Dear Prof. DeGregori,
I have just finished reading your article "Genetically Modified
Nonsense," which I enjoyed and found very informative. I found it
while in the process of seeking evidence in an argument with a friend
of mine. (We began this argument when she wrote a letter to a local
newspaper columnist because she was horrified when she found an ugly
strain of daisies in the supermarket, and she was convinced that they
were genetically modified. I attempted to explain that it was
unlikely that anyone had spent millions of dollars in research money
and the years that it would take to genetically engineer ugly
Essentially, my counter argument covered most of the points made in
your article, but I was arguing in generalities, whereas your article
is extraordinarily well-referenced. I must thank you for your
assistance in this painfully silly argument.
In the process of seeking this information, I also came across a
number of anti-GM websites. The one with the most "references" (I am
not going to bother to check them, especially since they are not
actually listed at the end of the article) is one at Greenpeace:
I'm no professor of genetics (as I gather you are not, either;
"professor of Economics" it says on your UH bio; you seem to know
what you're talking about, though, with respect to genetics), but
some of the info in this page seems to me to be absolute nonsense
with no scientific basis. I'm curious if you can concur. The first
thing which REALLY leapt out at me as being nonsense was this (I'm
modifying the format slightly, because it's not cut-pasting very
The contrasts between the assumptions of the old paradigm with the
findings of new molecular genetics within the past 20 years are given
The Old Genetics
1. Genes determine characters in a linear, uni-directional and
2. Genes and genomes are stable, and except for rare, random mutations,
are passed on un-changed to the next generation
3. Genes and genomes cannot change directly in response to the
4. Genes are passed on vertically, i.e., as the result of
inter breeding within the species, each species constituting an
isolated 'gene pool'
The New Genetics
1) Genes function in a complex and non-linear network - the action of
each gene ultimately linked with that of every other; causation is
circular and multi-dimensional
2) Genes and genomes are dynamic and fluid, they can change in the course
of development, and subject to feedback metabolic regulation
3) Genes and genomes can change directly in response to the environment,
these changes being inherited in subsequent generations
4)Genes are also passed horizontally between unrelated species, so that
any gene in any species has a finite probability of being transferred to
any other species.
Now, it's been a while (five years) since I studied genetics and
biochemistry, but my recollection is that NONE of the "New Genetics"
is true. Point #1 could be argued to a limited degree, simply because
it's true that many traits are complex protein interactions, not the
result of one protein (coded by one gene). Point #2, while it doesn't
sound entirely unreasonable (that something like maternal factors
could modify genetic expression or even stimulate mutations doesn't
seem totally incomprehensible), but it certainly doesn't fit with
anything I learned. Point #3, however, is absolute nonsense as far as
everything I learned (or remember, anyway) about genetics. Point #4
is also something which I have never heard, and which seems HIGHLY
unlikely to me. In single-celled creatures, I can imagine the
possibility of horizontal gene transfer, but definitely not in a
complex organism like humans, and it seems pretty unlikely in plants,
too (I'm speculating, though, I don't actually have any idea).
At any rate, I'm sure you're a busy guy, and you may not have time to
respond to this message. If so, I certainly understand. If you can
find the time, though, I'd be curious to hear your impressions of
these points, and if you have time to read the Greenpeace article,
I'd be curious to hear your feedback.
Thanks, and keep up the good work.
From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: Re: Greenpeace and GM foods
I completely agree with your assessment of the Greenpeace posting. It
is important to note that it was Jeremy Rifkin who first put
Greenpeace onto the GM food issue and Greenpeace saw a money spinner
there. Rifkin is a charlatan par excellence. He has had the chutzpa
to write a book titled Entropy while clearly not knowing the first
thing about thermodynamics. The fact that the book has been widely
used in classes and has been translated into many languages, shows
how far the anti-science post-modernist rhetoric has destroyed
critical thinking for a large section of the population.
