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September 4, 2001


Greenpeace Dialog; Opposing Biotech - Science or Politics?


Today's Topics in AgBioView.

* Reaction to Greenpeace's Correspondence
* John Cross Takes on Jane Rissler and Ann Clark
* Is Opposition To GM Crops Science Or Politics?
* GM Protesters Favoured
* Harnessing Biotechnology for the Poor
* Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Rice
* Production of Polyesters In Transgenic Plants

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Reaction to Greenpeace's Correspondence

From: "Theresa Klein" Re: GreenPeace statements

I took the liberty of writing my own reply to GreenPeace's reply, I hope the person who posted it could forward it to GreenPeace. We should all be writing to GreenPeace as much as possible.

>* REPLY FROM GREENPEACE * GP: The overall numbers are ultimately irrelevant.
>That's like saying, "My scientific report is better than yours because it has more
>pages." T he point is, there are many scientists on both sides of this debate
>-- there is no certainty or consensus. And that is, in itself, good reason
>to err on the side of cautions

Does GP really seriously believe this?! You aren't being brainwashed by your own propaganda are you? Virtually every major scientific organization in the world has made statements endorsing the use of biotechnology. The National Academy of Sciences, The American Society for MicroBiology, The American Society for Cell Biology, the American Society of Plant Physiologists. (Among countless others) How much more do you need to establish consensus?

>The biotech industry is creating -- okay, pay attention here -- BRAND NEW
>organisms that have never existed on the planet before by combining
>genetic material from UNRELATED organisms.

Wrong. A tomato with a bacterium gene spliced into it is NOT a brand new organism. It is still basically a tomato. It interacts with the environment in almost exactly the same way a tomato plant would otherwise interact with the environment. One gene does not a new organism make. And why should it matter that the material is from unrelated organisms? What plausible basis do you have for believing that genetic material from a related organism is any less dangerous? Please back your reply up with published scientific articles if you can.

>All this without having a CLUE about how those novel organisms will
>interact with the natural environment, either in the short term or
>over the next thousand years.

Also untrue. We do have a clue how they will interact with the environment. We have observed novel organisms and crossbred plants interacting in ecosystems before, so we have a pretty darn good idea what kind of results are likely. We KNOW, from years of observation and research that crop plants rarely survive in the wild. We know also that the risks of novel organisms, even if they do survive in the wild, are manageable. Kudzu and killer bees have escaped, but this has not brought about the destruction of the world wide ecosystem.

>That is patently irresponsible and should be stopped by people with the tiniest
>sense of there obligations not to screw the planet for future generations.
>When the biotech industry can PROVE that it is not screwing the planet
>with genetic contamination to make a buck, my position could change.

So you admit to being a dogmatist who cannot be swayed without absolute proof. I wonder if you have taken a basic course in logic. It is impossible to prove a negative. How could someone ever PROVE that genetic engineering will not "screw the planet" ? Maybe you could provide some minimal criterion for proof ..... Better yet, I have another idea, Let's hypothesize that genetic engineering will screw the planet, and then look for evidence that it isn't happening. Hmmm. Seems to be all around us. The nothing happening. How long must we watch nothing happen before it constitutes proof that nothing will ever happen?

>I should say, much more than you have. How much research have you
>funded/conducted to be so certain that you are not supporting a technology
>that could end up being the greatest environmental disaster of human history?

What evidence is there that it will? All I've seen is wild speculation. Often without even a cursory understanding of genetics. Most of it appears to have been lifted directly from 1960's science fiction movies.

>And how much have you read about the impacts on all non-target species of
>loading the environment with Bt toxin? How much have you read about creating
>super-pests through the over-use of this extremely valuable organic pesticide
>(which is parsimoniously applied by organic farmers to preserve its usefulness)?
>Or about how organic agriculture could be destroyed by this over-use of Bt and by wind-born contamination >from GE crops?

Speculation, science fiction and sleight of hand. Sorry to repeat tired arguments, but Bt corn does less damage to non-target species than spraying pesticides. It only kills one class of insects not all of them. But let's not get into an argument over whether organic farming can feed the entire world. Are you aware that it is possible to manage pest resistance? Does the possibility of pest resistance really justify a ban? Why can't Bt corn farmers be as "parsimonious" as organic farmers? Why do you assume that organic farmers are more conscientious than conventional farmers? Black and white. Good and evil. Casting people into little mental boxes. Good conscientious organic farmers who would NEVER overuse Bt (of coarse not!), bad conventional farmers who would never bother to manage pest resistance.

And how could "organic" farming be destroyed by wind-blown pollen? "organic" is a definition. The organic foods industry has defined itself as non-GE, they can just as easily define themselves as less than 1% GE.

