Today's Topics in Agbioview:
* Best Local Corporation
* Not the end of the world
* FOOD INDUSTRY LOSING GROUND ON GM: EXPERT
* USA: BIOTECH VS. RICE BLAST DISEASE IN ARKANSAS
* WAR DRUMS WEAKENING ECO-APPETITES
* GM Soya Safe, Says Commission
From: Mary Murphy
Subject: Best Local Corporation
A St. Louis publication, the Riverfront Times, which is normally anti-corporate, has recently selected Monsanto as the "Best Local Corporation." Perhaps the tide is turning as more and more people are finally understanding the benefits of new plants and good the intentions of biotech plant breeders.
Best Local Corporation
800 N. Lindbergh Blvd., Creve Coeur, 314-694-1000
Have you hugged your agricultural scientist today? Considering that national and multinational corporations are leaving the St. Louis area like popcorn from a fire, it's time to appreciate the much-maligned Monsanto, one of the few multinational corporations to still call St. Louis home. Monsanto, which is controlled by Peapack, N.J.-based Pharmacia Corp., not only funded the new research center near the Missouri Botanical Garden on Vandeventer Avenue, it also sponsors global programs designed to help Third World nations feed themselves, programs such as the Cassava Project. In Africa, nearly half the cassava crop is lost to disease. Monsanto scientists in St. Louis and Nairobi, Kenya, are studying ways to protect it.
Not the end of the world
>From the Global Edition of the Financial Times (London)
28 September, 2001
By Henry I. Miller
Biological weapons have an apocalyptic reputation. But they are often ineffective in spreading disease, says Henry Miller
Anthrax. Bubonic plague. Smallpox. These sinister names have appeared with increasing frequency this week as fears grow of a biological weapons attack by terrorist groups.
Whether true or not, reports that the organisation of Osama bin Laden may have been plotting to use crop-duster aircraft to spread such micro-organisms constitute a wake-up call. They suggest that local and national governments need to prepare better for future incidents involving biological weapons.
But it is vital not to exaggerate the power of such weapons. Although bacteria and other micro-organisms can sicken or even kill an individual, their ability to spread and cause "secondary" cases is limited. There is a sound biological reason why a worldwide epidemic from an "Andromeda strain" is largely the stuff of science fiction: bacteria and viruses need living hosts to provide sustenance if they are to survive. That means they cannot kill their hosts too quickly or too often.
During the past 50 years, university and government laboratories working with infectious agents that cause diseases such as anthrax and bubonic plague have, unintentionally, performed what amounts to small-scale biological warfare "experiments": accidents in which organisms were released from containment.
The consequences of these incidents are revealing and somewhat reassuring. The US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, which tracks such incidents, recorded 109 laboratory-associated infections during 1947-73 but not a single secondary case - that is, the infection of a patient's family member or community contact. Similarly, the medical literature reveals only a handful of persons secondarily infected.
It is also instructive to look at the occurrence of anthrax in industrial settings. Historically, workers involved with certain animal products were at the highest risk but only 18 cases of inhalational anthrax were reported in the US from 1900 to 1978. Human-to-human transmission of anthrax has never been reported.
As a public health threat, most biological agents act much like a toxic chemical such as the sarin released in the Tokyo subway by terrorists, with injury limited primarily to those exposed initially. The appearance of symptoms from a biological agent would be more delayed than for a chemical agent - the incubation period for plague is between two and seven days, for example. Most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, assuming that the offending organism is identified early enough and that there are enough drugs on hand.
Even so, micro-organisms do pose risks. Certain viruses, such as influenza and rhinoviruses, are highly contagious and cannot be treated with antibiotics. However, they are seldom life-threatening. In sum, the chances of a lethal epidemic caused by progressive person-to-person spread of infectious agents is highly unlikely but their dispersion - in a subway, for example - could still affect thousands.
There are certain precautions that should be taken now to prepare for incidents with biological agents. First, law enforcement, military and intelligence agencies must expand their intelligence-gathering on nations and terrorist groups capable of launching attacks with biological agents.
