AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Enough Food?
* Impacts of tillage
* Newsletter on Agbiotech
* Scientists See Wood Supply In Genetically Engineered Trees
* Safety Assessment Of Roundup Ready Soybeans
* Greenpeace Has A Black Eye
* Professor Says Labelling Food As Modified Gives Wrong Impression
* Testing Finds No Link Between Gene-Modified Corn, Illnesses
* World of Science and GM Crops
- From: "Mitchell, Brad "
Ag biotech has the potential to allow people to grow crops in areas
where those crops could never be grown before. There is research into
drought-, heat-, cold-, salt- resistant varieties of crops. Other
advances would allow more food to be grown on the same amount of land,
or allow more nutritious food to be grown.
There is a general consensus that there is presently enough food on
the planet to feed everyone. A lot of the anti-biotech folks out there
point to this as evidence that there is no need for agricultural
biotechnology. Distribution is often cited as the real problem.
I don't think the "adequate food" argument against ag biotech holds
water. There is still a dire need for the benefits ag biotech has to
offer. My rebuttal is below:
1. There are numerous political, climatic, economic, social, etc.
barriers which effectively keep food from reaching the people who need
it .Sometimes people go hungry even when there is food close at hand.
However surplus food is often not close at hand for hungry people.
Often it is hundreds or thousands of miles away and any one or
combination of these barriers prevents it from getting to the hungry.
This is a problem that must be addressed on many fronts
simultaneously. However one valid front from which to attack is to
produce food, or more of it, close to where there are hungry people.
Many barriers to getting the food to the hungry will simply be
bypassed if it is already where they are.
Biotechnology has the potential to increase food production in areas
where there are hungry people. It has the potential to help reduce
hunger. 2. One of the largest environmental impacts of agriculture are
those associated transportation of food. Walk into the produce section
of any New England supermarket in January. Now picture all that
produce in a large truck being driven from California's Central Valley
or flown up in a cargo plane from Chile. Consider of all the fossil
fuel burned in the transportation of this produce, and all the
resulting emissions released. Take the amount of emissions and
multiply them by the number of supermarkets and then again by 52
(assuming one truckload per store per week). A simplistic model, but
you get the picture. (I' don't work within the "Food Aid Circle", and
am not as familiar with their distribution scenarious. However, I
assume providing food as aid to the needy relies on transporting food
over great distance - impacts are equivalent.)
Sure, there is enough food on the planet for all. But does all the
food exist where it is needed? What are the costs (monetary and
otherwise) of moving this food from where it is produced, to where it
Many in the organic/small farm community have started a "Buy Local"
campaign. This makes a lot of sense. It helps boost the local economy.
Transportation costs (monetary and environmental) are less and
consumers generally get fresher, better-tasting food. The benefits of
locally grown food hold true in a village in Ethiopia as much as they
do in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Again, biotechnology has the potential both to allow more food to be
produced within a given region or area. Locally produced food offers
benefits on many levels.
3. To calculate the dietary needs of the world populationt based on
calories per person is overly simplistic and ignores basic needs the
human body. Diversity of foodstuffs is important to nutrition.
"Five-a-Day" (fruits and vegetables) is the battle cry of
nutritionists in the US. Yet I seldom hear those who say there is
enough food to go around address nutrition in the same breath. This
clearly needs to be considered.
Biotechnology has the potential to increase/allow production of a wide
variety of foods with diverse nutritional benefits in areas where
nutritional resources are now scarce. Again, this is a problem that
must be addressed on many fronts. Have traditional crops that can
provide these resources been ignored in modern agriculture? In many
cases they have, and a resurrection of these crops/practices should be
explored and utilized where it is beneficial. So should agricultural
4. As a simple model of economic and political stability, nations are
typically judged on their self-sufficiency in food. This is
particularly true in the case of countries which do not have goods or
services which they can export/trade on the world market in exchange
(direct or indirect) for food.
Nepal for example, is one of the ten poorest countries on the planet.
The country doesn't produce enough in other goods and services to buy
food, certainly not at the expense of items such as roads, health
care, education, etc. The population has been growing quickly and in
the last ten years they became a net importer versus exporter of food.
Hunger is increasing in proportion with population growth with a good
part of the population lacking in caloric intake as well as other
nutritional parameters. Hungry people are angry people. The country
has been becoming increasingly unstable politically with Maoist
uprisings increasing (again in proportion to population and hunger)
with the heaviest activity occuring in those districts with the most
Maybe the answer to Nepal's problems is to simply ship them all the
food they need. This doesn't fit my concept of "sustainability"
though. Clearly Nepal needs to be able to grow enough food for itself.
5. "Give me a fish and I'll eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I'll
eat for a lifetime". Transporting food to the hungry from a distant
locale is giving them a fish. Providing them with the tools they need
to grow their own food is teaching them to fish. Ag biotech has the
potential to allow the hungry to fish for themselves.
Not to end on a critical note, but you will notice my careful use of
the word "potential" when referring to benefits of ag biotech. One of
the problems with poor people is that they don't have any money. The
world of agricultural biotechnology remains by and large, a market
driven pursuit. I fear the poor will see few of the benefits of this
technology. Most technology is not applied where it is needed most,
but where it will generate the most money. This problem is most
pronounced in the areas of medicine and agriculture (see link Doctors
Without Borders on the problems Stimulating Research and Development
for Neglected Diseases-
So, in summation - I would agree that there are barriers to ag biotech
helping to feed the world. I would agree that most of the benefits of
ag biotech will likely bypass the poor and go to the relative rich.
However it is a potentially valuable tool in fighting hunger. We'd be
foolish not to try to use it.
Subject: Impacts of tillage
- From: "Bob MacGregor"
There have been some previous comments about the adverse impacts of
additional tillage/cultivation steps in organic agriculture vs.
no-till. I ran across the following note (attributed to D.A. Lobb, U.
