>Could someone please let me know whether a new rice plant produced by
>transferring a RICE gene (say from a traditional variety) to a
>currently recommended RICE variety by means of agrobacterium-mediated gene
>transfer or biolistic method can still be called a transgenic plant ? Is
>it a GMO?
>Prof. Athula Perera
>Faculty of Agriculture
>University of Peradeniya
Under Australian regulations I believe the answer to this question is -
Yes - it is a GMO.
From the text of the Final Gene Technology Regulation bill (Australia):
gene technology means any technique for the modification of genes or other
genetic material, but does not include:
(a) sexual reproduction; or
(b) homologous recombination; or
(c) any other technique specified in the regulations for the purposes of
genetically modified organism means:
(a) an organism that has been modified by gene technology; or
(b) an organism that has inherited particular traits from an organism (the
initial organism), being traits that occurred in the initial organism
because of gene technology; or
(c) anything declared by the regulations to be a genetically modified
organism, or that belongs to a class of things declared by the
regulations to be genetically modified organisms;
From the Explanatory Notes to the draft bill, December 1999:
It is anticipated that, from the outset, the techniques described in
regulations (and thus excluded from the definition of a GMO) would include
mutagenesis, irradiation and chemical bombardment. Any other techniques
which are essentially "naturally occurring techniques" or techniques which
are regulated under any other legislation in the future could be
Dr Roger Morton 02 6246 5069 (ph) (int: +61 2
CSIRO Plant Industry 02 6246 5000 (fax) (int: +61 2
GPO Box 1600 firstname.lastname@example.org
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Date: 20 Apr 2001 13:15:54 -0000
From: "Bert Innes"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Religious vegetarians, Starbucks, Bove, The
Prince, Golden Rice, Green Threats, Africans, Swaminath
In response to the attached question, unfortunately despite regualotrs'
assurances that the product is the regulated article, as opposed to the
method of production, the intraspecific transfer of genetic material by in
vitro techniques is still considered a GMO. The logic is that there will
be vector sequences, selectable markers, and other exogenous DNA
Date: 19 Apr 2001 18:47:34 -0000
From: "Henry I. Miller"
Since we've been on the subject of coffee lately, I thought you might
beinterested in this 1997 article.
WAKE UP, EPA, AND SMELL THE COFFEE!
Henry I. Miller, MD
Phone (650) 725-0185; Fax (650) 723-0576
Californians are in crisis mode. Is the cause drive-by shootings,
tornados, or the mother of all quakes? Worse, much worse: Coffee
prices are going through the roof. Starbucks has just raised prices
again, pushing the cost of their decaf house blend to $10.65 a pound. And
that's likely to be just the beginning.
Coffee futures prices in early June surpassed $3 a pound for the first
time since mid-1977 in a market increasingly concerned about the potential
for summer frosts in Brazil, the world's largest producer. Severe frosts
there in 1994 that damaged coffee trees, which generally take at least
three years to resume good yields.
Oh, well, just an act of God, with no one to blame, right? Wrong.
High technology might have been able to mitigate frost damage, had US
regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency not discouraged R&D
fifteen years ago on an innovative biotechnology product.
In the early 1980's scientists at the University of California and in
industry tried a new approach to limiting frost damage. They knew that a
harmless bacterium which normally lives on many plants contains an "ice
nucleation" protein that promotes frost damage to plants. (In the
presence of the bacterium, therefore, ice forms more readily -- that is,
at higher temperatures.) The scientists sought to produce a variant of
the bacterium that lacked the ice-nucleation protein. They reasoned that
spraying this variant bacterium (dubbed "ice-minus") might prevent frost
damage by displacing the common, ice-promoting kind.
Using very precise biotechnology techniques called recombinant DNA, or
"gene splicing," therefore, the researchers excised the gene for the
ice nucleation protein and planned field tests of the ice-minus bacteria.
Government regulations were to pose insurmountable barriers to commercial
The EPA classified as a PESTICIDE the obviously innocuous ice-minus
bacteria, which were to be tested on small, fenced-off plots of
potatoes and strawberries. The EPA reasoned that the naturally-occurring,
ubiquitous, ice-plus bacterium is a "pest" because its ice-nucleation
protein promotes ice crystal formation. Therefore, other bacteria
intended to displace it would be a "pesticide." (This is the kind of
convoluted reasoning that could lead EPA to regulate outdoor trash cans as
a pesticide because litter is an environmental pest.)
At the time, scientists within and outside the EPA were unanimous about
the safety of the test. Nonetheless, the field trial was subjected to an
extraordinary, lengthy and burdensome review just because the organism was
It is noteworthy that experiments using bacteria with identical traits but
constructed with older, cruder techniques required no governmental review
of any kind. (If tested on less than 10 acres, a bacterium that isn't
gene-spliced -- and any chemical pesticide -- is exempt from regulation.)
