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May 10, 2001


HGT, Greenpeace Spain, Biotechnology Week, Sout Africa,


Regarding the horizontal gene transfer issue from the Greenpeace
website, I am confused in that if this happens all the time anyway, what
is so unnatural about transgenics? The argument appears inconsistent.


R.L. Innes Ph.D.
Strategic Analyst
Agriculture and AgriFood Canada
1391 Sandford St., London ON N5V 4T3

Date: 11 May 2001 14:21:04 -0000
To: agbioview-owner@listbot.com
From: a.p.jackson@bioc.cam.ac.uk
Subject: Greenpeace

I fear that Steve Triezenberg is altogether too generous to Mae Wan Ho and
her latest article at the Greenpeace web site. To be blunt, the
fundamental problem is that she is simply not honest. In her article we
are asked to contrast the bad "Old Genetics" of twenty years ago, and its
supposedly strict "linear" gene action with the good "New Genetics" and
its "interacting networks" etc. But this is a silly straw man argument. I
was a biochemistry and molecular biology undergraduate twenty years ago
and it was crashingly obvious even then that genes interacted in complex

Of course our understanding of these gene networks is vastly greater now
than in 1981. It would be surprising and disturbing if this were not the
case! And I completely agree with Malcolm Livingstone - our increased
knowledge of gene regulation has largely come about by the judicious
application of "reductionist" experimental approaches of just the sort
that Mae Wan Ho so dislikes.

There is a similar straw man flavour to points 2-4 of her "Old
Genetics/New Genetics" characterisation. And sometimes she really does go
out on left field. For example, point 3: "Genes and genomes can change
directly in response to the environment, these changes being inherited in
subsequent generations". Well yes, if she just means that environmental
insults such as UV light etc. can cause adaptively random changes to DNA,
then OK.

But I think it is fair to say that if you read her other articles (many of
which are posted on her web site at www.i-sis.org), you get a very
different sense as to what she means. It is clear that she is hankering
after some neo-Lamarckian mechanism in which the "environment" somehow
acts via this wonderful interconnectedness to cause purposeful and
adaptive changes in the genome, thus conveniently bypassing such nasty and
ideologically suspect agents like Natural Selection. Needless to say, she
never actually explains in molecular detail just how this impressive trick
is achieved. All we get is a lot of sexy buzzwords like "holistic",
"dynamic feedback" and even "quantum coherence" thrown around with
cavalier imprecision.

Yes, living organisms are very complicated; yes, genes regulate each other
in complex ways and yes, horizontal gene transfer does happen. Now tell me
something new.

Tony Jackson

Department of Biochemistry
University of Cambridge

Greenpeace vs. Greanpeace

Activists from Greenpeace Spain have locked themselves in their
headquarters in order to protest the new management team. The former head
of Greenpeace Spain alleges that the new director is not "impartial" and
that he has begun a "witch hunt". Gerd Leipold, executive director of
Greenpeace International has given his full support to the new management
team of Greenpeace Spain. The activists have been occupying their offices
and hallways since around 6 p.m. yesterday.

See the full sotry (in Spanish) here:


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 various sources.

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

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: judy.hume@agwest.sk.ca

U.S. Senate Declares May 13-20 National Biotechnology Week

CONTACT: Dan Eramian
Debbie Strickland
(202) 857-0244

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 11, 2001) - The U.S. Senate passed a resolution
(attached) declaring May 13 - 20 National Biotechnology Week, thereby
recognizing biotechnology's importance to research and development of
medical, agricultural, industrial and environmental products.

"There have been phenomenal advancements in science over the last
few years that are allowing us to improve health care, increase crop
yields, reduce the use of pesticides and replace costly industrial
processes involving harsh chemicals with cheaper, safer biological
processes," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), the resolution's sponsor.
"These advancements have occurred due to the hard work and diligence of
scientists and researchers in the United States, and all around the world,
who have spent their lives promoting and perfecting the practice of

Carl B. Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization
(BIO), thanked Sen. Hutchinson for his efforts, which were key to winning
the unanimous consent of the Senate.

