AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Restricting Technology Can Be Risky
* Disparate Impact of EU's New Rules
* Levels of Vitamin A Required To Prevent Deficiency
* Food Scientists are Hungry For Investment
* Genetically Modified Foods are the Best Hope for the Hungry
* More Food, Please: Growing The Future
* The Manufacture of Medical and Health Products By Transgenic Plants
* GM Reaches Its Day of Destiny
* Increasing Vitamin C In Plants
* Couger attacks and Avery demands answers
Restricting Technology Can Be Risky
Financial Times, Letter to the Editor, July 27, 2001; From Ms.
Frances B. Smith
Sir, Guy de Jonquieres' opening series article on non-governmental
organisations ("The truth, the whole truth and nothing but . . ." July
20, 2001) aptly notes that some NGOs do not adequately research the
issues and often espouse prescriptions for change that have perverse
consequences. In many cases, especially those relating to food safety,
health and the environment, NGOs often view issues from only one side
of the risk equation. That is, their focus is on the risk of
technology or innovation and not on the risk of stagnation -- that by
restricting or banning some technological advances, they may be
creating greater human or environmental risks. That one-sided view
of risk is a result of increased adherence to the "precautionary
principle" not only by NGOs and but also by governments, most notably
the EU. Increasingly used as a justification for restrictions that
affect technological advances, the precautionary principle in its
strongest form holds that if something new cannot be shown to be
completely safe, then it cannot be introduced.
Such restrictive approaches when applied globally were referred to
negatively in the recent UN Human Development Report ("Managing the
Risks of Technological Change") in its section on agricultural
biotechnology and its potential for developing countries. It said, "A
full risk assessment needs to weigh the expected harms of a new
technology against its expected benefits" and "opponents of new
technologies often ignore the harms of the status quo." That is where
the NGOs can do the most harm -- especially when they are from rich
countries and have the luxury of avoiding risks that would be
considered minor by those living at a subsistence level.
Many of the NGOs campaigning against agricultural biotechnology ignore
the vast potential of biotechnology not only in improving food
security but in aiding sustainable agriculture and biodiversity.
Proven increases in crop yields can put less pressure on conversion of
forests and wildlife habitats to farmland. Significant reductions in
pesticide use have been documented, as well as use of less toxic and
less persistent herbicides. Research programmes are focusing on
preserving native plants by enhancing traits needed for survival, such
as drought- and salt-tolerance. Scientists do not know everything that
could happen, but they know enough to say with reasonable certainty
that many biotech crops can be grown at small risk while providing
tremendous human, agronomic, and environmental benefits.
Of course, research should continue so that any real risks relating to
biotechnology may be uncovered. But such research should not look at
only one side of the risk equation. NGOs should focus not only on
possible risks of biotechnology but also on the risks of restricting
- Frances B. Smith Executive Director Consumer Alert Washington, DC
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Disparate Impact
With the EU's proposed new rules on the labeling and traceability of
GMOs, we hear complaints from large grain handlers and processors in
the US over the cost and difficulty of implementing measures to meet
EU demands. What has thus far been ignored is that the EU's proposal
flies directly in the face of findings by the United Nations that
developed nations are stifling development in other nations by
exporting fears of genetic engineering. The US may complain of the
cost of complying with EU demands, but this cost will be much more
burdensome in the developing nations who want a share of the EU market.
This will require developing nations to pass domestic laws designed to
appease the predilections of Europeans, force investment in
infrastructure which likely will not pay off (premiums for non-GM
remain scarce) and possibly even stifle trade between developing
nations themselves, if they attempt to reap the benefits of
biotechnology without falling afoul of each other's Euro-style
import/export restrictions and Europe's as well. Many Western voices
are raised in protest over the "expense" and "unworkability" of the
European scheme, but I have yet to hear one voice raised in protest
over how much of a burden it may prove to be for those least able to
From: "Red Porphyry"
Subject : Re: Golden Chance/ Levels of Vitamin A Required To Prevent
Michael Fumento, in his AgBioView article "Golden Rice: A Golden
Chance for the Underdeveloped World" (AgBioView archive #1134),
interviews Dr. Ingo Potrykus about Golden Rice. Many of the claims
made for Golden Rice in this article hinge on the continued lack of
sufficient information on what levels of vitamin A are required to
prevent vitamin A deficiency in people.
Well, folks, after a modicum of persistent hunting on the Internet, I
am pleased to announce that decent "ball-park" numbers are now
available. The relevant URL is the following:
The article itself is a lengthy discussion of a project undertaken in
three areas of Thailand to encourage people to grow a specific vitamin
A-rich vegetable, ivy gourd, in their home gardens. Their diets at the
time were providing about 20% of the (U.S.) RDA of vitamin A. This
level of vitamin A is sufficient to prevent blindness and death for
both children and adults, but is not sufficient to prevent high
suceptibility to diarrheal diseases, measles, or a number of other
infectious diseases. In other words, 20% of the (U.S.) RDA of vitamin
A is enough to prevent clinical manifestation of severe vitamin A
deficiency, but not enough to prevent clinical manifestation of
moderate vitamin A deficiency.
After working with these people for a few years, the increased
consumption of ivy gourd and other vitamin A-rich foods roughly
doubled the daily amount of vitamin A consumed, to 40% of the (U.S.)
RDA. A significant decrease in clinical manifestation of moderate
vitamin A deficiency was observed. It's thus reasonable to conclude
that daily consumption of about 50% of the (U.S.) RDA of vitamin A is
needed to prevent clinical manifestation of both severe and moderate
vitamin A deficiency. Given this, the reasons the (U.S.) RDA is double
this is (1) to prevent clinical manifestations of mild vitamin A
deficiency (a modestly increased susceptibility to infectious
disease), and (2) to deal with the fact that a person's daily
consumption of vitamin A varies, often significantly, from day to day.
Bottom line, the (U.S.) RDA of vitamin A is by no means a "luxurious"
(Godiva-chocolate?) standard that Asian peoples can safely ignore, as
Dr. Potrykus has asserted repeatedly since last December. On the
contrary, it is precisely the level of daily vitamin A consumption
that Asian peoples need to strive for if the elimination of vitamin A
deficiency is to be achieved. Given that one bowl of golden rice (100
g dry weight) currently can provide no more than 5-8% of the (U.S.)
