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Date:

June 7, 2001

Subject:

Flavr Saver Tomato, MAS, Arson, Greece, Brussels, UK,

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

=======================================================
Todays Topics:

* The short, unhappy life of the Flavr Savr tomato
* Marker Assisted Selection
* Radio interview with Toby Bradshaw after his lab was burned
* Greece Approves GM Cotton
* Belgian Farm Minister Jaak Gabriels says agriculture needs to embrace
biotechnology
* GM crops scientist defends 'Frankenstein' food in a visit to Cambridge
* Beijing Embraces Biotech
* Jail Terms For Eco-Terrorists
* Bt Cotton
========================================================

Review of the book 'First Fruit' on Flavr Savr Tomato
From: "Redenbaugh, Keith"

I have just finished reading Belinda Martineau's book, "First Fruit -
the Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Food,"
and would like to provide the following comments. First of all, I
decided not to skip to the last chapter, but to read the book from
beginning to end (and I'm very glad I did, because the last chapter
is quite different from the rest of the book). During my reading, I
could see no reason why the publisher would put out the
sensationalistic press release that we read a few weeks ago. But,
upon reaching the Epilogue, it became clear (which I'll discuss in a
few paragraphs).

I thoroughly enjoyed Belinda's history of the Flavr Savr Tomato. I
have great respect for her ability as a scientist (and as a
"contrarian"). She did an excellent job in explaining complicated
molecular biology in lay terms while she was capturing the very
interesting story of how this tomato was developed, approved,
marketed and then killed after Monsanto purchased Calgene. I found
very little that I disagreed with. Of course, I had been asked by
Belinda to review several chapters during the writing process, so I
was able to correct various items prior to publication. So, it is not
surprising that I found the sections dealing with the regulatory
approval to be more-or-less accurate. Belinda actually let most of
the book's protagonists off easy - she could have included many other
anecdotes that were not quite as complimentary as the ones she used.
But I think she captured the basic character of each of the key
players in the Flavr Savr story. It is a good read.

I do disagree with a couple of points made in telling the Flavr Savr
story. The most important one is the statement on page 64 that the
FDA's 1992 Statement of Policy is not "a specific process . . . for
dealing with genetically engineered whole foods." It was not
explained why "it can be argued that" the Policy still does not
provide a specific process. Yet, most biotech developers see the
Policy as being vital in directing us on how to choose genes (from
things we eat), to develop new products and to conduct safety
assessments. The issue to remember is that the developer is required
by US law to ensure a new biotech product is safe. So, we pay close
attention to the Policy, consult frequently with the Agency, and make
sure we have solid answers to all the issues in the Policy and those
that are raised during the consultations. Just as what happened with
the Flavr Savr, the FDA often has questions for developers which
require additional data generation. I don't believe Belinda
participated in regulatory consultations after the Flavr Savr, so she
may not have realized that at Calgene, the safety assessments for BXN
(Buctril) Cotton and Laurate Canola were equally thorough, and that
safety assessments of biotech products today are about an order of
magnitude more thorough than what we did for Flavr Savr (more on this
later).

The other disagreements on the Flavr Savr story are minor and likely
just different interpretations. I was going to talk about them, but
after reading the Epilogue, I decided to focus on the last chapter.
Of course, there are parts of the book, such as the Chicago service
center in which I was not involved; so, other Flavr Savr participants
will need to comment on how accurate are these sections. But other
than the Epilogue, I found the book to be quite correct. I do
appreciate what Belinda has done in providing a very accurate
assessment of the Flavr Savr business and particularly dismissing the
fallacy that consumers did not buy the tomatoes. As she writes,
consumers bought all that we could produce. A clear benefit to
consumers today is that the Flavr Savr tomato showed that consumers
were willing to pay a significant premium price for high quality
tomatoes. So, today when we visit the produce section in
supermarkets, we can choose from many types and grades of tomatoes.
We no longer have to settle just for gas greens and romas.

Now, the last chapter...

It is very important to understand that a major change occurred in
the anti-biotech community around 1997-1998, which is about the time
Belinda departed Calgene. Up to this period, the biotech opponents
were vocal and persistent, but the arguments they used were not lies.
Opponents such as Becky Goldberg and Margaret Mellon had very strong
opinions about biotechnology, but they did not use deception or lies.
Although I did not agree with many of their opinions, I respected
their positions, listened to their issues and addressed the ones that
I felt were valid. They were and are worthy opponents. After mad cow
disease hit the UK, all this changed with the entry of new biotech
opponents, who chose any means possible, including lies and
deceptions, to win the hearts and minds of the press (the public was
important too, but it was the press who was the target for the
deceptions). Furthermore, it became crystal clear that the opponents
would settle for nothing less than a complete ban on biotech crops.
The last chapter in the Flavr Savr book does not address this
fundamental change and it reads like it was written in 1995. The last
paragraph extolling Golden Rice illustrates this since the rice
project is now attacked by the opponents just as strongly as any
other biotech product and is not, as the book implies, a product that
could be supported by everyone. The opposition to Golden Rice makes
it very clear what the opponents want: a full and complete ban on all
agbiotech products.

On labeling, the book suggested the Flavr Savr tomato as how to do
this right and inform the public. However, missing from the story is
that only the premium MacGregor's and Year Round Red brands were
labeled for the consumers. The seconds (which the book indicated went
to Burger King and other restaurants) were not labeled since there
was no way for Calgene to ensure that this was done. Besides, there
was no premium price paid for these seconds. So, the book's call for
labeling misses the fundamental difficulty of how to ensure that the
labeling follows the product wherever it might go. This really is the
key issue for industry.

Much of the safety assessment data for many of the biotech crops is
publicly available, yet the book states the developers fail to
respond to the public by showing that "extensive tests have been
conducted and here are the results." This has been done and results
are available for many commercial biotech products. Furthermore,
whereas the opponents can lie and deceive (such as the fish gene in
tomatoes story, which the book surprisingly did not put to rest), the
developers have to be scrupulously accurate. The Flavr Savr book
brings up the Nature monarch butterfly story, but then neglects to
discuss the dozen or so subsequent studies, including a conclusion by
EPA that it is very unlikely that Bt corn will have a negative impact
on monarchs. The book asks "Why weren't the types of studies . . .
carried out before Bt corn was released on a commercial scale...?"
Well, this was because the developers and EPA did not expect that
there would be any significant impact, a conclusion that now has very
strong experimental support despite the Nature letter-to-the-editor.

