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August 7, 2001


Shakespeare ; Reducing the Fear ; Organic Safer 'Evidence'


Today's Topics in AgBioView at http://www.agbioworld.org/

* Shakespeare Speaks on Biotechnology!
* Lessen The Fear Of Genetically Engineered Crops
* Apel: Wanting Mommy!
* Organically-Grown Food Is Safer And Healthier: Soil Association
* Evidence 'Supports Claims On Organic Food Safety'
* How To Talk To Protesters
* Rights of Access - IPR for Developing Countries
* Confronting Risks To The Global Food Supply
* What do U. S. High School Students Say about Biotech and Food?
* Utilization Of Molecular Markers In Breeding
* Science Search Engine on the Internet
* Survey?


Shakespeare Speaks on Biotechnology!

From: Michael Goodin

"Shakespeare Speaks on Biotech" is an outreach project that I dreamed up and with the assistance of many have brought to fruition. This talk uses quotes from Shakespeare to introduce concepts in biotechnology. I've presented the talk at a teachers convention and the response was excellent and several teachers have written to me that they will use the talk in their classrooms this fall.

The talk is now also posted at Peggy Lemaux's excellent site http://www.ucbiotech.org


- Michael Goodin, Ph.D.
Jackson Lab, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California at Berkeley


Lessen The Fear Of Genetically Engineered Crops

- Gregory A. Jaffe The Christian Science Monitor, August 8, 2001

Protesters carrying signs stating "Biocide is Homicide" and shouting concerns about the risks of eating genetically engineered foods recently demonstrated outside the biotechnology industry's annual convention. Inside the convention center, industry extolled the safety of genetically engineered foods and the benefits of future crops like "golden rice."

Neither corporate hyperbole nor radical slogans do much to inform the public. What is needed is the shaping of sensible measures to ensure that genetically engineered foods are safe. The first few first engineered crops are already providing remarkable benefits. Cotton modified to kill insects has greatly diminished farmers' use of toxic insecticides, thereby reducing costs, increasing yields, and, presumably, reducing harm to nontarget species. Likewise, biotech soybeans facilitate no-till farming, which reduces soil erosion and water pollution.

Despite such benefits, agricultural biotechnology is under siege for reasons good and bad. Activists have burned fields and bombed labs. Farmers will not plant genetically engineered sweet corn, sugar beets, and apples, for fear of consumer rejection. And countries in Europe and Asia refuse to import US-grown genetically engineered crops. Some countries now require labeling of foods containing engineered ingredients. Those requirements have spurred food processors, who want to avoid negative-sounding labels, to eliminate bioengineered ingredients. Buffeted by the polarized debate, many Americans oppose biotech foods, in part because farmers and seed companies get the benefits while consumers bear the risk. If anti-genetically engineered sentiment increases, US farmers may be forced to forgo the advantages of engineered crops. And most public and private investment in agricultural biotechnology would dry up.

To reap the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, minimize the risks, and boost public confidence, the US must upgrade its flawed regulatory system. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not formally approve any genetically engineered crops as safe to eat. Instead, it reviews safety data provided voluntarily by seed companies. That consultation process, which the FDA admits is "not a comprehensive scientific review of the data," culminates with the FDA stating only that it has "no further questions ... at this time." Although no health problems with genetically engineered crops have been detected, that industry-driven process is weak insurance. The recent FDA proposal requiring a formal notification before marketing a biotech food is an improvement. All biotech foods should go through a mandatory approval process with specific testing and data requirements. The National Academy of Sciences should be commissioned to recommend a precise method of assessment.

Genetically engineered crops also raise environmental concerns. They could lead to pesticide-resistant insects and weeds and might contaminate plants that are close relatives of the crops. To safeguard our ecosystem, the current laws need fixing. Congress should close regulatory gaps to ensure that all future applications of biotechnology, ranging from fast-growing fish to corn plants that produce industrial chemicals, receive thorough environmental reviews. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency must enforce restrictions it has imposed on bioengineered crops to help prevent emergence of insecticide-resistant pests.

