Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





September 17, 2001


Coexistence; Face of Terrorism; Reaping The Fruits of


Archived at http://www.agbioworld.org/listarchive/list.php

Today's Topics in AgBioView

* GM Discussion in NZ - Right to be GE-Free
* The Face of Terrorism
* Reaping The Fruits of Better Medicine
* Reaping The Benefits of Botanical Genetic Engineering
* Anti-GMO Action Rapped
* Gene Patents: Monopolies or Hindrance to Research?
* Unearthing The Truth About Organic Food
* Biotech vs Activists In Gene-Modified Fields
* Fearing Food.......A Tragic Story

my garden to be GE free that is my decision and not yours.
>Can you cross your heart and hope to die that my garden will still be GE free in ten years time
>If you want to grow GE crops piss off overseas and do it there
> - Michael Quinlan and Family; GE free New Zealand

Thank you for your email. I agree that the Royal Commission's Report exhorted us all to preserve opportunities and therefore your desire to keep your garden GE free is an opportunity that should be preserved.

However, I do not believe the Royal Commission meant people should be required to forgo their own choices (opportunities) to protect the rights of others. The question is, how do we as a society resolve the conflict which exists when two, seemingly, incompatible rights to choose are being exercised. In this situation the democratic right of the majority is not necessarily the answer; something the Royal Commission recognised. The point I am trying to make is that your desire to have a GE free garden appears to run in direct conflict to the equally legitimate desire of another person who wants to use a GM plant in their garden to reduce their personal use of herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and insects. We know that excessive use of agricultural chemicals causes major health and environmental problems around the world (over 200,000 people die every year) which is why crop protection companies have sought better solutions. Anything which can be done reduce chemical use while maintaining productivit

So let's examine how, in a democratic society, the right to choose to be different is protected. In many other areas of our daily lives we are governed by rules which allow people who make different, and sometimes conflicting choices, to co-exist. When I choose to drink alcohol that is contrary to the religious beliefs of other members of my society, but my right to do so is protected. Should my daughter choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, that action is contrary to the very strongly held beliefs of other members of our society, but her right to do so is protected.

In each case, actions by opponents to prevent me or my daughter exercising choice are subject to criminal sanctions if the opponents actions threaten our safety. But what about if you are a smoker and you light up near me, a non-smoker with a history of asthma. Here you are impinging on my choice to breathe clean air and not to suffer ill health. The Government has put some rules around where you are allowed to light up in a public place but the sanctions for breaches of those rules are not very onerous. This despite the fact that we know that tobacco smoke causes cancer and the economic cost of tobacco induced cancers are extremely high.

Here we have a situation where there is clear scientific evidence of harm yet we have also recognised there is a huge difficulty in limiting people's democratic right to choose - to use tobacco products. The Report of the Royal Commission sets out a values-based democratic process which allows conflicting interests to be considered, to be given appropriate weight, and for a judgement to be made. But, as we all know, the appearance of something is sometimes very different to the reality. How we distinguish between perception and reality is through investigation and analysis - the basic intellectual tools of science. And it is clear that the Royal Commission , after applying its own investigation and conducting its own analysis, came to the view that your desire to have a GE free garden can be managed provided people take a reasonable and cautious approach. This doesn't mean there is a guarantee. As we all know there are no guarantees about anything other than death and taxes. But, what the Royal Commission d

Some basic understanding of the biology of plants is necessary; the times plants flower at, the nature of their pollen, the fact the GM crops are developments of hybrids (with their inherent weakness in the face of competition). This level of understanding helps to show how the challenges of co-existence may be handled. The Royal Commission suggested we spend time and effort researching what the appropriate growing practices might be to ensure we all retain the right to choose what's best for us.

This might take the shape of buffer zones between plants of a similar type (i.e. those that can actually cross-pollinate because pollen is very plant specific). It may also take:
creation of some guidelines about planting sequences to ensure flowering times are staggered;
using sterilisation technology so perennials have sterile pollen;
using chloroplast technology (recently announced in Canada) so the genetic transformation doesn't occur in the cells of the plant reproduction system.

Many of these techniques are already being used by farmers and gardeners who want to grow pure seeds for breeding in New Zealand and elsewhere. In fact, many countries around the world already have thriving GM crop farming co-existing with expanding organic farming industries (which seek to be GE-Free).

All this says that co-existence is possible and within possibility comes the right to choose. That right should only be constrained where there is a real threat to other's safety. Any system for prescribing co-existence cannot guarantee that contamination will never happen. But the question I ask then is; if there is contamination what are the consequences?

