Today's Topics in AgBioView:
* SCIENCE MUST WIN THE GM ARGUMENT
* Terrorism & Trade: Not a Negotiating Tactic
* UNL Database
* Opportunities and risks of genetically modified food
* Officials Fight Ban On Field Tests
SCIENCE MUST WIN THE GM ARGUMENT
New Zealand Herald Editorial
September 26, 2001
According to this editorial, concerns are mounting in some quarters of the
country that the Government is going to over-ride the recommendations of its
own royal commission and continue a moratorium on the conditional release of
genetically modified organisms. When the commission produced its report in
July, suggesting releases should be allowed to "proceed with caution", the
Prime Minister hailed the report as "thorough, balanced and measured." The
Government gave itself three months to decide what to do.
Though the deadline, October 31, is still more than a month away, the
Government is, the editorial says, coming under pressure to maintain the
moratorium indefinitely, a step which would deal a serious blow to
agricultural research. Indeed, the newly established dairy conglomerate,
Fonterra, has warned that it may take its research investment overseas if
the moratorium is prolonged.
The Greens, on whom the coalition depends for its survival, have never
accepted the conclusions of the royal commission they demanded. But Labour
is now also coming under pressure from its normally compliant coalition
partner, the Alliance. In a speech last week, Deputy Prime Minister Jim
Anderton was cited as saying the Alliance wanted a further moratorium on
non-contained genetically modified organisms "until the technology is proven
to be safe".
And in the Prime Minister's Mt Albert electorate, the Labour Party branch
has urged her to allow field trials only for contained organisms, not for
release into the environment.
The pressure is considerable. By October 31, the next election will be
little more than a year away. The Labour Party is still polling comfortably
well, but the Greens and the Alliance will be starting to look anxiously at
their own prospects.
The editorial says that by the end of next month, the Government may decide
there would no great harm in continuing the testing moratorium until it is
safely through the election. But genetics is a fast developing science. The
recent Knowledge Wave conference should have convinced all concerned that
New Zealand can not afford to dither. Warnings such as that from Fonterra
should not be ignored. The agricultural and horticultural research on which
much of the economy depends, stands to lose valuable scientists if their
work here is held up indefinitely.
It is bad enough that the Government is taking three months to respond to
the findings of its own royal commission. What was the point of a $6.5
million investigation by the Government's chosen panel, if its findings can
not be taken at face value.
This was not a panel predisposed to give a particular point of view. In
fact, when the appointees were announced there were some misgivings among
those keen to see New Zealand in the vanguard of the science.
But the commissioners went about their task conscientiously, holding
hearings around the country and carefully checking all arguments put before
them. Their conclusions were, as Helen Clark said, thorough, balanced and
measured. They believe the conditional release of organisms from field test
can be permitted with careful scrutiny.
Their findings will not satisfy those who want all risk removed. Few things
in life are entirely free of risk, though with sensible precautions they can
be made tolerably safe. So it is with genetic field trials.
When Jim Anderton says the Alliance wants the technology to be proven safe,
he knows he sets science an impossible task. Views are divided within the
Labour caucus. The signs are becoming ominous that politics, not science,
Terrorism & Trade: Not a Negotiating Tactic
By Dean Kleckner
Chairman of Truth About Trade & Technology
I’ll never forget the horrible events of September 11--one of the blackest days in U.S. history. Yet I’ve also been heartened by ordinary Americans all around the country responding to that awful day with a spine-tingling show of patriotism and a compelling determination to rid the world of terrorism.
Americans simply won’t tolerate terrorism any longer. For too long, we’ve been willing to look the other way. This is a luxury we can no longer afford. The time has come to stamp out terrorism in all it forms.
One of the least appreciated strains of terrorism affects American farmers directly. It’s called “bio-terrorism” or “eco-terrorism.” Radical environmentalists have tried for years to advance an extremist agenda by monkey-wrenching construction equipment and spiking trees about to be logged. Some of them recently have turned their attention to agriculture--and specifically to the genetically modified crops American farmers now grow in abundance as they try to feed a hungry world.
