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

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





August 5, 2001


New Address; Bio Panderers; Indonesia Goes GM; Halal; ACSH


As you may have noticed that now Agbioview is being sent by a
different address. Please standby for a separate announcement
describing the new move with information on the new addresses for
posting your messages and unsubscribing, plus the location of a new
web site for searching Agbioview Archives.

Please post all messages to

The older Listbot address and the Archive is not operational any more!


Today's Topics

* Biotech Panderers
* Indonesia Now Into GM Crop Production
* Labeling Biotechnology Foods and the Organic Lobby
* Biotechnology and Food - Publication
* Biotech Food Fear - A Luxury Poor Nations Can't Afford
* 'Life' As A Policy Position
* Are GMO's Halal?
* GM Foods Boosted By NZ Inquiry
* Bt Cotton: The Sunny Side Of The Story
* The UK's Non-science Curriculum


Biotech Panderers

- Editorial, Washington Post, Sunday, August 5, 2001; Page B06

THE WORLD'S population will grow by at least 2 billion over the next
two decades, requiring a big increase in farm output. But each year
around 1 percent of the world's irrigated farm land is rendered
infertile by build-ups of salt, making the task of keeping up with
population growth all the more daunting. So scientists are working on
crops that can withstand salt, and a team has recently come up with a
tolerant tomato. If this and similar breakthroughs can be
commercialized, large swaths of irrigated land in dry areas of India,
Pakistan, China and the western United States may become newly

This is the promise of biotechnology. There are also risks, and these
have been recently illustrated by the StarLink story. StarLink is a
brand of genetically modified corn; it is approved only for animal
feed, but last year it turned up in human food in small quantities.
Some 300 corn products were recalled from stores, and the federal
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were brought in to test 17
consumers who had reported allergic reactions. But even in this case
of regulatory failure, the consequences do not appear to have been
harmful. The centers found no evidence of allergic responses, though
(as another panel recently pointed out) it could not rule them out
completely either.

Given the promise of biotechnology, you might think that the world
would accept the manageable risks associated with it. So far, after
all, not a single genetically modified product has been shown to harm
human health; on the other hand, the more abundant and cheaper food
that biotechnology promises could make a huge difference to
consumers, especially in poor nations with extensive malnourishment.
Yet consumer groups are up in arms against so-called Frankenfoods.
And the European Union recently proposed rules on food labeling that
would greatly discourage the advance of science in this area.

Some types of food labeling are defensible. There is a case for
providing consumers with information that they want, even though the
U.S. government has fairly resisted lending its name to labels that
have no known health merit. But the European proposal goes beyond
what can be called reasonable. Rather than requiring labels on
genetically modified foods that can be identified as such by
diagnostic tests, the Europeans demand labels on everything with
biotech ingredients. For example, oil made from genetically modified
soybeans would have to be labeled, even though there is no way of
telling this oil from the ordinary variety. To enforce this labeling
rule, producer countries would have to set up systems to trace grain
from farm to processing center to store. But grain is a commodity
product that gets marketed in bulk. Creating a tracing system will be
hugely expensive.

If implemented, Europe's proposed labeling regime will be the most
burdensome in the world. It will restrict European consumers' access
to cheap food. It will stretch Europe's obligations to free-trade
rules at a time when the continent is calling for new global trade
talks. It will penalize producer countries like the United States
that have embraced biotechnology, and may induce waverers like Brazil
to shy away indefinitely. And it will decrease the incentives for
biotech research around the world. If the technology posed
unmanageable risks, this might be excusable. But Europe's
policymakers are responding to irrational consumer fears. Rather than
educate their voters, the continent's leaders have chosen to pander
to them. © 2001 The Washington Post Company


Indonesia Now Into GM Crop Production

- Rudy A. Fernandez 08/05/2001 Philippine Star
(Forwarded by Marga Escaler of ISAAA)

MAKASSAR CITY, Indonesia - This country has ventured into the
production of a genetically modified (GM) crop. This gives Indonesia
the distinction of being the first Southeast Asian country to go into
the commercial production of a GM crop - cotton.

Now robustly growing in 4,000 hectares in seven districts in South
Sulawesi province are GM cotton plants being grown by thousands of
Indonesian farmers. They expect to harvest their Bt cotton crop in
August. And this early, they are looking forward to a bountiful
harvest, as hundreds of them did last year when they participated in
the trials of the promising cash crop.

Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacillus commonly found in
soil. Through a biotechnological process called genetic engineering,
a gene produced from Bt has been introduced into a new cotton
variety. The technique makes a new cotton plant a "natural chemical
factory" that can produce its Bt protein, which protects the plant
from cotton pests, particularly the destructive bollworm. The Bt
toxin, once ingested by a bollworm, is activated in the worm's
intestine by alkaline digestive juice and produces toxicity. The
digestive system will be damaged after the bollworm eats Bt toxin and
it eventually dies because it cannot eat anything owing to its
"gastric perforation."

The adaptation trials of the transgenic Bt DP5690B cotton were
conducted last year in seven regencies (districts) in South Sulawesi,
namely Bantaeng, Bone, Bulukumba, Gowa, Soppeng, Talakar and Wajo.
The trials, done by the Hasanuddin University in South Sulawesi and
Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) showed that the insect-resistant
Bollgard cotton (Bt cotton) showed very positive results.

