Today's Topics in AgBioView:
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* France's Chirac Condemns GM Crop Protests
* New Calls for Mandatory GM Food Labelling Play on Fear, Ignore Expert Opinion
* 17 Myth Busters
* Re: Reduced Bt cotton efficacy in Australia
* US Scientist's GM Call
* Studies Find Few Risks To Butterflies From Bio-Corn
* Biotech Corn Poses Negligible Risk To Butterflies, Studies Say
* Biotech Corn Cleared In 6 Tests, Environmentalists Still See Possible Risk To Monarch Butterfly
* 'Negligible' risk to butterflies from GM
* Absence of toxicity of Bacillus thuringiensis pollen to black swallowtails under field conditions
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France's Chirac Condemns GM Crop Protests
September 11, 2001
RENNES, France, Sept 11 (Reuters) - President Jacques Chirac condemned on
Tuesday the wave of genetically modified (GM) crop protests that have swept the
French countryside, saying those responsible for tearing up fields should be
"The savage acts of destruction in recent weeks are not acceptable and should
be firmly condemned," Chirac said during a speech at a European livestock trade
show in this city in western France. "There is no justification for people who
assume the right to ransack the property of others to assert their arguments.
We cannot accept such behaviour. They should be prosecuted and punished," he
Since late June, radical farmers, environmentalists, anti-globalisation
activists and others have cut down at least 10 fields of GM maize to protest
against the testing of bio-engineered plants in France.
The activists launched their campaign to destroy GM fields in June after the
French farm ministry published a list of districts in France where GM plants
were being tested.
The campaign received a boost in late July after the French food safety agency
AFSSA released a report saying it had found GM traces in several conventional
crops around the country.
GM crops are common in the United States, but France and other European
countries remain reluctant to sanction new genetic technology in agriculture.
France nonetheless grows experimental GM crops on more than 100 sites.
Chirac defended such crop tests as "normal and necessary" and said they should
proceed with full transparency. However, he urged the government of Prime
Minister Lionel Jospin to do more to provide a framework for such tests.
Jospin, who will likely face off against Chirac in France's presidential
elections next year, has already denounced GM crop destruction as illegal and
has urged the activists to stop.
New Calls for Mandatory GM Food Labelling Play on Fear, Ignore Expert Opinion
TORONTO, Sept. 11 /CNW/ - According to a coalition of Ontario farm
groups, today's call for renewed efforts to impose mandatory labelling on all
genetically modified (GM) food products in Canada is little more than a last-
ditch effort to revive a faltering campaign against the use of biotechnology
in food production, and flies in the face of the recommendations of the two
expert panels that have reported on the issue in the last year.
"Both the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory
Committee have studied the issue in great depth, and both agree that labelling
for such products should be voluntary," said Jim Fischer, chair of AGCare.
"There's little doubt that groups opposed to the technology are seeking
mandatory labelling primarily because they view it as a method of focussing
their efforts to create fear of GM foods in the marketplace, with the ultimate
goal of undermining the technology altogether."
According to research conducted this summer by Leger Marketing and
reported in the National Post, almost 8 of every 10 Canadians surveyed did not
know what GMO stood for, despite over two years of flat-out campaigning by
anti-biotechnology activist groups such as Greenpeace and the Council of
Both the Royal Society Expert Panel on the Future of Biotechnology
(January 2001) and the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (August 2001)
expressed the belief that consumer choice was best served through voluntary
labelling regimes, such as that now in place for organic foods.
"One of the real values of making labels voluntary is that food producers
and manufacturers will label products only in cases where information
regarding the origins of all food ingredients is absolutely clear," said
Quentin Martin, an Ontario seed grower and member of AGCare's Executive
Committee. "Every country that has implemented mandatory labelling has also
developed a myriad of exemptions and loopholes to address the difficulties
inherent in the process. As primary food producers, we think that Canadian
consumers deserve clear and honest labelling, and that can best be met through
a voluntary process."
Examples of exemptions currently in place under mandatory labelling
regimes in other countries include excluding ingredients that are obtained
from GM crops, but which do not contain novel proteins or DNA (such as oils,
sugars and starches from genetically modified corn, canola and soybeans),
ingredients that are used in small quantities, so comprise only a small
portion of processed food products, and crops genetically modified through
technologies other than recombinant-DNA techniques. More information on
international approaches to the labelling of genetically modified foods is
available on the AGCare website: www.agcare.org
In Canada, mandatory labelling is already required whenever a new or
genetically altered food crop differs from its conventional counterpart in
terms of nutrition or composition, or if it may pose new health concerns for
some consumers, such as containing a potential allergen. This standard is
applied to all foods that are genetically modified, regardless of the
technique by which the modification is achieved.