I got the impression that much of the information used for the last
chapter came from the biotech opponents. For example, the book states
that "although Bt sprays carry warning labels, the EPA cannot label
Bt corn or Bt potatoes." This is comparing apples and oranges. EPA
cannot label organic crops sprayed with Bt, either. What EPA does is
establish a safe tolerance for the level of Bt, whether it is sprayed
on organic (or other) crops or whether it is produced by the plant
itself. And, FDA would require labeling on Bt crops if there were a
safety issue. There are other examples in the last chapter where it
appeared that only the views of biotech opponents were being
presented without a carefully consideration of both sides (I'll never
understand why opponents agonize over "genetic pollution" yet fight
so furiously against a potential solution such as the technology
protection system; plus, most seed companies employing biotechnology
don't sell seed to poor farmers simply because the farmers are unable
to afford the higher price for high quality seed).

I also think the book overestimates the value of the Flavr Savr
tomato. Most people have forgotten it, since it was a failed product
(of course, I'm proud of the part I played in getting it
commercialized). However, most biotech reports begin
commercialization history in 1996 when the biotech agronomic crops
were planted on millions of acres, not in 1994 when Flavr Savr was
planted on dozens of acres. And, for FDA, the Flavr Savr was a very
useful opportunity for the Agency to do a thorough review of a
biotech crop which contained genes from organisms commonly eaten,
whether intentionally or inadvertently (such as microorganisms). For
all products commercialized to date, the inserted genes produce
proteins that are commonly found in the human diet, whether they are
APH(3')II or a Bt protein. And, almost every single such protein
(including APH(3')II) has been purified and taken through extensive
toxicity tests (something Calgene never did do). I'm looking forward
to seeing what FDA requires from the first developer who comes to the
Agency with a protein not commonly eaten. They certainly won't allow
the developer to follow the Flavr Savr model. I expect the Agency may
then require a food additive route.

Calgene was lucky. The regulatory requirements and safety assessment
studies conducted were actually not that bad. Today, the requirements
are far greater, not only in the US, but worldwide. And for what
reason? Because of the fear created by the lies and deceptions of
opponents crying wolf over and over. The public in the UK is now
beginning to come around and think biotech is perhaps not a disaster
afterall on the scale of mad cow. Why? Well, the British are not
seeing any health or environmental disasters caused by biotechnology.
Unfortunately, the regulatory requirements are now about an order of
magnitude greater that what was done for the Flavr Savr tomato. The
fallout is that for most minor crops (other than corn, soybeans,
rice, wheat and a few others), the cost of developing biotech
varieties exceeds the value added. And as Belinda (and all of us at
Calgene) learned, if the cost of your biotech product is greater than
the sales, you are out of business. It is nice to reminisce about the
Calgene family, but it is now scattered around the world. Calgene
failed because its principle product, the Flavr Savr tomato, failed.
I don't know what happened to Laurate Canola, but I am happy to
report that Calgene's second product, BXN Cotton, is alive and doing
well at Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Company.

Dr. Keith Redenbaugh
Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs
Seminis Vegetable Seeds,
Woodland, California 95695
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Following is the response and comments by Dr. Belinda Martineau
on her book "First Fruit" to the review of her book
by Dr. Keith Redenbaugh:

Dear Keith,

Thanks very much for sending me your response to First Fruit.
I appreciate your comments and thoroughly believe that this kind of
dialogue will help resolve the controversy over biotech foods.

My response (to your response):

You're right, I didn't spell out exactly what I meant about FDA's
1992 statement of policy on p64; but on p91, in the context of
describing the events surrounding our first submission to FDA in
1990, I bring the subject up again. Both EDF and NWF, our
worthy opponents, wanted the FDA to have a specific program ready
and waiting to deal with genetically engineered foods and they
didn't want that program to be voluntary. When the policy came
out a year and a half later those groups were still not happy because
it was (as described in the summary of the statement itself, Federal
Register Vol. 57, No. 104, May 29, 1992) simply a "clarification of
FDA's interpretation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act" and
therefore still not a specific program for biotech foods.

Further, the consultation process it set forth remained voluntary
(with the notable exceptions regarding potential allergens or major
changes in a food's nutrition). Becky Goldburg and Margaret Mellon
are still not happy with the way these new foods are regulated
and, as I wrote on p235, even the report from the National Research
Council of the National Academy of Sciences called for FDA, EPA and
USDA to fine-tune and better coordinate the regulation of biotech
foods. All that said, I personally agree with you that the
guidelines under the FDA's 1992 statement of policy seem to have
worked pretty darn well so far. Since, I'm told, every company has
consulted with FDA for each of its new biotech food products
voluntarily anyway, just going so far as to make the current system
(or process, whatever you want to call it) mandatory would go a long
way, I believe, in making the whole technology more acceptable to
the public. And any better coordination between the agencies,
especially with regard to dealing with Bt foods, for example (more
on that below), would serve the same purpose.

As for safety assessments being "about an order of magnitude more
thorough (today) than what we did for the Flavr Savr," I've always
gotten the impression in previous discussions with you that that
kind of excessive assessment was required for Japan or Europe,
or countries other than the US. In First Fruit I focus on the
situation in the US where, I figured if safety assessment of a
linseed product for FDA could be contained on only 5 sheets of
paper, I couldn't imagine that the assessment process could be as
thorough as it had been for the Flavr Savr. In any case, from your
remarks it sounds like having a proponent of genetically engineered
foods elaborate on current examples of safety assessments in the
popular press could only strengthen the ag biotech industry's
position.

On labeling, you are absolutely correct about the fact that I
neglected to mention that Calgene's "off brand" tomatoes were sold
without labels. That is because my aim was to put forward a
suggestion for discussion, not solve all the logistics associated
with that suggestion. And, I agree with you whole-heartedly, there
are plenty of logistical difficulties associated with labeling
biotech foods. The best model I've seen for dealing with them
is the Australia New Zealand Food Authority's (ANZFA's) which calls
for labeling of genetically engineered food and food ingredients but
exempts "food prepared at point of sale (eg restaurants, hotels,
take-aways)" and highly refined foods in which the engineered
ingredient is not present in the final food. It deserves a closer
look.

A few other points:

I wrote the epilogue to First Fruit not long after the National
Research Council's report was released in April 2000.* As I mention
on p235, it called for "aggressive research" into the Monarch
butterfly situation. EPA must have come to its conclusion
"that it is very unlikely that Bt corn will have a negative impact
on monarchs" since then. I'd appreciate you sending me a reference
to it. Also, my point is that there wasn't much, if any,
information/data which developers and EPA could have used to make
their expectation that there would not be any significant impact on
Monarchs BEFORE Bt corn was commercialized. There should have been.