Manitoba) in Environmental Sustainability of Canadian Agriculture, and
thought it might be pertinent. I had always thought in terms of wind
and water erosion; it was an eye-opener for me just how much soil can
be physically displaced down-slope just by the act of
plowing/cultivation itself. BOB " Soil Translocation on Sloping Land
Tillage erosion is a major cause of the loss of topsoil from knolls in
the rolling landscape of Ontario's farmland. In a study in
sourthwestern Ontario, soils along several hillslopes were labelled
with a radioactive tracer and then tilled up- and down-slope. Tillage
consisted of convention al tillage operations, which included plowing
with a moldboard plow, two passes with a tandem discer, and one pass
with a C-tine cultivator.
When movement of the labelled soil was measured, it was found that
upslope tillage moved 90 kilograms of soil up the hill for every 1
metre of slope width. Downslope tillage moved 142 kilograms of soil
down the hill for every 1 metre of slope width. Combining these
results, there was a net movement of 52 kilograms of soil downhill
for every up- and down-slope operation. Assuming that one sequence of
tiillage operations occurs every year and is carried out upslope and
downslope equally often, soil would move downslope at a rate of 26
kilograms per metre of slope width each year.
The soil displaced from this area was estimated at 54 tonnes per
hectare per year. Tillage erosion accounted for at least 70% of all
erosion that took place in this area."
From: Andrew Apel
I didn't say anything about E. coli in pointing out salient parts of
the British PHLS report on organic vegetables. What I did point out is
the same thing you mentioned in your reply--that the PHLS found high
levels of "indicator organisms" on 0.5 percent of the veggies. As you,
and others, have likely noticed, "indicator organisms" is a polite
general euphemism for *fecal* bacteria. Consuming fecal bacteria may
not be uniformly dangerous, but it is quite uniquely disgusting--at
least to most people.
Furthermore, I would point out that the presence of "indicator
organisms" on organic food entails a high likelihood that fragments of
animal DNA have been deposited on the food, violating the precepts of
many vegetarians who may not want, i.e., cow genes on their broccoli.
A New Newsletter on Agbiotech
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology has launched a newsletter
"AgBiotech Buzz: Emerging Applications" and the first volume is now on
line at http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/
The inaugural issue includes:
*Shaping The Future: What do edible vaccines, herbicide-resistant corn
and a novel method of detecting land mines have in common? On the
surface, not much. However, all of these new products could be
possible through the application of biotechnology: the manipulation of
plant or animal genes.
*Protecting Consumers: Is the current regulatory framework adequate to
protect consumers from potential harm in light of the emerging
advances in the agricultural biotechnology?
*A dairy farmer's daughter looks to traditional and biotech methods
hoping to reduce reliance on pesticides.
Scientists See Wood Supply In Genetically Engineered Trees
- By Tina Hesman, St. Louis, Post-Dispatch 06/18/2001
Genetically engineered trees are the latest fuel for the fire of
environmental terrorist groups opposed to biotechnology. But when the
smoke clears, biotech trees may prove to be some of the most
environmentally friendly creatures in the forests, scientists say.
Tree scientists from government, universities and the forestry and
biotechnology industries gathered Sunday at the Millennium Hotel in
St. Louis for the Society for In Vitro Biology's annual congress to
discuss field trials and environmental risks from biotech trees. Trees
are one of the most visible and recognizable symbols of the
environmental movement, said Armand Seguin of the Canadian Forest
Service. Trees capture attention in ways other crop plants can't, he said.
"It would seem silly to see people chaining themselves to maize
plants," Seguin said. So genetically engineered trees seem to have
replaced corn as the target for radical environmental groups. Last
month, simultaneous arson attacks in Oregon and Washington destroyed
hybrid poplar trees. Two weeks later, the Earth Liberation Front, a
terrorist group that had burned a biotech lab in Michigan, claimed
responsibility for the fires.
None of the trees targeted by the arsonists was genetically
engineered, although the group claims to have carried out the attacks
to stop "genetic pollution" of the forests.
At current production rates, the demand for wood and fiber products
from trees will surpass the supply in the next decade, experts say.
While demand is increasing, the land available for growing and logging
trees is declining. Forestry experts see only one solution to the
dilemma. "We're going to have to get a lot better at growing trees,"
said David Ellis of CellFor Inc., a Canadian biotech company. Tree
farming and genetic engineering may be some of the best strategies to
produce wood fast in a limited space, he said.
Critics of tree engineering say that the trees could cross-breed with
wild trees and that the hybrids could take over entire forests. That
is probably not going to happen, said Richard Meilan, associate
director of the Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative at
Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Meilan and his colleagues studied isolated stands of wild poplar trees
in eastern Oregon to find how the trees breed in the wild. The
researchers gathered 849 seeds from female poplar trees and then
conducted paternity tests. They discovered that while male trees
located within about 1,100 feet from "mother" trees were often the
source of fertilizing pollen, trees as far as six miles away could
also father young trees. The data indicate that poplar pollen has the
potential to spread over great distances.
But a second study conducted by Meilan's group showed that hybrid
poplars, such as those grown commercially on many tree farms, aren't
as likely to spread their genes as previously thought. Wild male
poplars fertilized wild females more than 99 percent of the time even
though the females grew closer to tree farms of hybrid poplars. The
result suggests that hybrid poplars don't breed well with their wild
relatives and probably won't compete well in the woods, Meilan said.
Seguin, of the Canadian Forestry Service, tested decaying leaves from
genetically engineered poplar trees to see how long pieces of DNA from
the plants last. His tests show that DNA is broken down rapidly -
within three or four months. That rapid decay makes it less likely
that soil microbes could pick up foreign genes from biotech trees,
Safety Assessment Of Roundup Ready Soybeans
- June 14, 2001; Special Focus - Biotech Science News; www.monsanto.com
(The complete text of this document with data will soon be available
on the Internet and Agbioview readers will be alerted to that ....CSP)
Using modern biotechnology, Monsanto Company has developed Roundup
Ready soybean varieties that confer tolerance to glyphosate, the
active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, by the production of the CP4
enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS) protein. The EPSPS
enzyme is present in the shikimic acid pathway for the biosynthesis of
aromatic amino acids in plants and microorganisms. Inhibition of this
enzyme by glyphosate leads to a deficiency in the production of
aromatic amino acids and lack of growth in plants. The aromatic amino
acid biosynthetic pathway is not present in mammalian, avian or
aquatic life forms, which explains the selective activity of
glyphosate in plants and glyphosate?s low mammalian toxicity.