RDA of vitamin A, the likelihood that (market-driven) golden rice
consumption will make a significant dent in reducing vitamin A
deficiency in Asia looks pretty remote. Indeed, it appears that Asian
governments have made a firm decision to place their bets on
(government-sponsored) foodstuff fortification and supplementation
instead, with rather spectacular results, as can be seen at the
following URL: http://www.unicef.org.vn/new030.htm
Asian governments may even succeed in eliminating vitamin A deficiency
long before the first sack of golden rice appears in Asian markets.
Works, not faith.- Red
Food Scientists are Hungry For Investment
July 27, 2001 Financial Times (Via Agnet)
The grass pea is, according to this story, a remarkable plant. It
thrives in countries such as Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia and India
when other crops fail owing to drought or flooding. If there is
famine, it becomes a survival food. Except that there is a catch.
Eaten in large amounts, the grass pea's natural neurotoxins cause
irreversible paralysis below the waist.
That is why international scientists based in Syria are seeking to
reduce or eliminate the toxin, employing the techniques of
biotechnology, such as genetic modification. They have made good
progress towards a grass pea that can help people to survive without
wrecking the lives it saves. Those who see biotechnology as an
important tool for feeding the world believe the grass pea may be just
the first of many unconventional and subsistence crops that could
benefit from scientific research. But they may never discover whether
their hunch is right. For one thing, many people object to genetic
modification on environmental and ethical grounds. For another, the
research depends on public sector research and the public sector is
desperately short of funds.
The poor and hungry are always with us. But the question of
unconventional crops has taken on a new urgency in the past few years.
This is, the story says, partly because biotechnology has created new
tools and opportunities, which some scientists say must be seized.
Behind these calls are issues highlighted by the international
wrangling over Aids drugs - how to deliver to poorer countries the
technological wealth of the rich world, which is often protected by
strong patents. The urgency is also partly because the population is
growing, while the scope to put more land under the plough is limited
by such things as urban sprawl and desertification.
Philip Pardey of the International Food Policy Research Institute, a
non-profit organisation in Washington, DC., was quoted as saying,
"With no new land available for cultivation, the only option lies with
increasing yields. I don't think that has hit home with policymakers."
Furthermore, researchers take 10 years or more to create new crop
varieties. Some scientists argue that if biotechnology is to have an
impact within the next 30 years, when the world population is
predicted to increase from 6bn to 8bn people, the funding must flow
soon. Paul Christou, a trainer of developing world scientists at the
John Innes centre, Europe's leading public sector plant research
establishment, was quoted as saying, "It is very urgent. It should
have happened before. But now it is the 11th hour."
The story says that in spite of such arguments, it is by no means
certain that biotechnology will be used extensively to develop
subsistence crops in the poorer regions of the developing world. The
heated arguments over its benefits and risks continue. Industry and
pro-biotech development agencies claim that while the technology is no
"silver bullet", its promise of increasing crops yields makes it vital
to future global food security. Environmental and development pressure
groups do not dispute the worth of projects such as the grass pea but
oppose the general use of biotechnology on the broader grounds of
corporate monopoly control and possible environmental damage.
Patrick Mulvany of the Intermediate Technology Development Group, one
of many aid agencies pressing for policy to centre on the needs of
small farmers, was quoted as saying, "More public research is needed
but to boost it simply in response to biotech is perverse." Even if
the biotech lobby wins this argument, it will still be left with the
challenge of living up to promises that the technology can be applied
to important, but non-commercial, subsistence crops such as sweet
potato, yam, millet and cassava.
This challenge is one in which the public and private sectors are
inextricably linked. Industry has used the food security argument as
part of its public relations strategy to secure acceptance of
genetically modified crops in international markets.
However, the private sector's efforts are on bulk crops such as maize
and rice that are grown in the largest and potentially most profitable
markets. Philanthropic arms, such as the Syngenta Foundation for
Sustainable Agriculture, are involved in projects such as "golden
rice", an attempt to increase the crop's vitamin A content. However,
they accept the limitations on what is possible. Klaus Leisinger,
interim director of the foundation, was quoted as saying in a recent
paper that, "For private industry, a focus on profitable markets is
necessary for survival. Some people can regret this reality - but then
they must move on to look for alternatives. The alternative to private
sector research is public research."
However, the public sector is unable to contribute much. In the past
20 years public agricultural research has fallen from fashion and has
been scaled back, particularly in developing countries.
Genetically Modified Foods are the Best Hope for the Hungry
- Betsy McCaughey, Investors Business Daily, p A24 July 27, 2001
(forwarded by the author)
If you're opposed to genetically modified foods, you might think twice
before you peel those russet potatoes for dinner tonight, or pick a
bouquet of Shasta daisies, the pretty lavender ones with the yellow
centers. They didn't just happen to grow. They were invented by Luther
Burbank was a self-taught pioneer of plant science who invented over
800 plants, including new types of potatoes, lilies, daisies, plums
and berries. He discovered that by combining favorable genetic traits
from several plants, he could create hybrid plants that were heartier
and more desirable. Chances are, if he lived today, instead of a
century ago, opponents of genetically modified foods would be
picketing his greenhouses, vilifying him as a Frankenstein, and
calling for a global ban on his pretty new daisies.
Opponents of genetically modified (GM) seeds and plants warn about
unknown hazards of introducing new plant species into the environment.
In March, the European Union established an approval process billed as
the "toughest in the world" before any genetic hybrid could be planted
in European soil.
Even in the United States and Canada, where almost all GM seeds are
produced, there is increasing talk about the dangers lurking on
supermarket shelves and reasons to buy GM-free foods, such breakfast
cereals that do not contain GM corn or wheat.
