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Date:

September 7, 2001

Subject:

Ignoring 'natural' Problems; Regulating Biotech; Ethics and

 

Today's Topics in AgBioView.

* Omission of 'Natural Problems'
* Regulating Biotechnology
* International Perspectives on Genetically Modified Food
* Ethics and Genetically Modified Foods
* Promise of Agricultural Biotechnology for Human Health
* China Won't Ban Imports Of GMO Crops
* Australian Cotton Industry Reports Record Crop
* Crop Biotechnology: Benefits, Risks and Ownership - Conway
* Policies Toward GM Crops In India
* Floridians Eat Transgenic Sausage
* The Internet Fact PR Folks Need To Understand
* Glossary of Biotech Terms; Plant Biotech Basics
* Safety Assessment of Biotech Foods
* Safe In The Ivory Tower?

g;- apart from man made gasses, there do seem to be other more natural causes as well. (1) The sun itself seems to have slowly increased it's output by about 25% since life started on earth. (2) Axis wobble, variation of as little as one degree can cause or end an ice age (there having been more than one in the Earth's history) (3) Tectonic emissions:- volcanoes, central oceanic ridge, etc.in association with tectonic plate drift can cause enormous quantities of carbon gasses to be expelled into the atmosphere.(4) The last thirty thousand or so years have been one of the coldest non ice age periods in the worlds history.(5) Carbon gases levels fall dramatically before an ice age, and seem to have been higher during the period of the dinosaurs, as did the average temperature. Conclusion can well be that the world is warming from other reasons than man made causes.

Secondly, "natural" farming, most of the ecological damage on this earth, from rainforest depletion to soil erosion seem to be at a maximum, in areas where "natural" farming occurs. All farming changes the environment, all human activity changes the environment, regardless of it's nature, from, hunter gatherers to technological societies. The myth of "primitive" societies living in "peace" with their environment, ignores the facts. These so called "natural" (you can see them called this on more than one web site) societies in fact suffered high birth death rates, high death rates amongst women of child bearing age, frequent periods of starvation and pestilence. And has for living in a manner that didn't disturb or change nature,-the highlands of Britain are without forest, thanks to hunter-gatherer burning, which changed the nature of the landscape, as also in Australia,which was very different before the advent of man,etc,etc.
Conclusion must be man causes change in the environment regardless of the technology used.

Thirdly "only " crops and products from commercial farming are harmful. We should not of course mention the risks from heavy metals, etc where the source of manure, and or compost has not been controlled. Or the "organic" pesticides given time to wash out. We also must wonder at the statistic that shows more organic products sold than produced!Where is the difference coming from? Conclusion must be that "organic" products need to be as closely controlled as all other products.

Neither "Big business" or "Government" have always been honest about risks connected to various products or programmes, etc., but now the environmental groups are playing the same game.but in the opposite direction, claiming falsely risks far greater than they are, discouraging people from eating what to all intents and purposes is safe food. We also have a myth that in nature only tiny changes can occur in viable mutants, and that exotic genes never occur. but the difference between man and ape may well be explained by naturally occurring exotic genes. We are so alike, and yet so very very different. It also seems that evolution itself does not go along gradually but in small or large leaps.So perhaps GM food is not so different in it's formation as "natural", just that the process is going a bit faster.

Conclusion must be for a consumer that nobody tells all the truth, but the degree of omission in their telling of the truth must reflect their honesty, and I must say, as a non scientific, pretty average person, the trust pendulum has swung away from the environmental groups towards the scientific community.

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Regulating Biotechnology

- Dr. Grant Isaac (College of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan)
Agbiotech Bulletin, Vol 9, #7 Sept 2001, Ag-West Biotech Inc. http://www.agwest.sk.ca

As the research, development and commercialization of foods derived from modern biotechnology increases, so too does the need for regulatory responses acceptable to both the supporters and critics of the technology. Yet debates rage over the appropriate use of regulatory principles such as substantial equivalence, the precautionary principle and labelling regulations. How can we make sense of the often-conflicting information from both the supporters and critics about how to appropriately regulate biotechnology?

The first thing we must do is step back and view each of the specific regulatory debates within their much broader regulatory framework. A common foundation for all biotechnology regulations is the Risk Analysis Framework (RAF). Developed in 1983 by the National Academy of Sciences in the US, the RAF aims to inject scientific principles into public policy dealing with advanced technologies by decomposing the policy development process into three stages: risk assessment; risk management; and risk communication. Biotechnology regulations in Canada, the United States, and the European Union - as well as in many of the Member States - have all been developed according to the RAF. The result of this is that at first glance biotechnology regulations in all of these jurisdictions appear very similar in spirit and intent.

