AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* EU Green Light for GM?- Commissioner Byrne Statement
* Food for Thought
* Question and Answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU
* Victims, Martyrs and Heroes
* UN Shocks Neo-Luddites!
* Transgenic Ills and Otherwise
* Non-GM Crops Not Commanding Price Premiums
* Biotech Corn Appears Safe for Monarchs
* Genetic Engineering's New Goal: Food That Includes a Vaccine
* Plant Biotechnology Gets The Internet Treatment
* Corn Leader Shares Views On Biotechnology With Thais
European Union Green Light to GM Foods?
Your Right To Know About Genetically Modified Food
- by EU Commissioner for Health Mr. David Byrne
- Irish Independent
"I can choose whether or not to buy food produced from a Genetically
Modified Organism (GMO)." That is the choice I want to give consumers
throughout Europe. When you don't know what you are buying, of course
you may be concerned. Fear of the unknown is a most natural human
reaction. I understand that perfectly.
That is the message you, the consumers of Ireland, have given me. That
is the message your Government has given me. Your consumer
representatives have also clearly spelled out your concerns to me.
I am now going to deliver on your concerns. Your voice has counted.
Today two European Commissioners are bringing your concerns directly
into the meeting in Brussels where the Commission makes its weekly
President Romano Prodi will chair this meeting. Both Margot Wallstrom,
the Environment Commissioner and myself, responsible for Health and
Consumer Protection issues, will address the President and our
seventeen other colleagues.
We will present to them, on your behalf, two new laws regulating GMOs
I believe our colleagues will give the green light to our ideas.
You are concerned about possible risks connected to GMOs. As European
Commissioners, we too are taking precautions in our new laws to make
sure that GMOs do not present any risk to your health or to the
That is why we will have the European Food Authority examine in detail
all applications for the use of GMOs in food or in feed for animals.
The top scientists in Europe, independent of politics and industry,
will vet the GMOs to make sure they are no risk to your health, the
health of animals or to the environment. If the Food Authority's
scientists say "No", then the GMO food or feed cannot be sold in
Europe. Nor, indeed, can imported food or feed containing such a GMO
On the other hand, if the Food Authority says that the GMO is safe,
then it is up to the Commission and representatives of each of the
fifteen Governments in the EU to decide on allowing its use and under
what particular conditions.
One basic condition is that the GMO food (or feed) must be labelled.
This is to give you a choice: either to buy the product in question or
to choose something else. At present, the EU's labelling regime gives
you lots of information, about the food ingredients, additives and
flavourings. We will soon add clear information about allergens. And
this GMO legislation will add information about any GMO in food.
My aim is provide assurance for consumers that any product placed on
the market is safe. After that it is for you to decide if you want to
buy it or not. Labelling allows you to make that choice.
One other issue that arouses controversy concerns what is known as
"adventitious presence". This means the unavoidable or accidental
trace presence of a GMO in our food or feed. Whether we like it or not
this is a reality. This is nature at work. Short of stopping the
growth of GMO crops all around the world, or closing our borders,
there is very little that can be done about it.
Our proposals for GMO legislation recognise this reality. And we are
regulating it. We say that only minute traces of GMOs that are not
formally authorised in Europe will be permitted in food or feed. But
they first must have been assessed by our scientists as presenting no
risk to human or animal health or to the environment which is a
necessary step in the process before formal authorisation.
I said earlier that people are concerned about the unknown. But when
in the future you see a label on a food product saying "genetically
modified organism", you will have a number of real assurances.
Firstly, that it has been assessed by the top scientists in Europe in
the Food Authority.
Unless the scientists say "yes" it cannot go on the market. You will
also be assured that the GMO has been examined by the Commission and
representatives of your Government. And then it is up to you to choose.
* David Byrne is European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection.
Food for Thought
FEARS about genetically modified (GM) foods are not confined to the
extreme Green or Luddite fringes of society. After a series of scares
and scandals, most notably over BSE, food safety has become a burning
issue for millions of people.
The European Commission must therefore tread delicately when it
proposes to permit the sale of GM foods. It will do precisely that
when its proposals are unveiled today. And the right man, David Byrne,
will unveil them. Mr Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection, is a model of common sense and quiet competence. His
article in this newspaper today should set most, if not all, doubts to
His message to Irish consumers is summed up in a single sentence: "The
top scientists in Europe, independent of politics and industry, will
vet the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to make sure they are no
risk to your health, the health of animals or to the environment."
The details, however, are important. And the details outlined by Mr
Byrne are encouraging. A European Food Authority will determine, on
scientific advice, whether or not specific products may be sold. A new
labelling system will clearly mark out products containing GMOs.
His plans on labelling are particularly welcome. They have attracted
the support of the director of the European Consumers' Association,
Jim Murray. And the Commission plans to extend the regulations in this
area beyond the immediate issue; for example, to give information
But the most significant assurances are that GM foods will not go on
sale unless Europe's top scientists have found them safe; that they
must also have the approval of national governments; and, above all,
that consumers can take them or leave them.
Customers will know exactly what they are buying. If they retain
misgivings about GM foods, they have other choices. Mr Byrne's
proposals should not merely allay fears. They should go some way
towards restoring consumer confidence generally.
