A number of you have asked for a search function to be implemented in the
AgBioView listserv archives. I am pleased to announce that you will now be
able to search all of our messages from the last year or so from the
AgBioWorld homepage at http://www.agbioworld.org.
I encourage you to go there and give it a try.
Date: 10 May 2001 14:23:11 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Mutant Spaghetti!!!
This article cheered me up immensely.
I noticed that the Italians didn't deny that their spaghetti was from
irradiated strains. If Alphonso Pecararo Scanio and his Green buddies
really believe that GE is too uncertain and imprecise a technology to
accept, then how can they accept (and vigourously defend) the products of
random induced mutation?
I would expect them to answer that they would look into the allegations
and assure that, if true, all such mutated strains were removed from the
food chain until such time as intensive, long-term animal and human
feeding trials (and field environmental impact trials, too, of course)
have unequivocally demonstrated the absolute safety of these varieties of
Seems fair and consistent to me.
Date: 10 May 2001 05:14:14 -0000
I checked out the Greenpeace site you suggested on the "New Genetics"
and guess what? It is written by none other than our old pal Mae Wan Ho.
She is an expert at distorting scientific evidence and is particularly
opposed to rDNA technology. Her main argument is simply that modern
biologists just don't understand biology. It seems that only Mae Wan Ho
and her mate, the physicist Vandana Shiva, have a clear understanding of
molecular biology and genetics. This is a person who is happy to publish
articles about the relationships between quantum mechanics and Gaia
written with plenty of
I can't be bothered to refute every point she makes but you are
generally spot on. However I can't resist pointing out the absurdity of
her thesis that every gene affects every other gene and that these
interactions are completely unpredictable. First of all most genes are
turned off most of the time. Every cell type turns on only those genes
that are needed for its function at a particular time and stage of
development. How does the gene coding for rhodopsin interact with the gene
for collagen production in the actively growing tissue at the base of her
toenail? What about myelin genes in leukocyte stem cells? Of course the
list goes on and on.
The biochemistry of a cell is very complex. The interactions of trans and
cis acting elements in genetic control are very complicated. However they
are not an impossible puzzle. Reductionism has and will continue to
elucidate the function and control of genes. Obviously living systems are
complicated but that doesn't mean we know nothing about them. We have much
to learn but I might just point out that adding quantum mechanics to the
picture is unlikely to be enlightening.
Date: 10 May 2001 13:56:29 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Greenpeace view of genetics
Like David, it has also been years since my last genetics course.
However, in my view, a consistent loophole for opponents of genetic
engineering has been the fact that nearly anything is possible in
Horizontal gene transfer occurs fairly often in bacteria. With
bacteria or viruses as intermediaries, such interspecies transfer is
possible (I've seen estimates that roughly 15% of the human genome is
transgenic from viral vectors). That cells have mechanisms to
protect themselves against these invading genes seems to be overlooked by
those who want this natural mechanism to look very scary. If it were a
big problem, then there would be no species; we'd all be one big,
horizontally-shared gene pool-- no problem.
Similarly, it is conceivable that evolution may have favoured a
cellular mechanism (particularly in bacteria, fungi and other r-selected
organisms) to trigger an increased mutation rate in response to
This type of response would not likely work as well with k-selected
organisms, however, since the impacts of mutations on reproductive
success would be too severe. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that such a
mechanism exists in nature, thereby opening the door to the argument you
cite from Greenpeace.
There is a similar thread of truth to the other two points (fluidity of
gene expression and gene interaction). The idea is to use black and
white language to paint a stark picture that leads the reader to the
desired conclusion, ie, that GE is imprecise meddling with complex,
finely-tuned machinery and that the whole system could come crashing down
as a result (apocolypse soon).
It is well-accepted that genes do turn on and off and even that gene
complexes express themselves differently at different times (eg
multi-function effects) based on various envirnmental factors, stresses,
etc. Similarly, it is also pretty clear that many genes have fairly
straightforward expression with very little interaction/side-effects on
the expression of others. So far, the engineers have worked mostly with
the simpler ones, for obvious reasons. As genomics advances, we'll have
a better understanding wider gene complexes, their multiple functions and
various switching and feedback mechanisms; I fail to see why this is such
a big deal, though.
Finally, for over 30 years, we have been bombarded with the image of an
interconnected web of nature where we endanger the whole structure by
losing any part. The last generation or two has largely bought in to
that image. Now, Greenpeace and Natural Law, ISIS and the rest want to
capitalize on that established image by extending it to the "quantum
genetics" of the cell.