Bollgard outperformed its isogenic line, DP5690, and the local
variety, Kanesia 7, in 15 locations tested. Bollgard yielded an
average of 1.12-3 tons per tons per hectare while DP5690 and Kanesia
7 turned out 0.53-1.67 and 0.47-1.43 t/ha, respectively. Bollgard
planting Bantaeng gave farmers an average net income per hectare of
3,878,625 rupiahs ($356) compared to the 747,125 rupiahs/ha for
planting the local variety.

Monsanto/PT Monagro Kimia started variety trials as early as 1996 to
find the best cotton variety to be developed in Indonesia,
specifically in South Sulawesi. In 1998, as part of the regulatory
process for the commercialization of genetically improved crops,
glasshouse trials and limited field trials were conducted. In 1999,
Bt cotton was approved and declared as environmentally safe to be
planted in Indonesia.

Last year, a number of studies were conducted, including
multi-location trials, farmers' acceptance trials and effects on
nontarget organism trials. In last year's trials, Monsanto (a
transnational chemical company in the United States which
successfully put a boll-protecting gene into the genetic group of
cotton) and extension workers of the Indonesian Estate Crops Office
taught the farmers the Bt cotton technology.

Based on the outcome, the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture issued a
decree last February allowing limited planting of Bollgard cotton in
seven districts in South Sulawesi for one year. Some of the farmers
who participated in last year's trials in village Kaloling in
Bantaeng Regency said in interviews with this writer and scientists
of the Los Baños-based International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)-Southeast Asia Center that they
earned a lot from planting the Bt cotton. (The ISAAA-SEA Center
scientists were Dr. Margarita Escaler and Dr. Mariechel

Muhammad Arshad, 31, head of the South Sulawesi chapter of the
Indonesian Cotton Farmers' Association, reported that 152 farmers in
his village (Kaloling, situated 140 kilometers south of this capital
city of South Sulawesi) tilling 92 hectares participated in last
year's trials. Most of them earned an average net income of 6
million rupiahs during the season (five months). With the traditional
variety they used to plant, it earned them only an average of 1.5
million rupiahs for five months.

Muhammad Nasir, 34, also volunteered that he produced 3.8t/ha in last
year's trials, netting 7,621,000 rupiahs. From his income, he bought
a cow and a piece of land. He and Arshad, together with 571 other
farmers in their village again planted Bt cotton (NuCOTN 35 B or
Bollgard variety) in 422 ha this year.

In Bantaeng Regency alone, 2,744 farmers planted Bt cotton in 1,764
ha this year. A farmer tills an average of three-fourths of a
hectare. Many of the cotton bolls were beginning to open when we
visited the cotton farms in Kaloling last week.

Arshad also said that market is not a problem as a company goes to
their village to buy their harvest. The inputs were provided by the
company. A contract was signed by the farmers' groups and the
company. Witnesses were the village head and representatives of the
Estate Crops Office.

Like in the Philippines, non-government organizations (NGOs) are also
vigorously opposing the planting of GM crops in Indonesia. In fact,
we were informed, an NGO has sued the Indonesian government for
allowing the planting of Bt cotton in South Sulawesi. But the
farmers in Kaloling are not bothered at all by the protestations of
the NGOs, whom they charged "don't care about the welfare of the
farmers. They (NGOs) are there in the cities making noise while the
farmers toiled the farms."

For instance, the farmers explained, with the traditional variety of
cotton, they sprayed an average of 7-12 times per planting season.
The cost of chemicals bears on the production inputs and in the
process their health is at risk. But with the Bt cotton, they
sprayed only at a maximum of three times. In fact, some of the
farmers whom we interviewed said that as of that interview when it
was almost harvest time, they had not sprayed.

The farmers plan to invite the NGOs to Bantaeng to see for themselves
the benefits that the new Bt cotton technology has been bringing
them. According to them, nobody can stop them from planting Bt
cotton. Owing to the controversy stirred by the NGOs, South Sulawesi
Gov. H.Z.B. Palaguna visited the cotton farms in Bantaeng last June
28, after which he declared: "The cotton plants are performing very
well and there was no significant pest attack. For that (advising the
farmers) keep on moving forward and (wishing you) lots of success.
Keep on fighting."


From: Craig
Subject: Re: Let's Label All

While I appreciate the tongue in cheek nature of Prakash's
illustration of the absurdity of attempting to label the 70 or so
chemicals that make up 'artificial strawberry flavor' and the
complexity of attempting to inform consumers about their presence and
the safety concerns about the ingredients in it I hope he has not
forgotten there is an alternative label. It's called 'Organic' and it
guarantees the absence of all the 70 chemicals in artificial
strawberry flavor and therefore also avoidance of the 'cocktail
effect' when these chemicals are ingested along with all the other
additives and other residues that some of us people with neo-Luddite
tendencies get so anxious about. Of course it does mean that organic
strawberry jam may not taste as strongly of strawberries because the
only strawberry flavor permitted is the rather innocuous variety
distilled from the eponymous fruit.


Labeling Biotechnology Foods and the Organic Lobby

The history of food labeling in the United States has been to protect
consumers from misleading statements and misbranding of foods that
can result in fraudulent marketing schemes by unscrupulous retailers.
U.S. regulations have not been based on a consumer's right to know,
rather to provide nutritional and safety information and to protect
consumers from misleading marketing of food products. Current
labeling proposals, backed by organic food industry marketing
interests fearful that cheaper biotechnology-improved crops will
replace premium-priced organic produce, have the potential to add
costs to food production, eliminate real consumer choice, and distort
the intent of U.S. labeling protections against misleading
advertising. Essentially, these proposals would create an food tax on
all consumers to pay for the ethical and social concerns of various
activist organizations and to support the sale of premium-priced
products through the food scare marketing tactics of the $10 billion
organic and natural products industry.