Manufacturers can choose to label products to provide information
regarding the presence or absence of genetically modified ingredients, so long
as the information is factual and neither misleading nor deceptive. Currently,
the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) is developing a standard for
voluntary labelling through a multi-stakeholder consultative process that
includes representation from consumer, industry, producer and general interest
Canadian food retailers have agreed to delay marketing of foods with GM
or non-GM claims until the CGSB Standard is completed in order to ensure that
the information offered to consumers through such labelling claims is clear,
consistent and meaningful.
According to information compiled by their commodity organizations,
Ontario growers have chosen crops enhanced through biotechnology in record
numbers for the 2001 growing season Approximately 25-30% of soybeans, 40% of
corn and more than 80% of canola grown in Ontario this season are from seed
varieties that have been genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant or
inherently resistant to specific pests.
AGCare is a coalition of 17 farm groups representing Ontario's 45,000
field and horticultural crop growers on crop biotechnology, crop protection,
and related environmental issues. Further information is available on AGCare's
For further information:
Donald McKenzie, "Public oblivious to GMO Debate: Few are aware of
genetically modified food, survey shows," National Post, July 23, 2001,
Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation
of Food Biotechnology in Canada. Royal Society of Canada (January, 2001):
Improving the Regulation of Genetically Modified Foods and Other Novel
Foods in Canada. Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee August 2001.
"Canada's Regulatory Approach to Genetically Modified Foods". AGCare
Update. Vol. 11, No. 3. Summer, 2001.
Labelling of Genetically Modified Foods: International Approaches. AGCare
Backgrounder. June 6, 2001.
For further information: Jim Fischer, Chair, AGCare: (519) 881-7238;
Quentin Martin, AGCare Executive Committee: (519) 664-3701;
(519) 572-1646 (cell); Brenda Cassidy, AGCare Executive Director:
(519) 837-1326 (office); (519) 831-0902 (cell)
17 Myth Busters
New Zealand Life Sciences Network
With a large amount of help from James Ryan we have compiled the following list of 17 Myths busted by the Royal Commission.
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 18:36:29 +0930
From: Rick Roush
Subject: No Reduced Bt cotton efficacy in Australia
This is a reply to a posting from 4 Sept, but I was away last week and
just now got to the story "Reduced Bt cotton efficacy in Australia".
>Farmers in Australia are now being advised to spray additional
>on Monsanto's GM Bt cotton known as INGARD "under conditions of
>INGARD plant efficacy". (etc)
Gary Fitt of CSIRO and Director of the Cotton Research Centre in
Narrabri has written most of this response, and I agree with him completely.
The Natural Law Party is behind the times on Bt (INGARD) cotton. Again.
The changes in IRM mentioned on the website are either not recent
changes or reflect continuing improvements (and closing of loopholes) in the
resistance management program, all because we continue to be careful.
The clause about careful monitoring and application of pesticides after
a defined threshold has been part of the INGARD strategy document since
1997/98. INGARD is not perfect technology under Australian conditions.
Some crops need spraying in the second half of the season. Still, the
average reduction of 50% of Heliothis sprays has been maintained.
The clause about cultivation of crop residues as part of the resistance
management plan has always been there; in fact, it was one of the
recommendations made by my colleagues and me in 1994 for the resistance
management plan for cotton in Australia.
The clause about dryland refuges being in fields with the same cropping
history as the INGARD is simply to ensure the refuge has similar soil
moisture available to it as the INGARD crop and so can be attractive.
Previously, the advice was that dryland INGARD and dryland refuges
should be managed in the same way. Making the guideline more specific avoids the
possibility that the INGARD crop is grown on long-fallow country with
maximum soil mositure and the refuge on short-fallow or back-to-back
country where there would be much less soil moisture and hence reduced
growth of the refuge.
The clauses are not a new reaction to changing circumstances or reduced
performance. INGARD is performing more consistently now than ever and
in combination with the area-wide approaches many of the growers are
adopting, INGARD is providing an excellent foundation for IPM. Pesticides
applications in some groups are being dramatically reduced. Likewise,
the economic benefits from a "soft" IPM approach where INGARD is part of
the system are now being documented by the Cotton Cooperative Research
US Scientist's GM Call
September 11, 2001
A LEADING American scientist yesterday welcomed the debate about genetically
modified crops, but said that the scientific arguments in their favour must be
put more forcefully.