Question and Answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU
European Union MEMO/00/277; Brussels, 24 July 2001
(Thanks to Shane Morris for forwarding this)
1. What are GMOs and GMMs?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically modified
micro-organisms (GMMs) can be defined as organisms (and
micro-organisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered
in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural
recombination. The technology is often called "modern biotechnology"
or "gene technology", sometimes also "recombinant DNA technology" or
"genetic engineering". It allows selected individual genes to be
transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related
2. What is the current legislation in the EU on GMOs?
Community legislation on GMOs has been in place since the early 1990s
and throughout the decade, this regulatory framework has been further
extended and refined. The EU introduced specific legislation designed
to protect its citizens' health and the environment while
simultaneously creating a unified market for biotechnology. The main
legislation which authorises experimental releases and placing on the
market of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the Community is
currently Directive 90/220/EEC. A new, updated Directive 2001/18/EC on
the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms was adopted
by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in February
2001 and will enter into force on 17 October 2002. Directive
90/220/EEC put in place a step-by-step approval process on a case by
case assessment of the risks to human health, animal health and the
environment before any GMO or product consisting or containing GMOs
can be released into the environment or placed on the market. Products
derived from GMOs, such as paste or ketchup from a GMO tomato are not
covered by this horizontal Directive but by vertical, sectoral
legislation, for example the Regulation on Novel Foods and Novel Food
Ingredients of 27 January 1997(Regulation (EC) 258/97). Directive
90/219/EEC as amended by Council Directive 98/81/EC on the contained
use of GMMs which regulates the contained use of GMMs for research and
3. What is the current procedure for approval of the release of GMOs
into the environment?
Under Directive 90/220/EEC (or Directive 2001/18/EC from October 2002
), a company intending to market a GMO must first submit an
application to the competent national authority of the Member State
where the product is to be first placed on the market. For
experimental releases it is the competent authority of the Member
State where the product shall first be released for research or
The application must include a full risk assessment. If the national
authority gives a favourable opinion on the placing on the market of
the GMO concerned, this Member State informs the other Member States
via the Commission. If there are no objections, the competent
authority that carried out the original evaluation grants the consent
for the placing on the market of the product. The product may then be
placed on the market throughout the European Union in conformity with
any conditions required in that consent.
If any objections are raised, a decision has to be taken at Community
level. The Commission first asks for the opinion of its Scientific
Committees. If the scientific opinion is favourable, the Commission
then proposes a draft Decision to the Regulatory Committee composed of
representatives of Member States for opinion. If the Regulatory
Committee gives a favourable opinion, the Commission adopts the
Decision. If not, the draft Decision is submitted to the Council of
Ministers for unanimous adoption or rejection. If the Council does not
act within 3 months, the Commission can adopt the decision.
4. What is the current risk assessment procedure?
There is no scientific evidence that the use of the technology is
itself inherently unsafe. The safety of GMOs depends on the
characteristics of the inserted gene(s), the final organism that is
produced and its application The objective of the risk assessment is
to identify and evaluate potential adverse effects of the GMO(s),
either direct or indirect, immediate or delayed, taking also into
account the cumulative and long term effects on human health and the
environment which the deliberate release or the placing on the market
of GMOs may have. The risk assessment also looks specifically how the
GM product was developed and examines the risks associated with the
gene products in the product (for example toxic or allergenic
proteins), and the possibility of a gene-transfer (for example of
antibiotic resistance genes).
The methodology of the risk assessment is as follows.
? Identification of any characteristics of the GMO(s) which may cause
? Evaluation of the potential consequences of each adverse effect
? Evaluation of the likelihood of the occurrence of each identified
? Estimation of the risk posed by each identified characteristic of
? Application of management strategies for risks from the deliberate
release or placing
on the market of GMO(s)
? Determination of the overall risk of the GMO(s)
The Scientific Committee on Plants (SCP) has issued opinions on 17 GM
plants under Directive 90/220/EEC. In one case an unfavourable opinion
was given due to an insufficient risk assessment of the presence of a
number of uncharacterised genes and particularly the gene which
confers resistance to amikacin, a clinically important antibiotic.
Therefore, this product was not allowed onto the market. The
Scientific Committee on Food is responsible for opinions relating to
Novel Foods. This Committee has issued one favourable opinion on food
of plant origin (processed tomato) and 4 on products of microbial origin.
5. What will change when Directive 2001/18 comes into force?
The revised Directive updates and strengthens the existing rules of
the risk assessment and the decision-making process on the release of
GMO's into the environment. In particular it introduces mandatory
information to the public and general rules on mandatory labelling and
traceability at all stages of the placing on the market. The new
Directive also foresees mandatory monitoring requirements of long-term
effects associated with the interaction with other GMOs and the
environment. Such effects will also to be taken into account in the
risk assessment carried out prior to authorisation. First approvals
for the release of GMO's will be limited to a maximum of ten years,
and consultation of the Scientific Committee(s) becomes obligatory.
The new Directive also introduces an obligation to consult the
European Parliament on decisions to authorise the release of GMO's and
the possibility for Council of Ministers to adopt or reject a
Commission proposal for authorisation of a GMO by qualified majority.
6. How many GMO's have been approved for release into the environment?
Since Directive 90/220/EEC entered into force in October 1991, the
commercial release of 18 GMO's has been authorised in the EU by a
Commission Decision, mostly following a qualified majority vote in the
Regulatory Committee. In two cases the Commission Decision has not yet
been implemented by the Member State (see Annex 1). Since October 1998
no further authorisations have been granted and there are currently 14
applications pending (see Annex 2).
Some Member States have invoked Article 16, the so-called safeguard
clause, of Directive 90/220/EEC to temporarily ban the placing on the
market of genetically modified maize and oilseed rape products in
their territories. There are currently eight ongoing Article 16 cases
involving Austria, Luxembourg, France, Greece and Germany. These cases
have been examined by the Scientific Committee on Plants, which in all
cases deemed that the information submitted by Member States did not
justify their bans.
