Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





July 4, 2001


Monarchs, A lesson, CAMBIA, Con Trick, Eco-terrorists


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Today's topics:

* More on Bt and Monarchs
* A Lesson
* CAMBIA IP Resource
* The Great Organic Con Trick
* Eco-vandals Put A Match To 'Progress'

Date: Jul 04 2001 13:16:06 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: More on Bt and Monarchs


The monarch butterfly crusade is not over! This time Obrycki and Losey
have joined forces. See the excerpt below, which refers to an
article in the May edition of BioScience magazine,
http://www.aibs.org/biosciencelibrary/vol51/may01.ldml Could someone share
the text of the article there and critique it for the group?

Iowa State Daily via U-Wire University Wire
July 3, 2001

Iowa State U. study questions use of modified corn
Ames, Iowa

A recent study conducted in the Iowa State University Department of
Entomology has raised questions regarding the usage of a specific type of
genetically-modified corn. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn was
genetically-engineered to be resistant to pests, specifically
European corn borers. It was developed in the 1990s with the hopes of
reducing insecticide use in corn fields. The new study conducted by John
Obrycki, professor of entomology, indicated the increased planting of Bt
corn in Iowa has not reduced insecticide usage or increased crop yields as
originally hoped. Obrycki came to this conclusion with the help of
graduate assistant Laura Jesse and Cornell University entomologist John

Their paper, published in the May edition of BioScience, addresses issues
relating to Bt corn, such as its ecological effects, rates of insecticide
use and overall corn yields.

Date: Jul 04 2001 22:10:21 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: A Lesson

Those in the industry who think BIO and CBI are really making a difference
with multi-million-dollar advertising should check this out:

Subject: Enviros & one small town destroy national pesticide market:
lessons for business-1
Date: Wed, 04 Jul 2001 21:16:34 -0400 From: ?Ross S. Irvine?

Environmentalists working in a small Canadian town for 10 years have
virtually destroyed the market for pesticides in ALL Canadian
municipalities. What happened in Hudson, Quebec, offers lessons and
warnings for PR, communications, marketing and branding professionals
around the world.

Read: ?One small town destroys major portion of a national pesticide
market: seven lessons for PR, marketing and branding folks.?

Visit: http://www.epublicrelations.org

Date: Thu, 05 Jul 2001 17:12:54 +1000
From: Finola Wijnberg
Subject: Announcing...... CAMBIA IP Resource


The CAMBIA Intellectual Property Resource is now at www.cambiaIP.org.

This resource has been developed by a team with expertise in the areas of
biotechnology, intellectual property, business strategy and informatics.
It is funded in part by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Our goal is to facilitate a productive and strategic approach to
identifying and addressing intellectual property issues relevant to
biotechnology for crop improvement worldwide.

Current on-line resources include:
ˇ Patent databases: search full text of European patent and world (PCT)
applications (full-text U.S. Patents coming soon) and download the patent
or application as a PDF or text file.
ˇ White paper analysis of major patent positions on
Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of plants.
ˇ Tutorial on ?How to read a patent?.
ˇ Newsletter.

Additional white papers and tutorials are in progress. We hope you will
visit our site and come back often


Carol Nottenburg
Richard Jefferson
Greg Quinn
Doug Ashton
Nick dos Remedios
Carolina Roa-Rodríguez
Chris Pratt
Finola Wijnberg

Email: cambiaIP@cambia.org

The Great Organic Con Trick

Times of London
By Geoffrey Hollis
July 5, 2001

As the Co-op thumbs its nose at the EU over undersized organic peaches,
Geoffrey Hollis argues that foods hyped as "natural" to a credulous public
are no better for us, damage the environment and may pose a serious health

How good are you at problem-solving? Put yourself in the position of the
buying department at the Co-op, who have just bought a load of organic
peaches from Italy only to discover fruit so malnourished that it fails to
make the minimum size specified by the EU. Answer: turn adversity to
advantage by tapping consumers' well-known dislike of the EU. Stick a
poster over this scrawny product saying "I am small and perfectly formed,
but legally you can't buy me".
Crafty -but just another example of the imaginative campaigns which
supermarkets use to flog organic food to an unsuspecting public.

Here is a little test to see how much you know about organic food. Is it
(a) without using any chemicals at all,
(b) with only naturally occurring chemicals, or
(c) using man-made and natural chemicals, some of them highly

If you answered (a) you are not alone; indeed this is the answer that some
food manufacturers and retailers want you to give. Recently I bought an
organic pizza from Tesco. The packet celebrated "the natural connection
between food and land, uninterrupted by the artifice of chemicals". This
is fanciful,since organic farmers are permitted to use a long list of
chemicals under EU regulations.