"The issue of biotechnology and labeling is turning out to be one of
the most publicized and controversial issues facing the FDA many
years. The challenge in the months ahead remains twofold for those in
the food, agriculture and biotechnology sectors: confront the
movement by organic industry and activist groups demanding mandatory
labeling while trying to win acceptance in foreign countries for
exports . Although opponents of biotechnology continue in their
attempts to raise public fear, biotechnology remains a technology
that offers remarkable innovations and provide tools for growth and
development . "

Complete document at http://www.eat2k.org/issues/laveling_backgrounder.html


Publications on Ag Biotech

- From: "Henry I. Miller"

Those of us involved in the study of public policy biotechnology
applied to agriculture and food production often receive requests for
published background materials that can be understood by non-experts.
I recommend:

* "Foods from Genetically Modified Crops," just published by the
University of California, San Diego. It's downloadable from website
http://www.sdcma.org, and hard copies can be obtained from Professor
Maarten Chripeels at mchrispeels@ucsd.edu.

* "Biotechnology and Food" published by the American Council on
Science and Health, http://www.acsh.org, and click on "publications."

These two publications are lucid, accurate and unbiased, while much
of what is available on this subject from self-styled environmental
or public-interest groups is, at best, dubious.

- Henry Miller


>From Prakash:

AgBioView readers would note that Chrispeels' excellent brochure has
already been mentioned earlier. Information below on the ACSH
Publication by McHughen - you can download the pdf document at
(Summary and Intro below)

Biotechnology and Food

by Alan McHughen, D.Phil. ; Second edition (First edition by Suzanne
Huttner, Ph.D.)

Modern biotechnology greatly benefits the quality and quantity of
food, human and animal health, and the environment. Unfortunately,
misinformation and misunderstandings about biotechnology in the
popular media make it difficult for consumers to make informed
assessments. This booklet explains the facts behind genetic
modification (GM) and explores some of the issues surrounding the
increasingly contentious debate over its use in food production.

Traditional biotechnology has given us almost all of our foods, from
corn and beef to bread and wine. In the 1970s, modern biotechnology
(i.e. genetic modification, genetic engineering, recombinant DNA or
rDNA, gene splicing, etc.) started giving us lifesaving drugs such as
Humulin (human insulin). In the past several years, the same
technology has been applied to enhance agriculture and food
production. Gene modification is a natural event. Many of our
traditional foods are products of natural mutations or genetic
recombinations. Nature is constantly mutating genes and even moving
them from one species to another. With biotechnology, humans can
direct genetic changes to benefit human endeavors.

Agricultural scientists have already produced GM crops with:
* herbicide resistance, allowing farmers to use fewer chemicals and
obtain weed-free crops; * insect resistance to control insect pests
feeding on the crops, while leaving non-pest insects alone; * disease
resistance to limit crop losses from epidemics; * delayed ripening
fruits that maintain their freshness longer; * healthier vegetable
oils, with lower saturated fat content.

New products under development include:
Agricultural * Crops tolerant of environmental stresses such as
drought, flooding, soil salinity, and frost; * Crops with greater
protection from insects, diseases and weeds.

More consumer-oriented GM products will appear on our shelves, including
* Nutritionally enhanced foods; * Lower calorie sugar (fructans) from
GM sugar beets; * Foods from which naturally occurring allergenic and
antinutritional compounds have been eliminated.

Animal Husbandry
* GM medicines and vaccines can be delivered to animals via their
feed, saving the expense of sick animals and veterinary bills; *
Quick-growing game fish; * Important and valuable chemicals might be
produced in GM goats' milk, where they can be readily separated and

Other Products * Biomaterials such as biodegradable plastics made
from GM plant starch; * GM plants to make diesel fuel; * Cotton and
linen modified to increase quality and durability; * Textiles and
fabrics with built in dyes.

Assistance to developing nations. Rice, the major food staple
throughout the developing world, has been nutritionally enhanced for
increased iron and beta-carotene (provitamin A) content and increased
yields. Cassava, another major food staple, can be protected from
viral and other diseases through biotechnology. Inexpensive vitamins,
minerals, medicines, and vaccines may soon be delivered to the ill
and malnourished via GM fruit.

Public concerns over the safety of GM remain an issue of debate.
However, most scientists conversant with GM technology are
supporters; they know GM products are not inherently hazardous. Three
hundred million North American consumers have been eating several
dozen GM foods grown on hundreds of millions of acres since 1994,
with no documented adverse effects.

Some widespread myths and misconceptions, which may cause consumer
concern, include:
* GM potatoes being toxic to rats; * GM soy becoming allergenic; * GM
corn killing butterflies.

All of these are readily refuted by the facts in each case.

FDA regulations already require answers to crucial safety questions:
* Does the food contain genes from known allergenic sources? * Does
it contain genes from toxic sources? * Are the concentrations of
natural toxic substances increased? * Is the fat, cholesterol or
other nutrient content changed? * Does the food contain a substance
that is new to the food supply?

Like all foods, GM foods bear labels if they carry allergens or
toxins, or if they are substantially altered in nutritional
composition, so consumers will be able to identify such foods.

