AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* New Website on GM Food Safety
* Ethicists Ponder the Moral and Religious Questions on Agbiotech
* Precaution Without Perversity: Precautionary Principle to GM Crops
* Martyrs in Genoa
* Rethink on GM products urged
* Rice Research: Feeding the World, Protecting the Planet
* Activists Take Broad Approach To Bring Down Biotech Industry
* When Science Gets in the Way of Pet Agendas
* Searching for Images on the Web
* More Dialog on Regulating Organic Food in EU
New Web Site Offers Food Safety Information on Biotech Crops
July 23, 2001 -- LINCOLN, Neb. The University of Nebraska has
launched a new web site designed to help consumers and students
understand agricultural biotechnology.
"There is much confusion about biotechnology," said Leon Higley, NU
professor of entomology. "Our goal is to help people learn how to
assess these new technologies. How do they know what is safe? What
should their standards be? We want to help people sort through all of
The site, at http://www.agbiosafety.unl.edu, contains lesson plans for
teachers, basic biotechnology information for consumers, a frequently
asked questions section, and a database of research information on all
genetically engineered crops in North America.
"There is plenty of information available, but this database is unique
in that the research and safety information for all of these crops has
never been available in one place before," Higley said. "Any research
that companies have done for the EPA or Canadian government, any
transformation of any crop, it's all in this database. It is the most
comprehensive of its kind." A Canadian company, AgBios, was
instrumental in putting the database together, Higley said. AgBios is
a consulting firm that specializes in biotechnology regulation.
The education portion of the site features lesson plans that will be
used in NU's distance education programs. It also contains lessons for
high school students, and eventually, plans will be developed for
younger students, said Doug Golick, web coordinator and educational
director for the site. "We are also working to develop a gene builder
program that will teach students the process of gene insertion. The
program will let students choose which genes to insert and help them
evaluate the consequences of their choices," Golick said. "A
crop-building program will help students see the need for a balance
between pest-resistant crops and traditional crops. The program will
allow students to build their fields with a mix of crops and evaluate
how effective they were at preventing field pests from becoming
resistant to their control methods."
NU biotechnology experts will answer questions in the frequently asked
questions area of the new site. This area also contains in-depth
reviews and summaries of major biotechnology issues such as allergic
reactions, safety, monarch butterflies and Bt corn and resistance
management, Higley said. The site is funded by a grant from the
Council for Biotechnology Information. "Though the site was funded by
an industry group, it is important to note that the only editorial
control over the site is ours," Higley said. "We have our own internal
review process. It would be a disservice not to maintain that."
Although the site should be of international interest, it is
significant to Nebraska, too.
"With Nebraska's strong ties to agriculture and the profound impact of
biotechnology on the future, these resources are essential to public
understanding of the issues," the Institute of Agriculture and Natural
Resources professor said. "We also have a strong interest in helping
the state's teachers include biotechnology in their lessons. We will
continue to expand the areas that the site covers and address issues
as they arise to help people in Nebraska and all over the world better
CONTACTS: Leon Higley, Ph.D, professor, entomology, (402)472-8689;
Doug Golick, web coordinator and educational director, entomology,
Ethicists Ponder the Moral and Religious Questions Regarding
"Every major religious tradition has a tension in it between
preserving the garden and improving the garden." ? David Magnus"
In the public arena, the debate over genetically modified foods is
dominated by disagreements over the potential risks and benefits of
agricultural biotechnology. These discussion, however, largely avoid
explicit consideration of moral and ethical values even though they
take place against a backdrop of values and principles often shaped by
unexpressed religious and moral viewpoints.
In constraining the conversation to risks and benefits, policymakers
and advocates wrongly assumed people evaluate the transfer of genes
between species on the narrow grounds of safety. Quite simply, the
risk-benefit structure avoids the question: Is it morally wrong to
re-combine genes from different organisms?
Scientists, the public and policy makers are turning to religious and
ethical scholars to help get a grip on the broad issues at hand: What
is the nature of the relationship between an organism and its genes?
Will people have the opportunity to make decisions about specific uses
of the technology? How should we equitably distribute the potential
risks and benefits of the technology?
Although [discussions of risks and benefits] are important, I think
this is not the right way of framing things," says David Magnus of the
Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Every major
religious tradition has a tension in it between preserving the garden
and improving the garden.? He believes, for instance, that the
popularity of the term "frankenfoods? suggests that the public has an
underlying concern about tinkering with creation.
But he says the technology holds the tremendous potential to improve
things. "To some extent, opposing the technology per se is like
opposing medicine,? Magnus says. "Medicine has had the power to
improve people?s lives and allows them to live longer and healthier
lives, but at the same time it has the power to be abused. But just
because it can be abused doesn?t mean you should reject it.?
Islam, Judaism, and Christianity concur that the process of
genetically modifying plants or food animals is not in and of itself
intrinsically wrong and may benefit mankind, says Judith N. Scoville,
an ethicist at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.
Christianity has always had a strong moral imperative to feed the
hungry,? says Scoville. Yet while agricultural biotechnology might in
fact be used to help combat hunger, she argues the larger problem of
hunger can be traced to poverty and unequal distribution of resources.