In my view, even lacking some true GE health or environmental disaster,
the opponents have a fair to middlin' chance of quashing the technology
through their fear campaign alone. The longer these products stay in the
marketplace without adverse effects, the less likely it is that
Greenpeace, et al will succeed.
The most critical period is coming soon as products with clear consumer
advantages start to come to market. The food industry will WANT to keep
these separate and labelled in order to differentiate them from the
inferior, conventional products they are competing with/replacing. I feel
confident that this is the development that GE opponents are desperate to
head off; when/if these products hit the market, their cause will be lost
as will the cash-flow that goes with it!
BOB (resource economist and wildlife biologist)
Date: 10 May 2001 13:24:14 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Greenpeace and Rifkin, London Conference,
Schmeiser, Mutant Spaghetti!!!, GM Potatoes
I'm a relative newcomer to the AgBioView conversations, and as such am
more prone to listen than to speak. However, the recent exchange of notes
between David Weingarten and Tom DeGregori cries out for a corrective
voice, and so I'll offer mine.
Weingarten castigates a summary of the "new genetics" which he found
posted at a Greenpeace website. Now, I'm no particular fan of Jeremy
Rifkin, and I don't necessarily agree with the Greenpeace attitudes and
actions regarding GMOs. However, the summary of the "new genetics" is
really not so off-the-mark as Weingarten and DeGregori suggest. Let's
take a closer look:
David Weingarten wrote:
(here quoting from the Greenpeace posting:)
>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.
(and now Weingarten speaking:)
>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).
Point 1: Most practicing geneticists or molecular biologists
would find it hard to argue with the statement that "Genes function in a
complex and non-linear network..." Most traits are not the result of
single-gene alleles, but of interactions of many different genes, whose
products are expressed at different time and in response to various
signals. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this comes from organisms in
which one gene or another is deliberately disrupted. Frequently, the
"expected" phenotype based on a linear, unidirectional model ("old
genetics") is not observed; rather, one sees either no phenotype (the
result of redundancy in genetic systems) or a much wider range of
phenotypes than expected (the result of complex interactions).
Point 2. Genes and genomes are indeed dynamic and fluid, at
least to some considerable extent. Genomes do change in the course of
development; for instance, fragments of the genome are excised and lost
forever in the development of the T cells and B cells of our immune
systems, giving rise to the remarkable diversity of our immune
responses to foreign substances. Certainly and almost obviously, the
expression (if not the content) of genes are subject to feedback metabolic
Point 3. The assertion that genes and genomes can change
directly in response to the environment, and that these changes being
inherited in subsequent generations, is again clearly true. Skin cancers
most frequently arise from mutations induced in skin cells by UV light
from the sun - a direct response to the environment. Environmental
changes can be inherited - that's why lead shields are used to protect our
gonads when we undergo X-rays.
Point 4. The phrasing in the Greenpeace posting exaggerates
the impact, but few geneticists would disagree with the assertion that
genes are also passed horizontally between unrelated species. Antibiotic
resistance spreads among bacteria by such "horizontal" gene transfer,
creating the serious problems facing the infectious disease community now.
When Agrobacterium spp. infect plants, they tranfer fragments of bacterial
DNA to the plant genome, resulting in crown gall tumors. (This strategy
has been co-opted by humans for many of the deliberate gene transfers into
plant species). Do humans pick up and retain genes from the foods we eat,
or from our pets or houseplants, with any "finite probability"? Do plants
typically share genes with neighboring plants of other species? Certainly
the grass in my lawn is not likely to be trading genes with the evergreens
or the ivy. No, the extension of the principle proposing that "any gene
in any species has a finite probability of being transferred to any other
species" is indeed frivolous.
I appreciate the interest and engagement that DeGregorio and
Weingarten show with these issues. But rejecting arguments by
exaggeration and ridicule is more of a political strategy than a
scientific one. If one chooses to argue against the Greenpeace
perspective on genetically modified organisms, it seems most wise and most
helpful to found those arguments on solid understanding of the science and
on logical extensions of that understanding.
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Michigan State University
The views expressed here are my own and to not represent any position
or policy of this institution.