These aren’t just a bunch of college kids embracing a trendy “cause of the month”--they’re terrorists who have cost our society millions of dollars by trashing experimental crop fields and destroying research labs. One example among many: On New Year’s Eve last year, Michigan State University suffered more than $1 million in damage when arsonists attacked its agriculture building. “The only terror involved is from organizations that profit from terrorizing the earth,” said a spokesman for the group claiming responsibility. “If a little terror puts them out of business, then so be it.”
What these well-funded zealots aim to do is “defend” the people around the globe against capitalism, including all of its attendant advancements in trade and technology. These fearmongers are deeply misguided, but some are so committed to their perverse cause that they have turned to violence.
Their behavior has not been as widely publicized as the activities of other terrorists because they’ve not claimed any lives--so far. They’ve merely inflicted damage against personal and private property. That’s a significant problem by itself, and must now be opposed as we begin a robust opposition to terrorism everywhere.
It’s vital that we not underestimate this foe. Terrorists who now have flagrant disregard for other people often start by waging war against property. It seems probable that before too long, one of them is going to fire bomb a university facility where a scientist is hard at work late at night trying to develop a better soybean. When that finally happens and lives are lost -- they will still insist that their ends justify their means.
We should make sure we stop the bio-terrorists before they claim a single life. They have not yet done anything approaching the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, and hopefully they never will. Yet they can be quite ruthless. They strike from the same impulse that drove the September 11 suicide bombers: The belief that their sick actions are somehow okay because they are not just above the law but also our common understanding of morality.
One practical way to defeat them is to insist on continuing the international trade talks that lead to a greater worldwide acceptance of genetically modified foods--talks that the terrorists themselves would desperately like to see cancelled. There’s an important World Trade Organization meeting scheduled for November in Qatar. It may now be necessary to tighten security for it and perhaps even shift the location, but the talks themselves must go on and their content must remain unaltered. Anything less will encourage the perpetrators of violence to continue on their reckless course.
These discussions are important in their own right. But making sure they move forward now is a small way to fight our new war against terrorism--a worthwhile victory in a small skirmish of an enormous conflict.
Our database of safety information on genetically modified crops provides complete descriptions for each of the crops that have received regulatory approval in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.
Please note that this includes not only plants produced using recombinant DNA technologies (e.g., genetically engineered or transgenic plants), but also plants with novel traits that may have been produced using more traditional methods, such as accelerated mutagenesis or plant breeding. These latter plants are only regulated in Canada.
Opportunities and risks of genetically modified food
Contact: Dr. Eva-Maria Streier
In its new publication, the Senate commission deals with issues concerning the objectives, application and legal framework of green genetic engineering. It comments on conceivable risks resulting from the cultivation and consumption of genetically modified plants or food and refers to safety precautions to protect the consumer. The statement focuses on food from transgenic plants. Animal food is to be dealt with at a later point in a separate publication.
The statement has been coordinated with the Senate commission on food safety and is to appear as a bilingual publication in German and English.
For thousands of years, human beings have been cultivating useful plants with the aim of achieving higher and more predictable yields with certain quality and processing qualities. Here, genetic methods are particularly beneficial, for with their aid, hereditary matter from organisms of different species can also be transferred to certain breeds to encourage the development of desired properties. In comparison with conventional varieties, transgenic useful plants display considerable advantages. They are resistant to pests and diseases, have an improved herbicide tolerance and also thrive in unfavourable environmental conditions. And food with physiologically important contents can be produced more efficiently with transgenic micro-organisms. Micro-organisms of this kind are employed as producers of metabolic products and enzymes and as fermentation aids.
Biologically modified food has to fulfil the same safety requirements as traditional products. So potential risks have to be identified and assessed at an early stage. In this context, the Senate commission recommends sticking to the tried-and-tested regulations on tests stipulated in the law on genetic engineering and food and urging for a uniform implementation of national and European guidelines supplemented by provisions on seed for animal feed and food. Only with the approval of the public at large can the food industry benefit from genetic engineering methods in a responsible way. This is why the commission is calling for a constructive dialogue between scientists and consumers.