7. What are the rules on the marketing of GM foods?
Regulation (EC) 258/97 on Novel Foods and Novel Food Ingredients sets
out rules for authorisation and labelling of novel foods including
food products containing, consisting or produced from GMOs. The first
step of an authorisation procedure is an assessment of an application
to market a GM food product by the Member State where the food is to
be first placed on the market. In case of a favourable opinion, this
Member State informs the other Member States via the Commission. If
there are no objections against the application, this Member State can
authorise the product for marketing in the entire EU. If there are
objections by other Member States, a decision at Community level is
required. The Commission consults the Scientific Committees on matters
relating to public health and adopts a decision after receiving a
favourable opinion from the Regulatory Committee. Once a Decision at
Community level is required, the time frame for authorisation is
necessarily extended. As a derogation from the full authorisation
procedure, the Novel Foods Regulation provides for a simplified
procedure for foods derived from GMOs but no longer containing GMOs
which are "substantially equivalent" to existing foods with respect to
composition, nutritional value, metabolism, intended use and the level
of undesirable substances. In such cases, the companies only have to
notify the Commission when placing a product on the market together
with either scientific justification that the product is substantially
equivalent or an opinion to the same effect, delivered by the
competent authorities of a Member State.
8. How many GMO's have been approved for use in food products?
Two genetically modified plants, a variety of soya and a variety of
maize have been authorised under Directive 90/220/EEC prior to the
entry into force of the Novel Foods Regulation, to be on the European
market for the use in food. Under the Novel Foods Regulation no
products consisting of or containing live GMOs have so far been
authorised. Eleven applications concerning such products are pending
at different stages in the procedure. Several products produced from
GMOs have been notified to the Commission as being substantially
equivalent (see Annex 3). The list of notifications is published in
the Official Journal of the EU once a year.
9. What are the rules on Genetically modified feed?
No specific Community legislation on GM feed is in place yet. However,
eight GMOs are authorised in accordance with Directive 90/220/EEC for
the purpose of use in feed; these are four maize varieties, three rape
varieties and one soya variety.
10. What are the rules on genetically modified seeds?
Community legislation on seeds, notably Directive- 98/95/EC, specifies
that national authorities that have agreed to the use of a seed on
their territory must notify this acceptance to the Commission. The
Commission examines the information supplied by the Member State
concerned and its compliance with the provisions of Community seeds
legislation. If such is the case, the Commission includes the variety
concerned in the "Common Catalogue of varieties of Agricultural Plant
Species" which means the seed can be marketed throughout the EU. The
seed legislation furthermore requires that GMO seed varieties have to
be authorised in accordance with Directive 90/220/EEC before they are
included in the Common Catalogue and marketed in the EU. If the seed
is intended for use in food, it also has to be authorised in
accordance with the Novel Foods Regulation.
Legislation on the marketing of forestry reproductive material also
requires prior authorisation of GM material in line with the
requirements of Directive 90/220. The Commission has proposed to amend
the Community rules governing the marketing of vine material in line
with Directive 90/220/EEC. In the White Paper on Food Safety the
Commission has announced a proposal for a Regulation specifying the
conditions for the environmental risk assessment for GM plant
varieties. Further rules on growing conditions and other requirements
for purity concerning the presence of GM seeds in seed lots of
traditional varieties, as well as detailed labelling rules are also to
11. How many GM seeds have been authorised?
So far only two GMO seed varieties have been included in the Common
Catalogue for seed varieties which can be marketed in the EU, after
prior authorisation under Directive 90/220/EEC. Applications for the
inclusion of three new GMO seed varieties, already approved under
90/220/EEC, are pending.
12. What are the rules for Medicines, Protection of workers & Transport?
Authorisation of medicinal products for human and veterinary use
(including such derived from genetically modified organisms) is
regulated under Regulation (EEC) 2309/93 laying down Community
procedures for the Council Directive 90/679/EEC on the protection of
workers from the risks related to exposure to biological agents at
work also regulates GMOs alongside other biological agents. Several
pieces of legislation regulate transport of GMOs, in particular the
Council Directives on the approximation of laws of Member States with
regard to transport of dangerous goods carried by road, rail and
inland seaways, the Council Directives on the appointment and
vocational qualification of safety advisers for the transport of
dangerous goods in the same sectors, as well as a Council Directive on
uniform procedures for checks on the transport of dangerous goods by road.
13. What are the current rules on labelling?
The EU recognises the consumers? right for information and labelling
as a tool to make an informed choice. Since 1997 labelling to indicate
the presence of GMOs as such or in a product is mandatory. The Novel
Foods Regulation provides for the mandatory labelling of foods and
food ingredients which contain or consist of a GMO without prejudice
to the other labelling requirements of Community law. The labelling
requirements for foods derived from GMO, but no longer containing GMO
are more complicated and based on the concept of equivalence 1 .
Council Regulation 1139/98 lays down provisions for the labelling of
foods and food ingredients derived from one maize and one soya 2
variety based on the presence of DNA or protein resulting from genetic
modification. This criterion serves as a model providing the rules
applicable to labelling of all foods and food ingredients derived from
GMO. In January 2000, the Commission adopted Regulation (EC) 50/2000
ensuring that also additives and flavourings have to be labelled if
DNA or protein of GMO origin is present in the final product.
Regulation (EC) 49/2000 addresses the problem of adventitious
contamination of GM material in conventional food. It introduces a 1%
de minimis threshold for DNA or protein resulting from genetic
modification below which labelling is not required, if operators can
demonstrate that they have used appropriate steps to avoid the
presence of GM material.