Describing much of the debate about genetic engineering and GM crops in the UK
as "rubbish" and "trivialised", Professor Richard Flavell, chief scientific
officer with the global grain business Ceres, said: "If there was no debate
about GM crops and such things as the genome project to map plant genes it
would be disappointing. But there is a debate and at least it tells the public
that the subject is important and that the work can make a difference to the
His view was that new techniques such as GM meant a renaissance for plant-based
industries. Don't forget the effect that the efforts of plant breeders have had
in the past, he said in his keynote address to the congress of European plant
breeders being held in Edinburgh this week.
In the US those efforts had helped take the average maize yield from about 30
bushels an acre to more than 120 in a century, most of the increase occurring
in the second half of last century. He added: "As individual scientists we
often forget how important plant breeding is - and if we forget, so do the
That was why debate was welcome, but scientists had to work harder to counter
claims that GM crops were unnatural, unethical, dominated by big business, of
no benefit to the consumer, harmful to the environment and not properly tested.
Studies Find Few Risks To Butterflies From Bio-Corn
September 10, 2001
WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - U.S. scientists said on Monday that a set of
new studies indicate the danger of pollen from bioengineered corn plants to
monarch butterflies is negligible, a key finding as the federal government
mulls whether to renew the expiring registration of several crop varieties.
Windborne pollen from Bt corn - a variety roduce the pesticide Bacillus
thurigiensis - had been found harmful to the ubiquitous brown-and-yellow
butterfly larvae in previous studies two years ago.
That raised broad concerns about the safety of biotech crops, especially to
other wildlife and plants.
But a new set of papers prepared for the National Academy of Sciences show
there is little, if any, risk from Bt corn pollen.
The papers, prepared by researchers at the University of Illinois, Iowa State
University, University of Minnesota, and private biotech companies, are
scheduled to be published in the next few days.
"The pollen itself is, in most hybrids... at such a low value that it takes
quite a large amount of it to be encountered by a caterpillar," said Mark
Sears, a researcher with the University of Guelph's environmental biology
Another key factor is that the Bt corn plants shed pollen during a brief 10-day
period, which must coincide when the monarch larvae are present, Sears told
reporters. Lastly, only 19 percent of U.S. corn fields were planted with Bt
varieties this year, further reducing the risk to caterpillars, he said.
"If we multiply those factors together, there is less than a 1 or 2 percent
risk of a monarch caterpillar being exposed," Sears said.The Environmental
Protection Agency ended its public comment period on Monday for the proposed
renewal of several Bt corn and cotton registrations that expire on Sept. 30.
The varieties were first approved by the EPA six years ago.
The biotech industry is pressing for renewal of the EPA registrations,
contending that the benefits of Bt crops far outweigh any risks.
Jane Rissler, a biotech critic with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the
new National Academy of Sciences studies also showed that at least one variety
of Bt corn was harmful to monarch larvae.
That variety, known to the EPA as "Event 176" and made by Syngenta AG of
Switzerland, was found to be toxic to the caterpillars. The corn variety is
being withdrawn from the market, mostly because it failed to gain acceptance
among U.S. farmers.
"It was not due to any regulatory intervention that Event 176 is going off the
market," Rissler said. "The monarchs lucked out only because this didn't sell
While she said it was "good news" that other Bt varieties had a negligible
impact on caterpillars, "it is still troubling that we have a regulatory
program that couldn't tell the toxic variety from the non-toxic variety."
Of more concern, Rissler said, was the lack of any long-term studies of whether
Bt pollen might cause developmental or reproductive problems for wildlife or
UNUSUAL APPROACH TO SECRET DATA
The EPA has also been criticized for the unusual manner in which it made public
some data provided to the agency by the biotech industry.
Two weeks ago, the EPA announced it would allow the public to read previously
secret data about the effect of Bt corn pollen on butterflies - but only if
viewers agreed to sign a confidentiality form at one of the EPA's regional
offices. That means viewers cannot discuss the data with others or make public
their responses to it.
Some 27 pages of data was deemed sensitive by its industry sponsor, the
Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee.
An EPA spokesman said the agency tried to make as much information public as it
"We try very hard to have an open, participatory process," the spokesman said.
"If a researcher or company wants something held back as confidential, there
are procedures we have to follow."
