Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

April 11, 2001

Subject:

Biotech Fearmongers; Jewish Perspective on GM; Syngenta

 

Biotech Fearmongers

By Dean Kleckner, Washington Post April 11, 2001
http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/20010411-76562492.htm

Patagonia, maker of "environmentally conscious" sportswear and enemy of
conventional agriculture, has issued a "Chicken Little" alert to its
customers over genetically modified crops.

Employing the usual bad science and scare tactics, the trendy clothing
manufacturer is calling these crops "a dark threat to all that is wild."
Instead of making use of proven new methods that have fed billions of
hungry people, Patagonia is urging its customers to "Go organic. Only
certified organic food is guaranteed to be free of genetically engineered
ingredients."

Consumers are used to Patagonia latching on to fashionable environmental
causes to sell $110 fleece pullovers, but this latest publicity campaign
comes at a particularly critical time in the debate over biotechnology.
With the support of the farm community, the North Dakota legislature is
currently weighing a bill that would impose a two-year moratorium on the
planting of genetically modified wheat. Farmers are quick to point out
that their support isn´t based on principle half the soybeans and cotton
American farmers plant every year are genetically modified, after all but
on fear.

The global propaganda campaign against biotechnology aided and abetted by
the capitalists-cum-fearmongers at Patagonia has convinced them that their
exports to Europe and Japan will suffer if North Dakota wheat is grown
from genetically modified seeds.

But before the American public starts to believe the sky is falling over
biotechnology, people should take a good long look at the facts. The
Patagonia scare campaign implies that new Food and Drug Administration
rules will allow genetically modified products to reach supermarket
shelves without scientific review of their safety for humans and the
environment. But the fact is, no American farmer is interested in
marketing products that are unhealthy and unsafe. Period.

And we have ways, through testing and retesting and peer review, to
determine if products are safe. No industry in recent history has
undergone more independent analysis than the biotech industry. Hundreds of
independent reports have been published on the safety of these crops, and
no threat has been found. The American Medical Association recently
published a yearlong study of genetically modified products. Their
conclusion? These foods are safe for people and won´t harm the environment.

But perhaps even more importantly, it is critical for farmers to stand
together to expose the cynicism of anti-biotech publicity campaigns such
as Patagonia´s. It was farmers, after all American farmers who brought
about the "green revolution" in agriculture that is credited for having
saved a billion people from starving to death. And the green revolution
continues today with the help of biotechnology. By 2050, there will be 9
billion mouths to feed. Only biotechnology can bridge the gap between the
growing world population and the shrinking amount of arable land.

Genetically modified crops produce higher yields of more nutritious crops.
The day is coming when genetically modified foods will even contain vital
vaccines to help fight disease. Why would Patagonia want to deny these
benefits to a hungry world? What is more, biotech advances are ridding
agriculture of the environmentally damaging practices that Patagonia has
spent years condemning.

Products currently in use and others in the development pipeline are
reducing the need for chemicals to control weeds and insects and producing
higher yielding crops without the need to cultivate more land. But instead
of embracing biotechnology as the key to enviro-friendly agriculture,
Patagonia advocates its opposite. It proudly advertises the claim that its
expensive sportswear is produced using only "organic" cotton. In fact,
organic methods use more farmland and often produce crops with lower
nutritional value and pass the higher costs on to the consumer.

Conventional farming methods often surpass organic yields while using
fewer acres to do it. Less land use prevents soil erosion and adds to soil
conservation. The fact is, Patagonia´s fashionable promotion of organic
farming methods is the real cause for environmental and food safety alarm.
North Dakota farmers, like all farmers, have two roles to play, both of
which are being enhanced today by biotechnology. First, farmers are
businessmen and women. We have to produce and sell a product. And that
means we have to worry about having markets for our product.