Greenpeace , the Green Party, the organics movement and others produced witnesses from around the world who argued that the consequences would be grave. Dr Elaine Ingham argued that the release of a modified soil bacteria, Klebsiella planticola, would result in the "elimination of all terrestrial plant life". She and the Green Party had to withdraw that evidence when it was found to be untrue.

Others made similarly grandiose claims which, when carefully examined by the Royal Commission were found to be, at best, unproven. No-one has yet been able to establish, anywhere in the world, that the creation of crops, which will reduce dependence on harmful and pernicious chemicals, have led to any threat to the household garden or gardener. No-one was able to produce for the Royal Commission a single case where a GM crop, or the product of a GM crop, created a health problem for the people or animals eating food derived from that crop.

The potential benefits to the environment and the food security of the world, through the appropriate use of genetically modified crops, are so huge it is irresponsible for any community to reject the technology without testing.

That, in essence, is what the Royal Commission has told us after 14 months of intensive work and $6.5 million of our taxpayer dollars. New Zealand's "clean green" image is a central tenet of our self-image. It is highly vulnerable, suspect and already flawed. It is quite likely a major self-delusion which plays nowhere near as important a role in others decisions about us as we like to think. Recent research which appeared to ascribe a high value to the label was seriously flawed.

It is highly vulnerable to the first major bio-security failure (such as foot & mouth, scrapie or BSE). Do we want to reject research into possible GM solutions to these problems. It is suspect because of our high incidence of bovine TB and our use of 90% of the world's 1080 poison to try to keep possum populations under control. It is further suspect because of our inability to control wildling pine trees and the damage their uncontrolled growth does to indigenous forests.

It is flawed because both clean and green are relative terms (and we are not really either) and someone else could easily come along and make a similar claim to reduce the brand value of the label.

The solutions to some of our most pernicious "green" environment problems, such as those I refer to above, may well be found through careful use of genetic modification. Do you want to cut off that opportunity? I don't. I want clean and green to mean something we can measure and defend.

I want the same things for my family as you want for yours - a healthy life in a secure environment where my children have all the opportunities for growth and development I can give them. To do that we need a healthy economy which ensures we maintain our comparative advantages across a broad spectrum. We will not do that by reducing our opportunities and cutting off our options.

Yours sincerely, Francis Wevers (and family)


From: Rick Roush

17 Myths busted by the Royal Commission.



From: Andrew Apel
Subject: The Face of Terrorism


With the recent attacks on workers in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, attacks perpetrated by those who put political ideology above human life, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate the politics of Greenpeace (which has openly declared human welfare to be at the bottom of its agenda), and similar groups which advocate destruction and its attendant misery as a means of advancing their purposes. Those who destroy for political purposes are not unknown to this group.

Some strike at "globalization" by destroying opportunities for those in developing countries to feed themselves; others strike at "globalization" by destroying research which could improve relationships between agriculture and the environment, others strike at "globalization" by killing innocents in more direct ways. With the plane-bombs, we can see all of these groups for what they are. Groups politically committed to destructive politically-motivated action rather than intelligent dialogue.

The activists who spit upon and hurled rocks and offal at those scientists in New Zealand who joined with the Royal Commission in advocating a peaceful coexistence between different forms of agriculture, must now be viewed in a different light - the activists must now be viewed as cultural vandals, who carelessly leave death and poverty in their wake.

Perhaps after the crudescence of terrorism in New York and Washington, the world will wake up to the politically-motivated destruction advocated by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Earth Liberation Front, Masipag, the Confederation Paysanne, the Genoa Social Front and others, and see that this is wrong. Seattle, Washington, Prague, Quebec, Genoa, are all part of the same wrong.

And this is wrong. Vandana Shiva has blood on her hands, so does Mae-Wan Ho. So do others of their ilk.

I recommend these folks lay low, very low, until political terrorism becomes fashionable again.


Reaping The Fruits of Better Medicine

- Graeme O'Neill, Sunday Herald 16 Sept 2001

When Spanish expeditions returned with the first tomatoes from the New World early in the 17th century, people refused to eat the rich red fruit, fearing it was poisonous -- like its European cousin, deadly nightshade.

Tomatoes are native to the South American Andes, but botanists believe they were first domesticated by Amerindian farmers in Mexico millennia ago. Europeans grew tomatoes in their gardens as novel ornamentals, but did not pluck up the courage to eat the fruit until the late 1700s. As recently as the early 1900s, people in some southern US states still shunned tomatoes. The botanical name given to the tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum, loosely translates as "edible wolf peach" reflecting the ambiguity with which the tomato was once regarded.

