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April 16, 2001


Golden rice, Extremists, Green Money, Patagonia, Borlaug,


Dear friends,

A comment on genetic pollution by golden rice:

>There are three main apprehensions. One, since new genes are
introduced in
>GM seed and since genes carry instructions for making proteins, it is
>feared that some proteins could cause allergic reactions in consumers,
>with tragic consequences. Two, there is the spectre of genetic
>For instance, field trials must establish that there is no danger of
>pollen drift, of promiscuous jumping genes conferring a new hardiness
>weedy relatives.

I can hardly see it as a problem on logical grounds:

If a wild species has got no way of producing beta-carotene (which I
hardly believe it), then genetic pollution by golden rice will at most
make it competent to do that and it will therefore be a new weed useful
for curing vit A deficiency (like the 100 or so species mentioned by
Vadana Shiva). On the contrary, if a wild species is already producing
vast amounts of beta-carotene, then genetic pollution by golden rice will
result in no change.

The point of refusing such logic is, to me, presented by Apel's

>Greenpeace has yet to clarify its position on why humans (who also
>constitute its members) have no priority on the group=EDs

Most environmental movements regards the environment as a sacred thing and
humans as a disturbance. Therefore every human attempt to modify the
environment is a wound to this sacred cow.

Best regards

Piero M.

From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Extremist Quality

Dear Mr. Vint,

It is important to distinguish between an olive branch and a fig
leaf. While the tenor of your missive suggests the former, its purpose is
to cover the pudendum—which makes it a fig leaf.

1. I am familiar with both the Luddites and the techno-utopians.
While it may be convenient to dismiss both groups, the Luddites have
destroyed roughly a century of research with their acts of vandalism.
Techno-utopians are dismissed as goofy and have not to date claimed credit
for any criminal acts I know of. Therefore, your dismissive attitude
panders to criminals.

2. Your statement about the lack of 'independent' tests of
genetically improved crops invites a contrast with the testing of
pharmaceuticals. This conveniently ignores the fact that the companies
which develop and sell pharmaceuticals are also responsible for their
testing—making that a pointless point.

3. Your reference to the lack of 'long-term' testing of genetically
improved crops is vacuous; many insist on such tests, but those who insist
on such tests generally agree that no term is long enough because “unknown
consequences” will always exist, regardless of any scientific advances.
Imaginative fears will always be greater than science can conquer.

4. The biotech 'industry' has never made any claim about the 'total
safety' of its products, nor have the makers of any other products, and
such a claim for any product would be ridiculous.

5. If farmers do not believe that Terminator’ technology would be for
their benefit, that merely shows they have not considered the
alternatives. Consider the fate of Percy Schmeiser. Terminator’
technology would have saved him a world of trouble, by ensuring that his
'seed-saving' program remained pristine.

6. Farmers in developing nations save their seed because that’s the best
they can do—they'd use something better if they were allowed to use it.
However, nobody argues with their right to use outdated germplasm if they
want. It also bears mention that the 'right to save seed' does *not*
imply the right to take someone else’s seed.

7. People in the food trade who are uninformed enough to worry about the
liability of food producers can visit any lawyer and discover in five
minutes or less that liability is well-established. Aventis may well pay
$1 billion for allergic reactions that never happened, that should make
things clear for anyone.

8. You do not represent “the food trade.” You represent selected
elements of the food trade seeking commercial advantage over other
elements in the food trade, and everyone knows the food trade has no
commercial interest in the welfare of farmers in any hemisphere. It is
disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

9. AgBioView is not required to offer a 'proper balanced debate.' Here the
well-informed, the uninformed, the disinformed and those who distort for
profit mix it up. If this were a reasoned, rational debate, AgBioView
would be obsolete, if not unnecessary.

Kindest regards,

Andrew Apel.