Although strong regulations would minimize environmental and safety risks, nothing would boost public confidence more than engineered products that benefit consumers. No beneficial products currently exist.

Worldwide acceptance of biotechnology will only occur when other countries reap benefits from this technology. Instead of spending millions of dollars on feel-good advertising campaigns, the biotech industry should train developing-country scientists and fund research in those countries. Companies - and universities - should donate patented crops and processes to developing countries. Agricultural biotechnology is not a panacea for all agricultural problems here or abroad, nor is it free from risk. But, with adequate safeguards, it could provide tremendous benefits for an ever-populous, pesticide-drenched, and water-deficient globe.

Gregory Jaffe is co-director for the Project on Biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.


From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Wanting Mommy


Genoa, Italy was a fateful and significant location for the G-8 summit. Italy, world-famous for its legacy of fascism, drew fascists from around the world who demonstrated and destroyed on behalf of their innumerable causes.

This is, of course, a remarkable claim, demanding some justification.

It is generally agreed that fascism is a “revolution from the right,” rather than from the left. Distinguishing “right-wing” from “left-wing” politics is not always easy, but there are handy rules of thumb. The “right” prefers the status quo and opposes change, hence the term “reactionary.” The “left” prefers change, hence the word, “progressive.”

There are obvious parallels to these definitions of ‘left’ and ‘right.’ Perhaps chiefest among them are the perennial human yearnings for freedom and security, neither of which can be achieved together. Freedom offers personal choice and the opportunity for progress, which are quite obviously leftist in nature. Security clings to the status quo, or even yearns for a mythical past of quietude and harmony – quite obviously rightist.

If one is to accept the consensus of historians, it becomes quite obvious that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association* are fascist movements. They oppose progress and personal choice, while preaching the benefits of more government regulation and the “natural order.”

At first glance, wishes for more government regulation and demands for a “natural order” appear to be contradictory. However, on a predominant paradigm, they are not. In the natural order, mothers regulate, fathers liberate. Mothers offer safety, while demanding adherence to rules. Fathers teach the importance of personal capacity and the acceptance of risk.

This makes feminism a perfect proxy for eco-fascism, so it should be no surprise that Mae-Wan Ho and Vandana Shiva have found comfortable niches in a movement that ranks security, safety and order, i.e., ‘Gaia,’ above other virtues.

So: why do people destroy experimental crops or riot in places like Genoa?
Because they want their mommy, real bad.

*A group aptly named. Organic food is distinguishable from other forms only by the label, making what organic farmers do with “the soil” the only real distinction. However, few people eat soil.


Research Shows Organically-Grown Food Is Safer And Healthier, Insists Soil

The Independent August 7, 2001

THE ORGANIC food lobby launched a scathing attack on the Food Standards Agency yesterday for claiming that there is no scientific evidence to justify claims that organic produce is safer and healthier than conventional food.

The Soil Association, which certifies organic food and farmers, says in a report on food and human health that the FSA was wrong to claim, as it did a year ago, that people are being fooled into believing that organic food is healthier. Research commissioned by the Soil Association into more than 400 studies published in scientific literature has demonstrated "significant differences" between organically grown food and non- organic food, Patrick Holden, the director of the association, said.

He said: "There is indicative evidence suggesting nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food. More research is needed ... but if the indications of the available evidence are confirmed, there could be major implications for public health. "This report contradicts Sir John Krebs, the head of the FSA, who said last year that there was not enough information available to be able to say that organic food is nutritionally different from non- organic food."

Sir John said in September last year that an investigation by the agency had failed to find evidence to support the view that organic produce was either safer or better for the consumer. "They're not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the FSA, if they think they're buying food with extra nutritional quality or extra safety. We don't have the evidence to support those claims," he said.

The Soil Association report, compiled by Shane Heaton, a nutritionist, does not prove that organic food is healthier, but points to studies that indicate it may be better.