Now the United Nations is weighing in on the controversy with a
sensible analysis of how important genetically modified crops will be
to feeding the famine plagued peoples of the world. The U.N.'s Human
Development Report 2001 warns that opposition to transgenic
agriculture may endanger the ability of the poorest nations to feed
What does a well fed Paris or New York shopper pushing a loaded cart
through an air-conditioned supermarket have in common with a
malnourished farmer from Somalia? Nothing, says the U. N. report,
except for their common humanity. . "Western consumers who do not face
food shortages or nutritional deficiencies or work in the fields" are
going to weigh the risks and benefits of genetically modified
agriculture differently from people in the developing world, the
report explains. The third world need crops with higher yields, more
nutritional value, and less reliance on pesticides that damage the
soil and cause skin lesions and other sicknesses.
The U.N. report blames opposition to genetically modified agriculture
on a pervasive "antitechnology bias," especially in Europe. In
addition, the report charges that some "European farmers have used
public fear of the risk from genetically modified organisms to protect
domestic markets" from competition, a plausible accusation since 98%
of genetically modified crops are grown in the United States, Canada,
and Argentina. .
Debates over agriculture mirror only the concerns of the rich nations,
rather than Third World needs, say the U.N. experts. For example, the
Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity, adopted in 2,000 by the United
States and the European Union to monitor biotechnology developments
for safety, does not include any members from the developing world.
Rich nations must let developing nations make their own choices on how
to feed the hungry. What is the right choice? "Biotechnology," the
U.N. report declares unequivocally.
How big a task is it to feed the world? One solid forecast tells the
story. And takes your breath away. Norman Borlaug, who earned a Nobel
Prize for his research on agriculture, projects that even with the
huge decline in birthrates that developing countries have already
achieved, the world's population (now less than 6 billion) will reach
8.3 billion by 2025. In effect, 80 million extra mouths to feed each
year. Producing enough food on existing farmlands will require
productivity increases of up to an astonishing 75% by 2025..
"We're already farming nearly half the world's land area not under
ice," explains Dennis Avery, a global food expert at Hudson Institute.
(37% of the earth's land mass is currently devoted to agriculture.)
"Without much higher yields, population increases would force us to
plow the other half of the global land area." In other words, boosting
agricultural yields protects jungles, rain forests, and other natural
areas from being despoiled.
Tragically, the reverse is also true. Where farmers have not
introduced high yield agricultural methods, such as in sub-Saharan
Africa, the rate of deforestation is alarming. Tropical rain forests
are slashed and burned for farming, releasing damaging carbons into
the atmosphere to worsen the greenhouse effect. Avery speculates
cautiously, "I cannot say there will be no risks from biotechnology,
either to people or the environment. I can say with confidence that
without biotechnology, ?we will certainly destroy millions of square
miles of wildlands.
What are the risks of engaging in genetically modified agriculture?
Too little conclusive research is available. For example, a
preliminary laboratory study suggested that corn and cotton seeds with
a Bt gene added to resist stemborers and other pests could also
endanger the extraordinarily beautiful monarch butterfly. ( Subsequent
field studies have not substantiated that danger).
The U.N .report stresses that without the Bt gene, pesticides have to
be used in large quantities. "Lost in the protest over the monarch
butterfly," says the report, was the fact that pesticides cause
sterility, skin lesions and other health problems. In China, the
introduction of Bt cotton seeds allows pesticide spraying to be
reduced from thirty times per crop cycle to only three.
The U.N. report is a reminder that the history of agriculture is
largely the story of mankind's efforts to introduce new and better
crops. Unfortunately, one lesson of history is lost. There is
literally not even one mention of the despotic political systems and
chronic wars plaguing most countries with malnourished populations.
Corrupt dictators will allow their people to starve, even while huge
shipments of food linger on docks and in warehouses. No amount of
biotechnology can solve that problem.
More Food, Please: Growing The Future
July 27, 2001 Wall Street Journal (Via Agnet)
There is, according to this story, a new front in China's internal
battle over trade: genetically modified organisms. Ever since Beijing
passed some anti-GMO regulations a few months back, farmers,
manufacturers and government have been sparring over how the products
should fit into China's future. But unlike Europe's activism, China's
relationship to biotech will have real consequences for the country.
As Huang Jikun, head of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy,
was quoted as saying, "I haven't seen anyone die of GM crops so far,
but every year nearly 500 people in China die of pesticide poisoning
used with traditional crops."
That endorsement should clarify China's policy for the world. While
countries in the European Union, Japan and Korea have become
panic-stricken over GM products like Starlink corn making it into
their food products, theoretical concern is a luxury China can't
afford. In a country with little arable land, desperately poor farmers
and political concern about over-dependence on other countries to
supply its food needs, China must continue its pursuit of
biotechnology tools. The proposed regulations, if taken to a European
extreme, would cause an industry panic. But unlike Europe, China has
no consumer protesters. Consumer awareness may be growing, but GMO
products barely register a blip on consumers' radar screens. In
addition, consumers are unorganized and have little political clout.
China seems certain to continue its pursuit of biotechnology tools.
The question is how to navigate the political obstacles.
The story says that many observers say the Ministry of Agriculture is
trying to get the best of both worlds. One set of farmers and
officials in the MOA want protection from cheaper and often
higher-quality imports and are opposed by commodity processors and
another set of farmers and MOA officials seeking the cheaper
production costs those GMO products provide. Meanwhile, on the one
hand, as the manager of large state farms that grow soybeans and corn,
China wants to restrict imports to boost domestic prices while trying
to promote Chinese corn as "GMO-free" to make export sales to South
Korea and Japan. On the other hand, MOA livestock feeding operations
benefit from cheaper soybean imports, and their own state farms will
benefit from using GMO seeds.
Given all that, China can only try to argue for restrictions on
scientific grounds, something they are unlikely to press because the
government itself has been leading research into GMOs for years. From
genetically modified seeds to animal cloning, the Chinese government
is aggressively trying to harness biotechnology in order to increase
domestic output and reduce production costs. And despite current
international concerns over issues such as Starlink corn, China
appears committed to developing home grown techniques as well as
encouraging international investment in this area. All of this must be
set against the backdrop of China's imminent entry into the World
Trade Organization. While China may want to limit imports, neither the
MOA nor the central government is likely to play up the biotech
arguments that are so often abused for political purposes elsewhere in
the world. And, of course, any argument China might make for
restrictions on GMO imports as a tool to help protect their farmers
would go against World Trade Organization rules and land them in a
bunch of trouble.
