AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Spinning Wheel, or Just Plain Dizzy?
* Pollen and Organic Crops
* GM Food: Ethical Issues And Research Trends
* When Biotech Food Hits The WTO
* Pity The Poor Mad Scientist
* Needed: An Allergy To Flawed Regulation
* CSPI Survey On GE Labeling
* People Getting More Comfortable With Gene Tech: Survey
* Protesters Fear Change
* Career Development and the New Biotechnology
* Conference: Biotechnology for Development, India
Subject: Spinning Wheel, or Just Plain Dizzy?
From: Andrew Apel
In her article titled 'The Seed and The Spinning Wheel' (the title
cleverly reminiscent of a folk tale), Vandana Shiva begs us to
reconsider a remarkable suggestion made by the United Nations in its
Human Development Report. That we allow the developing nations to . .
. well, to develop. She does not describe what motivates her to want
to maintain the crushing poverty and hunger these nations wish to
escape. It seems, however, that she wants the sick and hungry to die
poor and early for some cause.
Paradoxically, Shiva suggests that the Report 'sacrific[es] the rich
insights and experiences gained over the last two centuries of
technology change in agriculture . . ' . If anything, those centuries
taught the benefits of progress. She now eschews the teachings of
progress, saying instead that progress is malignant.
She seems to suggest that technological progress is now elitist, as
'above society.' Likely the same charge was leveled against the
technocrats who forged iron plows as an alternative to those made of
wood. Even more remarkably, she says that 'a narrow social base of
technological choice excludes human concerns and public
participation.' What she neglects to add is that she advocates
denying farmers the right to choose their technologies. She wants to
'widen the circle of control' beyond the farmer. And she wants that
wider circle to tell farmers that two centuries of progress must now
grind to a halt.
She says the United Nations has 'reject[ed] technological diversity,'
a bizarre assertion. The UN advocates allowing farmers access to new
tools. It is Shiva who rejects technological diversity. She says the
UN now promotes 'technological totalitarianism' because of its
flexible approach to progress. Well, since progress is totally
dependent on technology and the people who want it, I guess she's
right. What a dizzying concept!
Subject: Re: pollen and organic crops
From: Rick Roush
So to summarise your message Craig, transgenic pollen is ok as long as
it doesn't actually fertilise organic seeds, and that Tasmanian
organic growers have has nothing to fear from poppies in the context
of markerting their produce as long as their organic food tests free
of GM. Right ?
What constitutes "free"? Do you mean "less than a detection limit"?
For example, although canola (and perhaps corn) pollen can
theoretically travel long distances, the percentage of a commercial
crop fertilised by that pollen is very low, too low to be measured by
PCR or ELISA (which are accepted as reliably detecting GM only a
frequency of 1%; even the most optimistic estimates for the future are
at least 0.1%). When herbicide resistance is used as a marker, one can
measure pollen flow over longer distances, but only by growing out the
seeds and testing the seedlings for resistance.
In such experiments, the amount of fertilisation that occurs rapidly
decreases with the distance from the pollen source. All of the results
I have seen show less than 0.03% pollination at distances greater than
30 meters. For example, pollination experiments in western Canada in
1994-95 found that less than 0.5% of the seed was pollinated from
transgenic (GM) canola 5 or more meters away, and less than 0.03% at
30 meters into non-GM canola fields (Staniland et al. 2000). In a
similar study in the UK, for distances of 1, 3, 6, 12, 24, 36, 47, and
70 meters, outcrossing was 1.6, 0.4, 0.11, 0.016, 0.0041, 0.00011,
0.00034, and 0.0%, respectively (Scheffler et al. 1993). Dr Mary
Rieger of the Cooperative Research Centre for Weed Management has just
completed an exhaustive study in Australia (A total of 63 fields were
surveyed over the three states, with 197 individual sample points.
More than 48 million canola seedlings were tested.), which also found
less less than 0.25% even with a few meters of the herbicide resistant
plot. The vast majority of the paddocks sampled showed resistance
frquencies at below 0.03%.
There has been a lot of publicity about pollination trials that used
male sterile canola plants (ones that don't produce their own pollen),
but these experiments exaggerate pollination distances compared to
commercial crops. Most canola (and corn) plants are pollinated by
plants within a few meters. Because they don't produce any pollen of
their own, male sterile plants can only accept pollen from a distance.