Roundup Ready soybean event 40-3-2 was produced by introduction of the
naturally glyphosate tolerant cp4 epsps coding sequence into the
soybean genome using particle-acceleration transformation. The CP4
EPSPS protein, derived from a common soil bacterium, is a member of
the class of EPSPS proteins found ubiquitously in plants and
microorganisms. The tolerance of Roundup Ready soybeans to Roundup
herbicide has been demonstrated since 1991 in field trials conducted
throughout the United States and since 1996 with commercial production
in the United States, Canada and Argentina. Roundup Ready soybeans
were planted in 1996 on less than 5% of the U.S. soybean acres. In the
2000 growing season, 54% of the soybeans -- approximately 40 million
acres of the 75.4 million acres of the soybeans grown in the U.S. --
were Roundup Ready soybeans. In Argentina, where the adoption rate is
estimated at 95%, Roundup Ready soybeans were grown on over 20 million
acres in 2000. Globally, Roundup Ready soybeans made up 58% of all
transgenic crops grown in 2000.
One of the reasons growers have rapidly adopted the Roundup Ready
soybean is the simplicity it offers in weed control. Since Roundup
herbicide is highly effective against the vast majority of annual and
perennial grasses and broadleaf weeds, growers planting Roundup Ready
soybeans are able to reduce the number of herbicides used to control
the economically destructive weeds that grow in their fields and
thereby realize a savings in weed control costs. This reduction in
herbicides used has benefited the environment by reducing the number
of herbicide applications and also allows growers to implement
integrated weed management practices in their fields ? practices that
are generally not possible when pre-plant or pre-emergent herbicides
The food, feed and environmental safety of Roundup Ready soybean was
established based on: the evaluation of the functional and structural
similarity of the CP4 EPSPS protein to a diverse family of EPSPS
proteins typically present in food and feed derived from traditional
plant and microbial sources; the low dietary exposure to the CP4 EPSPS
protein; the lack of toxicity or allergenicity of EPSPS proteins in
general; and by direct studies of the CP4 EPSPS protein. Furthermore,
the nutritional equivalence and wholesomeness of Roundup Ready
soybeans compared to conventional soybeans was demonstrated by the
analysis of key nutrients, including proximates, amino acid and fatty
acid composition, as well as anti-nutrients.
The equivalence of Roundup Ready soybeans to conventional soybeans was
confirmed in numerous feeding studies with rats, cows, broiler
chickens, fish and quail. Studies also confirm that Roundup Ready
soybeans have no adverse impact on the environment. The results of
these studies demonstrate that Roundup Ready soybeans are as safe as
traditional soybeans with respect to food, feed and environmental safety.
Baldwin, F. L. 2000. Transgenic Crops: A View From The US Extension
Pest Management Science 56(7) :584 - 585.
Barnes, R. L. 2000. Why the American Soybean Association Supports
Soybeans. Pest Management Science. 56 (7):580-583.
Carpenter, J. E. Gianessi, L. 1999. Why U.S. Farmers Are Adopting
Genetically Modified Crops. Economic Perspectives 4(4):20 - 23.
Carpenter, J. E., Gianessi, L. 2000. Herbicide Use On Roundup Ready Crops
[Letter].. Science 287(5454):803.
Carpenter, J. E. 2001. Case Studies In Benefits And Risk Of Agricultural
Biotechnology: Roundup Ready Soybeans And Bt Field Corn. National
Food and Agricultural Policy. 1 - 56.
Carpenter, J.E., Gianessi, L. P. 2001. Agricultural Biotechnology: Updated
Benefit Estimates. National Center For Food and Agricultural Policy. 1
Carpenter, J., Gianessi, L. 2000. Herbicide Use On Roundup Ready Crops
[Letter]. Science 287(5454):803.
Falck-Zepeda, J. B.; Traxler, G.; Nelson, R. G. 2000. Rent Creation And
Distribution From Biotechnology Innovations: The Case Of Bt Cotton And
Herbicide-tolerant Soybeans In 1997. Agribusiness 16(1):1 - 23.
Falck-Zepeda, J. B.; Traxler, G.; Nelson, R. G. 2000. Surplus Distribution
from the Introduction of a Biotechnology Innovation. American Journal of
Agricultural Economics 82: 360-369.
Felsot, A. S. 2000. Herbicide Tolerant Genes: Part 1: Squaring Up Roundup
Ready Crops. Agrichemical and Environmental News. 173:8-15.
Fernandez-Cornejo, J., Klotz-Ingram, C., Jans, S. 1999. Farm-Level Effects
of Adoption Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans in the U.S.A. Transitions in
Agbiotech : Economics of Strategy and Policy, W. Lesser and J. Caswell,
eds., Food Marketing Policy Center, University of Connecticut.
Gianessi, L., Carpenter, J. 2000. Agricultural Biotechnology Benefits Of
Transgenic Soybeans. National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy
8-30-2000, www.ncfap.org/soy85.pdf :1 - 103.
Heimlich, R. E., Fernandez-Cornejo, J., McBride, W., Klotz-Ingram, C.,
S., Brooks, N. 2000. Genetically Engineered Crops: Has Adoption Reduced
Pesticide Use. Agricultural Outlook :13 - 17.
James, C. 1997. Global Status of Transgenic Crops in 1997. ISAAA Briefs
James, C. 1998. Global Review Of Commercialized Transgenic Crops 1998.