There are strong arguments from farmers who don't want any
"protection" from biotech. Genetically modified cottonseed, first
introduced to China by Monsanto several years ago, is perhaps the
best-known weapon against cotton bollworm, which plagued northern
China in the mid-1990s. Today more than 700,000 hectares of transgenic
cotton grows in China. The resounding success of GMO cottonseed has
sparked farmer interest and government research, and a Chinese
competitor has now developed its own brand of anti-bollworm GMO
The story goes on to say that as long as the Chinese government
believes it has more to gain from GMO products than it has to lose, it
will act in its own best interests and not impose significant
restrictions on GMO product imports or on GMO research.
Book: The Manufacture of Medical and Health Products By Transgenic Plants
by Esra Galun (The Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel) & Eithan
Galun (Hadassah University Hospital, Israel) http://www.icpress.co.uk/
In the mid-eighties, there was a revolution in plant biotechnology.
Simple procedures could be used to genetically transform plants. Such
transgenic plants will express alien genes, virtually from any
organism, provided the genes are flanked by appropriate controlling
elements. Soon after this biotechnology became available, there was an
awareness that crop plants can serve as manufacturers of high-value
medical products. This book provides the molecular and
biotechnological background for genetic transformation in plants, as
well as updated information about the production of antibodies,
antigens and other medical and health products by transgenic plants.
The book handles the relevant information in a critical manner by
pointing out the risks and problems as well as presenting the outlook
for development in this field. It provides a comprehensive and
well-balanced treatment of its theme.
Contents: * Fundamentals of Plant Molecular Genetics * Genetic
Transformation * Antibodies * Antigens * Therapeutic Products
Unrelated to the Immune System * General Considerations
348pp; Feb 2001 ISBN 1-86094-249-0 US$92/£61 ; ISBN 1-86094-254-7
GM Reaches Its Day of Destiny
New Zealand Herald, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/ge
28.07.2001 - SIMON COLLINS looks at the arguments which the Royal
Commission on Genetic Modification has been considering. Since 1997,
HortResearch scientist Dr Dan Cohen has been breeding tamarillos with
resistance to a disease afflicting most of New Zealand's tamarillo
plants, the tamarillo mosaic virus. In 1999, protesters gathered
outside HortResearch's Kerikeri research station where the tamarillos
were being grown.
The reason? The research inserted a small part of the genetic
structure of the mosaic virus into tamarillo plants, effectively using
a "transgenic" method to inoculate the plant. It was a kind of
"genetic engineering". The three-year trial was successful. Many of
the inoculated tamarillos escaped the virus, unlike the non-genetic
tamarillos which became infected. Our tamarillo exports at present are
worth less than $5 million a year, largely because of the virus. Cohen
believes exports could increase tenfold if farmers could grow his
genetically inoculated tamarillos commercially.
But his work is on hold, partly because of the cost of further tests,
and partly a result of waiting for the Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification, which finally submitted its report to the
Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, yesterday. Cohen's work is
just one of many research projects and commercial developments that
are poised to go ahead if the commission recommends that field trials
of genetically modified organisms should be allowed. HortResearch
spends $10 million a year - one-fifth of its budget - on genetic
research. It believes it is the world leader in developing a database
on the genetic structures of kiwifruit and berryfruit, and is a leader
The two-year-old genomics programme has notched up one international
patent - for seedless apples - and has applied for other patents.
"The genetic technologies are a cornerstone of all biological
science," says Cohen. HortResearch's last annual report says genetic
research is "critical to the future competitive advantage of the NZ
fruit industry". Other countries are pouring billions into it and may
quickly become more efficient than us unless we join in.
But for Martin Robinson, a Kerikeri grower of organic tamarillos near
the HortResearch station, efficiency is irrelevant if consumers do not
want to buy GM foods. "The idea of genetic engineering is in direct
contravention to my philosophy of growing and consuming balanced,
health-giving food - and this is a view held by a rapidly expanding,
intelligent and enlightened market," he told the commission. "The
benefit of growing tamarillos organically for export will far outweigh
any short-term benefits of genetically 'cleaned' fruit. I see the
tamarillo trial as a direct threat to my developing organic business."
Robinson is not alone. In Europe, where foot and mouth and mad cow
disease have shaken public confidence in food safety, demand for
organic produce is soaring. In New Zealand, the Green Party has asked
the commission to recommend that this country become "the first
consciously GE-Free nation". The commission, headed by former Chief
Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, is the highest-level and most
comprehensive public inquiry into genetic engineering in the world.
Greenpeace GE campaigner Annette Cotter says other countries will be
watching when the Prime Minister Helen Clark releases the commission's
report on Monday.
"All eyes are on the outcome," she says. The commission has cost $6.2
million. The four commissioners and their four core staff have worked
fulltime since May 8 last year. They have held 10 regional hui, 15
public meetings and 30 workshops, sat through 58 days of hearings and
legal arguments, read 4600 pages of transcripts and received more than
10,000 submissions. Professor Don Evans, an Otago University
bioethicist and member of the Independent Biotechnology Advisory
Council, believes that the result will be "a measured freedom to carry
"I'd be amazed if they talk about open release of genetic plants, but
I think there will be permission to carry on research in controlled
circumstances." The commission has had to weigh up a complicated set
of uncertain costs and benefits of genetic engineering. All parties
expect that it will give the green light to continued medical
research, which is the target of most biotechnology investment
internationally. This work is done in contained laboratories and the
resulting medicines are subject to many years of tests by agencies
such as the United States Food and Drug Administration before being
released to the public.
Genetic engineering has already produced insulin for diabetics and a
vaccine for hepatitis B. This month's United Nations Human Development
Report says biotechnology has the potential to develop better
treatments for Aids, malaria, cancer, heart disease and nervous
disorders. "Gene therapy and antisense technologies will forever
change the treatment of disease by actually curing diseases rather
than treating symptoms," the report says.