Robert Vint wrote:


Dear Mr Apel,

When your correspondent from Rosedale Organic Farm says "Let's jail all of
these extremists" I assume he is merely poking fun at Henry Miller for
saying: "Earth Day now provides an opportunity for environmental
extremists to hog the spotlight, dish anti-technology dirt and
proselytise". I, likewise, am getting rather fed up with extreme articles
of this kind - articles calling for Greenpeace to be tried for crimes
against humanity or ones accusing organic consumers of terrorism. Lets
have a bit more sound science, objective dialogue and insight into the
real issues underlying the GM debate. Reference to Professor Palumbi's
balanced exploration of the potential of genomics is a good start, as is
your publication of Tom Hoban's letter calling for life science research
papers to be made widely available instead of remaining 'commercially

If we ignore the extremists on both ends of the spectrum - the
techno-utopians and the Luddites - I think most of us can agree that
whilst knowledge is never intrinsically harmful it can be used for good or
evil. The important debate, despite the claims of some contributors to
this column, is not about whether we should try to understand the nature
of genes but about whether we are in a position to apply our knowledge
responsibly and with public support in particular situations. Whilst some
of your contributors might label me a 'Luddite' because I avoid eating
novel foods that have not undergone independent long-term safety tests, I
have yet to meet a true Luddite - someone who opposes all forms of new
technology. I have a scientific education, I read with interest the works
of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, I believe that genomics may be
of great value to plant breeders, I support technological breakthroughs in
photovoltaics and energy efficiency and many applications of
communications technologies, to name but a few examples. Only if everyone
who questions the uncritical acceptance of all new technologies from
biological weapons to personal espionage devices is to be defined as a
'Luddite' will I accept such a label.

The acceptance or otherwise of particular applications of biotechnology by
its potential users appears to be fairly rational to me. Seriously ill
patients are likely to want to try any treatment even if it is very risky
- yet the pharmaceuticals that they are offered have generally undergone
long-term and rigorous tests. Pharmaceuticals, if they harm anyone, are
only likely to harm the patient and not their neighbours, their
environment or their national economy. As a result, whilst there is
controversy about issues such as patents and the use of animals in
research, there is little opposition to pharmaceutical biotechnology per
se. On the other hand, farmers have good reason to believe that Terminator
genes have not been developed for their benefit and consumers have equally
good reasons for questioning the benefits to them of crops with built-in
pesticides. Consumers know that they have far less to gain from the
technology than seriously ill patients and they have good reasons to
believe that GM food has undergone far less rigorous safety testing than
pharmaceuticals. They also believe that if the insurance industry will
offer neither the public nor the industry cover for adverse health
consequences of GM foods then claims about their total safety may not be
true. Whether or not contributors to this list understand such reasoning
they will hopefully understand that ridiculing billions of consumers and
farmers is unlikely to endear them to the pro-GM point of view.

So what might help endear potential customers to GM food and crops?



Environmentalists move money across international borders to influence
Canadian policies, legislation, regulations, and media

(Copyright ePublic Relations Ltd. Posted April 2001)

Contact: rsirvine@epublicrelations.org

Big-money, transnational environmentalism has firms roots in Canada thanks
to an American foundation which has more than US $1 billion in assets and
which pays consultants more than US $1.8 million annually to management
those assets.

In 1999, the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation approved a US $305,000 grant
to the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund in Toronto, ON, “to work with
the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund and Canadian environmental
organizations to create an Environment Scorecard website in Canada.” This
money supported the development of the pollutionwatch.org site launched by
the CEDF, Canadian Environmental Law Association, and Canadian Institute
for Environmental Law and Policy on April 10, 2001.

The Joyce Foundation – which pays its president/director US $105,000
annually, its vice president/secretary $155,000, and its communications
officer US $77,000 – has made several cross-border grants into Canada in
recent years. Most support communications or PR-type activities. Here are


Laidlaw Foundation, Toronto, ON. US $110,000
“To support the start-up of an Environmental Communications Centre that
would help environmental organizations across Canada to development and
implement effective, professional, and consistent communications
strategies. (2 yrs.)


Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, Toronto, ON. US
“To produce a final report on the effects of provincial budget cuts on
Ontario’s environmental laws, policies and institutions. (1 yr.)”
(Note: This grant is particularly interesting because foreign money was
used to help report on the actions of a Canadian provincial government.)

Sierra Club of Canada, Ottawa, ON. US $47,000
“To stimulate public awareness in the United States and Canada of the need
to reduce air pollution from electricity-generating coal plants on both
sides of the border (1yr.)”

Sierra Legal Defence Fund, Vancouver, BC. $60,000
“To continue to promote enforcement of Ontario’s environmental protection
laws. (1 yr.)”
(Note: This is more foreign money being used to have an impact on a
Canadian province’s political and legal activities.)


Earth Appeal – The Environment Fund for Ontario, Toronto, ON. US $60,000
“To implement and evaluate workplace giving campaigns for environmental
groups in Ontario.” (2 yrs.)


Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, Toronto, ON. US
“To work with the Ontario Environmental Network to strengthen public
support for the environment and environmental groups in Ontario. (18 mos.)”

Earth Appeal – The Environment Fund for Ontario, Toronto, ON. US $25,000
“To plan and begin to execute a plan to generate financial support for
Ontario environmental groups through workplace giving (1 yr.)”

Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Don Mills, ON. US $100,000
“For a coordinated effort to improve regulations and policies governing
how Ontario’s public forests are made available for mining and lumbering
(More foreign money directed at influencing the regulations and policies
of a Canadian provincial government.)

Sierra Legal Defence Fund, Vancouver, BC. US $100,000
“To promote the enforcement of Ontario’s environmental protection laws by
researching and investigating instances of non-enforcement and
communicating the consequences to the media and the general public. (1
(In this instance foreign money was used to influence Canadian media

For PR folks, these few examples from one foundation illustrate the
transnational nature of the well financed environmental movement and how
money crosses international borders to promote environmental groups and
causes. They also show how foreign money is used in attempts to influence
local policies, legislation, regulations, and media – all in the name of
the environment.

So, when you want to understand special interest groups, follow the money.

From Patagonia's web site:

Where We Stand: Patagonia's Position on Genetic Engineering

Genetically modified organisms must be kept in a contained environment
until independent safety testing proves they are safe; products containing
GMOs must be labeled as such; and the companies that produce GMOs must be
held responsible for any environmental damage they cause.


From: Ron Brown
Subject: World Grain Workshop

PRX Proexporter is announcing the World Grain Workshop....

The primary topics are:
- China's impact in the world grain market and its effect on the US.
- South America's impact in the world grain market and its effect on the
- GMO's effects on World and US Grain Markets.

For details on how to participate in this work shop, and a
prospectus with more detail on meetings and deliverables,
please go to: http://www.proexporter.com/wgw.htm .....


Ron Brown
http://www.proexporter.com ron@proexporter.com 913-526-9519

GM watch

The Herald (Glasgow)
By Catherine Brown
April 7, 2001

Is it or isn't it safe to eat GM foods? Put two distinguished scientists
on a platform arguing for and against and sparks fly. Add an audience of
more scientists, GM lobbyists, Scotland's Green MSP and followers, and the
debate which was organised by the McCarrison Society last Saturday in
Edinburgh is as hot as it gets.

First off was the pro-GM Anthony Trewavas, Professor of Plant Biochemistry
at the University of Edinburgh. Let's look at all the other things we eat
which may not be safe, he suggests - spices for instance.

He reckons that curries could be just as bad for us as GM foods. Let's
look at all the experiments which have been done (around 30) which have
proved that GM foods are safe to eat.

With one exception, of course - Dr Arpad Pusztai's study which questioned
GM safety after discovering some adverse results when feeding GM potatoes
to rats.