The agency was also expected to extend the public comment period on the Bt
re-registrations through Sept. 21, now that the set of National Academy of
Sciences studies are being released. That could delay a decision by the Sept.
30 deadline when the Bt corn and cotton registrations expire.
The biotech industry has pressed the agency to act promptly on the issue so
seedmakers and farmers can prepare for any changes in the next planting season.
Biotech Corn Poses Negligible Risk To Butterflies, Studies Say
September 10, 2001
WASHINGTON (AP) - Monarch butterflies living in farm fields have virtually
nothing to fear from genetically engineered corn that produces its own insect
killer, according to studies begun after laboratory research raised worldwide
concern about the biotech crop.
The six studies are being published online this week in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. The Environmental Protection Agency, which had
already reviewed the data, is deciding whether to renew registrations for the
two most-used varieties of the corn. Predators like spiders and beetles and
the widespread use of weed killers that can kill the caterpillar's favorite
food, milkweed, are bigger concerns for monarchs than the gene-altered corn's
toxic pollen, the scientists said Monday.
The scientists estimated that at most 500 in a million caterpillar larvae would
die from eating corn pollen that is deposited on the milkweed.
The risk to monarchs, at least in the short term, is "quite small," said the
lead author of one of the reports, Mark Sears, a biologist at the University of
Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
"By and large, at least with the current, dominant varieties on the market, it
doesn't look like you're ever going to get a pollen density in the field that
would reach the threshold where you would have some kind of detrimental
effect," said another of the scientists, Iowa State University entomologist
The biotech corn, known as Bt corn for a bacterium gene that makes it toxic to
the European corn borer, grabbed worldwide attention in 1999 after the release
of a lab study at Cornell University. That finding produced a public outcry in
Europe and calls from environmental groups to curb the spread of genetically
Bt varieties account for nearly 20 percent of this year's corn crop.
The latest studies, which were largely funded by the Agriculture Department and
industry sources, focused on the two types of biotech corn that are most widely
used - Mon810 and Bt11.
The studies found that it takes a relatively large amount of pollen from those
crops - at least 1,000 grains per square centimeter - to cause weight loss or
other effects in monarch caterpillars. But there was a less than 1 percent
chance that the larvae would encounter that high a dose in the field.
A third type of corn, produced by Syngenta, is 100 times as toxic but is being
phased out. It accounts for less than 2 percent of the nation's corn acreage.
The earlier laboratory studies that suggested the pollen could be toxic to
butterflies may have been flawed because ground-up parts of the corn plant were
mixed in with the pollen, the scientists said.
Biotech critics say the latest studies should have been released earlier - a
public comment period on the corn registrations was to end Monday. The studies
were forwarded to some media late last week but were not released to the public.
"This is a huge technology and it's going to be on lots of acres. We ought to
be moving toward a system of sustainable agriculture in which we reduce
significantly the harm to beneficial insects," said Jane Rissler of the Union
of Concerned Scientists.
In allaying concerns about the biotech corn, the scientists may have raised
questions about a more widely grown gene-altered crop, herbicide-tolerant
soybeans. One of the studies concluded that the spraying of weed killers and
insecticides "could have large impacts on monarch populations."
The gene-altered soybean fields are treated with a highly effective weedkiller,
called Roundup, that could be destroying milkweed.
"We've kind of put to rest the Bt question, only to find another question,"
'Negligible' risk to butterflies from GM
BBC News Online
By Helen Briggs
Spetember 10, 2001
Fears that genetically modified (GM) corn can harm butterflies were furthered on Monday, with the release of six environmental studies in the United States and Canada.
Long-awaited results of field trials indicate that a type of engineered corn is toxic to black swallowtail caterpillars.
But the corn is being phased out in the United States. Scientists said the risk to butterflies from other types of genetically engineered corn was negligible.
The overall conclusion of the new research is that caterpillars living in cornfields are not likely to be exposed to levels of pollen high enough to be harmful, except for from one type of GM corn.
"I wouldn't say that butterflies are terribly at risk, given that the dangerous form is not being planted," May Berenbaum, professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, told BBC News Online.
"There is a potential for risk but it seems to be a manageable potential."
All biotech (BT) corn contains a bacterial gene that causes it to produce a toxin that kills pests that eat the plant.
A particular type of corn, called Knockout corn, appears to have a particularly high level of the toxin in its pollen.
The company which makes the corn, Syngenta, is withdrawing it from the market because of poor sales. The crop accounted for less than 2% of the total corn grown in the US in the year 2000.