But the costs and benefits are harder to weigh up in the other major
area of genetic research: food. Here too, the commission is expected
to approve laboratory work, but is likely to recommend strict controls
on field tests such as Dan Cohen's tamarillo trial, and on the
commercial release of GM crops and other foods. Internationally,
transgenic crops increased from 2 million hectares in 1996 to 44
million last year. But 98 per cent of that area is in the United
States, Canada and Argentina. There have been no GM crops approved for
commercial growing in New Zealand.
On our increasingly overpopulated planet, the potential benefits of GM
food are vast. Plant improvements that would once have taken many
years of gradual selection can now be achieved by direct implantation
of specific genes to increase yields, boost disease resistance or
allow plants to flourish in different climates. HortResearch's
genomics coordinator, Dr Gavin Ross, says "golden rice", which has
been genetically modified to increase Vitamin A and iron, has the
potential tohelp 3.7 billion people - more than half the world's
population - who are iron-deficient. Of these, 5 million die each year
from Vitamin A deficiency and 500,000 go blind.
The Dean of the Auckland Medical School, Dr Peter Gluckman, has told
the commission that these kinds of modifications are blurring the
distinction between food and medicines. "Nutriceuticals" are being
developed which provide health benefits as well as nutrition. There
are also environmental benefits. The director of Queensland's
Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Professor John Mattick, points to
"massive reductions in insecticide use in the US of the order of 3.5
million litres in 1998" since crops have been modified to be
But the risks are also high. Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian crop farmer,
backed up Martin Robinson's fears in Kerikeri when he told the
commission that his canola crop became infected by GM seed from a
neighbouring farm. In a nightmare scenario, the company that made the
modified canola, Monsanto, sued Schmeiser for $400,000 for growing its
crop without paying it royalties. Monsanto won the case, forcing
Schmeiser to buy new seed to replace his own contaminated crop.
There are real dangers of unintended side-effects. The director of the
US Alliance for Bio-Integrity, Steven Druker, says the process of
inserting genes into a living thing uses viral "promoters" which can
potentially disrupt the organism in unpredictable ways. "Some of
these could degrade the safety or nutritional value of the food," he
warns. And the unpredictability means that even if, say, half the
samples in a crop are checked for food safety, some of the other half
may have been degraded.
Genes may also be transferred to different species unintentionally.
The Green Party told the commission of German research showing that a
gene which makes canola herbicide-resistant was transferred to bees
which fed on pollen from the canola field. "If a gene transfer like
this were ultimately to harm bees, the consequences would be not just
the loss of honey production but the loss of pollination services for
both crops and native species," it said.
For reasons like this, the Greens want the commission to make New
Zealand a "sanctuary" for natural species. As a Green Party witness,
Massey University philosopher Scott Eastham, put it: "When the tide
does turn - as it will when the one-in-1000 or one-in-1 million
irreversible accident occurs and people begin to have second thoughts
- it would be nice to find one corner of the world preserved from this
wildfire genetic timebomb.
"This place isn't Shangri-La," he said. "But it could turn out to be
Noah's new Ark." A major factor weighing in favour of this vision in
the commission's thinking is likely to be the view of Maori. A
national hui of 120 Maori representatives, held at Ngaruawahia in
April, resolved that "Aotearoa should be an independent, nuclear- and
GE-free nation" and totally organic by 2020. Three Northland tribes
which have a claim before the Waitangi Tribunal to recognise Maori
ownership of native flora and fauna asked the commission to recommend
continuing the moratorium on GE field trials, which is due to end on
August 31, until its claim has been settled.
The hui also asked for a ban on patenting "life forms". This would
have a serious effect on organisations like HortResearch, which plans
to seek patents when it identifies fruit genes with defined functions.
The UN is concerned that such patents are enriching a few shareholders
in developed countries at the expense of millions in poorer countries
who cannot afford to pay for them. Medical research is being skewed
towards diseases of the rich, it says. Of 1223 new drugs marketed
between 1975 and 1996, only 13 were for tropical diseases.
The Human Development Report calls for governments in rich countries
to offer financial incentives to pull research towards poor countries'
diseases and crops. Animals have even less buying power than poor
countries, but the commission will also have to consider their
welfare. The Green Party asked it to ban using animals as
"bioreactors" to produce proteins for medicines or specific foods - a
move which would hit plans by companies such as Dairy Board subsidiary
ViaLactia to develop cows that specialise in producing milk for
cappuccinos or some cheeses.
Evans says ethical issues like these are fundamental. "I do not
believe that philosophical reflection can produce a solution because
they are radical ideological disagreements, and although some new
biological factor will change some people's opinions, they are not
obliged to change them," he says. "There are things we ideologically
disagree about, such as abortion. In the end, a political decision has
to be made."
Increasing Vitamin C In Plants
July 27, 2001 From a press release (Via Agnet)
Genes from the lowly rat may hold the key to increasing Vitamin C in
the world's food supply. Craig Nessler, head of plant physiology,
pathology, and weed science at Virginia Tech, has found that by
transferring certain rat genes into lettuce, he can turn on the
plant's latent Vitamin-C-producing pathway. In laboratory experiments
using that process, he increased the level of Vitamin C in lettuce by
700 percent. But Nessler says we shouldn't expect to see the
rat-altered lettuce in grocery stores. "We realize that a plant
altered by a rat gene wouldn't appeal to consumers," he says. He and
his colleagues are using what they've learned from the rat-gene work
to try to discover other ways to stimulate the Vitamin C gene in
lettuce and other plants.
Nessler chose to use rats in his research because the gene was readily
available and rodents are natural producers of Vitamin C. "The reason
sailors on their way to the new world got scurvy while rats thrived
was because humans have lost the ability we once had to make our own
Vitamin C, while rats have retained it," he explains. Humans still
have the gene, but a genetic defect has rendered it inoperative.
Nessler says his work is a specific way to do what nature has been
doing throughout the earth's history -- the hybridization of plants.
"Nature does it by chance, and farmers have been doing
cross-pollination by hand for years," he says. "But now we have the
ability, through biotechnology, to be very specific in what new traits
we introduce into plants."