>I find your defense of this new technology to be hysterical. I also find the
>claims by its proponents that it is needed to feed the world hysterical.

I find your defense of GreenPeace's shameless fearmongering hysterical.

>I challenge you to send me ONE peer-reviewed, long- term (50 years, since we can
>never go back once we release new organisms into the environment and since we have
>SO little experience creating new organisms thru genetic engineering) study on the
>human health impacts of eating GE foods everyday, and on the environmental
>impacts of releasing GMOs into the biosphere.

Very good. Demand something as proof that is so ludicrous you know in advance it can't be provided. Show how dogmatic you are. You are basically admitting, by that kind of demand, that nothing in the world could ever change you mind. There used to be a time when progressives and environmentalists considered themselves open minded. Apparently that time is long past.

By the way, why do you suppose that a 50 year study is needed? Why not 100 years? Why not 1000? It's all a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. How do you know that global warming isn't a positive thing? Shouldn't we do a 50 year study on global warming before doing anything about it?

>They are examples of reckless pursuit of cash flow creating HUGE environmental
>crises that take generations and countless lost lives to

Correct. "Money is the root of all evil." Never forget your catechism.

Wait a second... how many environmental crises have we had that took generations and countless lives lost to correct? Just out of curiosity, really, but aren't you exaggerating just a tad? I mean, seriously, the most severe environmental disaster in recent memory would have to be the bombing of the oil wells in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf war. Okay, I think a few firefighters lost their lives putting that out, but surely that doesn't count as "generations" or "countless lives".

But we are talking about the evils of money and corporate America!!!

I spoke too soon. Not only is money the root of all evil, but America is the Great Satan.

>What in the world do you think is behind every enviro or man-made human health
>disaster in history?! The smoking analogy has everything to do with the GE debate
>if you get below the PR hyperbole in the biotech advertisements. The point is, the
>same people who are fighting to have the right to kill millions of us a year with their
>products are the ones fighting for the right to release genetically engineered organisms
>into the environment -- consequences be damned!

I knew it. This is really all about a war on "corporate America". Actual scientific analysis of the benefits and risks of genetic engineering doesn't enter into the picture.

>Whao! You've lost me. I am most certainly advocating closing the barn door before
>the horse gets out -- not after.

(Gratuitous dig) Hey, I though GP was sort of a pro-animal-rights organization. Why shouldn't the horse be allowed to run free?

>I could hardly disagree more with your final statement. I think science run amok --
>which will certainly happen if we all begin to think science is "the answer" --
>will be the death of humanity and the planet. Humans are just one piece of the
>ecosystem, with no greater claim on the right to live than any other organism.
> think your belief that humans sit atop the heap is exactly what makes humans
>the most dangerous organism this planet has ever seen. I am not at all anti-human --
>I am anti-human-as-the-destroyer-of-the- planet-to-make-a-buck-or-to-get-
>all-the -Big-Macks-and-DVD-players- I-want. Big, obvious difference.

There it is folks. The words of GreenPeace's representative himself. Cut and paste that and save it. It may be useful someday.

To respond:

What is science? It is the quest for knowledge, for understanding of the world. The use of science to enhance human life is technology. And neither of them is capable of destroying the planet. We could nuke the hell out of the Earth and life would come crawling right back up. Farmers know this. That is why pesticides and herbicides were invented in the first place. To get rid of unwanted life in their fields. I find it ironic that you can argue that pest resistance to Bt will evolve rapidly, and then turn around and argue that we are going to kill off all life on the planet faster than it can adapt. Either the world ecosystem is capable of adapting to human activity or it isn't. Which is it?

No, the real danger is of humanity destroying itself, not the planet. Which is why we need to be designing our policies with human life in mind. That is why genetic engineering is so promising. It allows us to create crop plants designed to maximize their nutritional value, while minimizing the damage growing them can do. The world was not made perfect. No benevolent God came down and put all the right plants and animals in place for humans to eat. We have to make the best life possible out of the raw material of the world. That includes, and has always included, the environment around us. Now that environment is the entire world, and we should make that world as good a place for human beings to live as we can. That includes using genetic engineering to produce better, more cost effective food, while simultaneously adapting those crop plants to minimize the long ter damage they do, and maximize their ability to provide for humanity in the long term.