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Gentechnik und Lebensmittel - Genetic Engineering and Food Senate commission on genetic research Statement 3 WILEY-VCH Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim, 2001, 82 pp., DM 38.92
Editorial offices note: Editorial offices can request a free-of-charge copy of the statement "Genetic Engineering and Food" from the Press and Public Relations Office of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Kennedyallee 40, D-53 175 Bonn, Germany. Tel: 49-228-885-2210. Fax: 49-228-885-2180. Email: email@example.com. The complete text of the statement can be called up on the DFG Internet pages at the address http://www.dfg.de/aktuell/publikationen.html..
Officials Fight Ban On Field Tests
September 25, 2001
The Department of Agriculture yesterday reiterated its demand that the ban on
field trials of genetically modified plants be lifted, arguing that the ban was
a major obstacle in developing genetic engineering technology for the
The government agreed to impose the ban last year as proposed by the Assembly
of the Poor, said Hiran Hiranpradit, the department's senior expert in crop
production. ``Continuing the ban on GM field trials will cause great damage
to the country, especially in agricultural research and development,'' said Mr
Hiran, a member of a PM's Office sub-committee on GM products policy.
The sub-committee yesterday held a meeting to finalise the country's five-year
policy on GM products.
Mr Hiran said the sub-committee has repeatedly submitted letters to Deputy
Prime Minister Pongpol Adireksarn, who oversees the committee solving the
Assembly of the Poor's petitions, calling for the ban to be lifted.
Ampon Kittiampon, the Agriculture Ministry's assistant permanent secretary,
said lifting the ban would greatly contribute to an increase in knowledge and
understanding of the new technology.
Nares Dhamrongchai, of the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and
Biotechnology (Biotec), said field trials should be allowed, but only under
strict rules to prevent leakage of GM seeds.
Greenpeace campaigner Auaiporn Suthontanyakorn disagreed, saying the ban should
stay as long as state agencies could not prove they could prevent GM seed
Also, it was not necessary to embrace the technology at the moment because its
safety to the ecosystem and human health was not yet proven, Ms Auaiporn said.
Mr Hiran announced that a national agency to provide information on GMOs to the
public would be set up.
The agency comprises Biotec and the Thailand Biodiversity Centre under the
Science Ministry, and the Agriculture Ministry's Natural Resources and
Buntoon Sethasarote, of the Natural Resources and Biodiversity Institute, said
information on the pros and cons of GMOs needed to be cleared up to avoid
causing public misunderstanding.
``At present, each concerned party seems to select information that supports
its stance, which confuses the public. So an agency to provide unbiased
information on GMOs is a must,'' Mr Buntoon said.
Dr Nares, of Biotec, said people interested in GMOs could find reliable facts
at the newly-created agency, which would also gather facts and opinions from
every organisation concerned.
Biotech Web Site Offers Education
September 25, 2001
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has launched a new Web site to help
consumers and students understand agricultural biotechnology.
"Our goal is to help people learn to assess these new technologies," says Leon
Higley, NU professor of entomology. "How do they know what is safe? What should
their standards be? We want to help people sort through this information."
The site, at www.agbiosafety.unl.edu, contains lesson plans for teachers, basic
consumer information and a research database on all genetically engineered
crops in North America. In addition, NU biotechnology experts will answer
questions in the frequently asked questions area of the new site.
Truth About Trade
Patagonia is a company known for their fashionable and pricey line of outdoor clothing. Unfortunately, they are taking their "fashionable popularity" and attempting to translate it into "fashionable environmentalism." Patagonia is pressuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reverse their decision on the proposed rules regarding voluntary labeling of biogenetically engineered food products. In fact, Patagonia is playing chief-fearmonger in getting their customers involved. Claiming that not enough testing has been conducted, they are masterminding a campaign based only on fear and misunderstanding, not valid science.
With a goal of stifling biotechnology, Patagonia and cohorts are preaching a dangerous and unrealistic philosophy called the "precautionary principle." This impossible burden of proof - also being utilized by the European Union to justify their ban on imports - is designed to give anybody who raises ANY possibility of threat or harm, no matter how far-fetched, an effective veto on any new product or technology.