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[Nettime-bold] Monsanto Says Crops May Contain Genetically-Modified Cano
David Mandl on Mon, 15 Apr 2002 18:38:02 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-bold] Monsanto Says Crops May Contain Genetically-Modified Canola Seed


One of the arguments (though not the strongest) against
G.M. technology is that there's almost certain to be an accident
eventually, and a G.M.-related accident could be far worse than any of
the many drug- and chemical-related accidents we've seen in the past.
(Those drugs and chemicals, too, were invented and tested by the
world's greatest scientific minds.)  Well, forget "eventually," as
there already seems to be an accident every month, and this technology
is barely off the ground yet.  Here's a story on the latest from
today's WSJ.

Note the industry tactic of requesting retroactive changes to the
already lax law because they can't or won't keep their experiments
under control.  This illustrates the classic gradualist approach that
they'll use to spread G.M. technology.

   --Dave.

--------------------

April 15, 2002
HEALTH
Monsanto Says Crops May Contain
Genetically-Modified Canola Seed

By SCOTT KILMAN and JILL CARROLL
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Monsanto Co. believes that some of its canola seed might contain
genetically modified material that isn't federally approved. Angling
to avoid a massive recall of food products, the company is asking
regulators to forgive any presence of it.

The St. Louis-based biotechnology company has yet to detect it in the
seeds it has tested, but says trace amounts of the material were found
last year in Canadian seed, leading it to believe the same is possible
in the U.S. In conceding that for three years U.S. farmers have been
planting canola seed that may contain certain genetic material that
was never meant to leave the laboratory, Monsanto has become the
latest example of the biotechnology industry failing to control plants
whose genes it has altered.

Monsanto, which is 85% owned by drug maker Pharmacia Corp., Peapack,
N.J., insists that the canola seed in question is safe to consume. But
genetically modified food is an emotional issue for many
consumers. And Monsanto's admission is sure to fuel consumer
skepticism and inflame opponents of gene-altered crops, who object to
the idea of tinkering with nature and who worry about
cross-pollination with other crops.

Clearly, Monsanto is hoping to avoid a repeat of the biotechnology
industry's most embarrassing and costly episode, in which a variety of
genetically modified corn approved only for livestock consumption and
industrial use found its way into the human food supply. Called
StarLink, the corn was detected in more than 300 products with brand
names such as Kraft and Taco Bell, resulting in enormous recalls in
2000.

At least one group opposed to genetically modified food, having
learned about Monsanto's request, intends to fight it and to publicize
its implications -- that the biotechnology industry can't always
control the spread of its own creations. "This is genetic pollution,"
says Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a
Washington advocacy group.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is leaning toward granting
Monsanto's unusual request, which the company made in a November
letter, but hasn't done so formally. The Food and Drug Administration
is reviewing safety data from Monsanto.

If Monsanto fails to receive federal approval for the altered
organism, known as GT200, the discovery of its presence in U.S. canola
wouldn't necessarily mandate a food recall, as the laws don't spell it
out. But antibiotechnology groups would likely clamor for a
recall. The situation is potentially a big headache for the U.S. food
industry, because canola oil is a basic ingredient in hundreds of
products. Canola's popularity has increased because it is lower in
saturated fats than other edible oils. About two-thirds of the canola
crops in the U.S. are already genetically modified.

A spokesman for ConAgra Foods Inc., maker of Wesson oil, says the
company doesn't screen its canola oil for genetically modified
ingredients. He wouldn't comment on what the company would do if GT200
is detected in its supplies.

Monsanto created GT200 in the 1990s while trying to produce a seed
capable of growing into a canola plant invulnerable to Roundup, a
Monsanto weedkiller. Such a plant would enable farmers to liberally
apply the herbicide without damaging their crop.

Ultimately, Monsanto chose to develop and market canola seed that had
been modified differently. Called RT73, it is also invulnerable to
Roundup. Deciding that the second version performed better, Monsanto
sought and received federal approval to market RT73 canola
seed. Federal scrutiny is required of any plant containing a foreign
gene. Monsanto inserted genes from microorganisms into both versions
of its canola seed.

But in the November letter to the USDA, Monsanto said that GT200 "has
the potential to be present in low, adventitious levels in commercial
canola varieties." A majority of the 1.5 million acres of canola
fields in the U.S. are believed to be planted with seed containing
Monsanto's federally cleared Roundup-tolerant gene.

Last year, the GT200 version showed up in Canadian canola seed,
forcing Monsanto to recall hundreds of tons of it. Although Monsanto
had sought and received Canadian approval for GT200, the recall was
necessary because Canada exports huge amounts of canola to Japan,
which hadn't approved GT200. Monsanto says it never sold the GT200
version commercially in Canada and isn't sure why it wound up in
canola seed there.

In the corn-contamination case of two years ago, StarLink's inventor,
the cropscience division of French pharmaceutical giant Aventis SA,
had to stop selling the seed and set aside $100 million ($88 million)
to compensate food companies and growers for their costs.

The fallout was widespread. A market exploded for food products free
of genetically modified ingredients. Some farmers got cold feet about
jumping into the biotech era. Wheat growers, for example, are telling
Monsanto to proceed slowly with plans to supply them with genetically
modified seeds. The Aventis cropscience division is being sold to
German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG.

The biotechnology industry concedes the primary point of its opponents
-- that crops mate too freely to keep genetically modified versions
entirely separate. The wind and insects can carry the pollen of a
genetically modified plant great distances to where it isn't wanted:
an organic farm, for instance. The pollen from a genetically modified
corn plant can fertilize corn that wasn't intended to be
bioengineered.

The problem extends to genetically modified crops that are legal but
unwanted by a certain segment of consumers. A Wall Street Journal
laboratory investigation last year of 20 products labeled as
containing no genetically modified ingredients found evidence of the
material in 16 of them.

"As we see more and more varieties come out ... you might find trace
amounts [of bioengineered ingredients] in food that didn't go through
the full regulatory measure," says Michael P. Phillips of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry trade group.

But rather than hysterical reactions, the industry argues that
government and society should accept trace-level
contaminations. Officials of Monsanto, Aventis and other crop biotech
companies want a new policy from the White House that would allow for
the accidental presence of trace amounts of some genetically modified
materials in seed and food.

But the Bush administration couldn't do that without setting off
protests from antibiotechnology groups. "We don't want the federal
government to insulate the crop-biotechnology industry from
liability," said Mr. Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.

--
Dave Mandl
dmandl {AT} panix.com
davem {AT} wfmu.org
http://www.wfmu.org/~davem

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