Biotechnology can't offer a quick fix to these underlying issues.
Additionally, she notes, how we assess biotechnology needs to include
not only discussions of tradeoffs between risks and benefits, but also
how those risks and benefits are distributed.
Robert Gronski of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Des
Moines, Iowa has a different concern. He believes policy discussions
should focus on how patented crops benefit ? or harm ? small farmers
and indigenous cultures. "If [agricultural biotechnology] remains,
through patenting or expense, in the hands of a powerful few, Catholic
social teaching reminds us that we must use it for the benefit of
all," he says.
Gronski also believes agricultural biotechnology raises other moral
questions, such as the ethical treatment of animals that reflect the
need to ensure such manipulations don?t harm creation. Echoing back to
the concept of "preserving the garden,? he advocates testing for
adverse impacts and environmental disturbances before GM foods are
widely used by farmers.
Some religious groups express wariness of genetically engineered
foods, fearing that they might contain genes from animals that their
faith does not permit them to eat, such as swine. They maintain that
they have a right to know if foods contain those genes. Both the
kosher (Jewish) and halal (Muslim) communities have mechanisms in
place to determine which products are acceptable to their followers.
They have thus made their own decisions about this technology and have
not concerned themselves with secular labeling issues. For instance,
both Orthodox Rabbis and Muslim leaders have ruled that simple gene
additions that lead to one or a few new components in a species are
acceptable for kosher and halal law. The Muslim community, however,
has not yet resolved whether a gene derived from swine should be an
exception to the rule.
In another example, Jewish kosher laws prohibit the mixing of meat and
milk, making cheese produced with the enzyme rennet, which is derived
from the stomach of calves, non-kosher. But rabbis have determined
this enzyme, once removed from the cow and made in bacteria, can be
used to make kosher cheese. In this instance, genetic engineering has
helped to expand the food options for those with special dietary
requirements or beliefs. In the future, such decisions are expected to
be made on an ongoing basis, particularly as more genetic changes are
seen in plants and animals.
The issues surrounding the use of biotechnology are complex and thus
difficult for religious bodies to deal with on an official level, says
Scoville. But religiously affiliated organizations, particularly those
that deal with rural life or poverty, are beginning to bring these
issues to the table, she adds. Bioethicists, like Magnus, are also
working with industry and religious and ethical leaders to create
ethical guidelines for the use of biotechnology ? a topic, they agree,
that is ripe for further discussion.
Although ethical and moral concerns have not received as much
attention as other issues, it is quite possible they will be more
prominent in the future debate.
Note: The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology will hold a special
policy dialogue, "Genetically Modifying Food: Playing God or Doing
God?s Work?" on Thursday, July 26, at 10:00 a.m., at the National
Press Club in Washington, D.C. This panel discussion, moderated by
Margaret Warner of the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, will permit
participants to explore the religious, moral and ethical
considerations that come into play in the pursuit of technology. For
more information or to register to attend the event, contact DJ
Nordquist via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (202)
The dialogue will be presented via a live Internet web cast. Members
of the media and the public can submit questions prior to and during
the event. To submit questions go to
http://www.connectlive.com/pewagbiotech or http://www.pewagbiotech.org.
Precaution Without Perversity: A Comprehensive Application of the
Precautionary Principle to Genetically Modified Crops
- Goklany, Indur M. 2001. Biotechnology Law Report 20 (3, June): 377-396.
Abstract. The precautionary principle (PP) has sometimes been invoked
to justify a ban on GM crops. This justification, however, takes
credit for reducing potential public health and environmental risks
that might result from a ban but ignores any blame for risks that the
ban might generate or prolong. Contributing to such one-sided
accounting is the fact that most formulations of the precautionary
principle provide no guidance for evaluating a policy if it results
simultaneously in uncertain benefits and uncertain harm. Accordingly,
policy cures based on such one-sided applications of the PP could
aggravate the underlying disease.
This article develops a framework to evaluate policies where the net
result might be ambiguous because their effects -- both beneficial and
harmful -- are uncertain. This framework attempts to sort out
competing claims on both sides of the ledger by considering, among
other things, the nature, magnitude, and the certainty of the positive
and negative effects of a ban, and the likelihood that a ban would
reduce or aggravate those effects. The application of this framework
shows that a ban on GM crops is likely to do more harm to public
health (because a ban would retard reductions in global hunger,
malnutrition, and diseases of affluence) as well as to the environment
(because a ban would increase land, water and chemical inputs devoted
to agriculture, further intensifying the major threats to global
Accordingly, the article concludes that an even handed application of
the PP requires that GM crops should be encouraged rather than banned,
provided due caution is exercised. Corollaries to this result are: (a)
a ban on GM crops would be contrary to the spirit and letter of the
international Convention on Biological Diversity which aims to protect
biodiversity, preferably using in situ conservation, and (b) a policy
to ban all GM crops ought not to come under the purview of the
Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.