Briefs (Brief 8):1 - 52.
James, C. 1999. Preview Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops:
1999. ISAAA Brief. 12:1-16.
James, C. 2000. Global Status Of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 1999.
ISAAA Brief. 17. 1 -78.
Kalaitzandonakes, N. 1999. A Farm Level Perspective On Agrobiotechnology:
How Much Value And For Whom. AgBioForum 2(2):61 - 64.
Miller, J. B. 2000. Biotech Boosts Natural Bounty. Today's Chemist At Work
:38 - 44.
Moschini, G.; Lapan, H.; Sobolevsky, A. 2000. Roundup Ready « Soybeans And
Welfare Effects In The Soybean Complex. Agribusiness 16(1):33 - 55.
Roberts, P. K., Pendergrass, R., Hayes, R. 1999. Economic Analysis of
Alternative Herbicide Regimes on Roundup Ready Soybeans. J. Prod. Agric.
Greenpeace Has A Black Eye
- Philippine Daily Enquirer; June 18, 2001
CARELESS reading of recent newspaper articles could mislead one into
thinking that there exists in the Philippines, a massive public
resistance to the introduction of genetically engineered foods and
medicines. There isn't. But a well-funded, well-organized lobby of
environmental activists and organizations, led by Greenpeace
International, is trying hard to create this misimpression. They are
claiming that "civil society," and even the local Catholic Church,
opposes biotechnology and genetic engineering on the grounds of food
safety and religious ethics. Responsible churchmen deny it and uphold
a more tolerant Vatican statement.
So, call me a mutant, but my skeptical antennae become active when
special interest groups like Greenpeace, the world's largest
environmental activist organization and its allegedly pro-environment
local allies, try to assume the moral mantle of civil society and the
habit of clerics all in one press release on the highly controversial
issue of genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Actually, they may
have to resort to such quoting of malleable generalities from the
Church and their own manifestoes because they are actually losing the
battle over the introduction of genetically engineered crops, foods
and medicines into the Philippines. Take the case of Bt Corn. This
genetically engineered breed of corn is a wonder of modern science. It
has a genetically built-in defense in its leaves and stalks against
the mortal enemy of all corn plants and all corn farmers: the corn
borer beetle, which annually destroys between 50 percent and 100
percent of many farmers' crops. Consequently the use of Bt corn leads
to a drastic reduction in the need for pesticides and boosts crop yield.
When carefully conducted scientific field tests on the growing of Bt
Corn in Mindanao were first proposed, the environmental lobby went to
the Supreme Court to stop the tests, ostensibly on grounds of
procedure and safety. They ignored the fact that similar tests, more
than 4,000 in number, had already been successfully conducted in other
countries. After this suit was dismissed for utter lack of merit, the
tests were conducted under the auspices of the National Biosafety
Commission. They replicated the basic results of thousands of similar
tests conducted in other countries during the last decade on Bt Corn
These tests confirm that Bt Corn is indeed resistant to the Philippine
corn borer beetle, and does not represent any kind of genetic threat
to native Philippine species of plants and animals. It's robust and
safe in many other countries, so it would have been astounding, had
the tests in the Philippines shown otherwise.
Filipino corn farmers in Mindanao were duly impressed by the
self-evident imperviousness of Bt Corn to the pests and immediately
saw the double benefit in not having to buy expensive pesticides.
These tests merely confirm what has been known for years about Bt
Corn. No wonder our farmers are clamoring for the government to do
everything it can to make Bt Corn available to them.
But the environmental lobby, led by Greenpeace, has strenuously
opposed the introduction of this crop into the Philippines, on food
safety and "genetic pollution" concerns, despite the fact that tens of
millions of acres of land are already planted to Bt corn, rice, cotton
and similar food crops in the United States, Canada, Argentina, China
and dozens of other countries. Surely the peoples of these countries
are not more heedless of their food safety than we Filipinos, who
don't mind drying our palay on the polluted pavements of our national
highways. They are also likely to oppose the introduction of a new
Golden Rice variety that promises to prevent 5 million blindnesses
annually with high Vitamin A content. The Philippines leads in that
research at the IRRI.
I liked the early Greenpeace better when it was fighting illegal
loggers, toxic polluters, oil-spillers and cetacidal whalers, where
its symbolic but forceful acts meaningfully rallied world public
opinion toward their point of view in environmental politics. Of
course it still is active, but on the issue of GMOs, Greenpeace has
apparently lost its way from environmentalism into the realm of
international politics and finance. It has been coopted into the
ongoing trans-Atlantic battle between the big North American biotech
firms, and their protectionist European antagonists.
A particularly damaging and embarrassing incident to Greenpeace was
the black eye it received from the recent resignation of Dr. Patrick
Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, nine years president of Greenpeace
Canada, seven years a board member of Greenpeace International, and a
world-renowned ecologist. Moore denounced the position of Greenpeace
on the GMO issue by saying that "the campaign of fear now being waged
against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a
complete lack of respect for science and logic." Moore joined over
3,000 scientists worldwide in signing a Declaration in Support of
Agricultural Biotechnology, saying that, "In the balance it is clear
that the real benefits of genetic modification far outweigh the
hypothetical and sometimes contrived risks claimed by its detractors."
I cannot see how the anti-GMO lobby can successfully make its case
with the public. Scare tactics and rumor-mongering won't work for
long, especially when respected local scientists as well as local
farmers and leaders speak out. GMOs are not any more or less dangerous
to eat than "natural" foods. Farmers have seen the superiority of the
new genetically engineered crops and should not be deprived of their
obvious benefits already being reaped by other countries.
But for some reason, the environmental lobby has been successful at
doing one thing. It has been able to stymie the policymaking and
implementation arms of the Macapagal administration, delaying the
implementation of a rational and reasonable program on GMOs.