Sales of organic food have soared by 40 per cent a year in Britain, with turnover reaching pounds 546m last year and expected to top pounds 1bn by 2002. The growth is largely a result of people believing organic food is better for them and their children. The Soil Association report says: "Until now, this perception that organically grown food is `better for you' appears to have been largely based on intuition rather than conclusive evidence. Until now, reviews of the relevant scientific literature have painted an inconclusive picture, highlighting the contrasts and contradictions between research results."

Mr Heaton said that his review broke new ground by investigating the methodologies of many studies and throwing out those he judged to have "fundamental flaws". He said: "Once these flawed studies are discarded and a wider consideration of food quality is included, the remaining robust and reliable scientific data reveals a clearer picture."

The Soil Association argues that organic food contains higher levels of nutrients, minerals and vitamins, and lower levels of potentially harmful substances, such as hydrogenated fats and phosphoric acid, when compared to non-organic food. The report claims, for example, that two scientific reviews examining 35 separate studies have shown that organic vegetables are far less likely to contain pesticide residues than non-organic vegetables. The association points to worrying levels of pesticides in non- organic fruit and vegetables. "According to the latest available figures, nearly half [48 per cent] of all fruit and vegetables tested in the UK in 1999 contained detectable pesticide residues, as did 28.6 per cent of all foods tested," it says.

Although studies have shown that organic food is not totally free of pesticide contamination, the question at the heart of the debate is whether the relatively small amounts involved have any significant impact on human health. The Soil Association and the FSA agree that more research is needed to assess the health implications of mixing residues from a number of different pesticides, which can be present on organic and non-organic food.

The FSA said: "[The report] doesn't make a convincing case that there is any significant difference between organic and conventionally produced food. Clearly further research is necessary." The Soil Association met with the FSA last week to discuss the report. Mr Heaton said that he asked the agency for the evidence on which it had based its dismissive conclusions. "We don't actually know what scientific literature the FSA has looked at. They said they looked at informed opinion in the building," he said.

A spokeswoman for the FSA said that the agency had taken into account about 30 published studies it considered relevant to answering the question about whether there are any health benefits in organic food.


Evidence 'Supports Claims On Organic Food Safety'

- John Mason 07 Aug 2001 Financial Times

Scientific evidence supports claims that organic food is safer to eat than meat and vegetables produced by conventional farming methods, according to a report by the Soil Association, the organisation that promotes organic agriculture.

A review of more than 400 published scientific papers concluded that organic food avoided many of the health dangers associated with the use of pesticides and food additives while producing more nutritious food. The report's conclusions contradict Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, who last year said there was not enough information to say organic food was safer or more nutritious than non-organic.

The study said that according to the British Society for Allergy, Environmental and Nutritional Medicine, pesticide residues - banned in organic food - remained a cause of concern.

It rejected a claim, often made by supporters of conventional and agricultural biotechnology, that organic farming led to an increased risk of food poisoning through agents such as e.coli or mycotoxins. The Food Standards Agency backed this claim, the report said.

Organically grown food also presented fewer dangers over the use of food additives linked to health problems. Organic farming currently permits the use of about 30 additives compared with more than 500 in non-organic food production. Additives banned by the organic industry include phosphoric acid, often used in colas, which has been linked to calcium depletion and bone degeneration.

The report calls for more government support for organic farming. It said investment could be repaid by savings to the National Health Service budget that would follow increased emphasis on preventing disease by improving diet.


From: Andrew Apel
Subject: News That Won't Happen


Apparently, the "report" by the Soil Association, an organic activist group, was so conclusive on the benefits of organic farming that ... well, that the organic claims have to be studied. Britain’s Food Standard Agency and the Soil Association have agreed to meet later this year to discuss conducting research to compare organic and conventional food. The meeting will also include representatives from other activist groups. Doubtless Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will donate generously to support any research effort which results.

That won't happen, of course. Similarly, there will be no research program agreed upon. Both sides already know that a realistic comparison would show organic to be the big loser. The real question is: how much news can they generate by arguing over what experiments to perform? A really big fight might help sell more bug-infested carrots.