From: Andrew Apel
Eco-reactionary protesters in Genoa, Italy have engaged in violence of
such magnitude it eclipses everything since Seattle, even Gothenburg
or Prague. As a result, we have one dead activist, one police officer
who may lose the sight of one eye (as a result of a letter bomb) and
another police officer in critical condition.
Of course, the world and its press will conveniently ignore permanent
or life-threatening injuries to the police officers - who, as we know,
are merely serving the interests of the citizens at the behest of
their democratically - elected representatives. Their valor in the
face of eco-fascism will never properly be lauded, and the fact that
they placed themselves in harm's way in the defense of freedom will be
ignored. The grief of their families will be ignored. No one will pay
attention to these martyrs; in part, because these officers are not
dead. Yet even if they had died, or if one of them does die (which
remains possible), it will make no difference. Cops are cannon-fodder
for street punks, people are hardened to this cruel fact.
But an activist died.
It could have been a bullet, or a brick, or a tear gas canister, or a
rock. But a representative of someone's favorite cause has died, and
for now, who knows who hurled or shot what. But watch for serious
wrangling over whose cause this activist martyr belongs to... many
groups (or some sudden new "coalition") will want serious mileage out
of this death. Maybe Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth (FOE) will
decide he was an anti-biotech activist.
Anything suffered by police officers in the course of defending
civility and democracy will be ignored, while this dead activist will
become a cult symbol... watch it happen, people, just watch.
From: "Wambugu, Florence"
Kindly refer your Agbioview readers to http://www.modifyingafrica.com
to obtain my book 'Modifying Africa'.
Kindest regards, Florence
Rethink on GM products urged
Vic Robertson, The Scotsman 21st July 2001
MIKE Calvert, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of
England, has called for a rethink on genetically modified crops and
associated foods. Calvert, formerly director of Britain?s biggest
farming operation, the Co-op, said this week that without access to
the responsible use of science and technology the industry could be
left "dead in the water".
The first GM products to arrive on the market - GM vegetarian cheese
and tomato paste - were readily accepted by retailers and consumers,
but recent attempts to introduce new GM products brought the whole
thing down "like a pack of cards", said Calvert.
"At the moment we have a stand-off on GM crops with the public
apparently saying no," he told delegates to a Home Grown Cereals
Authority?s meeting in London. This was due to the failure to identify
quality issues in the eyes of the end user.
He said: "The suggestion that there would be some reduction in
agrochemical use and therefore cost of production and impact on the
environment was not sufficiently convincing for the perceived risks to
be acceptable. "The apparent reluctance to offer choice through
segregation and labelling in the early stages was also very damaging."
Much of this could have been avoided if the food chain had worked
together to examine the new technologies and the opportunities they
offered as well as analysing the demands of the consumer.
"If there were no areas of mutual benefit, the launch of the
technology should have been delayed until products were available that
offered the quality traits sought by the market. When these had been
identified, an awareness-raising or education programme to increase
understanding would have been appropriate." Consumers demanded
honesty, openness and transparency, and a "joined up food chain"
addressing these issues and offering the quality requirements of the
end user would have prevented the reaction.
In a side swipe at the organic sector, he added: "The concept of
taking short-term market advantage through specious claims and casting
doubt on other sectors can only damage the whole in the medium to long
Rice Research: Feeding the World, Protecting the Planet
Published by the INTERNATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE Vol.11 No.2
From: "Tesoro, Frances"
Exciting new evidence is emerging that two chronic concerns of the
developing world-food security and environmental degradation-can be
managed effectively, especially across the tens of millions of
hectares planted with rice. One of the first ever detailed studies on
the impact of improved rice varieties found that they have
significantly boosted rice supplies over the past 40 years and so have
reduced prices for poor consumers. They have also saved thousands of
hectares of forests from being turned into rice farms.
A team of researchers from IRRI used data from the United Nation's
Food and Agricultural Organization to show that, in the four decades
from 1961 to 1991, the population of Asia's developing nations more
than doubled, from 1.6 billion to 3.4 billion. In the same period,
efforts to avert famine resulted in the land area devoted to rice
expanding by 30 percent, from 107 million hectares to 139 million
hectares. However, rice production grew by an impressive 170 percent,
from 199 million tonnes in 1961 to 540 million tonnes in 2000, thanks
largely to the introduction of improved rice varieties. This
unprecedented yield improvement not only helped millions avoid
starvation but also saved thousands of hectares of fragile natural
habitats from falling under the plow to create new rice fields.
"This is fundamentally the success story of the Green Revolution, but
what we have now is far better data to show what was achieved and what
its long-term effects were," said IRRI Director General Ronald
Cantrell. "For example, it is clear now that one of the main effects
of the Green Revolution-the adoption by farmers of stronger,
higher-yielding rice varieties-did not stop in the 1970s but actually
continued well into the 1990s. And the latest increases in production
have been achieved in a far more sustainable and environmentally
The IRRI research team, led by Social Services Division Senior
Economist Mahabub Hossain, also found that the total annual gains from
the adoption of these modern varieties now stands at US$10.8
billion-an astounding figure considering that it is nearly 150 times
the total investment in rice research made over the same 40-year
period by IRRI and its many partners in the national agricultural
research systems of Asia's rice producing nations.