Second, local police and paramedics should be trained to consider the possibility of biological weapons in incidents where large numbers of people suddenly become ill. Such incidents require behaviour that is different from emergency workers' usual instincts. During conventional hostage situations and after explosions or earthquakes, the correct course is often to get as close to the incident as rapidly as possible; for biological or chemical exposures, however, it may be more important for those responding initially simply to avoid becoming additional victims.
Third, healthcare facilities must have emergency plans in place for the sudden presentation of large numbers of contaminated individuals. These plans must include rapid recognition of the incident, staff and facility protection, patient decontamination and triage (saving the healthy before treating the sick), drug and other therapy, and co-ordination with external agencies.
Finally, police departments and public health authorities need to stockpile protective clothing, designate laboratories for rapid diagnosis, formulate a procedure for notifying hospitals and transporting patients to them and make arrangements to obtain expert advice at short notice.
Much of what is needed to combat biological terrorism is the same as that required to deal with the outbreak of natural disease, such as Legionnaire's disease, high-virulence influenza and E. coli in minced meat.
The prospect of exposure to biological weapons should elicit not hysteria but vigilance and planning. As Louis Pasteur, father of bacteriology, said: "Chance favours only the prepared mind."
Dr Miller is a molecular biologist and a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a former official of the US National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration
FOOD INDUSTRY LOSING GROUND ON GM: EXPERT
September 27, 2001
The Western Producers
NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. ≠ Consumers' Association of Canada vice-president Jenny
Hillard was cited as telling industry leaders Sept. 17the potential
advantages of biotechnology could be lost to the food industry if consumers
cannot soon be convinced of its benign benefits and that government and the
biotech industry have been losing the public credibility battle to the
critics, adding, "I don`t think we will lose the technology but we could
lose it in the food system. We lost irradiation because of public unease. We
could lose this."
Hillard was cited as saying in an interview the consumers' group takes a
product-by-product approach to GM technology but in the past year, general
public attitudes have hardened, adding, "A lot of people in the industry
have blinkers on and think they couldn't possibly lose something as good as
this. I think they are wrong. Some products already are out of the market.
Others like wheat may never make it. The momentum is with the critics."
The story says that some industry leaders who have invested billions of
dollars in food biotechnology development dismissed the warning as alarmist
but they acknowledged their credibility problem and offered a surprising
Lorne Hepworth, president of the Crop Protection Institute of Canada, was
quoted as saying, "I suggest the industry is in favour of increased
regulation, adding that it could help illustrate to consumers that their
health and safety concerns are being guarded by impartial regulators.
Hepworth did not detail the type of rules the industry would accept, but
there were suggestions that the regulatory and product approval system
become more open and understandable to consumers.
Also suggested were that an independent body be set up to allocate biotech
research money and that a strong and visible effort be made to increase
research into long-term effects of GM food production and consumption.
The story says that from the podium and in the hallways, there was bravado
about the benefits of the technology, signs of growing public acceptance and
the unreasonable arguments and tactics of the opponents, but there also was
an underlying sense of unease and siege at the meeting.
Former Monsanto Canada president Ray Mowling, now head of an industry
Council for Biotechnology Information was quoted as saying, "The food system
is under attack."
Hepworth was cited as saying that public opinion polls show growing numbers
of people are aware of the technology, but many of them remain concerned
about the implications and the risks.
He and other speakers signaled that since consumers do not believe industry
is a credible promoter of the safety of GM food, the strategy will be to try
to convince respected third-party players to carry the ball.
Dietitians, educators, scientists, nutritionists and media leaders are among
those who will be targeted as potential "opinion leaders" to be convinced of
the safety and advantages of the technology.
Mark Winston, a professor in the department of biological sciences at Simon
Fraser University, was cited as saying a problem is that consumers see
companies and government in cahoots to promote the industry and to create a
"regulation lite" regime of controls.
Even though there have been no confirmed cases of sickness caused by eating
GM food, people are skeptical and see the industry as powerful and
secretive, he said. Opposition to mandatory labelling suggests to many the
industry has something to hide.
He said the industry should publicly campaign for tougher government
regulations and control as a way to show the public it has nothing to hide.