But being a farmer also means being a part of a larger, moral mission to
feed people who otherwise wouldn´t be able to feed themselves. Instead of
capitulating to the agents of fear, farmers should seize the moral high
ground that is rightfully ours in the biotechnology debate. We ought to
ask those who demagogue the issue of biotechnology, how many vitamin
A-deficient blind children will you allow to achieve your objective? How
many iron deficient women must die in childbirth so you can sell outdoor
gear to the "environmentally conscious"? How many more lives will you
sacrifice for your "cause"?

- Dean Kleckner is chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology and past
president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Genetically Manipulated Plants: Ethical and Religious Issues

SCOPE GM Food Controversy Forum (1 November) (reprinted with permission
from the author)
http://scope.educ.washington.edu/gmfood/commentary/show.php?author=Galun.

Esra Galun, Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, Weizmann Institute of
Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel; E-mail: esra.galun@weizmann.ac.il

This contribution to the debate on genetically modified foods focuses on
genetic manipulations of flowering plants aimed at improving crops and
manufacturing medical products; it does not describe methodologies or
progress toward producing such transgenic crops. Two books have been
published that provide information on those topics (1, 2).

This essay discusses some of the ethical-religious issues surrounding
transgenic plants. The ethical consequences of genetic engineering are the
subject of a book by Russo and Cove (3). This essay is not comprehensive
but is intended to serve as a basis for further detailed discussions.
... is [it] ethical for humans to [engage in] manipulations that lead to
production of transgenic plants, and [is it] ethical for humans to consume
transgenic plants....

The ethical-philosophical-religious issue may be separated into two
components: (i) whether it is ethical for humans to be engaged in
manipulations that lead to production of transgenic plants, and (ii)
whether it is ethical for humans to consume transgenic plants (or the
products derived from them). It can be argued that genetic manipulation
performed for research purposes (the majority) should be considered
separately from genetic manipulation to produce plants for human
consumption, because research activity does not impose a threat to the
human diet or to the environment. But for people of certain faiths, such
as the Jewish religion, the question of whether humans are permitted to
interfere with God's creation is a legitimate one that extends to
transgenic plants used for biological research. I will return to the
question of production and focus first on the question of consumption that
is relevant to all potential users.

For many centuries the division of nature by Aristo into four distinct
groups was widely accepted. He grouped nature into nonliving entities
(e.g., rocks), plants, nonspeaking animals, and speaking animals (humans).
Humans were considered supreme and were ethically permitted to handle the
other groups in any manner they liked for their benefit. The Hellenic
philosophers did not restrict the diet of either nonspeaking or speaking
animals. Any organism was considered to have its normal heritable nature.
Thus, the nature of a lion is to kill and eat deer and gazelles. But the
prophet Isaiah (Chapter 11) predicted a change in the lion's diet when
peace and wisdom will prevail in the world: "… and the lion shall eat
straw like the ox."
(... can the consumption of plants that express human genes be considered
cannibalism, can vegetarians consume plants that express animal genes....)

We are still far from such days, and in the United Kingdom (as well as in
some other European countries) oxen and cows were fed carcasses of other
(not transgenic!) ruminants with the catastrophic result of mad cow
disease. In 1993, the British government nominated a committee on the
"Ethics of Genetic Modification and Food Use" [see the paper by Aldridge
(4) about this committee]. The committee handled mainly the ethics of
introducing human and animal genes into organisms that are used as food:
can the consumption of plants that express human genes be considered
cannibalism, can vegetarians consume plants that express animal genes, and
what about dietary restrictions for people who avoid eating certain
animals? The chairman of this committee was the Reverend Dr. John
Polkinghorne. I am not aware of a government report resulting from the
committee's deliberations, but several regulations concerning compulsory
labeling of transgenic foods have been enforced by the British government.
(... the choice of whether to consume specific foods resulting from
genetic manipulation was left to ... the public.... But the public is not
well informed about genetic manipulation and transgenic plants.)

