GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 14th July  2003

GE Onions application should be withdrawn.


The GE onions proposed in an application to ERMA could risk increasing disease including cancer because of the bacteria used to engineer them. This application should be  withdrawn until sufficient scientific and medical research is completed in the laboratory.


“There are serious questions concerning lack of markets, possible harm caused by the imprecise GE technique itself, and the absence of laboratory data on links to cancer that  need to be answered before field trials can even be considered,” says Jon Carapiet for GE Free NZ in food and environment.


 “Until the medical effects of such products are properly studied and the impact on soil from similar experiments overseas or in a laboratory have been properly assessed, it is  wrong to push for a field trial in New Zealand. Where are these comprehensive studies and why have the results not been published?”


Markets at Risk


Trade NZ - EXPORTS reports that in 2001 New Zealand exported 183,000 tonnes of onions valued at $97 million to major markets like the UK, Germany, Japan. But these are  he very markets likely to be lost and where GE products are widely rejected.


The lack of demand for GE onions was identified by the Royal Commission on GM who said this type of crop “has little to offer New Zealand.”   The Commission did not consider  hat the limited uses justify the environmental risk to New Zealand and warned against the loss of pure-seed production by contamination.


Infection of Human Cells


Independent scientists have warned that Agrobacterium tumefaciens used in the GE process can infect human cells and not just plant cells as scientists previously believed.  Until quite recently, the GE community had assumed that this bacteria does not infect animal cells, and certainly would not transfer genes into them. However, this has been  roved wrong. A paper published in 2001 reports that T-DNA can be transferred to the chromosomes of human cancer cells.


Glyphosate and non-Hodgkins lymphoma


The risk of other diseases could also rise because of the increased levels of chemical residues from glyphosate in products that survive the spray. Roundup may appear relatively  enign, but research increasingly suggests it is harmful to health and environment. A population-based study conducted in Sweden links exposure to glyphosate to non-Hodgkins  Lymphoma. Biotech companies marketing herbicide-resistant GE crops have applied for up to 200 times the previous level of glyphosate residue in human food.


GE Free NZ in food and environment believe these issues need to be addressed, not ignored.


Jon Carapiet- 09 815 3370



  . “GE has little to offer New Zealand.”   (RCGM report p147/8 chapter 7 Paragraph 42)


   “We acknowledge production of pure unmodified seed might provide an economic opportunity." (RCGM report p147/8 chapter 7 Paragraphs 43


   Kunik T, Tzfira T, Kapulnik Y, Gafni Y, Dingwall C, and Citovsky V.

Genetic transformation of HeLa cells by Agrobacterium. PNAS USA, 2001, 98,

1871-87. SEE also McNicole et al (1997) The Possibility of Agrobacterium

as a Vehicle for Gene Escape. MAFF. R&D and Surveillance Report: 395.




Common Plant Vector Injects Genes into Human Cells The genetic engineering community has assumed that Agrobacterium, a commonly used gene transfer vector for plants,  oes not infect animal cells, and certainly would not transfer genes into them. But this has been proved wrong. Prof. Joe Cummins warns of hazards to laboratory and farm workers.

Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a bacterium that causes tumours to appear on the stems of infected plants. The bacterium causes the tumours by transferring genes to the cells of  he infected plant cells from a tumour inducing plasmid (Ti). The Ti plasmid has virulence genes that determine attachment to cells and transfer of a segment of the plasmid, T- NA, to the plant cell. The transferred DNA is integrated essentially randomly (no apparent sequence bias at the site of insertion) into the plant chromosomes and normally add  acterial genes that stimulate plant tumour cell growth.


In crop genetic manipulation (GM), the growth-stimulating genes that give rise to tumours are replaced by GM constructs which include genes for antibiotic resistance, plant viral  romoters and genes for desired crop traits such as herbicide tolerance.


Until quite recently, the genetic engineering community has assumed that Agrobacterium does not infect animal cells, and certainly would not transfer genes into them. But this  as been proved wrong.


A paper published earlier this year reports that T-DNA can be transferred to the chromosomes of human cancer cells [1]. In fact, Agrobacterium attaches to and genetically  ransforms several types of human cells. The researchers found that in stably transformed HeLa cells, the integration event occurred at the right border of the Ti plasmid's T-DNA,  exactly as would happen when it is being transferred into a plant cell genome. This suggests that Agrobacterium transforms human cells by a mechanism similar to that which it  uses for transformation of plants cells.