-Theresa Klein


From: Malcolm Livingstone Subject: Mary Bryant

It has seemed obvious to me that the anti-GM agenda of organisations like Greenpeace has at its core a dislike and mistrust of science, technology and society. They are essentially anti-human. They equate the term human with all that is unnatural. We are seen as a plague upon the planet. I have tried and failed to get Greenpeace to admit to this agenda but Mary Bryant (good for you Mary) has finally been able to get an honest answer out of them. As Craig says:

>I could hardly disagree more with your final statement. I think science run amok --
>which will certainly happen if we all begin to think science is "the answer" --
>will be the death of humanity and the planet. Humans are just one piece of the
>ecosystem, with no greater claim on the right to live than any other organism.
> think your belief that humans sit atop the heap is exactly what makes humans
>the most dangerous organism this planet has ever seen. I am not at all anti-human --
>I am anti-human-as-the-destroyer-of-the- planet-to-make-a-buck-or-to-get-
>all-the -Big-Macks-and-DVD-players- I-want. Big, obvious difference.

For someone who pretends throughout the rest of his reply that he is persuaded by the scientific arguments of hundreds of dissenting scientists Craig can no longer contain himself. He lets us know that it is science and humanity that are the cause of all the evil on the Earth. This reminds me of the PETA spokesperson who claimed he would rather his son were put to death than that one dog die.

It is interesting however that Craig claims that the impact we have had on this planet is only so that we can have more Big Macs and DVD players. Of course Craig is just letting off steam because, in the heat of the argument, he forgot to mention that there are 800 million starving people on Earth who are not too interested in DVD players (unless they are for free and can be sold for money).

Also Craig forgot to mention whether he listens to music, drives a car, uses soap, paper, clothing, eats, drinks beer, smokes dope, watches sport or has safe sex. Craig have you forgotten that you are using enough resources everyday to look after dozens of children in the developing World?

I think that his reply to Mary shows that his agenda has nothing to do with alleviating poverty or caring about human beings. He just thinks there are too many people and maybe it would be better if most people died to leave more room and resources for himself. Biotechnology has been targetted because it is new technology. Greenpeace members think that there are enough resources for themselves already (CD player will do - don't need a DVD) and why risk anything new when they have all they ever wanted.

The ideal World according to Greenpeace is:

One with only Greenpeace or like minded people (let's say a couple of million).

No new technologies that might require effort to develop.

A ready supply of haute cuisine only made with organic ingredients.

Cars but only for the caring members of Greenpeace.

No new medicine (even vaccinations are a government plot) as death is natural and even if premature to be welcomed. Until of course Craig gets sick and needs an antibiotic or perhaps quinine for his malaria if he makes the mistake of going on holiday to the wilds of Africa (will he require porters and guides I wonder? - perhaps it might be necessary to keep some Africans alive).

As Tom DeGregori points out in his excellent book there is an undeniable Naturistic belief system at work here. One that has existed for a long time and resurfaces periodically. It has been allowed to fester for the last 40 years following on from the beliefs of many in pre-war Germany. We have not defended humanity enough in the past. It is clear to me that the life of one child is more valuable than the life of thousands of dogs. It is also clear that there are humans who don't feel this way and this I find alarming.

Anyway good work Mary for getting some blood out of the stone.

- Malcolm Livingstone

From: "John W. Cross"
To: news.feedback@biomednet.com

Sub: Regarding 'Tomato vaccines with a green tinge', 30 August 2001

Jane Rissler, is quoted for this article.
"If it's like a lot of other biotechnology breakthroughs,' they are often hyped beyond
what they eventually become. I would be reserved in making strong statements
about what the risks are, because I want to be sure it [the transgene] is solely
confined to plastids," said Jane Rissler, the senior staff scientist
n the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC.

Rissler is a determined, professional opponent of plant genetic engineering, and can be counted on to provide negative comments about even the most outstanding advances. Has she ever seen an application of plant genetic engineering of which she approves?

It is also curious that if I use my word processor to change 'breakthroughs' to 'dangers', I get the following:
"If it's like a lot of other biotechnology 'dangers,' they are often hyped beyond
what they eventually become."

I will buy that. Consider the threatened dangers from monster weeds, alergenic tacos, Monarch butterfly toxicity, increased pesticide usage, etc., etc. Then she is concerned about the exact insertion site of the gene, implying that it might also be in the chromosomes. Why that is a risk, she doesn't indicate, but genetic crosses to eliminate such chromosomal DNA (if present) would be trivial.

Rissler also worries,
"What happens to the rest of the plant? Does it get plowed under? Does that
affect soil communities? Is there a problem with those chemicals getting into places where they weren't intended to be?"

So we're supposed to be upset that a small amount of a protein ("chemicals") will be plowed under? I do recall somewhere that soil contains a vigorous assortment of microbes that aggressively degrade proteins to the level of ammonia, nitrate and nitrogen gas. That doesn't need to be proven separately for the case of transgenic crops. She also worries that human beings will consume the antigenic proteins that these tomatoes will be transformed to produce. I thought that was the intention: to provide an inexpensive source of antigens for immunization against disease.