Date: 9 May 2001 22:25:54 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Greenpeace and Rifkin
If I may, I would like to add a few of my comments:
Point 1 is almost certainly correct for some genes, but not to the
point where the action of each gene [is] ultimately linked with that of
Point 2 is correct to a large extent. Genomes are definitely
fluid and dynamic. They can change in the course of development, but I am
not certain about the part of being subject to feedback metabolic
regulation. Loss of DNA in all but the germ cells is fairly common in
some lower organisms, and is known to occur in orchids (Nagl, 1983). In
plants, chromosome doubling does play a role in development (see reviews
by damato, 1989; Miller, 1997).
Point 3, that Genes and genomes can change directly in response to
the environment, these changes being inherited in subsequent generations
is right on target, facilitated by the fact that plants do not set their
germ tissue aside until very late in development-- changes can accumulate
in somatic tissues, and eventually end up in the germ line. Plant genomes
consist of repetitive DNA which is subject to unequal replication and/or
replication slippage, thus increasing or decreasing in number. Plants are
also full of transposable elements, which enter genes, and alter their
coding sequence upon excision, thus generating new alleles. Finally,
and perhaps most importantly, plant genomes might consist primarily of
retrotransposons. It has been said that, transposable elements and
retrotransposons can rearrange genomes and alter individual gene
structure and regulation through any of the activities they promote:
transposition, insertion, chromosome breakage, and ectopic recombination.
Many genes have been assembled through or amplified through the action of
transposable elements, and it is likely that most plant genes contain
legacies of multiple transposable element insertions into promoters
That plant genomes are fluid has been recognized for at least the
past twenty years (Flavell, 1980). That plant genomes can respond to
environmental stress- resulting in heritable changes, was proposed by
none other than the great Barbara McClintock (1984). It can be argued
that evolution designed plant genomes to be fluid and dynamic. Under
stress, variants can be created, and if any are beneficial, selected by
natural selection. The net result is that plant genomes expand and
contract over time96 even different varieties within a given species can
differ greatly in their DNA content. To put this in perspective, some
varieties of flax
have been known to increase by as much as 8% in DNA content between the
time the seed is planted and the plant grows up (Cullis, 1976). The
number of rDNA copies in maize inbreds can vary from 5000 to 12,000
(Phillips 1978). Varieties of red pepper range in DNA content range from
18.38 to 22.98 pg DNA per 4C nucleus (Mukherjee and Sharma, 1990).
Finally, for point 4, there is evidence of horizontal gene transfer
from viruses and bacteria to plants. (For examples, see Ashby et al,
1997;Aoki and Syono, 1999).
Why is all of this of consequence? Because the amount of changes
that could possibly be caused by genetic engineering pales in comparison
to the amount of genomic changes going on in the background of every plant
every day. People and regulators are fretting over the addition of one or
two genes, when one cultivar can have 25% more DNA than another and suffer
no ill effect. A sense of perspective is desperately needed in this whole
argument. In the end, I find the new genetics to be totally compatible
and consistent with genetic engineering.
Aoki, S., and K. Syono. 1999. Horizontal gene transfer and
mutation. Ngrol genes in the genome of Nicotiana glauca. PNAS
Ashby,M.K., A.Warry, E.R.Bejarano, A.Khashoggi, M.Burrell, and
C.Lichtenstein. 1997. Analysis of multiple copies of geminiviral DNA in
the genome of four closely related Nicotiana species suggest a unique
integration event. Plant Mol. Biol. 35:313_321.
Bennetzen, JL. 2000. Transposable element contributions to plant gene
and genome evolution.
Cullis,C.A. 1985. Phenotypic consequences of environmentally induced
changes in plant DNA. TIG 2:307-309.
d'Amato,F. 1989. Polyploidy in cell differentiation. Caryologia
Flavell,R. 1980. The molecular characterization and organization of
plant chromosomal DNA sequences. Ann. Rev. Plant Physiol. 31:569_596.
McClintock,B. 1984. The significance of responses of the genome to
challenge. Science 226:792_801.
Miller,O.J. 1997. Chromosome changes in cell differentiation. Genetics
Mukherjee,S. and A.K.Sharma. 1990. Intraspecific variation of nuclear
DNA in Capsicum annuum L. Proc. Indian Acad. Sci. 100:1_6.
Nagl,W. 1983. Heterochromatin elimination in the orchid Dendrobium.
Phillips, R. L. 1978. Molecular cytogenetics of the nucleolus
organizer region, In: D. B. Walden (ed.), Maize breeding and genetics.