And even after the EPA finally granted its approval for testing in the
field, the agency conducted elaborate, intrusive and unnecessary
monitoring of the field trials.
The ice-minus bacteria were safe and effective at preventing frost
damage in field trials. But further research was discouraged by the
combination of onerous government regulation, the inflated expense of
doing the experiments and the prospect of huge downstream costs of
The product was never commercialized, one reason that the supply -- and
therefore, the price -- of citrus, berries, coffee and other crops remains
a hostage to the vagaries of killing frosts.
These effects of government policies should provide food for thought as
you sip that increasingly pricey cup of java.
Dr. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of
"Policy Controversy in Biotechnology: An Insider's View" (R.G. Landes
French activist urges Canadians to ruin GM crops
By David Ljunggren
April 19, 2001
QUEBEC CITY (Reuters) - Rebel French farmers' leader Jose Bove Thursday
urged Canadians to destroy genetically-modified "seeds of death" and
attack laboratories where the controversial crops were being developed.
Bove, best known for attacking a McDonald's restaurant in France in 1999
to protest against the United States, said Canadians should attack
owned by two major GM crop producers -- the U.S. biotech group Monsanto
and Swiss-based Novartis AG .
The walrus-moustachioed Bove told a cheering crowd of 300 demonstrators --
in Quebec City to demonstrate at the Summit of Americas -- that it was
especially important to act in Canada, which is one of the world's largest
producers of GM crops.
"That means people here must also join the resistance movement and not
just make speeches," thundered Bove, who has been tried twice in France
for various acts of sabotage.
Supporters say the crops will help develop hardier crop types to help feed
the world's poor. Opponents say they could lead to the uncontrolled spread
of modified genes and thereby harm insects and humans.
"This means that GM crops must be destroyed, this means the the
laboratories which continue to make these seeds of death must be attacked,
this means the Monsanto and Novartis facilities must be attacked, they
must not be given five minutes of peace," he said to loud applause.
Despite a massive police deployment, militant demonstrators have
threatened violence at the Friday-to-Sunday summit where the Western
Hemisphere's leaders will discuss creating the world's largest free trade
zone. They claim a trade deal will serve big business but ignore the
Bove told reporters the free trade area would allow the world's
multinationals to take control of seed distribution and food production
throughout the hemisphere.
"We have to fight against this because if it goes (ahead), it means
farmers won't be able to decide any more what they are going to grow," he
"This is a fight which must be fought every day and in doing so you should
not be afraid to break the law...all forms of combat are possible," said
In January, Bove joined poor Brazilian farmers in uprooting rows of
genetically modified soybeans at an experimental farm owned by Monsanto.
Last month, a court handed Bove a 10-month suspended jail sentence for
destroying genetically-modified rice plants during an assault on a
research center in the southern France.
Bove shot to fame in 1999 when he led an attack on a McDonald's burger bar
in southern France to protest against junk food and U.S. tariffs on French
cheese and foie gras, winning a three-month jail term.
GMO Labelling May Frighten Consumers
April 20, 2001
Thailand should not rush to label GM food products, the director of
Thailand Biodiversity Centre suggested yesterday.
Sutat Sriwatanapongse expressed concern that GM food labelling might bring
two adverse effects.
First, food prices could rise by at least 20-30 % because manufacturers
would have to pay for tests of food products containing genetically
modified organisms (GMOs), he said. Second, the labelling would give
consumers "wrong perception" about GM food.
"GM labels might frighten consumers. They would believe that GM food is
harmful, although there has been no proof that GM food is bad for health,"
Mr Sutat said.
He said more scientific research studies were needed before the government
went ahead with the labelling.
The Thailand Biodiversity Centre was founded in 1997 under the Science,
Technology and Environment Ministry, with the aim of making research and
protecting the country's biodiversity and genetic resources.
Mr Sutat also disagreed with the Assembly of the Poor's suggestion that a
new law be drafted to control GM products.
"GMOs are not hazardous substances which have to be placed under control,"
On the cabinet's decision to suspend all field trials of GM crops, Mr
Sutat, who also sits on the National Biosafety Committee (NBC), called the
cabinet resolution "unacceptable".
Without field tests scientists would have no means to measure the danger
and impact of GM crops, he said.
Mr Sutat guaranteed that officials could totally control the spread of GM
crops to open areas.
But Witoon Lianchamroon, a co-ordinator at BioThai, a network of groups
advocating protection of biological resources, did not believe that.
"It is impossible to prevent GM crops from spreading. The leak of
Bt-cotton from the Agriculture Department's experimental field to farmers'
land is our important lesson," Mr Witoon said.