Although used in breeding work, male sterile plants would yield too
little to grown as a crop.
With respect to triple stacked canola, I irritated the GM companies in
Australia by predicting three years ago that this would happen, but
they have now come around to accept that farmers need to institute
practices to avoid it. However, the case in Canada simply begged for
the triple tolerant plants to be selected; the grower planted all
three types within tens of meters of each other. How dumb can you get?
Even then, there are still at least a few more broad leaf herbicides
that control canola in wheat.
With respect to your reference to the Starlink episode and the deal
between Aventis and the attorneys general of 17 Midwestern states,
there is still no accounting for commercial or regulatory decisions
that were just plan dumb in the first place (I continue to be
surprised that anyone believed that corn for different purposes could
be kept separate), but am not convinced that the problem was mostly
due to wind-blown pollen rather than avoidable mixing of seed. I don't
have the citations handy, but what I have seen on corn pollination is
that the pollen is heavy and more than 99% of it moves only on the
order of tens of meters. - Rick
References Cited: (1) Scheffler, JA., Parkinson, R. & Dale, P.J.
(1993) Frequency and distance of pollen dispersal from transgenic
oilseed rape (Brassica napus). Transgenic Research, 2 356-364.; (2)
Staniland, BK, McVetty, PBE, Friesen, LF, Yarrow, S, Freyssinet, G, &
Freyssinet, M. 2000. Effectiveness of border areas in confining the
spread of transgenic Brassica napus pollen. Canadian Journal of Plant
Science 80 521-526.
Commentaries On Genetically Modified Food: Ethical Issues And
(From: Philip Bell To:
Here are a couple of commentaries recently added to the SCOPE site...
Ethics and Genetically Modified Foods:
(SCOPE Commentary, Gary Comstock, July 01)
Much of the food consumed in the United States is genetically modified
(GM). GM food derives from microorganisms, plants, or animals
manipulated at the molecular level to have traits that farmers or
consumers desire. These foods often have been produced by techniques
in which "foreign" genes are inserted into the microorganisms, plants,
or animals. Foreign genes are genes taken from sources other than the
organism's natural parents. In other words, GM plants contain genes
they would not have contained if researchers had used only traditional
plant breeding methods....
Research Trends in Crop Genetics and Transgenics
(SCOPE Commentary, Charles J. Arntzen, June 01)
Of all the technologies used to increase the global food supply in the
past century, plant genetics and crop breeding are the most important.
These fields of science have increasingly used molecular and cellular
biology to accomplish what is called conventional breeding of food
crops. In the past two decades, direct manipulations of DNA to create
transgenic crops have added a new tool to crop improvement. The
outcome has been the recent introduction of crops that give altered
production traits (of value to farmers) and the development of
prototypes of next-generation crops, which are designed for improved
nutritional value and for direct production of pharmaceuticals. This
article gives an overview of the technology advancements and provides
some indications of how the technology can provide benefits....
A list of all of the SCOPE commentaries can be found at:
When Biotech Food Hits The WTO
The Modified Food Issue May Someday Come Before The World Trade
Organization--but Would The WTO Have The Power To Settle Such A Dispute?
- Justin Kastner and Douglas Powell University of Guelph;
Knight-Ridder Tribune July 31, 2001
GUELPH, Ontario--The latest crisis to hit European agriculture is
that, according to the French oilseed producers federation, even more
animals in the European Union are being fed on genetically engineered
soy. There just isn't enough vegetable protein in Europe to feed
livestock, so more is being imported from the United States and
Canada. This year about 50 percent of the soy (30 percent in Canada),
25 percent of the field corn (40 percent in Canada) and 70 percent of
the canola (80 percent in Canada) will be derived from genetically
So as North American farmers adopt genetically engineered crops in
record numbers--primarily because, according to farmers who know how
to best manage their own farms, they work--Europe continues to
protest. These transatlantic differences over genetically modified
foods continue to be a major preoccupation of North American and
European producers, trade officials and consumers. Many wonder if the
issue will one day snowball into a case before the World Trade
From some perspectives, it appears the United States, Canada and
Europe are doing all they can to avert resorting to the WTO's dispute
settlement process and leaving it up to the private sector (namely
retail supermarket chains) to sort out the differences. Meanwhile, the
persistence of regulatory differences suggests some sort of
WTO-facilitated case is inevitable. As trade officials consider their
options at hand, it's worth drawing attention to the lessons learned
from past food safety disputes brought before the WTO.