Rifkin is going around the world telling everyone who will listen
that biotechnology and modern genomics are 19th century science and
that the real action is in such things as dissipative structures and
chaos theory about which I would venture, he knows nothing. After all
in a book on entropy, he conveniently ignores the fact that the earth
has a source of negative entropy, it is called the sun by us
earthlings. That Rifkin has not noticed its existence tells us
something about where his head is.
The Role of Biotechnology in Agriculture
Conference 31st May and 1st June 2001
The U.S. Embassy, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and
Queen Mary (both of the University of London) along with the Royal
Agricultural College are hosting a Conference from May 31 - June 1, 2001
entitled: "Seeds of Opportunity: The role of Biotechnology in
Agriculture." The venue for the conference is in central London, at the
Brunei Gallery, SOAS.
Agricultural biotechnology is probably the most contentious food issue
facing the UK and Europe. The "Seeds of Opportunity" conference will bring
together leading international figures in agricultural biotechnology in
order to demystify this technology and to discuss its potential advantages
and disadvantages. Two Nobel Laureates will speak at the conference:
Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and "Father of the Green
Revolution" and Professor Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize Winner in
Chemistry. Another theme that will be discussed at the conference is the
importance of increasing the public's understanding of science and raising
their awareness of scientific achievement.
The conference will be broken into three sections: (1) the environment;
(2) the consumer; and (3) the developing world and "pharming." To keep the
speakers on their toes, commentary will be given at the end of each
section by a distinguished journalist.
Participation will be broad-based, including leading policy makers;
eminent academics; top scientists; senior business figures from the food
and biotechnology industries; notable farmers; and representatives from
consumer organizations, environmental groups and the news media. A highly
participatory and robust debate is anticipated - don't miss it!
We look forward to seeing you in London on May 31, 2001!
For further information please contact: Andrew Kendall, Conference
For conference updates please re-visit http://www.seedsofopportunity.com
John Alliston, Vice Chairman of the Conference
Dr Ariel Alvarez-Morales
Charles J Arntzen, PH.D
Dr Phil Dale
Professor Paul Davies, Vice Chairman of the Conference
Dr Rosie Hails
Professor Brian Heap
Deirdre Hutton, CBE
Dr Margaret Karembu
Professor Sir Harold Kroto
Professor Conrad Paul Lichtenstein, Vice Chairman of the Conference
Ambassador George S. McGovern
Sir Robert May
Dr. C. S. Prakash, Professor
Professor Philip Stott - Chairman of the Conference
Sir Crispin Tickell
Professor Andrew Watkinson
Professor Michael Wilson
You can easily register for the "Seeds of Opportunity" conference by
downloading the Registration Form in a pdf format at:
Enter the relevant details and fax it to the Conference Administrator at
+44 (0) 207 730 1390.
Alternatively, you can post the completed form to:
132 Edbury Street,
On confirmation of payment you will receive an official invitation which
you will need to present when you register.
Sowing Seeds Of Doubt
Country Life Magazine, letter
Thank you for acknowledging that 'there is no risk to human health' from
genetically modified crops ('Agromenes' 12/04/01). Unfortunately the rest
of this article, covering the Percy Schmeiser v Monsanto case, was
astoundingly one sided and full of inaccuracies. (see
Percy Schmeiser, head of the corporation Schmeiser Enterprises Ltd., was
apparently 'horrified' to discover that pollen from a neighbouring farm
had blown onto his land and seeded it with Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola.
This is completely untrue. Samples from the 1,030 acres of canola grown
by Schmeiser were independently tested and found to consist of 95% to 98%
Roundup Ready canola. It is simply not possible that this quantity could
have come from wind drift. On top of this, the closest neighbour growing
the crop was over 5 miles away.
Over 20,000 Canadian farmers plant Roundup Ready canola and they are all
willing to pay for the benefits. This case protects these honest farmers
who play by the rules and pay for the licensing of the beneficial
technology they use.