The paper shows that human cancer cells along with neuron and kidney cells were transformed with the Agrobacterium T-DNA. Such observations should raise alarm for those  who use Agrobacterium in the laboratory.


The integrated T-DNA will almost certainly act as a mutagen as it integrates into human chromosomes. Cancer can be triggered by activation of oncogenes (ie, cancer genes) or inactivation of cancer suppressing genes. Furthermore, the sequences carried within the T-DNA in the transforming bacterium can be expressed in the transformed cells (the viral  romoter CaMV has been found to be active in HeLa cells [2]) and constructions currently being tested include pharmaceutically active human genes such as the interleukins [3].


It is clear that little has been done to prevent environmental escape of the transforming bacteria or to quantify such releases. In conclusion, a study of cancer incidence among  hose exposed to Agrobacterium tumefaciens in the laboratory and in the field is needed. It would be worthwhile to screen workers for T-DNA sequences.


1.      Kunik T, Tzfira T, Kapulnik Y, Gafni Y, Dingwall C, and Citovsky V. Genetic transformation of HeLa cells by Agrobacterium. PNAS USA, 2001, 98, 1871-87.


2.      Ho MW, Ryan A and Cummins J. CaMV 35S promoter fragmentation hotspot confirmed and it is active in animals. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, 2000, 12, 189.


3.      See "GM AIDS virus more deadly" by Joe Cummins & Mae-Wan Ho ISIS Report, July 19, 2001


For more details contact



Glysophate (Reregistered September 1993):--


 Glyphosate-containing products are acutely toxic to animals, including humans, having caused eye and skin irritation, cardiac depression, vomiting, diarrhea; and thyroid,  ancreas and liver tumors. In laboratory tests, glyphosate has caused reduced sperm counts in male rats, a lengthened estrous cycle in female rats, and an increase in fetal loss, together with a decrease in birth weights in offspring.44 In large amounts, Glyphosate is acutely toxic to birds, because glyphosate kills plants and changes the structure of the  plant community. This can affect bird populations, since the birds depend on the plants for food and shelter.45


45 Caroline Cox, "Glyphosate, Part 2: Human Exposure and Ecological Effects," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Winter 1995, Vol. 15, No. 4, p. 18. back


Articles on Risks from Glysophate- resistant plants


1.Study: Modified wheat poses a threat
2.Scientists eye glyphosate-fusarium link


1.Study: Modified wheat poses a threat

By SCOTT EDMONDS - Canadian Press, July 9, 2003



WINNIPEG (CP) -- Genetically modified wheat poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, says a University of Manitoba study released Wednesday.


"Under current conditions the release of Roundup Ready wheat in Western Canada would be environmentally unsafe," concludes the report by three plant scientists.


The study was commissioned by the Canadian Wheat Board, which doesn't want to see genetically modified grain released for sale. It fears it will damage Canada's ability to sell into export markets where genetically modified crops are shunned.


"The study shows that this product, if granted unconfined release, will cause environmental problems for all farmers, not just those who choose to grow it," said wheat board chairman Ken Ritter.


Roundup Ready wheat is resistant to the herbicide of the same name produced by Monsanto. It allows farmers to spray Roundup on their wheat crop to kill weeds without killing  the grain at the same time.

Roundup Ready canola has been on the market for years with the same traits.


"If Roundup Ready wheat was grown under unconfined conditions in Western Canada, the trait would move from wheat crop to wheat crop in a fashion similar to that seen in  canola," the report says.


That means farmers would have to use other herbicides which can kill Roundup-resistant plants as well as Roundup, which has become the most popular agricultural herbicide.


Rene Van Acker, Anita Brule-Babel and Lyle Friesen say experiences with genetically modifed canola show there is a huge downside to the unconfined release of Roundup  ready wheat.


"When the Roundup Ready trait moves among canola crops, it becomes impossible for farmers to know if their . . . canola population will contain Roundup Ready volunteers, even if they have not previously grown Roundup Ready canola."


They also say the release of the wheat strain would increase the risk of the development of weeds that are resistant to the herbicide.


Officials at Monsanto Canada, which has applied to have the wheat undergo a federal environmental safety assessment, could not be reached for comment.


But Monsanto Canada president Peter Turner said in a letter to the Wheat board three weeks ago the biotechnology company won't do anything to put farmers in jeopardy and  couldn't put the wheat on the market until it wins acceptance in major export markets. He also promised it wouldn't be released until it can be effectively segregated from other wheat in the Canadian grain-handling system.


