AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
Wall Street Journal
June 1, 2001
The misguided war on biotechnology is alive and well, as demonstrated by
last week's arson attacks on a botany lab at the University of Washington
and a tree farm in northwest Oregon. Firebombs simultaneously gutted the
two facilities, causing millions of dollars in damage and destroying years
of research (ironically, much of which was aimed at wetland restoration
and endangered species protection).
Both acts of "eco-terrorism" are believed to be the work of the Earth
Liberation Front, a criminal environmental group opposed to genetic
engineering. A more popular tactic of biotech opponents, however, is to
instill in consumers an irrational fear of biotech products. The result
often has been scientifically unsubstantiated regulations designed to
burden or obstruct research and development.
Many of biotech's detractors care least about "safety" -- standards are
much higher for bioengineered goods than for nonbioengineered goods -- and
most about political and ideological activism. Trade protectionists know
that more efficient farms mean fewer farms and fewer farm subsidies. And,
more generally, biotechnology has become an all-purpose proxy for
anti-corporate environmental extremists like the Earth Liberation Front,
Earth First! and Greenpeace.
Policy makers and regulators, however, shouldn't allow themselves to be
distracted by hysterics. Let the scientific research speak for itself. Two
years ago, David Aaron of the Commerce Department told Congress that "13
years of U.S. experience with biotech products have produced no evidence
of food safety risks -- not one rash, not one cough, not one sore throat,
not one headache."
Indeed, agricultural biotechnology is still young and full of potential.
Properly nurtured, this fertile field of science is well on its way to
reducing pestilence and hunger in the developing world; producing longer
and healthier lives in the industrial world; and increasing efficiency and
environmental safety in the production of crops and livestock everywhere.
Take rice, which feeds half of the world's population daily. It would feed
more people, including millions who instead become ill or starve, but for
the fact that rice needs iron-rich soil to grow properly. Many Third World
countries lack such soil, which deprives inhabitants not only of rice but
also of iron. According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency
is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. "It exacts the
heaviest overall toll in
terms of ill-health, premature death and lost earnings," reports WHO. One
in five maternal deaths in Africa and Asia are linked to iron-deficiency
anemia, which also can cause mental retardation and reduce resistance to
With this in mind, a group of biotech scientists in Japan has set to
engineering an iron-fortified rice capable of growing in arid climes.
Through genetic manipulation, nutrient-rich rice yields for those most in
need could increase by a factor of four. This not only would impact
starvation but also, say researchers in the May issue of Nature
Biotechnology, provide a solution for two of the three major nutrient
deficiency problems facing the world today.
Biotech's benefits aren't limited to Third World maladies, however, as the
latest advances in cardio-friendly tomatoes and environment-friendly
animal waste demonstrate. Health officials have long known that tomatoes
help guard against certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer. Now a
growing body of data suggests that the fruit's peel, which contains
nontoxic chemicals called "flavonoids," also reduces the risk of heart
disease. Genetic scientists have been able to concentrate these chemicals
and create "high-flavonol" tomatoes
and tomato products such as ketchup and salsa.
Microbiologists in Ontario, Canada, are using biotechnology to address a
scourge of the livestock industry -- naturally occurring phosphate
pollution. The phosphate content of manure from certain animals -- such as
poultry and swine -- pollutes waterways, killing fish and creating other
serious environmental problems. Previous attempts to reduce phosphate
pollution by supplementing the animal's diet have proven expensive and
inefficient. New experiments -- so far, successful on mice -- are aimed at
genetically manipulating phosphate metabolism in the animal itself. "The
objective," reports Nature Biotechnology, "is surely worthwhile, because
an animal that
does not need phosphorus supplementation . . . would be economically
advantageous as well as much more environmentally acceptable."
Of course, this is but a snapshot of biotech's possibilities. Nonetheless,
it is clear that biotechnology is well on its way to addressing real-world
problems. We would like to report that time and human ingenuity are its
only limitations. Regrettably, however, the radical and misinformed
politics of a few present the biggest obstacle to potentially lifesaving
advances in the field.
Shops mistaken to drop GM food
01 Jun 2001
Northern Foods Chairman Lord Haskins has criticised supermarkets for
turning their backs on supplying genetically modified food to consumers,
saying people can make up their own minds.