According to Nessler, the method plants use to produce vitamin C is
virtually unknown to scientists. They do know, however, that the
vitamin serves as a preservative, and theorized that if they could
increase the level of Vitamin C in lettuce, the product would have
longer shelf life. It also might help keep salad-bar lettuce fresh --
which would be welcomed by the restaurant industry. Vitamin C is a
natural product, in contrast to biosulfites, which the FDA banned from
use on raw foods because one out of 100 people has an allergic
reaction to them.
Nessler says that the timing of his experiment was fortunate. Shortly
after he and his colleagues had successfully introduced the gene into
lettuce, another scientist's paper stated that plant and animal
biochemical pathways differed so much that animal genes could not work
in plants. So, theoretically, he says, the experiment shouldn't have
worked -- and if he had read and believed the conclusions of that
article, he might never have attempted it.
"Because they are immobile, plants tend to have better biochemistry
than animals," Nessler says. He theorizes that plants may have both
plant and animal pathways, or that there may be a stronger connection
between the pathways than previous research has shown.
Although Nessler does not think that lettuce enriched in Vitamin C
through rat genes ill ever be commercially available, he does hope
that his research will result in more acceptable ways to turn on
latent vitamin production in lettuce and other crops. His hope, he
says, is that the discoveries from his research will one day improve
the nutrition of people in developing countries. "It's important that
people with limited food resources get more vitamins into their diet,
if they are to survive and be healthy," he says. He notes that
research has provided evidence that Vitamin C and other antioxidants
also help prevent symptoms of aging related to dementia.
"This kind of technology is extremely good for both mankind and the
planet," Nessler says. "With the precision of the scalpel, we can
breed very specific traits into plants. Most efforts in the past have
been directed at making it easier for the farmer to produce good
crops. We're using this same kind of biotechnology in an attempt to
improve the plant for the consumer." And someday, Nessler hopes, a big
salad may be just as rich a source of Vitamin C as a tall glass of
Subject: Couger attacks and Avery demands answers
I sometimes wonder what it is about me that elicits such alarming
responses from some of your subscribers, particularly Avery, Roush,
Couger and Apel. Perhaps its that I'm the only non-believer who takes
the trouble to respond to the endless stream of reprints from
midwestern and Indian newspapers all repeating more or less the same
story: biotechnology has the potential to feed the world, grow crops
in saline soils and be a source of universally available wonder drugs
and nutraceuticals that will cure blindness, anaemia and war. As
someone who believes that healthy wholesome food is the best
nutraceutical and that organic food production offers viable, valuable
and practical solutions to the world's agricultural, environmental and
disease problems and 'could' (to use a favorite pro-GM word) feed the
world, cure blindness, anaemia and war etc., I may, to some minds, be
divorced from reality, but what I see in the pro GM arguments is so
much flabby thinking and unsupported pseudo-scientific speculation
that I naturally feel impelled to put finger to keyboard to protest at
the worst excesses.
Well, Couger and Avery have demanded a response. I don't want to waste
anyone's time by going over a lot of repetitive exchanges which can be
sought out with your search engine and archives, but here goes:
Couger's links with farming are as direct as mine, he comes from a
Midwestern farming family, so do I. We can argue about statistics, my
key one is this: "52% of Net farm income in the USA in the year 2000
was comprised of payments from the US Government direct to farmers'
bank accounts." This has not been refuted on this website and cannot
be. I owe nothing to Goebbels on this one, it's a Big Truth, not a Big
Lie, which was Josef's speciality.
When Couger says "U.S. farmers are free to farm any way they see fit"
we see a genuine Big Lie, and a shameless one considering how recently
history disproved it. The 'Freedom to Farm' policy in the mid 1990s
led to agricultural disaster, squealing of pain at every level of
farming, and a hasty restoration of the mother's milk of massive
agricultural subsidy. The squealing came loudest from the biggest
agribusiness corporations, not just the family farmers, who are
heading for extinction anyway under the State-controlled regime that
is American agriculture. As in pre-liberation Russia, when the
Government runs agriculture, the little guys go to the wall. In the
1930s millions of Kulaks had to be exterminated in the Ukraine (read
Robert Conquest on this) in order to make way for the huge and
inefficient mega-farms that replaced them. The process in the West is
slower and kinder but the result is the same; small, flexible
producers make way for large, inflexible producers who cannot adapt to
the inevitable changes in a free market in food. So they cry out for
the Government to regulate supply and demand to keep them from going
bankrupt on a massive scale. That's the mess we're in and it is
probably not the purpose of this exchange to look for solutions. The
point is that, in a market where the Government pays farmers varying
rates to grow different crops, it is disingenuous in the extreme to
suggest that a farmer is free to grow whatever he/she/it wants. Sure a
farmer can opt out of the system, but when the subsidy works to price
corn and soybeans at half the cost of production then the farmer who
opts out is no longer 'free' to do anything but go bust or play by the
Now for Avery who accuses me of evading the questions: Since when did
organic farmers gain ownership of the air and sky? What law gives them
the legal right to demand shelter from pollen from fellow farmers'
crops? No other farmers in history have had such legal power, so where
did this new power come from?
First, let's recognise that the real economic damage of GM plantings
so far has not been to organic farmers, though things are getting bad
in the U.S. on that front. The main victims have been conventional
farmers who have planted non-GM crops and then found them to be
unsaleable because their customers had specified non-GM in their
contracts and found Starlink or other GM material in the supposedly
'clean' crop. I believe the lawyers in the U.S. are moving in on this
one as a lot of non-organic farmers are feeling aggrieved.
