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April 29, 2001


History Repeats; Much Food,


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org; Archived at http://agbioview.listbot.com

Debate Over Biotech Crops Recalls Wariness of 1970's

- Bill Timberlake, Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, MA, April 29, 2001

Two of the world’s leading scientific journals have unveiled scientists’
first analysis of the genetic makeup of humans. We will soon be able to
know which genes predispose individuals to disease, and how specific genes
lead to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many other debilitating
conditions. A new era has begun, and Massachusetts, with its many
universities, research institutes, and biotechnology companies, is poised
to be a leader in developing drugs to ameliorate these conditions.

But at one time, biotechnology was banned in Cambridge, the home of
Harvard and MIT. In the mid-1970s, Cambridge city fathers decided that the
cautious thing to do would be to ban recombinant DNA (r-DNA) research
within the borders of the city. Fortunately, the ban was soon lifted and
those preeminent universities took their natural place as leaders. Today,
Massachusetts is home to premier biological research institutes, such as
the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and some of the world’s
leading biotechnology companies, such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals and
Millennium Pharmaceuticals. They all use r-DNA to develop new diagnostics,
drugs, and therapies to treat previously untreatable diseases.

"Recombinant DNA technology is so central to modern biological research
that neither Harvard nor MIT could have maintained effective research and
teaching programs or recruited top scientists and teachers," says Dr.
Richard Losick, Professor and former Chairman of the Department of
Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard. "Such a ban would have had a
ripple effect that would have been extremely damaging to both institutions
as a whole. Also, of course, the vibrant biotech industry in Cambridge
would not have been possible."

Whitehead Director Dr. Gerald Fink agrees. "The Whitehead Institute would
likely have been built in another city as would the many biotech companies
that now contribute to the local economy." Fortunately, cooler heads
prevailed, and the technology developed cautiously. Unfortunately, the
debate currently raging over biotech foods, which also use r-DNA, is a
replay of 25 years ago.

Many in the 1970s realized immediately how ability to transfer genes from
one organism to another would transform science, medicine, industry, and
agriculture. Some also speculated about potential risks. This initiated
worldwide debates, which culminated in guidelines to govern r-DNA. Certain
types of gene transfers were prohibited or severely restricted, but the
technology did advance.

Today, the list of new drugs made by using r-DNA has grown rapidly. All
the major pharmaceutical companies use r-DNA in the drug discovery and
development process. DNA diagnostics are permitting identification of
individuals with inborn genetic disorders and will allow treatment prior
to disease onset. There is no question that r-DNA will continue to
transform the practice of medicine. And the once-feared r-DNA is now
viewed as so safe to be included in introductory biology laboratory
exercises. Given the resolution of the debates over r-DNA in medicine, it
is incongruous that biotech crops, which have tremendous potential to
improve nutrition, increase yields and reduce environmental stress, are
being put through the same gauntlet.

Biotech crops, which have been on the market since 1995, have proved
themselves as safe as conventional foods and have improved yields and
reduced pesticide usage. The imagined risks have not materialized. History
tells us that the biotech food debate will be resolved as was the original
r-DNA debate, but must we repeat the same painful process to get

*Bill Timberlake spent much of his career in biotechnology. Following a
20-year academic career, he helped found two biotechnology companies in
Massachusetts, ChemGenics Pharmaceuticals (merged with Millennium
Pharmaceuticals) and Cereon Genomics, an agricultural genomics company.


Michael Fumento's presentation

From: Martina McGloughlin

Dear Michael:

I read with interest the script of your presentation at the IOC
International Business Advisory Committee Meeting (Agbioview, April 28). I
thought that you made your points very articulately but I would suggest
some minor clarifications. I point this out not to criticize but in the
interest of accuracy and to preempt any possibility of you being ambushed
by those wishing to discredit yourself and your worthy message.

