AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org; Archived at http://agbioview.listbot.com
Date: May 02 2001 12:12:13 EDT
From: Chuck Benbrook
Subject: Response to Aple Post
Andrew Aple's post earlier today voices frustration over why the food
industry and consumers have not seen the bright light of biotech as
illuminating the one and true path. His not-serious solution is for
Monsanto to buy up food companies and market food advertised on the basis
of the "advantages" of GMO varieties.
Andrew seems to be missing much of the new science that is emerging.
There are, for example, major problems on the Roundup Ready soybean front
-- not affecting food safety and consumers, at least in any
way I know of, but certainly impacting farmers and the environment.
Recent evidence published in Agronomy Journal (King et al., "Plant growth
and nitrogenase activity of glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in response to
foliar application," Vol. 93, pages 179-186; the full text of this very
important new study is freely accessible from the Agronomy Journal site).
This report shows that the Roundup sprayed over RR soybeans slows down
root development and nodulation, and hence N-fixation, because the
bacteria responsible for nodulation is very sensitive to Roundup. The
impact is not too serious in fields where there is ample moisture and
fertile soils; the plants grow out of the depression. But when conditions
are not ideal, the stunted root development and nodulation has season-long
impacts and can
depress yields, since the bacteria responsible for N-fixation also tends
to shut down in the face of drought stress.
There is also new evidence that under some combinations of stress, RR
soybean plant aromatic amino acid levels are temporally depressed,
probably most significantly soon after a Roundup application, thereby
muting or delaying normal plant defense responses; the result can open a
window for opportunistic soil-borne pathogens. This mechanism likely
accounts for some of the heightened disease losses seen the last few years
across the Cornbelt. The lesson -- GMO varieties often can and do perform
well under more or less ideal conditions, but under stress from pests or
abiotic factors, the plant's normal physiological responses are, in a
variety of complex ways, screwing up the expression of various regulatory
proteins that in turn either govern plant defenses/responses or control
the expression of the desired GMO trait. For more on both these new
problems are RR soybeans, see a new report we are releasing tomorrow
3) via our website (go to what's new, http://www.biotech-info.net). And
by the way, the new report presents the first-ever analysis of actual
field-level U.S. herbicide data on RR soybeans in contrast to conventional
varieties, and should settle once and for all the debate re whether RR
beans reduce pesticide use measured in pounds of active ingredient applied
per acre (at least for those that pay attention to data).
And on the Bt-transgenic corn front, Andrew also laments the delays
occurring in approval of Cry3Bb corn for rootworm. So Andrew, have you
looked at the Cry3Bb endotoxin expression levels in various tissues of MON
863 transformed corn, like the grain, pollen and leaf tissues, and
compared expression levels to earlier approved Bt corn events, or to
levels likely to hammer nontargets? And if biotech is so precise, why are
the Cry3Bb expression levels much higher in corn plant tissues where it
does no good and poses risks to nontargets, compared to the tissues where
it can and no doubt will do some good (roots)?
Look at the new data in Monsanto's recent submission and you will see why
Cry3Bb corn is not going anywhere fast, except back to the lab. For those
who want more details on this, see comments from UCS on the recent
Monsanto application that will be submitted to EPA Thursday, and
accessible on their website and on Ag BioTech InfoNet by Friday.
Andrew, I agree with you that some of the GMO-food "problems" that get
covered, and which consumers fear, are overblown and probably not worth
losing sleep over, but I also think there is a body of evidence emerging
that raises important, profound structural questions regarding whether
today's GMOs are really going to make the grade, agronomically and
ecologically. The biotech industry's future depends greatly on whether it
honestly confronts these problems and deals with them in a reasoned way,
guided by and true to the favored mantra, "sound science." But if biotech
proponents keep attacking the scientists that do this work and those that
bring this information to a wider audience, the loss of public confidence
will accelerate and when and as more sustainable and beneficial
applications come along, the public will not be interested or terribly
open to the assurances that "these GMO foods are different..."
Charles Benbrook Ag BioTech InfoNet <http://www.biotech-info.net>
Benbrook Consulting Services CU FQPA site <http://www.ecologic-ipm.com>
5085 Upper Pack River Road IPM site <http://www.pmac.net>
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864
Date: 2 May 2001 23:57:11 -0000
From: Charles Rader
Andrew Apel has suggested that the only way for biotech companies to
get their foods to the public is to concentrate on products with consumer
On the whole he may be right.
But there is another approach I think the companies should consider.
Make biotech seeds available for the backyard gardener.
