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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 19:21 GMT Bove sentenced for GM destruction

Bove has pledged to continue his campaign French anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove has been sentenced for the destruction of genetically modified plants.

A court in the southern French town of Montpellier gave the radical farmer a 10-month suspended sentence and put him on two years' probation.

Mr Bove and two colleagues destroyed 3,000 genetically modified rice plants at a research institute in June 1999.

The two others involved - both members of Mr Bove's radical Farmers' Confederation - were also given suspended sentences.

"The courts in Montpellier have shown yet again that they are supporters of genetically modified food," said Mr Bove after the sentencing.

"The justice system has not understood a thing about the dangers that face us all".

Mr Bove shot to fame after he attacked a McDonald's restaurant in his home town of Millau in protest at US trade restrictions, and has become a popular champion of environmental and farming issues.

He is currently appealing against a three-month jail sentence he received for the McDonald's incident.


Mr Bove stood by his destruction of the rice plants during the hearing last month, telling the court that it was a "battle for the future".

"GMOs are a necro-technology. They are the result of technological tinkering," he said.

He has said he will appeal against the sentence and continue his campaign against genetic modification.

"No prison sentence or fine is going to prevent us from saying that genetically modified crops are dangerous," he said.

Mr Bove is now an international figurehead for the anti-globalisation movement and was a leading figure in the Seattle demonstrations.

He recently met Subcomandante Marcos, the leader of the Mexican Zapatista rebels.

Britain Moves to Ban Genetic Profiling NZ Herald 17-4-01

The exploitation of genetic testing by insurers is set to be outlawed by the British Government amid fears of creating an uninsurable "genetic underclass". Health secretary Alan Milburn will signal this week the banning of the use of so-called genetic profiling tests - which could predict who could prematurely suffer chronic disease - to deny people essentials such as mortgage cover.

Milburn will also pledge legislation to ban reproductive cloning likely to be highlighted by the Labour Party's manifesto - too allay public fears about scientistsplaying God. The practice is already outlawed by another watchdog, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, but Milburn wants to ensure that this ban could not be reversed in future. He will use a speech on Friday to highlight potential benefits of genetic testing, such as new screening programmes for those found to have inherited a risk of serious treatable disease, and promise funding for developing accurate tests. But he will warn that discoveries must not be used to divide patients into a "genetic underclass" who are likely to become ill and a healthy "genetic superclass." British ministers may make a regulatory distinction between "essentials"such as life insurance needed for mortgage cover, where genetic discrimination could have disastrous consequences, and "luxuries" such as extensive private health insurance, where patients could rely on the National Health Service instead. Milburn knows discussing such a sensitive issue close to an election is risky. But he fears that unless patients are sure that test results will not be used against them, scientific progress will be hampered as they refuse to take tests. "There are huge potential health gains to be had from genetic advances, but until we address these public concerns we can't create the necessary space," said one source close to Milburn. "We want to make sure these advances are to the benefit of all, not the cost of a few." The Health Department has approved as reliable only one genetic test, for the rare and fatal Huntington's chorea. Others are in the pipeline for approval, but already being used by insurers. So far the industry has handled fewer than 100 cases, involving genetic testing. But numbers will soar over the next decade as researchers develop suseeptibility tests for more common illnesses such as cancers, Alzheimer's or heart disease. Britain is well placed to lead research because of its role tn the Human Genome Project, which mapped the genes in DNA. Insurers argue that using genetic tesbng is little different from asking about family medical histories and helps spread risk. They agreed not to use results in applications for life insurance linked to mortgages of under £100,000 ($353,000) but a recent survey found this widely flouted. A parliamentary committee on science and technology has condemned the voluntary code as "inadequate" and warned that insurers were placing a significance on tests "that cannot at present be justified"

A sad day for farmers.

Published on Friday, March 30, 2001 in the Washington Post

Major Victory for Biotech Giant Monsanto Farmer Liable For Growing Biotech Crops
by Marc Kaufman

A judge yesterday ordered a Canadian farmer to pay the biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. thousands of dollars because the company's genetically engineered canola
plants were found growing on his field, apparently after pollen from modified plants
had blown onto his property from nearby farms.