"This resolution is but one example of the support Sen. Hutchinson
has given the industry over the years, and we plan to honor him next week
with a BIO Legislator of the Year Award," said Feldbaum. The award
ceremony, slated for Wednesday, May 16, is part of BIO's Legislative Day
event, which will bring more than 150 biotech executives to the U.S.
Capitol for a blitz of 200 meetings with representatives and senators.

BIO represents more than 950 biotechnology companies, academic
institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all
50 U.S. states and 33 other nations. BIO members are involved in the
research and development of health care, agricultural, industrial and
environmental biotechnology products.

1st Session
S. RES. 75

Designating the week beginning May 13, 2001, as `National Biotechnology


Whereas biotechnology is increasingly important to the research and
development of medical, agricultural, industrial, and environmental

Whereas public awareness, education, and understanding of biotechnology
is essential for the responsible application and regulation of this new

Whereas biotechnology has been responsible for breakthroughs and
achievements that have benefited people for centuries and contributed to
increasing the quality of human health care through the development of
vaccines, antibiotics, and other drugs;

Whereas biotechnology is central to research for cures to diseases such
as cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, heart and lung disease,
Alzheimer's disease, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and
innumerable other medical ailments;

Whereas biotechnology contributes to crop yields and farm productivity,
and enhances the quality, value, and suitability of crops for food and
other uses that are critical to the agriculture of the United States;

Whereas biotechnology promises environmental benefits including
protection of water quality, conservation of topsoil, improvement of waste
management techniques, reduction of chemical pesticide usage, production
of renewable energy and biobase products, and cleaner manufacturing

Whereas biotechnology contributes to the success of the United States as
the global leader in research and development, and international commerce;

Whereas biotechnology will be an important catalyst for creating more
high-skilled jobs throughout the 21st century and will lead the way in
reinvigorating rural economies; and

Whereas it is important for all Americans to understand the beneficial
role biotechnology plays in improving quality of life and protecting the

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate--
(1) designates the week beginning May 13, 2001, as
`National Biotechnology Week'; and
(2) requests that the President issue a proclamation
calling upon the people of the United States to observe the week with
appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.


Please visit www.bio.org for more information.

For comments please contact Carrie Housman
at chousman@bio.org or call (202) 857-0244. Thank you.



Innovating to Release the Potential of Agriculture in South Africa

The biggest problem for African agriculture is that many farmers are
resource limited. This is not so much from a natural resource point of
view, because our resources are very rich, but from the fact that they
need information, inputs and technology, which are critical for unlocking
the potential of those natural resources.

In terms of information, the greatest need of people in rural areas is to
understand what services government has on offer and how and under what
conditions they can access these. For agriculture we have planning
information available based on the resource maps of an area, climatic
information for an area, technical information on the range of crops and
products that can be grown or developed in an area, and disease and
quality-related information. We can also facilitate a link to
market-related information - particularly prices of commodities on the
market - which is often already available from the private sector for free.

In order to give people access to this information we are going to try
something quite brave - we are going to try to digitalize. This will be
based around our multipurpose centres, or community meeting halls, which
are instrumental in building social cohesion at the community level. In
and around the community halls, there are small marketplaces that traders
can rent to sell their wares and where entrepreneurs can open shops and
businesses. We have experimented with Farmer Support Centres, which become
focal points for farmers in rural areas. We are attempting to expand these
into Rural Information Centres, which would bring Internet connectivity
directly into those areas, so that people can access websites from where
they are, and have someone to help them understand what that information
can do for them.

Biotechnology also has a lot to offer Africa but the question we have to
answer is whether we should depend on increased use of traditional inputs,
such as fertilizer and herbicides, to increase yields, or whether we
should be innovative and make the quantum leap into biotechnology? We are
grappling with these kinds of issues right now across the continent.