There are many people, including me, who plant a few rows of beans or
tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, whatever. We're not much
interested in the economics. We can't grow our food as cheaply as we could
buy it, although we do appreciate getting it ultra-fresh. But we have all
the problems with insects, viruses and fungi as anyone else. Furthermore,
since we aren't trained to use poisons, lots of us avoid them as much as
Every year I have to pick zucchini borers out of my plants before they are
killed -- I usually miss a few anyway ant the plant dies more than a month
before it owuld be frost killed. If anyone would sell me Bt zucchini I'd
be very grateful.
Now the big companies aren't going to make much money selling seeds to
backyard gardeners. In fact, they might as well just give them away.
But think of the value as advertising.
1) When the backyard gardener sees how much healthier his plants are,
he's going to become an ambassador, telling all his gardening friends
about the great new variety of zucchini, etc.
2) When the neighborhood Luddite tries to tell the backyard gardener
that he's growing something poisonous, the gardener has a natural
emotional reason to contradict the Luddite.
3) Same as (2) with regard to the environment.
4) Gardeners have friends. Some belong to gardening clubs, etc. They
will spread the word to many other people. Burpees and the other seed
companies that cater to backyard gardeners will begin getting inquiries
about GM seed, balancing the flood of inquiries they now get about
certified organic seed.
5) When Greenpeace protesters try to tear up my zucchini plants,
they'll find themselves sprayed with certified organic red dye.
Our big problem has been that the anti GMO group, while few in number,
have been busier and more zealous than we. Providing seed for backyard
gardeners might be an easy way to raise a few zealots of our own.
Biotech and You! A New Online Magazine
From: "Council for Biotechnology Information "
The Council for Biotechnology Information announces its newest addition to
Whybiotech.com, the online magazine Biotech and You!
Biotech and You! will feature monthly articles of interest to the general
consumer audience about advances in food biotechnology, online polls about
biotech issues, and a feature page written by farmers, researchers and
others in the biotech community. In our launch issue, Donna Winters, a
cotton farmer in Louisiana, discusses how biotechnology affects her crops
and the environment. Additionally, feature articles include topics such
as edible vaccines and citrus canker. Visitors to the site will then be
able to share their opinions in online polls.
To review the new online magazine, please go to http://www.whybiotech.com
and click the Biotech and You! icon.
From: Meredith Lloyd Evans - BioBridge
Subject: Telltale traces
To: The Editor New Scientist
'Telltale traces' [NS 14 April 2001 page 16] deals with the monitoring of
foods for traces of GM products. Setting aside the incongruities that
organic crops and food materials are allowed to contain as much as 5% or
more 'contamination' with non-organic materials, and carry far more
bacterial and 'foreign' DNA than GM or conventional sprayed crops, and the
reality that eating GM DNA is no more dangerous than eating cooked and raw
foods of different types at the same time (e.g. meat and salad), it is
important to stress that Genetic ID, the laboratory named in the article
as casting doubt on official government monitoring, is not an independent
and disinterested organisation. It has links with anti-technology and
anti-GM groups with beliefs that are closer to X-files and discredited
'bio'-theories than to serious monitoring science. Genetic ID's activities
are based on anti-GM policies and their work and pronouncements should
always be understood in this context. They do not operate to a null
hypothesis but to a 'no-GM' propaganda. It is hardly surprising that
other, independent, laboratories, often fail to replicate their findings.
Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans, Managing Partner Arcadia International eeig; 45
St Barnabas Road, Cambridge CB1 2BX tel +44 1223 566850, fax +44 1223
Survey of Tortilla Chips and Taco Shells for GMOs Completed
Food Safety Authority of Ireland
May 2, 2001
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today announced details of a
survey to determine the levels of genetically modified (GM) maize
ingredients in tortilla chips and taco shells on sale in Ireland. The
Survey of Tortilla Chips and Taco Shells for Genetically Modified
Ingredients was undertaken by the FSAI to determine the level of GM
contents in various foods and to ensure that industry is adhering to food
labelling regulations. This is the first in a series of planned surveys by
the FSAI and forms part of its new responsibilities as the competent
authority for novel food, including genetically modified food, in Ireland.
Results show that GM maize ingredients were present in 19 of the 26
samples tested, with the majority having levels below 0.1% - considerably
less than the 1% threshold level that triggers the labelling requirement.
According to Dr Patrick O'Mahony, Chief Specialist, Biotechnology, FSAI
there are no known health implications arising from the presence of the GM
ingredients identified in these products.