John Wiley and Sons, New York.
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-7272
(706) 542-0928/fax 0914
Date: May 10 2001 09:33:14 EDT
From: Bruce Chassy
Subject: More on L-Typtophan
More on L-Typtophan
The association between consumption of L-tryptophan and the
occurrence of EMS has been a subject of considerable medical
controversy for over a decade. One might get the impression from the
media and various web pages that it has been definitely proven that
EMS is caused by an infamous impurity ("Peak E," also called EBT or
1,1'-ethylidenebis[L-tryptophan] ) present in Showa Denko tryptophan.
One might also be led to believe that only this particular source of
tryptophan contains the impurity and that EMS is only associated with
Showa Denko tryptophan. This simply is not the case. In fact, at
least one case of EMS associated with the consumption of 5-HT not
produced through fermentation has recently been reported. The exact
cause of the EMS associated with tryptophan consumption has yet to be
established. The conclusion that the problem resulted from the
application of biotechnology to the L-tryptophan producing organism
is not warranted by the facts of the case. As I noted in a previous
post, difficulties in interpretation begin if one accepts that Peak E
is solely responsible for EMS and are compounded by the inaccurate
belief that only Showa Denko tryptophan could contain Peak E. As
always, it is instructive to look at the scientific literature as
well as the conclusions of the FDA.
There is a special issue of the Journal of Rheumatology Supplement to
Vol 23 (October 1996) which reports a symposium held on EMS in late
1994. See especially:
1. Epidemeologic Studies of the Association of L-tryptopahn with
EMS: A Critique, S. Shapiro
2. Bias or Biology: Evaluating the Epidemeologic Studies of
L-tyrptophan and the EMS, Horowitz and Daniels
3. Tryptophan produced by Showa Denkon and Epidemic EMS, Kilbourne
et al, with a post-comment by Shapiro.
I recall that there is a paper that shows that Peak E is formed
non-enzymatically during purification and that Peak E could be
present in ANY tryptophan from ANY source depending on the
purification scheme. I am uncertain of this next claim, but if I
recall correctly, small amounts MAY be present in all tryptophan
preparations. It can be further concluded that the presence of the
impurity is not the result of the strain of the organisms used, but
is a result of the downstream purification process. It would be
helpful to the discussion if someone could supply the citation here.
These statements are supported by the conclusions of the FDA (see
The FDA is meticulously careful in their latest status summary on
Tryptophan and 5-HT. Selected quotes are pasted below, see <
http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/ds-tryp1.html > for the full text.
"EMS and related disorders are also reported to be associated with
exposure to L-5-hydroxytryptophan, which is not made in the same
manner as L-tryptophan (e.g., via fermentation processes). Based on
these observations, FDA concluded that other brands of L-tryptophan,
or L-tryptophan itself, regardless of the levels or presence of
impurities, could not be eliminated as causal or contributing to the
development of EMS. The serious nature of this disease necessitates
that caution be exercised.
These findings raise serious questions regarding the safety of high
dose levels of "uncontaminated" L-tryptophan. EBT and the other
impurities epidemiologically associated with the EMS epidemic cases
may only be markers for a yet unidentified substance(s) which
trigger(s) EMS in a susceptible host. Other environmental factors
could also act as "triggers.""
"The exact cause of the 1989 epidemic and of the case of EMS
associated with 5HTP remain unclear."
- Another related Article: Simat TJ, Kleeberg KK, Muller B, Sierts
A. 1999 Synthesis, formation, and occurrence of contaminants in
biotechnologically manufactured L-tryptophan. Advances in
Experimental Medicine and Biology 467:469-80
As is often the case, many have jumped to a conclusion that science
does not allow us to make. The EMS-Tryptophan episode has been a
painful and sometimes tragic happening for thousands of victims and
their families. The tragedy is only amplified by the fact that there
exists no proven benefits and no sound scientific basis for consumers
to be taking large doses of L-tryptophan (or 5-HT today). There is
no pre-market safety assessment of the chronic consumption of these
supplements at these levels, and there is ample indication that their
consumption is potentially associated with considerable risk.
Bruce M. Chassy,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Educating the European public about biotechnology
Agbiotech Bulletin Volume 9, Issue 4, May, 2001 Ag-West Biotech Inc.;
Some ways of teaching biotechnology are clearly more effective than
others. But given the diversity among people, particularly when we
consider the geographic expanse and the cultural and political
differences across Europe, is it realistic to think that we can
develop a short list of techniques that will work best for everyone?