Current regulatory scrutiny, plus the excellent track record of GM
food safety, gives us confidence that GM foods are rigorously
scrutinized and that the technology is safe. Consumers and farmers
can expect a wide variety of beneficial new products in the
not-too-distant future to augment those currently on the market

Biotechnology is simply using living systems to give society more or
better foods, drugs and other products. In this sense, we've been
applying biotechnology since the dawn of civilization. In recent
times, our understanding of science, especially genetics, has
advanced to the point where we can optimize specific genes and traits
to provide even greater benefits while reducing or eliminating
undesirable features. This technology, based on recombinant DNA
(rDNA), is often called Gene Splicing, Genetic Engineering (GE), or
Genetic Modification (GM), giving rise to a Genetically Modified
Organism (GMO).

The precision attained by such molecular plant breeding can pro-vide,
for example, greatly increased crop production and nutritional
enhancements at little or no additional cost. Fruits and vegetables
can be picked and delivered at the height of flavor and ripeness
thanks to carefully tailored improvements that reduce softening and
bruising. For health-conscious consumers, cooking oils from GM corn,
soy, or canola will provide lower saturated fat content. Any interest
in reduced calorie French fries? GM potatoes with enhanced starch
content absorb less fat during frying. Leaner meats will be available
from cattle and pigs improved both directly and through improved
feeds. Sensitive new testing kits can detect tiny amounts of
potentially harmful toxic contaminants in foods. New plant varieties
that are biologically protected against insects and diseases are now
on the market, just in time to help farmers hard-pressed to maintain
efficient production with fewer chemical control agents.

As our knowledge of molecular genetics increases, our ability to
improve our foods and farming will increasingly benefit consumers at
home and around the world. Among the benefits to consumers are more
nutritious food, more diverse foods, less expensive food and, in
regions of most crucial need, more abundant food.

Unfortunately, there is much misinformation, misunderstanding, and
confusion about this technology. These circumstances give rise to
needless anxiety and, at the same time, obscure any real hazards that
might exist as well as possible means of controlling them. A basic
understanding of the techniques and goals of biotechnology research
is important for deciding the merits of concerns and proposed

The purpose of this booklet is to provide an overview of what is now
available through modern biotechnology, what's in the pipeline, and
what's on the drawing board. The report is not intended to cover all
issues and concerns in depth, but rather to briefly discuss various
salient points. References to sources for further reading are
presented as a guide for those wishing to delve deeper into
particular areas.

Real informed choice requires real information. This booklet explains
the facts behind GM and explores some of the issues surrounding the
increasingly contentious debate over its use. Armed with facts, we
can identify and discuss the actual benefits as well as how to manage
or avoid any potential risks.

Download the complete document at


Biotech Food Fear

- A Luxury Poor Nations Can't Afford : What May In Affluent Europe
Be An Acceptable Delay In Adopting Biotech Food Would Be Tragic If
Allowed To Happen In The Third World

August 2, 2001 Knight-Ridder Tribune (Via Agnet)

NORWICH, England-- David Walker, agricultural economist, writes that
the delay in the commercialization of genetically modified crops in
affluent Western Europe may be acceptable in the context of the peace
of mind it brings to consumers even though it lacks any kind of
scientific basis. This implicit waste, however, is not an indulgence
appropriate for those faced with poverty.

The condition of absolute poverty has historically been defined as
income insufficient to purchase food, clothing and shelter of
adequate quantity and quality--the bare bones ingredients of minimal
comfort. While the standards of adequacy of quantity and quantity
rise with the affluence of an economy and other more or less
necessary elements have been added, in much of the world beyond North
America and Western Europe the three basic needs still set the

Much of the developed world passed into the comfort of relative
affluence as much as 100 years ago and their social welfare programs
also provide for those with limited opportunity to earn. Indeed,
anyone living 100 years ago in what is now the developed world would
almost certainly have doubted anybody could spend as much as we do
today without being wasteful. That's an indulgence few of us could
deny. The reality is that the marketplace has been very effective in
providing things that we feel we need. And we are by and large
accepting of our neighbor's right to spend as they see fit, provided
it does not impinge unduly on our existence.

In today's complex society, of course, the actions of individuals can
effect the well-being of many, so society has accordingly given the
responsibility of protecting the many to the state. Two issues
relevant to biotechnology in general, and genetically modified crops
in particular, are food safety and the environment. If there are
risks of adverse consequences, state-imposed controls may be
justified, subject to cost considerations.

In the case of genetically modified crops, governments have chosen to
limit or defer their use, not because of any specific risk, but
simply because they are new and unknown in the context of their
impact. Britain and most of Europe are now firmly in the grip of this
21st century Luddism. A couple of years ago opinion polls indicated
that most people in Britain were concerned about potential risks of
modified food. While governments are elected to represent the
interest of their electorate rather than reflect directly their
opinion, it takes a courageous leader to ignore public opinion, even
if he has science on his side. Under such circumstances, a
science-based policy supported by a three-year research program to
demonstrate the science is as much as could have been expected. And
in the court of public opinion the three years as a cooling-off
period may be as important as the science itself. But where poverty
exists, the expense of deferring the use of a technology that will
bring real and immediate benefits is no tradeoff for ci peace of mind
from an unidentified risk.

Indeed, even where risks have been proven, the choice to use a
technology may still be a reasonable one. While DDT has been banned
in the developed world for almost 30 years for proven environmental
reasons, no caring person would deny its use where human life is
threatened by a malarial swamp.