He suggested halting all field tests until the drafting of a biosafety act
is completed. Mr Witoon, also an NBC member, called on the National Centre
For Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec) to stop monopolising
GMO management. He demanded more non-governmental organisations and
farmers be allowed to join the NBC, which works under Biotec.
From: "Tesoro, Frances"
Rice Research and Biotechnology
The following is a statement on rice research involving biotechnology by
Dr. Ronald Cantrell, the Director General of the Philippines-based
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). It may be freely reproduced
Rice, which helps feed almost half the people on the planet, is clearly
not only the most important food staple in Japan, but also in the world
today. The respected Washington Post newspaper recently described rice
production as the world's single most important economic activity.
Therefore, the present debate on the impact of biotechnology on rice
production and rice cultures is clearly of crucial importance, not just to
rice consumers and farmers but also to governments, nations and societies.
For 40 years, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been
committed to evaluating different options and technologies that could help
improve the lives of poor rice farmers and consumers via sustainable
increases in production, improved management and fewer problems. Without
doubt, biotechnology appears to provide exciting new opportunities in many
of these areas.
However, IRRI's role is not to promote biotechnology or genetically
modified organisms (GMOs). Its role is to objectively evaluate the new
strategies and options that biotechnology may offer the rice industry and
work with its partners in the National Agricultural Research Systems
(NARS) of rice producing nations to see if such strategies are suitable
and sustainable in different countries.
Put simply, IRRI seeks the freedom to find factual answers to questions on
biotechnology, especially in relation to rice. While societies in Europe,
North American and Japan must have the freedom to debate the pro and cons
of their development and consumption of GMOs; it would be wrong for such
debate to impede basic research to study whether such technologies are
safe, sustainable and suitable for rice producing nations in the
developing world. Such countries must be allowed the right to make their
own decisions on biotechnology, which they cannot do if access to such
technology is denied to them.
An excellent example of the perils of the biotechnology debate is Vitamin
A rice. IRRI considers rice enriched with Vitamin A through genetic
modification an exciting new option provided by biotechnology. However,
many months of research are still required to establish if this so-called
Golden Rice will ever make it into the bowls of rice consumers. Even
before we get to questions on food safety we must find out if rice
enriched with Vitamin A will yield well; will it be susceptible to pests
and diseases; and will it be palatable. Then there are still more
important questions in relation to food safety, consumer acceptability and
biodigestability to be answered.
However, such is the media hype over Vitamin A rice that the debate is
increasingly focused on whether it should be allowed on consumer tables,
when we still have not answered far more basic production and development
questions. Unless common sense prevails, Vitamin A rice may be an idea
proposed and rejected, even before we know if it is possible.
Food safety is rightly a crucial issue in the biotechnology debate and
must be fully addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of all sides.
But it is vital that any concerns do not prevent the basic research we
will need to answer the very questions such debate will generate. All the
questions being raised are far too important for us to guess the answers,
or allow them to come from newspaper headlines and Internet campaigns.
All sides in the GMO debate must have the facts and objective evaluations
of the new opportunities provided by biotechnology if the millions of poor
rice farmers and consumers in the developing world are ever to really
benefit from all the promises made so far. Only research and scientific
effort can find the facts and the answers needed to ensure such real
results are achieved.
Chefs cook up cuisine of gloom
By Greg Critser
April 19, 2001
As a result of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules that go into
effect Saturday, American consumers next year will see new organic
labeling on products in their local grocery stores. The rules, which set
standards for growing, marketing and distributing foods sold as organic,
will do nothing less than revolutionize the nation's supermarkets, their
supporters say. Among their numerous restrictions: no pesticides, no
artificial fertilizers, no irradiation and no genetically modified seeds.
The standards represent a victory for the $6 billion organic- foods
lobby and, perhaps more importantly, a codification of what might be
called the Theology of the High Foodie: the belief, particularly among
celebrity chefs and their followers, that the only food truly worthy of
its moral salt is that which has been produced locally, seasonally and
sustainably without pesticides and herbicides. But does that belief have
any grounding in reality? The facts, and the experience of most Americans,
suggest that the revolution has become reaction.
Consider the chef's doctrine of localism. This notion holds that food
grown by a local or regional truck farmer should be given first preference
by a consumer, even if that means paying substantially more for the item
in question. Higher quality and purity are said to earn the higher dollar.
Thus the oft-heard invocation, reiterated again and again at last fall's
meeting of the Chef's Collaborative, an influential player in contemporary
food politics, that "we should all be paying more for our food!"
Indeed, if the chefs had their way -- and their voices are
increasingly heard in national (USDA) and international agricultural (the
United Nations) policy circles -- today's consumers would spend 20% of
their household budget on food rather than the 9% currently estimated.
Yet to millions of Americans, nectarines from Chile and bell peppers
from the Netherlands have proved to be rational replacements for locally
grown produce -- replacements that are not only just as safe but nearly as
tasty, and often for half the price or less. This is because the core
notion of organic -- that pesticide-free food warrants a premium -- has
been consistently undermined by study after study, each showing that
dietary pesticide residues pose no health hazards.