The closely watched case was a major victory for companies that produce genetically modified crops and have been aggressively enforcing agreements that require
farmers to pay yearly fees for using their technology.

But the decision in a federal court in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was a significant setback for farmers who fear they will be held liable if pollen from neighboring farms blows onto their fields, transmitting patented genes to their crops without their knowledge or consent. Dozens of similar lawsuits have been filed against farmers around the United States, but the Canadian case is the first to go to trial.

The case also highlights growing tension between farmers and large agricultural biotechnology companies, whose high-tech crops are transforming the traditional ways growers tend their fields.

"I've been using my own seed for years, and now farmers like me are being told we can't do that anymore if our neighbors are growing [genetically modified] crops that blow in," said Percy Schmeiser, 70, the farmer from Saskatchewan who was sued by Monsanto. "Basically, the right to use our own seed has been taken away."

Genetically engineered corn, soybeans, cotton and canola have become widely used in the United States, and recent evidence suggests that their pollen can spread to
conventional crops. That means any farmer whose neighbors grow engineered varieties
could find himself in the same situation as Schmeiser -- especially farmers of easily
windblown canola and corn.

A Monsanto spokeswoman in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said yesterday that the decision will help protect the intellectual property rights of the company and of
thousands of farmers who pay for its technology.

"This is a clear win for Monsanto, and this is very good news for us," said Trish Jordan, manager of public and industry affairs for Monsanto Canada. "What the judge
found was that Mr. Schmeiser had infringed on our patent, and awarded us damages."

In his ruling, federal Judge W. Andrew MacKay concluded that a farmer does not have the right to grow crops with a patented and genetically modified gene unless he
has an agreement with the company that owns the patent. MacKay also ruled that it
didn't matter whether the farmer took advantage of the patented gene. In this case,
Schmeiser did not.

The Monsanto canola contains a gene that protects the crop from the herbicide Roundup. With Roundup Ready canola, farmers can spray the herbicide more widely and
control weeds more easily.

Seed companies representing Monsanto, and similar biotechnology companies, sell their modified genes to farmers under an agreement that they use them for only
one season. Traditionally, farmers have stored their best seeds and replanted them.

Monsanto communications director Lori Fisher said yesterday that seed companies that license Monsanto technology will help farmers remove unwanted genetically
modified plants in their fields. She called the Schmeiser case unusual and said that
farmers support the company's effort to protect its patent.

But a spokeswoman with the National Farmers Union, which represents 300,000 small farmers and ranchers in the United States, said the organization has been following the Schmeiser case with apprehension.

"We're extremely concerned by what liabilities may unfold for the farmer, particularly with cross-pollination of genetically modified plants," she said.

Margaret Mellon, director of the agriculture and biotechnology program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the ruling "stunning.

"This means that people who are in the neighborhood of genetically modified crops will have to pay royalties to the companies for products they never purchased and
got no benefits from," she said.

The decision prohibits Schmeiser from using his seed again and requires him to pay Monsanto about $10,000 for its user fees and up to $75,000 in profits from
his 1998 crop. MacKay told the farmer and company that he would impose a financial
settlement if they couldn't work one out.

Schmeiser is a fifth-generation farmer in Bruno, Saskatchewan. In his trial last summer, he acknowledged he was aware that Roundup Ready canola had gotten into his
crops in 1997. He said he used seeds from that crop for his next year's planting -- as he
traditionally did -- but with no intention of taking advantage of the genetically modified
plants' engineered trait.

Representatives of Monsanto Canada received reports from nearby farmers in 1998 that they believed Schmeiser was using Roundup Ready canola without an agreement. Private
investigators collected samples from Schmeiser's fields and confirmed the presence of the modified canola.

They reported that the crop was made up almost entirely of genetically modified plants. Schmeiser denied that, and third-party tests found the presence of modified
canola to be significantly less. He became something of a hero in farmer and anti-biotech circles for his fight against the company.