This is the challenge faced by a network of about twenty people who
are working on a project called: Educating the European Public about
Biotechnology. The project was initiated a year ago with funding from
the European Commission. The goal is to document what is being done
in each member country and what information is available to the
public from all sources. Then the group is to recommend what works
best to educate people about biotechnology. I was fortunate to be
able to attend their latest meeting and provide them with specific
information about Ag-West Biotech's activities and a general idea of
what resources are available about biotechnology in Canada from
The group itself is quite diverse. Several are researchers associated
with universities and affiliated with departments ranging from
ethnology to microbiology; sociology to biotechnology. Others are
regulatory, communications or technology transfer specialists; one is
a publisher and two are high school teachers. Drawn together by a
common vision of the positive potential of biotechnology, and a hope
that the acceptance of biotechnology could be increased through
educating the public, this group met in Barcelona, Spain on April
6-7. Here they shared data, determined how to proceed and developed a
timeline for completion of their final report. Project coordinator,
Professor Vivian Moses, of King's College London, had visited all
twelve of the original participating EU countries as well as
Switzerland where he discussed the work and helped collect data.
Moses, jointly with the national partners, interviewed local
educators, representatives of government ministries and agencies, the
media and other relevant sources of information. Subjects included
government activities and funding, formal education (schools,
universities, colleges), media activity, web sites, book
availability, industry participation and resources, and the views and
activities of special interest groups including those opposed to
biotech. Progress reports were made by country, with questions and
discussion around each.
The Eurobarometer was a reference point for many of the participants.
Eurobarometer 52.1, which is available at
http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/pdf/eurobarometer-en.pdf, is a
94-page report based on a public opinion poll that was published in
March 2000. This particular report attempts to gauge European
attitudes to biotechnology, including: their expectations from this
field, their knowledge of genetics and the sources of information
that they trust. Polling is conducted by country to identify regional
distinctions. This is the fourth in a series of polls along similar
lines, so in many instances readers can get a sense of how opinions
have changed over time. One can see for example that in general
Europeans score about 10% lower in 1999 compared to 1996 in terms of
their view of whether different types of biotechnology applications
are useful. Their overall assessment of whether the applications were
risky remained about the same, but their opinion about the moral
acceptability dropped by 11 to 15% depending on the technology.
Willingness to support biotech applications also dropped considerably
between 1996 and 1999 - by between 12 and 16 points. The lack of
understanding of the science behind biotech was dramatic. About 50%
of Greeks, and 40% of Germans and French surveyed believed that there
were no genes in ordinary (non genetically modified) tomatoes. In
four countries (Portugal, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom),
more than 50% of those surveyed did not know whether it was possible
to transfer animal genes to plants.
Some workshop participants indicated that they felt an almost
complete lack of trust of the media to provide balanced reporting,
whereas others indicated that this situation was improving and though
the headlines still may be sensational, the content of the articles
was fairly accurate. Several participants reported that they were
providing support to scientists to make it easier for them to speak
to groups about the potential of biotechnology. This included sharing
slides for presentations and offering training in media relations.
The teachers in the group were eager to accept the new materials that
I had to share with them - just like most other teachers that I have
worked with in Canada over the years! In general, it was soon
apparent that whether we are based in Europe or North America, we
experience similar challenges relating to communicating biotechnology
to the public. These challenges include regional differences in
attitude, varied levels of education and understanding of the issues,
lack of coordination among the many groups offering services, lack of
resources, need for materials in many languages, lack of media
understanding of the science and a strong and vocal opposition to
biotech. We are trying to develop programs to take the science to the
public through displays, mobile teaching labs, web site development
and encouraging scientific experts to talk to school children and
their neighbors and families. We are sharing presentations with
extension specialists, lending resources to schools and collaborating
with industry partners. We are consulting those who do not embrace
the technology to gain their input and understand their fears.
It will be interesting to see the final report that comes out of this
collaboration in about a year from now. I predict that the list of
best practices will not be a short one. We will still see the need
for many different and creative approaches to the subject of
biotechnology to meet the many needs of the public. To follow the
activity of this committee, see: http://www.boku.ac.at/iam/ebe
Judy Hume can be reached by email at: email@example.com
Genetically Modified Food Worries Waning
May 10, 2001
MELBOURNE, May 10 AAP - Public acceptance of genetically-modified (GM)
foods was growing worldwide, according to the Australian body responsible
for monitoring biotechnology issues.