Haskins, whose company is one of Britain's leading chilled food and
grocery manufacturers, said the country could miss out on the GM
revolution by giving in to "paranoid" consumers and environmental pressure
"Their (the supermarkets') attempts to outlaw all genetically modified
food were wrong," Haskins on Thursday told a conference organised by the
U.S. Embassy, the Royal Agricultural College and the School of Oriental
and African Studies.
"They should not have introduced voluntary bans on GM foods three years
ago. They should have offered consumers choice," said Haskins, whose group
supplies private label products to Britain's leading supermarkets.
Public opinion has turned against GM food after consumers' confidence was
rocked by a number of scares, including mad cow disease, E-coli and
Haskins agreed with scientists that there should be further testing of
genetically modified food and crops and more research into the effect of
crops on the environment before they were grown commercially.
But he said Britain risked falling behind technological advances by
searching for answers to consumer fears over food by looking towards more
natural methods of farming like organic production.
"The idea that the world can feed itself with organic produce is
ludicrous," he said.
"We must share this innovation, not dump it."
Northern Foods' top five customers are supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's,
Asda and Safeway and Marks & Spencer.
UK Conference Hears Call For Balanced Biotech Crop Debate
May 31, 2001
LONDON -(Dow Jones)- A group of U.K. scientists Thursday called for a
balanced debate on the development of genetically modified crops, saying
that more attention to farm management techniques may alleviate any
Speaking at a conference here on the effects of agricultural
biotechnology, Phil Dale, leader of the Genetic Modification and Biosafety
Research Safety Group at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said that while
the science of genetic modification cannot be "uninvented," its
development shouldn't be left simply to market forces. The John Innes
Centre sponsors research and training in plant and microbial science.
Dale said the best path is a phased introduction of genetically modified
crops, accompanied by rigorous environmental monitoring.
"My hope is for less heat and more light in the debate about the future
shape of agriculture over the next 20 years," Dale said.
Rosie Hails, an ecologist and the principal scientific officer at the
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxford, England, said current
understanding about modern biotechnology, as well as data gathered from
ongoing U.K. farm-scale trials of genetically modified corn, fodder beets
and sugar beets, "will bring us to the limit of what science can offer."
When it comes time to evaluate data from the trials, which conclude in
2002, "we will gave reached the point at which we may have to bring value
judgements to bear," she said.
The trials have been criticized by many environmental groups, who say they
could lead to cross-pollination and genetic contamination of conventional
crops and the unintended escape of transgenic plants into the wild.
Andrew Watkinson, a professor at the University of East Anglia's Centre of
Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, said he supports the trials, but
warned that their results shouldn't be interpreted too broadly.
"How can we know what impact gene-modified technology will have on
biodiversity?" Watkinson asked. "The farm-scale evaluations will
help...but they're only going to provide partial answers...They can only
relate to a restricted range of organisms."
"GM crops will have an effect on biodiversity - I have no doubt about that
whatsoever," Watkinson said later. "Whether it's a negative one, whether
it's a positive one - it depends on the situation...We need to understand
those effects, and farm management needs to mitigate the potential
negative impact of genetically modified crops on biodiversity."
The two-day conference, "Seeds of Opportunity - the Role of Biotechnology
in Agriculture," is hoping to focus on the effects of agricultural
biotechnology on medicine in the developing world, consumers and the
environment. The event is being hosted by the U.S. Embassy in London, the
University of London and the Royal Agricultural College.
Date: 31 May 2001 21:37:22 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Response to Sharma,
Dr. Livingstone wrote: "I will also send
this to AgBioView so that some Americans can defend themselves. . . ."
Here's my try at an American defense -- Which countries are people taking
desperate measures to enter -- and which ones are they desperately trying
to leave? Not original, but apropos, I think.
Date: 1 Jun 2001 05:48:44 -0000
Subject: Re: Organic vs GM fight
The following statement was made recently by Brad Mitchell
"There has been a lot of criticism of organic agriculture in this
newsgroup. I have to say that I have not found much of it to be
terribly constructive or useful." and he went on to argue that both
sides must share the blame for this costly and distracting rivalry that
should never have gotten started in the first place."