Another opponent of this modern technology E. Ann Clark, writes,
"In general terms, non-nuclear DNA transformation would improve the
'containability' of proprietary genes - which are completely out of
control with the present nuclear-based approaches,"

What she means by that is a mystery. The transgenes in crops have been demonstrated to be chromosomally stable by the time that they are ready for release. They are at least as stable as other plant genes. If she means that the pollen is uncontrolled, she needs to understand that tomatoes are a self-pollinated crop. Even in wind pollinated crops, like corn, diffusion of viable pollen is not very widespread. Pollen is not long-lived and dies as it dries or gets too warm. If she means that some pollen might escape, then why is this worse than the escape of small amounts of pollen from conventionally-bred cultivars, which do occasionally "contaminate" other cultivars? In other words, this is not a "problem" that is unique to transgenic crops.

Clark is also quoted as warning of
"the unintended, unpredictable, and demonstrably undetectable
side-effects caused by transgene insertion (detected only post-commercialization, by
farmers - missed entirely by regulators and even the proprietors,
because the risk 'assessment' system is not designed to look for them)."

What are these side effects of DNA insertion that farmers recognize but that molecular biologists are unable to detect? Opponents of GM crops routinely refer to yet unknown dangers, and I guess that this must be one: completely unknown.

- John Cross


Is Opposition To GM Crops Science Or Politics?

- Anthony Trewavas and Christopher Leaver

EMBO Reports vol. 2 | no. 6 | pp 455-459 | 2001

'An investigation into the arguments that GM crops pose a particular threat to the environment'

Question 101: 'Lord Melchett, in relation to genetic modification, what do you object to and why?'
Lord Melchett, Head of Greenpeace, UK: 'My Lord Chairman, the fundamental objection is that there are unreliable and unpredictable risks.'

Question 105: 'How far are you prepared to carry your objections to these developments?'
Lord Melchett: 'I am happy to answer for Greenpeace [...] Greenpeace opposes all releases to the environment of genetically modified organisms.'

Question 107: 'Your opposition to the release of GMOs, that is an absolute and definite opposition? It is not one that is dependent on further scientific research or improved procedures being developed or any satisfaction you might get with regard to the safety or otherwise in future?'
Lord Melchett: 'It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition based on a view that there will always be major uncertainties. It is the nature of the technology, indeed it is the nature of science, that there will not be any absolute proof. No scientist would sit before your Lordships and claim that if they were a scientist at all.'

House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities. 2nd Report: EC Regulation of Genetic Modification in Agriculture.


During the last century, the world population tripled to 6 billion. While food production has increased accordingly, some 800 million people, primarily in the developing world, still do not have access to sufficient food. Forty thousand people die every day from malnutrition, over half being children under the age of 5. In addition to lack of food, deficiencies in micronutrients, such as vitamins and iron, leading to illness and death are widespread.

The World Health Organization estimates that the earth's population will reach 9 billion by 2050. The vast majority of this increase will occur in the developing countries of South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and it is estimated that >50% of this population will live in urban areas. To meet this challenge over the next 50 years, we must double-to-triple the production of food on, essentially, the same area of land in the face of decreasing water supplies and with respect to the environment. This will be made more difficult by the consequences of global warming, such as increased climatic variability, changing patterns of rainfall and new pests and diseases. At the same time there must be a cessation of wilderness erosion to protect biodiversity and maintain ecosystems.

Since the 1970s, the world has also seen a revolution in our understanding of how organisms function at the molecular, biochemical and physiological level. An integral part of this revolution has been the development of technologies that allow the transfer of genes from one species to another. Many scientists believe that the application of biotechnology to agriculture-together with plant breeding and improved agricultural practice-may provide solutions to some of the challenges outlined above. We do not claim that GM crops will feed the world or eliminate poverty. But in order to both satisfy the environmental concerns that come with modern agriculture and global warming, while still feeding the increasing world population in a sustainable and nutritious manner, we must assume responsibility for fully evaluating this technology for future generations.

As with many new technologies, people are keen to embrace the benefits but reluctant to accept potential risks. The manner of introduction of GM crops onto the market has led to widespread loss of public confidence, which has been exploited by non-representative groups and activists for their own political ends. Some hypothesised threats of GM crops to the environment are elevated as being more important than the security of mankind. And the future that the critics offer is bleak: hard-won knowledge is rejected in favour of ideology. They require an absolute safety guarantee for GM crops, but such a warranty cannot be given since we can never know everything about anything. Thus, a standard of absolute certainty will effectively stop the attainment of the benefits of this or any other technology. As well as the ethical obligation to do no harm there is an obligation to strive for good in an imperfect world.

