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 12, 2001


'Terminator' Inventor Responds; Ecology; First World Fears;


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

* Responses to the 'Terminator' Question by Bill Muir and Inventors
* Soil Association Report
* Ecology and the Larger Perspective
* Are First World Fears Causing the Third World to go Hungry?
* Field of Genes, Making Sense of Biotechnology in Agriculture
* World Food Summit - Rome, November 2001
* Dispelling 'Frankenfear': The Case for Genetically Modified Food
* Institute an Endangered Humans Act
* Johannesburg 2002: The World Summit on Sustainable Development'
* Stop the Frankenstein Food Menace - Use DNA Free Food!
Please send your responses to

From: William Muir
Subject: Re: USDA Says Yes To Terminator

Hartmut Meyer wrote:
> Re: USDA Says Yes To Terminator
> Dear William, in your reccent contribution in AgBioView on the Terminator..........
> I asked following questions:

> 1) Is my above understanding correct?

Yes and no, this technology can be used to either stop germination, pollen, or seed formation, depending on where the gene was targeted. I have heard reports that the terminator gene by Monsanto was intended to stops germination. However, that is not to say they could not have targeted it at gametogenesis, this is the approach we are taking in transgenic fish.

> If yes: 2) What will happen to those sexually compatible wild populations
> which year by year produce a certain amount of infertile individuals?

It is important to examine which types of plants this is introduced into: first is it a natural self pollinated variety (such as soybeans) or an open pollinator (such as maize) and second do wild relatives exist which can be crossed to the domesticated species. Domesticated species such as maize and soybean do not have any wild relatives in most countries (except perhaps South or Central America) they can cross to but canola and sunflower do.

Thus a terminator type gene in soybeans is double safe because the pollen does not spread and would have nothing in the wild to spread to. If it were put into maize, the terminator could drift to neighbors fields and reduce yield (the next year), however the impact would be minor for three reasons: first the amount of cross pollination decreases by the square of the distance from the source, second the pollen must compete with existing pollen in the neighbors field (for which there is much more pollen), and third the effect only occurs when the neighbor tries to replant the seed, maize is usually produced form hybrid seed and rarely replanted. Seed stock companies take great care to ensure their varieties are free from unwanted crosses, thus again I do not see it as a problem in maize.

If the gene were put in canola it is possible the pollen would cross to wild relatives, however again the impact would be minimal as the wild relative's seeds would not germinate and spread the gene into the population.

> 2) Will the population suffer from this cross pollination with Terminator genes?

No for the above reasons, also the limiting factor with weeds is space to grow, not number of seeds produced.

> 3) What will happen to farmers who rely on own seed production and
>seed saving from their harvest, if their plants will be cross pollinated
> by neighbouring Terminator crops year by year?

>From my reply above, I see a very minimal impact and would depend on the species, for soybeans or maize, no problem. For canola it could reduce the weed problem some and certainly stop spread of herbicide or Bt gene spread into neighbors or wild populations.

> Unluckily nobody could answer my questions, because those speakers
> developed their arguments and rationale of the lecture on the
> understanding that Terminator genes prevent transgene spreading as such.

I hope this answers your questions, if not let me know and I will try again.

-- Bill Muir , Professor of Genetics, Purdue University; W. Lafayette, IN 47907-1151


Response from the Inventors of the TPS (a.ka. 'Terminator' Gene)

- From: Mel Oliver of USDA (Plant Stress and Water Conservation Lab, Lubbock, TX ) and Harry Collins of Delta and Pine Land Co.

We will refer to the Terminator trait as the 'Technology Protection System', the correct name.

First, your premise is correct; TPS will not prevent cross pollination or outcrossing, but will prevent transgene escape.

*Answer to Question 1
The plants that are in a farmer's field will produce seeds that will not germinate, if planted. The pollen produced on the plants in the farmer's field, because these plants would be homozygous for the TPS trait, will carry the sterility to any plants to which it outcrosses. Thus, any outcrossing will produce sterile seed and the TPS trait will have no opportunity to segregate in subsequent generations. Sterility is the one trait that does not propagate itself. So, the wild species to which the outcrossing occurred, will not produce a population which year by year will contain a certain amount of infertile individuals.

*Answer to Question 2
Therefore, based on the explanation above, in answer to question 2, the population of the wild species will not suffer from this cross pollination with the TPS. Actually, because the TPS will stop the escape of other transgenic traits from a crop species, the wild population will benefit from the use of the TPS.

