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Mar 13, 2006
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More tests over 'mad sheep disease'

The European Commission has ordered more tests after scientists warned they may have found so-called "mad cow" disease in sheep.

Experts working at the EU's laboratories in Weybridge, Surrey, have been studying the brains of two sheep from France and one from Cyprus amid concerns that they could contain the first detected cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in sheep.

Their initial results are far from conclusive. A report sent to the Commission in Brussels says that some data suggests the samples may not be BSE, but goes on: "There is insufficient evidence to definitively rule out BSE".

The expert panel from Weybridge overseeing the work recommended continued investigations and on Thursday the Commission approved the decision.

EU veterinary experts on Wednesday finally lifted the 10-year ban on British beef exports because of BSE.

But the Commission moved swiftly to reassure the public that there is no new danger, whatever the outcome, of the sheep testing.

A statement said: "BSE has never been found under natural circumstances in sheep. The sheep now being evaluated were detected as part of the EU-wide surveillance programme for TSE strains in small ruminants.

"Whatever the final test findings show, there is no risk to public health as the sheep did not enter the food and feed chain and strict animal health measures are applied to all farmed ruminants".

TSE's are Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, a family of diseases including BSE in cows, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jackob Disease (CJD) in humans. It was the fear that BSE in cattle could transfer to humans as variant Creutzfeldt-Jackob Disease (vCJD) which triggered the 10-year British beef export ban.

Scrapie has existed for over 200 years in sheep without showing any signs that it can be transmitted to humans. Equally, BSE has never been detected in sheep before, but experts have long considered that BSE in sheep could be a possibility.
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Posted: Mar 13, 2006 3:06am
Jan 13, 2006
Lax Oversight Found in Tests of Gene-Altered Crops

From: The New York Times
January 3, 2006
Lax Oversight Found in Tests of Gene-Altered Crops

The Department of Agriculture has failed to regulate field trials of genetically engineered crops adequately, raising the risk of
unintended environmental consequences, according to a stinging report issued by the department's own auditor.

The report, issued late last month by the department's Office of Inspector General, found that biotechnology regulators did not always notice violations of their own rules, did not inspect planting sites when they should have and did not assure that the genetically
engineered crops were destroyed when the field trial was done.

In many cases, the report said, regulators did not even know the locations of field trials for which they granted permits.

The regulatory branch "lacks basic information about the field test sites it approves and is responsible for monitoring, including whereand how the crops are being grown, and what becomes of them at the endof the field test," the report said.

The audit results are likely to renew calls by environmental groups for tighter regulations. "Over all, I thought the report was
devastating," said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in

Critics say genetically engineered crops could cause environmental harm, if, say, a gene for herbicide resistance spread to weeds, making them harder to kill.

In addition, the critics say, there could be harm to public health if a crop genetically engineered to produce a pharmaceutical or
industrial chemical, for instance, accidentally found its way into the food supply.

The audit did not find any instances of known harm to public health or the environment.

However, the report said that weaknesses in regulations and in the internal management controls at the Department of Agriculture
"increase the risk that genetically engineered organisms will inadvertently persist in the environment before they are deemed safe
to grow without regulation."

In a written response, the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which regulates biotech field trials, said that it was already taking steps to adopt 23 of the 28 recommendations made by the inspector general, and that more changes were on the way.

W. Ron DeHaven, the administrator of the service, known as Aphis, wrote in the response, "Since 1987, Aphis has safely regulated G.E. organisms and provided oversight and enforcement for over 10,000 field tests with no demonstrable negative environmental impacts having arisen from these tests."

A biotechnology industry spokeswoman said the report would have little effect because changes were already under way. "This is a report that was pretty much obsolete before it was ever published," said the spokeswoman, Lisa Dry of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The inspector general's office, however, said that further improvements would be required beyond those already planned.

Field trials are used to test experimental genetically engineered crops. Crop developers proposed to use 67,000 acres for such tests in 2004, up from 8,700 acres in 1994.

Once crops have proved themselves in field trials, the Agriculture Department can deregulate them, and seeds and harvested crops can be sold pretty much like any other seeds and crops.

The main varieties of genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans grown in the United States have been deregulated.

The audit was conducted from May 2003 to April 2005 and involved visits to 91 field test sites as well as looking at records. The
report said auditors found 13 instances of violations of rules at 11 of those sites.

One of the most controversial areas of agricultural biotechnology involves genetically engineering crops to produce pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals. The Agriculture Department has stricter requirements for those crops than for genetically modified crops meant
for food or animal feed.

However, the new report said the department often failed to enforce those stricter requirements. In most cases the auditors checked, the sites were not inspected five times each during field tests, as the department had promised. Nor were they inspected twice after the trial to make sure the crop was destroyed and the field fallow.

The report said that in two cases large harvests of pharmaceutical crops remained in storage for more than a year after the field test
ended with regulators' not knowing of the storage facility or approving it.

€ Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association
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Posted: Jan 13, 2006 12:52pm


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