If you were more circumspect and answered (b), you were taking the line
peddled by the organic movement. The website of the Soil Association
contains a page giving Ten Reasons To Eat Organic, one of which is "It
does not use artificial chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers". This bold
statement isdisingenuous, since the permitted list contains a significant
number of man-made substances such as soft soap, paraffin, and even slug
pellets (metaldehyde).

The right answer is (c). Some of the chemicals applied by organic farmers
are potentially extremely damaging to people and to the environment. For
example, copper sulphate -which does not exist in nature -is used by
organic farmers to combat diseases such as potato blight but is extremel
ytoxic at the levels used. It kills beneficial insects such as earthworms,
and has caused liver damage in vineyard workers. This chemical is greatly
inferior to modern fungicides, approved for use by conventional farmers
but not organic ones, which are disease- specific and do not damage
insects. Other chemicals
approved for use by organic farmers include rotenone, which has been
associated with Parkinson's disease, and Bacillus thuringiensis spores,
which have caused fatal lung infections in mice. Why are these facts not
better known?

The boom in sales of organic food is due to skilful promotion. The organic
movement's supporters have loudly asserted the alleged naturalness of its
products, and simultaneously given maximum publicity to every false
scareabout conventional food. In marketing- speak -brace yourself -they
have sought to offer "larger whole-life wellness appeal" to consumers. Yet
the main driver for the rapidly rising sales of organic food has been fear.

Consumers have taken refuge in products that they believe to be more
natural and hence less risky. This motivation can be seen most starkly in
baby food, where frightened mothers have been sitting targets for the
organic lobby's propaganda. In Waitrose, for example, 55 per cent of baby
food sold isorganic. Yet many key claims made for organic food lack the
evidence to support them. This has been exposed in a series of recent
verdicts by the independent Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Last
month the ASA upheld a complaint
(from me) against a Tesco leaflet on organic food which claimed that it
"avoids the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides on the
land, relying instead on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a
mixture of crops".

This claim was cribbed from the Soil Association website. The ASA found
that it was misleading to consumers since, as we have seen, the list of
chemicals permitted for use in organic farming contains a significant
number of artificial chemicals. In another adjudication last year, the ASA
ruled against four more claims by the Soil Association: that organic food
tasted different; was healthier; was
better for the environment; and meant healthy, happy animals. The Soil
Association could not produce convincing evidence to back up any of these
assertions, which it used on recruiting leaflets.

The Food Standards Agency has also done its bit to burst the organic
bubble. Its chairman, Sir John Krebs, has stated that there is no evidence
that organic foods are significantly different in safety and nutritional
content from foods produced conventionally. There are actually several
reasons for believing that organic food is in some respects inferior to
conventional food. Public health may be at risk from untreated food
travelling long distances, and 80 per cent of organic food sold in this
country is imported. Furthermore, organic farms may act as reservoirs for
fungi which generate dangerous food
mycotoxins -two such (fumonisin and patulin) are both reported to have
ahigher incidence in organic food. There have been cases of contamination
of organic food worldwide -botulism in tins of organic soup, listeria in
organiccheese, salmonella in organic sprouts, E. coli in organic apple
juice, though none has been reported in the UK. In 1997 in the USA,
Healthy Times Baby Oatmeal(sic) was found to contain live insects.

The RSPCA has been quoted as worrying about the welfare of animals farmed
organically. Organic livestock farmers are permitted to apply all the
veterinary medicines on the market but encouraged to minimise their use.
When their animals get sick, they are often treated first with
homoeopathic medicines. If these fail to work, approved veterinary
medicines are applied, but this delay can mean sick animals suffering
unnecessarily. The organic movement makes much of the supposed
environmental benefits of organic farming. However, these are suspect to
say the least. Ideally animal manure should be incorporated into soil as
quickly as possible, but organic rules require that it should be composted
first. This ensures significant loss into the atmosphere of nitrogen in
the form of ammonia and
nitrous oxide, both pollutants. More unnecessary pollution is caused by
the lorries and planes importing thousands of tons of organic food into
this country. There is also the general worry that organic farming has
much lower crop yields than conventional farming, and so requires more
land. If the proportion of food grown organically in the world increased
substantially, vast tracts of grassland would need to be ploughed and
forests would have to be felled.

