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Public Health

Project: Genetic Engineering and the Privatization of Seeds
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Upon learning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided not to require special regulation for genetically engineered foods (see May 26, 1992), FDA scientist Dr. Louis J. Pribyl blasts the decision in a memo to his colleagues. “This is the industry’s pet idea, namely that there are no unintended effects that will raise the FDA’s level of concern,” he writes. “But time and time again, there is no data to back up their contention.” Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists who have been working on a policy for genetically engineered food, knows from his own research and studies that the introduction of new genes into a plant’s cell can produce toxins. [New York Times, 1/25/2001]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Pribyl, Food and Drug Administration

Category Tags: Public-private collaboration, Public Health

According to Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, he learns from a Monsanto scientist that the company’s GM Roundup Ready cotton not only contains the intended protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene, but also contains additional proteins that are not naturally produced in the plant. These unknown proteins were created during the gene insertion process, the scientist reportedly explained to Azevedo, when the modified genes were inserted into the plant’s DNA using a “gene gun.” Azevedo, who has been studying mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), becomes concerned that these abnormal proteins “might possibly lead to mad cow or some other prion-type diseases.” When he shares this concern with the scientist, he discovers that the scientist has no idea what he is talking about. “He had not even heard of prions. And this was at a time when Europe had a great concern about mad cow disease and it was just before the Nobel prize was won by Stanley Prusiner for his discovery of prion proteins,” Azevedo later recalls. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006] Azevedo will become even more concerned when he learns that Monsanto scientists are feeding experimental GM cotton plants to cattle (see Summer 1997).

Entity Tags: Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto

Category Tags: Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

Kirk Azevedo, Monsanto’s facilitator for genetically modified cotton sales in California and Arizona, will later say that around this time he discovered that Monsanto is feeding GM cotton plants from test fields to cattle. “I had great issue with this. I had worked for Abbot Laboratories doing research, doing test plots using Bt sprays from bacteria. We would never take a test plot and put [it] into the food supply, even with somewhat benign chemistries. We would always destroy the test plot material and not let anything into the food supply.” When he explains to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot that feeding experimental plants containing unknown proteins (see 1996) to cows is a potential health risk to humans, the scientist refuses to end the practice. “Well that’s what we’re doing everywhere else and that’s what we’re doing here,” Azevedo recalls the scientist saying. Azevedo then raises his concerns with other employees in Monsanto. “I approached pretty much everyone on my team in Monsanto” but no one seemed interested, and in fact, people started to ignore him. Next, he contacts California agriculture commissioners whose responsibility it is to ensure that the management and design of test plots do not pose any risks to public health. But, “once again, even at the Ag commissioner level, they were dealing with a new technology that was beyond their comprehension,” Azevedo later explains. “They did not really grasp what untoward effects might be created by the genetic engineering process itself.” He also tries unsuccessfully to speak with people at the University of California. Frustrated with the company and the government’s apparent lack of concern, he quits his job at Monsanto in early January 1998. [Spilling the Beans, 6/2006]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Kirk Azevedo

Category Tags: Public Health, Biotech/seed industry, Public Health, Experimental GM Crops, Biotech/seed industry, Monsanto, Public Health, Cotton

In Nebraska, USDA inspectors discover that 550,000 bushels of soybeans have been contaminated with a small amount of leaves and stalks from corn plants genetically modified to produce a pig vaccine. [Washington Post, 11/14/2002; Inter Press Service, 6/9/2004] The soybeans were grown in a field that had previously been planted with the experimental pharma corn. The biofirm developing the corn, ProdiGene, neglected to remove volunteer corn plants that had sprouted up alongside the soybeans. [Washington Times, 12/30/2004] These soybeans were then harvested and shipped to a storage facility where they were mixed with 500,000 bushels of soybeans. Upon discovering the contamination, the USDA orders the company to purchase and destroy all the contaminated soybeans. In December, the company will agree to pay a $250,000 fine, plus an estimated $2.8 million to dispose of the soybeans. [Reuters, 12/9/2002] This is the second incident this season involving the contamination of conventional crops with ProdiGene’s GM corn (see September 2002).

Entity Tags: ProdiGene, US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: Food Safety

Category Tags: Soybeans, Public Health, Soybeans, Food security, Public Health, Corn, Soybeans

In the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India, more than 70 Indian shepherds report that 25 percent of their herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on the leaves and pods of harvested Bt cotton plants. The shepherds noticed that the sheep became dull or depressed two to three days after grazing on the plants. They developed “reddish and erosive” lesions in the mouth, became bloated, had episodes of blackish diarrhea, and sometimes had red-colored urine. Post-mordem examinations of the animals revealed the presence of black patches in the small intestines, enlarged bile ducts, discolored livers, and the accumulation of pericardial fluid. Investigators suspect that the deaths were likely due to the Bt toxin in the leaves and pods of the Bt cotton plants. [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Anthra, 4/2006; NDTV (New Delhi), 6/1/2006] Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and the group Anthra later submit a report on the sheep deaths to India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, but the government agency dismisses the reports as “exaggerated.” [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Anthra, 7/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Anthra

Category Tags: Public Health, India, Public Health, Cotton, India

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