mom (mom@mom.com), October 10, 1999.

I hate to spoil the party, but this is the reason i think y2k will be at least terrible. Hybrid seeds, or lack thereof can, and probably will, criple US food production. (i live in a farming area) that coupled with lack of fertilizer OR diesel fuel, or water pumping systems will bring us to our knees. You want to survive? move to the countryside and BECOME a truck farmer, then maybe, if you can hold onto your stash of non-hybrids, you can stay alive. I take my cue from paul milne, "if you live within 5 miles of a 7-11, you're toast"

-- jeremiah (braponspdetroit@hotmail.com), October 10, 1999.

One of the most common comments from first-time American visitors to Britain and Europe is, "You can TASTE the veggies!" It's true that such vegetables cost more because of the increased costs of shipping and spoilage, but from what I remember, surveys show many people are willing to pay, say, 10-20% extra for good-tasting produce. Because we have Duke right next door to us, we're lucky enough to have a whole foods supermarket with lots of organic produce. We also have a couple of farmers' markets not too far zaway. Kroger has felt the competition and has an organic produce section.

Lesson: If you buy the fresher stuff and tell your supermarket manager why you are no longer purchasing the plastic rubbish he sells, it might cause a change in YOUR neck of the woods. Gosh, I WISH everyone who's interested in this GM/GE thing would call their supermarkets and have a chat with the manager about it!

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 10, 1999.

I don't know where the poster who thought livestock people where making a decent living got his/her information, but that is certainly not the case for beef producers.

I am including a link here on "AG Facts" or statistics prepare by a major Ag organization. The figures may surprise you:


From an article by AFBF President Dean Kleckner, "High Price-Spread Is Farmers' Low Point" at


"People pay less now for food than they did 15 years ago. Since 1984, labor costs have gone up about 500 percent. Packaging costs are up 400 percent. Transportation, up 400 percent. Advertising, up 633 percent. Fuel, up 600 percent. All components of the food marketing bill rose 466.5 percent. Prices for our commodities? Down three cents on the dollar."

-- marsh (armstrng@sisqtel.net), October 10, 1999.

I never said that cattle producers are making a decent living. They are the only ones that can approach break even right now.

We farm - not like the big guys, but we pay for everything and have no operating loans, which puts us in better shape than most, but we both work off the farm to do this. How much longer does the American farmer have to subsidize the food everyone eats???

-- beckie (sunshine_horses@yahoo.com), October 11, 1999.


I've been saying for a long time that if the farmers could organize themselves well, it would be worth the price of admission for American farmers to refuse to sell their stuff for however long it takes to use up the surpluses. Support your own family and the people who aren't ripping you off, such as your farmers' coops, and don't let another soul have any of it. Of course we'd all need armed guards around the clock. . . .

Anyway, someday America is going to wake up to the incredible deals they've been getting on food. Might be as early as the next generation - I know exactly one teenager who is interested in going into farming. He loves it. Most of today's kids wouldn't be caught dead farming - they know what a losing proposition farming is, and they see no reason whatsoever to go into something that loses them money from day one.

Of course when you factor in y2k farmers (along with everyone else) will probably be worse off, having been nationalized by the gubment.


-- peg (peg@futureandahope.com), October 14, 1999.

The issue of GM/non-GM may be a moot point. From the responses on a farmer's "straw poll" - "Are you or your local grain handlers capable of segregating non-GMO from GMO commodities?" http://www.fb.com/views/index.html it would appear that there is no facility to separate the two types once they hit storage. Most food processors will receive the raw product already mixed.

-- marsh (siskfarm@snowcrest.net), October 14, 1999.

More controversy:

ISSUE 1603 Friday 15 October 1999

Rats at centre of GM food furore 'were starving' By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Review of data on possible toxicity of GM potatoes - Royal Society Rowett Research Institute The Lancet [registration required] Real food - Friends of the Earth News releases: advisory committee on novel foods and processes - Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

THE controversial research that triggered the GM food furore is published today by The Lancet and suggests that starvation, not genetic modification, may have caused the adverse health effects in rats fed GM potatoes by Dr Arpad Pusztai.