Potrykus' golden rice was an incredible feat of metabolic engineering not
simple (for want of a better word!) gene stacking ( an example of which I
describe further on) and only two of the genes were from daffodil.
Immature rice endosperm is capable of synthesizing the early intermediate
geranylgeranyl diphosphate of beta carotene biosynthesis. Potrykus not
only stitched on the next three enzymatic steps but ensured that they were
directed to the correct site of synthesis where the precursor
(geranylgeranyl-diphosphate) is formed in the endosperm plastids. He
achieved this by cleverly including a functional transit peptide from an
enzyme (Rubisco) used in photosynthesis thus allowing plastid import. Only
two of the genes were from daffodil (narcissus) the middle one was from a
bacteria - the reason being that in one step it completes a function that
requires three additional steps in the daffodil - scientists will always
try to work with the system that makes most sense and thus are often the
subject of ridicule by those who know no better!

The genes in order: Phytoene synthase ( from Daffodil), - Phytoene
desaturase (Erwinia uredovora ), - Lycopene beta-cyclase (from Daffodil).

The cultivar transformed for higher iron (containing Ferritin, an
iron-rich bean storage protein, a fungal phytase, an enzyme that breaks
down phytate making Fe available, and to prevent reabsorption of iron, a
gene for a cystein-rich metallothionein-like protein) has yet to be
crossed with the beta- carotene one. This research is going on right now
as is more research to further increase the iron content in the grain.
They plan to focus on iron transport within the plant.

Gene stacking, or pyramiding, is more usually used in what I describe as
"one pest-many genes" paradigm in my paper at
....Molecular biologists recognize the need to study and apply multiple
and diverse mechanisms for controlling pests and pathogens to reduce
selection pressure. Simultaneous or sequential deployment of different
resistance genes has the same rationale as crop rotation. Pathogen
evolution is less able to overcome a changing environment or an
environment made inhospitable by an array of resistance genes.

There are many sources of resistance genes in addition to those found in
nature. Combinations and re-combinations of genes may be used or
completely synthetic genes can be developed. By having a range of gene
products with subtle variations produced for example through directed
evolution (a technology that mimics the natural process of evolution and
brings together advances in molecular biology and classical breeding), or,
by creating suites of synthetic genes which the target pest would never
encounter in nature, the selection for resistance is greatly reduced.
Diverse mechanisms of action of gene products can also be employed to
reduce selection pressure [from insect pests] through a technique called
gene pyramiding whereby genes with very different modes of action such as
chitinases, feeding inhibitors, maturation inhibitors, and so on, are used
in combination. The probability of any single organism overcoming all of
these diverse strategies is vanishingly small....

One further point - I noticed that you state that insulin is now 100%
recombinant. This is not the case, many companies such as Novo Nordisk
still provide insulin from animal sources primarily pig (and have done
since 1925!). Also better to use the term "gene-spliced microbes" as fungi
such as yeast and aspergillus are also used in addition to E. coli.

On the short stalks, the more direct beneficial effect is that short
plants do not lodge as easily therefore less loss in the field!

Keep up the good work, Best - Martina


The Need for Genetically Engineered Food When Enough Is Produced and Unused

Swapan K. Datta (Reprinted here with the permission of the author; See
website for hyperlinks)


Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India, during his inaugural
deliberation at the 88th Indian Science Congress Meeting held in Delhi,
India, on 3 January 2001, expressed concern that India produces enough
food but has problems storing and distributing it. People could interpret
this statement as saying that because India, a country of one billion
people, can produce adequate food, there should be no more hunger in that
country. But, although enough food is available, 200 million people in
India earn less than US$1 per day; they are living at absolute poverty
levels and can barely afford to buy enough food for their daily
subsistence. It is often claimed that enough food is produced globally to
feed everyone, but, in reality, 1 billion people live on less than US$1
per day each and are starving or malnourished (1).

Technological development coexists with persistent privation in some
developing countries. For example, in the city of Calcutta in West Bengal,
India, public transportation includes diverse options ranging from
hand-pulled rickshaws to modern metro trains. Very poor people and very
rich people live together. Technology can play an important role in
improving the economic growth of the city. The question is how and when?
Political unrest, unstable government, and lack of a long-term vision
might lead to a low pace of technological development. Agriculture is well
developed in West Bengal but the people still starve. It is also ironic
that increased agricultural production often results in lower prices,
which adds to the difficulty farmers have in recovering costs when they
sell agricultural products. People need to achieve economic growth through
other means. But how do we address this problem? Can technological
development give a human face to economic growth and food security? Why Is
Rice So Important in Asia? Rice is the number-one staple food in Asia and
it provides 40% to 70% of the total food calories consumed. Rice is also
used for animal feed. In addition, many people depend on rice agriculture
for jobs; it is the most important source of income for rural people.
Technology, which itself is neutral in value, can be used to develop
products efficiently and in a better way. A quantum leap in rice yield
took place over the past three decades through the Green Revolution, which
could have proven that Malthus was wrong because the amount of food
produced was proportionately greater than the rate of population growth.
Unfortunately, this increased food production did not eliminate poverty
and hunger. Instead, it probably just helped to avoid famine or prevented
a greater disruption in food supply.

More recently, biotechnology has revolutionized the understanding of
traits, genes, and phenotypes. We now know that humans and chimpanzees
have 98% similarity in genome sequence. Only the remaining 2% of the
genome accounts for the genetic diversification that makes these species
quite different. Similarly, although cereals and grasses have much
homology in their genome sequence, they differ in many agronomic
characters. Such biodiversity is an advantage for learning and for
creating a new crop variety for tomorrow’s needs. Genes encoding proteins
that promote plant protection from disease have been used widely in crop
improvement and have allowed farmers to use fewer pesticides and obtain
higher yields at a lower cost (2). Built-in plant protection also supports
sustainable agriculture in a safe environment (3). Genetically improved
rice varieties have performed very well in field conditions (4, 5).

Are Poor People Vulnerable to Globalization?
Although many people oppose globalization, countries such as China and
India have benefited considerably from economic liberalization in recent
years. Globalization brings awareness, competition, and opportunities to
do better. This concept applies not only to the international market and
products but also to domestic markets. For example, in January 2001,
potatoes sold at US$0.05 per kilogram in Calcutta, but they were much more
costly in other places in India because of high demand and limited supply.
At the same time, potatoes sold at a much higher price, about US$1.50 per
kilogram, in the Philippines. Thus, both farmers and consumers would
benefit if adequate information, crop management, and distribution systems
were available. This issue needs to be addressed by government policy
makers to ensure the right price and proper distribution of agricultural
food products. But we should not assume that, even though we have enough
potatoes, there is no longer a need to further improve them. A more
nutritious potato with higher quality starch can be achieved by genetic
engineering. If farmers can obtain higher yield and prices, this will
increase economic growth. Natural resources such as land available for
cultivation are limited and are becoming scarcer. Higher productivity from
smaller areas over shorter times will help farmers meet their needs and
achieve prosperity. Continuous market surveys can help farmers implement
need-based production, which will improve their economic well-being.
Well-managed technology will ensure higher growth, market confidence, and

Malnutrition and Social Responsibility
Some 100 to 200 million children are at risk for vitamin A deficiency.
More than one million children die annually because of malnutrition (6,
7). About 40% of the world’s people suffer from micronutrient
deficiencies. Some people argue that we have enough vegetables, meat,
eggs, and other food to meet the diet required to fight malnutrition. The
World Health Organization and government programs in a few Asian countries
and elsewhere are providing oral vaccines and diet fortification. Still,
children are dying and people are becoming blind because of poor
nutrition. Malnourished children have no chance to fully develop their
mental and physical capacities. The World Bank estimated the indirect cost
of malnutrition for Bangladesh and India alone to be US$18 billion in 1995

Some argue for diverse food in a balanced diet to avoid malnutrition. But
who can afford such luxury? Definitely not the people who have no
purchasing power and no choice of food availability and affordability.
What options do we have then? Scientists have shown that genetically
engineered maize, canola, rice, and bananas may provide the biomolecules
required for better health. Genetically modified crops may not prevent
poverty or hunger. But these crops are now available and will surely play
a role in reducing malnutrition. Availability of modified foods such as
golden rice may force governments to prioritize decisions to distribute
more nutritious rice free or at a minimal cost, which will benefit poorer
people. More nutritious rice should be developed for the benefit of the
larger population of developing countries. Individual farmers or small
communities in rural areas can grow the required amount of nutritious rice
for their own needs and they can do it with or without government help.
There is no silver bullet available to solve the problems of hunger. At
various opportunities such as the World Summit for Children in 1990, the
International Conference on Nutrition in 1992, the World Food Summit in
1996, and the International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology in
1999, the international community reconfirmed that eliminating hunger and
malnutrition is a most important priority (8). Poverty is surely declining
but at a slow pace. It will take a long time, if it can be done at all, to
eliminate poverty. Are we willing to wait another 50 years until poor
people increase their purchasing power enough to obtain the food they need?

Nutritious rice can reach the people who need it the most within 5 to 7
years. Scientists must work more on such projects to increase the
potential of this technology and try to deliver the products even faster.
The political will of national governments, with support from all the
different strata of people in society, including the private sector,
should gear their efforts toward making nutritious food products available
to needy and underprivileged people.

Why Should the Private Sector Provide Intellectual Property-Protected
Technology to Develop Nutritious Food for Poor People?
The private sector has an interest in retrieving economic returns for the
work it does. In fact, this is the major driving force for its existence.
However, for social welfare, the private sector should be willing to
contribute its intellectual property technology for such nutritious food,
as has already happened with golden rice. In the long term, by capturing
as little as 10% of the market of at least three billion people in Asia
and major markets in the Western world--for example, by producing
value-added foods with antioxidants that may delay aging--the private
sector could earn significant amounts annually. The middle class in Asia
is growing. Nutritious rice will have a great appeal to older people and
will eventually bring extra money to its producers. Farmers also will
benefit by producing it. Highly motivated producers will achieve greater
returns in the long run.

Working Together to Achieve Food Security
Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and
elsewhere should work with regulatory agencies to ensure food safety and
gene stability. Some good demonstrations of field evaluations of
genetically engineered improved rice might help to change public
perceptions by demonstrating that genetically modified crops can be
environmentally friendly and can generate beneficially enhanced food
products. The rice and Arabidopsis genomes have already been sequenced, as
has the human genome. Such knowledge-based information should be used to
benefit human welfare. Present food production in Asia is sufficient,
assuming that everyone has access to the food basket, but there will be a
major food shortfall in the future with the present rate of population
growth unless preventive measures are taken. Crop scientists should work
to develop safe food in sufficient quantities and should wield greater
influence on the policy decisions of national governments to prioritize
these needs, efficiently utilizing the generous help from rich nations and
organizations and technology with intellectual property from the private

Managing world population growth is another matter, which is beyond the
scope of this paper. Technology is neutral in value and its association
with biology is dynamic. We should take advantage of this in a positive
way by taking criticism constructively and resolving to move forward in
response to positive challenges.

Further Reading

-H. W. Kendall, R. Beachey, T. Eisher, F. Gould, R. Herdt, P. H. Raven, J.
S. Schell, M. S. Swaminathan, Report of the World Bank Panel on Transgenic
Crops (Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Studies and
Monographs Series No. 23, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 1997). -K. S.
Fischer, J. Barton, G. S. Khush, H. Leung, R. Cantrell, Collaborations in
rice. Science 290, 279-280 (2000). -K. M. Leisinger, in Agricultural
Biotechnology and the Poor: Proceedings of an International Conference, G.
J. Persley and M. M. Lantin, Eds. (convened by the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research and the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences, 21 to 22 October 1999, Washington, DC, 2000), pp. 173-180.

1. The Rewards of Rice Research (Internl Rice Research Institute Annual
Report, Los Baños, Philippines, 2000). 2. S. K. Datta, A promising debut
for Bt hybrid rice. ISB News Report, USA 12, 1-3 (2000). 3. S. K. Datta,
Transgenic rice: development and products for environmentally friendly
sustainable agriculture, in Proceedings of the Challenge of Plant and
Agricultural Sciences to the Crisis of Biosphere on the Earth in the 21st
Century, K. Watanabe and A. Komamine, Eds. (Landes Bioscience, Washington,
DC, 2000), pp. 237-2246. 4. J. Tu, K. Datta, G. S. Khush, Q. Zhang, S. K.
Datta, Field performance of Xa21 transgenic indica rice (Oryza sativa L.),
IR72. Theor. Appl. Genet. 101, 15-20 (2000) 5. J. Tu, G. Zhang, K. Datta,
C. Xu, Y. He, Q. Zhang, G. S. Khush, S. K. Datta, Field performance of
transgenic elite commercial hybrid rice expressing Bacillus thuringiensis
d-endotoxin. Nature Biotechnol. 18, 1101-1104 (2000). 6. S. K. Datta, H.
E. Bouis, The potential of biotechnology in developing nutrient-dense rice
varieties. Food Nutr. Bull. 21, 451-456 (2000). 7. B. Dieter, Ed.,
Development and Cooperation Facts and Trends (Facts about children in the
world) [Deutsche Stiftung für Internationale Entwicklung (DSE), Berlin,
March/April, 1998], No. 2, p. 7. 8. G. J. Persley, M. M. Lantin, Eds.,
Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor: Proceedings of an International
Conference on Biotechnology (convened by the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research and the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences, 21 to 22 October 1999, Washington, DC, 2000), pp. 173-180.

SKD: International Rice Research Institute, Plant Breeding, Genetics, and
Biochemistry Division, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines. E-mail:
Swapan Kumar Datta, Ph.D., received a B.Sc. (Honors) at Presidency
College, Calcutta, India (1972), and a M.Sc. (1974) and Ph.D. (1980) at
Calcutta University, India. He served at Visva-Bharati University,
Santinilketan, as associate professor (1979-1985). Since 1985, he has
worked in several leading institutions and universities such as the
Institute of Resistance Genetics (Germany; as a DAAD Fellow, 1985-1986);
Friedrich Miescher Institute (Switzerland; as a FMI Fellow, 1987); Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology, ETH-Zurich (Switzerland; as a senior
scientist and group leader of rice biotechnology, 1987-1993); University
of California, Davis (USA; as a visiting associate professor, 1989); and
the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) (Phillipines; 1993 to
present). As plant biotechnologist at IRRI he leads the work on haploid
and transgenic breeding for rice improvement. In addition to contributions
in cereal haploidy (barley, rice, maize, and wheat), he pioneered
demonstrations of the first genetically engineered indica rice [Datta, S.
K., et al. Biotechnology 8, 736-740 (1990)]. He has authored around 100
research publications, mentored 14 Ph.D. students, and developed worldwide
collaboration on gene technology for rice improvement


From: Malcolm Livingstone
Subject: Marcus Williamson/ Safety Testing of GM Food


I have been reluctant to reply to your calls for independent safety
testing of GM crops because I don't think for a minute it is worth doing
and I'm not the only one. First of all food is food. No food is tested in
the way you suggest GM crops should be. I don't believe there is any
difference between GM and non-GM. There is not even a small difference. GM
corn may have a few thousand nucleotides added but every individual plant,
GM or not, has nucleotides added, subtracted, mutated and rearranged.

We had a news story here in Australia the other day about a sunflower
plant that produced 68 buds compared to the normal one. It was grown from
normal seed in someone's backyard. They thought it was their compost but
of course it just had serious mutations in probably a number of genes.
Should we exterminate this mutant before it contaminates the sunflowers of
the world and destroys the cut flower market?

My point is that GM crops pose no greater threat theoretically than any
other plant. If I was to submit a proposal to a major, publicly funded,
granting body, such as the Australian Research Council, to test the
long-term safety (let's say 10 years) of GM crops my proposal would be the
first in the bin. Why? Because those eminent scientists responsible for
doling out public funds can't, in all honesty, waste public funds on such
a ludicrous project. We have cancer to cure, people to feed, pollution to
control etc. Things with real scientific merit. A ten year project of this
kind would cost millions of dollars. If you are serious about testing
these crops and you have genuine (if unfounded) fears then why don't you
and Greenpeace put up or shut up? By sacking half its staff Greenpeace
could fund many such projects and finally satisfy themselves that they are
in no danger. They could finally rest easy and get a good night's sleep. I
will even offer to run the projects for you because, although it would be
a scientific dead-end, at least I would have a job for a decade or so.

As I've said before it is easy work sniping away at people trying to do
some useful work. It is a lot harder to actually put your money where your
mouth is. The experiments are easy to design and I could have them up and
running in no time so when you have the money let me know and I'll help
you out with your independent tests (I'm not employed by any private

Malcolm Livingstone


From: "terry hopkin"

It seems the same day as my insert was posted in agbio the
BBC WORLD CORRESPONDENT  programme did a review of the Purdey
theory as to causes of BSE and CJD (Mad Cow disease) and its variants
including Magnesium

Any one in agriculture knows that certain soil types need additives if
the animals or crops are to thrive and be healthy to eat. My question
just takes Purdey one stage further and asks what controls have we for
all types of food to prevent disease, is it just GM and Commercial food
that is to be controlled? If Purdey is right, then control of Organic
foods in poor soil area is a health necessity as is the controls and
restrictions on all other types of food. -Terry Hopkin


Another World Food Scare?

by John H. Sanders, Science March 2, 2001; v.291; p1707-8

-- Review of book: Food's Frontier The Next Green Revolution by Richard
Manning North Point (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), New York, 2000. 233 pp.
$24, ISBN 0-86547-593-8. -- Journalist Richard Manning's call for a new
Green Revolution is a good airport book of the nonfiction variety. The
characteristics of such a book are that it combines light reading with
very pessimistic conclusions.

Looking back, approximately once per decade there has been a scare over
world food supplies (1). Consistent with this tradition, the introductory
chapter of Food's Frontier tells us that significant improvements in
yields for the principal food crops cannot be achieved in developing
countries and that any further gains will be evolutionary rather than
revolutionary. Combining this conclusion with continued rapid population
growth, Manning returns to Malthus, the first modern food-scare writer, or
at least to Paul Ehrlich, the most alarmist of these authors in the 1960s.

In the rest of the book, Manning provides a series of vignettes from
around the world on efforts to improve crop yields, increase crop
diversity, and reduce natural pests and diseases. He interviews local
scientists, provides country-specific contexts, and captures well the
different national environments. He sets the search for new agricultural
technologies against the background of the AIDS epidemic and inept
government in Zimbabwe, the continuing wars in Uganda, and the pressing
poverty of Ethiopia.

Several chapters focus on case studies drawn from the worldwide struggle
of national agricultural scientists against plant diseases and insects in
their countries' principal food crops. Throughout these accounts, Manning
stresses the need for adapting technologies to region-specific
agricultural constraints and market opportunities. The examples from India
and China offer excellent defenses of the arguments for genetic
engineering. And the discussion of genetics and bioengineering at Fudan
University in Shanghai also highlights the potential benefits of the
international ties among scientists through the Internet.

In the chapter on the basic staple in Chile, potatoes, the author takes
aim at the excessive use and dangers of pesticides during the raising and
storage of crops. Farmers are careless with insecticides and clearly spray
too heavily and too frequently. Manning also mentions the expected
conflicts with agricultural chemical companies as alternative methods of
combating insect pests are adopted. He connects the search to lower
pesticide costs and to reduce poisoning in developing countries with
organic gardening led by innovations in breeding trichome-bearing potato
varieties at Cornell. (Trichomes, tiny hairs on the leaves, act to trap
insects mechanically and also secrete a chemical that alarms insect pests.)

Three important aspects of Manning's interpretation can be seen in
different perspectives. First, as the author recognizes, the Green
Revolution involved more than just the introduction of new varieties. When
the effects on cereal yields from various inputs are carefully separated,
around 40% of the gains can be attributed to the introduction of new
varieties; the rest came from additional use of inorganic fertilizer and
other agricultural chemicals, better water supplies, and improved cultural
practices. As Manning points out, the yield effects from the Green
Revolution have been concentrated on wheat, rice, and, more recently,
maize. But this does not imply that disaster is imminent; varietal
improvements and the other inputs still have the potential to increase
yields of other cereals (such as sorghum, millet, teff), tubers, grain
legumes, and oil seeds.

Second, to conclude that most agricultural technologies introduced into
developing countries were not appropriate ignores the important roles of
national political and economic systems in changing agricultural
practices. Many of these technologies will become appropriate when
governments stop distorting their economies by subsidizing food prices in
various ways and develop policies that enable farmers to benefit from
increasing crop productivity.

Third, despite the risk that selection will break down single-gene
resistance techniques, this approach has been extremely valuable
economically. In the United States, the T gene in barley has held up
against stem rust for over 50 years; similarly, in wheat the Hope gene has
kept stem rust in check for over 40 years and the LR-34 gene has limited
leaf rust for more than 20 years (2). Multiple-gene resistance and other
techniques are preferable when they are available, of course. Otherwise,
we use what we have if it works, and we anticipate breakdowns. Agriculture
is a system of constant change, so sustainability is a relative term.

Airport books are fun, so read Food's Frontiers and become upset that the
developed countries are not doing more to move agriculture along in
developing countries. But you can also get excited about Manning's reports
on what scientists, national and international, are doing. The current
need to accelerate the diffusion process, which Manning stresses in his
conclusions, can be considered an opportunity rather than a crisis. We
must focus on helping the developing countries improve incentives for
farmers, on improving input and product markets, and on attacking the
critical problem of governance.

References and Notes 1. Even in the late 1960s, with the widespread
concern with the continuing drought in the Indian subcontinent, the
prognosticators of gloom did not look back and note the regularity of food
availability scares being introduced once a decade and then dismissed
again [J. H. Sanders, R. C. Hoyt, Am. J. Agric. Econ. 52,132 (1970)]. 2.
Contributions from J. Janick, H. Ohm, and R. Fredericksen are gratefully


Report on Vertical Coordination Integration in Agriculture

CAST released a new report, Vertical Coordination of Agriculture in
Farming-Dependent Areas. This report provides policy makers, community
leaders, and farmers with a guide to help weigh the advantages and
disadvantages of contract farming and other forms of vertical coordination
in agriculture; analyzes how vertical coordination in the food chain can
change rural communities that have farming-dependent economies; and
addresses the role of electronic commerce in rural development. The report
is available online at http://www.cast-science.org/castpubs.htm#vert


Genetically Modified Food - Not suitable for Vegetarians?

From: Marcus Williamson

Prakash: I'd like to submit this article for AgBioView. As a fellow
vegetarian, I'd be interested in your views on GM soy and maize, as well
as the rat/broccolini and similar combinations. Look forward to hearing
from you. Thanks & regards - Marcus Williamson

{CSP's View: Dear Marcus, Thanks and I am posting it below. However, most
reasonable readers would still conclude that your argument is irrelevant
and you are invoking this to promote your anti-biotech agenda. Much of
what you say below has nothing to do with being a vegetarian and most are
simply not true (i.e., Bt or Roundup being a poison). You indulge in
scare-mongering by citing research with rat or scorpion genes in plants
which are neither commercial products nor intended for it. Most
vegetarians are NOT against animal testing that you mention. Responsible
testing in animals is the only way to make sure drugs or novel foods are
safe, and I would not bring any religion or ideology in the way. Looks
like you are now shifting gears from your favorite activity of spamming
scientists with emails on food safety testing and I presume that you are
now convinced.}


Genetically Modified Food - Not suitable for vegetarians

Many vegetarians have chosen their dietary life style because they believe
that it is unnecessary for animals to lose their lives or suffer so that
humans may live. Jains, and some Buddhists and Hindus, for example, are of
this belief. Indeed their religion forbids the taking of life. Others have
become vegetarians because of their own health. Whatever the reason, it is
important to the individual not to allow themselves to be compromised in
their food choices, but with the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM)
foods this has become more difficult.

The Early Days: Genetically Modified foods first came onto the shelves in
Europe in 1996. At the time there was no requirement to label the
ingredients as Genetically Modified. In 1999 European regulations were
introduced to require the labelling of GM soya where present, so that such
foods would bear the label "Contains Genetically Modified Soya", for

At the time these GM foods were introduced, questions were asked of the
politicians, scientists and the supermarkets, as to whether these foods
had ever been independently safety tested for their effect on the health
of humans, animals and the environment. The answer was, and still is, "no".

So these products are untested for safety. However, are they suitable for
vegetarians? Current GM foods Two examples of genetically modified foods,
which are currently available, are: * Bt maize (corn) * RoundUp Ready soya
(soy) Bt maize - Bt maize is produced by Syngenta, a company formed by the
merger of Novartis and Zeneca. Bt maize contains a gene from the bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis, which has the ability to produce a toxin to kill
the corn borer, an insect grub which feeds on corn [1]. Thus, a poison is
built into the plant itself which kills animals as the plant is growing.