Genetically modified seed varieties must be labelled, in accordance
with Council Directive 98/95/EEC. The label has to show clearly that
it is a GM variety. Currently, there is no specific Community
legislation on the labelling of GMO feed. The general labelling rules
under Directive 90/220/EEC apply. A new Novel Feed legislation will
foresee provisions for labelling.
Beate GMINDER: 02/296.56.94; Thorsten MUENCH: 02/296.10.63; Catherine
1 This means that if a characteristic or property (composition,
nutritional value or nutritional effects, intended use) renders a food
or food ingredient no longer equivalent to an existing counterpart, it
has to be labelled indicating the method (i.e. genetic modification)
by which the characteristic or property was obtained. 2 These
varieties were approved before the entering into force of the Novel
Foods Regulation under Directive 90/220/EEC on the deliberate release
into the environment of genetically modified organisms authorisation
and supervision of medicinal products for human and veterinary use.
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Victims, Martyrs and Heroes
The violence in Genoa and its aftermath should be instructive. We have
one death; an activist with a lengthy criminal record was shot in the
face at point-blank range as he attempted to dash out the brains of a
police officer with a fire extinguisher. In the main, activists are
portraying him as a victim, rather than as a martyr or hero, and this
is important. A martyr is someone who gives his life willingly because
of unwavering dedication to a cause. Since no individual group or
movement has explicitly claimed him as an adherent of their doctrine,
it is difficult to describe him as a martyr. They do not describe him
as a hero; which is one who prevails in a noble cause through
self-sacrifice. He did not prevail, and his cause remains unknown. The
remaining option is to call him a victim, and that is what they call
him a victim of 'assassination,' according to most activist accounts.
Over the last 30 years or so, the politics of victimization has
undergone a change. Originally, claims of being a victim were designed
to portray the victim as helpless and therefore worthy of compassion;
this portrayal was meant to contrast with the act or event which
conferred the status of victimhood, the contrast suggesting a moral
illegitimacy of the act or event.
This has changed somewhat. Now, claims of being a victim are also
accompanied by claims of right. That is to say, when the status of
"victim" is conferred, that status also confers rights which supersede
ordinary rights. This assumption of the moral "high ground" is, in the
new victimology, then taken as justification for acts not permitted to
the average citizen. Such acts include assaulting police officers or
torching cars or destroying field trials, which the activists say are
justified by "victim" status.
Interestingly, few activists claim "victim" status for themselves.
Instead, they claim to be acting on behalf of other "victims," such as
the environment, developing countries, organic farmers or a dead
activist. Whether any of these truly deserve to be designated as
victims is open to debate, but it is clear that activists, by
conferring "victim" status at their convenience, conveniently use that
to bootstrap themselves into a position where they can claim a moral
right to breach fundamental moral principles on the behalf of the
"victims" they lay claim to.
Martyrs and heroes serve as role models. The dead activist, lacking
either status, cannot serve as a role model. However, as a victim, he
can serve to underscore claims of right to destroy private property or
commit physical assault.
This makes it appear as though his death is largely inconsequential,
but it may not be. The activists, by appointing themselves the
representatives of one victim or another, make themselves candidates
for hero or martyr status. Historically, the prospect of becoming a
hero or martyr has proven to be a powerful motive.
From: "Dario Panzeri"
Subject: Reply to Andrew Apel, Martyrs
I'm an Italian ag. biotechnology student. Apel's was wrong in may
aspects of his analysis about Genoa.
- First, the main protest was focused on the potentially harmful
economic outcome of "globalization", very, very few were against ag
- Second, protestors from "Genoa Social Forum", the main organization,
were totally non-violent. Disorders and destruction were caused by
only few "casseurs", independent of any politic organization. They
weren't eco-activists, they didn't care about G8, the demonstration or
environment, their only purpose was vandalism.
- Third, there are many evidences of unlawful behaviour by police. It
seems that police did attack peaceful demonstrators while the few,
independent vandals act undisturbed. The general feeling was the
denial of many basilar rights and anti-democratic behaviour
orchestrated by the government on order to dissuade everyone from any
"Cops" did their job but they were ordered non-democratic. No one
From: Beant Ahloowalia
Subject: Re: Potrykus Rice
To transfer the Golden rice character (elevated pro-vita A) into high
yielding and well-adapted, rice varieties, Ingo should distribute
seeds to as many rice breeders in Asia and Africa as possible, so that
they can initiate conventional crossing and back-crossing program with
their local varieties. Sooner it is done, better it would be to put
the dream into reality! It could take 6-8 years work to back-cross,
select and test the field performance of the back-crossed progeny. And
perhaps another 2-3 to test the nutrition impact of vitamin A. We are
as yet 10 years away from the laboratory to the food plate.
- B.S. Ahloowalia , Agriculture and Food Development Authority
Kinsealy Research Centre, Dublin 17, Ireland
UN Shocks Neo-Luddites!
A new report concludes that biotech is the best hope for many of the
By Ronald Bailey http://www.reason.com/rb/rb071801.html
Reactionary voices from the global anti-biotech campaign are being
raised in strident opposition to a breakthrough report on
biotechnology. Issued last week, the report favors crop biotech for
poor farmers in developing nations.
"It contains frightening echoes of recent biotechnology industry
propaganda," declares Robert Vint, National Coordinator of Genetic
Food Alert in Britain. "Genetic engineering is just not capable of
producing what poor farmers need," insists Peter Rosset, of the
Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First), based in
Oakland, California. "Complex problems of hunger and agricultural
development will not be solved by technological silver bullets,"
asserts Von Hernandez of Greenpeace South-East Asia.