>From this common foundation, however, two distinct approaches to the RAF have dominated the development of GM crop regulations - a Scientific Rationality approach and a Social Rationality approach. As a result, significant differences in 'operationalizing' the RAF exist giving rise to twelve regulatory debates; seven dealing more generally with regulating advanced technology and five dealing more specifically with regulating GM foods.
At the heart of the difference between the two approaches is a fundamental difference in the belief about the appropriate role of science and technology in society and, subsequently, in policy development. Scientific Rationality holds that technology enhances efficiency; enhanced efficiency leads to economic development and growth, in turn, producing higher incomes. As incomes go up, demand for more stringent social regulations such as for food safety and environmental protection go up. The result is a regulatory race to the top made possible by scientific advancements. Given this perspective, the Scientific Rationality approach supports regulatory policies that encourage technological progress, given the attainment of certain standards of safety. This focus on technological progress drives the rest of the Scientific Rationality regulatory trajectory.

On the other hand, Social Rationality views technology much differently. First, science and technology are viewed not as 'drivers of economic development,' but as one facet of society where society is a normative construct composed of the preferences and concerns of all constituents. In this light, science is not about discovering universal facts, but is itself a normative concept (i.e. the science undertaken is a function of the normative questions that are asked). Second, science brings change, yet change disrupts the prevailing normative construct. Given this perspective, the Social Rationality approach supports regulatory policies ensuring technological precaution. If science is going to bring change, then it is important to make sure that all impacts of this change are dealt with in a socially responsive manner. Accordingly, this focus on technological precaution drives the rest of the Social Rationality regulatory trajectory.

To illustrate how specific regulatory debates are in fact a function of the regulatory trajectory consider the mandatory labelling of GM foods, the last debate in Figure 1. There are two grounds for a mandatory labelling strategy (1) a safety or hazard basis or (2) a consumers' right to know (CRTK) basis. In Figure 1, the former is identified as consistent with the Scientific Rationality approach while the latter is identified as consistent with the

Social Rationality approach.
Consider first the Social Rationality approach supporting a mandatory labelling strategy based on the CRTK. With a policy aim of technological precaution, an important regulatory position is that GM foods be considered across all of their impacts including actual and perceived impacts. In order to do this, they must be identified in the marketplace, which leads to a rejection of the substantial equivalence principle. Without a determination of substantial equivalence, it is the technology that is tracked - not its application - throughout the regulatory framework. Moreover, if the technology is viewed as different from previous technologies and all of its impacts must be considered then the required regulatory hurdles include safety and health as well as quality and socio-economic impacts. At each hurdle the burden of proof is essentially guilty until proven innocent predicated on the belief that there is something substantially different about the technology. The result is a regulatory framework that is pr

Now consider the Scientific Rationality approach supporting a mandatory labelling strategy based on safety or hazard. With a policy aim of technological progress, an important regulatory objective is to maximize the research, development and commercialization of the applications of the technology subject to minimum standards of safety and health. This focus on applications gives rise to the use of the substantial equivalence principle where a GMO is assessed relative to conventional but same-use products to determine just how different the GMO is. If it is not that different it is regulated the same as a conventional product. If it is much different it is considered to be novel and regulated in much the same 'precautionary' manner as the Social Rationality trajectory outlined above.

The key point is the focus on the applications of the technology and not on the technology per se. If a GMO is considered to be substantially equivalent based on its intended application, then in order to meet the regulatory objective of technological progress, the regulatory hurdles deal only with safety and health issues (both human and environmental) and not with quality or socio-economic issues. At each hurdle the burden of proof is innocent until proven guilty such that unless scientific evidence of a safety or health risk exists then there is no grounds for regulatory hold-up of the technological application. The type of regulatory framework that flows from this trajectory is a product-based framework that treats substantially equivalent GMOs the same as non-GMO products with the same intended use. Finally, flowing consistently from this trajectory is a mandatory labelling strategy based only on a scientific justification of a safety or health risk.

In short, when considering the position that various actors take on the regulation of GM foods, careful consideration within the broader regulatory framework can shed some light on the reasons for this position.
--
Grant Isaac is a faculty member of the College of Commerce and the Virtual College of Biotechnology at the University of Saskatchewan. His book, Agricultural Biotechnology and Transatlantic Trade: Regulatory Barriers to GM Crops, will be released in December 2001. Watch for a companion piece "Comparing regulatory approaches in North America (Canada and the US) with regulatory approaches in the European Union" in the October issue of the AgBiotech Bulletin.

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{Following are the abstracts of latest articles at AAAS's SCOPE site; You need to sign in (free) to read full articles...CSP}
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International Perspectives on Genetically Modified Food

Jesse Smith; hjsmith@aaas.org; Marcia Lachtermacher-Triunfol mtriunfo@aaas.org; SCOPE;
AAAS; Washington, DC, USA

The agrobiotechnology industry has announced a revolution: it promises to increase world food production and reduce the requirements for water and other natural resources. Reduction of atmospheric emissions and chemical contamination of soils also may be achieved. Another accomplishment this revolution promises is an abundant nutritionally improved diet for malnourished populations. Central to this revolution is genetically modified food (GMF).