Even more notable is a new trend detected by the Food and Drug
Administration's pesticide program. In 1999, it found that the percentage
of imported fruits that were completely free of residues actually was on
What about "seasonality," the chefs' notion that we should eat only
what is in season? It would be easy to discount that as an elitist notion.
But it's not; it's simply undermined by the reality of global food trade.
Today, seasons are a transnational blur. In California, we are on
Chilean time when we buy nectarines and on Yucatan time when we buy
peppers, tomatoes and bananas. If those fruits are not as tasty as their
seasonally grown brothers, just give the new agricultural players time.
Only a few years ago, these same countries knew little about growing for
the modern export market. Now the United States routinely buys 70% of
And regarding "sustainability" -- the environmental impact of this
global commodification of food -- won't that mango produced from giant
agribusiness in Mexico ruin the earth, what with all of its unnatural
inputs and intensive watering and tillage?
That is certainly a legitimate concern. But developments in
agroscience, most notably genetically modified (GM) foods that reduce the
need for pesticides and soil tillage, hold enormous potential to make
The chefs, of course, hate the very notion of GM. It's unnatural. It's
a bummer. Even vitamin-A-rich golden rice, which might prove beneficial to
millions of the world's vitamin-deprived poor, is something "we do not
need," according to the Collaborative's Peter Hoffman, of New York's
trendy Savoy restaurant.
It would be easy enough to suggest -- as have the many highly paid PR
flaks working for Monsanto -- that the chefs and their followers are mere
pawns of the increasingly profitable and influential organic foods
industry; a representative of the giant organic Whole Foods supermarket
chain even sits on the chef's emeritus board.
But that would be to sell them short. Instead, I suspect that much of
their gloom is grounded in the ongoing boomer identity crisis, one that
began when many of today's chefs came of age in the 1960s. In short, it's
about them, not the food.
It wasn't always so. Chefs once entered the profession to experiment
and nurture. The 19th century Italian cookbook writer Peligrino Artusi
warned chefs that "the times of seductive, pleasing and illusory ideals
and withdrawal from the world are gone!" France's Gilbert Phileas
maintained that "cookery must continuously modernise according to
But no. Today's chefs cook to find their lost true selves.
Writing in the introduction to his celebrity cookbook, Red Sage:
Contemporary Western Cuisine, the successful restaurateur Mark Miller
notes that the impetus for the book "had nothing to do with food or a
restaurant." Instead "it started with my first glimpse of the West in
movies. These were men who were performing important deeds, and they
didn't take flak from anyone.
"That last trait was especially appealing," Miller's introduction
continues, because "I wanted to escape my little life and be a part of
this fictional landscape."
This he and his contemporaries have now achieved. Can we now get a
serving of non-fiction, please?
Greg Critser, who writes about the politics of health for Harper's and
Worth magazines, is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.
New Biotech Crops Face Old Biotech Questions
Dow Jones Newswire
By Steven Higgins
April 20, 2001
LONDON -(Dow Jones)- The debate over genetically modified crops in Europe
has taken a back seat to more immediate concerns about foot-and-mouth
disease, but for those involved in the fight, the issue of biotech foods
looms as large as ever.
With the spring planting season rolling on and the latest farm-scale
trials for genetically modified sugar and fodder beet and oilseed rape
getting underway in the U.K, there sprouts a perennial crop of questions,
all along the supply chain, about whether there really is a market for
genetically modified products. Tony Combes, director of corporate
affairs for Monsanto U.K. Ltd., has heard the doubts before, and says
they're neatly answered by U.S. Department of Agriculture data about the
planting intentions of U.S. farmers.
"Every year at this time, we get comments about the market
disappearing," Combes said. "And every year we see an increase in
plantings of genetically modified crops."
Paul Rylott, seeds manager at Aventis SA (AVE), said that as some of
the crops being tested in the U.K. are being grown for the second and
third times, people can see for themselves "that it's not a scary thing."
However, it's not entirely clear that acceptance of such crops in the
U.S., or anecdotal evidence of acceptance in the U.K., equates to
automatic acceptance in the rest of Europe.
In Germany, Greenpeace's international coordinator of the campaign
against genetically modified crops is a firm believer that even as the
crop science companies press ahead with development efforts in Europe,
they're racing to supply a vanishing market.
"You have the seed suppliers who say, 'We don't want (genetically
modified organisms) in our supply,' and so forth," said Benedikt Haerlin.
"I think this is the time of many big customers in the seed and food
sector trying to keep their lines clean. And these are long-term business
commitments - it's not just political ups-and-downs. Once a company
decides they want to go biotech-free on their food supply, they want to
secure that for a longer period."