The European trade restrictions on North American hormone-treated beef
provided not only a test case for the WTO itself but also a medium for
drawing out helpful and unhelpful patterns of trade diplomacy. The
North American-European beef dispute before the WTO ended without any
real resolution. After two WTO panels found EU restrictions on U.S.
and Canadian hormone-treated beef exports to be scientifically
unjustifiable, the EU was instructed to alter its trade barriers.
Unlike most other "losers" at the WTO, the EU opted instead for a
provision open to WTO members: Accept economic retaliation rather than
altering its trade policies.
The United States took advantage of this authority, slapping tariffs
on politically sensitive commodities in European countries deemed to
have the most influence in resolving the dispute. While tariffs were
raised on European products such as Roquefort cheese and Danish ham,
the United States and Canada actually did not get what they
wanted--access to the European beef market. In this sense, the dispute
remains unresolved, despite having been concluded before the WTO. As
trade officials ponder the value of taking the modified food issue to
the WTO, and producers and consumers wonder why their governments are
hesitant to do so, it's worth considering several lessons. Despite the
relatively common belief the WTO is an all-powerful force in the world
economy, the organization is ultimately a dispute forum without real
Because of its economic strength, the EU was able, in the case of
hormone-treated beef, to opt for retaliatory tariffs instead of
altering its non-compliant trade measures. Thus losers in WTO
decisions, including any future modified food dispute, may be able to
withstand unfavorable rulings and perpetuate disputes. Second, a
hesitance to cooperate can spell disaster. While the EU may be accused
of using delay tactics during the course of the hormone-treated beef
case, the United States may be criticized for not embracing
transatlantic collaboration. The United States, eager to have the WTO
rule on the European restrictions and send a message to its trading
partners it would challenge any trade measures not based on sound
science, was slow to work with the EU to resolve the dispute.
When Texas ranchers offered to provided hormone-free beef to Europe,
they were rebuked by the U.S. beef industry for frustrating national
solidarity in the effort to end the EU ban. Meanwhile and thereafter,
the U.S. government remained hesitant to pursue a possible labeling
solution. While it is doubtful such a solution would have been
ultimately acceptable to the Europeans, the U.S.-EU case hints at the
poor economy of trying to prove a point at the expense of collaboration.
As transatlantic differences over modified foods continue to harden,
trade officials will have to decide if it is worth taking their
dispute before the WTO. As they think about this next step, they must
realize the limits of the organizations power and the importance of
collaboration. Fortunately, trade officials and scientists are making
efforts to collaborate on the modified food issue. An international
food safety standard-setting organization met in Geneva in July to
discuss protocols for testing and labeling modified foods. The Codex
Alimentarius Commission is composed of 165 member countries and is
recognized by the WTO as the preferred scientific forum for trade
issues related to food safety.
At the July meeting, the commission reached consensus on the
importance of testing and labeling genetically modified foods for
allergens. However, transatlantic differences remained on other
issues. Most significant is whether or not all modified foods should
be labeled as "genetically modified" and made traceable from farms to
grocery stores. In the absence of an international consensus on the
labeling question, trade officials can either despair and take the
issue to the WTO, or they can continue to discuss the issue. Based on
past cases, the latter would be the high road. And European and North
American trade officials should take it without abdicating the
leadership role of science in decision-making.
JUSTIN KASTNER is a student and Douglas Powell an assistant professor
with the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph in Canada.
Their views are not necessarily those of BridgeNews.
Pity The Poor Mad Scientist
- Gay Alcorn. Publication: Sydney Morning Herald July 4, 2001, p13,
The biotechnology boffins can't understand why everybody seems out to
get them. All they want to do is save the world, reports Gay Alcorn.