*I disagree strongly with your statement that the epilogue "reads
like it was written in 1995." The majority of dates for the
references for that chapter speak for themselves, most being 1999
and 2000 AFTER the "major change [that you said] occurred in
the anti-biotech community around 1997-1998." Also, Golden Rice does
not illustrate your point since it wasn't discussed much of anywhere
outside the Rockefeller Foundation or the lab where it was developed
before 1999 and "attack[s]" on that project have only occurred very
recently (after my book was at the printers, in fact); the first one I
heard was by Richard Lewontin at a seminar on March 1, 2001 and then there
was the Michael Pollan article in the New York Times magazine on March 4,
2001.

I understand, and in the book I describe the fact, that EPA
establishes "tolerances" for Bt (see p235). And, I agree that "FDA
would require labeling on Bt crops if there were a safety issue," at
least a FOOD safety issue. But my own apple versus orange point
is that Bt products are regulated partly as "foods" and partly as
"pesticides" depending on the laws guiding the different regulatory
agencies. This Bt situation especially cries out for the better
coordination between the various agencies, as suggested in the
National Research Council's report or, more drastically, the kind of
specific regulatory system for dealing with biotech foods that had
been recommended by Becky Goldburg and Margaret Mellon.

I agree that "much of the safety assessment data for many of the
biotech crops is publicly available" and I say so in the preface of
my book (pxi). But, just having those results "available" is not
enough. Perhaps what is needed is winning the hearts and minds of the
press, not as you believe biotech opponents did it with lies and
deceptions** but with science. (Like Bill Hiatt used to say, "Let the data
speak for itself.)

**I'm very disappointed that you feel I did not put the fish gene in
tomatoes story to rest. I certainly thought I did on pp196-197 when I
explained that a New York Times News Service article that appeared on
the west coast contained the mistake which had apparently been
caught and corrected prior to its printing in the Times itself. It
seemed like an honest mistake that became an urban legend to me. If
you are referring to my mentioning the fish gene again on p238, on
the other hand, that was with regard to the fact that a company
(which I neglected to name on purpose) did, in fact, develop a
tomato expressing a fish gene but that that project never reached
commercialization...a fact that may be how the NYTimes article's
author got confused in the fist place.

And finally, especially in light of my Calgene experience, I
appreciate your concerns about regulatory costs versus value added.
But, and this is a big but, costs should not enter the safety
discussion. The FDA's mandate is to hold the producers of foods
responsible for the safety and quality of the foods they market;
concern for a producer's costs is not its job. Making that
arguement, in my opinion, is not going to make the public feel

Best regards,

Belinda
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Food Fight -- The short, unhappy life of the Flavr Savr tomato

By Belinda Martineau

Published by the
New York Academy of Sciences

(Belinda Martineau is a molecular geneticist who specializes in plants.
From 1988 until 1995 she worked as a principal scientist at Calgene, Inc.,
in Davis, California. This article was adapted from her forthcoming book,
First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of
Biotech Food, which is being published in April by the McGraw-Hill
Companies.)

On June 24, 2000, some sixty former employees of Calgene, Inc., the
biotech company that developed the world's first genetically engineered
whole food, the Flavr Savr tomato, gathered for a reunion. As people do at
any reunion, they spent time catching up, describing new jobs and new
kids. It was a low-key, friendly affair - until I broached the subject of
the public debate about genetically engineered foods.

That's when I encountered enthusiastic renditions of the same arguments
people in the agricultural-biotechnology industry have been voicing for at
least a dozen years: "The public doesn't understand the technology." "It's
just an extension of traditional breeding." "Diabetics don't care if their
insulin is genetically engineered, so why should the public care if their
food is?" The entire controversy, some of my colleagues insisted, would
soon blow over.

I was surprised, particularly by the insulin comment, because from the
start our reasoning at Calgene had been that sick people are willing to
take a much higher risk with drugs to regain their health than healthy
people are willing to take with their food. Moreover, The New York Times
had recently run a series of front-page articles that addressed the
lukewarm acceptance of biotech crops by the public. Highly publicized
demonstrations against agricultural biotechnology had been staged at the
World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, at annual shareholder
meetings for a number of companies such as the grocery chain Safeway,
Inc., and at some biotechnology conferences. And a number of food-product
companies, including Gerber, Heinz, Frito-Lay and McDonald's, had
responded directly to the marketplace, acknowledging public sentiment by
eliminating genetically engineered ingredients from their products.

After a moment of stunned silence, therefore, I informed my scientific
coworkers that they were in denial. Although I saw that some of them were
more realistic about the situation than others, the incident convinced me
that an inability of many of my colleagues in the biotech community to
face facts is contributing to the polarization of the debate over
genetically modified foods. For example, nearly every scientist,
industrial representative or U.S. federal regulator who has defended the
use of biotechnology in agriculture contends that genetic engineering is
an extension of traditional breeding. But that assertion is not a
scientific fact; it is merely an opinion. It was once described, by an
acting associate commissioner for legislative affairs at the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration, as the "spin" the Clinton administration had put
(back in 1993) on the matter of biotech foods. And spin, I felt quite
certain, was not the kind of information the opponents of agricultural
biotechnology wanted from the new industry's supporters.

Rather than offering opinions, the scientific community needs to give the
public facts, hard facts - studies showing that genetically engineered
foods are safe to eat and that growing them on a large scale will not
cause environmental damage. Unfortunately, safety data published in
scientific journals or made available to the public through the Freedom of
Information Act are seldom cited by biotech proponents. The dearth of such
information in the public debate has been compounded by stories in the
media that have made consumers more, not less, nervous about the safety of
so-called genetically modified, or GM, foods. And, frankly, reports about
genetically engineered corn whose pollen can kill the larvae of monarch
butterflies; about taco shells contaminated with corn that had not been
approved for human consumption; and about superweeds that have become
resistant to herbicides have made me anxious, too.

In response to public concerns about biotech foods, the FDA recently held
a series of public meetings. I attended the one held in Oakland,
California, at which James H. Maryanski, the biotechnology coordinator at
the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, emphasized the
lengthy, full review his agency had conducted on Calgene's Flavr Savr
tomato. Having played a big part in putting together Calgene's data
submissions for that agency, I agree with his assessment. For four years
the FDA put Calgene through the wringer (at least, that's how it felt to
me), asking for additional information as early and as often as it deemed
necessary. David Kessler, the FDA commissioner during the process, said,
"Every safety aspect was examined in exquisite detail." And the
experiments we did at Calgene, my friends in the business tell me,
continue to serve as templates for other companies as they assess the
safety of their new products.