Corporate Affairs Director, Monsanto UK Ltd
International Symposium on Agricultural Trade
From: Len Carey
I invite participants of Agbioview to attend an International
Symposium on Agricultural Trade, May 14-15, 2001, at the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library in
The Symposium will feature four panels-each with an expert from the
United States and one from England, plus a discussant-presenting
differing perspectives on significant policy issues or barriers to
international trade in agricultural products-genetically modified
organisms and biosafety, the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property (TRIPS) including trade related to
biotechnology, multifunctionality, and agriculture and the environment
Our objective with each panel is to have a thorough discussion of
these perspectives. Therefore, we are inviting you or someone of your
choosing to join a knowledgeable and interested audience from among
USDA agencies, U.S. agricultural trade associations, and other
organizations interested in international agricultural trade issues.
As part of the invited audience, you will have ample opportunity to
participate in the discussions.
The symposium is cosponsored by the National Agricultural Library and
by the National Center for Agricultural Law, Research, and
Information of the University of Arkansas School of Law.
I have enclosed Symposium details and registration forms. I hope you
can join us.
Pamela Q. J. Andre, Director
National Agricultural Library
International Symposium on Agricultural Trade
National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Avenue, Room 1400
May 14-15, 2001
- May 14, 2001
3:00 Panel 1: GMOs and Biosafety -Domestic food safety regulation,
including labeling of genetically modified organisms.
Norman Thorson, University of Nebraska, USA
Chris Hilson and Duncan French, University of Reading, England
Discussion: Mary Bohman, USDA Economic Research Service, and audience.
- May 15, 2001
8:30 Panel 2: TRIPS -The agreement on Trade Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property, including trade related to biotechnology.
John Linarelli , University of East Anglia, England
Theodore Feitshans, North Carolina State University, USA
Discussion: Suzanne L. Foti, U.S. Council for International
Business, and audience
10:30 panel 3: Multifunctionality-The positive externalities of
farming and the green box exceptions to the Uruguay Round's subsidy
Peggy Grossman, University of Illinois, USA
Michael Cardwell, University of Leeds, England
Discussion: Jean-Christophe Paille, Embassy of France, Trade
Affairs, and audience
12:15 Symposium Luncheon: Assistant U.S. Trade Representative James
2:30 Panel 4: Agriculture and the Environment-The relationship
between GATT and agriculture, including a discussion of multinational
environmental agreements such as the Biodiversity Accord.
David Adelman, Natural Resources Defense Council, USA
Chris Rodgers, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, England
Discussion: Martha Noble, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and audience
4:15 Wrap-up: Joseph Hobson, National Center for Law, Research, and
Co-sponsored by the National Agricultural Library of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture with the National Center for Agricultural
Law, Research, and Information of the University of Arkansas School
- International Symposium on Agricultural Trade Registration Form
Attendance is limited
Registration confirmed by telephone or E-mail
City:____________________ State:_______________ Zip:___________
(_____)Daytime Phone:________________________(Mandatory for symposium )
Mail your registration form with check ($75) made payable to
University of Arkansas/NCALRI to International Symposium on
Agricultural Trade National Agricultural Library 10301 Baltimore
Avenue, Room 203 Beltsville, Maryland 20705-2351
New IUCN Report Finds that Wildlife and Agriculture Share Common Ground
From: Future Harvest
A Future Harvest-commissioned study by IUCN-The World Conservation
Union finds that half the world's 17,000 major nature reserves are
used for agriculture. The report, *Common Ground, Common Future--How
Ecoagriculture Can Help Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity,*
which was released in London today, identifies new strategies to both
feed a growing global population and provide a home for wild
biodiversity. The report integrates a new understanding of wildlife
biology and ecology, on-the-ground experimentation, and major
scientific advances in genetics, remote sensing, and agricultural
Visit http://www.futureharvest.org for the full report as well as the
news release in English, French, German, and Spanish.