Sask Professor Says Labelling Food As Modified Gives Wrong Impression
Canadian Press; June 15, 2001
SASKATOON (CP) _ Labelling food as genetically modified gives
consumers the unjustified impression such products are risky, an
academic told the annual meeting of the Consumers Association of
Canada on Friday.
Health Canada requires labels on foods that could pose health concerns
such as warnings about peanuts, noted Grant Isaac, associate professor
of biotechnology management at the University of Saskatchewan. So any
labels about genetically modified ingredients could be interpreted as
warnings, even though Health Canada requires that any foods approved
for sale have already been scientifically tested and proven safe,
``If (genetically modified products are) perceived by Canadians to be
a food safety issue then positive labelling would ... only reinforce
that fear in consumers,'' said Laurie Curry, a vice-president with the
Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada, which represents
180 companies. ``As an alternative you have to go out there and
educate the people about the technology.''
People want to know who they can trust, what is being done to minimize
the risk and how they can get access to the information, she said. But
assurances from scientists are not enough for affluent and
well-educated consumers in many developed nations such as Canada, said
Michael Mehta, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan
who teaches courses on the social impacts of biotechnology.
Opposition comes not from ignorance, as some would suggest, but from
unsatisfied concerns, he said. Many consumers want to make buying
choices based on their own concerns about the content of food and the
socio-ethical issues related to the way it is produced.
As a result there have been labels to indicate that tuna is caught
without killing dolphins and others to show what country it comes
from. ``Judgment about the risk cannot be made by science alone,'' he
said. Genetic modification of food ingredients does not currently fall
under Health Canada's labelling requirements.
The federal department has asked the Canadian general standards board
to develop a voluntary labelling standard pertaining to genetic
modification production methods. The standards are expected to be
released in the fall, Curry said.
Canada's food regulatory system is based on how much food is altered
when it is processed rather than the methods used to alter it, Isaac
said. Canada's labelling is based on a principle of ``substantial
equivalents,'' which means that the characteristics of a new food
product are compared with standards already determined as safe for
that type of food.
For example, the nutritional components of a food are measured against
a norm already determined to be safe. If they fall within a comparable
range, they are considered substantial equivalents and pass the test.
Testing Finds No Link Between Gene-Modified Corn, Illnesses
- Melinda Fulmer, Los Angeles Times , June 14, 2001
Government health officials said Wednesday they were unable to find
any evidence that StarLink corn caused an allergic reaction in people
who reported illness after eating food containing the genetically
StarLink was approved only for use in animal feed, but accidentally
got into the human food supply last year, causing the recall of
hundreds of products from corn chips to taco shells. Fifty-one people
who ate the corn reported illness to the Food and Drug Administration.
But only about 28 of those had the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
And of those, only 17 agreed to submit blood samples to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention so they could be tested for
antibodies to the controversial Cry9C protein in the plant, which
repels pests and was suspected of being an allergen.
lthough CDC researchers found that those 17 people were indeed made
sick, it wasn't the corn that caused the reaction. "We found no
evidence in any of the samples of hypersensitivity to the Cry9C
protein," said Dr. Carol Rubin, a CDC epidemiologist. That's good
news for Aventis CropScience, the maker of the controversial corn,
which has faced lawsuits and had to pay millions to buy its product
back since its recall last year. Aventis executives declined comment.
Biotechnology industry leaders say the report confirms what they've
said all along: StarLink and other genetically modified crops are safe
for human consumption. "All of our experience to date, without
exception, confirms the safety and the value of genetically modified
foods," said Val Giddings, vice president of food and agriculture with
the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
However, environmentalists and other activists say the sample was too
small to prove the safety of StarLink conclusively. And they worried
that the small sampling included too few children, who are more likely
to develop food allergies. "Test results from such a small sample
could easily have missed allergic reactions," said Bill Freese of
Friends of the Earth. "A thorough investigation "While it is certainly
good news that no reaction was seen, it is in no way definitive
evidence that StarLink is not an allergen," said Rebecca Goldburg,
senior scientist at Environmental Defense. Goldburg and others are
worried that the test results could influence the Environmental
Protection Agency when it decides this summer whether StarLink is fit
for human consumption.
"World of Science and GM Crops"
Following is more from the article entitled "Genetically Modified
Crops" from which a section on theology was posted earlier. Prof. Joe
Perry has agreed to forward the complete paper
to any one interested. I encourage you to write to him directly to
get his paper with full references.......CSP
The World of Science
I have spent numerous evenings at difficult public meetings, trying to
defend the FSE (Farm Scale Evaluations) and explain what we are trying
to do. I have shared platforms with organisations pledged to stop the
FSE. I have had to contend with their views and those of a sceptical
public, who are often uncomfortable with science. The world of
science is a different world with its own values and rules; if the
public don?t understand it, then ultimately that is not their fault,
but the fault of scientists. But I have been amazed at how little the
public does understand about how science operates on a day-to-day
basis, its discoveries and those who work in it. So, in this section
I want to give a brief glimpse of the world of science and explore
some of the difficulties faced by scientists trying to discuss GM
issues with the public, and those faced by the public trying to
understand, assessed and evaluate the evidence of the scientists. I
am going to discuss the academic side of science and not the
commercial scientific world, where products are patentable.
How science operates
If you profit from constructive criticism you will be elected to the
wise men?s hall of fame. But to reject criticism is to harm yourself
and your best interests (Proverbs, 15: 31-32).
If the product of science is truth, discovery or theory, then the
currency is the scientific paper, through which that product is
described. Papers are published in journals, which may be operated by
learned scientific societies or by independent publishers who delegate
management to an honorary editor. Reputable journals are all
'peer-reviewed' or 'refereed'. That is to say that manuscripts are
submitted by prospective authors to a journal and the Editor then
sends the manuscript to another two or three scientists who are all
experts in that field and asks for confidential reports. On the basis
of those reports the paper is either rejected or accepted, or, more
likely, returned to the authors to respond to the points raised and to
revise accordingly; if the referees are happy with the revisions then
the paper is accepted. The refereeing process may take anything from
a month to nine months and there may be several iterations before
final acceptance. After that, the paper may be in press for several
months before it is finally published. For most academic scientists,
their reputation is built up over a number of years by this canon of
publications, that might extend to perhaps one hundred over the course
of their career.