Why are these anti-biotechies so provoked? Because the report they are
attacking was issued by an organization that activists generally
regard as their own, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In
its annual Human Development Report, the UNDP points out what is
obvious to anyone but the most ideologically blinkered bioluddites,
"Biotechnology offers the only or the best ?tool of choice? for
marginal ecological zones?left behind by the Green Revolution but home
to more than half the world?s poorest people, dependent on agriculture
In the sections dealing with biotechnology and the poor, the report
stresses the potential for genetically enhancing crops with genes for
disease resistance, drought tolerance and better nutrition. "These
crops could significantly reduce malnutrition, which still affects
more than 800 million people worldwide, and would be especially
valuable for poor farmers working marginal lands in sub-Saharan
Africa," notes the press release accompanying the report.
Citing recent Japanese biotech research that has produced valuable new
rice varieties, UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown, declared,
"These varieties have 50 percent higher yields, mature 30 to 50 days
earlier, are substantially richer in protein; are far more disease and
drought resistant, resist insect pests and can even out-compete weeds.
And they will be especially useful because they can be grown without
fertilizer or herbicides, which many poor farmers can?t afford anyway."
The UNDP report maintains that current debates in Europe and the
United States over new biotechnologies mostly ignore the concerns and
needs of the developing world. While Westerners focus on such
theoretical concerns as potential allergic reactions, poor people in
developing countries are more interested in better crop yields,
nutrition, or the reduced need to spray costly pesticides that can
"You and I don?t really need a tomato with a longer shelf life. On the
other hand, a farmer in Mali facing crop failure every three years
really needs better drought resistant that biotechnology can offer,"
according to UNDP report lead author Sakiko Fakuda-Parr in a recent
BBC interview. Actually, even Fakuda-Parr is too dismissive of
tomatoes with longer shelf life. Such tomatoes and other biotech
fruits would be especially valuable to poor farmers who don?t own
refrigerators or who lack easy access to distant markets for their
"It is obvious that biotechnology?more often than not?represents the
only lifeline of hope for most poor people in Africa," says Florence
Wambugu, Director of the African Centre of the International Service
for the acquisition of Agribiotechnology Applications in Nairobi,
Kenya. "In addition to having a major impact on poverty and hunger,
biotechnology has great potential to alleviate environmental
degradation." Wambugu and her colleagues have created a
virus-resistant sweet potato that could double yields of this mainstay
crop in Kenya. "Our position in Kenya is that biotechnology is not a
problem. Poverty is," said Shem Adhola, a senior official in the
agriculture ministry according to the Environment News Service last
year. "The quest to produce nutritious food and agricultural
commodities in abundance is our challenge."
It should be noted that the Human Development Report 2001 doesn?t just
endorse biotechnology. The report ignores the neo-Luddites who
perversely claim that technological progress is being imposed by
rapacious Western corporations bent on undermining the indigenous
cultures of the hapless poor in the developing world. (See Rage
Against the Machines.) Instead, the UNDP report broadly embraces the
power of technological innovation and globalization to help the poor
of the world to live fuller, richer and more secure lives.
According to the report, "Technological innovation is a means to human
development because of its impact on economic growth through the
productivity gains it generates. It raises the crop yields of farmers,
the output of factory workers and the efficiency of service providers
and small businesses. It also creates new activities and
industries?such as the information and communications technology
sector?contributing to economic growth and employment creation."
Finally, crop biotechnology may not be a "silver bullet," but, as the
Human Development Report 2001 maintains, it surely will be a vital
weapon in humanity?s ongoing war against hunger and poverty.
Ronald Bailey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Reason Magazine's science
correspondent and the editor of Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True
State of the Planet (McGraw-Hill).
Transgenic Ills and Otherwise
- BERNARD DIXON , 19 July 2001 Nature 412, 275 - 276 (2001) ©
Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
(Book Review) Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic
Engineering; edited by Brian Tokar ; Zed Books: 2001. 440 pp. $19.95,
Just as good government depends on effective opposition, so new
science benefits from peer review, and novel applications of science
need their technical and social critics. There is reason, then, to
welcome a work described as "the first comprehensive examination of
the hidden hazards of the new genetic technologies and the emergence
of worldwide resistance".
Edited by Brian Tokar, an opponent of genetic modification (GM),
Redesigning Life? contains 31 chapters by other GM activists, members
of non-governmental organizations and journalists. An opening section
on health, food and the environment is followed by another covering
medical genetics, science and human rights. These are complemented by
sections on opposition to genetic engineering and on "patents,
corporate power and the theft of knowledge and resources".
Whether sympathetic or otherwise to this cause, readers will learn
much here about the foundations of hostility towards recombinant DNA
manipulations, and about campaigners' tactics. However, those seeking
balanced or simply fair-minded discussion will be deeply disappointed.
For example, several contributors discuss the "scandal" of bovine
spongiform encephalopathy in Britain and the related emergence of one
form of Creutzfeldt?Jakob disease in humans. Yet there is no mention
of the fact that human growth hormone, formerly extracted from the
pituitaries of human cadavers, can now be produced in recombinant
bacteria, thereby eliminating the tragedy of avoidable
Creutzfeldt?Jakob disease in patients who need growth-hormone
treatment. This "comprehensive" book is similarly silent on
genetically engineered erythropoietin, interferons, blood-clotting
factors and a wide range of other recombinant products that have been
used safely and to the lasting benefit of patients for many years.
