'Genetically Modified Food is Safer than Water'
- An American scientist on a visit to Sweden.
- C.S. Prakash and Andrew Apel, Dagens Nyheter (Stockholm, Sweden),
September 11, 2001 http://www.dn.se (Translated from Swedish "Genmat
sakrare an vatten"
'More than two billion people have eaten genetically modified food in
the past five years without becoming ill. Genetically modified food
is less dangerous than stairs, bicycles or medicine. It's even safer
than water. This is the assertion of the American experts C. S.
Prakash, Professor at Tuskegee University, and Andrew Apel, editor
for Agbiotech reporter. Prakash will be visiting Stockholm this week
for various meetings, including with experts at the Ministry of
Agriculture. The two experts are of the opinion that biotechnology
allows for the environmentally friendly plants that provide rich and
nutritious harvests in the developing world'
As the home of the Nobel Prize, Sweden is justly proud of its
heritage and its commitment to scientific progress. For this reason,
Sweden's place in the debate over agricultural biotechnology can be
influential and inspiring for those who want to understand the value
of this science. It can perhaps best be understood in the spirit of
what Alfred Bernhard Nobel expressed clearly in his will, saying that
the prize he established should go to those who "have conferred the
greatest benefit to mankind."
Do genetically enhanced crops confer benefits to mankind? Some
consider this question debatable. We know that crops benefit mankind,
since they feed us. This has been known for 10,000 years, so for the
same period, we have sought to improve the food value of crops-which
are merely plants that used to be weeds in the wild. Through every
trick mankind has been able to devise, from cross-pollination to
mutating chemicals and the random effects of radiation, we have
worked with nature to vastly speed evolution in a new direction.
While weeds exist only to serve their own purposes, mankind has made
them into crops that serve human purposes.
This has been difficult, but even with crude traditional methods
there has been much success. The tomato, originally no larger than a
grape, is now as large as an apple. Wheat, originally little more
than a type of grass, feeds billions.
Conventional breeding uses techniques that are hundreds of years old
and rely on the accidental mixing of genes to improve what originally
were merely tasty weeds. Scientists now understand that DNA, a
molecule containing genes that instruct a plant how to grow, can be
read like magnetic tape. With that discovery, scientists have been
able to add in new instructions that allow the plants to protect
themselves from pests, chemical herbicides or difficult growing
conditions. New research will allow these plants to be more
nutritious, as success with 'Golden Rice' - fortified with a
pro-vitamin A nutrient - has already shown.
Is this science beneficial? Yes, because it can often accomplish what
the old, imprecise methods cannot. The classical methods can only mix
genes that are already in the plant. Consider the potato, which wise
parents boil before feeding to their children. Even though the potato
has been bred to be more productive, the potato naturally contains
genes that produce a harmful toxin which is mostly destroyed by
boiling. There are still toxins in potatoes, and allergens in peanuts
and wheat, because they inherited them from ancient weeds. Scientists
will soon solve these problems as well, and instruct these plants to
behave more like crops than ever before. The scientists will do this
not by mixing genes accidentally, but by inserting specific known
genes into the plant. This would help us to develop crops that
produce more abundant and nutritious food with less impact on the
environment. In the developing world, this science used in
conjunction with traditional methods provides a major opportunity to
foster food security for the burgeoning population.
Some worry about whether plants improved in this way are safe to eat.
First of all, genes are already present in the cells of all plants.
The genetic code in one plant cell is about two meters long, which
means that when you eat one cabbage leaf, you are also eating
thousands of kilometers of genes! Yet this is perfectly safe, and no
human or animal has ever become ill from eating genes, because they
There is a very large consensus in the scientific community that
genetic modification is a safe method to improve our food production.
Seven national academies of science have endorsed this approach, and
sixteen Nobel laureates along with 3200 scientists have supported
this position at www.agbioworld.org .
The important thing about genetic technology, like any technology, is
the final product. In genetic modification the final product is the
plant, and scientists make sure they know what a gene does before
they insert it into a plant that is grown for food. Because of this,
more than two billion people have eaten foods made from genetically
modified plants over the last five years - and not one person has
been shown to become sick. This makes them safer than stairways,
bicycles and pharmaceuticals, even safer than water. Changes made in
our food using genetic modification, while significant in some ways,
are simply more precise than the traditional methods.
Some worry about whether genetically modified plants are safe for the
environment. Unfortunately, nothing is safe for the environment.