The quality of the journals varies. Within any particular field there
will be some parochial national journals and other more prestigious
titles that have an international readership and authorship. The more
prestigious is the journal, the more 'valuable' is the scientific
paper to the author, partly because they are more likely to be widely
read and have a larger impact and partly because the scientist is
assessed by the impact of their publications. There is considerable
competition to publish in journals such as Nature and Science.
Scientists meet together to exchange information and ideas at
conferences and meetings of learned societies; the proceedings of
these meetings provide another outlet, though not usually so
prestigious, for publication. By convention, work, results and ideas
remain confidential until published, after which they are in the
public domain and may be used by everyone. The learned societies,
such as The Royal Entomological Society and the International
Biometric Society, work within their own disciplines, to advance that
subject; generally they are open to anyone who is interested enough to
pay the annual subscription. Within the UK, The Royal Society acts as
an overarching learned body. It is composed of the top
internationally-renowned scientists from every field and election is
by invitation only. The Royal Society also advises Government and
distributes some research funds. Science is not all amazing
breakthroughs. Ideas are common, but those that last are rare, and
most scientists would be content with one really good one per career.
Knowledge advances by steps, and not by leaps (Macaulay 1828).
How scientists evaluate each other?s work
A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume
(Ecclesiastes 8: 1).
Scientists are specialists. By definition, they may have a general
appreciation, but do not understand in detail the work of many of
their colleagues. Even the research of two colleagues in the same
department may have little in common. But equally, scientists try to
write and speak, at least in the Introduction and Discussion sections
of their papers, in general and understandable terms. Most want the
world as a whole to be aware of their work, and the best scientists
are generally agreed to contribute ideas that are applicable in life.
For science to work, especially in times when public funding is
limited and highly-scrutinised, there must be a way for the assessment
of relative merits to be made between scientists and between their
work. In practice, this assessment depends on a mixture of
reputation, clarity of expression, and peer-review by those within the
In this way, a canon of belief about a particular scientific issue can
emerge. Hence, for example, to assess Crawley et al.?s (1993) paper
on invasiveness of GMHT oilseed rape, I will first read the paper to
see whether I agree with the experimental design, whether it seems
thorough, and whether the results seem coherent and whether the
conclusions match the data. I will also bear in mind that I know Mick
Crawley is a professor in a top university, that I have seen Mick
speak on several occasions and read other papers he has written, that
the subject area is within his area of expertise, and that I respect
him as a fellow scientist. But, crucially, I will have to make an
assessment at least partly on trust ? I won?t have time to go and
repeat the experiment. It may be that confirmatory papers appear
later from other scientists who come to similar conclusions from their
own work. Or, in a review (itself a form of scientific paper, e.g.
Hails, 2000) of the literature, a scientist may assess and synthesise
many studies using their own broad and specialist expertise. Then,
the result may be a consensus view, which percolates to the rest of
the scientific community. Such a process may take time, acting like
osmosis. It may involve discernment in the weighing of some
contradictory evidence. Hence, when a leading geneticist such as
Professor Steve Jones expresses disquiet about GM technology (S.
Jones, 1999), his standing is such that other scientists should find
out what are his concerns.
This process cannot be inflexible. Beliefs must be capable of
challenge, for that is how science makes progress. Today?s consensus
cannot be allowed to become tomorrow?s dogma; it must be able to be
contested by new ideas and new evidence. Hence, while a reputation
may be a help, it can never be proof against a challenge. The ideal
system must accommodate status and the accepted view, but also the
individual who swims against the tide with a maverick idea. The
maverick of today may just be the Nobel-prize winner of tomorrow.
Science does not usually operate as a cabal, especially in modern
times, when information can be processed and transmitted quickly
around the world. The maverick deserves an opportunity to air a new
idea; however, they may well be wrong, and if their idea is considered
and rejected they will not receive endless such platforms. Science,
rightly in my view, is not like the BBC; it does not give equal time
to opposing views in the desire to promote some ?balance? in debate.
Papers submitted by those who believe the earth is flat do not receive
equal time at Astronomy conferences.
Science and politics within the GM debate
I hope that the above paragraph helps to explain why scientists are
often frustrated by politically-motivated arguments that they regard
as not in keeping with a scientific consensus, or by activist debate
(see section 5) that quotes selectively and misrepresents evidence.
We are unused to the area where science meets political agenda,
because it operates using rules from outside our experience.
One example is given by the voluminous input to the GM crop debate on
the world-wide web that has been made by the geneticist Mae-Wan Ho.
Her input has lacked little in terms of amount of material and
opinion, but much of it lacks verifiable evidence and is outside
mainstream science. Dr Ho would be unconcerned about this because she
has on many recent occasions attacked the very basis of modern science
and its reductionist, Popperian way of making progress, through the
proposition, testing and rejecting of individual hypotheses. She
states: ?There is a science war on ... between a reductionist,
mechanistic science and an emerging holistic, organic science?. I
fundamentally reject the idea that there is any such conflict within
mainstream science. Let me explain why. As an ecologist I
wholeheartedly agree with the stress she places on the need to study
the interconnections and complexity of real processes. I also agree
that whole-organism work has received too little funding in the past,
at the expense of cellular and sub-cellular approaches (see section 6,
Within the GM context whole-organism biology involves studying effects
on non-target species in the field and pursuing work such as that of
the FSE, which records individuals, and thereby measures community
population dynamics, food webs and multi-trophic interactions. As a
biologist who comes from a biochemical background, Dr Ho has not
worked within a whole-organism discipline such as ecology. Probably
this is the reason that she has not realised that ecology as a
scientific discipline is actually practised using the reductionist
principles she denigrates, and that only by so doing has it made the
transition from a discipline concerned with anecdotal natural history
to a hard and academically respectable science. (In the 1970s,
mathematical models of whole organisms, developed by the President of
the Royal Society and previous Government Chief Scientific Advisor,
Sir Robert May, working with colleagues such as the epidemiologist Roy
Anderson, and entomologists and ecologists such as Mike Hassell and
John Lawton, helped in this transition. Their work shed light on
principles of ecosystem function and of transmission of infectious
diseases such as AIDS, measles, BSE and vCJD.) Crucially, Dr Ho has
not appreciated that regulatory authorities such as ACRE certainly do
consider effects on whole-organisms in ecosystems in assessing the
risks of GM crops (e.g. Lozzia, 1999; Schuler et al., 1999; Poppy, 2000).
