Summary, Genetically engineered foods

Wed Oct 16 10:52:54 EST 1996

To all,

        Thanks to all who responded to my query about genetically
engineered foods.  Several requested that I compile and repost the info, so
here it is...
        I will post anything else of interest that comes in.
        Thanks again, 


From: Jenny Sasse <Jenny_Sasse at>

There was an interesting discussion in Chem and Engineering News  August 21
1995.  pp 8-17.  Also in Sci. Am. May 1996 p. 22.   A recent issue of our
(Australian) consumers' magazine "Choice" has just announced labelling will be
required here. Hope this helps, Jenny Sasse

From: mwilliams at THUBAN.AC.HMC.EDU (Mary Williams)

As far as newsbites go, my most recent find is from the October Scientific
American Technology and Business section (p 45 - 48). It's a bit on the
prohibition of the use of trangenic Bt corn in cotton growing states.
Because several insects migrate between corn and cotton, it's feared that
the use of both engineered species in close proximity will hasten the
resistance of the cotton bollworm to Bt.

From: Vance Baird <Vance_Baird at>

I have a folder (old ~ '90 to '94) of "popular" articles on biotechnology &
agriculture (e.g., crops and food products).  The only scientific articles
in it are:

Plant Cell 3: 1141 ('91)
Science 255: 919; 256: 770 ('92)
Science (?) Jan 17, 1992 issue page 291

From: James Masucci <masucci at>

When I was a graduate student at UW-Madison, I am pretty sure I heard Jack
Gorski (I think he is in the biochemistry dept) do a call in radio
program on BGH.  You can contact him for information on BGH.

From: "David J. Oliver" <doliver at>

        The fact about transgenic foods that surprised me most is that most
of us have been eating it daily for a decade.  About 75% of the cheese sold
in this country is made using a transgenic enzyme called chymogen.  This has
been true for nearly 10 years!!  Normally cheese is prepared using rennin.
This is a crude enzyme preparation that contains a little chymogen (the
active ingredient) that causes milk to coagulate.  Rennin is usually
isolated from the stomach of newly born calves.  A clever biotech company
decided to clone the gene and express it (in yeast or bacteria I do not
know) to produce a product they call ChyMax.  The product is so cheap and
more consistent than rennin that most companies now use it exclusively.  

        I think the interesting question is "why didn't the anti-genetic
engineering folks object to the use of transgenic chymogen?"  I don't know
the answer.  My guess is that this group overlaps substantially with the
animal rights community and that they did not want to object to a product
where the alternative involved killing newborn calves.  Just a guess.

        As I understand it there are about 20 transgenic food items on the
market at this point.  We just had a big flap in Iowa when a group from
Greenpeace destroyed a farm plot containing transgenic soybeans.  The beans
contained a gene isolated from a different plant that made them resistant to
the herbicide Roundup.  They are called Roundup-Ready.  Roundup is a magic
herbicide.  It kills all plants by inhibiting an enzyme that is not found in
animals and is therefore supposed to be non-toxic to animals.  It also has a
lifetime of about 24 hours so a day after it is sprayed on the field it can
no longer be detected.  The idea is that if you want to grow soybeans, you
plant the Roundup-Ready beans and then control weeds by spraying Roundup.
All weeds are killed and your crop doesn't even know the herbicide was
applied.  The farmers that have used it report that they use fewer
pesticides and spend less time tilling the field.  As a result you have less
chance of contaminating ground water with herbicides and have less erosion
because of the decreased tillage.  Is it a good idea - certainly.  Is it
good for the environment - maybe.  The Roundup-Ready soybeans are owned by
Monsanto Chemical co.   They also produce the herbicide, Round-up, so their
objective is to sell more herbicide.  The farmers, by the way, say that it
cuts their production costs by about $150 per acre (could increase profits
by up to 50%) and helps save their soil.  Greenpeace's objection is not so
clear.  Basically they wanted the soybeans labelled as genetically
engineered (something that the farmers say is not possible - not because the
writing would be so small, but rather because beans are a commodity and one
farmer's crop is not separated from another's).