THE world's biggest biotechnology convention, in California last week,
needed a motivational speaker, so organisers hired a Canadian
mountaineer, Alan Hobson, who had been saved from leukaemia last year
by a remarkable procedure called a "stem cell transplant''. Hobson
showed his mostly middle-aged audience of scientists and business
executives a video of him on top of Mount Everest, declaring: "If you
persist enough you can do the dreams''.
The biotechnologists saw Hobson as a metaphor for their own struggles.
Last year he was told he would shortly die from leukaemia, but the
stem cell transplant has made him a ``human hybrid'' whose blood now
contains the DNA of his brother, Eric. Hobson delighted the convention
delegates by telling them that "in the palm of your hands lies the
health and welfare of 6 billion people, the entire world population''.
They believe it themselves, firmly convinced that they will shortly be
able to cure cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's
and then go ahead and feed the globe. Despite their optimism, there
was a sense of anxiety among the 14,000 participants at the BIO2001
convention, and when Hobson repeated his mantra, "Can, Will'', they
took it personally, jumping to their feet for a standing ovation.
Protesters drifted away from the convention in the Californian beach
city of San Diego, but the delegates knew it didn't mean they had no
public relations problem. Surveys released last week showed a
burgeoning consumer revolt, with almost 60 per cent of Americans,
especially the highly educated, opposing the introduction of
genetically modified (GM) food into supermarkets (even though more
than half of foods in the US already contain such ingredients).
The Americans dominate the industry and have been mostly sanguine
about genetically modified foods. But that is changing, with
three-quarters wanting what the Europeans and Australians have
mandatory labelling of food that has been genetically tampered with.
Industry gets excited that salmon can be grown twice as big as
conventional fish, offering cheaper salmon and bigger profits. But the
vast majority of people don't want it. The medical stream of
biotechnology, the manipulation of living organisms for the use of
human beings, promises a revolution in disease prevention and control.
Already, the era is upon us, with 400 genetic tests available to help
patients assess their risk of disease. Since scientists announced this
year that there are 30,000 genes in each cell, industries are scouring
the keys to genetic therapies, patents and profits, although cures for
major diseases remain, for now, elusive.
Medical biotechnology's image is threatened by mavericks who have
pledged to clone a human being in the next few years, despite
countries, including Australia, looking to ban human cloning for
reproductive purposes. Ethicists and right-to-life advocates warn that
scientists cannot control what they have started. Carl Feldbaum, the
president of the convention's host, the Biotechnology Industry
Organisation (BIO), told the delegates they had to listen to those on
the Left and Right who "portray us as godless or as playing gods'', as
well as those who warn that "humans are not morally equipped to use
the great power conferred on them by technology, especially
Despite the sense at the convention that humanity was on the cusp of a
revolutionary golden age, the conference's core was old-style
capitalism, with dreams of big profits as dizzying as those predicted
by the dot com entrepreneurs of the late '90s. In the US,
biotechnology revenues reached $US23 billion last year, accordingly to
BIO, which represents industry, academic institutes and other groups.
Australia neglected biotech until recently but is aggressively trying
to catch up to countries like Israel and Canada. Canberra announced
this week that biotechnology was now worth $1 billion a year.
Australia had a contingent of about 300 delegates at the conference
from government, academia and industry, with Victorian Premier Steve
Bracks and his Queensland counterpart, Peter Beattie, vying for
Bill Wickson manned the booth for Biomira, a spin-off company from the
University of Alberta in Canada, that is conducting clinical trials,
including in Australia, for a non-toxic vaccine for metastatic breast
cancer. At an earlier trial, those not using the treatment survived
9.2 months and those who did survived 26.5 months. With American
authorities giving it fast-track status because of its potential, it
could be on the market by 2004. Wickson said it would eventually be
offered to women who have a high risk of breast cancer, or earlier
stages of cancer.
He was blunt about why Biomira was at the convention. ``We have to get
out there and get known in the US to have a better share price for our
investors. Some people believe were about 28 per cent undervalued. You
look at companies in the US who are at phase two in clinical trials
and they're worth more than we are and we're close to
commercialisation.'' He talks of $US500 million ($975 million) sales a
year for the breast cancer treatment and $1 billion a year for another
product for lung cancer, also in trials.