Such field-based studies have used traditional, reductionist
scientific principles, and Ho?s view that the ?reductionist,
mechanistic, western science? must be discarded is unsustainable.
Ecology as a discipline already recognises and studies complexity. I
do not believe it requires what Ho describes as a ?holistic and
organic? approach, because if I understand it correctly this would
entail discarding scientific principles and abandoning all the tools
it has built up since Arthur Tansley and others founded the British
Ecological Society in 1913 (Sheail, 1987). Ho compounds this error by
equating agricultural biotechnology per se to a ?morally bankrupt
product of a reductionist-mechanistic science" rather than directing
her ethical criticism to the use to which it is put and the context in
which it is used. By contrast, our work at Rothamsted over the last
150 years (see section 6, below) confirms that agricultural science,
ecology and sustainability can work in an integrated way, to achieve a
win-win strategy that benefits both the farmer and the environment.
Such work, detailed in section 6, is ignored by Ho.
Another example teaches us to be aware that Government and scientists
have different ways of operating and that communication with
politicians needs care to avoid misunderstandings. Confusion has
arisen (e.g. Yeo, 2000) as to why organic farming is not included
within the FSE. Politicians on both sides of the party divide,
misunderstanding the need to take decisions on the choice of
treatments within an experiment on scientific grounds, have thought
that its exclusion is some sort of value-judgement on organic
principles. It is not, as explained in section 2 above. Indeed, Sir
Robert May, while Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, echoed
the views of many of us working in agro-ecology, when in April 2000,
he expressed the hope that some ?Third Way? would be found by which GM
technology could be used in harness with the ethos behind organic
farming to the benefit of both food production and the environment. I
return to this important theme in section 6.
Stresses at the boundary of science and the media
By and large, the peer-review system works well; good papers are
usually published and published in good journals. Occasionally
however, in newsworthy journals such as Nature and Science, papers are
published which are technically correct, but which have little further
to offer except that they are of themselves in a topical area of
public interest, such as GM crops. This is symptomatic of the strain
that may exist at the boundary of the worlds of science, media and
commerce. A good example is the laboratory toxicity study discussed
above on the Monarch butterfly. This was then picked up by many
national newspapers and inflamed public concern over GM crops, already
at a high level. Because the authors neglected to stress that the
implications of their work would be determined by the ecological
effects in the field, the public, via the media, was given misleading
information. Significantly, the subsequent studies, noted above,
that revealed that little actual harm was done, presumably because
they were less sensational, received less media coverage. Few
newspapers picked up on the fact that the Bt toxin involved is
identical to that sprayed by organic farmers for pest control.
So much has been written about the tragic debacle over the premature
disclosure by Dr Arpad Pusztai of his results that I can add little,
except to note that the whole problem would have been avoided if the
usual peer-review route had been taken. Most independent scientists
who have studied the results carefully believe that the design and
analysis of the experiment were flawed. However, Christians must have
compassion for the person, whose reputation was attacked strongly,
whatever their views on the controversy. Readers may find a balanced
view of the affair given by Steve Connor, science editor of The
Independent (Connor, 1999).
Scientists and integrity
What is often not appreciated is that the reputation of the scientist
is their stock in trade. It is the capital from which they derive
their living and the basis from which they can progress. To maintain
this reputation requires integrity and the wisdom to interpret
evidence in a transparent and fair manner. It is therefore important
for a scientist to show that they are independent, and, in particular,
that their judgement is untainted by any association with their
employer or funder. In general, a university academic has total
freedom to research what they want; scientists in PSREs have some
management direction; scientists working for Government often feel
obliged to follow departmental policy; scientists working for industry
have the least academic freedom. Academic freedom is guarded jealously.
Most academic scientists earn considerably less than persons with
similar training and qualifications who work in the private sector;
like priests, they tend to see their work as a vocation. Furthermore,
science is a creative activity done by people who are trained to
question everything for themselves; such people are often fiercely
independent and difficult to manage closely. There is surprisingly
little cheating (Polkinghorne, 1998, Chapter 1). Fraudulent
activities, such as stealing others' results or plagiarism or
inventing results, is rare (for example, search for US Congressional
documents concerning science fraud on the web). In those public
meetings on GM I have attended I have heard a colleague described as a
?pawn in the hand of the Government? and personally been accused of
being willing to take money to falsify the results of the FSE. At
first they were hurtful, and then they seemed faintly ludicrous, but I
now regard these statements as valuable in showing graphically how
little some members of the public understand the way science works.
The funds to pursue science come largely from Government, but often
indirectly, through one of the Research Councils or the Higher
Education Funding Council. Funding is a mixture of a baseline, core
grant, supplemented by individual, one-off grants, typically of three
years duration, which are awarded in open competition following a
written proposal. As with papers, proposals are peer-reviewed.
Relatively little money comes to universities or PSREs from ?big
business? (see section 4 for specific examples). In general, funding
in biology from industry or direct from Government tends to be less
fundamental and more applied, but it does not, in my experience make
demands that challenge the ethics and integrity of scientists. For
example, the requirements by MAFF for excessive reporting and its
setting of milestones mitigates against truly innovative strategic
research, and the result is often worthy but uninspiring, but MAFF is
never proscriptive in the sense of suggesting specific results before
the research is done.