Greenpeace Cites "Massive Rejection" From Food Cos
The investments that companies like Monsanto have already poured into
researching genetically modified crops would appear to speak volumes about
the their optimism for eventual success.
Not surprisingly, Haerlin sees it differently.
"Rejection from the farmers" is keeping genetically modified crops out
of the market, he said. "They don't want to get this contamination
problem. There's massive rejection from major food companies and feed
companies and cooperatives who don't want to get this in their milk and so
forth. So the customers aren't there - it's going to create problems."
In December, for example, Eridania Beghin-Say SA's (F.BSA) Central Soy
Co. unit cited "customers' needs" when it said in December that it would
switch exclusively to non-genetically modified soybeans at its soy protein
concentrate facility in Bordeaux, France.
The fear of contamination is also driving individual European
governments to tighten controls. In March, Italy seized shipments of corn
and soybeans from Monsanto that were believed to contain genetically
modified seed. The company was later allowed to distribute the material
after it was cleared in lab tests, but in the interim Monsanto's Italian
depot at Lodi, where the seeds were sequestered, was hit by arson.
Battle Continues For Public Approval
Haerlin said the strategy of the crop science companies at the moment
is to try and win European approval for products that have already been
"Basically I understand what they're trying to do is to sell what they
have already sold in the U.S.," Haerlin said. "And they are following a
strategy of 'Keep nagging and wait for a rollback (in regulations) at some
point,' which I don't see at the moment, frankly."
Just as important as the biotech firms' laboratory work is their fight
to win public acceptance for genetically modified crops.
The longevity of campaigns like the one run by Greenpeace and their
success in keeping the matter in the public eye might suggest consumers
are increasingly paying heed to the messages of the environmental groups.
But as with most other aspects of the debate, it's all in who you ask.
Vivian Moses, chairman of the pro-biotechnology CropGen panel, said
public opinion actually appears to have grown more accepting of
genetically modified crops.
"I suspect that here and there people might be getting a little fed up
with (the environmental protesters) because nothing's actually happened,"
said Moses, who is also a professor of biology. "If something happened it
would be different, but crying wolf forever has the usual effect."
By Michael Fumento
Michael Fumento, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, who is a
completing a book on advances in biotechnology, interviewed Roy Fuchs.
Fuchs is a regulatory science specialist at Monsanto Co., in Chesterfield,
Missouri. His job is to ensure no allergens are present in the transgenic
foods the company seeks to market. This interview will appear in a
forthcoming issue of the Hudson Institute magazine American Outlook.
AO: What does Monsanto do to ensure that the new food crops it produces
with biotechnology (in this case introducing a new gene or genes) do not
Fuchs: Unlike [a] pollen allergy that you can go to the doctor and get an
allergy shot for, the only way to manage food allergy is by avoidance.
Thus, it is a primary risk we seek to avoid when we evaluate new food
To this end, we use a comprehensive approach that begins with assessment
of the gene of interest prior to even introducing the gene into a plant.
The first step is to consider the source: Are we taking this gene from a
plant known to cause food allergies? As a matter of policy, Monsanto does
not obtain genes from the major food groups that cause allergies. That
said, even foods that cause allergies contain tens of thousands of
proteins, of which only a few – perhaps two to seven – are actually
responsible. So, it's certainly possible to take a gene from a food that
causes allergy and show that it's safe. This is done using the same
methods clinicians use on individuals to see what they may be allergic to,
which means first using the skin-prick method and later, if everything is
clear to this point, allowing the food to be eaten by volunteers who are
Another approach we employ uses a relatively new technique called
"bioinformatics," in which we compare the amino acid sequences of the
expressed protein [proteins are made up of twenty different amino acids,
each encoded by its own distinctive DNA sequence] to the amino acid
sequences of known allergens, both for food and inhalant allergens. This
tells us if the protein of interest is in any way structurally related to
a known allergen.
We also look at the digestibility of a protein. Proteins that break down
very quickly in the gut have less chance to elicit an allergic reaction.
We can mimic this digestion in the laboratory.
AO: Okay, let's say you've done all this, isolated a protein, and
determined that a newly-created genetically modified plant is
non-allergenic? Now what?
Fuchs: Then we repeat the process during our formal risk assessment and
submit the information to the appropriate regulatory agencies. We also
conduct additional studies to estimate the amount of the protein in food
from the genetically modified plant and estimate the amount of the protein
which would be consumed by people.
AO: Are there any laboratory animals that can be helpful in this
evaluation process? Scientists in other areas have had success in using
mice for safety testing.
Fuchs: Currently, there are no animal models that have been able to
predict allergy in humans.
AO: Some groups claim that since the developers do the testing, it is not
reliable. But you've alluded to regulators. Who are they?
