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New study reveals unknown DNA in Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans

(Aug. 15, 2001 – CropChoice news) – The following is a press release from Greenpeace International regarding a new study about possible problems with Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant soybeans.

The environmental group, Greenpeace, today sounded the alarm about new information published by a team of Belgian scientists in the European Journal of Food Research Technology. The peer reviewed study shows "unknown DNA" in genetically engineered (GE) "Roundup Ready" (RR) soybeans patented and sold by US multinational Monsanto (1).

"The findings clearly establish that the GE soybean that has been approved based on Monsanto's own description of the genetic alterations is not identical to the GE soya sold by the company since 1996 world-wide," said Lindsay Keenan of Greenpeace International. "Monsanto have again been shown to not even know the basic genetic information about what is in their GE soya."

Greenpeace demands immediate steps to be taken by the competent authorities in Europe and other countries, where the GMO has been approved based on the inaccurate submissions of Monsanto.

"From a legal point of view, the only adequate reaction is to suspend the approval and to re-evaluate the environmental and health impacts of the GE soya," said Keenan. "This is fundamental: the accurate description of the inserted DNA and the genetic alterations of the GE soya is the very basis of any further risk-assessment." (3)

The paper reports "…a DNA segment of 534 bp DNA for which no sequence homology could be detectedî."The scientists conclude that "…during integration of the insert DNA rearrangements or a large deletion may have occurred". This is the second time the team of researchers observed embarrassing inaccuracies in Monsanto's description of its best selling Genetically modified Organism (GMO). (2).

Greenpeace noted that it cannot be ruled out that the unknown DNA is of foreign origin, e.g. from another organism used in the genetic engineering process.

In Europe, the UK Government Advisory Committee on Novel Food & Processes (ACNFP) was the authority who initially assessed Monsanto`s GE soybeans and suggested to approve its import into Europe. Hence the ACNFP is also the responsible authority in Europe for further action regarding this soy.

In Jan. 2000, the Committee agreed there was still uncertainty regarding the origin of the DNA and asked Monsanto to provide data demonstrating that this DNA is "silent" and does not result in the production of a novel protein.

"To ask the company who did not inform the relevant authorities about this DNA in the first place to now confirm it is not significant is certainly not what you would call a sound scientific approach," commented Keenan, "and it is certainly not what consumers would call appropriate measures to protect their safety." To date the ACNFP has not published (nor probably obtained) any further information regarding the origin and possible function of these 534 base pairs of unknown DNA.

"At this point we expect the European Commission, who is responsible for the accurate and timely evaluation of any new scientific evidence about approved GMOs, to intervene and to immediately take precautionary measures," said Keenan.

This is the first time a peer reviewed scientific journal publishes an independent scientific analysis of pivotal data submitted by a company for GMO approval.

In most cases government authorities neither have the means nor the ambition to counter-check the accuracy of the GMO descriptions and rely entirely on the data submitted by the companies themselves.

"If Monsanto did not even get this most basic information right, what should we then think about the validity of all their safety tests and experiments, which are based upon these data?" asked Keenan.

In past years some "side effects" of RR soybeans have been observed but never explained conclusively. These include phytoestrogen levels different from the levels of natural soy, increased lignin content which made RR soya plants brittle in hot temperatures and reduced yields (4).

As the size of the newly revealed "unknown DNA" would allow the sequence to code for a new protein or exert other functions within the DNA and because its origin and function appears to be unknown both to Monsanto and the competent authorities, Greenpeace published today the sequence on its web-site (http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/ and invites the international scientific community to help identify its nature and possible consequences.

For more information:
Lindsay Keenan
Greenpeace International Campaigner
Tel: + 49 30 30 88 99 15
Mobile: + 49 179 164 6800

Janet Cotter

Greenpeace International Science Unit (for technical inquiries)
Exeter, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1392 263 782

Gina Sanchez
Greenpeace International Media Officer
Tel: + 31 6270 00 064

A fully referenced and detailed assessment of the situation and the technical details of the case is available upon request and can be downloaded at http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/

Notes to Editors:

(1) Characterisation of the Roundup Ready soybean insert, Peter Windels, Isabel Taverniers, Ann Depicker, Eric Van Bockstaele, Marc De Loose, (2001) Characterisation of the Roundup Ready soybean insert. European Food Research and Technology, v.213, issue 2, pp. 107-112.
Contact: Marc De Loose, Centre for Agricultural Research, Caritasstraat 21, B-9090 Melle, Belgium, { HYPERLINK mailto:m.deloose@clo.be.gov }m.deloose@clo.fgov.be Tel: +32 (0)9 272 2876
Note: Given that August 15 is an official holiday in Belgium, Mr. De Loose will only be available to answer calls regarding his paper from beginning on Thursday.

(2) The Belgian team had last year already discovered two formerly unknown DNA strains in Monsanto`s GE soya thereby forcing Monsanto to eventually reveal this information to EU authorities in May 2000. These two inserts were identified as fragments of the initial insert and presumed to be insignificant and non-coding. See http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/committees/acnfp/acnfpassessments.htm

(3) Commission Decision of 3 April 1996 (96/281/EC) states: "Consent shall be given by the competent authorities of the United Kingdom for the placing on the market of the following product notified by Monsanto Europe (Ref. C/UK/94/M3/1) under Article 13 of Directive 90/220/EEC. The product consists of soya beans derived from a soya bean (Glycine max L. cvA5403) line (40-3-2) in which the following sequences have been inserted:
a single copy of the gene coding for glyphosate tolerance CP4 5 enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (CP4 EPSPS) from Agrobacterium sp. strain CP4, and the chloroplast transit peptide (CTP) coding sequence from Petunia hybrida with the promoter P-E35S from cauliflower mosaic virus and the nopaline synthase gene terminator from Agrobacterium tumefaciens".

The Roundup Ready soya currently being sold contains at least 3 additional gene sequences:

  • A second 72 base pair DNA fragment (from CP4 EPSPS)
  • An additional 250 base pair segment of CP4 EPSPS DNA
  • A further 534 base pair segment of `unidentified DNA` as described in the publication today

(4) LappÈ, M.A., Bailey, E.B., Childress, C.C. & Setchell, K.D.R. (1998/1999), Alterations in Clinically Important Phytoestrogens in Genetically Modified, Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans. Journal of Medicinal Food, 1, 241-245.

(5)Coghlan, A. (1999) Splitting headache. Monsantoís modified soya beans are cracking up in the heat. New Scientist, 20 Nov. 1999, p. 25.

(6)Benbrook, C. (2001) Troubled Times amid Commercial Success for Roundup Ready Soybeans. Available at http://www.biotech-info.net/troubledtimes.html