Dr. Cantrell said it was important that such figures be seen in
perspective. "Many of the gains of the first phase of the Green
Revolution, in the 1960s and 70s, were achieved via an increase in
inputs," he said. "However, the gains in production over the past two
decades have been achieved very much in the context of sustainable,
more environmentally sensitive rice farming. At IRRI's main
experimental farm in the Philippines, we have reduced pesticide use by
60 percent, and recent research projects in Vietnam and China have had
an impressive impact on pesticide use in these major rice producing
In addition to this, rice farmers in the Philippines now record the
lowest levels of insecticide use of any rice growers in Asia, while
achieving some of the highest yields per hectare in Southeast Asia.
"As far as IRRI is concerned, unsustainable high-input rice production
makes no sense, and the era of the rice farm as a sustainable,
balanced ecosystem is where we are all heading," Dr. Cantrell added.
"The world's rice-growing regions should be seen as unique ecological
regions no less precious than the great forests and vast oceans of the
planet. This is especially so as rice covers about 11 percent of the
earth's arable land surface, making rice growing the largest single
use of land dedicated to feeding the world."
Rice Research: The Way Forward IRRI marked World Environment Day on
June 5 with the release of an important report on the role of rice
research in feeding half the planet while at the same time protecting
the environment. With around three billion people eating rice every
day, almost 11 percent of the planet's arable surface is planted with
this vital grain. In many cases, it is the very poorest people who
depend on rice while at the same time trying to survive in some of the
world's most fragile ecosystems.
In its latest annual report-entitled "Rice Research: The Way Forward"
and launched to coincide with World Environment Day on June 5-IRRI
called for greater recognition of the importance of this delicate
balancing act. "We firmly believe it is possible to feed three billion
people in a safe and sustainable way without damaging the environment
or destroying traditional practices," said IRRI Director General
Ronald Cantrell. "But it hasn't been easy, and it's going to get even
There are many challenges facing the rice industry, each of which
could potentially have a huge impact on the environment. These include:
* Global warming: Rice production will both be affected by and, in a
small way, affects global warming. Rice paddies are a minor source of
the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. But more
importantly, even a small increase in temperature could have serious
consequences for rice yields. * Water: Using traditional methods,
producing one kilogram of rice can take up to 5,000 liters of water.
As competing demands for limited water resources grow, this reliance
on large quantities of water is increasingly unrealistic in many
countries, and so other ways to grow rice must be found. * Soil: Rice
growing soils are arguably among the world's most vital natural
resource. In many parts of Asia, rice production has already
intensified to the point where scientists are concerned about the
ability of the soil to meet future crop demands. * Pesticides: In most
rice-producing nations, farmers continue to use excessive amounts of
pesticides. However, recent successes in China and Vietnam have shown
clearly that production levels can be maintained using far fewer
An electronic version of IRRI's new annual report, entitled "Rice
Research: The Way Forward" can be accessed at
Activists Take Broad Approach To Bring Down Biotech Industry:
- Communications and PR lessons for Business
http://www.ePublicrelations.org; From: "Ross S. Irvine"
(Copyright ePublic Relations Ltd. Posted July 2001) Contact:
(Publisher's note: While this article focuses on the biotech industry,
the lessons offered can be applied to any industry facing the rath of
nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and other special interest groups.)
The current anti-biotech fervour that has taken hold in Europe will
grow in North America often has little to do with biotechnology.
Rather it has to do with other technologies and issues that can be
associated with biotechnology and brought together under a single
tent. As a result, an advertising, public relations or other
communications program which attempts to explain and defend
biotechnology strictly on the basis of biotechnology will have limited
Anti-biotech forces take broader view of the issue
To increase their effectiveness and impact, biotech opponents have
broadened their scope to address other technological issues. For
example, the Funders? Working Group on Biotechnology ? a group of
well-financed American foundations which came together to battle
biotechnology ? recently changed its name to the Funders? Working
Group on New Technologies (FWGNT).
Under this wider umbrella, FWGNT can harness the resources and efforts
of organisations that target other technologies ? such as genetics,
robotics, and nanotechnology ? but can also be used against
biotechnology. As a result, FWGNT has made some interesting and
significant allies. For example, Sun Microsystems Chief Scientist Bill
Joy has been brought into the fold.
Joy wrote an important, must-read article titled "Why the future
doesn?t need us.? The lead into the actual article states: "Our most
powerful 21st-technologies ? robotics, genetic engineering, and
nanotech ? are threatening to make humans an endangered species.? Joy
writes: "The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to
limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by
limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.? That?s an amazing
comment. A respected, high-tech leader who makes his living from
developing and exploiting technology believes some technologies should
not be researched. What a coup for FWGNT!
Industry needs a broader perspective
To be effective in the face of the broad challenges presented by
groups such as FWGNT, the biotech industry must also take a broad
stance. It must support other technologies and industries which are
underact by NGOs. Just as importantly, those other technologies and
industries must support biotechnology. There needs to be a synergistic
effect among all new technologies just as there is synergy among the
forces that desire to bring technological development to a halt.