The situation with genetically modified crops is, of course, far less
extreme. There is no evidence of a threat to the environment from
these crops, and any saving of life is likely to be indirect through
the improvement of the quantity, quality and cost of food. But as
less-affluent economies naturally place a higher value on these
benefits, they can be expected to be more accepting of the
technology. For the Third World, the most compelling characteristic
of this biotechnology is its shrink-wrapped nature. As with a cell
phone, once the box is opened and if relatively simple instructions
are read and followed, almost anybody can use what is complex
technology and benefits almost immediately.

The rapid adoption of genetically modified crops in North America
over the last five years was possible only because adoption did not
require investment by or training of the farmer user. This ease of
use is critical in the developing world. Typically, subsistence
farmers do not have the financial resources to invest or the time to
devote to elaborate training. Surely conventional technology implicit
in such popular development staples such as irrigation, mechanization
and market infrastructure have a role to play. But they do not
provide the kind of almost-instant impetus to well-being genetically
modified crops can offer.

Attempting to impose developed world values on the developing world
is not only misplaced but immoral. While we may be able to afford the
peace of mind of avoiding any risk, we must recognize this luxury has
little value where pestilence with resulting malnutrition and
starvation is an immediate reality. Increasingly the success of those
opposed to genetically modified crops in creating doubt appears
misguided. Their success in Western Europe may be viewed simply as
wasted opportunity. But if they succeed in deferring the adoption of
the technology in the developing world, it would be a tragedy.


'Life' As A Policy Position

Jonathan Kay, National Post Aug. 3/01 (Via Agnet)

Kay writes in this op-ed that the tie-dyed environmentalists at
Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians are fighting along with the
Republican party's socially conservative hard core to protect the
sanctity of life from the march of science.

On Tuesday, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Whip Tom DeLay
declared that therapeutic cloning, a procedure many scientists
believe will be necessary to develop a wide array of new medical
technologies, "would reduce some human beings to the level of an
industrial commodity." Fiery stuff. But change a few key words,
replace Mr. DeLay's suit with an Earth Day T-shirt, and suddenly
you've got yourself a tree hugger. The same day Mr. DeLay was
delivering his oration in Washington, activists at a press conference
in Winnipeg were denouncing the Canadian government's plans to test
genetically modified wheat.

Greenpeace, naturally, was leading the charge. The group declares on
its U.S. Web site that the genetic engineering industry threatens
farmers and the environment alike through "the patenting of life."
Maude Barlow, head of The Council of Canadians, feels the same way.
She has declared that genes "belong to the Earth and all species; no
one has a right to appropriate them or profit from them. All must be
declared a public trust to be protected by all levels of government
and communities everywhere for all time."

What we are witnessing is the golden age of "life" as a policy
position. Depending on their place on the political spectrum, pundits
and politicians argue that life should not be pre-empted (embryonic
stem cells), copied (therapeutic cloning) or changed (genetically
modified foods). Appeals to life's sanctity are even spilling over to
inorganic matter. Ms. Barlow believes that, though Canada accounts
for 20% of the world's fresh water but just 0.5% of the global
population, thirsty nations should not be permitted to drink from our
rivers. Why? Because, according to Ms. Barlow, water is "the very
source of life."

Kay goes on to say that the argument over genetically modified foods
is similar. Even as alarmist fears of dead butterflies and
uncontrollable allergens have been debunked, the ardour of
environmentalists has remained undimmed. Most refuse to recognize the
fact that genetically modified foods are set to revolutionize Third
World agriculture. When scientists develop life-saving crops that
flourish in harsh climates and soils, they dismiss it as a propaganda
trick. It is obvious environmentalists are not concerned about the
practical consequences of GM plantings so much as their Gaian
sensibilities are appalled by the very concept of harnessing life for
profit. It is a matter of principle: Mr. DeLay would place
restrictions on research so that insentient human embryos would not
be destroyed; Ms. Barlow would make the same sacrifice on behalf of
organic potatoes.


Video: Genetic Engineering. Dreams and Nightmares

On the video that was mentioned by Dr. Cove earlier, I have learnt
that North American readers can obtain the NTSC version of it from -
Films For The Humanities, Po Box 2053, Princeton, Nj, Usa. Telephone:

Thanks to Sally Popplewell for this


Are GMO's Halal?

Yes, today's biotechnology products are approved as Halal

By K. Hazzah, Economic & Agriculture 2000 research associate August
04, 2000 http://www.eat2k.org/features/halal.html

Alhamdulillah was-salatu was-salaamu 'ala rasoolillah. All thanks and
praise is to ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, and we ask that HIS
blessings and peace be upon HIS Messenger, Muhammad, salla ALLAHu
alaihi wa sallam. This Aya from Surat Al-Ma-ida is the basis for
permitting Muslims to consume the food of the "People of the Book",
referred to in the Quran as "Ahlul Kitab".

According to the Islamic Jurisprudence Council (IJC), foods derived
from biotechnology-improved (GMO) crops are halal - fit for
consumption by Muslims. Some scholars have suggested that foods
derived from biotechnology-improved crops could possibly become haram
(non-halal) if they contain DNA from forbidden foods. For example,
swine DNA in soy could make the soy product haram. This issue is
still the subject of some debate among scholars and certifying
organizations. Should a product be brought to market with a gene from
a haram source, today it would at least be considered Mashbooh --
questionable -- if not outright haram. However, all
biotechnology-derived foods on the market today are from approved

The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), the main
North American halal certifying body supports the position of the IJC
on GMOS. IFANCA notes that discussions on foods derived from
biotechnology are ongoing. Certification by IFANCA is recognized and
accepted by the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (M.U.I.), the Majlis Ugama
Islam Singapura (M.U.I.S.), the Muslim World League, Saudi Arabia,
and the government of Malaysia.