However, several issues concerning acceptance of GMF have to be resolved before this new agricultural technology can be used worldwide. The controversy about GMF includes scientific, technological, cultural, and philosophical facets. Some of those, like sustainable growth and how to feed the world, are global issues; issues related to science and technology seem to be more relevant to the Third World. On the other hand, the cultural and philosophical aspects of the debate revolving around GMF predominate in Europe.
Full Article at http://scope.educ.washington.edu/gmfood/member/commentary/show.php?author=Smith

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Ethics and Genetically Modified Foods

Gary Comstock; Iowa State University; Ames, Iowa, USA ; comstock@iastate.edu

Much of the food consumed in the United States is genetically modified (GM). GM food derives from microorganisms, plants, or animals manipulated at the molecular level to have traits that farmers or consumers desire. These foods often have been produced by techniques in which "foreign" genes are inserted into the microorganisms, plants, or animals. Foreign genes are genes taken from sources other than the organism's natural parents. In other words, GM plants contain genes they would not have contained if researchers had used only traditional plant breeding methods.

Some consumer advocates object to GM foods, and sometimes they object on ethical grounds. When people oppose GM foods on ethical grounds, they typically have some reason for their opposition. We can scrutinize their reasons and, when we do so, we are doing applied ethics. Applied ethics involves identifying peoples' arguments for various conclusions and then analyzing those arguments to determine whether the arguments support their conclusions. A critical goal here is to decide whether an argument is sound. A sound argument is one in which all the premises are true and no mistakes have been made in reasoning.

Ethically justifiable conclusions inevitably rest on two types of claims: (i) empirical claims, or factual assertions about how the world is, claims ideally based on the best available scientific observations, principles, and theories; and (ii) normative claims, or value-laden assertions about how the world ought to be, claims ideally based on the best available moral judgments, principles, and theories.

Is it ethically justifiable to pursue GM crops and foods? There is an objective answer to this question, and we will try here to figure out what it is. But we must begin with a proper, heavy, dose of epistemic humility, acknowledging that few ethicists at the moment seem to think they know the final answer.

Should the law allow GM foods to be grown and marketed? The answer to this, and every, public policy question rests ultimately with us, citizens who will in the voting booth and shopping market decide the answer. To make up our minds, we will use feelings, intuitions, conscience, and reason. However, as we citizens are, by and large, not scientists, we must, to one degree or other, rest our factual understanding of the matter on the opinions of scientific experts. Therefore, ethical responsibility in the decision devolves heavily on scientists engaged in the new GM technology.
Full Text at http://scope.educ.washington.edu/gmfood/member/commentary/show.php?author=Comstock

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The Promise of Agricultural Biotechnology for Human Health

Li Tian and Dean DellaPenna; Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA; tianli@msu.edu

Meeting report on The Keystone Symposium "Plant Foods for Human Health: Manipulating Plant Metabolism to Enhance Nutritional Quality"

Plants are the main dietary source of many required nutrients for humans, including macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, lipids, and amino acids, and micronutrients, such as essential minerals (Fe, Zn) and essential vitamins (E, C, A). Over half the world's population suffers from some form of malnutrition and 800 million people (about 13% of the world's population) are chronically malnourished. Therefore, improving the nutritional quality of food crop plants would have a significant impact on the nutritional status of the world's population.

Full Text at http://scope.educ.washington.edu/gmfood/member/commentary/show.php?author=Tian

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China Won't Ban Imports Of GMO Crops - Official

- Dow Jones, September 7, 2001

SINGAPORE -(Dow Jones)- Amid the confusion over recently issued rules by China on genetically modified crops, a senior government official clarified Friday that the Chinese government is not barring their entry. Speaking on the sidelines of the Asian Regional Biotechnology Conference, Fang Xiangdong, a senior officer at the Department of Science, Technology and Education of the China Ministry of Agriculture, said the government only issued the rules to establish safety regulations on both imported and domestic genetically modified crops.

She added that China is not barring imports of genetically modified crops, noting that the Chinese government supports the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Fang said China is currently cultivating genetically modified cotton and is developing genetically modified corn and potato varieties. China issued a regulation June 6 on the management of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The regulation requires safety certification of all domestic and imported GMOs and the labeling of GMOs and processed products containing GMO materials.

The government is still drafting the implementing guidelines for the new law. Fang said the guidelines will be issued soon, but declined to discuss details. Earlier, U.S. soybean industry leaders and grains traders expressed concern over China's new rules on GMOs.They said the rules are vague and leave too much to inspectors' discretion. China is the biggest importer of U.S. soybeans. The U.S. is widely cultivating genetically modified soybeans.