World Cereal Consumption Forecast to Exceed Production by 2006
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
World cereals use is expected to outstrip production over the next five
years, cutting stocks and lifting prices off current lows, according to a
new forecast from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, Reuters reports.
The OECD said global output should top two billion tons by 2006, 12
percent above the recent annual average, but broad-based economic growth
would increase demand too.
In its yearly Agricultural Outlook 2001-2006, the Paris-based organization
forecast that by 2006 wheat prices should be around $148 a ton, up from
around $110 in 1999/2000 but still below the average in 1995-1999.
Developing countries would account for 60 percent of the global increase
in output but OECD members would also play a role, it said.
OECD output of wheat was expected to rise by 13 percent and coarse grains
by 11 percent by the end of the period.
Among coarse grains, corn production in the United States would continue
to be boosted by the FAIR Act farm reforms introduced in 1996 and world
barley output would benefit from stronger demand for malting and feed
varieties, the OECD said. In the European Union, the Agenda 2000 reforms
would reduce wheat and coarse grain production in the early part of the
2001-2006 period but plantings would resume an upward trend as prices and
relative returns per hectare gradually rose.
In Australia, wheat production should rise by some 13 percent by 2006 and
in China, the world's largest cereals producer, wheat output was seen
rising 12 percent. Argentine output of wheat and coarse grains was seen
rising by 34 and 21 percent respectively, the OECD said.
To see the OECD report go to http://www.oecd.org/agr/News/outlook01.htm
Italy Says Mutant Spaghetti Story A Slur
May 9, 2001
ROME, May 9 (Reuters) - Italy rallied to defend its most celebrated
national dish on Wednesday after a German newspaper said wheat used to
make spaghetti came from strains that had been mutated by radiation.
Agriculture Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, a member of the Greens and a
fierce critic of genetically modified foods, said: "This is the umpteenth
attack by the Germans...against sectors in which we are Europe's main
producers." He told reporters waiting outside Wednesday's cabinet meeting
in Rome that he would ask Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini to protest to the
"I have asked Dini to contact the German government because we do not
accept attacks on leading Italian fare at a time when we are exporting a
great deal of high-quality produce," he said.
The article in Tuesday's Frankfurter Allgemeine said people who were
worried about genetically modified foods had no idea that much of today's
crops were genetic mutations developed in rich countries in the 1960s with
the help of radioactivity.
It was sourced mainly to the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which keeps a record - based on
voluntary information from seed growers - of all plants exposed to
radiation to induce mutations.
IAEA spokesman David Kyd was quoted as saying IAEA records showed that at
the end of last year, 2,252 types of plant were being grown around the
world which stemmed from such treatment.
"Whether Texan grapefruit, American or Asian rice, Italian hard wheat or
jute for a (shopping) bag that has 'No nuclear power' printed on it, most
of these plants have been exposed to radioactivity in nuclear plants or in
the fields," the article said.
FRONT PAGE NEWS
Italy's reaction was that the article was a baseless affront to national
"Hands off our spaghetti," ran the banner headline of Communist newspaper
Liberazione, featuring a photograph of comic actor Alberto Sordi tucking
into a huge plate of spaghetti in the movie "An American in Rome".
"Achtung! Dangerous spaghetti," was the front-page headline of Turin daily
La Stampa, which said: "This news, in the context of uncertainty over
genetically modified foods, creates further confusion and unfounded fears."
Italy's National Institute for Foreign Trade said in a statement: "The
denigratory campaign from afar which tries to show that the ingredients of
the Mediterranean diet are harmful to health...cannot be accepted."
A southern Italian pasta manufacturer, Francesco Divella, told Repubblica
newspaper: "We will take whatever measures are necessary to avoid the
defamation of our product."
Italy's biggest farmers' group, Coldiretti, said Italian spaghetti posed
no danger. Confagricoltura, an association of big agricultural producers,
warned against alarm over pasta.