There were dollar signs in the eyes of delegates. There was also fear
that public enthusiasm for new treatments could be slowed, if not
halted, by libertarian scientists unwilling to accept limits. This
year, a Kentucky fertility doctor, Panayiotis Zavos, announced that he
and a team of foreign scientists were fast-tracking cloning to help
infertile couples. That would mean offspring would have the genes of
only one adult, rather than a mixture of a mother and father. In
animals, cloning has proved extremely difficult, with most resulting
in deformities and early death, but Zavos says science cannot be
halted. "This country was built on cowboys,'' he said. "Cowboys are
the guys that get the job done.''
A more immediate threat to the industry is President George Bush's
pending decision on whether to allow federal funds to be used in
research on embryonic stem cells. These are cells from days-old
embryos which have the ability to grow into healthy cells and tissues
and which scientists believe hold the best hope for cures for ailments
from Parkinson's to paralysis. Australian governments are grappling
with this issue, and Bush is being pressured by anti-abortion groups
to ban federal funding outright because it destroys the embryo (even
if the cells come from IVF embryos that would otherwise be destroyed).
The moratorium on funds is holding up two applications for funding
from America's National Institutes of Health, one of which is from
Melbourne researchers Alan Trouson and Martin Pera. Yet another
complication is that scientists, while supporting a ban on human
cloning for reproduction, support therapeutic cloning. That would
allow cloning a patient's own tissue for use in treatment, but
politicians and the public don't seem to understand the distinction.
Craig Venter, whose company Celera was, with a public venture, the
first to break the human genetic code, told the convention about
Pennsylvania lawmakers who were asked where the human genome resides.
One third said the brain, one third said the gonads and the rest
didn't know. It exists in every cell. "It is important that we don't
go too far with the legislation if we don't understand the issues,''
While the public sees clear benefits in medical biotechnology, even if
it fears its excesses, it is deeply sceptical of inserting genes of
one plant or animal organism into another to make food more pest
resistant, more hardy, or more nutritious. There is no evidence that
the foods are unsafe for human consumption, but critics fear that the
long-term health consequences are unknown and that escape of the
foreign products could irreversibly contaminate traditional crops.
Critics such as Greenpeace also believe biotech companies have a
strategy to flood the market with GM foods so that they are so
prevalent it would be impossible to halt or reverse their growth. For
instance, about 90 per cent of the world's corn and soya beans are
grown in the US, Argentina and Brazil, with only Brazil resisting GM
food. If it succumbs, then the already growing problem of stopping
food companies getting GM-free food would be almost insurmountable.
The biotech industries, including the world's largest agribusiness
company Monsanto, have joined forces to form the Council for
Biotechnology Information. The PR initiative last year spent $US30
million in advertising to extol the benefits of "genetically
enhanced'' food. The companies say such food could eradicate
malnutrition in Africa, Asia and South America through pest and
drought resistant food, as well as products such as the
well-publicised Golden Rice. The rice, still at the greenhouse stage,
is infused with daffodil genes and a bacteria gene to add vitamin A,
and its developers say it has the potential to dramatically reduce
malnutrition and blindness in Third World children.
Florence Wambugu, a Kenyan scientist and former employee of Monsanto,
released a book during the convention extolling the potential of
genetically engineered food for developing nations. Those who "reject
biotechnology do so on full stomachs'', she wrote. Maize crops can be
devastated by an insect pest, she said. Banana farmers can lose their
entire harvest to a disease called black sigatoka.
Wambugu does not deny the risk of ``gene escape'', where genes
introduced to GM crops can be transferred to other organisms via the
wind or insects, but says such problems can be managed. ``Far from
making us prey to global capitalistic forces that are beyond our
control, biotechnology will empower us to shape the future of our
Greeenpeace rejects the suggestion that its concern is middle-class,
arguing that the industry uses products like Golden Rice as a public
relations smokescreen. There was a growing backlash, said Greenpeace
genetic spokesman Craig Culp, because the technology was new,
relatively untested, and because the industry failed to engage in
debate when the technology was being developed. "Their hope was that
it would become so widespread that it would be a fait accompli by the
time people became knowledgeable," he said.