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Australian Cotton Industry Reports Record Crop

- Asia Pulse; September 5, 2001

CANBERRA, Sept 5 Asia Pulse - Cotton growers have enjoyed their best season with a record crop but face low world prices and growing pressure on water rights, a snapshot of the industry released today has found.

Cotton Australia said the nation's 1,300 growers had produced a record 3.4 million bale crop which would be worth $A1.5 billion ($US779.25 million) in exports. The organisation's chief executive Philip Russell said the strong performance was important to the national economy.

"About 96 per cent of Australian cotton is exported, mainly to Asia, and it's great news our growers have been able to deliver a high quality, record crop under such difficult conditions," he said in a statement. Last season's crop was hit by floods in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. There were good performances by growers in particular river valleys in NSW, such as the Gwydir, while new growers towards Hillston enjoyed strong conditions.

Despite the record crop, Mr Russell said farmers were looking ahead to a tough season with world prices at a 15-year low and drought hitting non-irrigation growers in Queensland. A report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics estimated the area sown to cotton in Queensland would be down 22 per cent this season because of the lower prices and dry conditions.

The amount of land for dryland cotton in NSW is tipped to be down 55 per cent, although there should be a small increase in the amount of irrigated cotton. Mr Russell defended the industry which comes under fire from environmentalists because of its high use of water. He said Australian cotton growers were the world's most efficient largescale growers, producing more cotton per unit of water than any other country.

The total amount of land under cotton is around 430,000 hectares, although there is some growth in areas such as Hillston. About 30 per cent of the crop is genetically modified to be resistant to some types of insects. A spokeswoman for Cotton Australia said some entire cotton growing valleys did not spray insecticide this season because of their GM crops.

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Crop Biotechnology: Benefits, Risks and Ownership

- Gordon Conway, President, The Rockefeller Foundation

Introductory Text Below. For Full Text: http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/articles/conwayspeech.html

Introduction- The Issues- Benefits in the Industrialized Countries; The Risks - Real and Imaginary; The Balance of Benefits and Risks; Benefits for the Developing Countries; The Need for Tests and Evaluation; Ownership; The Future of Agricultural Biotechnology

Introduction: Let me begin with three observations:

First, I wish to stress that the Rockefeller Foundation's interest in crop biotechnology is solely driven by our desire to help feed the hungry of the world over the next twenty years. We believe biotechnology has an important role to play in meeting this objective. On current evidence, we assess the potential benefits to the developing countries as greatly exceeding the likely risks. If, however, new information causes this equation to be reversed, we would need to rethink this component of our food security program.

Second, I believe it is important to recognize that biotechnology comprises a wide variety of techniques. Some of these, for example forms of tissue culture and marker-aided selection, exploit the advances of modern cellular and molecular biology to improve the process of traditional plant breeding. Many of the current successes in producing new varieties for developing countries have been the result of the application of these methods rather than of the particular technique of genetic engineering.

Third, the biotechnology debate is partly about benefits and risks, and the balance between them. In that sense it lies in the political arena. Scientists and other experts can provide evidence - some theoretical, some based on experiments and experience- of the likely benefits and hazards and the probability of their occurrence. This may lead to a call for more tests, or greater regulation, or a more precautionary approach but, in the end, politicians need to decide, after consulting with all the stakeholders, what each country's policy should be.

The Issues

It is not, however, a simple question of benefits and risks, since the debate over crop biotechnology raises at least seven overarching and interacting issues 1: 1.Environmental issues - gene transfer to wild relatives, potential for superweeds, impact on natural fauna and flora, pest resistance etc. 2. Health issues - antibiotic resistance from antibiotic markers, transfer of allergens, long-term human health effects 3. Consumer rights/labeling issues - consumer choice, labeling 4. Ethical concerns - naturalness of genetic engineering, dominance of market by a few companies, bypassing of public interest 5. Concern Targeted to the Poor and Excluded - will the poor, especially in the developing countries, benefit as consumers and farmers? 6. Industry/science interests - future viability of the biotechnology companies, incentives for innovation and investment 7. Sustainable vs. industrial agriculture issues - impact on progress towards sustainable agriculture, increased dominance by large-scale industrializ

In this paper I will deal with only some of these issues, beginning with my (admittedly imperfect) perception of the benefits and risks, and then briefly mentioning the critical questions of ownership and access. .....

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Policies Toward GM Crops In India

- Robert Paarlberg; January 2001; Introductory Text Below. For Full Text: http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/topics/agbiotech/policies.html

("A final version of this analysis, plus parallel examinations of policy in Kenya, Brazil, and China, is to be found in Robert Paarlberg's new book, 'The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries,' published in September 2001 by Johns Hopkins Press.")