Wild Andean tomatoes, typical of most members of the great plant family Solanaceae, contain a toxic alkaloid called tomatine, which was eliminated through plant selection. But we have recently learned that tomatoes contain a potent anti-cancer compound called lycopene -- concentrates such as tomato sauce and paste are especially rich and very healthy to eat.

The first genetically engineered fruit was a tomato: Calgene's Flav'r Sav'r. Rather than insert a new gene, Calgene researchers silenced an existing gene that causes the fruit's cell walls to soften during ripening. The result was a tomato that would hang fresh and fully ripe on the plant, or repose on supermarket shelves for several weeks without going mushy.

Anti-GM activists regarded the Flav'r Sav'r with the same suspicion that Europeans regarded the first tomatoes grown in the Old World, but when the first crop was test-marketed in Chicago supermarkets in 1994, it sold out in minutes. Feared and shunned four centuries ago, the tomato is now the world's most widely grown and popular fruit, capable of being grown in greenhouses or outdoors almost anywhere between the polar circles and the equator.

For these reasons, the tomato was the logical choice for a new advance in gene technology announced this week, that could revolutionise the fight against lethal childhood infections in some of the world's poorest nations. At the same time, it will answer some of the concerns that opponents of gene technology have expressed about the impact of GM crops on the environment.

In the September edition of the international research journal Nature Biotechnology, a German-Brazilian team, led by Dr Ralph Bock of the Institute for Biology at Freiburg, announced it has achieved a high level of expression of an experimental transgene -- a transplanted gene -- in tomato chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are the tiny, chlorophyll-filled intracellular structures in which the solar-energy trapping reactions of photosynthesis take place. Chloroplasts -- also known as plastids -- are tiny, sausage-shaped structures containing their own small set of genes, separate from the major genetic repository of the cell nucleus.

The advantages of installing a new gene in a plastid are twofold. Every plant cell is packed with thousands of plastids, which will mass-produce a new transgene's protein product.

And pollen grains do not contain plastids, so the transgene is genetically confined to the target crop; it can not be transferred to conventional crops of the same species, or to sexually compatible weed relatives through pollen drift and hybridisation.

The latter point addresses one of the main criticisms of GM crops -- that transgenes for traits such as herbicide tolerance or pest resistance will escape from crops and create "superweeds".

Confining transgenes to plastids would also remove any risk that drifting pollen from GM crops containing transgenic pesticides could affect non-target species, such as North America's beautiful monarch butterfly. In fact, the threat to the monarch from transgenic maize crops was over-hyped -- caterpillars actively avoid the pollen and monarchs and other corn-belt butterflies are back in boom numbers since many farmers stopped drenching their crops in broad-spectrum pesticides.

But the most exciting aspect of the advance -- the technology is called transplastomics -- is the fact that Ralph Bock's research team has been able to produce large amounts of transgenic protein in the fruit of an easily grown crop. The way is now open for medical researchers to develop a new generation of "neutraceuticals" -- in this case, cheap oral vaccines to protect children in poor tropical and sub-tropical nations against lethal infections.

Immunisation will be as simple as feeding a child a home-grown tomato, or perhaps a banana, containing the appropriate transgene.

THE Salk oral poliomyelitis vaccine works this way -- the teaspoonful of sweet pink liquid that many of us drank as schoolchildren contained antigens from the virus that crippled millions of children in the first half of the 20th century. Special immune-system cells lining the digestive tract detect the viral antigens and induce systemic immunity against infection. Putting transgenes into plastids is preferable to installing them in the cell nucleus because the sheer number of plastids in each plant cell permits large quantities of the transgene's protein to be produced.

The highest levels of expression are obtained in green photosynthetic tissues such as leaves and stems, which contain active chloroplasts. The experimental transgene accounted for 5 per cent of the total soluble leaf protein in the research team's tomatoes. Chloroplasts are present, but do not photosynthesise, in the sugar-laden cells of ripe fruit. The fruit contained about half the amount of the transgenic protein, because the quantity in one tomato would be adequate to immunise a child against one or more infectious microbes.

We live in a perverse world where many parents in wealthy Western nations, including Australia, do not immunise their children against potentially lethal childhood infections such as measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and mumps, because anti-vaccinationists have grossly exaggerated the risk.

Meanwhile, these and other preventable deadly diseases kill hundreds of thousands of children in developing nations every year because conventional vaccines are highly perishable if they are not refrigerated and countries lack the resources to distribute them to remote areas.

Fruits or vegetables containing oral vaccines, grown in home gardens or village plots, would be an effective and, most importantly, cheap way to save young lives, with negligible risk. There would be no need for costly transport or refrigeration, no need even for a doctor or a nurse to inject the life-saving vaccines. Pick a tomato, eat it, and within a few days, you're immune.