"All forms of agriculture have environmental impacts," said Demetra Vlachos, Syngenta's senior manager for regulatory affairs in the US.
She said they were moving towards newer BT crops with less potential for environmental impact.
"BT crops are a new technology that have improved our environmental performance and are safer for the environment in the long-run," she told BBC News Online.
Environmentalists first raised concerns about the effect of BT corn on butterflies following a lab study published in 1999.
The experiment showed that monarch butterfly caterpillars - which live on milkweed plants often found in or near cornfields - died when they were fed milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from engineered corn.
A report last year at Iowa State University showed that toxic effects could be seen at pollen levels normally observed on the leaves in and near cornfields.
The new research - conducted by scientists in the United States and Canada and part financed by the US Department of Agriculture and industry - goes some way to addressing these concerns.
The six scientific papers, which were reviewed by Professor Berenbaum, are published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Biotech Corn Cleared In 6 Tests, Environmentalists Still See Possible Risk To Monarch Butterfly
September 11, 2001
By Anthony Shadid
WASHINGTON - The vast majority of crops genetically engineered to produce their
own pesticides pose little danger to the monarch butterfly's larvae, according
to six studies that constitute the most definitive report yet on the crops'
impact on the insect.
Although critics questioned some findings, the report will probably go a long
way toward settling one of the fiercest debates over a biotech crop that was
introduced in 1995 and now accounts for 1 in 5 acres of corn in North America.
The studies on the crop, known collectively as Bt corn, will be published this
week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "This two-year
study suggests that the impact of Bt corn pollen from current commercial
hybrids on monarch butterfly populations is negligible," said one of the
studies, which undertook a risk assessment of the crops.
Researchers said pollen at the levels necessary to have any impact showed up in
fewer than 1 percent of the samples, and even then effects like weight loss
appeared negligible for the corn's most popular varieties.
Authors of the studies, which were funded by the government and the
agricultural biotech industry, suggested yesterday that predators like spiders
and lady bugs and herbicides that destroy milkweed, on which the caterpillars
feed, posed a greater threat to the butterflies than the crops.
The studies are being released weeks ahead of a decision by the Environmental
Protection Agency on whether to renew the government's permits for the seeds,
which produce a protein toxic to the European corn borer.
Although the permits are almost certain to be granted, the dispute over the
crops' impact on the butterfly has persisted since 1999, when scientists at
Cornell University reported laboratory studies that showed pollen from the corn
could poison the butterfly's larvae. The findings alarmed environmental
activists, particularly in Europe, and led to calls for restrictions on the
crops and more extensive study of their impact.
The EPA said yesterday the study confirmed what it already believed. "Our
scientists were very confident that these studies would continue to confirm
what we were already identifying, which was that there was no significant risk
to monarchs," said EPA spokesman David Deegan.
But critics complained the studies were released too late in the EPA's review
process. And even authors of the study said more research might be needed,
particularly on the corn's long-term impact on, for instance, the buttefly's
reproduction and migration patterns.
"Everything coming out is good news but I personally feel you have to be a
little cautious about concluding there is absolutely no effect of Bt corn on
monarchs," said Iowa State University professor John Obrycki. "The danger would
be now to stop looking, say that everything is fine, that there are no effects,
and not to continue to scrutinize this new technology."
The studies did find a little-used variety of Bt corn did, in fact, pose a
danger to the monarch and at a far lower threshold. The variety, known as
Event 176, was approved by the EPA in 1995, but its developer, Syngenta, has
told the agency it will not seek a new permit and plans to phase it out.
Absence of toxicity of Bacillus thuringiensis pollen to black swallowtails under field conditions
National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 97, Issue 14, 7700-7703, July 5, 2000
A single laboratory study on monarch butterflies has prompted widespread concern that corn pollen, engineered to express Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) endotoxin, might travel beyond corn fields and cause mortality in nontarget lepidopterans. Among the lepidopterans at high potential risk from this technology is the black swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes, whose host plants in the midwestern U.S. are located principally in narrow strips between roads and crop fields. A field study was performed to assess whether mortality of early instar black swallowtails was associated either with proximity to a field of Bt corn or by levels of Bt pollen deposition on host plants. Potted host plants were infested with first instar black swallowtails and placed at intervals from the edge of a field of Bt corn (Pioneer 34R07 containing Monsanto event 810) at the beginning of anthesis. We confirmed by ELISA that pollen from these plants contained Cry1Ab endotoxin (2.125 ± 0.289 ng/g). Although many of the larvae died dur