How To Talk To Protesters

Noisy Demonstrations Against Global Firms Are Here To Stay.; And Savvy CEOs Are Listening To Protest-Group Leaders

- Michael Elliott, Time Magazine 13 Aug 2001 (From: Katie Thrasher )

A few years ago, Dr. Daniel Vasella, the Swiss CEO of pharmaceutical giant Novartis, told an American interviewer that his firm was going to have to spend a lot more time talking to NGOs. The journalist's response: "What's an NGO?" Let's hope he knows now. NGOs- -nongovernmental organizations--have won significant influence over global companies. The demonstrations against global capitalism at the G-8 summit in Genoa were the latest manifestation of a trend that-- mostly quietly and behind the scenes--is defining our age. From Home Depot (criticized for its use of tropical hardwoods) to Starbucks (attacked for the treatment of workers on coffee plantations), from Big Oil (a perennial target for environmentalists) to tuna canners (think dolphins), companies are increasingly changing their business practices when pressured by activists.

Confrontation between activists and businesses isn't inevitable. Indeed, in the past few years, companies from Shell to papermaker Westvaco have found common ground with environmental groups. In the wake of the riots in Genoa, I asked some smart observers of the scene how to make those relationships work. Their advice: FIRST, ACCEPT THAT THERE'S NO GOING BACK. Manny Amadi, CEO of Cause & Effect Marketing in London, says companies can no longer expect to escape scrutiny from activists. Remembering the worldwide damage to its reputation that Shell suffered because of its troubles a few years ago in the Niger delta, of all unlikely places, he says, "Nobody can hide." But Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of New York City-based public relations consultancy Ruder-Finn, says few companies have yet acknowledged this "profound change in our society."

GOOD WORKS AREN'T ENOUGH. "You can't buy corporate social responsibility," says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide in New York City. "You have to do it." Amadi argues that many American companies confuse social responsibility with philanthropy. Nike long prided itself on writing checks to charities in the Pacific Northwest. But for a global brand, that wasn't enough. When activists attacked the company because of working conditions in its Asian factories, says Amadi, a company that had thought of itself as a "good guy" had to rethink its game.

KNOW WHOM YOU ARE TALKING TO. Vasella divides organizations into those that genuinely want a dialogue with his drug company--he mentions the famine-relief group Oxfam--and those, like many animal- rights activists, that don't. "Don't try to convert the unconvertible," he counsels. Talk to the "decent people" who respect different points of view. From the other side, Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth UK, concedes that some activists believe talking to corporations is a sellout and only violent revolution will change the world.

THINK GLOBALLY. THE ACTIVISTS DO. Bloomgarden says the Internet makes it possible to "organize a global community around a certain issue in a split second." In particular, if you're an American firm, listen to what your European divisions and partners say. Many of tomorrow's issues, particularly in the fields of environmentalism and international human rights, get an airing in Europe before they do in the U.S. Amadi observes that most European companies have a broader view of who their stakeholders are; American ones often concentrate solely on their stockholders. Secrett fingers Monsanto, once a world leader in biotechnology, as a classic example of a company that thought it could adopt American tactics and "resist and fight" those Europeans who opposed genetically modified crops. (It lost.)

It's easy to dismiss petrol-bomb throwers, but when millions of young people feel that the opportunities and costs of globalization aren't being fairly distributed, companies that appear sympathetic may gain a competitive edge. European and Japanese companies report that young graduates ask tough questions about a potential employer's social practices. And European firms, with their more developed commitment to social responsibility, Edelman argues, are developing a "halo effect" among consumers worldwide. For American firms competing globally, that's a reason to know what NGO stands for.

TIME.com ON AOL See http://time.com/global for more on relations between NGOs and business.