Hence, the choice of whether to consume specific foods resulting from
genetic manipulation was left to individuals in the public. This is the
heart of the matter. The public is given the choice, is permitted to
express its concern, and is even allowed to convince its representatives
to ban transgenic plants. But the public is not well informed about
genetic manipulation and transgenic plants. A poll in several European
countries indicated that most people who were asked stated that they never
ate DNA! Therefore, as public acceptance is a decisive issue, it is urgent
that the public be educated and well informed. Currently, we are in a
situation in which the public is being manipulated by interest groups.
Will we reach the stage at which we accept public opinion only from those
individuals who have passed a test of basic knowledge of the issue of
genetic manipulation?

Not all people who follow a vegetarian diet can be included in one
coherent group. Some abstain from eating meat because of health
considerations and others do so because of ethical considerations or
religious faith. Moreover, some people consume eggs and dairy products
(and even fish) but avoid animal meat. For each of these subgroups the
question of whether to consume plants that express animal genes may have
different answers.Moreover, as the weaving of flax fibers with wool fibers
into one cloth is not permitted, the use of fibers from transgenic flax
that expresses sheep genes may be questioned.

The Jewish (orthodox) religion has very detailed laws about foods--not
only which kinds of food are permitted or not permitted but also which
combinations of food are allowed in the same meal. The laws also regulate
production of food (e.g., regulations concerning grafting, breeding,
growing two different crops in the same field, and even using two
different animals in a team for plowing). Moreover, as the weaving of flax
fibers with wool fibers into one cloth is not permitted, the use of fibers
from transgenic flax that expresses sheep genes may be questioned.

True, adherence to these laws concerns only a small minority of the
world's population but here we have an example of religious concern about
genetic modification. This subject was recently described by Goldschmidt
and Maoz (5). Interestingly, the Jewish religion, which is very detailed
and strict about dietary matters (kosher regulations), stresses the issue
of production instead of the issue of consumption (wheat and barley are
not to be planted in the same field, but once the field is harvested Jews
are allowed to consume the crops).
(... Goldschmidt and Maoz [suggest that] production of transgenic plants
... is permissible if ... there is no direct Halacha against it, and [if
the] activity is expected to benefit humans.)

Two aspects of production are relevant to Jewish religious laws: (i)
whether genetic engineering can be considered as interference with God's
creation, and (ii) whether the transfer of genes from one species to
another constitutes a nonpermissible cross-breeding (kilayim). The first
aspect is interesting because the Jerusalem Gmara (part of the Oral Bible)
predicted the ability of humans to cause vast changes in organisms. Rabbi
Yehoshua Ben Hananya said: "I could take melons and water-melons and
convert them into deer and gazelles and these deer and gazelles will breed
deer and gazelles." Jewish religious scholars are not very clear and
detailed about the subject of interference with God's creation. The very
respected Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Leob Ben Bezalel, 1518-1607) claimed that
God created creatures in a fully functional and beautiful form; on the
other hand, the task (and purpose) of humans is to further improve the
world. The consideration of benefit to humans is a major one in the Jewish
Halacha (the Jewish law). Searching the Halacha, Goldschmidt and Maoz (5)
arrived at an interim suggestion about the question of permissibility of
interfering with God's creation in the production of transgenic plants.
They suggest that this production is permissible if the following two
conditions are met: (i) there is no direct Halacha against it, and (ii)
the activity is expected to benefit humans.

The second condition is interesting because it indicates that transgenic
plants for better food, better feed, better crops, and medical products
are permissible, but producing transgenic plants for biological
experiments that are not obviously leading to an advantage to humanity may
not be permitted--unless we accept the philosophy that increased knowledge
improves humanity.

References
1. Galun, E., and Breiman, A. (1997) Transgenic Plants. London: Imperial
College Press.
2. Galun, E., and Galun, E. (2000) Manufacture of Medical and Health
Products by Transgenic Plants. London: Imperial College Press.
3. Russo, E., and Cove, D. (1994) Genetic Engineering: Dreams and
Nightmares. Oxford: Freeman. [Return to text]
4. Aldridge, S. (1994) Ethically sensitive genes and the consumer. Trends
Biotechnol. 12: 71-72.
5. Goldschmidt, E., and Maoz, A. (1999) Genetic engineering in
plants--scientific background and Halacha aspects. Asia 17: 50-65 (in
Hebrew).