I. India’s GM Crop Opportunity

The Indian people are far better fed on average than in the past, but 2.7 million children still die in India every year, 60 percent of them from diseases linked to malnutrition (Sharma 1999). A leading cause of malnutrition in India is poverty, and in rural areas a leading cause of poverty is low productivity in agriculture. Of the nation’s one billion people, two thirds still gain their livelihood from farming, and seventy five percent of India’s farmers are disadvantaged, with one hectare of land or less (Swaminathan 1999). Meanwhile continued population growth continues to increase the burden on Indian agriculture year after year.

The productivity of Indian agriculture improved in the 1990s compared to the 1980s, as the annual rate of growth of value added in farming increased from 3.1 percent to 3.8 percent, or roughly twice the nation's rate of growth of population (World Bank 2000). Poorly managed government marketing policies occasionally generated embarrassing public stocks of food, including 27 million tons of surplus wheat at the end of 2000. Yet the impression of national food abundance was misleading. During the decade of the 1990s, total food grain production in India did not increase at all on a per capita basis, and 230 million Indians remained food-insecure due to persistent poverty, linked most often to the low productivity of their agricultural resources.

Solving India's poverty and hunger problems will require more than just a boost in farm productivity, of course. A number of other issues will also have to be addressed, including persistent rural illiteracy, social marginalization, landlessness, and caste or gender discrimination. Even where low farm productivity is the problem, GM crop technologies might not be the solution. On India's drylands, where farm productivity is low in part due to poor soil fertility or scant rainfall, the GM technologies currently in use provide few new options to address such problems. India’s poorest farmers are those that live in dryland areas with less than 750 mm of rainfall a year who lack an ability to irrigate their crops. Non-irrigated farming in India still accounts for 67 percent of total cultivated area, and supports 40 percent of the population, plus two thirds of the nation’s livestock. Average grain yields on non-irrigated land in India are only 0.7 to 0.8 tons per hectare, which is only one third the yield level

GM crops might seem an unlikely solution for farmers in hot drought-prone regions, since it has been far easier so far to engineer crops for specific resistances to pests or disease than to engineer the multi-gene traits needed to provide greater resistance to drought or heat. Yet India’s producers of dryland crops (such as sorghum, groundnut, or pigeon pea) also face severe pest and disease problems, along with problems such as drought or heat. For groundnuts and pigeonpea, crop losses to biotic stress are actually greater than losses to abiotic stress (ICRISAT 1992). Pigeonpea farmers can sometimes lose their entire crop through damage from a single insect. Pod borers attack all pulses, and viral diseases are a widespread blight on India's dryland crops. Small dryland cotton farmers in India are devastated by bollworm infestations. Together with conventional breeding programs and improved training in integrated pest management (IPM), genetic engineering might help provide solutions to these biotic stress

Environmental protection imperatives also argue for a GM crop revolution in India. The current practices of India's poor dryland crop farmers are damaging to rural ecosystems. If GM crops could produce yield gains for these farmers, there would be less need to clear new lands in rural India, plow fragile slopes, or destroy still more habitat. If farmers had insecticidal GM crops they also might escape having to risk their own health, pollute the environment, and kill so many non-target species as they do now with conventional chemical sprays. Farm chemical use is also a rural economic welfare issue in India, where cotton farmers currently spend 16 billion rupees annually on insecticide sprays. Vegetable producers in India currently suffer a $2.5 billion loss annually to insect damage, even while spending (on tomatoes, for example) $100-$200 per hectare on insecticides (Padmanabhan 2000)

Somewhat farther into the technological future, GM crops could eventually help address some of India’s severe nutritional problems as well. Roughly 50,000 children in India go blind every year from vitamin A deficiency, while iron deficiency is a major threat to the health of women. The possibility of engineering iron-rich rice or vitamin A-rich rapeseed oil would become interesting in this context. Some traditional food crops in India that currently contain dangerous substances (neurotoxin in kesar dal, cyanide in tapioca, alfatoxins in groundnut) might also be rendered safer if genetic engineering could be used to "silence" these undesirable traits (Prakash 1999). And in a nation where refrigeration facilities are not yet abundant it might at some point be attractive to engineer fruits and vegetables less prone to spoilage. Tomato producers in India today lose 20-30 percent of their crop through postharvest spoilage.