Rights of Access

Editorial, Nature Biotechnology, August 2001 Vol 19 No 8 p 693

Biotechnology tends to be the preserve of the world's richest nations. It is the rich who run biotechnology companies, it is the rich who fund them, and it is the rich who consume their products. Developing countries don't really get a look. Biotechnology's medicines are too expensive. Its patented crops and seeds are too inaccessible. And, in any case, for the most part, those products are not the medicines and crops that people in developing nations want or need. It should not come as a surprise to any one that the priorities of the rich, capitalist nations are not those of the rest of the world. Of a total $70 billion spent on health care research worldwide in 1998, for instance, only $100 million was set aside for malaria research (about a tenth of the cost of the US Department of Defense's recent "experiment" of intercepting a ballistic missile with a ground-launched exo-atmospheric kill vehicle).

Without doubt, the developing world could benefit from biotechnology. The world's poorest nations are home to 98% of all children who die before their fifth birthday (many from malnutrition and starvation), and 99% of all people who succumb to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, measles, tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. Crassly, one could define these needs as "market opportunities". The argument is certainly being made—most recently in a Human Development 2001 report from the United Nations—that poorer countries should make biotechnology development an urgent priority.

But many are saying that inequities in the patent system—particularly the World Trade Organization TRIPs (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) agreement—are repressing biotechnology in poor countries, allowing multinational corporations to establish monopolies, drive out local competition, divert research away from the needs of poor countries, and force up the prices of drugs and seeds. The recent wrangles between Western drug companies and the governments of South Africa and Brazil (see p. 698) are a case in point.

What seems to be getting lost in all this is that a balance must be struck between the rights of rich-world companies to recoup the cost of developing (both successful and failed) products and the plight of nations too poor to buy the products they need.

Biotechnology is difficult enough to achieve in places where markets are lucrative, R&D spending is high, and commercial practices are predictable. It is hard to imagine how it can succeed in countries where R&D expenditure is a fraction of GDP (usually less than a quarter of that in developed nations), skilled and educated labor is at a priority, inflation is rampant, investors fear for their property rights (or lives), and political turmoil is constant.

In this environment, it might be appropriate if there was a formal commitment to be more flexible about the imposition of intellectual property on researchers in developing countries. We must give developing world research a chance to foster its own biotechnology to address its own problems. Once these countries have formed an industrial base mature enough to foster homegrown innovation, patent enforcement will become a matter of urgency and self-interest for them as well. That is the time when a level playing field for global intellectual property barriers will be appropriate.


World Food Prize Symposium Confronts Risks To The Global Food Supply


International Symposium Set for October 18-19 in Des Moines—In Honor of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug on the Occasion of the 15th Anniversary of the Founding of The Prize

International experts will discuss the trend lines in eradicating malnutrition set forth by the United Nations in 1996 at The World Food Prize International Symposium, Risks to the World Food Supply in the 21st Century. The Symposium will present a strategic overview of the global situation five years after the UN summit on food security. “New risks we now face have enormous implications for the goal of halving the number of malnourished people by 2015,” said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of the WFP. Quinn said these risks now include:

* Globalized Trade and the Increased Potential for Pandemics such as Foot and Mouth Disease
* The Emergence of Bio-Terrorism as a Credible Threat to Agriculture
* Shrinking Supplies of Water for Agriculture and Human Consumption
* Arable Land Under Pressure to Sustain Food Production
* The Impact of AIDS on Food Production in Africa

The 2001 World Food Prize International Symposium is being held in honor of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution. Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for developing high-yielding grains that saved millions from starvation in South Asia and Latin America. Dr. Borlaug conceived of the World Food Prize 15 years ago as a means to inspire and recognize “Nobel Like” achievements in increasing the quality, quantity, and availability of food. Ambassador Quinn said it is the intention of Mr. John Ruan and The World Food Prize Council of Advisors to make this year’s 15th anniversary World Food Prize events include a special retrospective on Dr. Borlaug’s life and great humanitarian accomplishments.

Dr. Borlaug, has continued his tireless efforts to reduce human suffering and build peace through promoting food self-sufficiency in Africa, Asia, and South America. At age 87, he chairs the World Food Prize Council of Advisors and remains active in fulfilling the mission of The Prize. Many of the World Food Prize Laureates from the past 15 years are expected to join Dr. Borlaug at the Des Moines Marriott Hotel on October 18 and 19 to participate in the International Symposium.