The much-criticised Pusztai, however, is on the platform next to defend
himself. Let's talk science, he says. Let's look at the small print in a
piece of research published by the US Food and Drug Administration on the
GM Flavr Savr tomato. How do we rate this as a quantitative comparison?

"The study of this GM tomato claimed that no differences were found
between rats fed GM and non-GM," he says.

"Yet the tomatoes had been harvested from different locations and at
different times which will have an effect on their content and therefore
the final results. The rats were a different size, too.

"This is very poor science. People accuse me of poor science. But using
rats of a different size means the amount of food they will be eating will
be quite different. The results will have a standard deviation from here
to Jerusalem!"

And this was not the only "scandalously poor study'' which he highlighted.
Pusztai believes there has been an "exercise in public sedation". What is
needed now, he argues, are laboratory tests which are independent of the
GM industry.

At present Norway is funding two major GM testing programmes. What is also
needed is less double talk, such as the much-quoted comment by John Krebs,
the chairman of the Food Standards Agency: "There is no evidence the GM
food is unsafe."

"Yes" says Pusztai, "It's true. But no-one's proved yet that it's safe."

The Green Revolutionary

Financial Post - Canada
March 15, 2001

Colleagues of Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize winner, sometimes joke that
three different sorts of human exchange exist: there is dialogue, there is
monologue and then there is Borlaug.

At 86, the agronomist has earned the right to have strong opinions. But
being on the receiving end of them can prove a sobering experience.
Belying his benign appearance as a white-haired patriarch, the man hailed
as the father of the Green Revolution unleashes the testiness amassed
during a lifetime's labour.

"Ridiculous," he snorts, dismissing suggestions that organic farming could
hold the key to agriculture's future. "Hogwash," he snaps at
environmentalists' criticisms of the Green Revolution. "This is plain
nonsense. I've had to listen to this for years."

The intellectual cuffs are administered across the board, although with
varying degrees of sharpness. On the one side, he harrumphs over the
"extremists" he feels have turned the phrase "genetic modification," the
aim of plant breeders since Mendel experimented with pea varieties in the
mid-nineteenth century, into something frightening and alien.

On the other, he ticks off the biotechnology companies whose gung-ho
marketing of genetically engineered crops triggered what he sees as
understandable concern about market centralization and excessive corporate
control. "It was some of the worst public relations I've ever seen and it
provoked a fear of monopolies. We are now paying a high price for that."

His critique of the private sector may come as a surprise to the
environmental groups that have made rejection of GM crops their rallying
cry. Many of their members regard Mr. Borlaug as one of the architects of
an approach they claim has squeezed out local varieties and sidelined
centuries of traditional knowledge, setting the scene for the entry of big
business into agriculture.

It is Mr. Borlaug's role in the Green Revolution that puts him at the
heart of that debate. Working in Mexico in the 1960s, he crossed a
Japanese dwarf wheat with a disease-resistant local strain to produce a
high-yielding hybrid. Transplanted to Asia and Latin America and
benefiting from a new understanding of farming techniques, it was one of a
generation of disease-resistant crops that contributed to a tripling and
quadrupling of harvests, allowing begging-bowl countries to become
self-sufficient. Mr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

But today's development groups claim the Green Revolution has encouraged
the intensive farming methods that have polluted rivers and destroyed
wildlife. As monocropping has spread, it has threatened biodiversity.
While millions have been saved from starvation, diets have grown poorer,
as people have abandoned the traditional source of vitamins and minerals:
fruit and vegetables cultivated on garden plots and field verges.

Mr. Borlaug acknowledges such concerns but says the critics exaggerate
what the Green Revolution set out to achieve. Agricultural experts are
taking the flak for the failures of policymakers. "It was a step in the
right direction, but it was never said that it would solve all the world's
nutritional deficiencies."