It will be instructive to see how opponents of genetically engineered crops in the wealthy West respond to the development, because it is hard to see any downside. Children's lives will be saved, there will be no threat to human health or the environment and even the poorest would have access to it.


Reaping The Benefits of Botanical Genetic Engineering

- Joel M. Lerner, The Washington Post 15 Sept 2001

Scientists have been tinkering with Mother Nature again. Botanical genetic engineers obviously never saw the margarine ad that cautioned, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

Here are just a few examples of what is being done. They have added a bacteria-based insecticide called Bt to the genes of corn and other plants so that they will resist rootworm, borers and various other insects. They have mixed Brazil nuts and soybeans to make the legume more nutritious. Monsanto Co., a multinational biotechnology company, has even genetically engineered plants to produce biodegradable plastic polymers in their leaves and seeds. How do plant science experiments affect our world of ornamental horticulture?

I often recommend plants bred for disease and insect resistance. Scientists have given us disease-resistant roses, phloxes, peonies, irises, dahlias, dogwoods, elms, chestnuts and others. Michael Dirr in his college text, "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" (Stipes, 1997), has a listing for crabapples that is 30 pages long and rates disease resistance along with all the other plant characteristics.

Genetic engineering work is focused on food crops because they have the greatest economic importance, but we will see more work with ornamentals. Oregon State University's Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative is using genetic engineering to develop glyphosate-resistant trees, control flowering, transfer genes and analyze genetic risks. More information can be found at www.fsl.orst.edu/tgerc/currproj.htm.

Scientists are testing a gene-encoding protein for its resistance to disease. The plan is to transfer it into a chestnut and then test for resistance to the chestnut blight that destroyed the native chestnut trees on the Eastern Seaboard about 100 years ago. If the genetically engineered chestnut is resistant, the tissue will be grown into a tree and cloned for production. Sound futuristic? More information is available at www.nyforest.edu/center/absnew/transches.html.

Disease and insect resistance has become even more critical because the Environmental Protection Agency is pulling pesticides that don't meet safety standards of the market, and rightfully so. Through seed hybrids, grafts, tissue cultures and other genetic engineering, plant scientists are creating plants that can take care of themselves.

Much of the work on ornamental plants is still done through classic breeding techniques such as cross pollinating, grafting and selecting naturally resistant strains from observation in the field. These practices of hybridization and selection have been used for centuries. DNA modification is simply the next level of horticultural engineering. Plant splicing for disease and insect resistance, drought tolerance, flower color and other traits, or to create an entirely new type of living organism, are possible under an atomic microscope, and some people find this a little weird.

This work is not without controversy because we really don't know all the ways such efforts can affect the environment. Most of the concern expressed is about food crops, because our health could be at risk.

Countries in Europe won't approve any genetically engineered grains, and organizations such as Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Fund oppose genetically altered plants unless they are proved to be safe for all organisms. One of their concerns is that pollen from genetically altered plants could fall onto flowers of other plants in the area, which could kill beneficial insects if the altered plant had been engineered to contain an insecticide.

The day is coming when gene manipulation will be sophisticated enough to create roses that resist not only leaf spot but also aphids and Japanese beetles. A hemlock might receive a gene that makes it distasteful or toxic to woolly adelgid. Rhododendrons commonly succumb to Phytophthera fungus infections. In the future, scientists might be able to splice a gene from whitecedar falsecypress (Chamaecyparis), which is highly resistant to the disease, onto the DNA of rhododendron, creating a disease-resistant rhododendron.

Many ornamental plants have already been altered using more classic breeding techniques. For example, rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a free-flowering, fully hardy woody shrub. The main reason I wouldn't specify one on a landscape design is that it would be too prolific, producing seedlings that would be like weeds. But the National Arboretum bred one named Diana, a variety that is practically seedless. So there is one that can be used responsibly in our plant palette.

All this hybridization has made it crucial for us to buy only improved varieties. From maples to elms and tea roses to turf grasses, the current wisdom is that named cultivars will be far more ornamental than the original stock. They will stay greener, be more disease resistant or color more beautifully in fall.

So here's my wish list for plants that would make the world a better place if they were genetically engineered to control their worst problems.
* Gardenias. How about a disease-free gardenia that is tough enough to survive in our hardiness zone?
* Hybrid tea roses. Am I asking too much for a continuous flowering hybrid tea rose that will never need a shot of fungicide or insecticide?
* Flowering cherries. Cherry blossoms are showy but way too ephemeral. Perhaps the flowers could be re-engineered to hold a little longer.
* Turf. I would ask a plant scientist to splice a gene to grass that will produce a thick, green lawn with a manicured appearance year round that never needed mowing, lawn treatments or watering and stood up to any type of traffic. Sort of a living Astroturf.