Political leaders as well as scientists and technocrats in India have noticed these opportunities, and they now routinely endorse the potential contributions that biotechnology - including transgenic crops - might make to agricultural productivity growth and poverty reduction in the years ahead. In 1999, Dr. R. K. Pachauri, Director of India’s Tata Energy Research Institute, stated that India’s future increases in food production "would necessarily have to come from the application of biotechnology" (Pachauri 1999, p. 10). At India’s 87th Science Congress in January 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee singled out information technology and biotechnology, plus "other knowledge-based sectors" as the propellers that would move India’s economy ahead in the new century. At this same meeting Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, Director General of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) specifically endorsed biotechnology in agriculture as a means to turn farmers into high-productivity "knowledge worke

While many top leaders in India have endorsed the value of agribiotechnology in general, and while scarce treasury resources have even been allocated to promote GM crop research within India’s national agricultural research system, India’s policies toward GM crops have hardly been promotional across the board, or even permissive. It was the original intent of biotechnology policy leaders in India to pursue an essentially permissive approach toward GM crops, yet this intent has recently been frustrated. Critics of GM crops were able to work within India’s open and democratic political system to push for a precautious or even a preventive approach toward GM crops instead, especially in the area of biosafety policy. Indian biosafety authorities, somewhat like their counterparts in Brazil, ran up against forceful public criticism when they attempted to pursue a permissive approach toward the testing and release of GM crops. As of 2000 this meant that farmers in India, identical to their counterparts in Brazil a

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Floridians Eat Transgenic Sausage

- Chemical & Engineering News 79, 68 (2001); http://pubs.acs.org/cen
(From: "Karl J. Kramer" )

Meat from transgenic pigs has lately been eaten by at least nine people in Florida, according to a report by Sylvia Pagán Westphal in the July 28 New Scientist. The pigs had been genetically modified at the University of Florida to carry a copy of the rhodopsin gene, which is involved in vision. An employee stole three of the transgenic pigs, by then dead and destined for destruction; a butcher, unaware of the animals' history, converted them to sausage. A woman who ate about 5 lb of the sausage with a friend, Westphal reports, said it "tasted real good."

At last word, those who ate the transgenic pork had reported no adverse effects. Philip Collis, a biosafety officer at the university, said the rhodopsin gene was unlikely to have made the meat dangerous. The pigs, however, had been injected with barbiturate before they were killed; the drug could have triggered an adverse reaction in people who ate the meat, Collis said, but none has been reported.

Despite the absence of adverse effects, Westphal reports, University of Florida officials are taking precautions. They are ensuring that transgenic animals are spray-painted after death to make it clear they shouldn't be eaten.

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It's Alive! The Internet Fact PR Folks Need To Understand


I have a bad feeling about the future of corporate public relations. Curiously enough, it was heightened this morning while I was surfing the net and came across the Summer 2001 issue of The Public Relations Strategist, a Public Relations Society of America publication.

According PRSA “The Strategist aims to present fresh perspectives and new ideas related to the strategic importance of effective public relations at the management level.” The promotional blurb goes on to say that The Strategist “examines changing concepts and occasionally challenges the current wisdom about the practice of public relations.” For some unknown reason, today, I had a particularly strong urge to be exposed to new ideas and to be challenged. The promo copy drew me in. Here was my opportunity to be enlightened by a PR pantheon. I should have known better. I’m too old to be PRed by PR.

As someone who has been in PR since the early 1970s, when I worked as a PR staffer for the United Way of London, Ontario, while studying journalism at the University of Western Ontario, I’ve always found the PR field to be exciting, dynamic and ever changing. That is until the most far-reaching communications concept in human history – the Internet – came along. At that point, the PR industry lost touch with those who were committed to challenging and bringing down the corporate world.

Social activists pursued the Internet: PR folks ignored it Activists and corporate PR types followed two distinct roads. The activists pursued and adapted to the Internet while the PR industry largely ignored it and continued to follow old ways. The industry failed to study and appreciate the depth and importance of the Internet. Instead, it gave superficial attention to the Internet and adopted the approach that the Internet simply speeds up communications and makes a lot more information available. It failed to appreciate the power of the Internet to build “communities” and to encourage local, national and global activism, a fact which was immediately apparent to activists.

With its lack of understanding, the PR industry avoided a thorough and much needed discussion of the Internet. That void and ignorance continues today. And, it’s evident in The Strategist article.

In the article, Future Perfect? Agency Leaders Reflect On the 1990s And Beyond, which is an interview with a “group of agency leaders,” Strategist Contributing Editor Elizabeth Howard asks: “…has the new technology (the Internet which became ‘commercially viable in 1993’) changed the fundamental architecture of what we do?”

David Finn, cofounder and chairman of Ruder Finn and an internationally respected PR guru, responded in part: “…And then 1990 came and now there is a whole new world. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. We see things happening every day. There is a revolution; there’s no doubt about it. But it’s very hard to keep up.”

Amazing! Finn, one of the world’s leading PR strategists, doesn’t know what’s going on with the Internet and can’t keep up. It’s Finn’s statement that makes me despair about the future of PR.