*Answer too Question 3
Actually we have concentrated on the design of TPS for highly self pollinated crops such as soybeans, cotton, rice, and wheat . It is true that plants outcrossed to TPS pollen will produce sterile seed , as noted above. However, with the low frequency of outcrossing in soybeans, rice, cotton, and wheat, the crop in the field of the farmer who wants to save seed and who has a field adjacent to the TPS field, will have been self pollinated before the TPS pollen reaches the flowers in his crop and thus the frequency of sterile seed will probably be less than 1% and non-discernable. Therefore, with these highly self pollinated crops the farmer of a non TPS field may save his seed with no negative effects.


From: "Roger Morton"
Subject: Soil Association Report

Perhaps this it the critical point about the FSAs report : "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." - The Independent August 7, 2001

Didn't we also hear that the report looked at 400 references? My reading of this quote suggests that what the FSA have done is taken 400 references and then done a report using the 30 references they "considered relevant". One would have to ask what criteria the FSA used to decide which 30 of 400 references were "considered relevant". Could it be that the criteria was - data shows a benefit -relevant. Data does not show a benefit - not relevant?


From: Malcolm Livingstone
Subject: Ecology

May Berenbaum et al are quite right that insects will evolve resistance to pesticides. I enjoy their examples and the interesting science of documenting evolution in action. However the process of describing these events in no way offers a genuine long term solution. It makes not the slightest difference whether crops are protected by transgenics or by conventional spraying - of course resistance will develop. This phenomonon is a simple example of evolution by natural (or unnatural) selection.

The key question, which Berenbaum et al, do make an attempt to answer is what strategy is likely in the long term to maximise agricultural production while causing the least damage to the environment and to human health.

It is obvious that to sow less crops on a given acreage means more land will be needed to grow crops. What I would like to see some ecologists try to answer is whether it is better for the environment in the long term to plough more land and use more diversity in each field or to use less land and less diversity? It is clear that land that is not farmed might contain much greater biodiversity than farmed land (however it is farmed).

It is also possible that GM crops will require less application of pesticide. The application of less exogenous pesticide will improve the health of farming communities. Will it increase the rate of pest resistance? I don't think so but it is possible. However the best way of reducing the rate of insect resistance in GM or any other crop is the use of multiple strategies. We should continue to use chemical sprays on GM crops but less than before. We should use multiple resistance genes in GM crops (not just one - three based on 3 different approaches would be a good start). We should continue rotating crops.

Resistance is inevitable unless we keep moving the goal posts. There is no choice but to keep developing new technologies, new chemicals and novel farming practices - keep them "guessing". One interesting point raised by Berenbaum was that plants "conserve" their insect fighting properties until needed. First of all so can farmers. Secondly the development of transgenes that only express in response to an elicitor is well developed.

It is the case that many scientists are not involved in every aspect of agriculture and ecology. Indeed it is impossible to do so. However there is a definite and inevitable tone of pessimism in the results of environmental scientists when they simply communicate the results. After all an experiment designed to test for the levels of arsenic in groundwater will obviously highlight the result that it is there but rarely highlight the fact that it is everywhere, and always has been, or that the levels are perfectly safe. There is an underlying assumption in society that if a certain level of poison is dangerous then all levels are dangerous. Fluoridation of drinking water is an example.

Molecular biologists are often accused of being too reductionist and not seeing the bigger picture. I think this accusation could just as easily be levied at environmental scientists. Scientists of all kinds should be prepared to engage in public debate that tries to look at the bigger picture. It is no use to society if toxins are identified in a particular environment and the only solution offered is to stop growing crops or to give up motor vehicles. It is not going to happen.

I think that the use of multiple strategies and the continual development of technology is vital in our efforts to feed our population and protect the environment. This is one reason that I am so disappointed by the rejection of GM crops by the environmental movement. When was the last time we heard of a practical solution to these problems by the environmental lobby?

- Malcolm Livingstone


Are First World Fears Causing the Third World to go Hungry?

- Jessica Reaves, Time, July 09, 2001

'People in the U.S. and Western Europe have qualms about genetically modified foods. But does that mean we should deny those foods to developing nations who are struggling to feed their populations? A new UN report suggests the answer is no. '

Ask the average American consumer what she thinks of genetically modified foods, and she’ll probably wrinkle her nose in distaste, asking, "Do we really want to risk eating Frankenfood? Is it worth it?"

For many in the developed world, especially Western Europe and the U.S., the answer may be no. But for citizens of developing nations, the outlook (and the answer) is very different. The creation of genetically modified foods — like drought-resistant corn, for example, or super-nutritional rice — holds enormous promise for developing nations. But even as scientists develop GM crops with ever-increasing precision and skill, there is growing concern that first world disquiet over food safety and genetic engineering may slow or even stop the dissemination of bountiful GM crops to the countries where they are most needed.