Fuchs: The specific regulatory authority that assesses food allergy
depends on the type of trait introduced. For a non-pesticidal product,
like herbicide tolerant crops, we provide our allergy assessments to the
FDA in the United States, to Health Canada in that country, to Health and
Welfare in Japan, and to the Novel Foods Process for countries of the
European Union, as well as to the appropriate regulatory agency in other
countries around the world.
In the United States, if the trait is a pesticidal product such as Bt corn
[that has had a gene inserted into it from a soil bacterium that kills
insects], then the EPA reviews food allergy tests for the newly expressed
protein. So if the product we were submitting were a Bt potato, the EPA
would evaluate the pesticidal protein, in this case the Bt. The FDA is
responsible for the food safety of the potato itself. Both agencies
interact and there are clear delineations of accountability.
AO: Monsanto still does a lot of crop development that has nothing to do
with genetically modified plants, such as old-fashioned cross-breeding of
corn. What are the regulatory requirements regarding those?
Fuchs: From a safety perspective, biotech crops are in a class of their
own. For any other newly-created plant variety, there is no formal
regulatory process in the United States other than the FDA's traditional
food standard that the food must be safe. The developer does not have to
generate anywhere near the level of information you would need with
genetically modified crops.
AO: And there have been allergenicity problems with newly introduced
non-biotech foods, have there not?
Fuchs: Yes. Probably the best example is Kiwi fruit, which has been only
introduced into Europe and the United States only in recent years. It has
now become a significant source of food allergy both here and in Europe.
The globalization of the food supply has introduced several new food
allergens into our diet, none of which have been from biotech food.
AO: What are the greatest culprits?
Fuchs: There are eight food groups that account for greater than 90
percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, tree nuts, shellfish, soybeans,
peanuts, wheat, and fish. Many schools have outlawed peanut butter because
of the severe reaction some children have to peanuts.
AO: Can biotechnology help render these foods safer?
Fuchs: Definitely. There are a couple of main technologies being developed
to reduce the allergy impact of various foods. One is antisense
technology, in which the production of the offending protein directed by a
gene is either greatly reduced or shut off. Antisense technology can be
applied to rice, peanuts, soybeans, and other foods.
A second process is to modify the amino acid sequences in allergenic
proteins. Amino acid sequences that bind to what's called the "IgE
antibody" are responsible for eliciting the allergenic response in humans.
[IgE antibodies are a family of defensive proteins (immunoglobulins) made
by one's immune system when encountering foreign proteins]. Changing these
so that they can no longer bind to these antibodies could greatly or
completely de-allergenize a food. This can even be used for non-food
allergy, like pollen allergens. Finally, you can engineer genes such as
thioredoxin into plants, which increases the digestibility of food
allergens. This approach is being tested at UC-Davis with new wheat and
AO: So you can de-allergenize ragweed pollen, then add other genes to make
the new ragweed superior in survivability and drive out the allergenic
ragweed like kudzu does with other plants?
Fuchs: (Laughter). Removing the allergen is a positive thing, but
increasing the survivability of ragweed would not be well accepted,
especially by my family, who are cotton farmers in Texas.
AO: Hmmpf! But what about the alleged "near-catastrophe" we always hear
about, in which a company inserted a gene from a Brazil nut into soybeans
and it carried over the allergenicity from the nuts to the beans? People
around the world depend on U.S. soybeans. Anti-biotech groups tell us we
came "this close" to disaster.
Fuchs: It's actually the other way around. First, this soybean product was
never even intended for human consumption; rather it was for animal feed.
More than that, this shows the current safety assessment system works.
This is an ideal example of appropriate stewardship. Those who oppose
biotech use this as an example of what could have happened, while I use it
an example of what didn't happen because a company acted responsibly and
because we have a sound risk assessment process in place.
From: "Gerard E. D'Souza"
Subject: Fwd: Vandana Shiva and an alternative view of Foot and Mouth
Unholy mess: Britain should take lessons from India on how to deal with
the problem of foot and mouth disease, argues Vandana Shiva
Manchester Guardian, Wednesday
By Vandana Shiva
April 4, 2001
In Britain, we see the army mobilised to kill a million or more farm
animals and bury them in mass graves merely because of a suspicion that
they might be carrying a disease that is neither fatal to humans nor
animals. In India, the cow is held sacred, and from my philosophical and
religious perspective, parallels can be drawn with ethnic cleansing in
Serbia and the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in
Afghanistan. This war against farm animals reflects the insanity of those
who promote globalised, industrialised food systems which create, promote
and spread disease, but who simultaneously want a "disease free national
This zero tolerance for disease has led to a zero tolerance for animals.