-----------
How to cite this item: Galun, E. (2000) Genetically manipulated plants:
Ethical and religious issues. SCOPE GM Food Controversy Forum (1 November)
scope.educ.washington.edu/gmfood/commentary/show.php?author=Galun.
=====

Esra Galun received his Ph.D. in 1959. He is a staff member of the
Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, where he became Associate
Professor (1968) and Professor (1972), heading the Department of Plant
Genetics (1970-1988) and serving as Dean of Biology (1988-1991). He was a
postdoctoral fellow at Caltech (Pasadena, California) and spent several
sabbatical periods (Harvard University; U.S. Department of Agriculture,
Beltsville, Maryland; Roche Institute for Molecular Biology) in the United
States. His research interests range from sex expression in plants to
plant molecular biology. He has published 180 reviewed papers and invited
reviews as well as two books; a third book (by E. Galun and E. Galun),
Manufacture of Medical and Health Products by Transgenic Plants, published
by the Imperial College Press, will appear in December 2000.

(The material in these comments reflects the individual views of the
author(s) and does not necessarily reflect those of SCOPE, its members, or
institutions with which SCOPE is affiliated. The SCOPE site serves as a
forum for discussion and presentation of individual points of view. The
material may have been edited for clarity, but it is not peer-reviewed)

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Fate of DNA in Soil
From: "Biotechnology and Development Monitor"

Dear Belinda,

You should consider the papers of W. Wackernagel about the fate of DNA in
soil, its uptake through bacteria etc. An overview over the work of him
and his team is on the website of the university of Oldenburg, Germany:

http://www.uni-oldenburg.de/genetik/

Antje Lorch (editor)

> From: Belinda Clarke
> I would be most grateful to hear from anyone who knows of any
> references where the fate of DNA in soil, compost, manure and/or
> has been investigated.
> Thank you in advance, Belinda Clarke

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

AgBioForum - New Issue

From: AgBioForum

The latest issue of AgBioForum http://www.agbioforum.org/ is now available
on-line. Articles in this issue discuss how to make sense of the
differences in US - EU biotech regulation. Key government officials,
industry associates representatives, consultants, and academic experts
present viewpoints and empirical evidence on the forces that drive
biotechnology, and more broadly, agrifood regulation in the US and the EU.
Below is the table of content for this issue.

Volume 3 ; Number 2&3; Spring/Summer, 2000 http://www.agbioforum.org

*Special Issue*
Understanding The Differences In US - EU Biotech Regulation
Editor's Introduction . . N. Kalaitzandonakes

EU Agricultural Policies And Implications For Agrobiotechnology J. B.
Richardson
Regulating Agri-Food Production In The US And The EU. .. T. Haniotis
Agricultural Biotech And Public Attitudes In The EU . G. Gaskell
Consumer Demand And B. Sylvander & A. Le Floc'h-Wadel Production Of
Organics In The EU. . .
EU Regulation And Consumer Demand For Animal Welfare. J. Moynagh
Animal Agriculture In The EU & Multifunctionality. . . C. Béranger
US Animal Agriculture: Making The Case For Productivity . M. Roberts
Transforming Commodity Animal Agriculture: How Easy? . . . D. DiPietre
The Role Of Science In EU Regulatory Policies. . . . . . . B. Carsin
The Role of Science In Regulation And Decision Making . .. . S. Sundlof
Regulation Of Antibiotic Resistance In The US . . . . . . J. Coffman
Regulation Of Antibiotic Resistance In The EU . . . . . G. Follet
Regulation Of rbST In The US . . . . . . . . . . R. Collier
The Regulation Of rBST: The European Case . . . . . .. D. Brinckman