Science and the public
A small mistake can outweigh much wisdom and honour (Ecclesiastes 10: 1).
Scientists are surprisingly informal ? very few wear suits to work!
Nor do they any longer follow the model of the irascible and eccentric
Uncle Quentin of Enid Blyton?s Famous Five books. Nor do any that I
have met wave their arms around in an air of studied unworldliness and
boyish enthusiasm such as that displayed in previous decades by Dr
Magnus Pyke. And although there is much left to do with regard to
equality of opportunity (e.g. Royal Society News, March 2001, p.11)
science is no longer the exclusive preserve of the white, middle-class
male. Over recent years the standing of scientists in society has
suffered and their credibility amongst the public is no longer high.
Nuclear energy, chemical pollutants, and most tellingly BSE and vCJD,
are often cited as reasons; the GM controversy has not helped. Too
often scientists were seen as colluding with governments to cover up
rather than reveal the truth.
I believe this is changing, although much improvement remains
necessary. Many scientists now recognise their duty to communicate
what they do to the public that funds them. The Research Councils are
keen to encourage what they refer to as the ?public appreciation of
science? (see, in the GM context,
http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/life/ingeneious/index.html). The annual
Science Week for schools in March is a welcome initiative. Those
within the GM debate have little choice anyway - to refuse
communication with the public would be both suicidally stupid and
ethically questionable. The Government?s insistence on exceptional
transparency in the FSE is a sensible strategy that should act as a
blueprint for all future policy.
The perception of risk by the public has been addressed recently by
the Royal Statistical Society (Smith, 1996), from the perspective of
the proper use of probabilities to assess hazards. Beringer (2000b)
is among many who have noted that the precautionary principle is used
selectively. He contrasted the exemption of mobile phones from the
principle with its invocation to demand an outright moratorium of GM
research and development. Used in that stringent way, the
precautionary principle would block any scientific advance for which
there is no absolute guarantee safety (i.e. almost all). The Nuffield
Council on Bioethics report (Ryan et al., 1999, section 7.13) made a
similar point, arguing that their recommendations to take steps to
guard against unlikely harm was consistent with the principle in a
less stringent sense. This stance has the support of most scientists;
they want to address public concern, but to do so using rigorous
scientific methods, not in this case by precluding all innovations.
Science and faith
How wonderful to be wise, to understand things, to be able to analyse
them and interpret them (Ecclesiastes 8:1)
So much has been written about science and faith that there is little
need here to reiterate that there are no explicit barriers to faith in
being a scientist. This is particularly the case in the many Churches
in which the Bible is now accepted as the Holy Word and the ground of
truth, without being considered literally true in every word,
especially regarding the book of Genesis. There are several factors
that actually aid faith in science as a profession. Chief among them
is the wonder and awe at the beauty of the laws scientists study that
underpin God?s creation (Polkinghorne, 1983). (At Rothamsted, the
plant pathologist Dr Bruce Fitt begins the prayer groups he leads with
a simple, moving prayer thanking God for the privilege of studying His
creation.) Next, many scientists have familiarity, through their
work, with the workings of the Anthropic principle (Polkinghorne,
1998). Also, they share with many persons of faith, the need to infer
causality from empirical evidence, and to do so within an inferential
process that at its basis cannot be proven, depends on faith and must
ultimately be taken on trust.
Nor is there anything about an acceptance of Darwinism or natural
selection that should cause any problem for belief in God,
notwithstanding the implication otherwise in Dawkins (1997). On the
contrary, the transition from Darwin?s natural selection to our modern
understanding of evolution required the quantification of genetics,
through the use of probability and statistics to describe chance
events by R.A. Fisher, Sewall Wright and J.B.S. Haldane (Box, 1978).
This very fact seems to me to seems to me to reinforce rather than
detract from the above view of ?a creation given by its Creator the
freedom to be itself? (Polkinghorne, 1998).
For the ecologist or mathematician, another parallel experience to
theologians is the understanding that processes operating at a given
scale may be qualitatively different when viewed at higher or lower
scales in a hierarchy. The additional complexity added as scales are
ascended ensures that a bee has sophisticated behaviour, even though
this behaviour could not be inferred currently from mere knowledge of
the proteins manufactured through its DNA. Polkinghorne (1998, pp.
11-12) draws a distinction between the propensity of physicists and
biologists to faith in God and speculates whether it is the
reductionist, mechanistic focus on ?selfish genes? that leads to the
bleak atheism of biologists such as Dawkins (1995). Later,
Polkinghorne (1998, pp. 78-80) makes an important qualification to the
above conjecture by distinguishing between biologists who study
molecules rather than whole organisms. The latter, while they study
?Nature red in tooth and claw?, have the opportunity to marvel at the
complexity of the behaviour mediated by genetics, often involving
interactions between individuals of the same or different species, and
at a higher scale, a scale closer to that of the human species that we
believe is a reflection of the Creator?s image.
Are scientists arrogant?
..we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all
make many mistakes. (James 3: 1)
The response by Prince Charles (2000) to the year 2000 Reith Lectures
was a curious mixture of material that few right-thinking people could
disagree with, and many overly na´ve ideas that required much further
thought. One of his worst errors was to dichotomize science and faith;
many Christians with scientific associations were quick to rebuff his
dismissal of scientific rationalism. The implication that follows
from his assertion that ?nothing is held sacred anymore? is one often
made by environmental activists: that scientists are arrogant.
Nothing could be more wrong. All scientists make many mistakes,
almost every day; part of their professional techniques are tools to
recognise them. Indeed, what distinguishes the good scientist from
the mediocre is their development of regular, self-imposed procedures
to trap errors before the consequences get too far. This requires an
open mind and humility, two prerequisites for faith. I have met many
confident scientists, but very few arrogant ones.