Herbicide Resistance

Sample news items from AgBiotech News and Information May 1998

European Food Industry to Label GM Foods

The European food industry has decided voluntarily to label foods containing genetically modified soyabeans or maize, after member states failed to agree common EU labelling rules. The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU said it was worried by the absence of EU rules and was telling manufacturers to act to meet consumer demands "for clear and precise information".

Labels are likely to say a food product has been "modified by gene technology" or "contains GM soya". Such labelling is already used in the Netherlands and the UK. The Confederation is worried that continued confusion over labelling could prompt a backlash against modified foods, which have already encountered resistance from environmentalists and consumers.

The European Commission has protested at comments by a US official implying EU food safety procedures were arbitrary. Peter Scher, deputy US trade representative for agriculture, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying the common denominator in most US food safety disputes with the EU was food import bans were based on European politics rather than scientific evidence.

The EU’s regulatory process for biotechnology changed every day, Scher said. "Some commissioner decides to have a new review, so they have a new review." Nikolaus van der Pas, the European Commission’s chief spokesman, took the unusual step of commenting on Scher’s remarks at a daily briefing at the EU’s executive body. Describing EU food safety procedures as depending on a commissioner’s mood was "going too far," he said. "We protest. … We believe that to divide the world into two zones: a US zone which has good sense and a European zone which does not; is exaggerated in a coarse way," van der Pas said. Gerry Kiely, spokesman for EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler, said Scher’s comments were "very unhelpful at a time when we are trying to calm things down."

GM Lettuce Turns Herbicide Into Fertilizer

One plant’s poison may be another plant’s fertilizer. University of Florida researchers reached that conclusion about a new lettuce variety that they genetically engineered.

A gene that researchers transplanted into the lettuce digests the herbicide glyphosate, releasing the fertilizer phosphorous. "We were surprised that the lettuce plants we sprayed with the herbicide actually did better," says Robert Ferl, a professor of horticultural sciences with the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

By eliminating manual hoeing, the new lettuce will save up to $500 per acre. "We can apply glyphosate when the weeds are just getting started," Ferl said. "The weeds die, but the lettuce thrives." Ferl and his colleagues transplanted two genes into the plant. One gene digests glyphosate, and the other prevents the lettuce from withering under the herbicide. "Glyphosate is very compatible with the environment," Ferl says. "It breaks down quickly and has little effect on people and animals."

The new lettuce should increase yields by eliminating the up to 20% crop loss that results from hoeing. "That will benefit consumers at the checkout counter," said Russell Nagata, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at a UF research Center in Belle Glade.

It’s too soon to determine the potential for engineering other plants in which the herbicide, Roundup, will do double duty — enriching the plants while killing surrounding weeds.

Besides developing the new "Roundup Ready" lettuce, UF researchers also are working on lettuce that will ward off a tiny insect that destroys thousands of acres of crops. Their goal is to develop hybrids that will be less appetizing to the leafminer, an insect named for its burrowing of plants.

"Leafminers love the variety of romaine lettuce that most Florida growers produce, but they dislike three other varieties we tested," Nagata said. "When we provided honey near the test plants, the insects ate the plants and did well. This makes us suspect that the honey made up for nutrition that the insects get from the popular variety."

Why not switch immediately to other varieties of romaine lettuce? Alas, the alternative varieties have drawbacks. "Some don’t look right to consumers, and others are susceptible to disease," Nagata said.

Researchers plan to cross-pollinate romaine lettuce varieties to develop a plant that will resist pests yet make a great Caesar salad. "Although we’re studying only varieties grown in Florida, our research could be applied to similar problems elsewhere," Nagata said. "Developing a super plant could benefit everyone."

Monsanto Raises Roundup Ready Prices

Monsanto is to charge $7 to $9 per acre this year for Roundup Ready cotton, against $5 to $8 per acre last year. In 1997, 4,200 growers planted 800,000 acres of the herbicide resistant cotton, and Monsanto expects this to rise to 4.5 million this year.

There were problems reported by cotton farmers in the Mississippi Delta of boll drop. Monsanto says that "the problem is not the seed itself or the biotechnology," but could be linked to potential issues such as the "peculiarities of the growing season in 1997 and agricultural practices including variety selection and use of Roundup."

DeKalb Announces New Maize Line-Up

DeKalb Genetics Corporation have introduced 12 new maize hybrids. These new conventional hybrids just released are in addition to 15 previously announced new specific-trait maize products (STPs) DeKalb will offer for the 1998 planting season. The new STPs include: five new Roundup Ready(R) maize hybrids, six new DeKalbt(TM) hybrids, three new IMI-Corn(R) hybrids and the industry’s first Roundup Ready(R)/YieldGard(R) stacked-trait maize hybrid.

