SOC: Two more genetic luddite items
Sun, 22 Aug 1999 16:33:34 EDT

>From the Boston Globe, ml
Gene-altered corn destroyed

Researchers blames ecoterrorism for razing of field

By Associated Press, 08/21/99

LD TOWN, Maine - A half-acre of genetically engineered corn at a University of Maine farm was destroyed this week, in what a researcher called an act of ecoterrorism.

About 1,000 stalks of corn were destroyed, probably with a machete, sometime late Wednesday or early Thursday at the university-owned Rogers Farm, police said.

Genetically engineered plants contain up to three additional genes, which are spliced into the plant's DNA, and a corresponding number of new proteins. The changes may increase the plant's size, help it resist disease, or, as in the case of the university corn, prevent damage from herbicides.

John Jemison, a water quality specialist with the university's cooperative extension service, said Thursday that he had been studying the corn's resistance to the popular herbicide Roundup. The seed was donated by the DeKalb Seed Co., a subsidiary of the Monsanto Corp., which manufactures Roundup.

Jemison said he believes the destruction was an act of ecoterrorism directed against the genetically altered crop, which environmental activists have targeted for destruction elsewhere.

''It's a shame,'' Jemison said. ''We're not trying to hide anything here. We're just trying to provide Maine farmers with some practical research.''

The crop is legal in Maine and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Jemison said it was not grown for human consumption, but was to be fed to cows when the research was complete.

''It may be that I find that farmers shouldn't be using this crop,'' Jemison said. ''But I won't know until I study it. The people responsible for this didn't even want me to try.''

In an Aug. 16 e-mail sent to the Bangor Daily News, Environmental activist Nancy Oden of Jonesboro gave explicit directions to the location of the cornfield and advised activists to wear ''a mask to avoid the toxic pollen and gloves to avoid toxins throughout the plant.''

Oden said Thursday that while she had not destroyed the plants, she commended those who did. ''I'm glad they did it,'' she said. ''It may not have been legal, but it was the moral thing to do.''

Oden said the e-mail was not meant to incite destruction, only to inform environmentalists.

Old Town police and the university's public safety department will step up patrols to prevent any further destruction, according to university spokesman Joe Carr.

Source: Toronto Star

Food fight gives us something to chew on

By Thomas Walkom
Toronto Star National Affairs Writer

The Frankenstein food fight has finally crossed the Atlantic.

Three years after genetically engineered foods were quietly introduced into the country's grocery stores, Canadians are beginning to take notice.

And that's making food manufacturers - as well as the powerful agribusiness interests that have been pushing genetic engineering - nervous.

The nub of the problem is simple. On one hand, surveys show consumers prefer not to eat foods into which genes from other species have been artificially spliced. The idea of ingesting what the British tabloid newspapers have taken to calling ``Frankenstein foods'' seems to make most Canadians squeamish.

On the other hand, the biotech nology industry has invested literally billions of dollars to make such genetic splicing possible, arguing that by so doing it is making food cheaper and thus contributing to the alleviation of world hunger.

Along the way, the industry has wooed universities with visions of lucrative research opportunities, farmers with expectations of cheaper costs and governments with promises of new, high-technology jobs.

Indeed, it is the laissez-faire attitude of government regulators that has proved to be one of the most curious elements of the entire affair.

Up to now, any conflict between consumer and producer interests in North America has been avoided through what can only be described as a deliberate government policy of keeping consumers in the dark.

An estimated 60 per cent of the food Canadians eat contains genetically modified organisms.

But most consumers are blissfully unaware of the fact.

That's because, under pressure from farm organizations and the biotechnology industry, both the Canadian and U.S. governments have refused to require that genetically modified food be labelled.

Governments say they don't want labelling because genetically modified (what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency calls ``novel'') foods are not ``substantially different'' from their normal counterparts.

But the real reason may be more practical.

If consumers could tell which foods were genetically engineered, they would be able to avoid buying them.

Or, as Tom Francis, Canadian research director for Novartis Seeds Inc., a subsidiary of one of the world largest biotechnology firms, puts it: ``When you label it, the premise is that there is some difference . . .

``When you start labelling, what is the message sent to consumers?''

But now that uneasy equilibrium is beginning to fall apart.

Canadians are becoming more aware of the vigorous - and sometimes violent - opposition to genetic engineering in Europe.

In Britain environmentalists have destroyed fields of genetically modified crops.

And throughout Europe, consumers' threats to boycott genetically engineered products have persuaded major grocery chains to remove them from their shelves.

So when mainstream environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace announced earlier this year that they were preparing to target certain genetically engineered grocery products in North America, the big food companies paid attention.

Late last month, both H.J. Heinz and Gerber announced they were moving to rid their North American baby foods of genetically engineered materials.

Ironically, Gerber is owned by Switzerland-based biotech giant Novartis AG.

Nabisco Ltd. has quietly changed its buying practices to ensure that its Aylmer, Del Monte and Primo house brands sold in Canada are free of genetically engineered crops.

Earlier this year, Canada's major corn processors warned farmers that the European Union will not accept certain kinds of genetically modified corn.

As a result, Ontario farmers are being forced to segregate about 7 per cent of this year's genetically modified corn crop for separate milling.

The corn that the Europeans don't want to eat will be sold to North American consumers.