The report by Biotechnology Australia which drew upon several recent
surveys conducted in Australia and overseas, was released at a food
technology conference at Lorne, in Victoria's south-west today.
Consumers were more worried by pesticides, packaging or tampering than
genetic engineering, Biotechnology Australia spokesman Craig Cormick said
in releasing the report.
An Australian survey conducted by Quantum Market Research last year showed
consumers' greatest worry was food poisoning (72 per cent), pesticide use
(68 per cent), human tampering during manufacturing (65 per cent) followed
by GM food (58 per cent).
The information was based on giving people surveyed a range of choices on
their specific food worries, with participants able to list several
He said a food-buying study of 1,000 consumers conducted in the United
States in January revealed that their biggest worries were packaging (27
per cent), then food handling (23 per cent), followed by contamination or
diseases (16 per cent) and pesticides (10 per cent).
Two per cent of those questioned in the US study were worried about GM
A study by the British Food Standards Agency also conducted in January,
found United Kingdom buyers' greatest concern was food poisoning (63 per
cent), ahead of 'mad cow disease' (61 per cent), growth hormones or
growth promoters (47 per cent), pesticides (46 per cent) and then GM foods
(43 per cent).
Mr Cormick said that between last year and this year the percentage of UK
consumers prepared to eat GM food had risen from 46 per cent to 48 per
In NZ the figure had risen from 28 per cent in 1999 to 35 per cent this
year, he said.
Biotechnology Australia compared surveys conducted in the United Kingdom,
the US, France, Australia and New Zealand for the report.
Mr Cormick said survey findings varied and depending on which survey was
quoted, the percentage of Australian consumers happy to eat GM food was
either 32 per cent, 51 per cent or 28 per cent.
"This does not mean consumers are not concerned, but as with many other
new technologies, initial high concern often tends to settle as more is
learned," he said.
FAO Chief Says GM Crops Not Answer To Hunger Now
May 10, 2001
PARIS, May 10 (Reuters) - Genetically modified crops (GMOs) are not the
answer to hunger in the world now but they could be as the global
population soars, the head of the United Nations' world food body was
quoted as saying on Thursday.
In an interview with French daily Le Monde, Jacques Diouf,
director-general of the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), said that the world's population was set to rise to nine billion
from six billion over the next 30 years. The amount of arable land was
"To feed the 800 million people in the world who are hungry today, there
is no need for GMOs. But to feed nine billion, what must be done?" Diouf
was quoted as saying.
"I repeat that we do not need GMOs for the moment. But they are a possible
option, so long as precautions exist regarding their impact on public
health and the environment," he said.
The FAO chief described genetically altered crops as a "double-edged
sword" that could be used to feed those most in need but could also be
subject to manipulation.
NFU Leader 'Horrified' By GM Protest Threats
May 10, 2001
Farmers are being threatened with intimidation and violence from
campaigners protesting over the Government's GM crop trials, it emerged
National Farmers Union leader Ben Gill today said he was "horrified and
angered" and called on Home Secretary Jack Straw to ensure the police took
action instead of waiting until someone was hurt.
He said farmers taking part in the trials should have special police
protection from militant activists.
One Pembrokeshire farmer has already pulled out of the scheme because of
the "severe pressure" and threats, Mr Gill told a London news conference
as he launched the NFU's election manifesto.
He is considering writing to both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr Straw
urging action to crack down on the menace.
Details of the grid references for farm scale trials of GM crops are
available on the Internet and Mr Gill said he supported the Government's
policy of openness. But farmers who took part also had a right to
Mr Gill said: "Those people who are being open, have an expectation of
protection from those who are hell-bent on destruction.
"They are very small minorities, loud minorities but very frightening
"I do not know who the people are who are perpetrating these attacks in
south west Wales and I am not blaming one particular body.
"But I do know that we need to get the arguments very clearly articulated
and we need to have Government ministers who back those people fully and
"I understand Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office minister, has done that and I
hope every other minister will follow that line, up to the election and
the new ministers do after the election."
Mr Gill added: "Ministers should decry publicly these attacks and make it
clear they think they are wrong and the Home Secretary should ensure that
proper policing is carried out in those areas.