I could not agree more with his point. I made the same point privately to
Mr. Sams several months ago but he rebuffed me and stated (once again) his
extreme position. Apparently, for whatever reason, he cannot bring himself
to enjoin the opposition in a cease fire. One can only surmise that in
doing so, Mr. Sams might be putting his "Golden Goose" in danger, i.e., by
scare-mongering the public, his organic operations might slow their rapid
growth. As I explained to him, a careful survey of the GM debate shows
GM proponents started criticizing organic food only after the organic
movement lobbed the first salvoes. I believe that those of us in the
biotech arena would not have ever considered criticizing organic farming
but were forced to when falsely accused of various sins.
I propose another attempt at a cease-fire. Mr. Sams and colleagues, we
will stop making negative comments about organic food if you will stop
your criticism of GM food. Let us agree there is a place for both
technologies. And let us also agree to let calm scientific debate judge
the issues and not air our differences in the press.
Michael E. Horn Ph.D.
President- SIVB Plant Section
Group Leader, ProdiGene
College Station, TX
GM Issues Mission Statement: "To provide a balanced public information
resource on the science of genetically modified crops and related issues."
Date: May 31 2001 17:25:15 EDT
From: "NLP Wessex"
Subject: study casts doubt on GM decision making process
Soya study casts doubt on GM decision making process
One of the most remarkable things about the large area of genetically
modified crops now being grown (chiefly in North and South America) is the
relative paucity of studies on their agronomic performance which have been
published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
The limited availability of such research brings into question the
scientific basis of the decision making process which has so far
determined the encouragement of the technology at both political and farm
levels. This is particularly so when such limited basic research on
agronomic performance may also only achieve peer-review publication years
after, instead of before, the commercial introduction of the technology.
In this respect, therefore, it is especially significant that a rare
peer-reviewed paper on the agronomic performance of genetically engineered
Roundup Ready soya beans was published in Agronomy Journal, March-April
2001. The study's findings are illuminating as they specifically identify
the novel gene, or the process of genetic engineering itself, as causing a
reduction in crop yields when compared with otherwise isogenic
non-genetically engineered sister lines.
The achievement of peer-review publication of this study does not appear
to have been widely reported in the general or farming press, despite the
following important conclusions in relation to GE glyphosate resistant
(GR)soya bean varieties:
"Yields were suppressed with GR soybean cultivars............The work
reported here demonstrates that a 5% yield suppression was related to the
gene or its insertion process and another 5% suppression was due to
cultivar genetic differential. Producers should consider the potential for
5-10% yield differentials between GR and non-GR cultivars as they evaluate
the overall profitability of producing soybean. .........Based on our
results from this study and those of Elmore et al., 2001, the yield
suppression appears associated with the GR gene or its insertion process
rather than glyphosate itself."
Elmore et al, Glyphosate-Resistant Soybean Cultivar Yields Compared with
Sister Lines Agron J 2001 93: 408-412
The full paper can be read at:
More information on the performance of Roundup Ready soya beans is
NATURAL LAW PARTY WESSEX
From: Michael Goodin
Subject: The lighter side of labelling
Regarding the lighter side of labelling. This is from a Canadian friend.
If the labels below are real then "contains DNA" on a tomato sauce label
doesn't seem that far fetched.
In case you needed further proof that the human race is doomed through
stupidity, here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods.
On a Sear's hairdryer:
"Do not use while sleeping." (Gee that's the only time I have to
work on my hair.)
On a bag of Fritos:
"You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside." (The
On a bar of Dial soap:
"Directions: Use like regular soap." (And that would be how ...?)
On some Swanson frozen dinners:
"Serving suggestion: Defrost." (But its "just" a suggestion)
On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom):
"Do not turn upside down." (Too late!)
On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding:
"Product will be hot after heating." (As night follows day . .)
On packaging for a Rowenta iron:
"Do not iron clothes on body." (But wouldn't this save me more
On Boot's Children Cough Medicine:
"Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this
medication." (We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction
accidents if we could just get those 5-year-olds with head-colds off
On Nytol Sleep Aid:
"Warning: May cause drowsiness." (One would hope.)
On most brands of Christmas lights:
"For indoor or outdoor use only." (As opposed to what?)