The approach of Tokar and his colleagues is illustrated by three items
that do appear in the book. One stems from a 1999 article in The
Guardian newspaper claiming that the British Diabetic Association had
withheld evidence that thousands of diabetics may have suffered a
deterioration in health after using recombinant insulin. Although the
association has categorically denied both the alleged evidence and its
alleged cover-up, the charge surfaces again here in a piece about "a
suppressed 1993 report commissioned by the British Diabetics [sic]
Also questionable are the sources given to support the claim by
researcher Arpád Pusztai that potatoes genetically modified to carry a
lectin gene produced adverse effects in rats. These claims triggered
the GM food furore in Britain in 1998. We are told, for example, that
the amounts of protein, starch and sugars in the tubers differed by as
much as 20% from non-GM potatoes. However, the reference is not to a
peer-reviewed journal but to an interview in something called GM-Free.
Similarly, when rats ate the GM potatoes, "the immune response was
significantly depressed and there was evidence of serious intestinal
inflammation and infection". The reference here is to Pusztai's 1999
Lancet paper, which (though greeted in the media as vindicating his
original claims of adverse effects on growth and the immune system)
contains no evidence on these aspects, nor on infection. The paper is
about the structure of the small intestine.
Third, we read that "a single intentional change in a plant's DNA can
cause other, unintended health and safety problems". Yet the single
citation here is to a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine paper about
an allergen gene from brazil nuts. The authors of the paper showed
that this can be expressed in soybeans, which provoked allergic
reactions in people already known to be allergic to brazil nuts. So what?
The real purpose of that research was to investigate and then remove a
potential hazard. Alas, Tokar and his colleagues do not seem
interested in these positive aspects of transgenic work. They do not
even mention the most exciting potential of genetic manipulation
regarding allergy ? the possibility of eliminating potential allergens
from foodstuffs and thus avoiding the misery, and worse, that they can
There are, of course, genuine environmental, social and geopolitical
grounds for caution over the robust burgeoning of biotechnology, and
some of them are explored in this book. Unfortunately, however, its
overall tone is summarized all too clearly in the words of one
contributor, Zoe Meleo-Erwin, who writes: "Reproductive and genetic
technologies are not designed to help the infertile, cure the sick,
improve upon evolution or offer greater choice. This industry seeks
power over nature, women, children and human evolution in the pursuit
of increasing profits."
Many references in Redesigning Life? are to newspapers and magazines,
reminding us of the role the media have played, particularly in
fomenting hysteria over GM foods. That influence is examined crisply
and perceptively in A Grain of Truth: The Media, the Public, and
Biotechnology (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) by Susanna Hornig Priest, a
professor of journalism in the United States. It should be read
carefully by all who believe that the media get everything wrong, that
journalists exercise excessive power over a gullible public or that
they are too preoccupied with either doom or hype. Reflective reading
of this book might help to bring journalism, biotechnology and even
its opponents into a more fruitful relationship.
A Grain of Truth: The Media, the Public, and Biotechnology
By Susanna Hornig Priest; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
$19.95 Paper 0-7425-0948-6 ; $75.00 Cloth 0-7425-0947-8
(You can also order this at http://www.amazon.com)
'A Grain of Truth' debunks the myth that growing public distrust of
genetically modified organisms can be attributed to scientific
illiteracy or sensationalistic news stories. Media coverage of these
issues has been dominated by the spokespersons of industry yet
evidence of consumer uncertainty has been available all along. The
roots of the controversy are visible in press coverage and public
opinion polls over the past decade, covering everything from the
manufacture of growth hormones used in dairy cows through the cloning
of Dolly the sheep to the appearance of the so-called "terminator
gene." Arguing neither for nor against genetic engineering and other
forms of biotechnology, this book charges both media and industry with
ignoring the concerns of the general public and encourages greater
public debate over biotech and other such complex issues.
Non-GM Crops Not Commanding Price Premiums - Cargill
By Michael Byrnes
SYDNEY, July 25 (Reuters) - Conventionally produced crops were
generally not commanding price premiums over genetically modified (GM)
agricultural products, grain trading giant Cargill Inc said on Wednesday.
The vast bulk of early GM varieties were also not scoring price
premiums over conventional products, Ian Baker, business development
manager of Cargill Australia Ltd told the New South Wales Farmers
Association annual conference.
"Australia has been able to derive little if any benefit from our
non-GM status for canola over our major international competitor,
Canada, where over 75 percent of their production is from varieties
using biotechnology," he said.
Baker's comment offered an insight into one of the most controversial
aspects of the world food industry, where farmers and producers are
grappling with whether to reap yield gains from GM crops or to remain
GM-free in the hope that it will produce greater consumer acceptance
and higher prices.
Canola is a key focus of the debate, with Canada, the world's leading
exporter, producing GM crops but Australia, the world's second largest
exporter, so far GM-free but trialling GM crops.
Some specific products, such as tofu soybeans sold to Japan and feed
grains to Europe, had commanded premiums for conventional breeding
over biotechnology, Baker said.
"(But) we have seen little consistent evidence of premiums on a wider
scale. This has also been the case with canola," he said. Baker also
said that there was no blockage to the sale of GM canola into Japan,
China and Asia, where seed from Australia was generally blended with
Canadian seed, thus losing its identity.
The sale of GM canola to the European market, however, had been
restricted, he said. Premiums would only be achievable when processors
or consumers could see additional value in new food product varieties,
Cargill had released a number of new biotech canola varieties in
Canada, including Clear Valley 65, which has improved stability and an
extended frying life. Production has grown rapidly to more than
250,000 tonnes in Canada and was accompanied by a price premium of
C$10-C$15 a tonne over other varieties, he said.