The company also maintains 44 production locations world-wide. "The 1998 class of DeKalb elite hybrids represents an unprecedented array of new products," said Joe Walsh, DeKalb’s maize product manager. "The introduction of our 12 new conventional hybrids provides significant enhancements to our extensive product line-up-especially in the Corn Belt and northern markets. Our Specific Trait Products are fulfilling important market needs and are experiencing strong acceptance in the marketplace." Years of research and field testing will be available to growers this spring as DeKalb introduces these new seed products to its hybrid line-up. These new hybrids provide growers with stronger offensive and defensive traits, as well as flexible options to combat weeds and insects, which can significantly lower yields and reduce profitability.

Unilever Announces European GMO Labelling

Unilever is to introduce specific labelling in Europe for its food products containing ingredients produced from genetically modified soya and maize, based on proposals developed by CIAA, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the European Union.

Announcing the decision, Antony Burgmans, Unilever director and chairman of its Europe Committee, said: ‘Last week the European Commission failed to get support from the EU Member States for its proposal to label GMO products on the basis of the presence of new DNA. This unfortunately will result in the prolonged absence of detailed and precise rules at European level on this important issue.’

‘With this decision we shall be actively contributing (in partnership with the national food industry federations concerned) to the establishment of labelling systems that are consistent across Europe. In so doing we shall be meeting consumer demand for clear and specific information’, he said.

Together with the European food industry through its umbrella organisation CIAA, Unilever declared its support of labelling of the relevant products in October last year. The basis of this CIAA labelling proposal is the possibility to identify the presence in products and in ingredients of a new protein as a result of genetic modification. This system has already been adopted and implemented in several European countries.

Burgmans added: "All Unilever food companies in Europe will now actively pursue and implement this labelling policy, in partnership with the national Food and Drink Associations. Furthermore we recommend that these same labelling requirements are formally adopted under European law."

EPA Won’t Extend Tolerances For Bromoxynil On Transgenic Cotton

EPA has determined that it cannot grant a request to extend tolerances (allowable residue levels) for the herbicide bromoxynil to continue its use on cotton crops. Specifically, the Agency is not extending tolerances for bromoxynil and its metabolite, 3,5-dibromo-4-hydroxybenzonitrile (DBHA) on cotton commodities. Previous time-limited tolerances and the registration for permitting the use of bromoxynil on cotton expired on 1 January 1998. When establishing tolerances under provisions of the Food Quality Protection Act, EPA is required to ensure that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm based on the aggregate dietary risk of all registered uses for that pesticide. After re-examining its data, EPA decided that it could not extend the tolerances for bromoxynil due to serious concerns about the developmental risks it poses to infants and children. Other concerns raised in the Agency’s review of bromoxynil include studies showing that bromoxynil also causes cancer in laboratory animals.

The first tolerance permitting the use of bromoxynil on cotton crops was issued for an experimental use in 1995. At that time a transgenic cotton plant was developed specifically for use with the herbicide bromoxynil. The new transgenic cotton was designed to resist the effects of bromoxynil, which could then be applied to control and kill weeds throughout the cotton growing season. In June 1997 EPA issued a new set of time-limited tolerances for bromoxynil and restricted the use of the herbicide to 400,000 acres or about 3% of the cotton acreage. Restrictions placed on the application and tolerances for bromoxynil last June were based on the need to allow for new data and analysis to be submitted and reviewed regarding the risks posed by bromoxynil.

In September 1997 Rhone-Poulenc Ag. Co., Research Triangle Park, N.C., the registrant and manufacturer of bromoxynil, submitted a petition requesting that EPA renew the tolerance for cotton and allow its application on up to 10% of the cotton acreage. In addition to its review of Rhone-Poulenc’s petition the Agency is currently reviewing additional information provided by Rhone-Poulenc and preparing a Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED). The RED will address other uses of bromoxynil and assist in developing further exposure refinements and identifying additional measures that can be taken to reduce risks. In addition to cotton, bromoxynil is applied to about a dozen other food and animal feed crops. EPA expects to issue its RED in 1998.

"We congratulate the EPA for making public safety paramount," said Dr Jane Rissler, a plant pathologist and Senior Scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The agency’s decision was made based on its concerns about the health effects of bromoxynil, a well known developmental toxin and carcinogen."

EPA is sending letters to the nation’s cotton growers informing them that without the tolerance, it will be illegal to use bromoxynil on genetically engineered cotton and that they should plan accordingly.

"This decision unmasks the myth that genetically engineered crops are benign," said Rissler. "The sole purpose of this cotton is to expand the use of a very dangerous pesticide." The decision is a blow to both Rhone-Poulenc, the manufacturer of the herbicide, and Calgene (now a subsidiary of Monsanto), the distributor of the cotton seed.

Rhone-Poulenc said the decision was not based on sound science, as the dietary risk was miniscule. Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Company says it is very disappointed EPA’s actions. Stoneville, a subsidiary of Monsanto, has worked with Rhone-Poulenc to develop and commercialize new cottonseed varieties tolerant to Buctril herbicide. The first cottonseed from this collaborative effort, BXN SystemTM cottonseed tolerant to Buctril, was marketed in 1995. Approximately 300,000 acres of BXN cotton were planted in the USA in 1997. In addition to the BXN varieties, an additional Stoneville cottonseed variety, BG 4740, which incorporates tolerance to Buctril as well as protection from selected insect pests utilizing the Bollgard┬« gene (a Bacillus thuringiensis toxin gene), is ready for commercial launch in 1998.