First world qualms versus third world hunger
That concern takes center stage in a new publication from the United Nations Development Program. The UN Human Development Report, scheduled for release Tuesday in Mexico City, examines the tension between environmental concerns over GM foods and human rights concerns over famine and malnutrition. The report’s findings are both complex and extremely straightforward: Consumed by privileged worry over the long-term safety of GM crops (and, in some cases, actively slowing the development of new technology) the West has shackled the autonomy of developing nations.

The UNDP believes those nations should be permitted to evaluate GM technology independently of Western political tensions. "There may well be food risks inherent in GM crops, but they are as yet unproven," says Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UNDP. "But those speculative risks have to take second place to the fact that hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry every night. We’re not advocating the suspension of responsible public policy; just the opposite, in fact. We’re saying we cannot turn our back on prolonged malnutrition and hunger."

Kate Raworth, an economist with the United Nations Development Program and co-author of the Human Development Report, spoke with TIME.com Monday.

* TIME.com: What are the main points you hope the public will glean from this report?
- Kate Raworth: First, this is a complex issue. One of the problems with the debate so far is that it's been couched in very black and white terms. We're trying to bring out a more balanced approach and address the issues not just as they apply to the US and Western Europe but to developing countries as well. A more balanced approach means looking not just at the risks of change but also at the potential benefits and the cost of inertia. For example, 40 countries are not on track to meet the UN Millennium Goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. Twenty-one of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

We're definitely not saying GM food is The Solution to the problem of hunger — it’s going to take social and political change too — but we are saying that technology is one of the ways to meet that goal. Another major issue is that currently the private sector owns the key tools of this technology. And that means the agenda of how it is used is not being turned toward the needs of poor people. We're calling for greater public investment so that GM technology is not used just to pursue commercial interests but to meet human needs.

* Would you say the UNDP report makes a value judgment about GM crops?
- No, we're not trying to make value judgments. We're saying it's up to individual countries and communities to make those judgments themselves, provided they have the capacity to handle those risks. In Europe and the US, millions of people are dependent on their mobile phones — without the certainty that there is no cost to their personal health. That’s a risk that people have chosen to take themselves. Likewise, we're not pushing GM technology, nor are we saying it should be banned. But we are saying let's look at this debate from the perspective of people in developing countries, and let them weigh the risks and benefits themselves.

As Nigeria's minister of agricultural and rural development said, "We don't want to be denied this technology because of a misguided notion that we don't understand the dangers of the future consequences."

* Are developing nations by and large accepting of GM technology?
- Some developing countries have taken a lead with GM technology, such as Argentina, China and Egypt. But many other countries are reluctant and unsure. Whether or not GM technology is appropriate will vary from country to country. That's why we are not calling for a blanket decision either for or against GM technology. It depends on the characteristic of each crop, on the environment it is to be used in and the capacity of the country and community to handle it safely. But let’s not forget the risks of common current practices: many farm workers are already suffering bad health from exposure to pesticides and fertilizers and these can pollute the soil too.

* What can be done to allow developing countries to control their own development of GM food? Is there adequate infrastructure to support development?
- More public investment in GM technology, both by national governments and by international research groups, would certainly help. That way each nation can can adapt and make use of global research if it chooses. Every country that wants to use GM technology also needs to establish a strong bio-safety system to ensure that any risks that these new crops might bring can be handled safely. And part of having an effective bio-safety system means setting up consultations with farmers and consumers so that informed and open debates can be held and communities can make their own choices of whether or not they want to grow, or buy, these crops. We support labeling of GM foods because of heightened public concerns. If people are concerned, they should be able to make informed decisions.

*What are the benefits, other than food-related, for countries developing GM crops?
- The benefits, of course, depend on how the technology is used. If GM techniques are dominated by private sector investment alone, they are most likely to be used to develop characteristics valuable to rich farmers and rich consumers — such as tomatoes with a longer shelf life. It will take far greater public investment to turn the tools of GM to the needs of poor communities. The potential is to develop crops that have better drought tolerance, greater pest resistance, higher yields and greater nutritional content — and all of those characteristics are important in improving the food security of poor rural communities.


Field of Genes, Making Sense of Biotechnology in Agriculture


An innovative curriculum designed to boost students' enthusiasm and interest in the burgeoning field of biotechnology. This leaders' guide is designed to help elementary and high school teachers, non-formal educators, and volunteers provide youth with a basic understanding of the biotechnology field today as well as its future direction. Each chapter contains useful background information followed by a series of age appropriate activities for use with youth. This material was designed for use with youth aged 5-18. Feel free to download the activities and try them for yourself!