Anyone interested in attending the Symposium on October 18-19 and the Laureate Award Ceremony the evening of October 18 at the Des Moines Civic Center is invited to register online at http://www.worldfoodprize.org or by telephone: 515-245-3783. Questions about the program may be directed to Ambassador Quinn or Judith Pim of The World Food Prize Foundation (515-245-3783; WFP@worldfoodprize.org).


The Safety of Genetically Modified Crops and Their Role in Feeding Countries in the 21st Century

-What do U. S. High School Students Say?


Titles include - Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms: The Amish Syndrome , Is there a reason to fear GMOs?, Can the Perceived Risks be Outweighed by the Projected Good? , A Hungry and Changing World , GMO Safety: Brazil- One Country’s Concerns, Playing God , Biotech Foods: Save or Scratch , War Has Been Waged On The Future: Where Do You Stand? , Shoot First and Ask Questions Later: the U.S. perspective on genetically modified organisms


International Conference on the Utilization Of Molecular Markers In Breeding and Industrial Processes: Bangalore, India. May 26-28, 2002


During the past decade, rapid development in marker technology has resulted in a wealth of applications leading to improvements in crop and livestock breeding and the monitoring and quality control of industrial processes. In addition, the efforts in genomic research in many species are generating enormous amounts of data that can be used for these processes. This conference will provide an overview of the state-of-the-art marker technologies and their application in different fields. The topics are divided in to three themes and will be addressed to by internationally renowned speakers from industry and academia.

The application of molecular markers is revolutionising the way in which modern plant breeding is conducted. The use of markers allows a more precise selection at an early stage of plant development, thereby saving costs and providing reliable quality control methods. More importantly, molecular markers elucidate the genetic basis for more complex traits, thereby paving the way for the development of new varieties with improved characteristics. Theme 1 will contain sessions on Marker Assisted Breeding, Markers for Crop Protection, Quality Improvement, Quality Control, Plant Breeding Rights/ EDV Issues and Bioinformatics.imal Breeding

In animal breeding too, the use of genetic markers to manage genetic variation is rapidly increasing. Marker information enhances management of genetic variation which, till date, is dependent almost entirely upon pedigree information. Genetic similarities based on molecular markers can be much precisely determined by marker information. Whole-genome screenings with a large number of genetic markers can be used to localize the genes influencing important traits, thus facilitating the much convenient indirect selection. Marker information is especially useful for early selection (e.g. embryonic stage), for traits that can not be measured on candidates eligible for selection (e.g. milk yield), of for traits measured late in life (e.g. meat quality). Theme 2 will cover recent progress in the field of marker development and their application in the farm animal industry.

Application of DNA markers in industrial processes facilitates cost reduction, improvement in quality (of both process and product) and higher success rate in innovation. Molecular markers in bio-industrial processes (food, beverage and pharmaceutical industry) are nowadays primarily used to monitor the quality of the production process, maintenance of the quality of the microbial strains (purity and genetic stability) and for protection of intellectual property rights on the strains. Novel marker applications will lead to the improvement of strains for yield, flavour, enhancement of nutritional value, cost-economy etc. Theme 3 will cover examples of such marker applications from experts in the field.


A Science Search Engine on the Internet


- a free search engine that locates scientific information on the Internet.

Scirus delivers relevant search results because it focuses on scientific information, indexes complete documents, searches the whole Web including access-controlled sites, and reads non-text files like PDF (see http://www.scirus.com/about?p).

At this stage Scirus covers more than 60 million science related pages from the Web as well as membership sources such as ScienceDirect, MEDLINE on BioMedNet, Beilstein on ChemWeb and Neuroscion. This is only the beginning - Scirus aims to include more databases in the near future.

Click on http://www.scirus.com/?p to do a search and see how Scirus performs.