Demand Limited: But demand for specific quality attributes was limited
and premiums would quickly evaporate if overproduced, he said. "For
biotechnology to be sustainable it clearly relies on sharing value
through the value chain ... starting with the farmer," he said. Alan
Green, a scientist with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), told the conference the main
concern of many opponents of GM foods was not primarily the
environment but globalisation and agri-business.
He also said GM products would not find full consumer acceptance until
they offered clear benefits for consumers. GM products offered many
benefits to the environment, especially with the development of
industrial products from GM plants which would cause a shift away from
petrochemicals for the production of goods such as plastics.
This would come about in a third wave of the GM revolution, involving
the production of "industrial crops," he said. Novel GM crops could
potentially produce "designer oils," for use in products such as
detergents, as well as biodegradable plastics.
The first wave of GM products has involved modified input traits which
produce herbicide resistance and in-built herbicides in GM plants. GM
crops in the first wave are already being produced on a widespread
scale around the world, including a GM cotton crop in Australia which
produces an inbuilt pesticide in the plant.
The second GM wave, currently under development, involves output
traits. This includes vegetable oils with more stable heating
properties and lower cholesterol content, as well as products which
reduce post-harvest spoilage, for example bruising in potatoes and
Biotech Corn Appears Safe for Monarchs
By PHILIP BRASHER .c The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Va., (AP) - Corn that is genetically engineered to make its
own pesticide poses little risk to monarch butterflies, the
Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday after lab tests raised
While there is a small chance that one in 100,000 monarch caterpillars
could be affected by toxic corn pollen, research suggests even those
larvae will mature into healthy butterflies, the agency reported.
``The weight of evidence from the reviewed data indicate that there is
no unreasonable hazard'' to Monarchs or other wildlife, said Zig
Vaituzis, an EPA scientist who led a review of the crop's
One possible exception is the karner blue butterfly, an endangered
species that feeds on lupine plants that could show up near corn crops
in northern Wisconsin. Agency officials said they don't know how
significant the issue is but were consulting with the Fish and
Wildlife Service on whether to take action to protect the butterflies.
The biotech corn, known as Bt corn for a bacterium gene that makes it
toxic to the European corn borer, grabbed worldwide attention in 1999
after a laboratory study at Cornell University showed that pollen from
the corn would poison monarch larvae. That finding produced a public
outcry in Europe and calls from environmental groups to curb the
spread of genetically engineered crops. The monarch larvae's favorite
food is milkweed, which is abundant in the Midwest.
Bt varieties account for nearly 20 percent of this year's corn crop.
EPA's conclusion that the corn is relatively harmless to monarch
populations is based in part on field studies coordinated last summer
by the Agriculture Department in Maryland, Iowa and Minnesota. Data
from the studies have not been published yet but were turned over to
EPA for review. The agency has declined to release the data because of
confidentiality claims by biotech companies involved in the research.
Agency officials said they hoped to release the data before the Sept.
30 deadline for renewing the Bt corn licenses.
Critics of the biotech industry said the agency should not renew the
registrations until it has released the research data and allowed the
public to review and comment on it.
Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that the two
types of Bt corn that are up for renewal - known in the industry as Bt
11 and Mon 810 - don't appear to produce enough toxin to kill monarchs
at pollen levels found in corn fields. "That's good news for
monarchs," she said. But she said the agency was not justified in
allowing the continued planting of a third, more toxic type of Bt
corn, developed by Syngenta. Syngenta voluntarily dropped the product
but has been given until 2003 to phase out its use.
Another type, known as StarLink, was withdrawn from the market last
year after it was discovered in food products without being approved
for human consumption. It is the only Bt corn variety not approved for
EPA officials say the corn varieties still on the market pose no
health risks. To further ensure that the corn isn't harming insects
that it isn't supposed to, the agency said it is considering a
recommendation from its scientific advisers to require annual studies
of insect populations in representative fields. The agency is also
considering tighter planting restrictions on both Bt corn and Bt
cotton to prevent the development of insect pests that are resistant
to the toxin.
On the Net: EPA's biopesticide program:
Genetic Engineering's New Goal: Food That Includes a Vaccine
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Research Targets Apples to Deliver Childhood Vaccines
Researchers at the University of Illinois hope that one day
pediatricians will prescribe a bottle of apple juice to fend off
serious childhood diseases.
Schuyler Korban and his colleagues are developing a variety of apple
which has been genetically enhanced to produce a vaccine against a
common and sometimes deadly virus known as RSV (Respiratory Syncytial
Virus). As yet, no vaccine exists, despite extensive research efforts
to produce an injectable version.
Scientists say that one day edible vaccines could stop the spread of
many diseases, particularly in underdeveloped countries where
traditional vaccination programs often fail because of a lack of
resources. In countries where refrigeration is not readily available
to preserve synthetic vaccines, mothers might vaccinate their children
against cholera by feeding them banana chips. A glass of tomato juice
might protect against hepatitis.
Korban is working on the vaccine against RSV, one of the leading
causes of childhood pneumonia. As a plant geneticist, he had been
working to develop apple trees that could withstand plant diseases.
It seemed like a natural extension of his research to make an apple
that could protect people from human diseases.
About 4,500 babies die every year in the U.S. from pneumonia and
bronchiolitis caused by RSV, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. Some medicines are available to treat RSV
infections in infants, but the treatments are expensive and
controversial. The National Academies of Science estimate that a
vaccine to fight the virus could save $490 million to $1.15 billion in
health care costs.