In a talk with FWGNT, Joy is reported as saying: "It?s counter
productive to be a one-person show. I?ve been thinking of getting a
list of people to sign some kind of letter that provides cover
(emphasis added) for others to then speak out ? I?ve made some initial
forays and have a handful of Nobel Laureates willing to do so, but I
don?t have this kind of organising experience ? I?ve decided not to
create an organisation to compete with anyone and I welcome anyone to
go ahead and take on my issues. I?m willing to create a foundation,
have a website and all of that but I?d prefer if other people did so.
And, there need not be just one. There?s a lot of alignment with other
These remarks by Joy offer much PR and communications guidance to the
biotech. Among the lessons are:
1. Expand the number of individuals and groups that speak out on
behalf of the biotech industry so it?s not a "one-person show.? This
expansion must reach beyond the traditional university professors and
2. Seek out the organisational experience and knowledge which will
allow the industry to broaden its sphere of influence and attract
additional supporters. This style of organising is much more complex
than arranging an international media tour, editorial board meeting,
or a news conference by satellite. It involves motivating and
empowering people to action.
3. Welcome and support anyone or any group that supports the biotech
industry. If a church women?s group in Elko, Nevada, or a basketball
team in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, wants to get involved, give them the
information and resources they need to participate effectively.
4. Let other people and groups do the work. When motivated, dedicated
and informed people come on board don?t chain them down. Let them act
on their beliefs and convictions.
5. Align itself with other industries and issues. Biotech can be
associated with academic freedom, property rights, human rights,
women?s rights, freedom of choice, creative freedom, privacy,
sustainable growth and development, smart growth, mining, ranching,
fishing, logging, endangered species, pesticides, food supply, the
third world, poverty, and numerous other issues. With creative
thinking a great deal of synergy among biotech and other issues is
possible and essential.
Behind these points is the understanding that others can and will
speak out independently and autonomously on behalf of the biotech and
other industries. These others will not seek approval before taking
action. They are bound together by a common desire and belief in the
need and benefits of technological advancement as being vital to a
better future. Who gets the credit and the precise path to be followed
As a participant in the FWGNT talk with Joy noted: "?my bottom line
instinct is that the place to start with Bill Joy is not (emphasis
added) to pull him into one of our versions of the agenda but to
really study how we can support his version (emphasis added) of this
agenda.? Another noted: "I was charmed by the void in Bill?s thinking
about strategies for social change. But different people have
The antibiotech forces are strong because they?ve been able to attract
many interests into their open-sided tent. The challenge for industry
is to build a tent and to realise they can?t hold it up themselves.
Regards, Ross S. Irvine, President / Corporate Activist, ePublic
Relations Ltd; 519-767-0444
When Science Gets in the Way of Pet Agendas
- Barry A. Palevitz; The Scientist 15:43, Jul. 23, 2001
(Forwarded by Tom Hoban )
On June 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta
issued a report about StarLink corn.1 Remember StarLink? Marketed by
Aventis Seeds, it contained a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis, or Bt. The Cry9C protein encoded by the gene rendered
the plants resistant to chewing insects. But unlike other varieties of
Bt corn, StarLink was not approved for human consumption because of
questions about potential allergenicity. Data provided to the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed that Cry9C protein is not
as quickly digested as other Bt proteins, potentially allowing more
time for the body to make antibodies against it. The evidence was
circumstantial, but EPA acted cautiously by approving StarLink for
animal use only.2
EPA erred badly--in hindsight, it's not surprising that StarLink made
its way into the human food stream. Last September, a genetic testing
lab hired by environmental activists detected StarLink's DNA
fingerprint in tacos distributed by Kraft Foods. A subsequent search
led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall hundreds of corn
products, and Aventis cringed at a clean up bill of $1 billion. The
media went into a feeding frenzy and environmental groups like
Greenpeace and Environmental Defense (ED) that are opposed to
genetically modified crops had a field day. About 50 people claimed
they were sickened after eating the corn.
But did those people really react to Cry9C protein? Scientists agreed
the possibility of an allergic response was slim. The levels of food
borne Cry9C protein if any were low, and besides, it hadn't been
around that long. You have to have been exposed to an antigen
beforehand in order to react to it. Still, the feds wanted to be sure.
So FDA asked CDC for help in studying the matter. From 51 complaints,
the agencies culled 28 people whose symptoms and circumstances matched
a food allergy, then examined blood samples from 17 of them. According
to an immunoassay, none of the samples had IgE antibodies cross
reacting with Cry9C.
IgEs are key players in the chain of reactions leading to food
allergies--no IgE, no reaction. In other words, if those people got
sick, it wasn't because of Cry9C. As controls, CDC also examined blood
from people with documented multiple allergies and banked samples
drawn before 1996, when GM crops were first grown commercially. An
independent testing laboratory confirmed the results. But biotech's
critics weren't satisfied. ED issued a press release claiming "the
results are far from definitive. º CDC and FDA only examined reactions
of a small number of people who asked to be assessed." The group
instead suggested mass screening of young children and food industry
workers. But what better people to test than those already reporting
allergies? They're the best sources of documentable evidence of harm.