The debate has been revived with the introduction of quality protein
maize, Mr. Borlaug's most-treasured project. Endowed with the most
important amino acids, QPM, nutritionists believe, could dramatically
reduce the number of children who die of malnutrition after being weaned
on to protein-poor maize gruel.

As president of the Sasakawa Africa Association, a Japanese-funded
development agency, Mr. Borlaug played a crucial role in ensuring that
research on QPM continued to the point where commercialization was
possible. "QPM is like a child with great genetic potential. If it doesn't
get the right nutrition or health care it will never go far." So it is not
surprising criticism of the new maize, regarded by some as another
top-down approach to a problem best tackled through education, has him
almost squirming with impatience. "To say 'Why don't you just give people
a piece of meat, an egg or a glass of milk?' as some people do, reflects
the elitism that has come into this issue. To people in the Third World,
these are luxuries, the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce in Britain."


Green Politics' Bitter Harvest

Trends In Biotechnology, Vol 19 No. 5 May 2001
By Henry Miller

The growing challenges to biotechnology, or genetic modification (GM),
applied to food production increased last December with the release of
public policy recommendations at a summit meeting in Washington between
then-President Clinton and leaders of the European Union. An EU-US
committee report recommended a process-based regulatory approach that has
already tarnished the promise of biotechnology in Europe and the United
States, and disadvantaged consumers, farmers and the food industry
worldwide. The report was immediately denounced by a prominent member of
the committee, Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, who is credited with being
the 'Father of the Green Revolution'.

Using language more appropriate to a Soviet-era political manifesto than a
21st century scientific document, the report makes recommendations that
would remove the incentives for innovation and commerce in biotech plants
and foods.

Although the report endorses 'public responsibility for global governance
of biotechnology', it condemns broad intellectual property protection,
calls for the 'traceability' of biotechnology crop material through the
food supply, and demands the participation of non-experts in the
formulation of public policy. Inevitably, it also recommends tighter
regulation focused not on the likelihood of risk, but on all GM products -
defined as those crafted using recombinant DNA techniques. Such regulation
would include case-by-case government review - 'a mandatory pre-market
examination by the appropriate regulatory authorities and approved for
sale only after they are found to meet the standard of presenting a
reasonable certainty of no harm'.

The report distorts beyond recognition of the concept of 'substantial
equivalence', concluding that the fact that a [GM] food is held to be
substantially equivalent to a conventional food should not be taken
automatically to mean that it needs less testing or less regulatory
oversight than 'non-substantially' equivalent [GM] foods. Tailoring the
degree and type of oversight to the risk posed by a new product is exactly
the purpose of substantial equivalence.

The report concludes that 'more public funds should be invested in basic
research that addresses safety concerns', although the vast available
evidence is that recombinant-DNA-derived products are, if anything, more
predictable and safe than products made with cruder genetic techniques
(vide infra).

Finally, the EU-US report delivers the regulatory coup de grace - a
recommendation for 'mandatory labeling requirements for finished products
containing novel genetic material'. This recommendation implies that
consumers need to be 'warned' about unspecified dangers or concerns about
recombinant-DNA-derived foods, and is intended to make such products too
expensive to be viable in the marketplace. It conflicts with the US FDA's
scientifically defensible, risk-based approach - viz, that labeling should
convey to consumers only 'material' or important information about foods,
such as significant changes in nutrition, safety or usage.