"The farmer concerned told me that the police were just waiting, and they
would not take action until a tractor had been burnt and machinery
destroyed or crops destroyed, or somebody was hurt. That does seem to me
"I am horrified, angered, frustrated that one of our members in south west
Wales had to withdraw from one of the trials as a result of the threats to
his own, his family's and broader family's safety."
Mr Gill said the farmer had received telephone calls in the middle of the
night with threats to destroy the trial and machinery.
"These are properly, legally approved trials that have been hi-jacked by
single issue pressure group, that I cannot in any way believe I want to be
associated with and my council yesterday gave that firm message.
"It's down to the new government to ensure that when this is over, that
they put in place proper protection from those of our members who want to
do this and ensure they are not bullied on this or any animal welfare
aspects that we have been bullied on before," Mr Gill said.
U.S. Criticises Sri Lankan Ban On GM Foods
May 10, 2001
COLOMBO, May 10 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday criticised Sri
Lanka's decision to ban all genetically modified (GM) foods and said the
move would trigger an inquiry by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Sri Lanka became one of the first countries to impose a total ban on GM
foods, from May, 1 to avert suspected health risks. "We know of no
credible scientific evidence justifying Sri Lanka's ban. We believe it is
totally unwarranted," Weyland Beeghly, agricultural counsellor of the U.S.
Embassy in neighbouring India, told a news conference in Colombo.
Beeghly said the WTO had already called on Sri Lanka to provide scientific
evidence to support its decision and added he saw little evidence other
countries in the region would follow suit.
"India is already pursuing its own bio-technology programme and there is
very little chance that this will become a precedent for the region," he
He said Washington had no plans to take bilateral action over the ban,
adding it affected about only four percent of U.S. agricultural exports to
The United States accounts for about half the 900,000 tonnes of wheat Sri
Lanka imports each year, but U.S. wheat is not genetically modified.
GM foods contain a gene from another organism, generally to make them
resistant to herbicides or to produce their own toxins to kill pests.
Proponents of the new technology say it contributes to higher crop yields
and lower production costs, while critics fear long-term health and
Sri Lanka, which said last year that it would impose the ban, has yet to
announce a mechanism or system to test food imports for genetic
Sri Lankan officials said they wanted the ban in place to give them more
time to find out if GM foods were dangerous.
Date: May 09 2001 19:25:14 EDT
From: "NLP Wessex"
Subject: Cotton - IPM pays off for team players
According to 'Cotton World', large plantings of Monsanto's Ingard GM
cotton in Australia in recent years have led to concerns about insect
resistance to Bt.
In order to try and maintain the efficacy of the technology Australian
growers could soon face independent audits of their pupae-busting
activities as part of the resistance management strategy for Ingard
varieties. Ingard crops require priority tillage action irrespective of
pupae numbers, and all Ingard crops in southern Queensland and New South
Wales are considered a high risk situation for pupae control
Meanwhile, 'Innovate Australia' (representing Australia's food, fibre and
natural resources research and development corporations) reports steadily
increasing levels of pesticide applications on Ingard Bt cotton following
the initial substantial reductions
(see: http://www.innovateaustralia.com/summer00/crdc.html ).
Despite its on-going enthusiasm for Ingard Bt cotton Innovate Australia
concludes that: "Economic benefits for growers from the new technology
have been variable but generally only small when compared to conventional
These comments make an interesting contrast with the substantially
improved financial margins some Australian farmers are now achieving with
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods compared to conventional cotton
management (see article below).
NATURAL LAW PARTY WESSEX
IPM pays off for team players
Fri 27 Apr 2001 - Staff writer: Donald Turner [extracts]
INTEGRATING pest management as a group is paying off in improved profit
margins for Australian cotton growers.
More growers are combining the disciplines of integrated pest management
(IPM) programs with area-wide management groups for mutual benefit........
Integrated pest management encourages growers to make use of natural
predators by delaying or eliminating applications of broad-spectrum sprays
such as pyrethroids and organophosphates....
The results of this survey, and others like it, encourage those who
believe sustainable cotton production depends on the extension of this
"What these surveys are showing is that there doesn't seem to be much
relationship between yield and dollars spent on pest management. When you
compare IPM fields with conventional management, IPM is coming out in
front by up to a few hundred dollars per hectare", Bruce Pyke, research
and extension manager for the Cotton Research and Development
FULL ARTICLE @
Hiding the real picture
2 Web sites expose facts advocates won't tell you
By Dennis Byrne
April 30, 2001
Sorry, I have bad news. The chances that you will die this year are 1 in
But I have good news. The number of people who have died from genetically
modified corn in taco shells is zero. Zip. Nada. Rien.