My guess is that some of these things will not occur in our lifetime, but others might. Working with plant tissue on a cellular level is one of the more revolutionary ornamental horticulture techniques in plant development. It has enabled growers to propagate plants faster and more efficiently, make them hardier and dictate colors for some flowers never before thought possible.
Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. His e-mail address is jml@gardenlerner.com; his web page is www.gardenlerner.com


Anti-GMO Action Rapped

- Benigno D. Peczon , Letter To The Editor, BusinessWorld (Philippines) 17 Sept 2001

The Macapagal-Arroyo Administration recently issued its Policy Statement on Modern Biotechnology calling for the promotion of the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology as one of several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development. This national policy is important for the country to benefit from the tremendous potentials of biotechnology. However, even with the issuance of the Policy Statement, some groups are determined to forestall the national biotechnology agenda in their pursuit of parochial selfish concerns to the detriment of the larger interests of the Filipino nation. The Biotechnology Conference of the Philippines views with great concern the uprooting by anti-GMO advocates of genetically modified corn being tested in a 1,700 square-meter farm in Tampakan, South Cotabato. It strongly condemns this and similar efforts that block the progress of science in the service for humanity.

Field-testing is an important phase in determining the safety and efficacy of bioengineered crops. By their action in South Cotabato, the militant organizations involved have temporarily jeopardized this process. And yet, it is ironic that the opposition of these advocates to GMOs is centered on questioning the safety of using the organisms a concern that has yet to see any scientific basis.

If needed, science underpins their concerns, and that there really is inconvertible proof that GMOs pose harm to animals, plants, humans and the environment, anti-GMO advocates should logically welcome the field testing of GMOs. Field-testing would, after all, finally bring to light proof -often promised but never delivered - of the harm GMOs pose.

It is regrettable that, although legal and administrative means are available, anti-GMO advocates chose the destruction of private property to express opposition to, and stop the testing and use of, GMOs. Even more regrettable is that the method these advocates have chosen does not provide the opportunity to really settle the safety questions of GMOs. On the contrary, they have, by their actions, left the public still bereft of calm, scientific, and informative debate on the issue.

The anti-GMO advocates, it seems, would rather keep the public in the dark by unenlightened rhetoric, generalities based on unsubstantiated threats and undefined "ghosts," and grand gestures that hide the facts.

The public does have the right to know the facts! And these are the facts:

* Biotechnology has tremendous potential to contribute to the achievement of poverty eradication, food security and adequate nutrition, improved health, and sustainable environment.

* No scientific proof exists to confirm that genetically modified foods are any less safe then foods derived from traditional means. Yet, the anti-GMO advocates seek to deprive us of this potential on bases that have yet to be proven.

We of the BCP urge that a dynamic and unfettered, yet objective, exchange of information and ideas be engendered by all concerned. Let us talk the reason with each other. Let us decide what we want to do, and how to do so, in an atmosphere where respect for the truth, and others especially those who disagree-reign supreme. Let us not be slaves of untruths and unknowns.

Government for its part should show political will to enforce policies formulated for the betterment of our people. It should not be held hostage and paralyzed into inaction by groups threatening the use of vandalism and mass mobilization against it. After all, we are a government of laws. - BENIGNO D. PECZON, Ph.D. ; President, BCP


Gene Patents: Socially Acceptable Monopolies or an Unnecessary Hindrance to Research?

- Alan R. Williamson, BioMedNet
Full Article at http://news.bmn.com/hmsbeagle/110/notes/feature11

Abstract: Why should patents be granted on genes? This question is a provocative and troubling issue currently facing society. Looking at the commercial realities of gene patents, I conclude that on balance their effect is to retard, rather than to stimulate, both scientific and economic progress. The monopolies awarded by patents on genes as novel chemicals are not therefore in the public interest. Society would benefit from immediate change in the policy of patent offices to limit the allowance of patents on genes to specified uses with only narrow claims.
Our genes define us, as a species and as individuals, so for human genes there is strong opposition from some quarters, both religious and secular, to gene patents. A patent is a social contract that is intended to stimulate innovation for the public good and to reward inventors by allowing them a monopoly on their invention for a fixed term (Box 1). (Although the U.S. Constitution allows discoveries as well as inventions, in current practice patents are not allowed on a discovery [Box 1].) For a patent to be granted, in either Europe or the U.S.A., an invention must meet three similar criteria; it must be novel, inventive and show utility, or be capable of industrial application. It is important that the monopolies granted by the patent system should be accepted as being socially beneficial.