"Field of Genes: Making Sense of Biotechnology in Agriculture" was produced by National 4-H Council. To receive a hard copy of the Field of Genes curriculum, please contact


World Food Summit


Five years ago, a landmark gathering of world leaders pledged to work towards eradicating hunger. This year, a follow-up meeting, World Food Summit: five years later, will be held at FAO headquarters in Rome, 5-9 November 2001. Participants will review progress made towards the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit - to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015 - and consider ways to accelerate the process.

"The purpose of this event is to give new impetus to worldwide efforts on behalf of hungry people," says FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "We must raise both the political will and the financial resources to fight hunger. The international community has repeatedly declared that it is dedicated to the eradication of poverty. Eliminating hunger is a vital first step."

The promise: a world free from hunger
A profound affront to human dignity and human rights, hunger afflicts more than 800 million people. It is a fundamental constraint to development, especially of children, compromising their chances of a healthy and fulfilled life. Hunger fuels conflict and crime, reduces productivity and shortens life span.

At the 1996 World Food Summit, representatives from 185 countries and the European Community vowed to achieve universal food security, the access of all people at all times to sufficient, high-quality, safe food to lead active and healthy lives. The pledge to cut the number of hungry people in half by 2015 provided a time-bound, measurable goal. Unfortunately, current data indicates that the number of undernourished is falling at a rate of 8 million each year, far below the average rate of 20 million per year needed to reach that target.

Although headway has been made and some striking success stories exist in individual countries and communities, much remains to be done.

Measures to accelerate progress
The World Food Summit: five years later will take place within the biennial FAO Conference, which has been monitoring progress toward the World Food Summit goal. World leaders will be requested to outline the measures needed to achieve the goal, and make suggestions on how to accelerate progress. They are also expected to consider how resources invested in agricultural and rural development could help reduce the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty.

The agreements forged at the 1996 Summit - the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action - will not be reopened for discussion. Instead, Heads of State or Government will be asked to reaffirm their commitment to the already agreed-upon objectives.

An important milestone before the Summit will be the meeting of the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in May, where FAO will provide documents containing the most up-to-date information on efforts by nations and the international community to carry out the World Food Summit commitments. The views and recommendations of the CFS will then be transmitted to the FAO Conference.

The World Food Summit goal was included last year in the United Nations Millennium Declaration which resolved: "to halve, by the year 2015…the proportion of people who suffer from hunger…"


Dispelling 'Frankenfear': The Case for Genetically Modified Food


Is redistribution the answer?

Opponents of genetic engineering often claim that food security is a distribution problem rather than a production problem. If the world’s food supply were equally distributed everyone could have an adequate diet. As it is, average calorie intake varies from under 2000 in some really poor countries to around 3500 in developed countries. In the developed world many people eat to excess and prefer types of food that use lots of agricultural resources for a given level of nourishment. For example, the grain that goes into producing meat, would have fed more people if consumed directly. In developing countries, the poor are hungry because they have small and infertile land holdings or because they are unemployed and don’t have the income to buy food. And part of the reason for the lack of good land for the poor to produce food on is the fact that a significant proportion of the land is devoted to producing cash crops for export to developed countries.

The first point to make is that even if mere redistribution were a feasible solution at present, it certainly won’t be in the future. Firstly, over the next 20-25 years there will be another 2 billion mouths to feed. Secondly, given the depletion of agricultural resources such as land and aquifers, even maintaining current output will require major improvements in agricultural methods. In other words we will have to produce more with less.

The second point to make is that a serious redistribution simply is not going to happen. This is plain to see in the case of a major part of such a redistribution, namely that from the richest to the poorest countries.

This would require convincing about a billion people to change their eating habits. Then you would have to ensure that the food they are no longer consuming continues to be produced and is distributed to its new consumers. This would require the government paying farmers from increased taxes equivalent to the amount that people are no longer spending on food. The food would then be shipped to where it is needed and distributed freely or at below cost prices. In some cases this would require building distribution infrastructure such as roads, rail, port facilities and airports. In other words, you would not only have to get people to spend less on food but also convince them to hand over the money saved to the government. Simply describing what would be involved, is enough to show how unrealistic the notion is!

Besides, the ‘problem’ of increased food consumption by the better off is expected to grow as people in middle income countries continue to demand increasingly varied diets including ever greater amounts of meat. For example, meat consumption in Latin America, the Middle East and China is far higher than in Africa and India and still rising.

