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Subject: Guardian menu on genetically manipulated foods
Date: 20 Feb 1999 01:02:45 GMT
From: MichaelP <>

There's an embarrasment of riches in today's Guardian pieces. Someone else may very well post them to this list within the next few hours, which is when I'll get around to choosing which ones I think the most interesting.

But in addition to the item below, the Guardian publishes links as follows:

  1. Dr Puzstai's report in full

  2. The Audit Committee was established by the Director of the Rowett Research Institute in August 1998 to examine this report

  3. UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions - ACRE
    (This is the delayed brit government report about the effect of GM agriculture on wildlife.)

The next big thing By George Monbiot
Guardian (London) Friday February 19, 1999

Like a family in the midst of a massive domestic row, the participants in the great genetic war are already have trouble recalling how it began.

Dr Pusztai's potatoes have been all but forgotten, while the underlying tensions, ever present, but seldom acknowledged, have burst out into the open. At last, Blair's sordid affair with the corporate seductress and the terrible mess she has made in the garden are being discussed.

The row is threatening to split the Labour household apart. Jack Cunningham has been roaring up and down the stairs telling everyone else to shut up. Michael Meacher, having hidden in the potting shed, has run back indoors with the news that he's seen something nasty in the vegetable patch.

While Dr Cunningham continues to insist that the new plants carry no conceivable risks, Mr Meacher has hinted at the need to delay the introduction of commercial planting of GM crops in Britain. His department told journalists that there will probably be no approvals for full-scale cultivation before 2001. The neighbours are beginning to weigh in on his side.

The Government's chief scientist, Sir Robert May, has expressed grave concerns about the damage the new crops might do to wildlife - herbicide-resistant crops allow farmers to eliminate almost all other species from their fields. The environment department has been forced to publish a delayed report in which these warnings are echoed. On Wednesday, the biotechnology company Monsanto was fined for failing to isolate one of its test crops from the wider environment.

And Middle England has begun to realise that when Mr Blair is faced with a conflict between its needs and those of his other constituency, big business, he sides with the corporations.

If Tony Blair begins, at last, to listen to Mr Meacher's anxieties, he will rapidly find that he runs into a new problem: that whether or not it wants to act, the Government might be unable to do so. Both Tory and Labour governments have been so determined to facilitate 'free trade' that they have progressively signed away their right to intervene.

If the Government seeks to prevent corporations from forcing us to grow and eat their crops, the corporations will appeal, first to the European Union, then to the World Trade Organisation. And they will win, because the governments of the First World have already determined that, in cases like this, private profit outweighs public protection.

Food scares happen in Britain because people feel they have no control over what they eat. Our decisions are made for us by invisible and unaccountable corporations. We are just about to discover precisely how powerless we are.

In just under three months, the media will stumble across another issue which it has managed to ignore for years. This one is even scarier. Monsanto has developed an injectable growth hormone which increases the production of cow's milk. Some scientists argue that it also increases the levels of something called Insulin Growth Factor 1. IGF-1 can cross the digestive tract intact from milk to the bloodstream of consumers. People with elevated IGF-1 levels are at greater risk from breast and prostate cancer.

The EU banned milk and beef from cattle treated with this hormone. On behalf of Monsanto, the US government appealed to the World Trade Organisation. The WTO has given Europe until May 13 to start importing hormone-treated beef and milk. Blair will wriggle, Cunningham will roar, but, short of provoking a trade war, they can do nothing whatever to protect us.

The European elections will be fought, four weeks later, in the midst of this crisis. The Greens could win even more votes than they did in 1989 and this time they will carry seats. Labour's backbench guerillas will launch a frontal attack. And Tony Blair, lost as he always is when the politics of presentation yield to the politics of substance, will wonder how on earth so vigorous a vine grew from a humble potato.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

From: MichaelP <>
Subject: Genetic Foods: Pusztai story
Date: 22 Feb 1999 01:00:09 GMT

Date Posted: 02/20/1999
Posted by:

Jill, thanks for your helpful account of Pusztai's findings. There are two additional points suggested by some of the British press accounts, and I wonder if you can shed some light on these issues for us: First, some of the stories suggested that some of the experiments substituted a jackbean lectin (Concanavalin-A) for the snowdrop lectin. Second, there have been some suggestions of a direct comparison between the recombinant form of the lectin (spliced into a plant) and the raw lectin.

Any thoughts on either or both of these issues?

Brian Tokar,
Institute for Social Ecology
Plainfield, Vermont, USA

re/ Brian Tokar's questions:
Brian -

Yes, I have a reply for both of these issues. I attended Schumacher College last month for their 3 week course on biotech. and we studied the Pusztai case as part of the course.

First question: was a jackbean lectin (Con A) actually used and not the snowdrop lectin (GNA)?

- - Last August it was widely reported that these experiments were not actually carried out with potatoes genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin, but involved potatoes which had a different lectin taken from the jack-bean added to them. This was part of the misinformation campaign generated by the director of the institute. The study had several side issues that it addressed as well as the primary one, and in one of these, potatoes which had the jackbean lectin added (not via GE) were used in a test of the responsiveness of the rats' immune system. The jackbean lectin, unlike the snowdrop lectin, is known to be toxic to mammals and, for this reason, Dr Pusztai never seriously considered its use in food crops, and it was not used in the main part of the study, which was to test the snowdrop lectin. He was unable to clarify this at the time because he was sacked and gagged and threatened with legal action if he spoke out.

Second question: was there a comparison between the GE'd potatoe, and potatoes spiked with the lectin but not via GE?

- - Dr Pusztai's research is significant because another control group of potatoes which had the snowdrop lectin added to them (not via GE) did not affect the rats in the same way as the potatoes genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin, even though the lectin was present in both. This points to the process of genetic engineering itself, that it can disrupt or change the genetic expression of the organism because there are uncontrollable effects to the host DNA, as I indicated in the article, such as suppression, silencing, gene expression altering. This effect is described in detail by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho in her book: Genetic Engineering Dreams or Nightmares?: The Brave New World of Science and Business, (1998) or there is an article with similar content:

These documents also vividly cover the issue of "horizontal gene transfer" which Dr. Ho views as the main threat from releasing GE plants...threat to world ecology and health. GE processes use bits of viruses and bacteria as "vectors" - they carry the selected genes into the host, (carriers); they assure that they are turned on and stay turned on (promoters), and anti-biotic resistant strains of bacteri are used as markers in the insertion process (markers). These vectors are loaded guns. Read Mae-Wan Ho.

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