In South Africa, arguments often presented in the North are presented here
in an environment where people have not yet grappled with the totality of
biotechnology. The benefits of biotechnology in improving precision in
agricultural research are known to scientists, but the problem is that
scientists are not very articulate in presenting such information. As a
government, we have legislation on genetically modified organisms and we
are now working on a balanced communications strategy on the totality of
biotechnology, with genetically modified foods as just one of the products
of biotechnology. It is a much more constructive way of dealing with the

The danger of a media-driven dialogue on genetically modified foods is
that it does not deal with the science behind the foods. For example,
sweet potato has resistance to the mosaic virus because of work done in
Kenya. You could say it is a genetically modified food but all that has
been done is to introduce resistance into the plant through genetic
modification rather than spraying it with some kind of chemical. Something
that has been sprayed has been equally modified. So we are trying to avoid
having a na´ve discussion on genetically modified food, as if it were some
kind of monster suddenly appearing out of the gloom. We recognize the
benefits of good science in agriculture, in lowering inputs, but we are
not blind to the fact that there are probably risks associated with the
introduction of genetically modified foods. To contain the risks we have
legislation in place to promote the responsible development and use of
genetically modified organisms.

African agriculture needs to have an appropriate technology-transfer
partnership with developed countries, which facilitates economic growth by
raising yields and incomes and at the same time satisfies food security at
the household level. All this must be done without compromising the
sustainability of its bio-diversity or the trade and market opportunities
that exist for its unique products. Linked to that of course is the
economic and entrepreneurial character which African agriculture needs to
take on, which has been latent in the past. There is a world of
opportunity in the combination of our rich bio-diversity and new
technologies. Our natural resources, in relation to the people we have to
feed, have potential, but we need to harness that capacity. With the right
minds thinking about things and coming together, I think it's a positive

Note: This Perspective is based on an interview featured in an IFPRI News
& Views Newsletter

Many people have sent me this as it is circulating on the world wide web.
It appears to be a parody/hoax but is relevant to the current debate. Read
at your own risk...



'Mutant plants' potentially more dangerous than biotech foods

May 10, 2001

ROME (Reuters) - Environmental and consumer activist groups today called
for a ban on all food products containing hybrid plants that have been
developed by induced mutation via irradiation. The call came after it was
revealed by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency that since 1963,
2,252 new plant varieties, including Italian durum wheat, have been
created using radioactive substances such as cobalt and X-rays. The IAEA
report, which was cited recently by the German daily Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung, goes on to say that "mutations today cover 70 per cent
of the area undercultivation."

This came as a surprise to many people, including organic farmers and
critics of genetically modified foods.

"I always thought the plants we eat every day came from Mother Nature,"
said Charles Margulis of Greenpeace USA. "But now they tell us that
scientists have been artificially hybridizing plants since the 1960s.
That's, like, really uncool."

Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth, another organization which has
joined the coalition against "mutant plants," was quoted as saying, "I
knew something was going on. I mean, how else could they make those
seedless grapes? For the past five years we have focused on the dangers of
plants created using biotechnology, but they are just the tip of the
iceberg. While biotech plants involve the manipulation of only a few
genes, radiation treatment involves thousands of genes and are thus
potentially even more dangerous. These irradiated varieties have never
been tested for human safety, and they aren't even labeled."

These sentiments were echoed by Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned
Scientists, a watchdog group. "The industry will probably say there's no
evidence these foods are harmful and that people have been eating them for
many years now," she said yesterday. "Do you believe that statement? How
would we know if someone had gotten ill from these foods if they're not
labeled? Radiation can affect a plant's entire genome. Compared to these
plants, genetically modified food is about as dangerous as a one-legged
man in an ass-kicking contest."

Others, however, believe these fears to be unfounded. According to an IAEA
news release, "Evolution of plants is a constant, natural phenomenon
associated with spontaneous mutations (e.g. may be brought about by cosmic
or ultra-violet rays) but can also be encouraged or accelerated
scientifically where there are sound reasons for doing so."

Mutation breeding has been used on wheat, barley, oats, rice, soybeans,
string beans, navy beans, potatoes, onions, cherries, apples, grapes and
numerous other plant types for disease resistance and improved quality,
yield and adaptability. If the proposed ban ever does come into effect,
virtually every product found on supermarket shelves will not be fit for

Professor James Henriksen, a botanist at the University of Agricultural
Rationalism, said in an interview that "mutation breeding was instrumental
in allowing us to triple crop yields during the Green Revolution and has
allowed us to feed millions of people who would probably have starved
otherwise," and he called the safety concerns brought up by
environmentalist groups to be completely unfounded. Added Henriksen,
"These people are a bunch of f**kin' a**holes."