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January 31, 2000
A worker tends the research crops behind Plant Sciences on Green Valley Road on Friday. Protesters attack field of research strawberries !
By Bill Lovejoy, Trina Kleist- Sentinel staff writers
WATSONVILLE - Guided by a full moon, a small group of people recently crept into a research field and pulled up hundreds of plants they say were part of a genetic-engineering test.
The group of five to 10 people, mostly from Santa Cruz County, call themselves the Fragaria Freedom Farmers. They uprooted the fruiting fragarias commonly called strawberries in the latest in a string of international protests against the widespread cultivation of crops that have had their genetic material changed in the laboratory.
World trade ministers have been meeting in Montreal to discuss how to deal with genetically modified organisms GMOs. The European Union wants to assure nations the right to reject imports of things like modified soybeans, while the United States and a few allies oppose such restrictions. They still were negotiating late Friday. Little evidence exists that genetically altered food is harmful to people. But critics say too little research has been done.
Spoiled meat could be recalled, they say. But if a dangerous, genetically altered weed mixes into the environment, "it would be too late to do anything about it," EU lead negotiator Christoph Bail said at the biosafety meeting. In that spirit, on the night of Jan. 20, the GMO vandals pulled up four to five 150-foot-long rows of mature plants, in what one of them called "90 minutes of pretty backbreaking, grueling work."
According to the grower, Plant Sciences Inc., the protesters did not destroy genetically modified plants, "but rather a non-fumigated test plot ... of strawberries developed through conventional hybridization."
In a one-paragraph summary of the event issued by Plant Sciences chief Steve Nelson, the company said the plot was "part of a research effort to find alternatives to methyl bromide."
Nelson denied repeated requests for an interview. Another employee said an investigation into the vandalism was "on-going." However, Plant Sciences does hold permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture going back to 1997 to splice strawberry genes. According to scant information provided by those documents, the research appears focused on genes that would make plants resistant to root mold one of many problems the fumigant methyl bromide controls.
The permit documents also state that no environmental assessments were submitted on the work. Genes are molecules that all living things carry in their cells. They determine nearly every aspect of physical being, from the color of a persons hair to the sweetness of a strawberry. The qualities controlled by genes are passed from generation to generation.
For at least two decades, scientists have split open those molecules and inserted bits of new molecules to develop new products. Some of those products include insulin, treatments for cancer and a possible cure for multiple sclerosis. Scientists have created potatoes resistant to the blight that caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and rice with extra vitamin A that could save the eyesight of poor Asian children. More controversial are crops such as tomatoes and soybeans developed by Monsanto Co. that can survive being sprayed with its patented weed-killer Round-up.
About 60 percent of American soybeans and at least 25 percent of American corn already is genetically altered. Other modified crops include carrots, peppers, radicchio and squash.
Common food ingredients that often are genetically engineered include corn starch and corn syrup, soy protein, canola oil, rice flour and lecithin. A Fragaria Freedom Farmer who agreed to talk to the Sentinel on condition of anonymity said he researched the issue on the Internet, where he got to know other Web surfers opposed to genetic engineering. His said his concerns focus on a loss of local control and lack of social justice. He said he considers sabotage a legitimate tool against huge companies that cross borders and seem unresponsive to democratic processes.
"Its nothing really organized," the young man said. "But the extent to which people are taking control of their lives is really amazing and inspiring and is motivating me to do things I never thought I would do, like this action." It didnt matter to him if the plants he dug up may not have been genetically engineered.
"Their whole project is still involving genetic engineering and strawberries, and its something they tout to the industry," the man said. "Its still an act of economic sabotage against that company and their research."
Copyright İİ 1999-2000, Santa Cruz County Sentinel Publishers Co. <"/century/intro.html" http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/news/top/stories/1top.htmOnline Magazine
January 10, 2000
URANIUM ALERT !
There is an open pit uranium strip mine just southwest of sandsprings on
the HPL/NPL border.
The mine is between the 264 and cameron at:
N 35.46.073 x W 111.04.478
N 35.46.062 x w 111.04.382
N 35.45,965 x W 111.05.213
Each position marks a different position within the mine.