Everything mankind does changes the environment. The question we must
answer is whether genetic engineering is safer for the environment
than other ways of growing food. Already, genetically enhanced plants
have saved the environment from millions of kilograms of pesticides
and millions of liters of the petrol burned to power farm tractors.
This is because scientists have the same goal as organic farmers-to
produce more food, more safely, and more inexpensively than ever
before. In the developing world, biotechnology provides a valuable
tool to help produce more food and fiber without cutting down
valuable forests to make room for more farms, while reducing the use
Finally, some worry if there are "unknown risks" of genetic
modification. Many things are unknown, and may never be known, and
some of them will be risks. Still, everything we know shows that
genetically modified plants are safer for the environment, and
produce wholesome, nutritious food. Would Alfred Nobel approve of
genetically modified plants? Very likely, as sixteen recipients of
his prize do.
C.S. Prakash is a professor at Tuskegee University and President of
Agbioworld Foundation, http://www.agbioworld.org. Andrew Apel is the
editor of AgBiotech Reporter, http://www.bioreporter.com.
Transgenic Corn Poses Little Threat to Monarchs, Study Concludes
September 10, 2001
The delicate black and orange monarch butterfly
stands as a symbol of the environmental movement.
Referred to as "the Bambi of the insect world," the
attractive butterfly is listed as a threatened species
in Canada, and has been used by lobbying groups
to call attention to the frailties of the natural
environment for everything from diminishing habitats
to pesticide use.
"King" of Butterflies
But despite earlier findings, recent research has struck
genetically modified corn from the list of potential
threats to the species.
"In most cases, there was no effect whatsoever," said
Mark Sears, a University of Guelph entomologist who
conducted a two-year study on the butterflies.
Sears was one of several researchers from Canada
and the United States who investigated what threat
genetically modified corn varieties may pose to
monarch butterflies. They found that the current
commercial hybrids have little or no effect on the
Very high concentrations of the pollen from the
transgenic corn can be harmful to the insects in the
larval stage, but are unlikely to be found in nature. "It
would take a lot of pollen for any caterpillar to succumb
to it," said Sears. "Each grain is not very toxic."
A 1999 study published in the scientific journal Nature
raised alarm worldwide that the very existence of the
popular butterfly was in jeopardy from the pollen of
transgenic corn varieties currently being produced in
the United States and Canada.
"It was a landmark event," said Sears of the original
research, "especially in environmentalists' eyes."
Experiments looked at Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn
that had been modified to incorporate a gene making
the plant tissue toxic to a common pest, the European
Although the corn plant is harmless to humans,
researchers studied its impact on other non-target
organisms that consume it—specifically, whether the
modified crop could be lethal to the larvae of the
Sears estimates that nearly 20 percent of corn grown in
the corn belt in the United States and Canada is of a
The original laboratory study found up to 44 percent
mortality among monarch larvae that consumed
milkweed leaves—their exclusive food source—that
had been dusted with transgenic pollen.
But after two years of research, teams in Canada and
the United States have declared the transgenic pollen's
effects in nature negligible to the butterflies.
Only one type of the genetically modified corn, known
as Bt-176, was found to pose a threat in concentrations
low enough to be found outside of the laboratory, and
this unpopular variety is expected to be phased out in
the United States by 2003.
Sears pointed out that he has witnessed more damage
to the butterfly population through "road kill" while
driving along country roads than he did in his
While this recent research contradicts earlier findings
of risk to the butterflies, Sears said the uproar caused
by the original study was useful in forcing the
Environmental Protection Agency in the United States
and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to evaluate
their procedures for approving such organisms.
"The healthy part of the whole thing is we now have a
new view how to manage new technology like this," he
Nadege Adam of the Council of Canadians said the
recent findings raise questions about the type of
research being done before products get to market. "It
may be completely safe," she said. "Our problem is that
we don't know and we're not going to be guinea pigs."
Results of the studies were to be published in the U.S.
scientific journal Proceedings of the National
Academy of Science in early October. The release of
the findings was stepped up, however, because the
EPA is undergoing a five-year mandatory review of
corporate applications to continue producing the
product, and this research has been cited in the
applications. The deadline for that process is the end of
While Canada does not have a similar mandated
review process, Sears said the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency is likely to keep a close eye on
proceedings in the United States.
"I think you have to rely on these agencies, elected or
appointed, to evaluate the evidence that's available,"
Sears said. He noted that research done before the
initial approval process concluded that the risk to
non-target species was small.
The recent studies were funded primarily by the United
States Department of Agriculture and the Canadian
Food Inspection Agency.