Many of these concerns were submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1997. In their response, the EPA thoroughly addressed each of the questions raised (EPA, 2000). Our own response is unfortunately limited by space. However, we wish to address the most important criticisms that opponents of GM crops make to try and block their introduction.

In natural ecosystems, plant numbers are limited by specific forms of allelopathy and predation just as animals are controlled by predators. When constraints are lifted in a new environment, easy spread may occur for a time. A few introduced animals, such as rabbit, mink and Nile Perch, as well as plants-Japanese Knotweed and Rhododendron ponticum in the UK-have indeed become a nuisance and are difficult to eradicate. But the nuisance plants are neither GM organisms nor domesticated crops. It is interesting to note that the UK native flora is generally considered to number 1600 species but that there are 3500 alien species growing in the UK, the majority introduced by horticulture.

Furthermore, the genetic makeup of GM crops makes it unlikely that they could become 'superweeds'. At least twelve genetic traits are required to produce a successful weed (Chrispeels and Sadava, 1994), while it is estimated that domesticated crops contain only six of them. Consequently, such crops will disappear quickly in the wild because existing weeds easily outcompete them. A recent study (Crawley et al., 2001) placed GM crops-all of those available at the time the study was initiated-along with comparable conventional varieties, into 12 natural habitats. The fate of GM and conventional oilseed rape, maize, sugar beet and potato were then monitored over a period of 10 years. In no case did transgenic plants persist longer than their conventional counterparts. Every crop species, GM and conventional, died off within three years, except for one conventional potato. These data suggest that arable crops do not survive long outside cultivation, and their persistence was not affected by the introduction of i

The genes introduced through GM are not qualitatively different from those genes introduced by conventional breeding from exotic sources or from novel genes produced through mutation. Weed populations, from which crops were domesticated, are a sea of natural mutants; without such variation, the species would never survive disease, predation and the constant competition. However, opponents of GM technology try to perpetuate the misunderstanding that transgenic crops are unlike the results of conventional breeding, that the process by which they are produced is uncontrolled and that the associated risks are unique. On the contrary, the WHO, The Royal Society, the US National Research Council and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have consistently concluded that the risks associated with GM crops are not unique to these products and hence, that standard risk assessment approaches are appropriate. In fact, the processes used to produce GM crops are, if anything, more precise and less li

Admittedly, GM inserts new genes into random positions of the plant's genome. But any new cross, whether created through GM or conventional breeding, introduces changes randomly (e.g. transposon movement) and can exhibit instability, pleiotropic effects and unwanted side characteristics resulting from genomic rearrangements and random movements of DNA. Conventionally bred variants of potato, squash and celery had to be withdrawn after they were subsequently found to be toxic under particular conditions (Ames and Gold, 1999; USDA, 2000).

However, we accept the necessity for stringent testing for all new GM crops to eliminate such problems. Ecological risk assessments for GM crops, as for any product, are performed on a case-by-case basis. All risk assessments involve an initial identification and characterisation of possible threats. In cases where problems are identified, management strategies are developed to protect the environment. We do not think that risk assessment techniques are inappropriate for GM crops, nor is this the view of regulators or scientific authorities. Furthermore, crops produced by conventional breeding require no such safety assessment.

Gene flow is not something that originated with GM, but has been going on for millennia since man started cultivating crops. We would like to use herbicide (atrazine)-tolerant rape as an example to clarify whether gene flow could give rise to herbicide-resistant weed varieties. It was developed from naturally arising resistant mutants generated by conventional breeding and has been available commercially for 20 years without reported weed problems. The yields are 20% lower than with non-resistant varieties but the advantages of weed control without ploughing ('zero tillage')-particularly on sloping farmland and the reduced damage to soil invertebrates offset the lower yield. So if the same trait can be introduced by GM without causing yield loss this would provide significant benefits.

There are natural barriers to gene flow. Plant breeders have known for some time that a separation of 100 m maintains 99.9% genetic purity of two rape stocks. Rape and weedy relatives produce at least a 5000-fold excess of pollen over egg cells. Competing pollen from elsewhere has thus to contend with a much larger volume of pollen to be found in close proximity to the stigma. Pollen spread falls off rapidly with distance from the field, although very low levels of pollen may be detected at distances of kilometres. Thus, it is essential to distinguish between pollen distribution and actual pollination. Activist groups have generated much confusion by failing to distinguish adequately between these two factors.