Needed: An Allergy To Flawed Regulation
Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko
(as submitted to European Wall Street Journal; shorter version
published under the title DANGEROUS GM GETS OFF SCOT-FREE on August 1,
One of the theoretical concerns raised about foods derived from
gene-spliced, or genetically modified (GM), plants is that consumers
might experience allergic reactions to them. A panel of consultants to
the United Nations? Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health
Organization has proposed a protocol for the testing of such foods.
Intended to guide testing in order to determine the allergenic
potential of GM foods, the protocol poses questions?such as, is the
source of the introduced gene allergenic, and does the gene product
resemble known allergens?in a neat little flow chart.
Considered in a vacuum, this seems a reasonable approach. However, it
ignores the realities of the development and commercialization of new
plant varieties, and the way that foods derived from them
traditionally are regulated. Or to be more precise, the way that they
are UNregulated. New plant varieties used for food are not a new
phenomenon. Dozens are produced through hybridization and other
traditional methods of genetic improvement and enter the marketplace
and food supply each year, without any governmental review or special
labeling. A technique in use since the 1950s, induced-mutation
breeding involves exposing crop plants to ionizing radiation or toxic
chemicals to induce random genetic mutations. These treatments most
often kill the plants (or seeds) or cause detrimental genetic changes.
But on rare occasions, the result is a desirable mutation. For
example, a mutation might produce a new trait in the plant that is
agronomically useful, such as altered height, more seeds, or larger
In these cases, breeders have neither knowledge of the exact nature of
the genetic mutation that produced the useful trait, nor knowledge of
what other mutations have occurred in the plant, including those that
could alter the ability to cause allergic reactions. Yet the
approximately 1,400 mutation-bred plant varieties from a range of
different species that have been marketed in Europe and the United
States over the last half century have been subject to no formal
pre-market regulation whatever. Yet several, including two varieties
of squash and one each of potato and celery, were found to contain
dangerous levels of endogenous toxins and were subsequently banned
Since the 1930's plant breeders have performed ?wide crosses,?
hybridizations in which large numbers of genes are moved from one
species or one genus to another to create a plant variety that does
not and cannot exist in nature. Common commercial varieties derived
from wide crosses include tomato, potato, oat, rice, wheat, maize,
black currant, pumpkin and cotton. For example, Triticum
agropyrotriticum is a relatively new manmade ?species? that resulted
from combining genes from bread wheat and a grass sometimes called
quackgrass or couchgrass. Possessing all the chromosomes of wheat and
also one entire genome from the quackgrass, T. agropyrotriticum has
been independently produced in the former Soviet Union, Canada, the
U.S., France, Germany and China. It is grown for both animal feed and
At least in theory, several kinds of problems could result from such a
genetic construction, which introduces tens of thousands of foreign
genes more or less at random into an established plant variety. These
include the potential for increased invasiveness of the plant in the
field, and the possibility that quackgrass-derived proteins could be
toxic or allergenic. But regulators have never shown the slightest
concern about these possibilities. Instead of focusing regulatory
attention on those products that raise risk-related issues such as
allergenicity or toxicity (a ?product-based? approach), their
preferred regulatory trigger is merely the use of GM techniques (a
The testing protocol for allergenicity is important both because of
its own negative impacts and because it is a microcosm of other
standards and requirements that will, if current trends continue, be
unique (and uniquely damaging) to GM products. These trends are
contrary, however, to the broad and long-standing scientific consensus
that GM techniques are a refinement, or improvement, over earlier
techniques. An authoritative report last year from the Institute of
Food Technologists concluded, for example, that ?the science that
underlies [GM] foods does not support more stringent safety standards
than those that apply to conventional foods,? and that the evaluation
of GM food and food ingredients ?does not require a fundamental change
in established principles of food safety; nor does it require a
different standard of safety, even though, in fact, more information
and a higher standard of safety are being required? by regulatory
By doing so, regulators arguably have adopted an approach in which
there is inverse proportionality to risk. The more precisely crafted
and more predictable gene-spliced organisms are subjected to far more
stringent regulation than more crudely crafted organisms. (The FAO/WHO
allergenicity protocol is a perfect example: No traditional food
derived from a ?conventionally modified? plant variety could pass such
a testing regime.) This violates a cardinal principle of regulation:
that the degree of regulatory scrutiny should be commensurate with risk.