Consumers prefer genetically engineered sweet corn and potatoes in GM labelling
HILLSBURGH, ON, Sept. 12 /CNW/ - For the second year in a row, customers
at Birkbank Farms in Hillsburgh, Ontario can choose between genetically
engineered (GE) and conventional varieties of sweet corn and potatoes: and
once again, they're choosing GE by a margin of at least 3:2.
"This year, many of my customers are specifically asking for the Bt sweet
corn because they like the idea that the corn is produced without
insecticides," said farmer Jeff Wilson, the owner and operator of Birkbank
Farms. "But more of them are concerned about whether the corn is bi-coloured
than whether it is GE, with many asking for the non-existent peaches-and-cream
variety, or for one colour."
Although the farm project offers consumer choice based on crop production
methods, Dr. Douglas Powell, an assistant professor and scientific director of
the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph cautioned that the
voluntary labeling of a whole food like sweet corn is vastly different from
the mandatory labeling of an ingredient in a processed food, especially when
the label is designed to alarm rather than inform.
"Mandatory labeling is not about creating choice at all," stated Powell.
"It's about targeting products, creating retailer nervousness and customer
fears and ultimately removing choice from the marketplace. It's happened in
many European countries and Australia, where retailers have rushed to remove
genetically modified ingredients from products rather than label. And in
Ontario, major retailers have refused to carry labeled, genetically engineered
sweet corn for fear of controversy."
At the Birkbank Farm market, the sweet corn and potatoes have been
harvested and segregated, and are now available, fully labeled with additional
information on Bt crops and the insecticides used. Last year, Wilson found
that his customers preferred the Bt sweet corn over the conventional variety
by a margin of 3:2. Sales are being tracked again this year and so far the
trend is the same, with 325 dozen of the Bt sweet corn sold compared to 230
dozen conventional since sales began on Aug. 24, 2001. Last year, Wilson found
it too difficult to track sales of 10 lb bags of potatoes because potatoes are
sorted primarily by size, and will not track sales this year.
According to Wilson, the genetically engineered Bt sweet corn and
potatoes he started using last year have provided an effective pest management
option that allowed him to reduce insecticide use while producing the high
quality vegetables his customers demand.
"This was a challenging summer for managing pests," said Wilson. "The
three straight weeks of 30 degree C weather reduced my options for controlling
the worms on the sweet corn. The Bt crops allowed me to focus more time on
irrigation rather than spraying and the message I got from my customers last
year -- and again this year -- was that they like the fact the Bt crops reduce
This year, Wilson once again found that the Bt sweet corn required no
insecticides and the Bt potatoes provided effective management of the Colorado
potato beetle, the number one pest of Ontario potatoes. The conventional corn
was sprayed twice with insecticides and the potatoes were sprayed with an
insecticide called Admire. All of the products used have been approved for
safety by Canadian regulators and were used according to recommended
guidelines to ensure safety.
The results from last year's study have been submitted to a scientific
journal for publication. From an economic perspective, Wilson last year found
an advantage only in the first planting of Bt sweet corn, which coincided with
peak insect pressure. However, this does not take into account other
advantages, such as the reduced risk to himself and his workers from drifting
spray, and the time savings which allowed him to concentrate more time in
other areas of his farm operation. Segregation and labeling involved in the
marketing component of the project were also time consuming activities, the
cost of which should also be taken into account when determining economic
considerations of planting Bt crop varieties, if such marketing initiatives
Samples of the sweet corn are available, free, on weekends from 12 p.m to
5 p.m, through the remainder of September. Since the project began last
spring, the farm has been completely open to the public with a 4 km self-
guided walking trail so customers can stroll through the fields and see for
themselves some of the challenges Wilson faces as a farmer.
The crops are part of a continuing farm-to-fork study with the University
of Guelph that began in June 2000. The project compares different pest
management technologies and consumer reaction.
A web site containing numerous background documents, last year's results,
weekly updates on the crops' development, and consumer buying patterns, can be
found at: http://www.plant.uoguelph.ca/safefood/bt-sweet-corn/bt-index.htm. A
10 minute video chronicling the production of Bt sweet corn this year from
planting to consumption is available at:
http://www.plant.uoguelph.ca/safefood/gmo/btcorn.mov A backgrounder on the Bt
sweet corn is available at:
Journalists are invited to come to the farm for tours. Please contact
Katija Blaine, (519) 824-4120 x2506 or (519) 362-0101.
This research was supported by the Council for Biotechnology Information,
and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
For further information: Katija Blaine, research assistant, University
of Guelph, (519) 824-4120 x2506 or (519) 362-0101; Jeff Wilson (519) 855-6519;
Dr. Doug Powell, scientific director, Food Safety Network, University of
Guelph, (519) 821-1799, firstname.lastname@example.org
Activist Group Greenpeace Turns 30
The Associated Press, Fri 14 Sep 2001
LONDON (AP) — A creaky halibut boat sailed from Vancouver on Sept. 15, 1971, with a 12-member
crew that included a doctor, an engineer, a musician and a trio of journalists.
The boat, the Phyllis Cormack, wasn't looking for fish. Inspired by Quaker ideals of ``bearing witness'' to
injustice, the sailors headed to the Aleutian Islands, off the Alaska coast, to protest U.S. underground
The voyage was beset by storms and seasickness, but it was the start of something big. Greenpeace,
the organization it spawned, has weathered the rough seas of political change and internecine fighting
to emerge as the word's best-known environmental group.
``People like us, people hate us — nobody is left cold by us,'' is the satisfied assessment of the
organization's executive director, Gerd Leipold.
But as Greenpeace celebrates its 30th birthday, it finds itself fighting for attention with the
environmental groups it inspired and fending off criticism from former friends.
``They're a lobby group, and exaggeration is the nature of lobby groups,'' said Danish academic Bjorn
Lomborg, a former Greenpeace supporter whose book ``The Skeptical Environmentalist'' challenges the
sacred cows of the environmental movement. ``They focus on very specific issues that will further their
The 1971 maiden voyage made headlines and helped galvanize opposition to the nuclear tests, which
were halted five months later.
The group went on to challenge the French navy in the South Pacific, take on whalers, occupy North
Sea oil platforms and grapple with seal hunters on the ice floes of Newfoundland.
Along the way its brand of ``nonviolent, creative confrontation'' inspired thousands of direct-action
protesters, influenced public policy and helped set the agenda for the environmental debate.
``Greenpeace has blazed the trail in responsible, nonviolent direct action,'' said Penny Kemp, chair of
the Green Party in England and Wales, who credits the group's awareness-raising with boosting
support for Green political parties.
Today, Amsterdam-based Greenpeace International claims supporters in 101 countries and offices in
39. Raising 94 percent of its funds through individual donations — it accepts no corporate or
government funding — it campaigns to protect endangered oceans and rainforests and to halt climate
change, toxic pollution, genetically modified food and nuclear weapons.
But growth has drawn critics, even from within. Paul Watson, a founder who split off to found the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society, has called Greenpeace a ``myth-generating machine.'' Another early
leader, Patrick Moore, now battles his old comrades as a consultant to the logging industry.
Lomborg argues that groups like Greenpeace make selective use of scientific evidence and have
exaggerated environmental damage.
``Surveys show that people trust environmental groups much more than government scientists or
industry. But they have an agenda, too,'' Lomborg said.
The organization's worst enemy, however, may be familiarity. Its much-copied tactics do not command
the attention they once did, and membership is well down from a decade ago.
The group's renown grew after French secret agents sank the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in
the Pacific in 1985, killing a photographer. By 1991, Greenpeace claimed almost 5 million members —
though it now says that figure probably was exaggerated by sloppy record-keeping.
Supporters in Europe and North America have drifted away. Greenpeace claimed 2.65 million paying
members in 2000, a slight rise in the past two years. In the United States, membership fell from 1
million in the early '90s to just 260,000 today.
Leipold acknowledges ``a certain downturn at the beginning of the 1990s,'' but says membership is
expanding in Latin America and Asia and holding steady in most developed nations.
``There's no doubt that in Europe it's a lot harder to get attention, not least because there's more
competition,'' he said. ``We spearheaded this kind of action, and others copied us and sometimes do it
He points out that income, which plummeted in the early 1990s, is rising again — Greenpeace
International's net income was $93 million last year, the highest in five years.
In part, Greenpeace can thank President Bush's plans for a missile shield and oil exploration in the
Alaskan wilderness for its rallying fortunes.
``After the Cold War, the opposition to nuclear weapons — which had been a key part of our program
— was not as important anymore,'' Leipold said. ``I don't think you can say that anymore.''
Increase in biotech crop acres evidence of biotech’s value
(14 Sep 2001) At the end of June, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
released information regarding estimated U.S. crop plantings for 2001 in the United
States. The report included promising information about biotech’s share of crop