Pending further internal review by Stoneville, both seed varieties BXN 47 and BG 4740 remain available for the 1998 season at this time. A revised marketing plan was implemented in early 1998. The EPA action on Buctril, which Stoneville had no control over, has no bearing on cotton growers’ ability to plant and grow BXN cotton varieties. However, the EPA action currently means that spraying Buctril on BXN cotton would likely result in illegal residues in cotton which would be subject to seizure if moved in interstate commerce.

Japan Approves Import of AgrEvo’s Liberty Link Maize for Human and Animal Consumption

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has granted clearance for the importation of T-14 and T-25 Liberty Link(R) maize and their offspring for both livestock feed and human consumption. The MAFF action completes requirements for import of Liberty Link maize into Japan for food and feed uses. Japanese trade officials approved Liberty Link maize for feed use on 7 March 1997, with food approval granted on 26 May 1997.

"Although FDA previously confirmed no safety concerns for the use of Liberty Link grain for animal feed or human consumption, this provides AgrEvo with food and feed clearances for exports," said Dr Sally Van Wert, AgrEvo Manager, Regulatory Affairs – Biotechnology, for the USA. "With thousands of acres of Liberty Link Corn harvested in the US this fall, this action clears the way to sell in Japanese markets – welcome news since Japan is the largest importer of US corn. We are still waiting for clearances from the European Union and are optimistic that these will be received in the near future."

Liberty(R) Herbicide was the first new product registered under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Quality Protection Act that was signed into law in July 1996. Prior to registration, rigorous testing was conducted to ensure that the genetically engineered seed was safe for human and animal consumption, as well as nutritionally equivalent to its non-transformed counterpart.

"Our evaluations reinforced the fact that although a herbicide-resistance gene was inserted into the plant, corn remains corn, even when one or more new traits are added to the several hundred thousand genes already present in corn plants," concluded Van Wert.

Japan Cancels GM Labelling Plan

The Japanese agriculture ministry is to cancel a plan requiring farm producers to indicate on their product labels whether genetic engineering was used in their production. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry responded to US pressure that implied obligatory labelling of such products would constitute a non-tariff trade barrier. It also considered the opposition from domestic producers and distributors concerned about possible additional investment costs required to meet the proposed rule. MAFF is publishing a non-binding instruction asking companies to clarify if genetic engineering was used.

The Japanese government has already endorsed 20 foodstuffs under six categories as products developed on the basis of gene recombination technology that are marketable in the country. These products, most of them imported, include herbicide-resistant soyabeans and Bt maize.

German Study Confirms Spread of Pollen from Transgenic Rape

An investigation conducted by NLV, the Ecological Office of Lower Saxony in Germany, has confirmed that genes which have been transferred to genetically modified oilseed rape plants can be transmitted to other oilseed rape plants. This transmission of pollen from one oilseed rape plant to another (cross-fertilisation) is a well-known and undisputed phenomenon that has been frequently described and discussed in the scientific literature. The situation was also stated explicitly in the application for authorisation of the trials at Gehrden (in Lower Saxony).

The trial in Lower Saxony was initiated in 1995 to study oilseed rape plants that had been made resistant to the AgrEvo herbicide Liberty. The location itself was placed at the disposal of the Ecological Office as part of a parallel research project. A further objective of the investigations was to monitor and evaluate the transmission of oilseed rape pollen. Normal rape situated at a distance of 200m from the test field was transformed into transgenic, herbicide-resistant rape.

Pollen transmission depends on a number of different factors, such as the distance from the nearest oilseed rape plant, the direction and force of the wind, the blossoming times of the plants, and insect-borne transmission.

The decisive issue for environment, agriculture and consumer is to ensure that pollen transmission involves no risks. For this reason the authority that gave permission for the trials (the Robert-Koch-Institut) has seen no reason to require any other investigations in addition to the parallel research already in progress.

The Niedersachsen Minister of the Environment, Monika Griefahn, said that the NLV research in Gehrden confirmed her worst fears. "Once the manipulated genes are released into the surroundings, there is no way to contain them," said Griefahn. Griefahn is concerned that further tests will show that the resistance gene has been carried over into wild plants as well. Most likely this would occur with plants that are related to rape, such as mustard or wild radish. Wild plants that had absorbed the resistance gene from the genetic rape would then thrive as weeds and increase, in spite of the use of Basta.

Following the first NLV findings, it is clear for Griefahn "that in the neighbourhood of transgenic fields cultivated plants can also become transgenic". This would harm also those farmers who declined to use genetically modified crops. They would no longer be able to guarantee to the consumers that their products are not genetically modified.