Farm animals and farmers have been made the "endemic" enemy. The
countryside has been turned into a war zone. Just as the silent Buddhas
had to be demolished for a false sense of security and pride by the
Taliban, so our hoofed neighbours are being slaughtered and burnt for a
false sense of security and safety by the British government. Animals are
killed on the basis of unjustified exaggeration of the impact of foot and
mouth disease, which has been called a "fearful plague", "a demon", "a
serial killer" and
a predator at large.
But, as we know, FMD is actually quite harmless, though highly contagious.
It does not harm humans, and it only rarely kills animals. The virus takes
a toll on productivity, but not generally of life. The disease lowers milk
production and reduces the working ability of animals. In a month they
recover. Animals can, however, die of other diseases like haemorrhagic
septicaemia when their immunity has been lowered by FMD. In India, 400
animals have died in the past couple of months not of FMD but haemorrhagic
septicaemia, which infects the throat and blocks the respiratory tract.
FMD is endemic to India, and used to be in Europe. It has been
traditionally treated through indigenous veterinary medicine. Vaccines are
also available and have been used. Nowhere in the world have entire herds
In India, we hold cattle sacred, because without them we could not renew
our soil fertility.
Ecologically, the cow has been central to Indian civilisation. Both
materially and conceptually, Indian agriculture has built its
sustainability on maintaining the integrity of the cow, considering her
inviolable and sacred, seeing her as the mother of the prosperity of food
The integration of livestock with farming has been the secret of
sustainable agriculture. Livestock perform a critical function in the food
chain by converting organic matter into a form that can be easily used by
plants. Can you imagine a British agricultural minister saying, as KM
Munshi, India's first agriculture minister after independence, did: "The
mother cow and the Nandi are not worshipped in vain. They are the primeval
agents who enrich the soil -nature's great land transformers - who supply
organic matter which, after treatment, becomes nutrient matter of the
greatest importance. In India, tradition, religious sentiment and economic
needs have tried to maintain a cattle population large enough to maintain
the cycle, only if we know it."
The sanctity of the cow as a source of prosperity in agriculture was
linked to the need for conserving its integration with crop production. By
using crop wastes and uncultivated land, indigenous cattle do not compete
with man for food; rather, they provide organic fertiliser for fields and
thus enhance food productivity. Within the sacredness of the cow
therefore, lies this ecological rationale and conservation imperative.
There are three aspects to the reaction of the FMD epidemic that make me
First, while it is clear that globalisation of trade and increased
movement of animals has spread the disease, the UK government continues to
support increased liberalisation of agricultural trade in the World Trade
Organisation. The half million livestock being killed are a ritual
sacrifice to the gods of global markets. Shutting the countryside down
while keeping borders open to trade will not prevent spread of disease -
either coming in through imports or going out through exports.
Second, the export obsession that is an intrinsic part of globalisation
also leads to a blindness to the welfare of animals and farmers. Thousands
of livestock can be annihilated, hundreds of farmers ruined to maintain
the "vaccine free" status of exports. Neither the farmers nor farm animals
count in the calculus of free trade. That is why farmers are committing
suicide in thousands in India, and animals are being killed in thousands
in the UK.
Third, the same agencies that refuse to act in the public interest on
issues of food safety related to GMOs are willing to cull farm animals
infected by a non-fatal disease.
These are double standards. On the basis of the precautionary principle,
the UK government should ban GMOs instead of killing harmless animals if
it is concerned about safety of food and agriculture.
The crisis in the UK should make us all think more seriously about
globalisation of food and agriculture. We need to explore what is the most
reliable way to produce safe food, protect human and animal health, build
immunity and resilience in our farming. The crisis needs a systems
response, not military operations.
The problem is not the occurrence of disease and infection, but
vulnerability to it. The very idea of disease-free animals and
disease-free people fuels the appetite for genetic engineering. It
decreases our levels of tolerance and resilience. It breeds fear, anxiety
and paranoia - the kind of fear that is moving the military might of
Britain to declare a war against its hoofed inhabitants.
This paranoia suits the genetic engineering industry perfectly. By
exterminating farm animals, the option of small organic farms is eroded.
By creating a fear of disease, a new market is created for Dolly, and
Polly and Tracy and all their clones.
We should stop this war against farm animals. Without them we will never
be able to build a sustainable farming future.
Dr Vandana Shiva, a physicist and ecologist, has in India established
Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers' rights.
SADC NRMP BULLETIN, April 2001
1. Africa must maximize benefits from genetically modified organisms
Although biotechnology products face stiff consumer resistance from
Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, African and foreign experts on
biosafety issues say this technology hods a lot of promise for developing
countries, including Africa. Biotechnology is a scientific process that
transfers genes from one species to another. This process creates new
crops or animals known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
No one really knows the negative impacts that GMOs could cause to human
health and the environment, but one of the most cited advantages of
biotechnology is its capacity to increase crop production on less land,
contributing to food security. African countries could easily address
their food shortage problems by maximizing on the positive impacts of
biotechnology, while minimizing the risks.