Lessons available from activists: While the details of the future are unknown, the general directions of the Internet and its impact on PR are known and documented. One just has to look at how special interest groups, such as environmentalists, and hundreds, if not thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), use the Internet to advance their positions in the media, government and public opinion. They’re successful, as evident in the ever growing list of health, safety and environmental regulations which are costly but do little to improve human or environmental health.

The success of special interest groups and NGOs is tied directly to their use of the Internet. For corporate PR folks who want to learn the ways of the internet, it’s just a matter of looking into the enemy’s camp for guidance. It’s disquieting to learn that even the best PR folks still haven’t done this. (That’s why the ePublic Relations website was created.)

Interestingly, commercial predecessors to the Internet, such as The Source, were available in the early 1980s but failed to capture the interest and attention of most PR folks of the time. This lengthened historical timetable makes the failures of today’s PR folks even more mysterious and inexcusable.

In The Strategist article, Thomas Hoog, President and CEO of Hill & Knowlton USA, offers some indirect insight as to why PR folks haven’t grasped the significance of the internet. Hoog states: “What the 1990s brought with it was a new medium, that is the medium of the internet. A technology…” By viewing the Internet as simply another medium or technology, PR folks see it in mechanical terms. From a mechanistic perspective the Internet just distributes more information, more quickly. This obvious and simplistic understanding of the Internet overlooks the capacity of the internet to create “communities” and empower people to take action.

The internet is ALIVE! To appreciate the Internet in this role, it must be seen as an organism or an ecosystem. It’s a living entity. Its lifeblood is information; its nervous system is the telephone wire, fibre optic cable, coaxial cable and satellite systems that move the information. As an organism or an ecosystem, parts of the internet may thrive and grow while other parts whither and die. It constantly evolves. It grows new appendages (websites) and casts off old, outdated ones. If one looks deep enough into the evolutionary history of the internet one can identify an internet soul, attitude or feeling which reflects the spirit of the people who created it.

In Spirit of the Web, Wade Rowland writes: “It (the Internet) was not built – it just grew (emphasis added), as if instructed by some deeply embedded coding … It was born (emphasis added) into the deeply psychotic world of Cold War nuclear gamesmanship, yet transcended it magnificently. It mirrors human (emphasis added) needs and aspirations, playfulness and genius, creativity and depravity …” These are not the attributes of a technology; they are indications of life; and, they are keys to understanding the Internet.

PR guru offers good advice: Will the industry hear? PR folks must make the leap to seeing the Internet as a living thing. Then they will view it not as a technology but as a stakeholder. It must be fed and nurtured. To do this requires a rethinking and restructuring of traditional PR. Some of the things that need to be done are discussed in other articles on this site.

There are a number of other ideas in The Strategist article which do not bode well for the future of PR. The article does, however, provide a glimmer of hope. In the closing sentence, Finn says: “You have to learn to look, see and understand.” The challenge for the PR industry is to follow that advice and apply it to the Internet.

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Glossary of Biotech Terms

http://biotechterms.org/sourcebook/index_kc.phtml

An online version of Technomic Publishing's Glossary of Biotechnology Terms by Kimball R. Nill. You can search by entering a keyword or by selecting a letter to search alphabetically.

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Plant Biotechnology Basics

http://biotechbasics.com/basics.html

*Plant Biotechnology Basics; How Biotechnology Works; Why Biotechnology Matters; The Benefits of Biotechnology; Achievements in Plant Biotechnology 1999 and 2000; A Brief Biotech Timeline*

For centuries, humankind has made improvements to crop plants through selective breeding and hybridization — the controlled pollination of plants. Plant biotechnology is an extension of this traditional plant breeding with one very important difference — plant biotechnology allows for the transfer of a greater variety of genetic information in a more precise, controlled manner.

Traditional plant breeding involves the crossing of hundreds or thousands of genes, whereas plant biotechnology allows for the transfer of only one or a few desirable genes. This more precise science allows plant breeders to develop crops with specific beneficial traits and without undesirable traits. Many of these beneficial traits in new plant varieties fight plant pests — insects, weeds and diseases — that can be devastating to crops. Others provide quality improvements, such as tastier fruits and vegetables; processing advantages, such as tomatoes with higher solids content; and nutrition enhancements, such as oil seeds that produce oils with lower saturated fat content.

Crop improvements like these can help provide an abundant, healthful food supply and protect our environment for future generations. "Modern techniques of genetic engineering are essentially a refinement of the kinds of genetic modification that have long been used to enhance plants, micro-organisms, and animals for food. The products of the newer techniques are even more predictable and safer than the genetically engineered foods that have long enriched our diet." Henry Miller, M.D., Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution; June 17, 1999

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From: Marcus Williamson

It is unfortunate that Andrew Apel can only resort name calling when put in a difficult situation, such as trying to provide evidence of GM food safety testing. Can you correct him on the detail? In answer to his points:

1. GM crops are not subject to pharmaceutical-style testing.
2. Pharmeutical companies, such as Novartis, do not carry out the same thorough testing on GM plants as they do on their pharmaceuticals, because such testing is not required in law.
3. It has been suggested to me by many GM proponents that "no evidence of harm" is equivalent to "evidence of safety", which is of course not the case.
4. My messages asking about GM food safety are not spam. As proponents for the GM industry, you should expect to be able to reply to queries questionning the safety of the products for which you are advocates. You should be able to do this without resorting to name calling.