Nowhere in the document is there any recognition that scientists worldwide
are virtually unanimous in the belief that newer techniques are an
extension or refinement of earlier, cruder ones, and that adding genes to
plants does not make them less safe either to the environment or to eat.
This consensus was succinctly described in an authoritative 1989 analysis
by the United States National Research Council 'With classical techniques
of gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the
number depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise
number or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we
cannot always predict the phenotypic expression that will result. With
organisms modified by molecular methods, we are in a better, if not
perfect, position to predict the phenotypic expression'. (Dozens of new
plant varieties produced using hybridization and other traditional methods
of genetic improvement enter the marketplace each year without scientific
review or special labeling.) These views were echoed several years later
in 1993, in an authoritative report from the UK House of Lords Select
Committee on Science and Technology, 'As a matter of principle,
GMO-derived products should be regulated according to the same criteria as
any other product... [Technique-based] UK regulation of the new
biotechnology of genetic modification is excessively precautionary
obsolescent, and unscientific'.
Similarly, a recent analysis released in October 2000 by the Institute of
Food Technologists took current biotechnology regulatory policies to task,
concluding that the evaluation of gene-spliced food 'does not require a
fundamental change in established principles of food safety; nor does it
require a different standard of safety, even though, in fact, more
information and a higher standard of safety are being required'. There is
more than the prognostications of experts to support this view of the
safety of biotechnology Thousands of food products from gene-spliced
organisms have been widely marketed and routinely (and safely) consumed
during the past 15 years. Three-quarters of the cheese produced in the USA
is made from a gene-spliced version of the enzyme chymosin for example,
and >60% of processed foods in American supermarkets now contain
gene-spliced ingredients. For each of the past two years, gene-spliced
crops have been grown worldwide on ~40 million hectares - with no untoward
effects related to safety.

Gene-splicing is more precise, circumscribed and predictable than other
techniques, and new insect-resistant GM varieties of grain have lower
levels of contamination with toxic fungi and insect parts than
conventional grains. Thus, GM plants are not only cheaper to produce but
can be a potential advance in public health. Moreover, recombinant DNA
technology reduces the need to apply agricultural chemicals to crops and
is thus environmentally friendly.
The December EU-US report and the composition of the group that produced
it illustrate how the greening of US foreign policy in the Clinton
administration has affected technological innovation and free trade. In
June 2000 the US State Department announced the EU-US biotechnology
consultative forum comprised of a carefully selected group of
participants, to discuss issues related to biotechnology. The US members
were indeed carefully selected - in a way that ensured that the group
would ultimately favor unscientific, gratuitous regulation. It included
Gordon Conway, the green president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Rebecca
Goldburg, a doctrinaire, die-hard opponent of biotechnology for many
years; Terry Medley, a Dupont executive who had crafted stultifying and
unscientific regulations while an official at USDA; Carol Tucker Foreman,
activist and long-time proponent of unnecessary, anti-innovative food
regulation; and LeRoy Walters, a bioethicist who has long been a champion
of excessive, unwarranted regulation of medical applications of
biotechnology. Significantly, the most eminent member of the US side,
Norman Borlaug, a plant breeder who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in
1970 for his contributions to the 'Green Revolution' did not participate
in the preparation of the report but complained that 'the process was
politicized from the beginning by the State Departments involvement' and
that some of the anti-biotechnology members of the US team were 'even
worse than any of the Europeans'.

Why would the State Department empower such a group to negotiate with
representatives of European countries, where there is entrenched public
and political opposition to importing grain grown from gene-spliced seeds,
vandalization of field trials, complete gridlock on regulatory approvals,
labeling required to identify gene-spliced foods and even their banishment
by major supermarket chains? It was just one more step in Vice President
Gore's attempt to expand international governance on terms dictated by
environmental extremists. Other international activities that reflect the
same political agenda include two recent essays into unscientific
biotechnology regulation by the United Nations. These were also supported
by the US government.

The 'Cartagena biosafety protocol' was finalized in January 2000 under the
auspices of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
it established a global scheme for regulating biotechnology products that
subjects the most precisely crafted and predictable organisms to the most
regulation. At the same time, it validates the bogus 'precautionary
principle', which holds that every new technology should be proven
absolutely safe before it can be used. This erects an almost
insurmountable barrier against new products because nothing can be proved
totally safe - at least, not to the standard demanded by anti-technology
extremists. The protocol, which is already hobbling the work of academic
researchers and small innovative companies and is delaying or denying the
benefits of the new biotechnology to much of the world, was specifically
endorsed in the December 2000 EU-US report.