That might surprise you from all the buzzing the media have done about the
dangers of genetically engineered corn. In case you can't keep straight
everything that "puts you at risk" these days, I'm referring to Starlink,
a genetically modified corn approved for animal feed, but not for human
consumption. The feed hit the fan when it showed up in some commercial
As James Freeman, editor of TechnoPolitics.com, put it: "So far,
biological science cannot identify any threat [to humans] at all, but
because no one has proven that Starlink can never harm anyone anywhere,
the government had withheld its approval for human consumption."
Yet the search for taco shell victims continues.
I came upon this web site (www.technopolitics.com) while contemplating the
frenzied rush to make this a perfectly safe planet.
I was prompted to contemplate this by readers, some of them frenzied, who
objected to my suggestion last week that environmental policy should be
built on science, not knee-jerk politics. It's what I liked about
President Bush's environmental approach. Predictably, in some views, that
made me something less than human--but probably not deserving of the same
protections reserved for snail darters.
Still, I found some other interesting statistics. Afraid to travel in
Europe, thanks to mad cow disease? TechnoPolitics' "risk index" points out
that a European's chance of dying of the disease is 1 in 15 million. I've
long argued that debate about health and environmental policies always
should provide such risk ratings, so the public (and politicians, it is
hoped) can make informed decisions about where to put our scarce resources.
For example, how effective are U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) regulations compared with U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency rules? TechnoPolitics' risk index tells us that the cost of saving
a single life using HHS mammography rules is $320,000. The cost of saving
one life using EPA solid waste rules is $36 billion. Which is not to say
that we should eliminate solid waste rules, but it raises some legitimate
questions about cost-effectiveness.
Here's another place to look for help: the Statistical Assessment Service.
Called STATS (www.stats.org), it describes itself as a non-profit,
non-partisan organization that examines how scientific, quantitative and
social research is presented by the media, with the admirable, but perhaps
unobtainable, goal of helping journalists convey the material more
accurately and effectively.
There we will find such interesting stuff as a Princeton Survey Research
poll that asked 1,200 adults, "Did you vote in the 2000 presidential
election?" Seventy-two percent said no, with a margin of error of plus or
minus 3 percent. The actual voter turnout was 51 percent. Mass amnesia?
Some stuff is funny, such as the worst news story lead, this month's being
the breathless warning coming from "The Guardian": "Scientists are
preparing to start trials of the world's first genetically modified
insect, an unnatural born killer moth that will fly over cotton fields,
passing a deadly gene on to its pestilent kin." Shouldn't that be
"unnatural hatched?" STATS asks, tongue in cheek.
Actually, that's not so funny when you think of the confusion and distrust
caused by the junk science and junk reporting raining down on the public.
Consider the timely STATS piece on the criticism of Bush's review of
regulations for arsenic in drinking water imposed at the last minute by
President Bill Clinton. "Arsenic and Old Laws" notes that the EPA
estimates the reduction of arsenic to 10 parts per billion from 50 ppb
"would prevent only three deaths from bladder cancer per year. A reduction
to 5 ppb would prevent five deaths.
"That means that the country would be spending between $50 million and
$300 million per life saved. If the water industry's [cost] figures can
believed, it might even be cheaper to buy bottled water for everyone
affected than to institute the new standard."
Last week, a guest on WTTW-TV's Chicago Tonight show said Europeans were
so, so mad at Bush for rejecting the Kyoto protocol. True. British pols
said America's carbon dioxide emissions would kill millions around the
world and equated Bush's decision to "launching a nuclear attack." But
Iain Murray, a British science writer at STATS, noted that because North
America is a huge "carbon sink" whose vegetation sucks in great quantities
of carbon dioxide, we actually use up more of the gas than we produce.
Europe, in turn, generates more than it consumes. America absorbs .4 tons
of carbon per person per year, while the average European puts out about
2.5 tons per year, he said.
Under the proposed treaty, the North American carbon sink would increase
to about 400 millions tons per year (from 100 million tons), while Western
Europe would continue exporting 860 million tons annually.
This, of course, isn't the entire story, nor does it prove that carbon
dioxide emissions shouldn't be reduced. But it suggests that it would be
nice for the public to see facts from all angles before the
hyperventilating and villain-creating commences.