The story of the Flavr Savr tomato, therefore, goes far beyond the
particulars of one genetically engineered product. The experimental data
were exemplary: together, they set the precedent for what is needed to
demonstrate the safety of biotech foods. Furthermore, because fresh
tomatoes are so widely consumed (even as their flavor is so generally
lamented), Calgene's Flavr Savr had been poised to serve as the "poster
fruit" for the new biotech-food industry. Finally, the aspirations of an
entire biotechnology company came to center on the Flavr Savr: it was the
source of Calgene's fame, its main hope for fortune, and the cause of its
ultimate demise.

Calgene's Tomato Team

I joined Calgene in 1988, as one of three Ph.D. scientists on its tomato
team. The company, based in Davis, California, was small and close-knit.
And it was on the verge of becoming an industry leader, largely because of
a tomato that had come out of a research program headed by the
microbiologist William R. Hiatt. The Flavr Savr gene that had been
engineered into Hiatt's tomato was a version of a well-studied
tomato-fruit gene that codes for an enzyme called polygalacturonase (PG,
for short). PG breaks down pectin in the fruit, causing the fruit to
soften and, eventually, to rot. The primary difference between the PG gene
that occurs in ordinary tomatoes and the engineered gene was that the
genetic information in the Flavr Savr version was flipped upside down and
backward, creating a so-called antisense PG gene. That gene, by a
mechanism that is not completely understood, gives rise to far less PG
protein than is produced by ordinary tomatoes, thereby slowing down the
softening process in the engineered plants.

To build the Flavr Savr gene, Hiatt and his research assistant, Raymond E.
Sheehy, first had to clone the wild-type PG gene from tomato plants. After
a scientific race in which they were soundly beaten to publication by not
just one but two academic laboratories, they finally had their PG clone in
hand. The next step was to cut out the PG gene, flip it around into the
antisense configuration and, finally, re-clone it: a relatively
straightforward manipulation to make. But at the time it was not
straightforward at all to get the antisense PG, or Flavr Savr, gene into
the DNA of a full-grown, mature tomato plant; the only "model" systems for
that kind of gene transfer were the tobacco plant and the petunia plant.
Yet only by doing so could Hiatt and Sheehy determine whether the new gene
had any effect on the level of PG protein in the tomato plant's fruit.

Fortunately for them, another group of investigators at Calgene, led by
the cell biologist JoAnne Fillatti, had simultaneously developed one of
the world's first routine methods for transforming (that is, inserting
foreign genes into) tomato cells while at the same time regenerating
full-grown, healthy tomato plants. Fillatti and her team worked their
magic by taking advantage of a naturally occurring process whereby foreign
genes are moved into plants. Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a common soil
bacterium, causes a gall to form on the crown - the juncture of the root
and the stem or trunk - of the plants it infects. The bacterium inserts a
segment of its own DNA into that of a susceptible plant, thereby
appropriating the plant's own genetic machinery to make substances encoded
by the bacterial genes. Those substances then nourish the growth of the
bacterium.

Genetic engineers can manipulate the parasitic action of the bacterium to
insert foreign genes into plants. The first step is to eliminate the
genetic material that A. tumefaciens usually inserts when it infects a
plant. That disarms the bacterium of its usual pathogenic capabilities. It
also makes room in the DNA transferred to the plant for whatever genes
biologists want to squeeze in: in Calgene's case, the Flavr Savr gene, as
well as a gene that would later serve as a marker for the experimenters by
encoding for a protein that confers resistance to the antibiotic drug
kanamycin.

Bacterial cells carrying the Flavr Savr gene were incubated with
tomato-plant cells in a growth medium laced with various plant hormones.
The investigators anticipated that only a small fraction of the tomato
cells would end up incorporating any of the foreign DNA, and they wanted
to select for the cells that did so. By mixing kanamycin into the growth
medium, that selection could be ensured. Kanamycin efficiently killed any
cell that did not possess the antibiotic-resistance gene. The only tomato
cells carrying such a gene were the ones that had been genetically
engineered - that is, the ones that also carried the Flavr Savr gene - so
only the desired cells survived to maturity. As it happened, Calgene's
marker gene later took on a life of its own, when the company sought
regulatory approval for it from the FDA.

A Long Shelf Life

About six months later, Calgene had its first mature Flavr Savr tomato
plants. Tests showed that the new tomatoes, picked ripe from the vine, had
an unusually long shelf life. After three or four weeks at room
temperature they essentially looked and felt as if they had just been
picked, whereas ordinary vine-ripened tomatoes were noticeably shriveled
and rotting. The results were exciting, even sexy, and extremely
photogenic: a photograph of Flavr Savr tomatoes alongside their
non-genetically-engineered rotting cousins was included, as a centerfold,
in Calgene's 1989 annual report.

But a long shelf life, by itself, wasn't sexy enough. The business
opportunity that Roger H. Salquist, Calgene's chief executive officer, and
his staff envisioned for the "slow-to-rot" tomato was bigger than that.
"There are places in the [$4 billion U.S. fresh-tomato] market where
premium tomatoes sell for two and a half times the normal price at the
wholesale level," said Daniel O. Wagster II, Calgene's chief financial
officer. "That's clearly where we'd be positioning the product."

Calgene's business staff was obviously bullish on the Flavr Savr tomato.
It assumed that since Flavr Savr tomatoes were firmer than ordinary
tomatoes weeks after both had been harvested fully ripe, Flavr Savrs
should be firmer than ordinary tomatoes as they ripened on the vine as
well. And if that were the case, they could be picked "vine-ripe" and
still survive shipment to market. Moreover, because they would be allowed
to ripen on their own, they should also taste better than standard market
tomatoes, which are picked while still green and then artificially ripened
with ethylene gas. On the basis of those assumptions, Calgene began making
plans to grow, distribute and market the Flavr Savr.

Some of us in Calgene's scientific trenches were not as optimistic. It
would have been one thing if we were simply claiming that the Flavr Savr
tomato could linger on the grocer's or consumer's shelf weeks longer than
the typical fresh tomato. But a vine-ripened fresh tomato that could
survive the shipping process? That tomato was purely hypothetical.