From: Rick Roush
Subject: organic standards
>"The EU Regulations were written and passed with the full
>and active involvement of organic producers, processors, the Soil
It isn't "wrong" that the Soil Association and organic producers were
involved in all of this, but it gives a different spin to recognise
that they were actively involved in setting the guidelines that now
bite them and everyone else, contrary to the implication of your
earlier message that the government made the rules and now organics
are forced to live with them ("Organic producers have to obey a law
and there is a conflict between that law and the uncontrolled planting
of GM crops"). I find it hard to believe that organic groups don't
find that this law works to their advantage. If it didn't, they could
and would lobby to have the law changed.
Like Avery, I also wonder why organic farmers gained control of the
power to veto what other farmers could do, not just in Britain but
even in Australia, since the claim here is that if those standards are
followed, our growers also can't sell in Europe. I am especially
perplexed since there is apparently something greater than a zero
tolerance of accidental pesticidal residues when they are not through
the fault of the organic grower.
On that same general theme, on the small southern Australian island
state of Tasmania, there is a push to be GE free. Tasmania has a
US$1.7 million organic industry but a $100 million poppy industry (for
medicinal drug production). The Tassie poppy industry wants to
genetically increase alkaloid production in the poppies to maintain a
competitive edge. Why should GM poppies or poppy pollen have any
bearing on Tasmania's organic food industry. ie., why should poppies
concern organic growers or purchasers of organic foods? I really can't
figure it out; why can't both coexit? Craig, would your industry
object to organic foods from Tasmania if their only GM crop was poppies?
From: craig sams
Alex Avery refers to the 'irrational and tiny minority of organic
farmers' who think they own the air and sky." Perhaps he would also
consider the irrational and tiny majority of corn farmers (about 76%
in the USA) who do not plant GM corn and yet have seen their global
markets diminished by contamination with Starlink pollen. Or the
irrational majority of consumers who would like to see labelling of GM
foods. Maybe the majority are not as stupid or irrational as he
supposes. GM corn is hardly a success story, in yields of
productivity, so why should farmers who plant it be immune to
criticism from the people whose livelihoods it has undermined?
While there are growing limitations, freedom of choice and free
enterprise capitalism still play a role in society despite the
increasing collaboration of the State with multinational businesses
and their hired 'think tanks.' The Terminator gene which Alex Avery
avidly recommends is the property of the biggest investor in biotech,
Uncle Sam. Some of us feel a tad queasy about seeing the largest State
enterprise of all, the US Government, positioning itself for
commercial dominance in world agriculture. However, as the U.S.
farming industry virtually belongs to the U.S. Government, having been
bought with taxpayers money over the past few decades, this is perhaps
a logical extension of this particular State enterprise (if that's not
My own observation about State control of business activity is that it
rarely, if ever, performs as well as the complex of individual
decisions and choices that make up a free market. The financial and
hugely subsidised calamity that is modern agribusiness is the
inevitable result. The organic industry, contemptibly tiny and
irrational as Alex Avery perceives it, has its roots entirely in the
free enterprise sector. As such it represents what people want rather
than what the State wants people to have. In Russia, before 1989,
'tiny and irrational' minorities ended up in the gulags. Those who
differed from Soviet policy were called 'traitors' and 'terrorists' by
the Kremlin and 'freedom fighters' by their supporters in the West,
who included Herman Kahn, founder of the Hudson Institute. Plus ca
From: "Amarjit S. Basra"
Plant Biotechnology Gets The Internet Treatment
Nigel Chaffey email@example.com Trends in Plant Science 2001,
What are biotechnology and genetic engineering? How do you make a GMO?
What kinds of GMOs are already on the market? The answers to these ñ
and many other questions can be found on a new web site that is
devoted to providing 'trustworthy and up-to-date information on
agricultural biotechnology and thereby to contribute to an open
debate' [http://www.checkbiotech.org]. Among the facilities offered by
the site is a free electronic newsletter that can be delivered to
subscribers on a daily or weekly basis via e-mail. Although it is
independently operated, the site is sponsored by Syngenta, one of the
world's leading agribusinesses [www.syngenta.com].
Corn Leader Shares Views On Biotechnology With Thais
Western Farm Press July 25, 2001
The president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), Lee
Klein, recently returned home from Thailand, where he explained the
views of the nation's corn growers on biotech to Thai farmers and
The NCGA was the only corn grower organization invited to participate
in the 11-day speakers program trip sponsored by the U.S. State
Department. Klein's presentations to farmers, university
representatives and U.S. Chamber of Commerce members focused on
biotechnology's numerous benefits and the need for accessibility to
Klein, a farmer from Battle Creek, Neb., explained to the Thai
audiences that U.S. corn growers use biotechnology only when it
provides returns. "We advocate the availability of biotechnology.
Ecology and economy are the beneficiaries." He pointed out the field
of biotechnology has the potential to create disease-free corn
specifically for Thailand and other areas based on needs and
environment. In fact, Klein said biotech developers are working on
corn that could be completely free of mycotoxins, naturally occurring
chemicals produced by fungi growing on grain, feed and food that are
detrimental to the health of both animals and humans.
Klein emphasized biotech's opportunities in Thailand. "Due to the
tropical climate," he said, "insect resistance and disease control is
imperative. The average farm in Thailand is approximately three acres
and insects are controlled with backpack sprayers. One of the farmers
I met had scars on his back from his backpack. He, and others like
him, would benefit from biotechnology. "We're trying to create
worldwide understanding and acceptance of genetically-enhanced
products," said Klein.
Klein left Thailand optimistic about the opportunities for biotech.
Since almost 80 percent of the Thai population farm, it really made a
difference during his presentations. "We received a good reaction from
the farmers," he said. "They were able to relate to us because they
understand that we have some of the same farming issues. As farmers,