Similarly, with full US government support and collaboration, three panels
of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United Nations agency concerned
with international food standards, are working towards holding
biotechnology-derived food and food ingredients to standards that are
unscientific, far beyond those that any other products can or should meet,
and that will prevent all but a handful from having a fair chance to reach
consumers. The prospect of flawed, excessive Codex standards for biotech
foods is ominous because members of the World Trade Organization will, in
principle, be required to follow them, and they will provide cover for
unfair trade practices.

All these approaches to regulation violate a cardinal principle of
regulation - namely that the degree of scrutiny should be commensurate
with risk. They treat older genetic techniques and modern molecular
methods very differently, imposing new regulations and establishing
gratuitous new bureaucracies - only for products made with the newest,
most precise and predictable techniques.
The United States government has been literally willing to give away the
farm. What is needed is the political will to insist on policies that make
scientific and common sense and that are genuinely in the public interest.
We will now see whether the Bush administration's new crop of officials
can separate the wheat from the chaff.

Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
University, CA 94305-6010, USA and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
From 1989-94, he was director of the Office of Biotechnology at the US
Food and Drug Administration.
e-mail: miller@hoover.stanford.edu.


There's a Fly Gene in My Soup
by Manu Joseph

MUMBAI, India -- Concerns over genetically modified food aren't new, but
in India they've taken a different twist.

Over half the population, or about 500 million people, are purely
vegetarian. Therefore the transfer of animal genes into plants has raised
an issue that could seriously ruin the chances of this country embracing
biotechnology in the near future.

The importation of genetically modified seeds for public consumption has
not been approved by the government, although indications are that it's
only a matter of time. India's Department of Biotechnology has been
created to test and approve GM seeds, and with an annual budget of US$40
million, the government isn't hiding its eagerness to usher in

But opposition is mounting on a number of fronts. There are the greens,
who oppose GM foods in general. Then there are those who are concerned
about the religious implications.

Green activists like Vandana Shiva -- director of the Research Foundation
for Science Technology and Ecology -- are staunchly resisting it.

Shiva is an important figure on the ecological scene, both inside and
outside of India. She recently took Monsanto to court, alleging the
multinational corporation had sowed transgenic seeds before obtaining
DBT's approval.

"I don't believe the government's stand that food crops that have been
genetically modified are imported purely for research purposes," Shiva
said. "GM seeds have already infiltrated the Indian food chain. How can
the hapless consumer know the difference? MNCs (multinational
corporations) like Monsanto are facing a crisis today because western
nations and even East Asian countries are not touching GM seeds. So they
want to dump them on India."

Clearly, the vegetarian issue has taken root. Hindus (82 percent of the
population) are supposed to be vegetarian because their religion demands,
and Jains (0.4 percent of the population) don't eat garlic and other
roots. Though not all Hindus and Jains adhere strictly to their religious
codes, most do.

A bill that would call for mandatory labeling of all food products -- not
just GM foods -- as to whether they use non-vegetarian ingredients is
making its way through the parliament.

"India is a complex country," said Dr. Anil Indulkar, executive director
of the Indian Crop Protection Association. "One has to be careful while
transferring genes into plants in India so as not to violate religious
sentiments which are very strong in this country. I believe that DBT is a
very responsible organization."

"In fact, its guidelines and screening process are more stringent than
those in other parts of the world. The laws are not in place yet. As the
time comes for GM seeds to reach the masses, I am sure apt laws will be

Despite his optimism, many don't agree with him.

"It's no secret that corruption is rampant in India and I wouldn't be
surprised if government bodies are manipulated by MNCs who have an
interest in this country," said Pradeep Dave, president of Pesticides
Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India.