But scientific reality was not the relevant issue. The company was in sell
mode; before it could develop and sell a genetically engineered product,
it had to sell itself as a viable business. And with the advent of the
Flavr Savr tomato, Calgene's business plans began to have a bigger impact
on its scientific staff. I felt that impact when it came time to seek FDA
approval for the Flavr Savr tomato.

Under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA has the authority
to remove from the marketplace foods it considers unsafe, and to hold food
producers responsible for the safety and quality of the foods they market.
At Calgene, obtaining FDA approval was considered imperative, for
public-relations reasons more than for legal ones. (The company was never
legally required to seek regulatory approval of its tomato.) In 1989, only
a year before Calgene began to seek FDA approval, a batch of a food
supplement derived from genetically engineered bacteria had been
implicated as the source of an outbreak of eosinophilia myalgia syndrome
(EMS), which killed thirty-seven people and left some 1,500 more
permanently disabled.

It was never established that the toxicity of the supplement was linked in
any way to the fact that it was a product of genetic engineering. Still,
Calgene management worried that the public harbored lingering suspicions
about such a connection, along with other Jurassic Park-inspired doubts
about genetic engineering. Their caution is particularly understandable
because the Flavr Savr tomato was expected to be the first genetically
engineered whole food to enter the marketplace. Calgene believed that
proceeding conservatively, yet quickly, to gain an advisory opinion from
the FDA, if not the agency's outright approval, was the best approach.

The first taste we scientists got of what it was going to be like to mix
Calgene's business and science cultures came when the regulatory team
received its deadline for preparing the original report the company would
submit to the FDA. We were given just three months - until mid-November
1990 - to design, carry out and document all the safety experiments needed
to demonstrate that Calgene's selectable marker gene, as well as that
gene's protein product, was safe to use and consume.

Proving It Safe

One major area of concern was that the protein produced by the marker
gene, because of its ability to confer resistance to kanamycin, would
inhibit the effectiveness of any kanamycin a person might be ingesting to
combat an infection. Another concern was the stability of that marker
gene. Some bacterial species can, under highly specific conditions, take
foreign DNA into their cells and incorporate it into their own genetic
blueprint. Could Calgene's selectable marker gene escape from the tomato
during digestion and somehow find its way into the DNA of bacteria
residing in the human gut, making those bacteria resistant to kanamycin?
Could the same thing take place in the animals that are raised for human
consumption?

At first glance, tackling those questions seemed a gargantuan task. But a
new strategy called cascaded safety analysis made the problem manageable.
We would break down the overall risk into smaller, well-defined steps. The
overall risk would then be the product of the risks assessed for all the
smaller steps. My assignment was to apply that strategy to estimate the
risk that bacteria in the gut could become resistant to kanamycin as a
result of eating Flavr Savr tomatoes.

The first thing I needed to know was how much overlap there is between the
bacterial species that can undergo natural genetic transformation and the
bacterial species that inhabit the gut. I found that only one bacterial
genus made both lists: Streptococcus. That, I figured, was a case of good
news–bad news. The good news was that natural genetic transformation in
Streptococcus had been studied for more than sixty years. There were
plenty of data available that would enable me to assign real numbers to
the steps in my risk scenario. The bad news was that human diseases caused
by Streptococcus are relatively commonplace. The perceived threat that
species of Streptococcus could become antibiotic-resistant as a result of
our genetic engineering would probably not be well received by the public.

My next problem was to decide where in the digestive process there were
enough bacteria and enough time for a genetic transformation to take
place. I eliminated both the stomach and the upper small intestine,
because of the hostility of those environments to bacteria and their
relative lack of resident bacteria. Instead, I decided that bacteria
living in the lower small intestine, the large intestine and the colon
posed the greatest risk of being genetically transformed.

Most of the numbers I needed - the mean human consumption rate for fresh
tomatoes, the amount of DNA per tomato cell, the DNA recombination
frequencies - were extracted from the scientific literature. But though I
scoured the published data for specific numbers on the survival rate of
DNA in the human gut, I found none. I knew it was generally assumed that
pancreatic fluids would break DNA down into short stretches of the base
pairs that make up the molecule. The trouble was that the assumption was
so generally believed that no one, it seemed, had done the experiments to
prove it. Obviously, I would have to carry out those experiments myself.

As a result of my studies, I estimated, partly on the basis of the limits
of detection for my experiment, and partly out of pure conservatism, that
one one-thousandth of the DNA from a serving of Flavr Savr tomatoes could
survive passage through the gut. That set the limit on how much foreign
DNA would be available for the transformation of Streptococcus bacteria in
the gut. I further estimated, on the basis of that limit and many other
highly conservative, worst-case assumptions, that at average levels of
consumption, for every thousand people who ate Flavr Savr tomatoes, one
gut bacterium might become resistant to kanamycin. Moreover, the
scientific literature indicated that a large number of bacteria isolated
from people were already resistant to kanamycin. In light of my estimate,
any additional risk associated with eating Flavr Savr tomatoes seemed
insignificant.

But we were not nearly finished with our safety analysis of the Flavr Savr
tomato when we filed our original documents with the FDA. For its part,
the FDA, as a result of its own internal review and in response to
comments it received from the public, made many requests for more
experimental data. Answering the agency's questions about naturally
occurring plant toxins, stomach lesions in rats fed Flavr Savr tomatoes,
and the unintended insertion of additional DNA into genetically engineered
plants put Calgene on the edge of not just biotechnology but other fields
as well. It was a long, hard, even painful process. But on May 18, 1994,
the FDA finally faxed its formal approval notice to Calgene, "supporting
the safety of tomatoes grown from Flavr Savr seeds." After three and a
half years of hard regulatory labor, the birth of that biotech baby felt
exhilarating.

On The Grocer's Shelves

The world's first genetically engineered whole food went on sale three
days later, on Saturday, May 21, 1994. The "national roll-out" took place
in two grocery stores, the State Market IGA in Davis, California, and
Carrot Top in Northbrook, Illinois. Both stores sold the tomatoes for
$1.99 a pound, about seventy cents more per pound than other premium
tomatoes. They sold so well that the owner of the Davis IGA resorted to
limiting customers to two Flavr Savr tomatoes a day.

Calgene had a big jump on its biotech competitors when it came to getting
genetically engineered tomatoes to market. The company had its work cut
out for it, however, to ensure that its advantage would last. The
distribution networks of those competitors, one of which was Monsanto,
were extensive. And Calgene, new to the vegetable-marketing business,
found that transporting its tomatoes was a major problem from the start.