Patents with broad claims are being granted on genes (mainly by the United States Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO]) despite many arguments for keeping genes, especially human genes, in the public domain. Those arguments from the "moral high ground" have lost out to the pragmatism of the patent offices. It remains to be seen whether the broad claims will be justified when opposed or challenged (Box 1). In Europe, fewer than 5% of patents are ever opposed. In the U.S.A., the validity of patents and their claim structure will be tested in the courts. Therefore, unless there is a belated policy change by the USPTO, it will rest with the courts to determine the legally acceptable position on gene patents. Hopefully, this might also result in a more socially beneficial position. In the U.S.A., a challenge by patent holders against third parties who they deem to have infringed their patent will not be brought until the patentee can see a potential for substantial financial gain in winning the challenge. Therefo

It is important to recognize that a patent cannot be granted on a gene as it occurs naturally. Isolation of the gene is required and the precedent cited is the purification of a natural product (e.g. penicillin). Patent offices have considerable experience in evaluating patent applications for novel chemical compounds, and they have chosen to treat each gene as a new chemical compound and to grant "composition-of-matter" patents (Box 2). The USPTO adopts the position that however obvious the method of isolation of a gene, the sequence determined for that gene is not obvious and, on this basis, a composition-of-matter patent is justified. Thus, "a patent granted on an isolated and purified DNA composition confers the right to exclude others from any method of using that DNA composition for up to 20 years from the filing date" (Boxes 1 and 2).

The USPTO have rejected the counter argument that a gene should be treated not as a novel chemical, but as biological software comprising a program written in the sequence of the nucleotides. DNA is a simple chemical polymer, a polynucleotide containing four types of subunit. The novelty of each gene lies in the complex information encoded by the sequence of the four nucleotides (designated A, C, G, and T) forming the polymer. The basic information contained within a gene can be written as the order of A, C, G, and T nucleotides (analogous to the series of 0s and 1s in a software program) without using chemical nomenclature. Patent protection on software has not usually been granted, and copyright has been the only commercial protection - a much weaker protection, although one of longer duration.

In contrast to the USPTO position, I hold the view that genes are essentially discoveries, rather than inventions (Box 1), and that the discovery process is now a routine one. As such, allowance of a composition-of-matter patent cannot be justified. However, where a useful function of a gene can be demonstrated, it might be reasonable to allow a use patent on the gene and/or its product. This leaves the way open for novel uses for the same gene to be claimed in subsequent patents.


Unearthing The Truth About Organic Food

- Alex Avery and Dennis Avery, spiked-health, 5 Sept 2001

The Soil Association finally admitted in August 2001 that the 'perception that organic food "is better for you" appears to have been largely based on intuition rather than conclusive evidence'.

But now the organic-promoting organisation claims that it has 'indicative evidence suggesting' that organic foods might have slightly more nutrients than non-organic food. If you thought it couldn't get any more wishy-washy than 'indicative evidence suggesting', think again. To reach this conclusion the Soil Association had to ignore more than two thirds of the research on organic foods published in scientific journals. The association considered 99 reports - and of these, just 29 were deemed 'valid' and not 'flawed'. So on the criteria set by the Soil Association, 70 percent of the papers were tossed aside.

But you'd be hard pressed to pick up this important fact by having a quick look at the report. (In fact, it's impossible to have a quick look at the report at all - it is 87 pages long, has more than 550 citations, and even its introduction has six references.) The Soil Association claims that its lone researcher, Shane Heaton, examined over 400 'published papers' to reach the conclusion that more research is needed to determine definitively whether organic food is really any different to non-organic food - aside from the well-established fact that organic grains tend to be lower in protein.

This is a carefully selected fraction of the available research. Ten of the 'valid 29' were papers presented by organic research organisations at organic farm meetings sponsored by organic groups. Another five were reports of research conducted by organic farm groups. These are not peer-reviewed studies published in reputable scientific journals - they are the home crowd cheering their team.

Some of the other 'studies' reviewed by the Soil Association are downright hocus-pocus. So-called 'holistic' methods of food-quality analysis look at the crystal patterns formed by copper salts in the juices of fruits and vegetables. Organic activists claim that these tests show how organic foods have better 'picture forming' qualities, and therefore more 'vital quality'. But more than 70 years after the first copper crystallisation tests were conducted, not a single food scientist can say what the crystal formations mean in terms of food quality or nutrition. The huge number of citations (556) in the report compared to the tiny number of papers actually reviewed (29) is an old schoolboy's trick - an effort to make the report seem more authoritative. In reality, many of the citations are just duplicates from other sections of the report.