Biotechnology has enabled society to produce higher quality foods in
environments that were perceived to be of low productive potential. It is
now possible to cultivate tropical crops in temperate zones. Biotechnology
is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It has also
transformed the pharmaceutical and medical industries in very profound
However, the evolution and growth of this technology, including its
application are characterized by uncertainty. No one knows exactly the
socio-economic and ecological benefits and risks that this technology can
cause. Accordingly, world governments recently signed the Biosafety
Protocol in January 2000. They did so to ensure safe transfer, handling
and use of living modified organisms (LMOs), resulting from modern
biotechnology. It is feared that LMOs may have adverse effects on the
conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, especially in instances
involving transboundary movement. Out of the 87 countries worldwide which
have signed and ratified the Biosafety Protocol, only three are from
Southern Africa. Namely, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia.
Developing countries, including Africa - are the least qualified to do
risk assessment of LMOs from developed countries. Accordingly, they need
to actively participate in these issues so that they do not engage in
uninformed acceptance of LMOs, which might result in negative
socioeconomic impacts. It is against this background that the first ever
African regional consultative workshop on the Biosafety Protocol, was held
in Nairobi Kenya, last month. It explored the benefits of having a common
regional approach towards the implementation of the protocol, in order to
maximize information sharing and regional learning. We therefore urge
African countries to actively participate in this Protocol which is
expected to come into force in June this year, if 50 parties ratify it.
Bulgaria and Trinidad and Tobago are the only two countries which have
ratified this Protocol.
2. Nairobi hosts regional consultative workshop on Biosafety Protocol
Nairobi-based African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and the
Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) held a two-day
consultative regional workshop in Nairobi, Kenya for African countries
last month. The workshop was aimed to identify and promote public
participation in the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Participants discussed issues centred on the nature and adequacy of the
Biosafety Protocol's procedural rights for public participation in risk
assessment and management, institutional mechanisms for civil society and
industry's participation in national and international programmes and
processes on the Protocol.
Officially opening the workshop, a UNEP representative, Dr. Ahmed Dojglaf
said, "We would like to promote information sharing on biosafety issues at
regional and sub-regional level."
UNEP aims to assist 120 countries on biosafety capacity building. Dr.
Dojglaf called for the need to raise public awareness throughout the
establishment of the Biosafety Protocol. He said UNEP would soon use
US$750 000, it recently sourced from the Global Environmental Facility
(GEF), to train journalists on all issues concerning biosafety and other
Dr. Tony Antonio La Vina of the WRI said, internationally there should be
an acknowledgement of benefits and risks associated with genetically
modified organisms. "The Biosafety Protocol is an important instrument to
bring the balanced approach of maximizing benefits and minizing risks," he
About SADC NRMP Bulletin
The main aim of the SADC NRMP Bulletin is to expedite information exchange
on the management of natural resources among stakeholders in the region.
SADC NRMP Bulletin is brought to you by the Africa Resources Trust.
Editor: Emmanuel Koro; E-mail: :email@example.com=
From: Julian Morris
Subject: RE: SADC NRMP BULLETIN
May I say that I completely disagree with your view that African countries
should adopt the Biosafety Protocol. This Protocol effectively enables
arbitrary restrictions to be placed on imports of LMOs and may in future
be amended to enable arbitrary restrictions on imports of all GMOs. Trade
in these products is currently governed by the Sanitary and Phytosanitary
Agreement, which is administered by the WTO. Decisions in respect of the
SPS Agreement are made in the context of standards set by the Codex
Alimentarius Commission. At present the rule is: you may prevent the
import of a substance as an emergency measure without a risk analysis (S.
5.7 of the SPS agreement as interpreted by the Appellate Body of WTO in
the Beef Hormone case). However, if a longer-term restriction is to be
imposed on imports this must be justified by a risk analysis (Beef Hormone
case interpreting S 5 of SPS).
Poor countries may have less capacity to carry out there own risk analyses
and this will no doubt be accepted by exporting countries (and WTO) as
justification for a delay in permitting imports -- and may encourage
exporting countries to provide capacity to carry out such analyses by the
importing country. By contrast the Biosafety Protocol enables effectively
indefinite delays on imports without justification. Now, remember, imports
are the corollary to exports and poor countries that export LMOs to rich
countries would be shooting themselves in the foot by signing the
Biosafety Protocol. The EU is looking for an excuse to avoid imports of
cheaply produced agricultural and textile products and if those products
are LMOs it will use the BP to do this. The result would be that Africans
won't use LMOs for fear that they won't be able to export them to the EU.
Given the significant likely benefits from LMOs, how stupid would that be?
Julian Morris Director, Environment and Technology Programme, IEA, London.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Editor, Fearing Food (Butterworth-Heinemann,
1999) and Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle