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Date:

April 30, 2001

Subject:

Vegetarian Concern; GM Detection; Healthy Tomatoes and

 

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

Dr. Borlaug's Speech at Tuskegee

The complete text of lecture delivered by Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman
Borlaug is now available at
http://www.agbioworld.org/articles/borlaugspeech.html

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Looking for Position in Agbiotech: Policy, Education and Communication

I have a request from a very well-known scientist, who is also actively
involved in public communication of issues related to agricultural
biotechnology, to readers of Agbioview to please inform him of any
suitable positions, preferably in the academia in North America. See his
note below. I would appreciate it if you can alert me at
to any such positions that I can inform him.
Thanks....CSP

---
Two areas are of great interest to me, both in science policy/education.
One, there is a growing 'science gap' between the scientific and
non-scientific community. The public is interested in, but confused by,
the apparently rapid developments in genetic technology and feel they are
losing control. Someone needs to be able to bridge the gap and re-empower
non-scientists so they can make sensible, informed decisions and feel in
some control.

Second, agricultural biotechnology is going to be deployed in developing
countries whether we in North America do or not, whether we like it or
not. I'm concerned that many poorer countries have technical capacity to
create GMOs but lack regulatory infrastructure to properly assess them
prior to release. Without a proper risk assessment, a potentially
hazardous GMO may be released prematurely, causing real problems. Someone
needs to help establish realistic regulations to address the environmental
and health risks associated with particular GMOs.

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Become a Fulbright Scholar (and the Spread the Word on Agbiotech Abroad!):
- Overseas Opportunities for US College Faculty

http://www.cies.org/
Applications for 2002-2003 awards are being solicited.

"Fulbright grants are made to U.S. citizens and nationals of other
countries for a variety of educational activities, primarily university
lecturing, advanced research, graduate study and teaching in elementary
and secondary schools. Since the program’s inception, more than 85,000
U.S. Fulbrighters have traveled abroad to lecture or conduct research in a
wide variety of academic and professional fields ranging from journalism
and urban planning to music, philosophy and zoology. More than 144,000
foreign citizens have come to the United States under Fulbright auspices."

- Non-US faculty from overseas interested in visiting USA as a scholar
must contact the US Embassy in their country.

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Response to 'Not Suitable for Vegetarians'

From: Wayne Parrott

Oh Marcus-- Do not fret! Reality does not come nearly as close to what you
describe. See specific comments below:

>Genetically Modified Food - Not suitable for Vegetarians?
>From: Marcus Williamson
>Bt maize contains a gene from the bacterium ...
>ability to produce a toxin to kill the corn borer, ...
>Thus, a poison is built into the plant itself which kills animals as the
plant is growing.

Essentially every plant out there has the ability to kill insects. If
plants did not have a way to defend themselves against predatory insects,
plant life on earth would have been wiped out eons ago. Some plants simply
taste bad or are too pubescent, and insects prefer to go elsewhere
(antixenosis). Other plants have compounds that kill or adversely affect
insects (antibiosis). Only in those cases where the insect is able to
overcome the plant's natural toxins, is the insect able to eat the plant
at will. For example, many legumes contain trypsin or amylase inhibitors
which inhibit insects. Beans contain lectins that do the same. Other
plants include non-protein amino acids, phenolic compounds, cyanogenic
compounds, etc. Some plants even produce juvenile hormones that prevent
insects from reaching maturity. Examples of other compounds -- all
completely natural, and all presumably evolved to kill insects and/or
other animals-- include things like neem, pyrethrum and strychnine. Other
plants, such as rubber-- produce latex that gum up the insect's digestive
tracts, and makes them unable to feed.

>RoundUp is a herbicide poison, gglyphosate, produced by the
>company Monsanto. It kills all plant life... "RoundUp
>Ready" plants ..spliced with a gene which allows them to survive
>spraying with RoundUp [2]. The effect is what has been called "Green
>Concrete", .. 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 .. the
>plant, are destroyed.

Not so fast. It is quite a leap to go from spraying RoundUp to "all other
... animal life is eliminated." First, Roundup is not known as an animal
killer. Secondly, farmers have been destroying weeds for millennia, be it
by burning (including all animals in the fire's path) or by plowing
(destroying animals who live in the soil's plow layer) or by using the
other herbicides which were in place for the past half-century. Once the
number of weeds reaches an economic threshold, they will be eliminated, as
they have for centuries, whether or not biotech crops are used. As Roundup
Ready soybeans make it easier to engage in no-till agriculture, adoption
of these beans is eliminating the need for soil plowing, and thus helping
preserve animal life in the soil.

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

I would watch what you call "toxin" and "deadly poison" as well. Should we
rename common table salt as "slug poison" and ban its use? How about
chocolate. Chocolate is a well known, deadly dog poison, so shall we get
rid of chocolate as well? Bottom line, plants are full of compounds which
are toxic to one organism or the other. The most genetic engineering can
do is to tie up a loose thread on the fringes of a vast cloth.

I challenge you to find a meal with plants that have never defended
themselves from insects or other animals. Bon appetit!

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Nature Biotechnology: Three Relevant Papers in May 2001 Issue

Ironclad Solution For Boosting Rice

Although at least half of the world's population depends on rice for
nourishment, rice growth and yield is poor in the iron-deficient alkaline
soils of many of the world's arid regions. Researchers in Japan have
addressed this problem by engineering rice plants that are more efficient
at using available iron, resulting in enhanced growth and yield of rice in
alkaline soils.

Iron, nitrogen, and phosphorus are the three nutrients that most commonly
limit plant growth. When grown in alkaline soil, many of the grasses grown
as food crops-rice, corn, and barley, for example-release mugineic acids
such as deoxymugineic acid (DMA), a natural iron chelator that solubilizes
iron for uptake by binding and ferrying it across the root plasma
membrane. Michiko Takahashi and colleagues proposed that rice is
particularly vulnerable to iron deficiency because it produces only
miniscule amounts of DMA.

To test their hypothesis, they introduced into rice two barley genes
encoding enzymes that catalyze DMA biosynthesis. The resulting transgenic
rice plants pumped out larger amounts of DMA than control plants when
grown in iron-deficient soil. Moreover, the engineered plants also showed
better tolerance for low-iron conditions and yielded more than four times
as much grain as controls.

The next step is to target other vulnerable food crops, such as maize and
sorghum.

--------------

Heart-saving Tomatoes

The day when eating pizza is considered part of a healthy lifestyle may
not be too far away: Scientists have developed a healthier tomato that
could prove particularly useful in decreasing risk for cardiovascular
disease.

Antioxidant chemicals called flavonols are thought to protect against
heart disease, slow cellular aging, help combat inflammation, and slow the
growth of certain cancer cells. Although these compounds exist naturally
in tomatoes, the levels are much lower than they are in such foods as
onions and tea.

Martine Verhoeyen and colleagues observed that the rate of flavonol
biosynthesis is limited by the enzyme, chalcone isomerase (CHI). By
inserting a gene that encodes for CHI taken from Petunia plants, which
have high levels of flavonols in their reproductive structures, they
engineered tomatoes with skin that had up to a 78-fold increase in
flavonol levels-an amount in line with that of onions, and a trait that
was inherited over four subsequent generations. Moreover, taste was not
affected and 65% of the beneficial compounds were retained when the
tomatoes were processed into paste, suggesting that this research could
lead to the production of tomato-based products with increased health
benefits.

----
Toward Greener Farm Animals

Pollution of waterways with phosphorus derived from intensive animal
agriculture is becoming a worrisome environmental threat. But now,
research suggests that farm animals could be produced that generate less
phosphorus, potentially creating a cleaner animal industry.

Because livestock cannot digest the organic phosphorus found naturally in
grain, inorganic phosphorus is often added to animal feed to promote
optimal growth. But when excess phosphorus in animal manure enters streams
and lakes, it stimulates algal blooms that kill fish and other aquatic
life. One solution is to fortify animal diets with phytase, an enzyme that
allows animals to metabolize naturally occurring organic phosphorus. This
environment-friendly approach can eliminate the need for inorganic
phosphorus supplementation and reduce the phosphorus content of animal
manure. However, phytase is too costly for widespread use, and the enzyme
tends to degrade during feed production and storage.

To overcome these problems, Cecil Forsberg and his collaborators set out
to produce phytase directly in an animalís digestive tract. Testing the
approach in mice, they showed that expressing a bacterial phytase gene in
the animalís salivary glands reduced fecal phosphorus by about 11%
compared with control mice that did not receive the gene. The researchers
are optimistic that their strategy can be applied to farm animals and are
currently conducting similar studies in pigs.

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The limits of GMO detection

Simon Kay & Guy Van den Eed; Nature Biotechnology, May 2001 Vol 19 No 5
p 405; The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission Institute for
Health and Consumer Protection Food Products Unit I 21020 Ispra, Italy
(e-mail: simon.kay@jrc.it).

The European Union recently introduced legislation 1 stipulating the
mandatory labeling of food products with a GMO content greater than 1%.
(The regulation(s) don't specify whether this is weight per weight or any
other unit.) Thus far, most discussions concerning the methods used for
sampling have focused on sampling requirements outside of the laboratory;
for example, how to procure GMO seeds from a grain shipment? Scant
attention has been paid to sampling problems that lie further down the
analytical chain—that is, variability in the proportions of GMO to non-GMO
DNA in replicate "homogenized" laboratory samples. We believe this has
serious implications for the practicability of GMO detection in foods.

The first problem in any DNA sampling protocol is defining the limits of
detection. The amount of unreplicated haploid genome (i.e., the 1C value)
present in a sample is useful for relating genome copy number to the
amount of sample taken. For example, up to 36,697 copies of the haploid
Zea mays genome (which we will use here for all examples below) are
present in a typical 100 ng DNA analytical sample, given the 1C value of
2.725 picograms3. It follows that a single copy of the haploid Z. mays
genome in a 100 ng DNA sample is present at a level of 0.0027% (wt/wt).
Levels of DNA below this threshold simply cannot be detected reliably in
samples of this size.

A second problem is sampling error. This occurs in a perfectly homogeneous
preparation, even if a large amount (say, 50 g) of DNA is extracted from a
laboratory sample and simple random sampling procedures4 are adopted. As
the amount of DNA extracted from the sample becomes lower, sampling error
becomes (proportionally) larger. Thus, replicate 100 ng DNA samples
containing GMO material at a level of 0.1% (wt/wt) would produce GMO DNA
estimates no better than 30% of the mean value, 95% of the time—a poor
level of accuracy, even if we ignore other types of error inherent in a
real analytical system.

To illustrate this, we use the cumulative distribution function for the
binomial distribution5 to calculate the probable range of GMO genome
copies that would be "sampled" in a single-step procedure—that is, from a
(large) laboratory sample of "known" low content (0.1% GMO) into a series
of 100 ng analytical samples. Although on average, the analytical samples
should contain 36.7 GMO genome copies, in fact the number of GMO copies
ranges from 25 to 48, with a 94.3% probability. Thus, the actual DNA
content that would be observed in a single sample, with an 95%
probability, would range from 0.068% to 0.131%; the probability of
sampling exactly 36 GMO copies (i.e., 0.1% content) in a single analytical
sample is only 0.066.

With lower levels of DNA, the problem is even more critical. For a
laboratory sample containing DNA at a level of 0.01%, the 100 ng
analytical sample would vary between 0.0027% and 0.0191% nearly 95% of the
time. These calculations obviously refer to a "best possible" result, as
they assume a single sampling step and a perfect analytical system.

When undertaking a dilution series, the assumption of simple random
sampling may no longer be valid, as the number of copies available becomes
strictly finite. Indeed, the number of copies used to prepare subsequent
dilutions heavily influences the sampling error associated with the
series. Consequently, the preparation of any dilution series must be
undertaken in such a way as to minimize this bias; ideally, dilutions
should be made from the primary laboratory sample. Unfortunately, we note
that some equipment manuals actually encourage the construction of the
series without recognizing this problem.

The classical solution to the issue of sampling error is to undertake
repetitions and/or use appropriately sized (i.e., larger) analytical
samples. We recommend that in the construction of a dilution series—for
example, for determination of "limit of detection" of a method, or for the
generation of standard curves—the nominal number of GMO copies in the
weakest dilution of analytical sample should be set to 20, thus providing
good statistical probability that all repetitions contain relevant DNA
(Table 1).

However, we are aware of important studies that seem to draw conclusions
without such safeguards, despite explicitly working with copy numbers.
Several international standards for PCR analysis of GMO in foodstuffs,
currently under development, draw attention to sample sizes in the
procurement of material for the laboratory sample, but in general do not
address the issues of sampling associated with the analytical sample. We
believe there is insufficient acknowledgment that repeated analytical
samples drawn from a "homogenized" laboratory sample would not have
identical proportions of GMO/non-GMO copies.

REFERENCES
1. European Commission. Official Journal L 006, 13-14 (2000).
2. Hübner, P., Studer, E. & Lüthy, J. Nat. Biotechnol. 17, 1137-1138
(1999). | Article | PubMed |
3. http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/cval/database1.html.
4. Cochran, W.G. Sampling techniques. (Wiley, New York, NY; 1977).
5. Forthofer, R.N & Lee E.S. Introduction to biostatistics. (Academic
Press, San Diego, CA; 1995).

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Unpublished Letter to 'Science' Re: Wolfenbarger and Pfifer

From: "Henry I. Miller" , James Cook and
Susanne Huttner

To the Editor of Science:

Ostensibly attempting to evaluate the "ecological risks and benefits of
genetically engineered plants," Wolfenbarger and Phifer (1) have ignored
incontrovertible theoretical and experimental evidence of the safety and
utility of these products. Moreover, their focus on "transgenic" plants,
defined unproductively as those that contain genes transferred across
species lines -- but only when this has been accomplished by recombinant
DNA techniques -- ignores the scientific consensus about recombinant
organisms as a "category." The National Research Council addressed this
issue in a 1989 analysis: "[N]o conceptual distinction exists between
genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or
by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes. . . Crops
modified by molecular and cellular methods should pose risks no different
from those modified by classical genetic methods for similar traits" (2).

Millions of new genetic variants of plants produced through hybridization,
mutagenesis and other traditional methods of genetic improvement are field
tested each year, and dozens enter the marketplace (without governmental
review or labeling). Many such products are from "wide crosses,"
hybridizations in which genes have been moved from one species or one
genus to another to create a plant variety that does not exist in nature.
For example, Triticum agropyrotriticum is a man-made "species" which
resulted from combining genes from bread wheat and a grass sometimes
called quackgrass or couchgrass. Possessing all the chromosomes of wheat
and one extra whole genome from the quackgrass, T. agropyrotriticum has
been independently produced in the former Soviet Union, Canada, United
States, France, Germany and China, and is grown for both forage and grain.

Why are such "non-molecular transgenic" varieties (as they might be
called) -- of which there are thousands in commerce not considered by
Wolfenbarger and Phifer?

The authors invoke the old ecologists' tautology that "the complexity of
ecological systems presents considerable challenges for experiments to
assess the risks and benefits and inevitable uncertainties of genetically
engineered plants," and it is hardly surprising that they conclude about
recombinant transgenic plants that no conclusions can be drawn, that
"collectively, existing studies emphasize that [risks and benefits] can
vary spatially, temporally, and according to the trait and cultivar
modified" (1). In other words, exactly what scientists know to be true
about plants modified with any genetic technique.

As a two-part example of the ecological benefits of recombinant DNA
technology, Wolfenbarger and Phifer might have considered the use of
designer genes to make designer jeans. The two principal components of
blue jeans are, of course, cotton fabric and the indigo die that confers
the characteristic color, both of which can now be produced with
ecologically-friendly recombinant DNA techniques.

Bt-cotton is used to control several major pests, the cotton and pink
bollworm and the tobacco budworm, which account for a quarter of all
losses due to pest infestations in the United States and cost farmers more
than $150 million annually. In 1999, states that had a high rate of
adoption of Bt-cotton showed a significant reduction in the need to treat
fields with chemical pesticides. Treatments were cut from an average of
three treatments per acre to about one and a half. Bt-cotton has
eliminated the need for more than two million pounds of chemical
pesticides since it was introduced in 1996.

The advantages of this significant reduction in the use of chemical
pesticides? In purely economic terms, Bt-cotton produces benefits to
farmers both by reducing the need to apply chemical pesticides and by
increasing the yield of cotton. Bt-cotton provides the highest per acre
monetary benefits to farmers of all the Bt-containing crops, which include
corn and soybeans. The aggregate advantage to cotton farmers nationally
=97 the net value of crops not lost to pests, savings in pesticides and so
on -- is in the range of $100-150 million per year.

But this pales beside the environmental advantages. According to
environmental regulators, aquatic wildlife are threatened by three of the
chemicals that must be used in much greater amounts on conventional,
non-Bt-cotton -- endosulfan, methyl parathion and profenos.

The adoption of Bt-cotton and the resulting lessened need for chemical
pesticides also reduces occupational exposures to the toxic chemicals by
workers who mix, load and apply the pesticides, and who perform other
activities that require their presence in the field. (Homo sapiens are
also part of ecology.) Moreover, the less pesticides that are applied, the
less runoff into waterways, a significant problem in many of the nation's
agricultural regions.

Cotton is only half the story when we're talking about blue jeans,
however. The standard process for producing the indigo dye is an
ecological and occupational monstrosity. Synthetic indigo production
involves eight discrete operations, and uses and produces highly toxic
chemicals. The process requires special precautions and physical
facilities to protect workers and the environment. By contrast, the
process of making indigo with a recombinant bacterium involves only three
operations, uses water instead of toxic organic solvents, employs corn
syrup (which is safe and cheap) as the primary substrate, and yields
byproducts (biomass and carbon dioxide) instead of waste products (3).

Certainly, neither the risks nor the benefits of recombinant DNA are
"certain or universal." But ecologists Wolfenbarger and Phifer seem not to
see the forest for the trees. Recombinant DNA technology offers a
powerful, precise, predictable tool that can be used to great scientific,
commercial -- and ecological -- advantage.
----
Henry I. Miller*, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
R. James Cook, Endowed Chair in Wheat Research, Washington State University
Susanne L. Huttner, Associate Vice Provost for Research, University of
California
*Corresponding author
---
REFERENCES
1. L.L. Wolfenbarger and P.R. Phifer. The Ecological Risks and Benefits
of Genetically Engineered Plants. Science 290, 2088-2093 (2000). 2. US
National Research Council. Field Testing Genetically Modified Organisms:
Framework for Decisions. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1989. 3.
H. Bialy. Biotechnology, bioremediation, and blue jeans. Nature
Biotechnology 15, 110 (1997).

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From: "R. Zimmermann"
Subject: Informations needed on seeds with vitamine A

I read with interest the paper of Howarth E. Bouis (AgBioView 15.04.01)
"The Role of Biotechnology for Food Consumers In Developing Countries" My
question related to this paper is: do seeds containing vitamin A (Golden
Rice for example), have also an agronomic effects (yielding effects) such
better germination, better seedling vigor, more resistance to infection
during the vulnerable seedling stage like seeds containing zinc or iron?
------
Response from CSP: To my knowledge, golden rice has not been grown beyond
greenhouse and thus these traits are yet to be determined.

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Genetically altered crop gets test in Amish country

- George Strawley, The Associated Press via New Jersey Online
http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=newsletter&topic_id=1&subtopic_id=1&doc_id=1015

GAP, Pa. (AP) -- As he rested four Belgian horses in the shade before
riding his cart out to spread more manure on his fields, Amish farmer
Daniel Dienner Jr. saw no conflict between his traditional values and the
genetically engineered tobacco he expects to plant.

"I myself like biotechnology," Dienner, 41, said from beneath the brim of
his straw hat. "I feel it's what the farmers will be using in the future.
There's a lot of technology out there that I feel we're just right on the
edge of. ... I think it's exciting."

Modified to contain a gene that inhibits nicotine, the tobacco to be
planted by Dienner and other Amish farmers in and around Lancaster next
month will be bought by a company that wants to produce a virtually
nicotine-free cigarette by early next year. The approximately 550 farmers
also hope it will help them preserve their rustic ways. Amish trace their
roots to Jakob Amman, who broke with the Mennonite church in Europe in the
17th century. Followers still dress in the plain manner prescribed by him,
with untrimmed beards for men and bonnets for women, and strict adherents
shun any technology deemed by church leaders as divisive to the community.

Growers elsewhere have shied from the tobacco, mainly because they fear
the economic consequences if the genetically modified tobacco mixes with
other varieties. Such is not the case in Pennsylvania, where tobacco
production has dwindled from 20.8 million pounds in 1991 to 11.2 million
pounds in 1999, the latest year for which figures are available. The
overwhelming majority of Pennsylvania tobacco is grown in Lancaster
County, mostly by Amish and members of a similar sect within the Mennonite
church. "The demand just hasn't been here the last couple of years," said
Dennis Hess, a tobacco auctioneer. With the drop in demand comes a fall in
prices. Dienner, for instance, said he went to Maryland the last three
years to sell his harvest because he could do far better there than in
Pennsylvania, where prices dipped as low as 50 cents a pound. This year,
Vector Tobacco is paying $1.50 a pound for the new tobacco, guaranteed by
contract.

"It seems too good to be true that a company would want to come out here
and offer something like this, but time will tell," said Dienner, a cigar
smoker. Growers in big tobacco states feared the damage that could be
inflicted on their European exports if even a tiny amount of the
genetically modified crop mingled with other varieties, said Tim Jackson,
Vector's vice president of operations. European countries are "very
averse" to genetically modified crops and would likely restrict imports if
the integrity of the product they buy was even slightly threatened,
Jackson said.

No such worries existed in Pennsylvania, where farmers produce little
tobacco that leaves the country, said Jackson, whose company is counting
on its Omni Free brand finding a niche with longtime smokers who want to
reduce or eliminate their habit. Vector Tobacco is a subsidiary of the
Vector Group, which also owns the Liggett Group, the nation's
fifth-largest cigarette manufacturer. "We felt it was an opportunity to
provide them with a good economic crop and at the same time have a good,
experienced group of farmers produce our tobacco," Jackson said.

The company is also working with farmers in Illinois, Mississippi and
Louisiana, none of which are traditional tobacco producers, Jackson said.
The farmers in other states are not members of any particular sect, he
said. For the Amish, tobacco -- which is still farmed much the same as it
was a century ago -- is both a cash crop and a particularly good fit with
their familial ways. Most of the Pennsylvania farmers are from the
German-descended Amish or Mennonite communities, with some others -- known
in local parlance as "English" -- also participating. Dienner, his wife
and seven children, aged 7 to 17, invest hour after hour in their crop.
They will hand-plant 52,000 seedlings provided by the company, harvest the
plants 12 weeks later, and strip the stalks after the leaves dry in the
tobacco shed.

Dienner said his youngest children are particularly useful in stripping,
which requires them to remove about 17 leaves from each stalk, thus
freeing older family members for other tasks. "I grew up with tobacco," he
said. "I feel that's one of the things that helped me learn responsibility
and work. It teaches a whole family to work." As for the money, Hess said
farmers can earn from $2,500 to $3,500 an acre for the Vector tobacco,
compared to between $300 and $400 for corn.

Technologies like genetic modification of crops are not inconsistent with
the tradition-bound life of the Amish, said Don Kraybill, a professor at
Messiah College who studies the sect. Rather, members reject innovations
like automobiles or mechanized tractors that undercut the community and
its work ethic or tie the community too closely to the outside world,
Kraybill said. Inventions that make the community more productive --
pesticides, for instance -- are cautiously accepted, he said. "They really
try to control the technology rather than have the technology control
them," Kraybill said.

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

Organic diet called 'elitist and arrogant'

Salt Lake City Desert News
http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,270015308,00.html

Because the USDA recently issued the first comprehensive set of national
standards for organic foods, you may finally be able to trust product
labels to tell you just how "organic" those foods really are. But that
doesn't mean you're any more likely to think they're worth the price.

There are many well-informed naysayers who think that, at best, buying
organic is foolish. "The only thing healthy about organic food is the
price," snaps Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on
Science and Health, an independent, nonprofit group of doctors and
scientists.

Whelan thinks that the organic movement is "like a cult," perpetuating
lies about the dangers of biotechnology. Whelan also believes that pushing
people to adopt an organic diet is "elitist and arrogant" because it's
often more expensive and because new production tools that are shunned by
the organic movement give agriculture the productivity potential to feed
the world's hungry.

It's true that organic products can be costly. At a Fresh Fields market in
Washington, D.C., organic bananas were recently 99 cents a pound, while
conventional ones were just 58 cents a pound. A half-gallon of organic
milk was $2.69, and eight organic eggs cost $2.29. That's $1.10 and $1.44,
respectively, more than their non-organic counterparts in a nearby
grocery. The higher prices, farmers say, are the result of the increased
work required to grow crops without heavy-duty pesticides and to raise
livestock following strict guidelines.

So what are the real benefits of buying organic apples at $1.29 a pound,
especially when there are cheaper, glossier fruits on the neighboring
shelf?

Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association,
says that by eating organically grown food, you're helping the environment
and improving your health. But she concedes that, officially, organic
certification doesn't mean the food is safer. Still, organic supporters
insist that it makes sense to avoid certain chemicals, and the government
agrees.

The Office of Children's Health Protection at the Environmental Protection
Agency declares that "children are at greater risk of pesticide exposure
than most adults," and goes on to warn that "pesticides may cause a range
of harmful health effects," including cancer and injury to the nervous
system, lungs and immune system. But Dean Cliver, professor of food safety
at the University of California-Davis, believes there's no scientific
evidence that organic products are healthier. It's just a mystique, he
says, that misleads the gung-ho organic crowd into thinking that all
that's natural must be good.