What is most telling is what is left out of the report. A research paper by Dr William Lockeretz of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science published in 1980 is one of the so-called 'valid 29'. But Dr Lockeretz had this to say in 1997, at an international organic conference: 'I wish I could tell you that there is a clear, consistent nutritional difference between organic and conventional foods. Even better, I wish I could tell you that the difference is in favour of organic. Unfortunately, though, from my reading of the scientific literature, I do not believe such a claim can be responsibly made.' Dr Lockeretz is no organic critic, but a long-time organic proponent and a co-founder of the pro-organic American Journal of Alternative Agriculture.

As for the rest of the Soil Association report, it is just a rehash of the same accusations and pesticide fear-mongering that the organic industry has peddled for decades. The whole organic movement is based on a fear of modern farming technology. The most prominent fear is the supposed health threat from synthetic pesticide residues on food. The report states that the 'evidence of direct links between pesticides and ill-health is still emerging'. Maybe they should let us know when it emerges from more than just the imaginations of organic activists.

One of the Soil Association's own organic pesticides was recently reclassified as a 'likely human carcinogen' . Dozens of health and cancer institutions have concluded that there is no realistic threat to human health from the tiny traces of synthetic pesticides on our food, including the US National Research Council (NRC), the US Food and Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute of Canada. The NRC said in 1996 that the natural toxins and carcinogens in our foods (which are present in relatively high amounts compared to the traces of synthetics) may pose a greater theoretical cancer risk than synthetic pesticide residues - but that neither the synthetic nor natural carcinogens are present in high enough amounts to warrant avoiding fruit and vegetable consumption.

On that score, it is curious that the Soil Association report failed to mention that one of its own organic pesticides, pyrethrum, was recently reclassified as a 'likely human carcinogen' by the US Environmental Protection Agency. That's right - the Soil Association sanctions the use of carcinogenic pesticides by its own farmers.

The science is clear - organic food is no healthier, safer or more nutritious than non-organic food. And no amount of organic industry hocus-pocus can make that truth disappear.
Dennis Avery is director the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute in Indiana. He was previously senior agricultural analyst in the US Department of State and served on the staff of President Johnson's National Commission on Food and Fiber. Alex Avery is a biologist and research director for the Center for Global Food Issues, and is writing a book on organic food myths.


Biotech vs Activists In Gene-Modified Fields

LABRIHE, France (Reuters) - A sickle in his hand and a broad grin on his face, Jacques Lachaud wiped the sweat from his brow after helping to destroy a field of genetically modified corn near this southwestern French town.

"This feels really good,'' the retired shopkeeper said as the late summer sun beat down on him and approximately 150 other activists taking part in the illegal protest of genetically enhanced crops. Standing on the dusty earth where just minutes earlier hundreds of plants were being grown by a French farmer on behalf of U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto, Lachaud explained the simple motive behind his radical act.

"I'm sick of eating lousy food,'' he said. " will definitely be back for more (protests) if they want us.'' Poor food -- known in France as "`la malbouffe'' -- has become a national preoccupation in recent years, with everyone from small consumers to the country's farm minister weighing in on how to improve the quality of French cuisine.

Why all the fuss? It's simple enough: a series of food scares and farm panics have revealed that France, while certainly not serving the worst meals in the world, may have lost its reputation for having the best.

The problems began in the mid-1990s when there were outbreaks of listeria, a food-borne germ that kills infants, pregnant women and the elderly. Then there were consumer panics over bioengineered crops and a subsequent scare linked to cancer-causing dioxin in imports of Belgian meat.

Environmentalists have also charged that water supplies in certain regions of the country have become contaminated by pesticides -- a casualty of the intensive farming habits that have marked French agriculture since the Second World War. But the real shocker was the discovery last October that meat from a French herd infected with mad cow disease had made its way into the human food chain.

Almost overnight, two of France's proudest traditions -- gastronomy and farming -- were turned on their heads, as homes, school kitchens and restaurants stripped the meat from menus and beef prices dropped 40 percent. The government banned meat and bone meal in animal feed, commonly believed to be the main factor behind the spread of mad cow disease, and it outlawed T-bone steaks, because the spine is one of the most infective parts of a diseased animal.

The ensuing gastronomic chaos culminated earlier this year when Arpege, a high temple of the normally carnivorous Paris food scene, went vegetarian. "We must get back to the essences of the earth. I hope to contribute to a deep change in culinary creation,'' Arpege chef Alain Passard said as he announced his dramatic move.