Oilseed rape has four to five weedy relatives in the UK, but genes will only be transferred if wild relatives are sexually compatible and flower at the same time. Estimates put the chance that rape (Brassica napus) will form hybrids with its nearest relative (Brassica rapa) at 1 in 10 000 (Scott and Wilkinson, 1998). These hybrids will only persist if the herbicide-resistance gene gives them a selective advantage. Outside the agricultural environment these genes are considered to be of no advantage, and thus, such hybrids will rapidly disappear once the crop is removed from the field. So far, no new and damaging weeds have emerged despite the conventional production of pest, virus and disease-resistant rape and beet.

Criticism often focuses on a small set of laboratory studies that typically test non-target species under unrealistic conditions or focus on hazard alone without considering the level of exposure that will occur under natural conditions. The critics also fail to acknowledge scientific literature that draws opposite conclusions.

The Bt protein from Bacillus thurigiensis used in insect-resistant crops is one of a family of over 140 proteins that specifically kills moth and butterfly caterpillars and some beetle larvae when consumed. The corn borer is a moth larva causing severe damage to crops and requires substantive pesticide treatments for control. Expression of the Bt protein in corn substantially reduces otherwise-necessary pesticide applications, thus helping to mitigate unwanted damage to non-target insects. The migratory Monarch butterfly lives on milkweed plants in the USA that can be found growing at the margins of cornfields as well as elsewhere. The initial study on the impact of Bt maize pollen on larvae of the Monarch butterfly (Losey et al., 1999) showed that heavy sprinkling of pollen on milkweed leaves in the laboratory-the amount used was not quantified-damaged the Monarch butterfly larvae that ate the leaves. This was not an unexpected result-Bt protein kills butterfly and moth larvae-but it caused considerable co

A similar controversy ensued when Hilbeck et al. (1998) reported that the breeding capacity and viability of predatory lacewings was reduced when they were fed on caterpillars feeding on Bt levels >10-fold higher than those in any GM maize tissues. Again, a worst case scenario. When the lacewing were given a choice, they showed an almost unanimous disregard for the dying caterpillars fed on Bt leaves (Schuler et al., 1999).

Crecchio and Stotzky (1998) have shown that Bt proteins can persist in soil under certain conditions, which might risk exposure of some non-target organisms. However, other studies have shown that most of the Bt protein found in Bt maize, cotton or potatoes rapidly breaks down in soil and that non-target species present in soil are not susceptible to Bt proteins (EPA, 2000, 2001). Estimating real risk requires demonstrating both hazard and exposure under natural conditions.

GM corn, cotton and soybean have been in commercial use for over five years now, and millions of hectares have been grown without any field reports of adverse ecological impacts. Substantial environmental benefits have been established for some of these products, such as Bt cotton, because of the resulting reduction in the use of chemical insecticides (Gianessi and Carpenter, 1999, 2001). Over that same period, large-scale, field-based studies in the USA, China and Europe have been completed that have consistently found no negative effects from Bt cotton or maize (for example, Pilcher et al., 1997; Lozzia, 1999; Xia et al., 1999). Indeed, populations of predatory arthropods that help to control secondary pests like aphids are found to be consistently higher in Bt cotton fields than in sprayed fields of conventional cotton.

Published studies on herbicide use for Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans have been mixed, with some studies reporting no change and other studies reporting a small reduction in overall herbicide use. A thorough analysis in the USA reported a small but significant decrease in herbicide use as a result of soybean planting in 1997 (USDA, 2000). Another analysis reported that US soybean growers replaced 7.2 million pounds of other herbicides with 5.4 million pounds of Roundup (Heimlich et al., 2000). Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has an average half-life of 47 days, compared with 60-90 days for the herbicides replaced. Additionally, the herbicides replaced are 3.4-16.8 times more toxic than glyphosate, according to the EPA reference dose for humans. Thus, the substitution resulted in the replacement of herbicides that are at least three times more toxic and that persist nearly twice as long (Heimlich et al., 2000). Furthermore, a recent study by Kline and Co., a New Jersey-based consulting firm, indic

The secondary consequences of reduced pesticide use include overall energy savings and waste reduction through lower production, packaging, transportation and application of pesticides. Taken together with increased yields, this represents an opportunity for greater sustainability and land conservation.

The information available to address the ecological impacts of GM crops reinforces the findings of earlier risk assessments: that GM crops often produce clear environmental and ecological benefits compared with some of the technologies that they are replacing. Indeed, many of the criticisms raised of GM crops are more a reflection of concerns about the changing nature of agriculture rather than specific fears related to GM crops (Beringer, 2000).