Organic farmers have accepted, with reluctance, the fact that a
neighbor can spray a crop messily and that 'spray drift' can lead to
partial contamination of an organic crop. The authorities tried to
prosecute an organic flour miller because there were small residues of
pesticide present in his flour and he successfully established in law
the principle that if a farmer adheres to organic practice his crop
does not become unmarketable as organic because of a neighboring
farmer's spraying habits. Organic regulations require physical
barriers and minimum distances from adjoining non-organic holdings in
order to minimize this risk. With pollen, as I am sure the biologists
on this list will appreciate, doesn't just stick to a crop, it
actually becomes integral to the seed. The planting of that seed in
subsequent years leads to the multiplication and diffusion of the GM
material. The accidental contamination in the first year becomes
permanent in subsequent years. Farmers have always had trouble
coexisting with each other; range wars, water disputes, rights of way
arguments all typify rural life. Who knows, the consumer of organic
products may eventually have to accept GM contamination. No doubt at
that point the biotech lobby will crow with delight and say that
organic agriculture wouldn't be so popular if it told the truth about
the GM contamination, spray drift etc.
The organic movement are a sad bunch, from a global power perspective,
with their touching belief in the fundamental goodness of people, the
fundamental benevolence of nature and in the fundamental power of
truth. That's why organic labelling becomes increasingly descriptive
and open about not just ingredients but processes that the consumer
might care about (homogenization, ultra heat treatment etc). The funny
thing is, consumers actually like and respect this approach and trust
it more than the "Science says GM is safe so there is no need, despite
overwhelming consumer demand, to declare its presence in foods."
Sorry, chaps, that doesn't go down too well with consumers anywhere.
Avery also criticises my reversion to the subsidised nature of
agriculture but I don't see how he, of all people, can try to have a
realistic discussion about the economics of agriculture and feeding
the world when he glosses over this by saying the EU has subsidies
too. Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, laid it on the
line to Congress a few months ago, pointing out that the EU is moving
away from production subsidies and that the U.S. will eventually have
to accept that the big agriculture big subsidy model doesn't work. If
you took away the subsidies American agriculture would change beyond
recognition. There'd be a lot less of it, a lot less waste and a lot
less animal meat and fat consumption. As America is facing an
impending health crisis that owes much to overconsumption of fatty
food and as the rest of the world doesn't want to eat like or look
like the representatives of the worst excesses of this diet
(MacDonald's sales down 20% in Europe last year) it is nonsensical to
project world food demand or to treat agriculture like a wartime
department on the basis of a diet that is even more dreadful than the
starvation diet that is its mirror in the developing world. I know
Avery agrees with me on this because we share fundamental principles
on this issue that are completely unsentimental.
Our trust in Nature overlaps in the area of natural economics. Adam
Smith warned that all economic enterprises will try to harness the
State to keep out competitors and protect their inefficiency. Thanks
to Thatcher, Reagan and even some of the thinkers at the Hudson
Institute, the State weaned many such dependent enterprises from the
taxpayer-funded teat, but not agriculture. Get agriculture's snout out
of the trough and not just the USA, but the whole world, would be a
much happier, healthier and wealthier place. Keep on making
agricultural decisions on the basis of power accumulation and
monopoly-building and things will keep getting worse. Unfortunately
the future of the planet depends on getting this right. Organic food
is only part of the solution, but it is far better equipped than
chemical agriculture at bringing together free market economics,
environmental protection, human health and well being and global food
security than a system that depends on complex patenting and
legalistic protection of intellectual property, massive government
support, limited supplies of fossil fuels and the elimination of
diversity and variety in farming systems.
Genetic engineering is a tiny corner of the whole scientific canvas.
It offers the potential for power over the world's food supply. Let it
get it the way the rest of us do, by selling our product to the
consumer, not by promising pie in the sky solutions to genuine global
problems and by peddling slanderous lies about organic food and
farming. The Hudson Institute fabrication about E.coli 0157:H7 in
organic food has been repeated hundreds of times in the U.S. and U.K.
press, often by reputable scientists who should, and probably do, know
better. Anthony Trewavas, one of your most loyal acolytes, just can't
get it out of his head. Top Government advisors like Lord Haskins
still get up and say dumb stuff like: "People can take their chances
with the microbiological risk of organic food, but personally I'd
rather play it safe' because this particular Big Lie penetrated the
entire media. Fortunately there are enough intelligent and inquiring
minds out there to provide the7% of committed core organic consumers
that is increasing at 50% per annum. Time, intelligence and the
impending drying up of the subsidy gravy train are all working in
favor of organics and as market penetration increases more and more
people will make it a conscious choice.
Oh, and for Alex Avery's
>P.S.: P.S. Mr. Sams, care to comment on the Advertising Standards
Authority's new guidelines restricting organics from claiming
"pesticide-free," "chemical-free", healthier, tastier, safer, or
better fo r the environment? :^)
The Advertising Standards Authority's new guidelines will make life
difficult for GM claims. As far as organic food is concerned, it won't
be a problem. Organic food is often pesticide free, if there is
contamination risk then people will have to say 'grown without
pesticides.' As far as 'healthier', 'safer', or 'better for the
environment' the ASA have already accepted the latter and the Soil
Association's Biodiversity report was hugely influential in
establishing this last year. The food safety aspect of organic food
was not well represented at the ASA hearing on the subject last year.
However, there is no question that organic food is safer for a
multitude of reasons and there is also no question that general claims
as well as specific claims in this area will stand up to ASA scrutiny.
This is because the science to support these claims, which is
peer-reviewed to death, has all been marshalled and will be available
to the ASA should Professor Trewavas or any other champion of GM
technology wish to complain in future. You have been warned.
- Craig Sams
Alex Avery answered by Attorneys General
When I responded to Alex Avery's question about gene pollution I
pointed out that it was not only organic farmers, but the 75% of U.S.
farmers who did not plant GM corn that also suffered. I had no idea at
the time that I was in the illustrious company of the Attorneys
General of 17 corn-growing states, with whom Aventis have now agreed a
settlement for damages caused by the Starlink fiasco.
Just to refresh, Alex Avery's question was: " Since when did organic
farmers gain ownership of the air and sky? What law gives them the
legal right to demand shelter from pollen from fellow farmers' crops?
No other farmers in history have had such legal power, so where did
this new power come from?
His answers are below. The second article also answers the other
implicit question "Since when did consumers have the legal right to
demand shelter from pollen in their food? Although it has been
suggested that the EPA caved in to Greenpeace in upholding the
Starlink ban, the second article suggests that they based their
decision on the best science available and fulfilled their statutory
duty to the American public.