On a Japanese food processor:
"Not to be used for the other use." (I gotta admit, I'm curious.)
On Sainsbury's peanuts:
"Warning: contains nuts." (Talk about a news flash.)
On an American Airlines packet of nuts:
"Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts." (Step 3: Fly Delta.)
On a child's superman costume:
"Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly." (I don't blame
the company. I blame parents for this one.)
On a Swedish chainsaw:
"Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals." (Was
there a lot of this happening somewhere? My God!)
Now that you've laughed your head off it's your turn to spread the
stupidity and send this to someone you want to have a good laugh...in
other words send it to everyone. We all need a good smile every once
in a while.
Police Anticipate Opposition To Biotech Convention
San Diego Daily
May 29, 2001
The San Diego Police Department will distribute flyers to downtown San
Diego businesses this week to alert them to the security threat that might
arise when the world's largest biotechnology conference is held at the San
Diego Convention Center next month.
As many as 15,000 people will attend the Bio2001 International Convention
and Exhibition June 24 through June 28, matched by what could be 6,000
protestors hosting a counter "Biodevastation 2001."
San Diego Police Assistant Chief John Welter said that though a
multiagency law enforcement contingency will be patrolling the area during
the convention, downtown businesses are encouraged to hire their own
"While we don't want to alarm anyone, we don't think it's a bad idea to
take precautionary measures like hiring security," Welter said. "With any
convention that draws people, people should be aware and look at securing
Police and city officials are holding informational meetings for the
business community in the weeks before the biotech convention, including
at a San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association luncheon June 14.
About 400 law enforcement authorities participated in a training exercise
last week in anticipation of the event, Welter said. While many of those
voicing their opposition to biotech-related issues will do so peacefully,
Welter said officers must be prepared for the "few that will want to
violate the law and will subject themselves to arrest."
Welter said their means for comparison is last year's Biotechnology
Industry Organization conference in Boston, where an estimated 4,000
people rallied. San Diego's ideal climate could attract more fair-weather
protesters, too, he said.
Steph Sherer, a San Diego-based organizer of Biodevastation 2001, said
that the counter event is designed to be nonviolent. After a two-day
teach-in beginning June 22, an estimated 6,000 attendees will march from
the World Beat Center in Balboa Park to the Convention Center on June 24,
she said. Once there, the group -- comprised of various organizations
including Greenpeace and The Ruckus Society -- will listen to guest
speakers on a stage set up outside the Convention Center.
J.C. Callender, a member of The Ruckus Society, said that no organization
is condoning violence. Individuals, he said, are responsible for
themselves. The Ruckus Society sponsored a weeklong Biojustice Action Camp
earlier this month to train activists on the finer points of nonviolent
Gayle Falkenthal, spokeswoman for the San Diego Convention Center Corp.,
has been meeting with BIO officials in recent months to prepare for the
convention and its effect on the local community.
"Our number one interest for any event is the comfort, safety and
enjoyment of the people at the event," Falkenthal said. "We want to do
everything to make sure that happens, while of course recognizing that
people have a perfect right to express themselves, you know, thank God,
that's why we have something called the First Amendment.
"So we want to make sure those two can co-exist and not one impact the
other, and we certainly think that's a doable thing."
Jennifer Andrews, Biocom/San Diego's Bio2001 liaison, said 11th-hour
preparations are under way for the convention. She said the local sponsor
is "waiting to see" how much muscle the biotech opponents will flex.
Dan Eramian, vice president of communications for the Washington,
D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Association, was in San Diego last week
making final preparations for the trade group's meeting. He says that
while protesters at such events are likely well meaning, they often aren't
educated on the issues.
"I just think they don't know enough," he said. "Part of it is that it's
en vogue to be protesting.
"We're all for free-expression, but they shouldn't lose sight of the
Eramian said the truth is that the biotech industry, while often
spotlighted for controversial subjects like cloning and bioengineered
food, is also working to cure cancer, Parkinson's disease (news - web
sites) and Alzheimer's.
Bio2001 will feature business development and science sessions, networking
events, and more than 750 exhibits for registered participants. The
public, meanwhile, is invited to a free Healthfest 2001 from noon to 4
p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Embarcadero Park. The health fair will include
booths from about 50 companies and nonprofit groups.