The first shipping test - out of Mexico - was a disaster. It was designed
to test not only whether the Flavr Savr gene would enable vine-ripened
fruit to survive 2,000 miles in a truck, but also whether Flavr Savr
tomatoes could be bulk-loaded into large bins, then sorted and packed at
their destination. A group of Calgene employees, including Dan Wagster and
Kenneth G. Moonie, the director of finance and business development, was
anxiously waiting when the truck arrived in Chicago.

The results of the test were clear before the vehicle had come to a stop.
Tomato puree was seeping from the back end of the truck. The cargo was
beyond salvage. One Calgene official repeatedly muttered, "It's over, it's
over." Two others used snow shovels to transfer the mess into dumpsters.
Wagster, looking decidedly paler than he had before the truck's arrival,
stood by in his three-piece suit reflecting on the half-full glass of
water.

"We're learning," he said. "It's just part of all the learning we're
doing."

"All we're learning," Moonie replied, "is how to shovel goddamned
tomatoes."

And that, unfortunately, was just the beginning. Tomato-shoveling and
dumpster-filling skills would continue to be honed at Calgene for the next
few years. Contrary to the company's early expectations, the Flavr Savr
gene could not keep vine-ripened fruit firm enough to be packed and
transported like green tomatoes. Calgene's shippers would have to handle
the firm's tomatoes just as gently - and expensively - as they did other,
conventionally developed vine-ripened fruit.

The company was learning why the fresh-tomato industry had largely given
up on vine-ripes in the mid-1960s. According to people who had vastly more
experience in the tomato industry than anyone at Calgene, genetic
engineering was easy, compared with reforming the tomato business.
Calgene, with minimal experience in that business, could not turn a profit
on its marginal, albeit novel, product.

In early 1997 Monsanto took over the company. Monsanto, perhaps because of
its firsthand knowledge about the kind of money that could be lost in the
tomato business, gave up on the Flavr Savr. And as I write, my friends in
the business tell me that there are no genetically engineered tomatoes for
retail sale in the United States or Europe.

Society is now at a crossroads in the regulation of agricultural
biotechnology. The FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the
Environmental Protection Agency are all rethinking their approaches to
genetically engineered plants. For that reason, I think it is now
particularly appropriate to take another hard look at the approval process
for the Flavr Savr tomato. The FDA's determination that the Flavr Savr was
as safe as other conventionally produced tomatoes was, I believe, a
logical conclusion drawn from the data Calgene provided. But the agency
also concluded, in conjunction with its Food Advisory Committee, that
subsequent genetically engineered products would not require similarly
extensive reviews. Formal FDA approval would not be necessary; instead,
the agency installed a voluntary consultation process.

The case of the Flavr Savr tomato, in my opinion, does not support that
more general FDA conclusion. Calgene's tomato should not serve as a safety
standard for the new industry; no single genetically engineered product
should. The safety assessment of such products should be carried out on a
case-by-case basis.

What is more, the Flavr Savr tomato is particularly inappropriate as a
test case. If all genetically engineered foods were produced by
antisensing a gene that is normally expressed in that food - as was done
with the Flavr Savr tomato - it might be reasonable to subject those new
food products to minimal scrutiny. But in nearly all of the more than
forty genetically engineered crops that have appeared since the Flavr Savr
tomato, the altered traits have not been introduced simply by shutting
down an endogenous plant gene. Genes from bacteria, viruses, other plants
and, yes, even a fish (though as far as I know, the tomato harboring the
fish gene was never commercialized) have been added to essentially all the
new foods. Those products do not belong in the same innocuous category as
the Flavr Savr tomato - unless Calgene's selectable marker gene is also
taken into account.

When it came to the kanamycin-resistance marker gene, the FDA gave Calgene
relatively conservative advice, bureaucratically speaking, anyway. The
protein that was produced as a result of the expression of that gene was,
in the end, treated as a food additive by the FDA, at least in tomatoes,
cotton and canola. (The FDA's strictest regulatory controls and most
stringent safety testing in any food category is for food additives.) I
agree with that definition. The marker protein is not normally present in
the foods people eat, whether those foods are genetically engineered or
not. By that test, therefore, when such a protein is added to a
genetically engineered food, it becomes a food additive.

But if the protein coded for by Calgene's selectable marker gene is a food
additive, what about Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxins, viral coat
proteins and other proteins that were not part of human foods until they
were engineered into them? Why are those proteins not considered food
additives, too? It is time for the government to reexamine the regulatory
precedent the FDA set with the kanamycin-resistance gene; reconsider its
position that "genetically engineered ingredients are not inherently a
food additive"; and revisit a 1991 proposal by the Environmental Defense
Fund (now Environmental Defense) that the Food Additives Amendment of the
Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act be applied to regulate biotech foods.

A new agricultural innovation - biotechnology - has been born. The baby's
potential is undeniable. Yet, as a society, we have been bad parents for
too long. The biotech industry, the baby's proud papa, has spent too much
time bragging about what the child might be when it grows up, and not
enough time conducting regulatory studies, which constitute the discipline
that must accompany the joy and excitement of parenting a new technology.
Historically, the quest for progress in agriculture and other endeavors
has had unanticipated adverse effects on the environment. Plowing ahead
without adequate review of specific biotechnological projects and how they
might affect the future is not in society's best interests.

By the same token, some environmentalists and a growing proportion of the
lay public have begun to act like a fearful, overprotective mother who
would just as soon keep her baby in its crib, unrealistically trying to
prevent it from growing up at all. More, such critics are smelling smoke
in reports of superweeds and contaminated taco shells and wondering
whether the baby is playing with matches. And, at what therefore seems to
be a critical time, the dysfunctional parents are having a hard time
communicating with each other.

An example of the life-enhancing potential of biotechnology is so-called
golden rice, a genetically modified strain enriched with a precursor to
vitamin A; the strain was developed without commercial support, in the
hope that it could be given away to third world farmers. But it is time
for us as a society to mobilize our historical perspective along with the
facts at hand, and select an effective set of parenting guidelines. We
must realistically face the challenge of rearing this brilliant child.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: 7 Jun 2001 18:08:52 -0000
To: AgBioView
From: Wayne Parrott
Subject: modern marker assisted biotechnology

NLP Wessex is now enamored of "genomics" (more specifically,
marker-assisted selection, or MAS), and goes on to cite an example with
rice which was bred using MAS. I think everyone would agree that the
cheapest, simplest, and most efficient approach should be tried first when
it comes to developing improved varieties. Traditionally, this has meant
breeding and selection, and more frequently now, it means MAS. My
research program certainly has a healthy MAS component to it.