Biotech Corn Maker Expands Deal
.c The Associated Press
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (AP) - The creator of a genetically
modified corn that mistakenly ended up in the food supply will expand
its agreement to compensate farmers. Growers who found their crop
contaminated with the biotech product by cross-pollination now are
included in the agreement.
Aventis CropScience reached a supplemental agreement with 17 state
attorneys general acting on behalf of growers who may suffer losses
due to infiltration of StarLink biotech corn into their crop, a
company spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. The attorneys general
announced the deal Tuesday. The corn was approved for industrial use
and as animal feed but never licensed for human consumption because of
questions about whether it can cause allergic reactions. Some of it
was mixed with other varieties of corn in 1999 and again last year.
Many farmers and grain elevators have been unable to sell their corn
because of fears it may contain StarLink.
Taco shells were recalled nationwide and the Aventis product was
withdrawn from the market last fall. The four-year agreement announced
in January between Aventis and the states, mainly in the Midwest,
called for the company to pay farmers up to 25 cents per bushel for
tainted corn and reimburse them for other losses.
The new agreement expands the offer to virtually all growers who can
prove they were inadvertently supplied StarLink corn seed or that
their corn was contaminated after being pollinated by StarLink corn.
``I think Aventis is working hard to correct the situation and make it
right for farmers and elevators. They have mobilized to get the corn
out of the grain chain and set up procedures and terms to pay
producers and elevators whose grain may have lost value because of
StarLink corn,'' Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said.
The states involved with both agreements are: Iowa, Alabama, Illinois,
Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi,
Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and
Wisconsin. The states represent more than 90 percent of the acreage
planted with StarLink corn last year.
A National Institutes of Health panel held hearings earlier this month
to determine whether StarLink should be allowed into the food supply.
Aventis is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to allow a
minimal amount in the food supply to avoid further recalls. French
pharmaceutical firm Aventis and Schering AG of Germany are in talks to
sell their Aventis CropScience agrochemicals business to Germany's
US science panel rejects StarLink in human food
By Julie Vorman
WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - A science advisory panel on Friday
urged the Environmental Protection Agency to maintain its ban on
StarLink biotech corn in human food, saying too many questions remain
about whether the gene-spliced corn can cause rashes, breathing
problems or other allergic reactions.
StarLink, originated by the European drug giant Aventis SA, caused a
massive U.S. food recall last autumn when traces of the bio-corn were
discovered in taco shells. The vast U.S. corn supply was accidentally
contaminated when farmers, shippers and grain handlers mixed small
amounts of StarLink with other varieties of yellow corn.
The EPA asked a panel of 16 physicians and independent scientists to
evaluate if a "tolerance level" -- or maximum allowable amount of
StarLink -- could be established for StarLink in human food. The
agency approved StarLink in 1998 for livestock feed and ethanol, but
banned it in human food because of uncertainties about health effects.
At issue is StarLink's unique Cry9C protein, which protects the
growing plant from pests.
STARLINK A POTENTIAL ALLERGEN
The science panel concluded in its 40-page report that "no evidence
has been presented that demonstrates StarLink Cry9C's protein
allergenic potential is diminished." It also reaffirmed an earlier
finding that the gene-spliced corn has a "medium likelihood" of being
a human allergen. The panel's recommendation to the EPA is a setback
for Aventis, which faces several lawsuits and is trying to sell its
The scientists, led by University of Florida toxicologist Stephen
Roberts, questioned the reliability of laboratory tests used by the
Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control. The
panel expressed concern about the FDA's use of an alternate form of
Cry9C protein in its testing, rather than the authentic
Starlink-produced Cry9C protein. The CDC tested blood samples of 17
consumers who claimed to have allergic reactions to StarLink from food
products. All 17 tested negative.
Other safety tests should be conducted with farmers and grain mill
workers to identify any allergic reactions, the scientists
recommended. And private physicians specializing in allergies and
immunology should be alerted to report food reactions to the
government for further investigation.
MOST STARLINK GONE
The panel also noted that virtually all StarLink corn would be gone
from the U.S. corn supply by 2002 because of aggressive efforts by the
U.S. Agriculture Department and Aventis to remove StarLink from the
market. Major food makers have also begun testing their corn supplies
for StarLink contamination.
The wet-milling corn process used by food makers for corn-based snack
foods and flours diminishes StarLink's Cry9C protein and risk to
public health, the panel said. The EPA, which will consider the
panel's recommendations before issuing a final decision, said the new
report showed there was little risk to the public from StarLink.
"This supports the agency's determination that there is no public
health risk from eating products manufactured from StarLink corn
through the wet-milling process, provided that corn utilized in the
wet-milling process does not contain significant levels of StarLink,"
the EPA said in a statement.
EPA TO MAKE FINAL DECISION
The scientific review of StarLink was prompted after Aventis asked the
EPA to set a tolerance level of 20 parts per billion for StarLink in
Aventis contends StarLink poses no risk of allergic reactions and is
safe to eat. "Aventis will fulfill its commitments to continue direct
Cry9C-containing corn to approved feed and nonfood industrial uses,"
the company said in a statement. "We will continue to support the
grain handlers and millers with their testing programs."
The EPA, which typically follows the advice of its science advisory
panels, did not say how soon it would issue a decision on Aventis'
request. "EPA sincerely appreciates the high level of scientific
expertise this panel has provided on this important issue," Stephen
Johnson, EPA assistant administrator, said in a statement.
"Bringing the best science to the table, and evaluating it in a
transparent manner is fundamental as we continue the important work of
ensuring protection of public health and maintaining consumer
confidence in the integrity of the food supply," Johnson added. The
panel's recommendation was a victory for environmental groups, which
have urged regulators to go slow with biotech food approvals until
more research is done.
They cited the case of a Florida optometrist who documented with
photographs his skin rash after eating corn chips containing a small
amount of StarLink. "The passive allergy reporting measures that the
EPA and FDA have enlisted to date have been insufficient," said the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a coalition of green and consumer
groups. "American consumers have the right to know what they are
eating and that the food they are eating is safe."