Frederic Jollet of livestock market analysts MHR Viandes said the food crises pushed quality to the front of consumers' minds after a long absence. "For years, markets were geared toward consumerism and the need to produce at low cost,'' he said. "But the debates of recent years show us that it can't only be about price.''

He said a good example of how consumers are putting quality first lies in the revitalized fortunes of traditional butcher shops, which consumers perceive as supplying better meats than supermarkets. Jollet said the French have learned to be more conscious about the environment, a point illustrated by the growing number of farmers producing food organically, or without the use of chemicals. The cult-hero status of activist and farmer Jose Bove, who has lashed out at both McDonald's fast food and GM produce, is another case in point.

Benoit Vergriette, of the French organic farmers' union FNAB, pointed out that "more and more farmers are looking at organic production.'' In fact, he said some 3,000 farmers are expected to make the shift this year.

Changes such as this, and the new health-conscious attitude of food retailers and politicians, are finally reassuring consumers. French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said more changes are needed in the way France, and Europe, feeds itself. He and his German counterpart, Renate Kuenast, recently agreed that the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy should switch its focus from quantity to quality.

Glavany is no stranger to the struggle against "la malbouffe,'' having sparked a trans-Atlantic war of words two years ago when he described the United States as having "`the worst food in the world.'' The minister remains unrepentant about American-style food. He recently told Reuters that he was battling to ensure that fast food did not devour the planet.

"This 'fast food' made with ground beef, with a certain tomato sauce, fries and sugary, gassy drinks, does not strike me as a universal dream,'' he said. "Just look at the obesity level in a certain country and you'll understand why I want to spare Europeans this.'' ^ REUTERS@


Fearing Food.......I reproduce the tragic story below as it illustrates the unfortunate consequences of promoting irrational fears about traditionally produced food in the Western societies which can drive some to extremes ....CSP

Vegan Parents Spared Jail After Baby Dies

- Lewis Smith, The Times (London) September 15, 2001

A couple whose baby daughter starved to death because of their fanatical belief in a vegan diet were described as "extreme and misguided" by a judge who spared them jail yesterday.

Mr Justice Paget, QC, said he accepted that Garabet and Hazmik Manuelyan, both 45, were devoted parents but that their 10-month-old daughter's death could have been prevented if they had taken professional advice. He sentenced them to three years' community rehabilitation, formerly called probation, after they admitted child cruelty at the Old Bailey.

When Areni Manuelyan died in July last year she was less than two-thirds the weight she should have been. Her parents had fed her only breast milk, uncooked fruit, vegetables and nuts from birth. They believed that fresh, organic, raw food should be eaten to avoid consuming toxins. They ignored repeated warnings by doctors, nutritionists and social workers that to bring their three children up on such a diet would be dangerous for their health.

Mr Justice Paget said: "Your real punishment is that you will have to spend the rest of your lives in the knowledge that your stubbornness was responsible for Areni's death. For loving parents such as you, that is a real burden."

Pathologists found that the girl died from pneumonia as a result of severe malnutrition and dehydration. She weighed 11lb when she died, 6lb less than a healthy baby of her height and age. Four months earlier, her parents, angry at what they described as the arrogance and harassment of health professionals, had left their home in Staines, Surrey, to live with their children in a commune in Spain.

Garabet Manuelyan had to return to Britain in May last year to earn money to support the family, leaving his wife with the children. She had a physical and nervous breakdown and was unable to cope, the court was told. On July 3 last year she flew to Britain desperately worried about Areni, who had a temperature and was refusing food and drink.

A day later Garabet Manuelyan took his daughter to a doctor who practised alternative medicine and was urged to seek immediate hospital treatment. He ignored the advice and neither of the doctors who saw the baby called for an ambulance or contacted the authorities.

Areni died the following morning. Even as medics tried to resuscitate the baby, her mother had to be physically restrained from stopping doctors using what she described as chemicals to try to save her.

Areni's parents, both Armenians, had converted to the raw vegan diet in 1996 after reading a book in their home country called Raw Eating, The Meaning of Nutrition - A New World Order.

Stephen Mejzner, for the father, said the parents, who are to separate, had researched the diet as best they could but made the mistake of believing misleading studies and literature. He said: "We are being bombarded by often conflicting information on a daily basis on what is safe to eat and drink."

The father said that he was suffocated by his own sense of guilt and failure. Linda Strudwick, for the mother, said her client was suicidal and stayed alive only for the sake of her two other children, aged nine and eleven, who are in care. The mother, a graduate, now slept covered only by the blanket that last wrapped Areni.