We recognise that there are real and legitimate concerns over modern agricultural practice and we believe that the application of the best science, with appropriate regulations, will lead to the development of GM crops that have the potential to solve the problems of sustainable food production. Claims by critics, however, should be considered in the context of demonstrated safety and benefits rather than unsubstantiated risks. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings of the regulatory process and of GM crops must not be allowed to block a technology that is already delivering real benefits today and promises important, sustainable benefits in the future.

The world community has set in place proper regulatory systems to test GM crops and monitor their subsequent fate. The way forward is always to act on the best available knowledge. But to act instead on exaggerated and unsubstantiated speculations that come from a poor understanding of biology, or perhaps solely on ideology, is much more certain of disaster. Who then would pay for the lives lost and for the ecological and economic damage? It is unlikely to be those who agitated in the first place.

(For References, see http://www.embo-reports.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/full/2/6/455)
Anthony J. Trewavas is at the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh and Christopher J. Leaver is at the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford. E-mail: trewavas@srv0.bio.ed.ac.uk or chris.leaver@plant-sciences.oxford.ac.uk


GM Protesters Favoured

- Fordyce Maxwell, The Scotsman Rural Affairs Editor; 5th September 2001


Ideological pressure groups are getting too much say in the genetically-modified crops debate said a Scottish scientist at the science festival in Glasgow.

By obscuring the distinction between ideology and science to confuse the public, said Professor Joyce Tait, organisations such as the organic-farming Soil Association were effectively dictating terms.

Professor Tait, director of the Scottish universities' policy research and advice network - which provides science-based advice to a range of clients including the Scottish parliament - said: "It is a strange irony that the Soil Association has been able to dictate terms to government regulators to a greater extent than any other trade association, including the agrochemical industry, has ever achieved - yet it still keeps its public image as the underdog."

That was not necessarily good news for the public, she told a British Association for the Advancement of Science seminar earlier this week. National and international regulatory bodies were, she said, developing new methods to ensure protection of public health and assess any possible risks from GM crops and food. But anti-GM pressure groups had raised the stakes by demanding that GM crops should be tested as if they were drugs rather than foods.

"Giving in to that would effectively block the appearance of GM foods on the market by making it uneconomic to produce." The Frankenstein image had been widely used, by anti-GM protesters and the media, to good and scary effect from their point of view, she said. But it had become clear that pressure groups ostensibly concerned about GM had bigger targets in their sights - globalisation of food production and the science, technology and big business which now seems to control it and intensive farming methods.

Attempts to bring industry, pressure groups and other interested parties together have only led to more arguments and bitterness: "Where a conflict is driven by ideology it is going to be very difficult to resolve, partly because information is seen as 'propaganda', compensation as 'bribery' and negotiation as 'betrayal'." Concessions by governments during the debate had simply led to greater demands from GM objectors: "The moratorium on growing GM crops for the market did not satisfy objectors. Instead it led to them demanding an indefinite ban.

"Bringing in labelling schemes for GM foods has led to additional demands for absolute freedom from contamination of non-GM crops, instead of the usual regulatory approach which is to set a low threshold for contamination, incorporating a large safety factor." GM crop trials, such as those on the Black Isle, have produced a massive public response.

Professor Tait said: "When regulators conceded the principle of crop trials at the market stage of development of GM crops, this did not satisfy the objectors leading the public debate. Instead, they raised concerns about the safety of the trials themselves and there has been a sustained campaign of physical destruction of the trials."

Pressure groups had also hi-jacked the scientific precautionary principle by interpreting caution while collecting evidence on a new procedure to mean uncertainty and fear. This has been a major factor in allowing a small number of pressure groups to gain the initiative in a way that has left European regulatory systems and the agricultural biotechnology industry without a strategic focus."

That, she said, was not good for democracy. Ideological objections to new technology were legitimate in a public debate, but not to the extent that they distorted or disregarded science. Final answers must be given by politicians: "Where competing ideologies are involved, the task of deciding should be returned to the political domain as the legitimate task of politicians."


Harnessing Biotechnology for the Poor:
Challenges ahead for capacity, safety and public investment

-Joel Cohen,

Joel I. Cohen is Principal Research Officer, Biotechnology and Intellectual Property, International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) *This paper is based on a background report prepared for the 2001 Human Development Report
The opportunities available through international collaboration in agri-food biotechnology are many, and can contribute to developing-country objectives for agricultural and social development. Hands-on experience gained through collaborative research, training programmes, and international technology transfer projects are critical. However, the ultimate success of the activities presented in this chapter will often be judged on the basis of tangible products in farmers' fields. This is not a short-term process and will require strong national partners, from the public as well as the private sectors. In addition, collaborating countries will have to review, and possibly adapt, their systems for biosafety review and IPR regulation. Such capacity building implies costs that must be weighed against the expected benefits.