Like many other regulatory approaches that circumscribe only GM
products, the FAO/WHO allergenicity protocol is compromised by
adopting a scope that makes no scientific sense. The use of GM, a
stunning refinement of older, less precise techniques, generates less
uncertainty about possible untoward effects. But for GM techniques,
and the foods derived from them, both the fact and degree of
regulation are determined by the production methods. In effect,
discriminatory regulation imposes upon them a huge, punitive tax. That
is enough to doom even this superior technology.
How could supposedly expert consultants go so wrong? When we put that
question to one of them, he answered forthrightly that the group was
explicitly prohibited by UN officials from considering what should be
the appropriate scope of products encompassed by the protocol. That
common trick of bureaucrats ? rigging the terms of reference to
preclude certain results ? permits them to claim the endorsement of
extramural scientific experts, but ensures that the outcome will be
The ultimate irony is that one of the more promising applications of
GM to new food will be to REDUCE the allergenicity of common foods, by
deleting the genes that produce the offending proteins. This would be
an important achievement: More than 20 million Americans report that
they are allergic to peanuts, for example, and about 125 deaths a year
are attributed to food allergy. However, until people break out in an
itchy rash when confronted by flawed public policy, we?re unlikely to
have GM regulation that promotes such breakthroughs.
Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author
of "Policy Controversy in Biotechnology: An Insider?s View." Gregory
Conko is director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise
CSPI Survey On GE Labeling
July 31, 2001 CSPI
Labeling of genetically modified foods comes with consequences. That's
the bottom line of a survey commissioned by the Center for Science in
the Public Interest (CSPI). The group, a supporter of such labeling,
says many consumers would interpret GM food labels as a possible
deterrent from such items.
"While CSPI's and previous polls show broad support for labeling of GE
foods, we have found that that support comes with a lot of caveats,"
said Greg Jaffe, co-director of CSPI's project on biotechnology. "That
points to the need to proceed with caution"
Jaffe says those in the industry which favor labeling, will have to
work hard to design a system that is not only accurate, but also
non-disparaging. "Many consumers would interpret GE food labels as
casting doubt on the safety of foods even though, to date, scientists
have found no problems," he said. "A GE label should not be seen as a
black mark, especially when GE crops appear to be having such
environmental benefits as reduced use of chemical pesticides and
likely reduced soil erosion." The survey revealed about-thirds favor
GE food labels. Even more - 76% - wanted labeling of foods made from
crops sprayed with pesticides. The survey also found that 53% of
respondents wanted labels to disclose if farmers used practices that
caused soil erosion, and 40% wanted labels on foods that contained
cross-bred (hybrid) corn.
Even more interesting, about 40% of those polled said they would buy
foods made with engineered ingredients. However, the poll also found
that only about the same percentage would buy foods with labels
disclosing that they contained crossbred corn, which Americans have
been eating for decades. Although two-thirds of those polled supported
labeling of GE foods, a smaller percentage of those people feel
strongly about such labeling. Half the people who said they wanted GE
labeling also said they would pay nothing or just $10 per year for
The CSPI survey found that labels stating "GE" or "non-GE" would
influence many consumers' perceptions and preferences. About 31% of
consumers said that products labeled GE were not as safe as non-GE foods.
A similar percentage said that foods labeled "does not contain
genetically engineered ingredients" were better than unlabeled foods.
Only about 10% said that the GE-labeled product was safer or better.
At the same time, 33% to 42% said that GE and non-GE foods were just
as safe or good.
People Getting More Comfortable with Gene Tech: Australian Survey
July 31, 2001 AAP News
CANBERRA, July 31 AAP - Australians are growing more comfortable with
gene technology but still hold grave reservations about some aspects,
a new survey has found. Compiled for Biotechnology Australia, the
survey of 1,200 people found 51 per cent believed genetic engineering
would improve their way of life in the next 20 years.
But it also found a drop in the support for the use of animal genes in
plants since a similar survey in 1999 - down from 51 per cent to 31
per cent. Support for modifying human genetic material with animal
genes fell from 51 per cent to 44 per cent. There was a large increase
in the number of people - to 75 per cent from 66 per cent - who
perceived a risk with using human genes in animals to grow organs for
Biotechnology public awareness manager Craig Cormick said although
there were concerns about aspects of gene technology, they ranked well
below concerns about issues such as greenhouse gases and pollution.