Potatoes Killing Fish
Grand Forks Bulletin
May 7, 2001
Corie Lok -- Prince Edward Island is famous for its potatoes and its red,
sandy soil. But occasional heavy rainstorms have washed this fertile soil
- and pesticides clinging to it - into PEI's rivers and streams, killing
fish. Farmers there are looking for ways to reduce their use of
pesticides, but it isn't easy because pesticides are their main tool for
controlling pests and disease.
Genetically engineered (GE) potatoes could cut back pesticide use -- but
no one's growing them because French fry processors have shied away from
buying them. That's in response to consumer backlash against foods derived
from biotechnology, says Mary Kay Sonier from the P.E.I. Potato Board.
Meanwhile, most of the eight fish kills in 1999 were linked to
insecticides used in potato farming, according to the PEI Department of
Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment. So potato growers must continue to
search for other methods to reduce pesticide use.
PEI is the potato powerhouse of the country, churning out one-third of
Canada's potato supply with 110,000 acres producing almost $200 million
worth of potatoes annually. Every year, P.E.I. potato farmers must face
the biggest threat to their crop: late blight, the fungus responsible for
the Irish Potato Famine of the 1800s. To protect the spuds from late
blight, farmers spray their fields with fungicide once every five to 14
days throughout the growing season.
There are five types of genetically modified potatoes approved for use in
Canada. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved the
first type in 1995.
All five contain a gene from a natural soil bacteria called Bacillus
thuriengiensis (Bt), that produces a substance toxic to the Colorado
potato beetle, another pest potato farmers battle. In the case of a
Bt-potato, the bacterial gene is transferred to thepotato and it's then
capable of producing the toxin. When beetle larvae feed on the potato
leaf, they ingest the toxin and die.
Potatoes genetically engineered to resist the Colorado potato beetle by
producing their own pesticide promise to cut back pesticide use. But
McCain's and Cavendish Farms, which together buy almost half of all P.E.I.
potatoes, refuse to buy the genetically engineered spuds for their French
fries in response to consumer resistance to this new technology. "There's
no question genetically engineered potatoes need less chemicals," says
Sonier. They still have to be sprayed with other types of pesticides to
fight disease and insect infestation, but Sonier says with Bt potatoes,
farmers wouldn't have to spray at all for the Colorado potato beetle. In
some areas where the beetle is a major pest, up to a third of all
pesticide sprayed is for this beetle, according to the U.S. Environmental
Growers use non-chemical pest management techniques such as scouting
fields for beetles and late blight. This helps growers ensure they spray
only when problems are present. In some cases, this reduces the total
number of sprays. They can also rotate their crops and build trenches to
trap beetles. Despite these practices, pesticides are still the primary
weapon against these pests, says Sonier.
With all these chemicals being sprayed on P.E.I.'s sandy and highly
erodable soil and periodic heavy rainstorms, pesticides have flowed into
P.E.I.'s rivers and killed fish. While some of these events claimed a
dozen fish, a couple have killed over 2, 000.
Since 1994, there have been 17 pesticide-related fish kills, eight of them
occuring in 1999 and five last year (2000). While it's not clear where the
pesticides came from this year, the majority of the 1999 kills were linked
to potato fields, says James Mutch, a hydrogeologist with the PEI
Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment.
These fish kills may have a lot to do with the weather, says Mutch. The
dead fish were consistently discovered a day or two after unusually heavy
rainfalls, which cause soil to flow off the fields and into waterways.
"Farmers are very aware of this situation," says Sonier. "They've been
taking a lot of action to address these environmental concerns.'' An
example of increased awareness about the environmental risks of pesticides
is the Environmental Farm Plan, which is becoming popular among potato
farmers, says Sonier.
But without a market for these high-tech potatotes, potato farmers from
PEI and across North America are left with no choice in the short run but
to grow conventional potatoes, spray them with pesticides and look for
other pest control alternatives to try and reduce pesticide use.