Monsanto has no target date for introduction of the wheat.  The study is being sent to the plant biosafety office of the Canadian  Food Inspection Agency, which is assessing Roundup Ready wheat.



2.Scientists eye  glyphosate-fusarium link Adrian Ewins Saskatoon  newsroom, July 10 2003


The National Farmers Union has come up with another reason to resist the introduction of genetically modified Roundup Ready wheat fusarium.

Appearing before the House of Commons agriculture committee recently, NFU president Stewart Wells said studies linking glyphosate-based herbicides and fusarium are cause  for serious concern.


The production of Roundup Ready wheat would result in a dramatic increase in the amount of glyphosate applied during the growing season, he said, which in turn could increase the incidence of fusarium.


"More work needs to be done in this area, but Roundup Ready wheat should not be approved until we understand the links between formulations of glyphosate and fusarium,"  cells told the committee.


In fact, the battle over the introduction of GM wheat will almost certainly be determined by issues such as market acceptance and consumer concerns over food safety, rather  than by any alleged link between glyphosate and fusarium.


And so far no direct causal link has been definitively established between Roundup and fusarium head blight, which has caused tens of millions of dollars of losses for wheat  growers in the eastern Prairies in recent years.


Trish Jordan, manager of public affairs for Monsanto Canada,which manufactures Roundup and is developing Roundup Ready wheat, said that while Monsanto is aware of the concerns, the data gathered so far are preliminary.


"It's important in something like this to look at a full body of research and not to jump to conclusions, as the NFU seems to be doing," she said, adding that Monsanto is not about to abandon its Roundup Ready wheat project over the issue.


But scientists in Canada and the United States say there are reasons to be cautious about introducing new technologies such as Roundup Ready crops that might boost the use of glyphosate-based herbicides.


 "There are some linkages here that we need to investigate further," said Keith Hanson, a microbiologist at Agriculture Canada's research centre in Swift Current, Sask.


 Laboratory research by Hanson and plant pathologist Myriam Fernandez has shown that applying glyphosate-based herbicides usually stimulates the growth of fusarium  p[athogens that cause fusarium head blight.


"The biggest thing overall that we've found is that there is a relationship here, mostly causing significant increases in vegetative fungal growth of these plant pathogens," Hanson said.


Those results correspond to field surveys conducted by Fernandez, which found that fields where glyphosate had been applied in the previous year had higher levels of fusarium  head blight pathogens and a greater incidence of FHB.


Robert Kremer, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research service, has done research showing that Roundup  Ready soybeans receiving the  recommended application of Roundup have significantly greater colonization of fusarium on their roots than untreated soybeans.


He said in an interview from his office at the University of Missouri that while it's dangerous to extrapolate the situation with Soybeans to other crops, there is reason to be cautious about introducing Roundup wheat.


"Probably the first year that it's planted there may not be any problem," he said. "But in subsequent years in the same field there is always the chance that it could trigger an increase in fusarium."


Hanson acknowledged that many questions remain unanswered.

For example, to what extent is the growth of pathogenic fungi in the soil increased by the glyphosate herbicide, to what degree  does that translate into the appearance of FHB and what effect does it have on future crops?


There are questions about how different varieties of plants react, whether specific fusarium fungi respond more than others and exactly why the glyphosate herbicides stimulate fusarium growth.


It also appears from Hanson and Fernandez's research that not all glyphosate products have the same effect on the fusarium, leading to speculation that non-active ingredients in the commercial formulation may account for the apparent fusarium link.


"It's not the glyphosate itself necessarily, but the glyphosate herbicide on the whole that is stimulating something in the Fusarium species and possibly increasing growth and creating increased populations," Hanson said.


Jordan said there are other possible explanations. For example, Roundup and other glyphosate formulations are used extensively in zero- and minimum-till situations. Since the fusarium fungi survive on wheat crop residues, any cultural practice that results in more residue will also result in more fusarium if other conditions are favourable.


She said Monsanto is aware of the research, but isn't doing any of its own and likely wouldn't unless peer-reviewed studies are published pointing to a definite link.


Hanson said the Swift Current researchers will continue with laboratory and greenhouse work to evaluate the production and viability of Fusarium spores under glyphosate  pplication, and then move on to growth chambers to test the effect of glyphosate on infected cereal residues. There are no immediate plans for field-scale studies.

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