The cutoff from the 264 is adjacent to coal mine mesa which is on the
opposite (north side of the road). It is easy to see the turn off because
THE NAVAJO NATION IS RELOCATING PEOPLE to the 264 juncture. You cant miss
it, there are a couple of hundred pads with utilities already in. From
there you go SW several miles.
One of the miners said he worked the mine at the age of 7, helping his
parents. He lives on the HPL. He used to ride atop the bags of uranium on a
donkey to get the Uranium out. There is raw uranium ore all over the place
in plain view. Wind would carry this contamination up into the new
relocation site at the 264 as well as Black Mesa and other surrounding
communities. Water supplies are nearby that lead to the Colorado as well as
The area is heavily contaminated and the local people are dying of thyroid
and other cancers.
The local residents claim the ALL GOVERNMENTS have ignored thier pleas for
help. One family has had 9 miscarraiges. To may contact about this
situation please call:
888 41 PRAYER ext1
or email me at
Video, testimonies and interviews have been forwarded to activists in Los
Genetic Corps continue
Date: 2 Jan 2000
LATimes December 31.
A Few Rush to Exploit New Biotech Crops Genetics: Young firms such as
Ceres see this as a golden age. Despite protests, they are inventing the
next generation of plants.
By PAUL JACOBS, LA Times Staff Writer
Worldwide protests against genetically engineered crops are on the rise.
America's trading partners are calling for labeling of foods that contain
ingredients from genetically modified plants. Federal regulators are
reexamining the rules for assuring the safety of biotech foods.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, a handful of young companies are busily
inventing the next generation of biotech plants--crops that promise
increased food production and improved nutritional content, or that offer
a renewable, low-cost supply of medications and industrial chemicals.
These small firms see this as a golden age of plant biology, and they are
betting that the controversies will cool and the world will warm to their
One of the newest and most promising of these emerging companies is Ceres
Inc., started in 1997 by a UCLA professor and his corporate partners with
more than $50 million in private capital. After leasing unused lab space
on the university campus, the company now sits in what at first blush
seems the most unlikely of places for an agricultural research
facility--high on a hill above Malibu Canyon, with a glorious view of the
Like its competitors, which include the large seed producers as well as
smaller firms, the company is rushing to exploit new developments in plant
biology. The advances include the rapid decoding of genes, high-speed
methods for isolating gene products and discovering their function, and
efficient ways to transplant desirable genes from one species into another.
The search for genes is called genomics, and says UCLA biologist Robert B.
Goldberg, a co-founder of Ceres, the company is "trying to position itself
to be the premiere plant genomics company in the world and compete with
DuPont and Monsanto and Novartis."
Goldberg says that unearthing just a few important genes--he calls them
"undiscovered diamonds"--from the tens of thousands present in a few
species of plants will be enough to put the company over the top. "We're
looking for breakthrough traits," he said.
And the company may already have some of them, licensed from UCLA and
other University of California campuses. These are genes that can boost
grain tonnage by increasing the size of seeds, by growing seeds not just
from flowers but in leaves, and by producing seeds without pollination.
Cranking up food production will be increasingly important to feed a
growing world population--more important in many parts of the world than
advances in genetic engineering that lead to new medications, says Richard
Flavell, Ceres' chief scientific officer.
"In that part of the world where 3 billion people suffer from nutritional
deficiency, your first thought is not how to get [medicine] to people, but
how do I feed them," Flavell said.
The hiring of Flavell was a coup for the fledgling company. He's the
former director of the John Innes Centre in England, a world leader in
plant genetics. Last year, he was elected to Britain's Royal Society--a
body that includes numerous Nobel laureates and that was once headed by
Sir Isaac Newton.
"To kick-start the firm," Flavell said, the company has farmed out its
gene sequencing--the decoding of the chemical building blocks of plant
DNA--to Genset, a French company that has one of the world's largest
factories for deciphering plant, animal and microbial genes.
And it is working closely with university scientists at University of
California campuses in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Davis.