Similar discussions regarding the acceptability of such foods have
taken place among kosher scholars and certifiers. While kosher does
not imply haram in any way, the considerations given by Halachich
(kosher) scholars may be relevant to ongoing discussions among
certifying groups such as IFANCA. Their conclusion, regardless of the
source of DNA, genetic modification does not make a product

According to the Orthodox Union, the strictest interpreter of
Halachic laws, GMOs do not pose a concern. "The Halachic implications
of bio-engineered foods with possible genes from non-kosher sources
has been studied at length by the Orthodox Union's Rabbinical
Kashruth Advisory Board, headed by the renowned Rabbi Israel Belsky
of Mesivta Torah V'daath and Rabbi Hershel Schechter of Yeshiva
University," states the OU. "The conclusion of this Rabbinical Board
was that such genetic manipulation does not present any Kashruth
problems whatsoever."

The OU scholars, using the example of a potato developed with a gene
from a non-kosher source, reason that the non kosher gene is not
implanted into the potato plant itself. Rather the non-kosher gene
serves as a chemical formulation which is on memory much like a
magnetic tape. This formulation is then reproduced onto materials
taken from yeast and then introduced into the plant via bacterium.
The Reproduced Gene Now In The Plant Is Thus From A Totally Kosher

None of the original chicken material appears in the plant product,
i.e. the potato. The term 'Botel' is therefor inadequate, because
there is nothing there to become 'Botel'. There never was any
non-kosher material in the potato in the first place.

Kosher and Halal requirements have many similarities, but it would be
a mistake to take comparisons too far. Still, biologists note that
individual genes in and of themselves are not unique to their source.
For example, one would find thousands of the same genes in swine as
exist in lettuce. Yet, lettuce remains halal.

Today, however, pending ongoing discussions the main concern for
Halal certification would continue to be transgenic materials from
pork or other "harem" or "mashbooh" products in foods derived through
biotechnology. As of this point in time, no foods are derived from
such sources, therefore today biotech derived foods are perfectly
acceptable as halal.


GM Foods Boosted By NZ Inquiry

The Canberra Times, August 6, 2001
(Forwarded by Max Bourke , Chairman, Rural
Funds Management Ltd, Australia)

THE GENETICALLY modified food industry has recently received a double
boost. A royal commission in New Zealand brought down findings more
favourable to GM food than had been expected, and a survey in
Australia showed more people were supporting GM technology.

The New Zealand royal commission is significant because it is the
world's first thorough judicial inquiry into GM technology. The
commission did not advocate a laissez-faire approach, but neither did
it suggest an outright ban, as was expected.

The commission said a ban on GM technology would have an adverse
effect on farmers, consumers and in medicine. In the case of
medicine, the commission said a ban would mean existing medical uses,
especially the use of GM insulin by diabetics, would have to cease.
It also expressed concern that a ban on GM food in New Zealand would
mean an exodus of scientists and other skilled people, and the
economy would contract.

New Zealand's approach was quite different from that taken in
Tasmania. In Tasmania, Minister for Primary Industries David
Llewellyn is supporting the extension of a 13-month moratorium on GM
crops. In Tasmania, GM crops are declared a noxious weed under the
state's quarantine powers.

The Tasmanian approach seems to be one of promoting a clean, green
island and trying to get international competitiveness that way. New
Zealand, too, has an international image as a green clean place, but
its royal commission has found that the benefits of GM technology are
likely to outweigh the benefits of promoting the nation as a GM-free

One of the major difficulties for the GM industry is that early on,
it did not do enough to educate the public about what genetic
modification was and what benefits it could bring. The industry was
guilty of a certain amount of arrogance, or certainly a
misunderstanding of the length of time it took to educate the public.

Those in the industry can quickly grasp issues surrounding GM, but
they foolishly imagined that the public would see their point of view
instantaneously. Moreover, in Tasmania there were instances of
companies defying bans on genetically modifying crops. In the face of
that, it was small wonder that governments had to respond to calls
for greater regulation.

Though a survey last week indicated growing support for GM
technology, particularly in the medical field, it showed a large
amount of ignorance as well. Many people imagine that GM fruit and
vegetables are being sold in the supermarkets at present. Conversely,
more people understand the benefits of genetically altering crops to
fend off insects so that fewer insecticides are required.
Nonetheless, whether there is a danger of genetic alteration
spreading to weeds has not yet been properly dealt with by the

It is obvious the GM industry still has a long way to go to convince
the public that the benefits outweigh the dangers, or that
precautions have been put in place to minimise danger. In the
meantime, consumers have a right to know whether the food they are
eating contains genetically modified ingredients. It is true that
no-one has died from genetically modified food, whereas many die of
food poisoning which can be reduced by genetic modification but that
in itself is not enough to allay public fears. The industry must
either do more in educating the public to accept GM foods as normal,
or wear the cost of greater detail in labelling.


Bt Cotton: The Sunny Side Of The Story

- Ranjana Smetacek, Mumbai, (India) 4 August 2001


'The author says the choice before us is to keep our farmers forever
in bondage to fate and nature or to enable them to enjoy the fruits
of new knowledge that could increase their income and improve crop
productivity in a globalised trade regime'.