From: Joy Perry <joyperry at>

I have a copy of "Biotechnology and Food", an Extension publication of the
North Central Region. It was written by people at the UW-Madison
Biotechnology Center and gives a good introduction to biotechnology and a
very upbeat viewpoint about the benefits of biotechnology for food

I also have a copy of "Perils Amidst the Promise: Ecological Risks of
Transgenic Crops in a Global Market", a publication of the Union of
Concerned Scientists. As you might guess, their viewpoint is less upbeat,
more guarded.

This is a topic I'm interested in, and I attended an excellent symposium at
the AIBS meetings in Seattle this summer on the risks of gene flow between
transgenic crops and wild relatives.  (Conclusion: it's gonna happen.)

From: "Christopher T. Cole" <colect at CAA.MRS.UMN.EDU>

Letters in the 17 June 1994 Science, pp. 1649-52, regarding risks in 
Transgenic plants.  These follow up from articles by Greene & Allison in 
the 11 March issue (264:1423 ff.) and the Perspectives article in the same 
issue.  The letters include some references.

Most of what you run into will probably be along the lines of "is it safe 
to eat?".  However, you should probably also see some of the work Norm 
Ellstrand has been doing, such as:
 Arriola, P.E. & N. C. Ellstrand. 1996. Crop-to-weed gene flow in the genus 
Sorghum (Poaceae): spontaneous interspcific hybridization between 
johnsongrass, Sorghum halepense, and crop sorghum, S. bicolor.

This work illustrates that various engineered genes can "escape" from the 
original target plants and spread into other species, particularly weedy 
ones; this could confer resitance to herbicides or pests, increase the 
selection pressure and rate of evolution of resistance, etc. 

A very useful source, though now dated, at least gives perspective on what 
people's expectations have been:

Abelson, P. H., ed. 1984. Biotechnology and Biological Frontiers.  516 pp.  

Several years ago, 
when the Flavr Savr was first introduced, I heard an 'article" on the CBC 
radio show "As It Happens", discussing the safety of genetically engineered 
tomatoes.  The expert they interviewed was a chef on the west coast 
(Calif).  Within a week I heard a similar "article" on the safety of 
genetically engineered tomatoes broadcast on NPR's "All Things 
Considered".  The expert they interviewed was a chef on the east coast.  
Both proudly claimed that the tomatoes would never enter their kitchens.

Around here (corn & bean land), the concerns about BST probably have more 
to do with cost and health of the cows, though in larger cities there are 
dairies that have advertised their milk as being BST-Free (I've heard but 
not seen).


My son did his high school term paper on this last year.  Best bets-a 
lit search using BGH and Flavor savor as keywords-there are several 
Scientific American articles that might help with a general audience, 
though i don't have the references handy.  Add transgenic potatoes to 
the list.

From: Marion Brodhagen <brodhagm at BCC.ORST.EDU>

As a student I did a similar talk and found lots of general articles in 
the newsletter that the Biotechnology Center at UW-Madison puts out.  
They feature research mainly of UW scientists but talk about the general 
issues too.  This was in 1993/1994 so you'll have to ask for back 
issues.  I can't remember the name of the guy that helped me but I want 
to say his name was Tom Zinnen...?  Maybe you could give him a call.

From: rhangart at (Roger P. Hangarter)

I just happened to see the message you posted thanking people for info for
your upcoming talk.  I don't know if you saw the research news article in
the most recent Science about the fear of superweeds resulting from
transgenic crops. It is on page 180 of Vol 274 (Oct 11).

From: Michael Grusak <mgrusak at>

You might want to look at a special supplement to The American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition, August 1993, Volume 58, Number 2(S).  It's the
proceedings of a symposium titled: Impact of Biotechnology on the Food
Supply. It has discussion of both plants and animals.

Also, a good source of references is the National Agriculture Library
(USDA).  I think if you log in on the net, you can pull out a number of
recent references on this topic.

Robert R. Wise, PhD
Director, UWO Electron Microscope Facility
Department of Biology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, WI  54901
(414) 424-3404 tel
(414) 424-1101 fax
wise at

More information about the Plant-ed mailing list