"The business strategy is to get immediate access to mature programs," he
said, by licensing technology already developed and working with
Ceres recently broke ground on its first greenhouse. "Most of our plants
are in enclosed cabinets," Flavell said. "But we're moving to a bigger
scale, we're ramping up. In a couple of years we'll be into crop plants."
The company is planning to work with the large seed companies to
distribute its products. "If we want to penetrate large markets, as a
small company, we can't do that efficiently by ourselves," he said.
But eventually, Ceres could develop its own line of seeds. "We want to be
a product company, and not just a technical supplier," Flavell said.
Goldberg helped found the company after a successful collaboration with
Plant Genetic Systems in Belgium that led to a new method for creating
plant hybrids that is widely used in the seed industry.
That work, Goldberg said, convinced him of the power of collaboration in
producing improved plant varieties, and he set out to establish a
nonprofit institute that would bring together academic scientists from
But he had difficulty finding the money he needed, even with the argument
that the new technology could help feed the world. "I went to Hollywood
people," he recalled in a recent interview. "They could see cancer, but
they couldn't see hunger."
He turned instead to the head of Plant Genetic Systems, Walter De Logi, a
Caltech-educated astrophysicist who in 1996 had just sold his company to
international seed giant AgrEvo for $750 million.
Goldberg recalls the conversation this way: "I said, 'Do you want to start
an institute?' He [De Logi] looked at me and he said, 'Do you want to
start a company?' "
They finally agreed to do both. De Logi and venture capitalist Edmund
"Ned" M. Olivier of Oxford Bioscience Partners raised the money to start
Ceres and fund the Seed Institute at the four UC campuses and the
University of Utah. In exchange for providing $5.75 million over five
years to underwrite university researchers, Ceres gets first crack at the
rights to their inventions. An independent university committee oversees
the collaboration to protect the university from potential conflicts of interest.
De Logi is Ceres' CEO; Olivier chairs the company's board of directors;
Goldberg sits on the board.
Company executives say they have no immediate plans for a public stock
offering. They say they have enough capital to last couple more years, and
may get additional rounds of private financing before contemplating a
Ceres quickly outgrew its leased university lab and moved to the Hughes
Research Laboratories in Malibu, which had space available after
downsizing--an illustration of how new technologies can fill the gaps in a
local economy left by shrinking, older industries, in this case aerospace.
It now has 80 employees, most of them scientists.
And it is not alone in seeing an opportunity to harness the power of plant
genomics to create crops with improved traits, including increased
production levels. In fact, there seems to be the genetic equivalent of a
gold rush going on, with a number of companies racing to stake their
claims on useful plant genes.
Insiders say that the research is revving up despite the controversies
swirling around genetically modified foods.
"I think contrary to what the public perception is about the state of
genetically modified organisms and the state of biotechnology, behind the
scenes it is going farther and faster than ever before," said Dean V.
Cavey of Verdant Partners, an investment banking and consulting group that
specializes in crop genetics.
In fact, investors in Ceres and other companies are hoping that by the
time a new generation of genetically modified crops is ready, three to
five years from now, the public will be satisfied that the crops present
no hazards to consumers or to the environment.
"There's no question that the protests are putting a damper on the field
at the moment," said Michael Fromm. president of Mendel Biotechnology in
Hayward. But improvements in the speed and scale of gene discovery
"reached a fever pitch in the genomics of the 1990s," he said, and promise
marked improvements in food production and quality.
"The opportunities are immense," said Richard Kouri, chief business
officer at Paradigm Genetics in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
The early work in plant genetics was mostly to help farmers, Kouri said.
"Now we're shifting more to output traits, health related, industrial
related, and food related."
Paradigm, Mendel and Ceres are among the newer companies that have joined
the race to discover genes for traits that can be transferred to crops.
There's room for many more of these companies, says Verdant Partners' Ken
Moonie, but the anti-biotech protests have made it difficult for
additional start-ups to enter the field.
And that's good news for companies like Ceres and the others that have
already secured the initial capital they need.
"Timing in this world is everything," Moonie said.
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