Every new technology has its prophets of doom. Be it new life-saving
medicines, vaccines or surgeries, new sources of energy and methods
of transportation, or new ways of coaxing more food out of the soil
to feed the ever-increasing human populations - prophets of gloom
have always been around. Devinder Sharma's article "Pulling the wool
over Bt cotton" on your Website is an example of this.

Indian farmers proved the doomsayers wrong when the Green Revolution
began and increased production from 80 million tonne to 209 million
tonne within 35 years. They will do so again with crop biotechnology
or the gene revolution in agriculture that is making steady headway
around the world.

Use of biotech crops is growing rapidly across the world. Currently,
14 countries grow eight genetically improved crops. The global
hectarage on six continents last year was more than 100 million acre
or 44.2 million hectare. They included developing countries like
China, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa. The figure of
44.2 million hectare represents a 25-fold increase in 5 years and is
the highest adoption rate for any new technology by agriculture
industry standards. All this is happening only because farmers see
multiple benefits in switching to biotech crops.

According to a recent US Department of Agriculture survey, American
farmers used genetically improved seed to plant 34 million hectare
this spring -18 per cent more than last year although the agriculture
industry had expected use of biotech seed to grow by only 10 per cent.

More recently, on July 30, 2001, after 58 days of public hearings and
legal arguments spread out over a year, and reading 4,600 pages of
transcripts and more than 10,000 submissions, the New Zealand Royal
Commission on Genetic Modification (GM) rejected the idea of a
"GM-free" New Zealand and concluded: "It (GM) holds exciting promise,
not only for conquering diseases, eliminating pests and contributing
to the knowledge economy, but for enhancing the international
competitiveness of the primary industries so important to our
country's economic well-being." The Commission said that it would
like "the co-existence of all forms of agriculture."

Use of biotech crops is indeed growing across the world and it is
growing much more in developing countries which accounted for a
quarter of the global area of genetically improved crops last year.
Their share of biotech plantings has risen from 14 per cent in 1997
to 16 per cent in 1998 to 18 per cent in 1999 and 24 per cent in
2000. In fact, of the 4.3 mha (million per hectare) increase in
global hectarage in 2000, 3.6 mha (equivalent to 84 per cent) was in
the developing countries compared with 16 per cent (0.7 mha) in the
industrialised countries.

The fastest growth has been witnessed in China. Dr R A Mashelkar,
Director General of the Centre for Science and Industrial Research
(CSIR) and Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial
Research, wrote recently: "It is true that countries like China are
moving with speed. Reportedly, China plans to have 50 per cent of its
land under cultivation with transgenics in 10 years."

Media reports say that the hectarage of insect-resistant cotton in
China rocketed to about 1 million hectare in 2000 or 28 per cent of
the country's total cotton area - from less than 100,000 hectare in
1998, or 2.2 per cent of the total area. A Reuters report from an
international cotton conference in Guilin, China, on June 28, 2001,
said that Beijing is gearing up to push farmers to sow more Bt cotton
to combat ravaging bollworms, reduce planting costs and increase
yields. Other reports say China has decided to remove all
restrictions on where Bt cotton can be planted in the country and
that this opens Xinjiang and the Yangtze River Valley to Bt cotton.

But those groups that were - and still are, judging from Sharma's
article - opposed to the Green Revolution on ideological grounds seem
determined to deny the fruits of modern technologies to our farmers
and perpetuate their poverty and misery, keeping them forever in
bondage to fate and nature. They want our cotton farmers to be ruined
year after year by little caterpillars, to keep forever spraying
pesticides to get rid of these pests and to keep harming nature as
well as their own health in the process.
This is a response from Ranjana Smetacek, Director, Government and
Public Affairs, Monsanto Holdings Ltd, to a recent article by
Devinder Sharma on our Website, 'Pulling the wool over Bt cotton'.


The UK's Non-science Curriculum

- David Dunn, http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/000000005535.htm

The UK science minister Lord Sainsbury has an admirable record of
promoting and defending science. At the start of 2001, Lord Sainsbury
defended the Huntingdon Life Sciences facility against the arguments
of animal rights protestors, and attested to the safety of the MMR
vaccine. In 2000, aware of the long-term decline of scientific
research establishments in this country, he announced that cash would
be made available to entice 'brain-drained' scientists back from

Yet the New Labour government seems to be hoist by its own petard
when it comes to combatting public antipathy in matters scientific.
If the National Curriculum for science is anything to go by, it looks
as if the next generation will be in the dark as to what science
actually is. The science curriculum has come to include the teaching
of a set of values which, it is claimed, are universally held. These
are laid out in the 'Statement of values' produced by the Forum for
Values in Education and Society. The forum explains to teachers how
each individual curriculum - English, history, science and so on -
can be used to teach this set of values.