ED says it advocates "solutions based on science, even when it leads
in unfamiliar directions." But C.S. Prakash, director of the Center
for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama,
has doubts. Says Prakash, ED "readily debunks a study by the most
respected public health organization in the world which finally puts
the allergy question of StarLink corn to rest." Prakash thinks "no
amount of scientific studies showing the safety of biotech crops would
satisfy environmentalists because their opposition on human health and
ecological grounds is a facade for anti-development and anti-corporate
This isn't the first time science trumped complaints about GM crops.
Take the firestorm over monarch butterflies two years ago. According
to a brief report in Nature, pollen from corn transformed with another
Bt gene kills monarch caterpillars.3 Once again, the press went into
overdrive, with headlines such as 'Butterfly Killing Corn'. ED warned
"it would be tragic if we fail to learn the lesson of DDT and
devastate butterfly populations using genetically engineered crops."
For some reason, though, everybody neglected evidence in favor of much
larger threats to monarchs--habitat destruction and mass spraying with
conventional pesticides. The bigger picture seemed like common sense
at the time, but it took a sober assessment by ecologist David
Pimentel and biodiversity champion Peter Raven to add the right dose
of perspective.4 The EPA echoed Pimentel and Raven by concluding that,
"considering the gains obviously achieved in the level of survival of
populations of monarch butterflies and other insects by eliminating a
large proportion of the pesticides applied to corn [and other GM
foods].....the widespread cultivation of Bt crops may have huge
benefits for monarch butterfly survival."
After numerous follow-up studies, two Chicago meetings and an EPA
advisory panel session in Washington--scientists concluded that Bt
corn wasn't much of a problem. According to EPA, all factors "indicate
a low probability for adverse effects of Bt corn on monarch larvae."5
Says ecologist Orley "Chip" Taylor, head of Monarch Watch at the
University of Kansas in Lawrence, "the incidence of Bt toxin is pretty
low to kill monarchs in the field."
Biotech Not Alone
Recently, Greepeace blamed President George W. Bush for hiding behind
uncertainty in not supporting the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Bush
claimed that evidence for warming was incomplete. Greenpeace's stand
is puzzling, though. The organization also opposes agricultural
biotechnology, and in doing so is a big fan of uncertainty, claiming
all the evidence isn't in yet to justify approval. In the absence of
absolute proof that they aren't harmful, "better safe than sorry'
should rule by banning GM crops.6 Unfortunately, nothing is absolute
in science, regardless of the hypothesis, theory, law or peeve.
Greenpeace's philosophy is formally known as the 'precautionary
principle,'7 but the 'what if' argument might be a better label.
Bush's stand is equally strange. Scientific consensus has long pointed
to the reality of global warming caused by greenhouse gases, but
opponents insisted supporting data were incomplete--global warming
could be just a blip on larger scale climatic variations. That may be
true--and some experts still maintain as much--but carbon dioxide and
methane are "more abundant now than at any time in the last 400,000
years," says the National Academy of Sciences about a report it just
completed on the issue.8 Convened at White House request, a blue
ribbon committee called for more study but concluded that global
warming due to greenhouse gases "accurately reflects the current
thinking of the scientific community," according to an NAS press
release. This was old news to most climatologists, so why was Bush
Science is the only way we reliably learn about the natural world.
That's why it's also indispensable for judging important policy issues
including biotechnology. But those who call on science should remember
that it often fails to support pet ideas.
Monarch scientist Chip Taylor thinks important ecological questions
remain about certain GM crops, including those transformed with genes
for herbicide tolerance. Spraying resistant corn with agents such as
Roundup could kill milkweed plants that support monarch caterpillars.
Taylor and colleagues hope to address these questions with more
research, and eventually "bring policy makers up to speed, so when
decisions are made at the political level we make them on the best
Barry A. Palevitz, (email@example.com) is a professor in
the department of botany at the University of Georgia and a
contributing editor for The Scientist. This article is based on a
commentary by this author in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June
24, 2001, page C1.
1. National Center for Environmental Health, "Investigation of human
health effects associated with potential exposure to genetically
modified corn" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington,
D.C., July 23, 2001, (www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/Cry9cReport)
2. K. Devine, "GM food debate gets spicy," The Scientist, 14:10,
Oct. 30, 2000.
3. J. Losey et al., "Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae," Nature,
4. D. S. Pimentel and P.H. Raven, "Bt corn pollen impacts on nontarget
lepidoptera: assessment of effects on nature," Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, 97:8198-8199, 2000.
5. Environmental Protection Agency, "Scientific advisory panel
preliminary report," October 2000 (www.epa.gov/scipoly/sap/2000/
6. Greenpeace International, "Safe or Sorry--Precautionary Principle
in the Biosafety Protocol," January, 2000.
7. K.R. Foster et al., "Science and the precautionary principle,"
Science, 288:979-81, 2000.