Biotechnology provides new opportunities for achieving productivity gains in agriculture. However, mobilizing modern biotechnology to serve agricultural research in developing countries also implies new investments, changes in resource allocations and growing responsibilities for policymakers, research managers, and scientists. These responsibilities include determining the benefits and risks of biotechnology applications, ensuring productivity constraints affecting livelihoods of the poor are addressed, and deciding how national research agendas embrace biotechnology. Government officials assuming these responsibilities play a crucial role in setting policies, research agendas, and developing regulatory capacity for agricultural biotechnology. Their task is made difficult because public budgets for agricultural research are severely constrained, human capacity is limited and extensive international debate on the merits and safety of biotechnology complicate timely decision-making.

As a result of these debates, renewed effort is occurring to enhance developing countries' abilities to address the constraints and difficulties listed above. Benefits expected from biotechnology for developing countries have been emphasized in recent academic and scientific reports. Implications regarding the safe use and regulation of these technologies are considered in international fora and agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Information and communication technologies are being mobilized to help disseminate new knowledge gained from research, patent databases, and regulatory review. Longstanding and productive international collaboration in biotechnology continues, providing for capacity building, research partnerships, and dissemination of materials and technologies. Finally, developing countries themselves are making important public investments in research, policy and capacity.

Will existing efforts, such as those already highlighted, ensure that benefits from biotechnology reach those in need, and if not, what additional steps are required? This paper addresses these concerns by first assessing the relevance of biotechnology for agricultural research in developing countries. This is followed by implications regarding safety, participation, and public investments available for biotechnology. Recent development reports, ISNAR research, and examples of international collaboration are summarized. Regarding biosafety, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and related expectations for capacity building, risk assessment, and the precautionary approach are described. A review of regulatory systems, and public investments for biotechnology research in six developing countries is then presented. The paper concludes with policy recommendations regarding capacity, safety and investments that enhance public research and regulatory abilities.

To read the entire report in PDF format, visit http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=newsletter&topic_id=4&subtopic_id=17&doc_id=1760


Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Rice

Momma K; Hashimoto W; Yoon HJ; Ozawa S; Fukuda Y; Kawai S; Takaiwa F; Utsumi S; Murata K


Abstract: Rats were fed with genetically modified rice for four weeks. No differences were dicovered in weigh, appearance, blood composition or internal organ weights.

Feeding studies on rice genetically modified with soybean glycinin were performed on rats for four weeks. The rats were divided into three groups, each being fed on (I) only a commercial diet, (II) this diet plus control rice and (III) this diet plus rice genetically modified with glycinin. The rats were fed with 10 g/kg-weight of rice every day by oral administration. During the test period, the rats in every group grew well without marked differences in appearance, food intake, body weight, or cumulative body weight gain. There were also no significant differences in the blood count, blood composition or internal organ weights among the rats. Necropsy at the end of the experiment indicated neither pathological symptoms nor histopathological abnormalities in the liver and kidney. Judging from these results, the rice genetically modified with glycinin is considered to have been essentially the same in nutritional and biochemical characteristics as the control rice.

[1] Momma K, Hashimoto W, Yoon HJ, Ozawa S, Fukuda Y, Kawai S, Takaiwa F, Utsumi S, Murata K (2000) Safety assessment of rice genetically modified with soybean glycinin by feeding studies on rats; Biosci Biotechnol Biochem Sep;64(9) 1881-1886


Production of Polyesters In Transgenic Plants

Poirier Y, (http://www.bio-scope.org/)

Abstract: Polyhydroxyalkanoate are biodegradable bacterial polyesters. Various polyhydroxyalkanoates can be sythesized in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. Futhermore, polyhydroxyalkanoates can also serve to modify fiber properties in plants such as cotton.

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are bacterial polyesters having the properties of biodegradable thermoplastics and elastomers. Synthesis of PHAs has been demonstrated in transgenic plants. Both polyhydroxybutyrate and the co-polymer poly(hydroxybutyrate-co-hydroxyvalerate) have been synthesized in the plastids of Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus. Furthermore, a range of medium-chain-length PHAs has also been produced in plant peroxisomes. Development of agricultural crops to produce PHA on a large scale and at low cost will be a challenging task requiring a coordinated and stable expression of several genes. Novel extraction methods designed to maximize the use of harvested plants for PHA, oil, carbohydrate, and feed production will be needed. In addition to their use as plastics, PHAs can also be used to modify fiber properties in plants such as cotton. Furthermore, PHA can be exploited as a novel tool to study the carbon flux through various metabolic pathways, such as the fatty acid beta-oxidation cy

[1] Poirier Y (2001): Production of polyesters in transgenic plants Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol;71:209-40