USA: BIOTECH VS. RICE BLAST DISEASE IN ARKANSAS
September 28, 2001
Arkansas research may lead to new strategies for disease control in
rice, other crops.
FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS, USAčA plant defense gene has been used to grow a
rice plant that kills blast, probably the world's most serious rice disease.
The gene was isolated by scientists of the University of Arkansas Division
of Agriculture, the university announced on Sep. 27.
Explaining how the plant defense mechanism works was Yinong Yang, molecular
biologist in plant pathology at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment
"The plant tissue dies around the infected area, robbing the fungus of what
it needs to live and grow, and sparing the rest of the plant."
"Our goal is to learn how to develop transgenic plants...that breeders can
use to develop new varieties with improved disease resistance."
Yang modifies the expression of these genes by using DNA sequences called
"promoters" to turn on defensive responses constantly, or cause a rapid
activation when a plant is infected.
"We use specific promoters to activate a defensive response, earlier and
stronger than normally occurs," Yang said. "A plant that responds to an
infection within a couple of hours instead of a couple of days gains an
important advantage in disease resistance."
He uses a tissue culture transformation process to introduce the modified
genes back into rice plants. These transgenic plants are infected with
pathogens, then growth of the disease and disease symptoms are precisely
Yang has identified almost 200 genes that may control disease resistance in
rice and other agricultural plants.
"We're working with five of the genes we've identified to determine their
role in blast resistance," Yang said. "We're also going to study their
effects on plant defenses against bacterial panicle blight and sheath
Until recently, Yang had to study the genes one at a time to learn their
defense responses to pathogen infection. It was a painstaking process
necessary to help him understand the molecular mechanisms of disease
response in plants. Now, a DNA microarray facility in the University of
Arkansas' Core Molecular Lab can help speed the analysis.
"Microarrays are collections of hundreds or thousands of genes--in this
case, defense-related--arranged on a single glass slide," Yang said. "This
equipment allows us to examine how all these genes respond to a particular
"These genes may be active during resistance responses to many diseases,"
Yang said. "Our research, aided by this technology, can help us develop
novel strategies for disease control for rice and other important
From: Mary Murphy
Subject: Greens for Peace
It's interesting how groups (we all know who they are) which formerly supported burning down laboratories and uprooting experimental crops, sometimes causing millions of dollars worth of damage, are suddenly changing their tunes.
WAR DRUMS WEAKENING ECO-APPETITES
The Gazette (Montreal)
By Michelle Lalonde
September 27, 2001
Canadian environmental groups are, according to this story, wrestling with
whether to follow the lead of their U.S. counterparts and tone down their
campaigns in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the U.S.
The story says that several U.S. environmental groups have announced they
will change or cancel certain campaigns to show support for their president
in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on
Some have removed criticism that targets U.S. President George W. Bush from
their websites. Others have announced their campaigns are suspended while
the government deals with issues of security and retaliation.
John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada was cited as saying his group was
not consulted when its American counterpart issued a statement saying it was
The story goes on to say that the Sierra Club, along with many other
Canadian environmental organizations, cancelled a major event on genetically
modified foods which had been scheduled on the day of the attacks.
Peter Tabuns, executive director of Greenpeace Canada was quoted as saying,
"People are on edge right now. They don't want to be startled by loud
noises," adding that the organization will be focussing less on "green"
issues and more on "peace" issues for the time being.
David Olive, a consultant to several Canadian environmental groups was
quoted as saying, "I've been advising my clients not to publish reports or
seek publicity right now because there is simply no room on the newscasts or
in the newspapers."
Date: 28 Sep 2001 14:27:16 -0000
From: "Charles M. Rader"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Monarch butterflies, Labeling in Korea
The article posted yesterday (A Texas-Sized Herd of Monarchs) stater that migrating monarchs do not make it south to Mexico but die and new ones are hatched en route, and also that monarchs migrating north from Mexico don't
make it to their destinations but die and new ones are hatched en route. I've not seen this statement elsewhere. If true, it would have important implications for the concerns about Bt crops. Wiping out most of the Monarchs in, say, Ohio would make little if any long term difference if the survivors reproduce through two generations in other places before returning.