Of the 19 positive samples, 8 contained trace levels of GM DNA that were
too low to be quantified. The remaining 11 contained slightly higher
levels - one contained 0.5% GM maize, another contained 0.4%, and all
other samples contained less than 0.1%. Although 19 GM positive samples
were detected, no unlicensed GM maize was positively identified in this
"EU labelling regulations relating to GM foods require that foods
containing genetically modified ingredients at or above the 1% threshold,
must have clear labelling to indicate that it contains GM ingredients. As
none of the samples in this study were found to contain GM maize at, or
above the threshold limit of 1%, specific GM labelling was not required on
these food products. All brands tested therefore were fully compliant with
the relevant legislation", said Dr O'Mahony. "The regulations do stipulate
however, that for food products below the 1% threshold level, industry
must be able to prove that the food product came from a non-GM source and
that if any GM is found, it is as a result of incidental contamination.
The FSAI is satisfied that all food from the Irish manufacturers tested in
this survey were in compliance with this regulation".
"This initial study focused on 15 brands of tortilla chips and taco shells
on sale in Ireland following claims made in the US and UK that
unauthorised maize ingredients had been detected in similar foods", said
Dr O'Mahony. "Any traces of GM maize that were individually identified are
all varieties that have been approved for food use within the EU and,
therefore have already undergone rigorous food safety assessment".
Currently there is no specific European legislation relating to the use of
labelling claims such as 'GM-free'. This labelling falls under the general
requirements of the food labelling regulations, under which false or
misleading claims to the consumer are prohibited. Therefore, a food
containing GM ingredients, but labelled to indicate or suggest that it is
'GM-free' may be in breach of this legislation. Although none of the foods
sampled in this survey were specifically labelled as 'GM-free', one
product bore the statement 'No Genetically Modified Corn Used' on the
packaging. Analysis showed that the product in question contained less
than 0.1% of a particular GM maize variety and thus, for the reasons
outlined above, the labelling could be considered to be misleading.
The FSAI has contacted the retailers, suppliers and manufacturers whose
products were included in the survey to inform them of the test results
and to ensure industry's compliance with regard to GM labelling under the
relevant EU regulations. These regulations are currently being transposed
into Irish law. This survey and others planned for the future, constitute
part of the FSAI's duty to ensure that only EU licensed GM foods are
available in Ireland and that such foods display the appropriate labelling
The survey is available in our Industry section.
For PDF version go to http://www.fsai.ie/industry/tortilla_survey.pdf.
Note to editors:
The Irish Government regulates all aspects of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) and derived products through the co-operative efforts of
the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development
The role of the FSAI is to regulate food derived from or containing GMOs,
the EPA are responsible for licensing any live GMOs and their release in
to the environment and DAFRD deal with GMOs present in seed for
cultivation and animal feed. Together with the State Laboratory in
Abbotstown, who are the national laboratory for GMO testing, and analysis,
the three organisations meet regularly to discuss overlapping issues on
the control of GM material in food, feed and seed.
Genetically Engineered Tomato Is 'Heart-Smart'
May 2, 2001
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Imagine a day when eating spaghetti sauce or
pizza will give you an extra antioxidant boost, possibly decreasing your
risk of heart disease.
That scenario may not be so far-fetched, according to British scientists
at Unilever Research. They have inserted a gene from the petunia into
tomatoes, boosting the production of flavonoids, a class of potent
antioxidants that may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
These heart-smart chemicals naturally occur in tomato skins and other
foods, lead investigator Martine Verhoeyen and colleagues report in the
May issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology. The inserted petunia gene
increases flavonoid production almost 78-fold in the peels of the
tomatoes--a level on par with that seen in onions.
``Flavonoids are a group of plant secondary metabolites thought to possess
health-promoting properties. They occur naturally in fruits, vegetables,
nuts, seeds and flowers, and therefore form an integral part of the human
diet,'' the authors write. Several ``studies suggest that increased
consumption of flavonoids, as part of a balanced diet, may help to protect
against cardiovascular disease.''
The gene inserted into the tomatoes codes for an enzyme, chalcone
isomerase, that increases flavonoid biosynthesis, Verhoeyen and colleagues
note. So far, the researchers have been able to grow four generations of
the plants with the new gene.
It may be several years before these ``super'' tomatoes reach the local
grocer, according to Verhoeyen. The tomatoes retained 65% of the
beneficial flavonoid compounds when processed into paste, representing a
21-fold increase over regular tomato pastes, the authors note. What's
more, a taste test showed the bioengineered fruits tasted no different
than normal tomatoes.
``There is considerable interest in the development of food products from
plants rich in protective vitamins or other compounds with potential
health benefits,'' the authors write. ''These new varieties of tomato may
offer opportunities for tomato-based products with an expanded range of
potential health benefits.''
SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology 2001;19:470-474.