Furthermore, can any of you provide evidence of GM crops having been safety tested?

Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks & regards;
Marcus Williamson; http://www.gmfoodnews.com/

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Safety Assessment of Biotech Foods : Powerpoint Presentation

- Dr. Steve Taylor, University of Nebraska

You can view or download the slides of this lecture at
http://www.aspb.org/publicaffairs/agricultural/TaylorTalk_files/frame.htm

Food Allergy Research & Resource Program: Overview
* How does a company take a product from concept to market?
* How do we assure the safety of food derived from these products?
* How to address specific safety issues?
- Unintended & Long term Effects
- Allergy
- Antibiotic Resistance Markers
- Feed Safety
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Summary

* Plant biotechnology products must meet stringent performance standards during development
–agronomics, yield, morphology and line selection restores biological equivalence and reduces uncertainties relative to risk
* Continuous regulatory oversight occurs throughout development and full authorization process
* Candidate genes / proteins are assessed prior to transformation
* All products are thoroughly assessed for food, feed and environmental assessment prior to regulatory approval
* Food / feed safety based on substantial equivalence and safety of expressed proteins
* Proteins currently produced in plants have history of safe use

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AgBioView Selection from the Past.........
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Safe In The Ivory Tower?

- Peggy G. Lemaux,University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

I was stunned by the message! Yes, I had read that European field tests of genetically engineered plants by large multinational companies were being destroyed by protesters and that farmers' fields in India containing genetically engineered crops were being burned to the ground. But now it had happened in my own backyard! I replayed the message on my answering machine. The disturbed voice of a student repeated that someone had entered fenced, university property where his experimental plants were growing and used machetes to cut his corn plants to the ground.

The perpetrators, or "decontaminators" as referred to themselves, were either unaware or didn't care that the plants they destroyed were not genetically engineered. Although a small percentage of the plants at this university field station were genetically engineered, a part of a National Science Foundation-funded study, the plants that were destroyed had been created by classical breeding. They were an integral part of the graduate student's doctoral thesis and now his research would be delayed an entire year because of the destruction!

Can we as scientists continue to stand by and watch this happen? Can we let misunderstandings about modern plant biology and biotechnology go unchallenged, resulting in painful interruptions in the training of tomorrow's scientists or stopping our own pursuits of fundamental scientific discovery?

Over the years scientists have kept a low public profile, conducting their research within the confines of their laboratories in universities, publishing their research results and rarely communicating with the general public about the implications of their work or its potential risks or rewards to society. Utilizing funding from federal grants was sufficient for most scientists to make a living and to train the next generation of scientists without having to justify or explain what they were doing to the public.

For decades, there was little to draw scientists out to engage in public discussions about their work. Biotechnology, I believe, is changing that situation. Few controversies in biology have caused this level of public debate. In the late 1980's to mid-1990's in the U.S., we saw chefs refusing to serve genetically engineered foods in their restaurants, scientists parading in moon suits in fields containing genetically engineered organisms and parents dumping milk from BGH-treated cows into the streets. During this period here in the U.S., most scientists remained comfortably in their laboratories while these events played out. Those who chose to venture out into the public arena were often misquoted or misrepresented, only serving to drive them further into their "ivory towers".

Do we have the luxury of continuing to stay cloistered within our laboratories? Of course, as scientists, we have a choice but the consequences of that choice are clear. We can stay on the sidelines and hope that someone else takes on the responsibility of defending this discipline. The potential consequence of that choice might be that we lose our ability to engage in scientific discovery using the new genetic tools we helped to develop. Or we can become actively involved, participating in dialogue with public opinion makers, consumers and the press on the technology's risks and benefits in an informed and professional manner. The choice is ours.

Deciding to do the latter is not a trivial commitment. Interacting with the public often requires more skills (and certainly different ones) than we, as scientists, use in our own research. Communicating effectively requires sensitivity to the audience, knowledge of the topic and skill in sculpting answers that are scientifically accurate, lead to minimal misinterpretation and address the concerns of the public. Deciding to become an active player in public dialogue requires a dedication to learning the skills necessary to do so effectively (see below).

If we, as scientists recognize the importance of communicating with the public and make it a priority, I believe that we can make a difference in the debate. If we chose not to engage in this important exercise, we must accept the consequences of remaining in our ivory towers!