Thursday, 15 March 2001

Lab-created killer virus sparks biotech fears

By MARTIN KHOR Third World Network Features

(Recent news that a new deadly virus was created during a genetic engineering experiment has set off warning bells that the use of the technology should be very carefully monitored and regulated. In the experiment that went wrong, an engineered mousepox virus acquired the capacity to damage the immune system and killed all the mice involved. The scientists warned that it is "not too difficult" to create similar viruses that are deadly to human beings. Are we in danger of new diseases created in poorly-regulated labs?)

THE potential hazard of applying genetic engineering for medical purposes was dramatically publicized recently when Australian scientists revealed they had accidentally created a killer version of the mousepox virus that killed all the mice in their experiment.

If the same method had been used on the smallpox virus (which is similar to mousepox), it may have resulted in a more dangerous form of that virus that can destroy the immune system and thus be extremely lethal to humans.

Hundreds of experiments are taking place around the world in which scientists genetically modify viruses and bacteria. As the Australian case has shown, it is possible for new dangerous viruses to be created, with or without the intention of the scientists, and with potentially catastrophic health consequences.

The recent revelation is likely to spark a major controversy on the need to strictly regulate genetic engineering research, experiments and use in animals and humans.

Recently there have been serious concerns, and many public protests, regarding genetic engineering. However, they have mainly focused on its use in agriculture and on the safety of genetically modified foods.

The Australian mousepox case can be expected to raise similar concerns on the use of genetic engineering in medical applications and purposes, or for biological warfare and acts of terrorism.

The scientists who carried out the experiment have themselves publicized the dangers that can arise from it, warning that terrorists could without much difficulty use their method to develop a new lethal strain of smallpox to carry out biological warfare.

"We discovered that if we modified this virus in a particular way then suddenly animals were dying that would normally be resistant to the virus," said Bob Seamark, the head researcher, according to an AFP news report.

"It was a concern that this same modification could be made to human viruses and this would enhance their virulence or at least strengthen their ability to kill people."

Seagate and the Cooperative Research Centre issued a global warning to guard against misuse of their research.

Another scientist, Annabelle Duncan, called for the tightening of the Biological Weapons Convention to make it "very, very hard" for terrorists to use the results of scientific research to create deadly new weapons.

Duncan is molecular science chief at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), which helped create the virus, and was formerly deputy leader of a United Nations team that investigated viowarfare agents in Iraq.

Whilst it is right for the researchers to warn about the misuse of scientific data by "bio-terrorists," equal attention should also be paid to the hazards posed by scientific research and experiments, including those like the Australian case, that may be perfectly legal but nevertheless potentially harmful.

What if the new lethal mousepox virus escapes from the laboratory and moves freely about? And, worse, what if genetically modified viruses are created that can cause more lethal versions of life-threatening human diseases (such as smallpox) or even new diseases?

The Australian case was first reported in the New Scientist magazine earlier this month, and then was publicized worldwide through the BBC and major news agencies.

The New Scientist report began dramatically as follows: "A virus that kills every one of its victims, by wiping out part of their immune system, has been accidentally created by an Australian research team. The virus, a modified mousepox, does not affect humans, but it is closely related to smallpox, raising fears that the technology could be used in biowarfare."

The researchers were trying to make a mouse contraceptive vaccine for pest control, and did not intend to produce a killer virus.

Two scientists, Ron Jackson of CSIRO and Ian Ramshaw of Australian National University, inserted into a mousepox virus a gene that creates large amounts of a molecule, interleukin 4 (IL-4), that is naturally found in the human body. The molecule was supposed to stimulate antibodies against mouse eggs, and thus make the mice infertile.

The mousepox virus was used as a vehicle to transport the egg proteins into mice to trigger an antibody response and the gene for IL-4 was added to boost antibody production.

"The surprise was that it totally suppressed the cell-mediated response - the arm of the immune system that combats viral infection," says the New Scientist report.