The Royal Society said yesterday that the paper was not worthy of publication and the journal was questioned for suggesting that a second paper, also in today's issue, reveals "possible effects of GM foods on human blood cells" when the main author denies that this is the case. Dr Caroline Bolton-Smith of Dundee University said: "It [my paper] does not link directly with GM food," although she said it did raise concerns about the use of that particular gene, one of many under consideration for use in GM foods.

The long-awaited GM paper by Dr Pusztai and Dr Stanley Ewen still claims to show that the process of genetic modification itself, rather than a toxin gene introduced by GM, could have harmful effects in experiments on rats. Dr Pusztai was unavailable for comment. Dr Ewen of Aberdeen University said that starvation had the opposite effect to the changes he had observed in the rats. The raw GM diet reversed the atrophy that was usually caused by malnourishment.

But Prof Brian Heap, foreign secretary of the Royal Society, said today's paper confirmed the view of the society that the work was flawed and inconclusive. He disputed the claim of The Lancet that publication would help public debate on GM food.

Prof Heap pointed out that one particularly significant change to the paper, made in the wake of criticisms from reviewers, was that it now revealed that the diet of the rats was so low in protein - six per cent - that they were being starved. Starvation may account for the adverse effects that the authors blamed on GM, a point echoed by Prof Chris Potten, a gut toxicologist at the Christie Hospital in Manchester.

In the same issue of The Lancet, Dr Harry Kuiper, of Wageningen University, Holland, said: "There is convincing evidence that short-term protein stress and starvation impair the growth rate, development, hepatic metabolism and immune function of rats." Commenting with colleagues, he added that the results "do not allow" the conclusion that GM was harmful and that current safety tests on GM foods were adequate, although he called for a broader spectrum of tests.

Others have pointed out that the gut changes seen by Dr Pusztai might have been caused by toxins made by potatoes called glycoalkaloids, a problem familiar to conventional breeders. The Lancet paper does not refer to glycoalkaloid levels.

Six scientists reviewed the paper: three supported publication; one called for changes in the statistical analysis; one said it was flawed but should be published on grounds of public interest; and one was opposed. The latter, Prof John Pickett of the Institute of Arable Crops Research at Rothamsted, Herts, said of the paper: "I wouldn't have expected any journal to publish it."

The president of the Royal Society, the Nobel laureate Sir Aaron Klug, said yesterday that the paper was unworthy of publication. He said: "It is not possible to conclude, as Dr Ewen and Dr Pusztai do, that the process of genetic modification of plants, or even the particular genes inserted into these GM potatoes, raise concerns for human health."

He said that too few animals were used to give statistically significant results for the complex phenomena being examined; the diets used were incompletely controlled; no control group of rats was fed a reduced protein diet.

The Lancet defended its decision to publish Dr Pusztai's paper in an editorial by Dr Richard Horton. He pointed out that the paper did not vindicate earlier claims made by Dr Pusztai and that its conclusions were "preliminary and non-generalisable".

The paper had been substantially revised, on three occasions, notably to the way they interpreted data. But he decided to publish, citing one reviewer who said, although the research was flawed, the paper should be in the public domain so "fellow scientists can judge for themselves".

Dr Bolton-Smith's paper does not examine the effects of GM food but concentrates on the effects of a protein insecticide, called a lectin, one of the many genes that scientists are considering for introduction into crops. Dr Bolton-Smith said that it had been thought that the lectin did not interact with human cells. But her study had shown that it did bind to blood cells. She said it underlined the need to investigate the consequences on human health of using this particular gene in crops.

She said: "If we can do such a simple experiment which has never been done, it shows what an enormous amount of basic work has to be done if lectins are ever going to be put into things." She said that, although Dr Pusztai's results were inconclusive, there had not been enough studies of the knock-on effects of GM on plants and of the effects of GM food on humans.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 14, 1999.

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