8. Committee on the Science of Climate Change, "Climate change
science: An analysis of some key questions," National Research
Council: Washington, D.C., 2001.
Searching for Images on the Web
The search engine Google now makes search for images on the Internet
easy with more than 250 million images indexed.
It is really an amazing and useful site. Type in what you are looking
for and you will get a page with thumbnail images. I tried many
agriculture and biotechnology related images, it works like a wonder.
Especially useful for your presentations, web development, brochure
Try it. ......CSP
(Thanks to Dennis Kopp, and Rick Meyer and Sonny Ramaswamy for the tip)
The EU Regulations were written and passed with the full and active
involvement of organic producers, processors, the Soil Association,
retailers, ngos, consumer group representatives and civil servants
from the various national agriculture departments. The use of the word
'blameless' implies somebody did something wrong. The law was passed
because all the stakeholders in organic food production and
consumption wanted an agreed international basis for defining organic
food and trading in it. At that time the aggressive and insensitive
approach to the introduction of GM crops was barely anticipated. It
was 4 years later that Monsanto announced that there was no way they
would segregate GM crops and that the public could take it or leave
it. Their new, caring and considerate approach is a recent innovation.
Nobody could have realistically anticipated, in 1992, what a mess the
biotech industry were going to make of the introduction of GM crops.
It isn't just organic producers who are upset, retailers advised
strongly against a 'take it or leave it' approach as they are closer
to the consumer. I personally think the organic regulations are
exemplary - they actually reflect what people really want through a
comprehensive consultative process. In the U.S. a majority of
consumers want genetically engineered food labelled, but they face a
solid wall of resistance from U.S. government and the other
stakeholders in genetically engineered food. I suppose it depends on
whether you think that the market should govern people's food choices
or a combination of science and government.
I have already commented to Andrew Apel on pollination distances. Of
course this information was available, but the large seed companies
are now also the large genetic engineering companies. They just said
there was 'no appreciable risk' and left it to the Soil Association to
get the detailed information to the appropriate government departments.
Rick Roush wrote:
" The policy on GM crops was incorporated into the EU organic
regulations back in 1992, so it was not a Soil Association reaction to
GM plantings or a cynical ploy to scare consumers with the GM
Would you have us believe that this law was passed WITHOUT the active
support of organic growers and the Soil Association? They are
blameless; the government made them do it?
You also wrote: "the Soil Association was the only reliable source on
pollination distances (etc)". Such data have been collected by plant
breeders for decades, and form the basis of seed certification
services. I'll email you separately a review of some of the literature.
Andrew Apel's list of questions deserve an answer and I hope that the
following explanation helps clarify this ongoing and irrelevant issue
about fecal contamination of organic food. I posted the results of a
UK Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) survey of 3200 samples of
organic fruit and vegetables a few weeks ago that showed the complete
absence of E.coli, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter but this was
not good enough for Mr. Apel because he was still worried about the
0.5% of samples that showed the presence of other unnamed and
innocuous organisms that can be found in association with the
undesirable ones. I thought it was environmentalists who are
constantly accused of being unable to take the good news and I
occasionally agree with that criticism: the decline in breast cancer
rates and other indicators of environmental pollution is a reflection
of the success with which society has dealt with its earlier mistakes
and stopped or controlled the worst excesses that were putting all
society at risk for economic reasons that were only relevant to a few.
We should be grateful that we live in a democratic society where
environmental and health concerns are (eventually) recognised by our
regulators and industry.
Now, for Mr. Apel's questions:
1. Seed breeders already have the information on pollination and I am
'tragically misinformed' in thinking otherwise. The relevant seed
breeders in the U.K. were Monsanto and Aventis. They are some of the
largest seed breeders in the world, yet they were unable to supply
this information to the UK Government. That's why the Soil
Association, an underfunded charity, had to commission the research.
If Mr. Apel has a complaint about 'laxity in seed production' he
should take it to the multinationals concerned, who have bought up
most of the world's seed companies in the past few years. If I were a
cynic I'd say that they had they information but didn't feel impelled
to share it, but it is typical of multinationals that have been built
on a succession of takeovers that they don't always know what
resources exist within their empires.
2. Does the Soil Association have standards for fecal bacteria, rat
hair and feces, insect parts and other foreign matter and residues of
'organic' pesticides in organic food? The Soil Association leaves the
setting of such standards to the regulatory authorities and there are
no cases of organic food failing to comply with the law in this
respect. It is misconceived to think that organic food is somehow
allowed to fall short of national and international hygiene standards.
As far as the use of the 'organic' pesticides rotenone or copper
sulphate the following rules apply: a) Rotenone - may only be used in
an emergency and after application to the Soil Association and
approval for its use. The crop must then test nil for residues before
it is marketed. b) Copper Sulphate - permitted in organic growing
until the end of 2003. These chemicals are, of course, widely used in
conventional agriculture all around the world and there are no plans
to discontinue their use. Organic farmers will struggle, particularly
grape and potato growers, but they are confident that, with the right
management techniques they will successfully deal with fungal problems
despite the discontinuation of the use of copper compounds.