But isn't science value-free, by its very nature?
I can put it no better than the US professor of mathematics Norman
Levitt. 'Science, bluntly, has no room for human values, purposes,
ethics or hopes', he writes. 'Science does not - cannot - endorse
what we most desperately want to believe, nor refute what we most
want to reject.' Science is an epistemological activity, the success
of which is measured by its ability to describe accurately the
processes and mechanisms of nature. Such a clear statement regarding
the nature of science is entirely absent from the science curriculum.
And the four themes laid out in the statement of values - the self,
relationships, society and the environment - all play a role in
turning science in the curriculum into something that is not, well,

Reading the section of the science curriculum titled 'Learning across
the National Curriculum' , you could be forgiven for thinking that
science and religion are close cousins - rather than the deadly
rivals they are. For example, pupils' spiritual development can be
aided through science, by 'sensing the natural...world', 'reflecting
on their part in it' and 'exploring questions such as when does life
start and where does life come from?'. Inspiring as science may be,
its purpose is neither spiritual nor moral development. It is a
difficult and often frustrating activity. Scientists do not 'sense'
nature, but meticulously measure aspects of it, develop abstract
theories to explain their observations and attempt to reproduce their
results under a variety of conditions. Even learning basic science at
school is challenging, and the real inspiration comes from realising
that humans really can understand more and more of nature.

The curriculum undermines the epistemological authenticity of
science. Under the heading 'Cultural development' , we find that
'cultural differences can influence the extent to which scientific
ideas are accepted, used and valued'. In one sense this is a banal
sentiment: of course society influences the direction that scientific
research progresses, and which scientific discoveries are valued over
others. Such an interpretation doesn't detract from the fact that
science is a reliable method, or that its results are above any moral
viewpoint. But a more developed version of this statement is
currently popular among many academic thinkers - namely, that science
is 'constructed' through negotiations of scientists, and is just
another story with no superior claim to truth over myths or

There is some irony in the fact that myth-making is exactly what the
science curriculum seems to be doing: particularly in relation to the
environment. The statement of values claims that the environment is
'the basis of life and a source of wonder and inspiration', and adds
that we should 'understand the place of human beings within nature'
and 'ensure that development can be justified'. We should also
understand how to 'repair...habitats damaged by human development'.

Yet the fact is that humans do not experience nature in a benign way.
As we have recently been reminded only too well, nature is also the
source of disease, famine, floods and earthquakes. Human development
does not only damage natural habitats: of greater significance,
surely, is the way that development alleviates, or even eliminates,
the cost to humans of these disasters.

The National Curriculum argues that sustainable development is a
naturally held philosophy. But it isn't. It is an economic policy
that society has fairly recently adopted, for a whole range of social
reasons - not least, a growing lack of confidence in the
possibilities provided by economic, social and scientific
development. How can a concept like sustainable development then be
lauded as a universal, timeless value?

The most damaging aspect of the science curriculum is, for me, the
way it seems to redefine what science is, and then tries to use
science to justify the policy. For example, pupils should be taught
'how to treat animals with sensitivity', 'to recognise similarities
and differences between themselves and others and to treat others
with sensitivity', to 'care for the environment' , and 'about the
importance of sustainable development' . You may or may not hold
these as values, but that is beside the point. They are nothing to do
with science.

The curriculum also deals with scientific evidence and the
dissemination of information. At GCSE level, the curriculum has that
pupils should be taught 'to consider the power and limitations of
science in addressing industrial, social and environmental questions,
including the kinds of questions science can and cannot answer,
uncertainties in scientific knowledge, and the ethical issues
involved' . Is this some kind of attempt to prepare pupils for the
ridiculous way in which scientific issues tend to be broadly
discussed? Here we have the confusion between science and technology,
science and ethics, science and social policy, and the 'uncertainty'
which is usually wheeled out by eco-worriers to halt new development.
And instead of trying to resolve this confusion, the UK government
wants to teach it to school pupils.

The difference between science and ethics is the difference between
knowledge and applications of knowledge. Science is knowledge of
nature and of the effects of human intervention in nature.
Applications of knowledge, on the other hand, depend on the society
that possesses that knowledge. Natural science is unable to answer
questions of an ethical nature. Consequently, science should be
studied in its own right; and ethical questions about applications of
science should be kept separate and studied in history, politics or
citizenship classes.

As to the issue of scientific uncertainty, witness the debacle over
the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Dr Wakefield, who first
raised the possibility of a link between the vaccine and autism, but
who is unable to reproduce his results, or otherwise convince his
peers, has stated that he wants to see this through 'to the end' .
With some amplification from the media and interest groups, anxious
parents see a brave researcher holding out against the establishment.
However the research establishment simply see unsubstantiated claims,
and a lack of scientific rigour.

No statistical scientist would ever claim with certainty to have
ruled out a causative factor. Uncertainty is an inevitable part of
statistical science. According to the science curriculum, uncertainty
rules the day. But in reality it does not. Teaching pupils the
rudiments of double-blind tests, clinical trial methods and general
principles of factoring studies for other influences would clear
these scientific confusions. It should be patently obvious that a
measles epidemic would be a certain catastrophe, and that the
research points to (but of course can never prove) MMR vaccination
not being the cause of autism. But, according to the science
curriculum, all this shows is uncertainty.

In focusing on the problems with the new science curriculum, my
analysis here might seem one-sided. A glimpse at past and specimen
exam papers show that most of the subject matter is still good old
standard school science - the physiology of plants, chemical
reactions and electricity are all still there. Nonetheless, in
physics GCSE pupils are asked to support reports that mobile phones
may cause memory loss - an exercise worth twice as many marks as
knowing what microwaves are. In biology coursework, a possible topic
is to consider whether the compulsory vaccination programs of
Victorian England were ethically sound.

My proposal for the science curriculum is straightforward. The
existing curriculum should be torn up, and pupils should be taught
the basics of science, and how to recognise the difference between
ethics and science. Otherwise Lord Sainsbury and his beleaguered
colleagues can expect more of the same.
David Dunn is a research associate in the Department of Aeronautics,
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London