GM Soya Safe, Says Commission
The European Commission (http://europa.eu.int/comm/index_en.htm) has responded to calls from Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/) to suspend Roundup Ready soya, a GM soya from Monsanto (http://www.monsanto.com/) (USA), from sale by saying that the beans are safe. Greenpeace called for the suspension because DNA sequencing research had, according to the organization, found unknown DNA inserted into the transgenic plant's genome. The research was conducted by independent Belgian scientists.
EC (http://europa.eu.int/comm/index_en.htm) spokeswoman Andrea Dahmen told a news briefing that the results of the Belgian study would be evaluated as a matter of routine by the Commission scientific plant committee, and any further action would depend on the committee's findings. However, she said "From a scientific point of view there is no reason to say the product is unsafe for the plant itself or for those who eat it."
The scientists sequenced the DNA of the GM soya and found that during integration of the insert DNA into the soya bean genome several rearrangements occurred at the 3NOS junction and that the genomic plant DNA at the pre-integration site may have been rearranged. Their results are published in European Food Research and Technology (http://link.springer.de/link/service/journals/00217/). De Loose, the lead scientist is reported to have said to the media there was no evidence to suggest that the unidentifiable genetic sequence could lead to unknown and unpredictable results. He says that the sequence is stable and all the data concerning safety are still valid his opinion. He says that what they have found is a fragment which cannot be found in the wild bean and that was not described in the original dossier on the soya bean.
However according to Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace's Chief Scientific Advisor "No-one knows what this extra gene sequence is, what it will produce in the soyabean, and what its effects will be." Greenpeace has written to UK Environment Secretary Michael Meacher and to the UK Food Standards Agency, asking that sale of Roundup Ready be suspended. The UK was the country in Europe that originally passed Roundup Ready for sale in Europe. Greenpeace has also called on France to ban imports of the soybeans, saying they had been authorised for use as human food and animal feed on an 'incomplete and false' basis.
Monsanto has reacted to Greenpeace's concerns with a statement, "the consequences of the rearrangement of the DNA flanking the insert have been assessed as part of the larger safety assessment conducted on Roundup Ready soybeans. The studies led to the conclusion that Roundup Ready soybeans are agronomically, compositionally and nutritionally comparable to conventional soybeans, except for the Roundup Ready trait." As far as Monsanto is concerned, Roundup Ready soybeans are as safe as conventional soybean varieties and do not pose a plant pest risk or a risk to the environment relative to conventional soybean varieties.
According to Greenpeace, the UK Government's Advisory Committee on Novel Food & Processes (ACNFP) was first informed about the unknown DNA by the Belgian scientists in November 2000. In Jan 2001, the Committee agreed there was still uncertainty regarding the origin of the DNA and asked Monsanto to provide data demonstrating that this DNA is "silent" and does not result in the production of a novel protein. Monsanto has said that the UK's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, didn't raise any safety issues referring to this segment of DNA when it analysed it. "The presence of the DNA does not appear to have any deleterious effects with respect to environmental safety and ... the soybean is comparable to conventional soybean," Monsanto's statement quotes the advisory committee as saying. The committee also said that the DNA sequence was already present in original safety assessment studies, Monsanto added.
Soybean futures, are reported to have tumbled sharply on the Chicago Board of Trade, reacting to this debate about the reliability of genetically modified organisms. "Characterisation of the Roundup Ready soybean insert" by P. Windels, I. Taverniers, E. Van Bockstaele and M. De Loose is published in European Food Research and Technology (http://link.springer.de/link/service/journals/00217/) (2001) 213:107-112. Read abstract here http://link.springer.de/link/service/journals/00217/bibs/1213002/12130107.htm.
Contact: M de Loose, Department for Plant Genetics and Breeding, Centre for Agricultural Research, Caritasstraat 21, 9090 Melle, Belgium,
Contact: European Commission, 200 rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 200, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium
Contact: Monsanto Company, 800 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63167, USA
Contact: Greenpeace, Canonbury Villas, London, N1 2PN, UK
Tel: +44 20 7865 8100
Fax: +44 20 7865 8200