So will the boom in organic food continue, despite this stream of evidence
that the emperor has no clothes? Certainly the Soil Association and
supermarkets hope so, since they all make healthy profits from puffing it.
They will continue to try to mislead consumers wherever they can get away
with it. This does consumers no good at all. Not only does it make them
spend more money on food than they need to, it may also lead them to fear
perfectly safe conventionally produced food. This could lead to a
reduction in the consumption of fruit and vegetables, the most important
component of a healthy diet. Let us hope that exposure of the numerous
false claims for organic food will help to reassure consumers that
conventional food is just as safe and nutritious, and much cheaper to boot.

So what persuaded me to purchase that organic pizza in Tesco, the one with
the claptrap about avoiding the artifice of chemicals? The organic pizza
was rapidly approaching its sell-by date and bore a yellow sticker marking
itdown from Pounds 1.49 to 20p. We all have our price.

The author was an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Food, in charge of pesticide safety.

Eco-vandals Put A Match To 'Progress'

Christian Science Monitor

In the dark corners of recent American history, terrorists have hijacked
planes, killed abortion doctors, and planted bombs. Now, they're
aftercrops. Shadowy, loosely organized bands of eco-terrorists are rooting
up plants and setting fire to labs to stop agricultural biotechnology
research. In the past two months, radicals have burned a research lab at
the University of Washington, torched a tree nursery in Oregon, and
spray-painted a biotech building at the University of Idaho. Their
self-styled economic war has pushed the issue into the public spotlight
and generated loads ofpublicity.
It has rattled scientists and forced some of them to go underground with
their research. But by attacking the work of university scientists, these
eco-terrorists may be doing their cause more harm than good.

From Galileo onward, history has rarely turned scientists into villains.
Even when it does - Nazi anthropologists trying to prove Aryan
superiority, for example - bad science gets debunked by more science, not
by ideology. By opposing continued biotech research, its radical opponents
are trying to halt humanity's groping movement along a particular branch
of knowledge. It's a tall order.
Already, the violence is allowing biotech supporters to seize the
highground. "I think we're all concerned about the effect on research,
even freedom of thought," says Bob Zeigler, director of the plant
biotechnology center at Kansas State University in Manhattan. Mainstream
environmental groups, who also oppose the commercialization of
biotechnology, have condemned the violence.
"No groups I work with would condone these actions," says Richard Caplan,
environmental advocate for US Public Interest Research Group in

Despite this opposition - and mounting efforts by state and federal
authorities to put a stop to their campaign - eco- terrorists appear
undeterred. "What [authorities] are attempting to do is to scare potential
saboteurs out of taking action," says Leslie Pickering, spokesman for the
North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office based in Portland, Ore.
But "I think these people who are involved realize that the outlook for
genetic engineering is much
worse than the potential of going to jail for a while."
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) represents the most visible of the
eco-terrorist fringe. It operates as separate cells of individuals
aroundthe country who, apparently, don't know each others' identities.
After staging an attack, the particular cell issues a communique to the
ELF press office, but the press office claims never to initiate contact
with ELF or know who its members are. The Nighttime Gardeners Other
groups, such as the Nighttime Gardeners, have uprooted crops and hosted
websites with instructions on how to destroy bioengineered plants in the
dark without getting caught. (The site even shows how to throw crime labs
off one's trail.) The ELF has gained the most notoriety because of its
arson attacks.
"We characterize them as an underground criminal organization that uses
economic sabotage," says Steven Berry, a spokesman with the FBI's national
press office. So far, the group has claimed responsibility for more than
20 violent acts - mostly arson - causing an estimated $37 million in
damages,he adds. "They've become more active in recent months." ELF
formed in the early 1990s in Britain, when another radical environmental
group, Earth First!, renounced violence. Its North American debut, in
1996, initially looked more like college pranks. Members glued shut door
locks of
Oregon gas stations and McDonalds restaurants and spray-painted property
with slogans. The group then quickly turned to arson, setting fire to a US
Forest Service pickup truck, a meat-packing plant, and later a ski
development in Vail, Colo.On New Year's Eve, 1999, the group launched its
first action against biotechnology. It set fire to offices of a global
biotech project atMichigan
State University in Lansing. That attack, which caused $400,000 in
damage, served as a wake-up call to researchers. Opposition to biotech
had taken a serious turn.