Nevertheless, it is important to caution that MAS is not a complete
alternative to genetic engineering. As powerful as MAS might be, it
suffers from several limitations:

1) First of all, MAS only works for traits present in a germplasm
pool-- namely, the species and its close cross-compatible relatives. If
the trait is not present in the germplasm pool, all the MAS in the world
will not create it.

2) MAS will not bring quick results for those crops with long
generation times (eg, fruit and timber species).

3) MAS is not effective for sterile crops (eg, bananas, Russet Burbank
potato)

4) MAS is not effective for those crops which do not breed true from
seed, and which must therefore be vegetatively propagated-- many fruits,
for example

Hence, there will always be a role for transgenics. Furthermore-- the
true genomics is starting to make many new genes and promoters available,
and many of these will be available for deployment through
transgenics. Finally, I suspect there will be many "orphan crops" left
out of the genomics efforts. For such crops, it is conceivable that
transgenics will continue to be a more attractive effort than MAS.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: 8 Jun 2001 00:01:25 -0000
To: AgBioView ,
From: Rick Roush
Subject: Marker assisted selection

> "NLP Wessex" wrote:

>The application of modern marker assisted biotechnology techniques to
>conventional plant breeding.... does not involve releasing genetically
>engineered
>organisms into the environment. It is now specifically supported by
the
>UK's Conservative Party as an alternative to the use of genetic
>engineering...

Marker assisted selection and probably all manner of "classical"
breeding have been underfunded relative to their public benefits for
decades, and perhaps even more so as governments and university
administrators have seized on transgenic crops as the latest thing. It has
to be seen as a good thing that some politicians are becoming aware of the
importance of classical breeding, even if they have no chance at power.
However, marker assisted selection is not an alternative to all transgenic
applications. Cotton with the levels of resistance to caterillars achieved
through the use of genes modeled on those of Bacillus thuringiensis would
almost certainly never be achieved through marker assisted selection, but
are generating huge benefits in reducing pesticide use, including for the
poor
(eg. below).

Rick
---------

Biotechnology: A New Genetically Modified Strain Is Changing Life For
Small Farmers In Makhatini (South Africa)
- Marc Mennessier.

(Translation of an article appearing in Le Figaro (one of the main French
dailies) of May ?, 2001.)

For three years, small farmers in the Makhatini plains, a difficult region
in the northeast of South Africa, have given over their crops to
genetically modified, insect resistant, cotton. From this up-to-now unique
experience, they have drawn very positive conclusions: the amount of
insecticide used has been divided by four, time has been gained by
eliminating of thankless tasks, and substantial improvements in yields and
revenue per acre achieved. And the environmental and health risks so
feared in Europe? "In the West, people have the luxury of being afraid of
biotechnology, but for us it's a question of life or death," replies one
of them.

When he sprays his cotton field against insects, Absalum Tumedi has to go
three kilometers on foot to the nearest watering hole to fill up his small
backpack spraying device and walk the same distance back. "I end up going
dozens of hard kilometers this way and have to spend several days to cover
my two hectare plot" he tells us, pointing to his tired back.

But since he has been using the genetically modified Bollgard seed this
tough chore is only a memory. "I only do two sprayings a year now, instead
of eight, on average, with the traditional seeds, the yield is better and
I earn more money to feed and raise my family". Bollgard is the name of
the strain launched by the Monsanto corporation in a variety of cotton
marketed in South Africa, since 1998, by the seed companies Delta and Pine
Land. Based on the Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) bacteria, it allows plants
to "naturally" secrete an insect killing protein which protects them
caterpillars.

Absalum Tumedi is one of 600 small farmers in the Makhatini plains, a hard
region in the northeast of the country, who have chosen to plant GM
cotton, some of them for the third year running. This experiment is, up to
now, unique in the world. Who would ever have thought that a genetically
modified plant would interest Zulu peasants? People who only have a couple
of acres of red soil under a tropical sun. And, for whom cotton, in
addition to tradition staple crops (corn, vegetables, beans, fruit) to
live on, is their only source of income. Is it not said that this kind of
technology is made for wealthy farmers in developed countries?

"Where we are, there aren't any factories, we only have farming to keep us
going" explains Thembitsha Joseph Buthelezi, the chairman of the Ubongwa
association, which represents several thousand small farmers in Makhatini.
"In the beginning, most of us were skeptical. The first year, only five of
us tried the experiment. But last year, in the area, half the cotton
surface (around 1 250 hectares) was seeded with Bollgard".

The reasons for this craze are numerous. First of all there is the drastic
reduction in the number of insecticide applications and its economic,
ecological and health benefits. The insecticides used (organophosphates)
are particularly bad for the environments, and also for growers who handle
them as well as for their family members. Because of the hot, humid
Makhatimi climate, overalls and masks which could reduce risks of
contamination during spraying are not used very often. Then there are the
empty insecticide containers, still often used to carry drinking water.
Another advantage is, as the plains of Makhatini are completely without
infrastructure, it takes a day to go buy the insecticides at the nearest
retail outlet, located twenty odd kilometers away. Saving time, but also
saving money. The effect of reducing spraying from eight to only two times
a year cuts production costs. And that, in spite of the fact that Bollgard
seeds cost around twice as much as traditional kinds, because of the
royalties that Delta and Pine Land pay to Monsanto.

To all this, a significant rise in yield has to be added; around 33% on
average, but which can reach 80% on some plots. "The Bollgard strain makes
it possible for a crop to express all its genetic potential", explains
Johan van Jaarsveld, an agronomist at Delta and Pine Land. "Hence the
spectacular results recorded with small scale farmers who don't know how
to use agchem protection well. On the other hand, the effect is much less
clear for large scale growers who use airplanes or good disk harrows for
their spraying. Their crops already yielding maximum productivity,
Bollgard mainly makes it possible to cut down on using insecticides."

The production of these 300 farms with hundreds of hectares of cotton each
(totaling 80 000 hectares nationally) should not rise appreciably, even if
a good many of them have already adopted GM seeds. As South Africa imports
around half of the "white gold" (???) it uses, the price paid to growers,
presently 2.70 rands a kilo (around 2.55 FF), should, all things being
equal, stay stable for some time to come.

This is a crucial point for the farmers of Makhatini, whose net earnings
have gone up by 1 100 rands a hectare (about 1 170 FF) and who are
counting on this increased revenue to get them out of their current state
of underdevelopment. A lot needs to be done; to start with by improving
the habitat, buying agricultural equipment or educating children,
compulsory but expensive. Locally, officials have just launched an
ambitious program to bring in water and electricity, which today are not
available, but will have to be paid for when they are.