*Articles*
Economic Impacts Associated With
S. Ott &C.M. Rendelman Bovine Somatotropin .
B.L. Barham, D. Jackson-Smith, & S. Moon The Adoption Of rBST On
Wisconsin Dairy Farms .

http://www.agbioforum.org/
Our next issue (out soon!) focuses on the role of the Codex Alimentarius
Commission in international labeling of biotech foods.
- Thanks, Daryn Gibson, Marketing & Publications Coordinator for AgBioForum

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Syngenta Chief Sees Plant Genome Work as Long Term Research

http://www.checkbiotech.org/Benefits&Risks/Economics/documents
Twenty questions with Michael Pragnell, Chief Executive Officer of
Syngenta ; Interview by Clancy Gebler Davies
The Independent - London via e-markets.com

1. Why was your first set of results so complicated?
From a statutory standpoint, Syngenta's first results include 12 months of
one of the parent companies and only two months of the other. This means
the results are not very informative for financial analysts or investors
and we restated the results as if we had been a company for two years. We
felt it was the best way of explaining the dynamism and the performance.

2. How do you see your role as chief executive?
Roles change with time but, right now, my job is to make sure everyone is
clear on where we are trying to take this merger, what sort of company we
want to be. There needs to be absolute clarity on the short-term
objectives, and the long-term strategy. Mergers are not easy and people
must be clear about where they are trying to go. It is worth going through
that period of pain to come out the other side and be where we want to be.
It's about articulating and motivating.

3. How important is personal profile for your business?
At this stage it is very important internally. Despite the best planning
and the best efforts put into communicating what we were trying to do,
there's an enormous amount of uncertainty for a lot of people. Inevitably,
the CEO is the focal point. People must feel they know who I am, what my
beliefs are and what I stand for. They need to know they will be supported.

4. How has the merger affected the core business of the company?
It's well-known that agriculture had a difficult year in 2000, but we
performed well. We met the expectations we'd set for ourselves and others
had of us. We demonstrated that not only were we able to prepare for a
merger, but we were also able to deliver the bottom line.

5. A cynic might say agribusiness is a troubled sector and that is why the
parent companies have de-merged their agribusinesses and formed Syngenta.
What's your response?
That is absolutely not the case. The creation of Syngenta was about the
refining of the business focus and the creation of a world leader in its
field, a new company that could lead a new industry, leaving the parents
to concentrate on their core business of healthcare.

6. To what extent has foot-and-mouth affected your business and how much
of an impact do you anticipate?
The UK is only a small part of the global market so this has not had a
significant impact on Syngenta to date, but that may not be the case in
the future. Restrictions on the movement of people and goods and the
potential spread of the disease to the European mainland could have
significant consequences, but it is too early to tell. Anything that
damages the livelihood of our customers is something to be concerned about.

7. What would you most like to change about your industry?
I would like to see a number of our competitors spun out of their parents
as publicly quoted companies. This is an industry that is, generally
speaking, not well understood by the public. We are highly regulated,
operating to the highest scientific and ethical standards, but we have
lived in the shadow of major chemical companies or, latterly,
pharmaceutical companies. It would be better for all of us if a clearly
recognisable agribusiness sector was developed.

8. Is it the fault of the agribusinesses that they are not well understood?
Not at all. In the case of Astra Zeneca, Zeneca Agrichemicals was little
more than 10 per cent of global sales and less than 10 per cent of global
operating income, so it naturally didn't attract the interest of the
investor, or anybody else. When people heard the name Astra Zeneca they
thought about pharmaceuticals and that's the case with the industry.

9. There has been a great deal of hostility to Monsanto. Does that worry
you?
I'm always concerned about making sure there is a good understanding of
what we do and that we act responsibly and ethically, as indeed we should.
I can't comment on Monsanto, you'd have to ask them - they generated the
hostility.