RoundUp is a herbicide poison, also known as glyphosate, produced by the
company Monsanto. It kills all plant life where it is sprayed. "RoundUp
Ready" plants have been spliced with a gene which allows them to survive
spraying with RoundUp [2]. The effect is what has been called "Green
Concrete", an area in which only the herbicide-resistant plant is able to
live and all other plant and animal life is eliminated. Other plants,
which would have provided habitats for animals normally living around the
plant, are destroyed.

These two examples are of currently available plants which have the
ability either to withstand deadly poison, whilst other surrounding plant
and animal life is killed, or to kill animal life by producing poison.
These properties have been artificially built into the plants by

Products such as these, whose purpose is to kill animal life, or to
survive the elimination of animal habitats, are clearly not in keeping
with a vegetarian dietary regime.

Animal or Plant?: Other developments, which are of even greater concern to
vegetarians, are plants which have had animal genes inserted to provide
some property which would not be possible through conventional
crossbreeding. The resulting vegetable is no longer a pure vegetable, but
instead a chimaera with properties taken from the original plant, plus
some additional characteristics from an animal.

Two examples of work already announced on versions of plants, which have
been modified by insertion of animal genes, include:
* Broccolini / Rat
* Potato / Scorpion Poison
Broccolini / Rat - A rat gene has been introduced in broccolini to
increase the levels of vitamin C in the broccolini. Broccolini is a cross
between broccoli and a Chinese kale. [3]

Potato / Scorpion Poison - Scientists at the Institute of Virology in
Oxford have introduced the gene responsible for scorpion poison into a
genetically engineered pesticide. The gene produces a toxin, which
immediately paralyses target pests for attack by the slower-acting virus.

Animal Experimentation: Aside from the issues of the killing involved in
production of food, and of plant/animal combinations, the companies
responsible for GM foods and agrochemicals cause the unnecessary suffering
and death of animals in laboratories. Companies such as Monsanto, Aventis
and Syngenta use laboratories such as those run by Huntingdon Life
Sciences (HLS) to test their herbicide and pesticide poisons. Animal
testing is unacceptable to vegetarians and many non-vegetarians alike.

Vegetarian Society: The UK Vegetarian Society, in common with many other
organisations worldwide, is opposed to the use of Genetically Modified
Foods. In August 1998 the Society's Board resolved: "Genetically Modified
products, or products containing Genetically Modified ingredients, are not
acceptable to the Vegetarian Society because the Society believes it is
impossible to guarantee that such products are completely in accordance
with the Society's vegetarian principles." [5] Since August 1999 any food
product bearing the Vegetarian Society approved logo is not permitted to
contain GM ingredients.

Conclusion: The examples above show clearly that GM foods are not suitable
for those who wish to avoiding the killing or suffering of animals, nor
indeed are they suitable for any person wishing to avoid poisons, untested
technology or environmental damage.Those who wish to avoid animal
'contamination' of their food have always had to be on the lookout to
avoid such ingredients. Now there are good reasons for also excluding
Genetically Modified foods from their diets.

References 1. "USDA to rule on Genetically Engineered Corn"
http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/1995/March/95.0222.txt 2. "Biotechnology
and the soybean". Rogers, Stephen G. Monsanto, Brussels, Belgium.Am. J.
Clin. Nutr., 68(6, Suppl.), 1330S-1332S 1998. 3. Gert E. de Vries, Trends
in Plant Science 2000, 5:189, Vol. 5, No. 5, May 2000 and Mol. Breed.
(2000) 6, 73-78. 4. "Field trial of baculovirus with scorpion toxin gene"
International Organization for Biological Control, Nearctic Regional
Section, Newsletter, Spring 1995
http://ipmwww.ncsu.edu/biocontrol/iobc/spring95.html=20 5. Vegetarian
Society Information Sheet: Genetically Engineered Food

About the Author: Marcus Williamson has been a vegetarian all his adult
life and has been opposed to GM foods since their introduction. He is a
chemist by training and now runs a computer software and consulting
company, based in London, UK. Marcus is the editor for the website
"Genetically Modified Food - UK and World News" at