3. Organic food standards are not specifically about vegetarianism and
many vegetarians eat eggs and milk from animals that also produce dung
which is used in agriculture, so they would be a bit hypocritical to
get on their high horse about animal gene fragments in their veggies.
As the PHLS research referred to above showed, there isn't much there
anyway and most people wash the most sensitive vegetables such as
carrots and lettuce. It may interest Mr. Apel to know what happens to
the cow, sheep, pig, chicken, goat, camel and other dungs that are
produced on a daily basis by domestic farm animals; it gets used as
fertiliser on non-organic farms. The significant difference is that
organic farmers are not allowed to use dung of any kind until it has
been through a time-consuming and tightly defined composting process
that scientific research has conclusively shown brings about complete
or near-complete extinction to the various fecal bacteria about which
Mr. Apel is so worried. If he is truly concerned about this issue and
is not just trying to breathe new life into the discredited "E. coli =
manure= organic food" myth from the Averys then his safest bet is to
eat organic fruit and vegetables or to cook his non-organic stuff
Hope this answers the questions raised. I would rather not get into an
argument about the relative merits of European or American
agriculture. The organic regulations emerged on both sides of the
Atlantic as a reflection of people's dismay at what passed for
agriculture and animal husbandry. Organic food reflects their 'middle
class' concerns about hygiene, hormones, antibiotics and animal
welfare. As more Americans read "Fast Food Nation" there is little
doubt that they will share these concerns and the big fast food chains
have already announced new higher standards, now that TGIF and Jack in
the Box have shown that cleaner, kinder food can also be more profitable.
p.s. There is a small but growing organisation in the UK called VOHAN
(Vegan Organic Horticultural and Agricultural Network) who are setting
dung-free organic standards. They may be able to address Mr. Apel's
concerns more fully and are at www.veganvillage.co.uk/vohan/index.htm
Andrew Apel wrote:
> Dear Mr. Sams,
> You are tragically misinformed with regard to research regarding pollen
> movement in canola and maize. Seed breeders, who have been
> seed quality for decades, could have provided the Soil Association
> data it wished for when evaluating outcrossing. Perhaps breeders are
> involved in the Soil Association - which would, of course, indicate
a laxity in
> seed production which one might expect from Europe's agricultural
> Toilets that flush into catle feed grinders, food garbage fed to hogs.
> Exaggerated "purity" claims by the Soil Association are solely to
blame for the
> weird politically-motivated result you advert to.
> Mr. Sams, could you please tell me what tolerance limits the Soil
> has established for fecal bacteria, rat hair and feces, insect
> foreign matter, and residues of "organic" pesticides in "organic"
food? Is the
> use of human feces prohibited? And since "organic" vegetables are
> grown in cow, sheep, pig and chicken dung, what about animal gene
> the veggies? Vegetarians will certainly be concerned about having a
> about eating animal genes. These are surely things with "stupendous
> consequences for human health" that you and the Soil Association
> greatly concerned about.
From: Alex Avery
Craig Sams wrote this about GM pollen and the 3 km required distance
between GM and organic crops in order to gain Soil Association
>Organic producers have to obey a law..and there is a conflict between
>that law and the uncontrolled planting of GM crops. In the US no such
>respect for organic producers or non GM producers was shown, with
>impacts on both groups.
1st, there is no "uncontrolled" planting of GM crops. 2nd, Since when
did organic farmers gain control of the air and sky? Since when did
such a tiny and irrational minority gain veto power over what the rest
of the farm community around them could plant. The Soil Association's
silly and impossible zero-tolerance policy on GM pollen is absurd on
its face. Like the old saying about feces, Pollen happens. It'd be
just as silly if GM farmers demanded that organic farmers stop the
pollen from wafting off of their fields.
Moreover, if terminator technology hadn't been so irrationally
protested by environmentalists and organic farmers, this simply
wouldn't be a problem--the pollen would be sterile and wouldn't impact
neighboring crops. Convenient that blockage of this technology sets up
exactly the kind of catch-22 that the SA will use to protest GM crops.
Perhaps the Soil Association will simply have to set a more realistic
policy, rather than expect everyone else conform to their unrealistic
Alex Avery, Hudson Institute
Subject: Peer Review
Bob MacGregor is quite correct to question the peer review that NFN
claims for their most recent rehash of biotech hysteria. However, we
must consider the source. "Peers" of the authors are nothing more than
a motley collection of anti-capitalist, anti-technology Luddites and
When and if there ever is a truly scientific presentation of true
environmental risks of genetically modified plants, rather than the
tired recitations of "what-if's" and hysterical exclamations of "the
is falling," then we would have real reasons to pause.
* Correction *
The article "Plants Are Not Pesticides: A New US EPA Rule That Says
Pest-Resistant GM Plants Should Be Regulated Like Pesticides Is
Anti-Consumer And Anti-Environment"
that appeared in the Financial Post July 20, 2001 (Agbioview Fri, 20 Jul
2001 ) was not an editorial but an op-ed piece by Henry Miller.