This distribution view of the food problem is part of a cargo cult explanation of poverty generally. Developing countries are not poor because of a limited ability to produce things, due to a lack of capital accumulation, but rather because they have less than their ‘share’ of a given quantity of goodies. It is a bit like saying that poor countries have poor sewerage systems because they have less than their share of the stock of sewerage pipes - or to be only slightly less ridiculous, because they have less than their share of the stock of sewerage pipe factories.

What about distribution within developing countries? In some places the small farmers may be politically strong enough to force a distribution that improves their food security. However, there is no sign of a general move in that direction. Furthermore, small scale agriculture is not the road to take if these countries are to develop economically and socially.

Of course, the last thing that anti-biotech greenies want is economic development in Third World countries. They want us all to return to some agrarian golden age and for subsistence farmers to remain that way and for their relatives in the cities to return home.

Genetic engineering for the poorest farmers
Around half the world's population live in rural areas in developing countries, and poor farming families from these regions make up a majority of those currently suffering from malnutrition. Genetic engineering could significantly assist these people. Whether it will or not will depend mainly on sufficient increases in government funding for the kind of research and development that would meet their needs.

Also important will be the establishment of property right regimes that ensure that the results achieved by life science companies are not kept from the poor. The active good will of these companies will also be important and would depend mainly on heavy social and political pressure.

Extension services would also have to be vastly improved to ensure that farmers are able to make effective use of the new plant varieties.

In some cases GE is the only solution to a particular problem. In other cases it is just one of a number, with GE being the most appropriate solution in some cases but not others. Opponents of GMOs, however, argue that it is never the appropriate option.

Information provided here is not comprehensive, but is simply suggestive of what is possible.

To serve poor farmers, genetic engineering research has to be directed at the staple crops they grow and which are their main source of nutrients. These include white maize, cassava, sorghum, millet, sweat potato and plantains. And the plants improvements would need to better adapt them to the adverse environments the farmers face, be suitable for small farms and not require expensive inputs they cannot afford.

There are a number of ways in which genetic engineering could help poor farmers and we discuss them in turn:

* increase the effective yield of crops
* improve their nutritional value
* provide food-born medicines


Subject: Human Sacrifice
(Forwarded by Andrew Apel )

Institute an Endangered Humans Act

Washington Times August 10, 2001

Surrounded by a wall of fire spurred by wind in the Okanagan National Forest, trapped firefighters pleaded for more than nine hours on July 11 for water to be dropped by helicopters. By the time water was finally thrown, four young firefighters, two women and two men, lay dead below, consumed by the raging fire, 140 miles northeast of Seattle.

Just what could have possibly caused this tragic delay that resulted in these deaths? Could it have been a shortage of water? Or perhaps complicated technical problems? The answer is none of the above. Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” reported that, according to unidentified firefighters, a dispatch team for the U.S. Forest Service held off on using water from the nearby Chewuch River to extinguish the flame because they were afraid it might harbor endangered fish or some other species. And because of provisions in the Endangered Species Act, these bureaucrats were presumably afraid that if they used the river water to put out the fire, they would prompt a lawsuit by environmentalists. As a result, water that was originally requested at 5:30 a.m. wasn’t dropped until 3 p.m., when it was far too late.


Johannesburg 2002: The World Summit on Sustainable Development

From: "Zehra Aydin"

We are pleased to announce the launching of the major groups accreditation and pre-registration for Johannesburg 2002: The World Summit on Sustainable Development and its Preparatory Committee (Prepcom) meetings. Forms and facts related to major group participation in the Johannesburg 2002 process can be found on the Summit web site (http://www.johannesburgsummit.org), or by going directly to the following web address:

NGOs already in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), including those on the CSD List, can pre-register directly from the web site. Information on how to pre-register online has been mailed to all ECOSOC - accredited NGOs (including those on the CSD List). Please give some time for this mail to reach you before you try to pre-register online.

By Email: 2002participation@un.org (for general inquiries)
summitregister@un.org (for registration - related inquiries)
summitaccredit@un.org (for accreditation - related inquiries)

By Phone: +1-212-963-8811, or +1-212-963-7255, or +1-212-963-8429
By Fax: +1-917-367-2341 or +1-917-367-2342

- Johannesburg Summit Secretariat, United Nations, Major Group Relationships, 2 United Nations Plaza, 22nd Floor, New York, NY, 10017


David Hawthorne
Subject: Problems with new AGBIOVIEW text format

Is anyone else finding it very difficult to read the postings since the s
witchover? The messages are no longer wrapping correctly making it neces
sary to scroll sideways to read the text.

- Dave Hawthorne

ZURICH - How about a nice, steaming dish of genetically modified (GM) c
arrots as a way to whet skeptical consumers' appetite for scientifically
engineered food? According to this story, that's one of the suggestions i
n what is being billed as th