Mice normally suffer only mild symptoms from mousepox, but with the added gene, it killed all the mice in nine days. "It would be safe to assume that if some idiot did put human IL-4 into human smallpox, they'd increase the lethality quite dramatically," said Jackson.

Moreover, the modified virus is unusually resistant to vaccine as the vaccine applied to the mice to protect them against mousepox worked in only half the mice exposed to the killer version. If a human version of the virus is created, vaccination programmes would be of limited use.

In light of the incident, the New Scientist report poses a vital issue: "Is it possible that research into new vaccines against cancer and other diseases could inadvertently create lethal human viruses? Many of the most promising modern vaccines depend on viruses to transport genes into the body, and contain genes that directly alter the immune response.

In view of the seriousness of the Australian case, these questions need to be answered, and extreme caution is required, before an accidental (or even an intentional) release of deadly microbes takes place.

The emergence, spread and effect of the AIDS virus is an outstanding example of the devastation a new virus or bacterium can inflict on human lives and health, in this case a virus that damages or destroys the body's immune system.

The recent news that a new virus was created in a laboratory that can kill all its victims by wiping out an important part of their immune system should serve as a warning for regulatory action to be taken before it is too late.

Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 02:47 GMT Stem cell hope for Parkinson's

By Jonathan Amos in San Francisco

Scientists are closer to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease using special "master cells" taken from embryos.

Dr Ole Isacson, of Harvard Medical School, and Dr Ronald McKay, of the US National Institutes of Health, said on Friday they had both used the cells successfully to treat mice and rats which mimicked symptoms of the human condition.

But the researchers, who revealed details of their work at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, may find that political and ethical obstacles will delay the treatment getting into clinical trials.

Public funding for research that uses cells taken from embryos is restricted in the US, as it is in many countries. Although the new Bush administration has promised to review the ethical issues involved, it has yet to come forward with a policy position.

Until it does, the scientists say it could be difficult to develop further some of the emerging cell technologies.

Adequate supplies

Isacson and McKay used slightly different techniques but achieved broadly similar results. Both used embryonic stem cells, the master cells that can transform into virtually any tissue type in the body, and which can be grown in vast numbers.

The scientists used the cells so that they would produce dopamine when implanted into the brains of rats and mice. Dopamine is the key brain chemical missing in Parkinson's patients, and which gives rise to the classic symptoms of tremor and rigidity.

Drug treatment for Parkinson's has only short-lived beneficial effects, and researchers have had difficulty obtaining sufficient supplies of dopamine-producing cells from foetal tissue for use in brain transplants.

"What stem cell research provides is finally to get an adequate source of cells that one can produce in tubes that the neurosurgeons can implant," Dr Isacson said. "This would be a revolution."

'Medical moonshot'

But if scientists are to take the research further, they will need support from politicians. Ethical concerns about the use of embryos mean public researchers can only use stem cells if they are sourced from private labs.

Jeffrey Martin, a Parkinson's sufferer and campaigner, told the AAAS meeting that he was hopeful the new US Government would be a supporter of biomedical technology and extend the scope of funding.

"If the public is made aware of the opportunities here then the president will in fact do what he said in his campaign in Florida in September and launch what he called a medical moonshot to cure a number of age-old diseases with new resources and new resolve."

Dr McKay said it was possible the new Parkinson's treatments would be developed in a country where the regulatory framework covering stem cell research was most benign.

"Recently the British Government has moved forward in this area," he said. "There has also been very positive moves from the French and Dutch Governments in the use of stem cells as a clinical treatment."

Britain urges caution on Gene Testing NZ Herald 2001

Britain is well placed to lead research because of its role tn the Human Genome Project, which mapped the genes in DNA. Insurers argue that using genetic testing is little different from asking about family medical histories and helps spread risk. They agreed not to use results in applications for life insurance linked to mortgages of under £100,000 ($353,000) but a recent survey found this widely flouted. A parliamentary committee on science and technology has condemned the voluntary code as "inadequate" and warned that insurers were placing a significance on tests "that cannot at present be justified"