10. Why do you think there was so much hostility?
They've embarked on a very courageous business strategy in which new
technology plays an absolutely critical and essential part. The consumer
needs to understand the advantages this technology brings and what
potential it has for meeting the emerging "food gap" [the difference
between how much food is produced and how much is required] in the next 20
years, particularly in the developing world. This needed to be explained
to the consumer so they could understand and that didn't happen. Also,
there were other factors, such as the BSE problems in Europe, reaching
their peak at the time the first biotechnology products were launched and,
in the mind of the consumer, these different things got intertwined.

11. Syngenta is listed on the Swiss, London, Swedish and New York Stock
Exchanges. Do you have plans to simplify your listing?
We've learned to live with it. I don't think it makes the company
difficult to understand. It presented us with additional challenges as we
prepared for merger and listing last year, but I'm proud we're listed on
four stock exchanges. It reflects the listings of our parent companies and
it means we have to be international in our communications.

12. On the first day of trading your share price dropped to below the
issue price. Why was this?
That was for reasons we had anticipated. The nature of the transaction was
such that, for example, here in the UK an Astra Zeneca shareholder
received one share in Syngenta for every 40 shares in Astra Zeneca. There
were a lot of small shareholders with few shares, so there was a natural
exodus. We are no longer a FTSE100- listed company because our primary
listing is in Zurich. That meant that all of the Index tracker were
sellers so there was a huge turnover in shares. Something like 60 per cent
of our shares changed hands in the first six weeks or so.

13. Syngenta has pledged to share information on the mapping of the rice
genome with those working on behalf of the developing world. How will this
work?
Before we sign undertakings for such development or research projects, we
want to understand what the goals of those projects are. We think it is
better done that way than in haphazard, willy-nilly ways such as putting
the information on the internet. It's better to make sure monies and
research in this area are properly channelled.

14. Are you working on the genome of any other food crops?
We've got active programmes in major field crops, corn, of course, and oil
seeds. The rice genome acts as a model for other cereals so we can extend
this, for example, into wheat and barley.

15. When will you see the financial benefits of mapping the rice genome?
We don't expect to see a material impact to the bottom line of Syngenta
from these major programmes until the second half of the decade. This is
long-term research.

16. The EU is investigating "hormone disruptors" in agrochemicals. Will
this have a future impact on Syngenta?
We have recognised world-class capabilities in the toxicological area, as
well as in human food safety and in environmental science. We've always
conducted our affairs in an extremely highly regulated manner so, no, I
don't have concerns.

17. How do you see the future of the organic movement? Do you think it
will impact on your business?
There's a role for organic food production but I believe it is very small
in the UK, less than 2 per cent. We need to recognise that were
agriculture to go organic again, we would have an enormous food deficit.
The products we supply to the market increase crop yields by between 35
and 40 per cent and, I hesitate to say it, but I do tend to think of the
organic movement as a western European luxury. It is ironic that the
quality of the produce available now is directly linked to what this
industry has contributed in terms of scientific progress and the
protection of crops. One shouldn't forget some of the health hazards
associated with organic food production, not to mention shovelling shit
all over the vegetables.

18. Who do you most admire in your industry?
If I had to single out one company I would have to say, from a perspective
of breaking the mould and imaginative use of pioneering technology,
Monsanto has made very bold initiatives.

19. If you weren't running Syngenta, which company would you like to run?
I'm not the sort of person who fantasises in that way.

20. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Cycling up and down the beaches of Brittany, perhaps writing short
stories, maybe even a book, and possibly turning my hand to a little bit
of painting. I'd like to travel and spend time in places that I have often
visited but have never had time to properly see and understand.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Re: 50% subsidy

I would like to see the reference to the 50% subsidy. I cannot imagine
that it does not include crop insurance. While a part of the premium is
subsidized and requires that you take it in order to be eligible for
disaster payments, I can tell you that having written many very large
checks for premiums it is not a goverment subsidy but an insurance program
run by private companies.

The difference may not be obvious to some one that is not paying the bill
but it real obvious when you write a $10,000 dollar or more check for the
premium.

Gordon Couger