"If you come back in five years, you won't recognize this place any more.
Bollgard is going to help Africa get back on its feet," predicts Johan van
Jaarsveld, not without lyricism. And the ecological and health risks of GM
crops, so feared in industrialized countries, especially in Europe? As
cotton fiber is not eaten and Bt protein comes under the umbrella of
organic farmers, the main unknown is the risk of resistant breeds of
insects appearing.

To guard against that eventuality, the Makhatini farmers will scrupulously
put in place "set aside zones", as required by South African authorities
when Bollgard was approved in 1997. Each farmer has the choice between two
options; grow non-GM cotton on a minimum of 20% of his land or 5% if he
does not use any insecticide. This was done in order to maintain a
sufficient proportion of responsive insects. "In the West, people have the
luxury of being afraid of biotechnology, but for us it's a question of
life or death" asserts Thembitsha Joseph, Buthelezi. "Those who are
against it, don't want us to succeed".
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=

Why burn down the Center for Urban Horticulture?

- From: Philip Bell ; Posted To:


Hello everyone: Here's a link to an (audio) interview with the plant
researcher
here at UW who was the target of the ELF fire two weeks ago. The interview
is from the morning talk show on our local NPR affiliate -- KUOW. The
substance of the interview starts about 7 minutes into the segment.

Why Burn Down the CUH?
http://128.208.34.102:8080/ramgen/weekday/wkdy010606-a.rm?start='00:06:57.000'
(from http://www.kuow.org/Weekday.asp)

Host Steve Scher asks what effect the arson at UW's Center for Urban
Horticulture might have on academic research. He speaks with research
professor Toby Bradshaw and takes listener calls. The arson at UW's
Center for Urban Horticulture has affected research beyond the
projects targeted by ELF. What was research professor Toby
Bradshaw working on that angered the Earth Liberation Front?

Guests: Toby Bradshaw, research professor, Center for Urban Horticulture,
University of Washington

-Phil
PHILIP BELL, Assistant Professor, University of Washington
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.athensnews.gr/athweb/nathens.prnt_article?e=C&f=12912&t=01&m=A08&aa=1

Government 'forced' to approve GM seed use
Greens concerned decision will open floodgates to widespread planting of
GM crops, while minister insists pesticides pose greater threat

Athens News
BY JOHN CARR
June 1, 2001

IN WHAT some environmentalists fear could be the thin end of the wedge to
increase genetically-modified crops in Greece, the country's agriculture
minister, George Anomeritis, has approved the use of GM cotton seeds to
help make the country's cotton crop immune to pests.

The move came days after Greenpeace, the global environmental awareness
organisation, issued a Greek-language guide to what it claimed were 53
packaged foodstuffs containing GM ingredients, mainly derivatives of soya
and maize meal. Though Greenpeace's action was pooh-poohed by Development
Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, most Greeks remained in the dark about how
much GM was actually in the domestically produced and imported food chain.

In announcing the decision to cultivate GM cotton, Anomeritis took an
apologetic tone. Apparently in fear of criticism from vocal left-wing
parties and organisations, he claimed the decision was forced on Greece by
Brussels. "We do not favour such a policy, but we must enforce the
European Union decision," he said. Greenpeace has called for a burst of
consumer activism. "We appeal to all citizens to refuse to play the role
of the uncritical consumer and seek a bigger say in matters concerning
what they eat," said local activist Myrto Pispini.

The development ministry, which oversees food testing and monitoring, was
quick to criticise the Greenpeace move as based on little or no scientific
evidence. On the contrary, officials said, use of GM seeds in various
countries has drastically eliminated the use of potentially deadly
pesticides, making it far more economic to grow crops and feed increasing
numbers of people in developing nations.

Defenders of GM say that while agricultural pesticides have been
responsible for thousands of human and untold animal fatalities, not a
single death has yet been attributed to the effects of ingesting a food
grown from genetically-modified material.

The government was clearly taken aback by the Greenpeace announcement
which, whatever its merits, was the first real move to bring the issue
into the public consciousness. Christodoulakis, however, declined to rise
to the bait. "The only people authorised to carry out market monitoring
activities are state agencies," he said, referring to the ministry's own
food and drug department.

The issue also brought to light a glaring lack of national legislation on
GM materials. According to sources close to the development ministry,
Greece merely follows EU practice, which limits itself to a requirement
for food and beverage manufacturers to mention any GM ingredients on their
package labels. Though Greenpeace has demanded that the government draw up
a list of GM materials "detected" in foods consumed in Greece, the sources
said such a task would be difficult if not impossible, given the dearth of
information.

As of the end of May five Greek food companies declared themselves
prepared to assure the public in writing that their products were
completely GM-free. These included two dairy and yoghurt firms, Agno and
Fage, and the Ferro bakery.

As a measure of Greenpeace's proverbial skill in manipulating the world
media's attention, most of the Greek media uncritically adopted the
organisation's line. The ordinarily circumspect Kathimerini began its main
story praising what it called "a dynamic and functional consumer network
acquired by the Greeks" - ie the slickly-produced Greenpeace booklet. The
public, however, seemed to take little notice, as long as there was still
plenty of yoghurt on the supermarket shelves.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

BRUSSELS - Belgian Farm Minister Jaak Gabriels said on Thursday
agriculture needed to embrace biotechnology and promised to promote the
issue during the Belgian presidency of the European Union.

By Niamh Keegan
Reuters

Gabriels, who for six months from July will chair the monthly EU farm
ministers meetings, said he would devote an informal ministerial meeting
to biotechnology in September.

"I think that an economic sector like agriculture has to be sustainable
and competitive and should therefore be open to new technologies," he said
at the launch of CropLife International, a new marketing arm for the
biotechnology industry.

The EU has been much more resistant to genetically modified (GM) crops
than the United States because of public concerns over their impact on
health and the environment.

The EU has not approved any new GM crops since 1998. In June 1999, a
majority of environment ministers informally agreed to block further
approvals until legislation was revised.

EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne has made moves to
revamp EU rules on biotechnology and to restore public confidence through
increased traceability and labelling.

But in February, France, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Austria and Luxemburg
attached conditions to the new rules, which have effectively maintained
the moratorium.

RESTARTING EU APPROVALS

Gabriels said he wanted to use the September meeting to kick-start the GM
authorisation process.

"I want to give this technology the chance to be applied in Europe as
well."

Referring to organic farming, which EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler is
keen to promo