"People on campus were outraged," recalls Catherine Ives, director of the
biotech project targeted by the ELF. "When it initially happens, you tend
to get a little paranoid." The project has since instituted some
low-level security practices and an entrance that beeps when the door
opens. But"if the goal of this act was to basically prevent us from doing
our work, it wasn't successful," she adds. Eight months after the fire,
which destroyed administrative records but not research, her team had
moved back into its offices. The Michigan State fire also caught the
attention of Martina McGloughlin, director of the biotechnology program at
the University of California at
Davis. Dr. McGloughlin has had her own run-ins with eco-terrorists.
They've trampled test plots and vandalized offices at the university half
a dozen times. An angry activist hit her with a chocolate pie at a public
meeting in San Francisco last year. But the Michigan fire represented a
new level of attack. "This is not random. It is very well organized," she
says of theeco-terrorism movement. "You do find yourself being a little
suspicious." The university has stepped up security.

Even Kansas State University - where no such attacks have occurred - has
taken precautionary steps. "We're certainly far more vigilant and have
means in place to increase the probability of apprehension," says Dr.
Zeigler of the plant biotechnology center.
These actions haven't deterred many researchers, who say biotechnology
offers too much potential: better-yielding, more nutritious food that
causes less environmental damage than today's cropping practices.

"This is so worthwhile, we'll do it despite these attacks, "McGloughlin
says. Still, the intimidation has discouraged some from getting involved
in bio-engineering, according to Gleyn Bledsoe, dean for research
andextension at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash. "No one's
losing sleepover it, but a darn good number of researchers won't even
enter the field," he says. "They're reluctant because they're afraid of
having their work destroyed." Other researchers go abroad to conduct
their experiments ordon't
publicize their works, he adds.Hitting the wrong target
Sometimes, eco-terrorists hit the wrong target. In 1999, a graduate
student at the University of California at Davis had her test plants
trampled on and pulled up, even though her research involved natural
mutations in corn, not genetic engineering. She lost a year's worth of
breeding work.

"What's scary is you don't have to be guilty," says Barbara Rasco, an
attorney and food science professor at Washington State University in
Pullman. Activists have accused her of raising genetically modified fish,
forexample, even though her work involves no genetic engineering. "How do
you protect your life's work against this sort of thing?"

If underground terrorists succeed in driving public research underground,
there's more than irony involved. Universities are supposed to represent
places of open inquiry even into subjects some consider unpopular or
subversive. "We're an academic institution - we don't close up and not let
peoplein," McGloughlin says. "It's against the policy and the mission of

That openness makes university experiments far easier to attack than
corporate facilities. For reasons of their own - such as sabotage by
disgruntled employees - biotech and food companies have taken steps to
protectthemselves. And the bigger and better-known the company, the
better its security tends to be, says Scott Brooks, a food-safety expert.
An attack "is a potential that's out there. [But] it doesn't make me a
lot more worried about the safety of the food supply."

By targeting universities, eco-terrorists are following the path of least
resistance. But they risk public backlash. University scientists usually
don't make good poster boys for corporate greed.
The eco-terrorists see it differently. "It's very risky business," says
Mr. Pickering of the ELF press office. "The changes that are made in one
genetically engineered plant would be equal to millions of years of
evolution. [And] when it gets to a point where a crop's being field
tested, there's not much you can do to stop it legally. It's already out
in the environment."

The group denies it's a terrorist organization. "The ELF realizes the
profit motive caused and reinforced by the capitalist society is
destroying all life on this planet," its website reads. "The only way, at
this point in time, to stop that continued destruction of life is to by
any means necessary take the profit motive out of killing." Its website
opens with a photo of a burning structure and "Every Night is Earth
Night!"States strengthen laws The antibiotech fires and destruction have
already caused a backlash among
state legislatures. This year alone, 17 states have passed laws
strengthening penalties for attacks on research crops, according to the
American Crop Protection Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group.
Virginia, for example, made it a felony to destroy such plants.

ELF has suffered some recent setbacks. In February, for example, federal
officials convicted three teenagers for ELF arson attacks on Long Island
homes. Last month, US Rep. George Nethercutt (R) of Washington introduced
a bill that would create a federal clearinghouse to track the actions of
and would fund grants to beef up security for university biotech.
But "there's really only so much you can do," says Dr. Ives of Michigan
State University. After the 1999 fire, her staff discussed using security
badges, then dropped the idea as too obtrusive. "It's a tough thing to
decide how much of your money you want to spend on security at a public
research organization."