"Overall, the survey indicated that the community did not feel well
informed on many biotechnology issues," he said in a statement.
"People felt they should know more about them and that some
misconceptions prevailed. "This research highlights the need for
providing more factual and balanced information to the public to help
them to actively take part in the debate, particularly on these
Mr Cormick said the survey found many people believed there were
genetically modified fruit and vegetables available for sale, although
there are none present in Australia. The survey showed a majority of
people believed gene technology applications were morally acceptable,
except when used to create human organs in animals.
In a blow to GM opponents, the survey found just 17 per cent of
respondents believed the risks of gene technology were so great that
all research should be abandoned. More than 85 per cent of those
surveyed said the use of human genes in medicines was useful. Testing
embryos for predisposition to disease was considered useful by 82 per
cent of respondents, and making plants resistant to disease received
78 per cent support. Women were more concerned than men about the use
of gene technology. The survey confirmed an earlier finding that more
people would eat GM food than those who would not.
Protesters Fear Change
- Anthony Trewavas, The Scotsman July 30, 2001
I DO not see the great concern for GM crops. Sceptics within the
government listen to a lot of small, vociferous activist groups who
seem determined to keep us in the Stone Age regarding biotechnology. I
discuss GM issues with a lot of people who are not activists and they
do not seem to have great concerns. Surveys have shown that people
seem prepared to eat GM food. That being the case, these claims that
the public is not ready do not seem particularly accurate.
These vociferous and organised groups make GM foods a campaigning
issue. They cannot give way or be seen to back down. Every mention of
GM foods leads to shoals of letters, all written in the same way,
presenting a uniform opinion.
We must wait and see what the results are from the farm trials when
they are finished - if they are allowed to finish. Then the government
will sum up the evidence and assess what the best situation is for GM
crops. Many of these things will be done on a case-by-case scenario.
There will be no rubber-stamping. We have to examine things
individually and there will be no blanket definition.
As for food safety, a large number of people have eaten GM food in
America for years without any problems. Much of the opposition to GM
is frenetic activity by people who feel unsettled by the pace at which
the world is changing.
Professor Anthony Trewavas works in the Institute of Cell and
Molecular Biology at Edinburgh University.
Career Development and the New Biotechnology
There was a time when life science research involved the description
of a few phenotypes and genotypes-or scores of biological assays
taking place in a rack of test tubes-all in a rather low throughput
way. Today?s life scientist, on the other hand, must deal with a
veritable flood of data-often in the format of numbers, bits and
sequence code-derived from ultra high-throughput analyses in
miniaturized formats and performed by robots. Deriving meaningful
biological conclusions and insight from such a mammoth, but ostensibly
sterile data stream is the challenge of the burgeoning field of
bioinformatics. Bio.com?s InFocus feature ?Career Development & the
New Biotechnology? takes a look at both the opportunities and the
challenges facing biologists and informatics professionals as they
forge new career paths in the ?New Biotechnology?.
Conference: Biotechnology for Development
7th - 9th January 2002 , Chennai, India
Cornell University, New York in association with Sathguru, India has
taken a unique initiative to promote Biotechnology Business
Development in India. Although there are some successful biotechnology
companies in India and in several parts of Asia, the biotechnology
industry is still dominated in the USA and some parts of the European
region. Considering the number of professionals trained in life
sciences, and the growing free market economy, the potential for
future growth is immense for several countries to occupy a predominant
position in the life sciences sector. However, there is a woeful
shortage of access to recent technologies, and also capital funds for
new enterprises and ventures. There is also a critical requirement for
biotechnology needs assessment and appropriate technology
identification for creating new businesses.
The current seminar, second in the series, will be a three day event
consisting of formal presentations by experts, panel presentations by
Indian and overseas biotech companies, Regulators, Policy planners and
Researchers and the investment community, discussions and
video-conferences with experts in USA/Europe/Asia, and opportunities
for one-to-one interaction between Indian and overseas biotechnology
companies, Regulators, investment community and business development
Registration details at http://sathguru.com/bt2002/