New transgenic varieties may resurrect cotton
By Anand Parthasarathy
May 6, 2001
KOCHI, MAY 6. A new pest-resistant strain of cotton, due to be
commercialised in a year's time, may just help India regain dominance in
the world cotton market that it ceded to China. But the prognosis for the
nation which has the world's largest area under cotton cultivation is not
too good, unless ``difficult political decisions based on sound technical
analysis'' are made.
This seems to be the message of a study of the technological developments
in cotton production in India and China carried out at the Delhi-based
National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies
In an article in the latest (April 25) issue of Current Science, the
journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, the
NISTADS researchers, Mr. Bhagirath Choudhary and Mr. Gaurav Laroia, state
that China leads the world in cotton production with a market share of
24.5 per cent. India comes only third with a share of 15.2 per cent, after
the U.S. with 16.5 per cent. Yet, China has only 4.56 million hectares
under cotton cultivation, while India leads the world with 8.9 million
The difference is in the yield - India's figure is 321 kg per hectare
which is well below the current world average of 584 kg/ha and China's 943
kg/ha. Interestingly, China wrested the global lead in the years since
1962 when its yield was as low as 225 kg/ha by aggressively pursuing
better agronomic practices and introducing high-yielding hybrids, with
seeds for distribution, grown in humus-rich soil.
In India, cotton yield has been plagued by insects and pests - though over
half of all insecticides sold in the country are used in cotton fields.
There does not seem to be any lack of agencies - or resources - to improve
the yield of cotton. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Council of
Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Indian Council of
Agricultural Research (ICAR) together provided Rs. 34 crores, including
Rs. 27 crores from the DBT, towards research in transgenic plants using
molecular biology to introduce new disease-resistant genes in plants. But
till 1998, when the effort ended, no transgenic cotton variety resulted.
However, the authors quote articles in The Hindu Survey of Indian Industry
and The Hindu Business Line to show that transgenic varieties of cotton,
known as ``Bt Cotton'' (named for the naturally occurring soil bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis, which is toxic to cotton pests) have already been
developed at the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) at Nagpur.
The Current Science article hints at a possible communication gap between
these agencies: ``The DBT which has extensive powers in the development of
transgenics in India is unaware of any transgenic variety developed at
CICR.'' Since then two new projects to develop transgenic cotton have been
initiated - one funded by the DBT at Delhi University and the other funded
by the National Agricultural Technology Programme (NATP) and coordinated
by the ICAR. The authors point out that neither of the new projects seem
to be utilising the progress made in the earlier DBT project. Two years
ago, the Ministry of Technology launched its own Cotton Technology Mission
with a budget including Rs. 40 crores for research and technology.
In spite of being the first country in the world to deploy hybrid cotton -
some 90 varieties are currently cultivated - India today, according to the
authors, is not using the new DNA-based tools and technologies.
They attribute this to lopsided allocations, a mere 6.5 per cent for
research and 75 per cent for transfer of technology, when in fact the
technology is not yet available. In contrast, China is investing the
equivalent of Rs 4.5 crores annually to develop genetically-modified
plants and it allowed transgenic cotton cultivation from 1994. Having
developed its own transgenic varieties, China has also allowed the entry
of international operators like Monsanto. In India, three private sector
firms have made investments in transgenic crops research. The Maharashtra
Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) in collaboration with Monsanto has been
allowed to undertake large-scale field trials of a ``Bt cotton'' hybrid,
under stringent conditions. The authors say, ``It is very likely that
transgenic cotton would be commercialised in India after the course of one
year... four years after China''.
The article concludes that while a ``close and continuous watch on the
development of transgenic crop varieties are needed to assess the
potential public health benefits and potential risks,'' what is also
needed to bootstrap India once again into the top of the cotton table is
``a strong political will and difficult political decisions... based on
sound technical analysis of transgenic varieties.''