Dave concedes that part of his opposition to GM seeds is due to the fact
that they have greater resistance to pests, making them a financial
concern for pesticide makers. "That doesn't change the fact that if an
insect's gene is transferred into a plant so that it cannot be damaged by
that insect, a religious vegetarian is greatly harmed," he said.

Manju Sharma, the secretary of DBT who is in the middle of all this chaos,
took a reassuring tone.

"We understand the sensitive nature of the problem and so we have taken
all the required measures while testing the seeds." She denied that GM
seeds have already found their way into consumers' homes.

"Import of GM seeds are restricted to testing alone," she said, adding
that "various seeds are in advanced stages of testing, but one cannot tell
exactly when they will be cleared for general consumption. Certainly all
precautions will be taken to safeguard public interest."

India: FAO norms for testing GMO food allergy

Hindu Business Line
April 15, 2001

MUMBAI, April 15. THE United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have published new
recommendations to strengthen the process used to protect consumers from
the risk that some genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could pose for a
small percentage of people with food allergies.

Incorporating the latest scientific information on allergens, a FAO-WHO
joint expert consultation on food derived from biotechnology which met in
Rome earlier in January this year made recommendations that would
substantially improve the decision-making process and update the allergen
data base used to evaluate the risk of transferring allergens from an
existing organism, or creating new ones in food made from GMOs. The
FAO-WHO consultation proposed a more extensive methodology to evaluate the
allergenicity of foods derived from sources with no known allergenicity.

The methodology includes an initial comparison of the similarity of the
protein's amino acid sequence with those of known allergens followed by,
when necessary, more in-depth investigation using various other scientific
testing techniques.

Allergenicity is one of the most frequently voiced concerns about the
safety of foods derived from biotechnology, FAO communication pointed out.

Food allergies are adverse reactions to an otherwise harmless food or food
component that involves an abnormal response of the body's immune system
to a specific protein, or proteins in foods.

The most common type of food allergies are mediated by allergen-specific
immunoglobulin E, or IgE antibodies3.

The reactions are known as immediate hypersensitivity reactions because
symptoms occur within minutes to a few hours after ingestion of the
offending food. The spectrum of the severity of the immediate
hypersensitivity reactions can range from asthmatic attacks and rarely, to
fatal systemic anaphylactic shock. Such allergic reactions to foods affect
a substantial percentage of the population worldwide, FAO said.


UN Agencies Suggest Ways to Prevent Health Risks of Genetically Modified

United Nations (New York)
April 16, 2001

Confronting complex issues stemming from biotechnology, two United Nations
agencies today issued new recommendations to help protect consumers from
risks that some genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could pose for
certain people who suffer from food allergies.

The recommendations were issued jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which
brought together experts to review the latest scientific information on
allergens and foods derived from biotechnology. The aim of their
recommendations is to prevent the use of foods that commonly provoke
allergies -- which can in some cases be serious and even fatal -- in
bio-engineered foods.

Offering an example, an FAO official explained that Brazil nuts would not
be used in a GMO because it is well-known that many people are allergic to
them. Other types of foods would be tested extensively.

While foods currently go through tests before being placed on the market,
the new recommendations go much further in protecting consumers from
possible risks, FAO Senior Officer Ezzeddine Boutris told the UN News
Service. "The decision tree that used to be followed in the past was not
as comprehensive as the one developed by the expert consultation."

The current decision-making process does not cover all aspects of allergy
testing, Mr. Boutris said, adding that the new recommendations call for
more analytic examinations to "reflect all possible considerations and
situations regarding whether the food or the gene in question comes from
foods known to be allergenic."

Commenting on the prevailing concerns about GMOs, Mr. Boutris said, "Like
anything new, there is always a fear that something we don't know about
will come up in the future, and that uncertainty aspect about GMOs is one
of the most critical issues." He observed that the joint FAO-WHO work,
which is part of their four-year effort to develop international
guidelines on the production of GMOs, would help address these concerns.