Today's Topics in Agbioview:
* Craig Sams, organic farmers, and "terrorists"
* GM seeds seen salvaging Indian cotton yields
* HOMEGROWN COMMON SENSE
* WHO Chief: GM Food Products Can Save Lives
* ORGANIC TARGETS 'CAN BE DISASTROUS'
* More bugs in organic chickens
* Michael Pollan and monoculture
* Online debate on genetechnology
* Growers Hail EPA Decision On Genetically Modified Cotton
* Peripatetic protesters
From: craig sams
I must confess that I have perhaps been overoptimistic in thinking
that the hatefuleness and venom (or 'vileness and depravity' to use
Andrew Apel 's term) towards all things organic might just spring
from commercial jealousy, but it is obvious that it is far more
political than I realised and that the dismaying 'hitchhiking'
phenomenon on the back of the WTC bombing extends to supporters of
I promise never to provoke or respond on this website again, so
here's my swansong.
1. Organic farmers have been around since the 1940s, at the very
least, and are motivated by a love of nature, wildlife and the health
and welfare of their fellow humans and the animals that they rear in
hygienic and kind conditions. There are tens of thousands of them
around the developed world. To lump them all with suicidal
terrorists in the absence of any evidence is inexcusable. I am not
aware of one organic farmer, processor or retailer who has ever
engaged in an act of violence against the agrichemical complex.
Considering the size of the industry ($35 billion worldwide) and the
constant threat to their livelihoods that sloppy pesticide spraying
and GM pollen drift represents to their livelihoods, I think it is
fair to generalise that they are not 'murderous bastards' bent on
killing off the people whose agricultural views they do not share.
2. Greenpeace has been active for 30 years and has never killed
anyone, despite a high and successful level of activity. The only
deaths were caused by the French secret service, who sank their boat
in New Zealand and killed a few peaceful protestors against the
nuclear demolition of a Pacific atoll that brown people once called
'home'. This was murder, but by a government agency.
3. E.coli is a serious health problem. It occurs as a result of
overcrowding and manure contamination on non organic beef feedlots.
The CDC has clearly stated that this is the problem and that organic
production practices are not. 99% of the manure applied to land is
by non organic farmers, the other 1% is by organic farmers who are
obliged to compost it first to reduce as far as possible the level of
pathogens. The Public Health Laboratory Service in the UK sampled
3000 organic foods, particularly those likely to be exposed to
manure, and found no pathogens.
4. Millions of people are starving worldwide, because they are poor
and do not have access to food or land. More people die of
starvation now than before the Green Revolution or the introduction
of genetically engineered crops, which are mainly grown to feed hogs
and cattle and chickens for the subsidised US domestic market for
cheap meat. It is hypocritical to continually bleat about the
world's starving poor when the best way to help them would be to open
up Western markets to their produce by reducing tariffs and to
abandon the subsidies that enable American and European farmers to
operate inefficiently in a protectionist vacuum and still set
ridiculously low world prices for essential commodities. I am
ashamed to be part of a system that subsidises a 99A2 hamburger at
the cost of mill ions of lives in the developing world. The economic
distortions of subsidy have been documented since Adam Smith and the
basic principles are unchallenged. What is happening in the world of
food production is a classic example of the damage they cause. New
Zealand broke out of this trap, we must all do it before we impose GM
agriculture on poor countries.
5. Subsidies to agriculture are at least 5 times higher since the
introduction of GM crops than before. 75% of American farmers still
don't break even. The subsidies help the biggest corporate farms the
most. It's a racket that exists because of powerful lobbies in the
US and as long as the US taxpayer will put up with it it will go on.
To describe the resulting production agriculture as a model for the
rest of world ignores the f act that other countries can't afford to
subsidise inefficiency on such a massive scale.
6. Despite Dennis Avery, the intellectual guru of many of your
subscribers, stating that pesticides will save the planet, many of
you accept the argument that some GM crops will help reduce the
200,000 pesticide relate d deaths annually worldwide, not to mention
the permanent disability and many times more farmers. Good enough.
But this is why organic farmers don't use any pesticides, because
they don't want to have any part of the killing. This is hardly the
attitude you would expect from the murderous swine you depict them
as. Before you mention copper sulfate - it has always been agreed it
will be phased out in organic farming and it will be prohibited in
2003, as French wine growers pleaded for time to adjust their
vineyards to grow without copper compounds.
7. Organic farmers and non-organic non-GM farmers have suffered huge
financial loss as a result of the arrogant and sloppy handling of GM
crops such as Starlink corn. They could have stopped it by tearing
up crops, but because they are peaceful, they did not, and suffered
the consequences. They are now pursuing the matter through the
courts as civilized people in civilized Western countries do.
Aventis have already acknowledged that their liability will be at
least $1 bn and will be more respectful and careful in future, as
decent and civilized corporate citizens do.
8. I am alarmed at the depth and harshness of the hatred for
organics, which is nothing more than a strand in the natural
tendency towards improvement of all aspects of our lives that
characterizes progress and development in free societies. The
millions spent through public relations agencies, the pressure on the
press and media and the repetitive propagation of outright lies about
bogus issues like E.coli and yield levels and soil erosion have all
failed to stop the relentless advance of organic production,
processing and marketing. The organic market is growing at an
increasing rate in excess of 50% per annum. Because the food
industry is a democracy where consumers vote with dollar bills for
the products they w ant all the major global players including
Unilever Best Foods, Heinz, Ma rs, Wessanen, Cott, General Mills
Pillsbury, Kelloggs and many more are p iling in to get themselves
positioned to capitalize on the boom.
I am not sorry that the dreams of genetic engineering are threatened
by this. You've reached the 'overshoot and collapse' stage of
agrichemical farming and you are absolutely right to be getting
panicky. But you can't bring in the F-16s or the Cruise missiles to
smoke the organic industry out its caves on the basis of your febrile
speculation that we're all planning to plane bomb you into oblivion.
We're not. We're far more interested in being able to go about our
legitimate business in a stable and peaceful environment and are as
appalled at the terrorist attacks as everyone else.
We lost just as many friends and allies as you did. we love our kids
and want them to grow up in a safe world and not to be brutalized by
violence and disorder. Yes, a few passionate animal libbers have
attacked laboratories. In the UK the Huntingdon Labs were attacked
by outraged vegan doglovers who were horrified by the frequency with
which they were indicted for acts of illegal cruelty to animals.
Most organic farmers are involved in a process that leads to the
slaughterhouse. They balance economic necessity with respect for
animals. I admire their kindness and concern. They just haven't got
the stomach to engage in the cruel and unsanitary practices that are
typical of intensive chicken, pork and beef production. For many,
that's what made them take the organic route. They're just too
damned sensitive. How on earth can you make the leap to assuming
that they are a bunch of ruthless murderers?
So, to conclude, the real battle will be won or lost in the
marketplace and in political forums. Europe is going organic and or
sustainable because we can't afford the environmental or financial
cost of continuing blindly down the production agriculture route.
The rest of the world is waiting to see what the benefits are and
are doing so despite the pressure from the US that ties aid and other
areas of support to acceptance of GM.
The WTO talks next month will be a revelation for you guys when you
see how much ground you have lost at the international political
level with your dubious science and untutored antagonism towards
sustainable food production methods such as organic and GM free
farming. Have fun listening to and believing your own rhetoric. The
explosion you should fear is not that of a planebomb - it will never
happen - but the explosion of demand from aware consumers and
retailers for products that are the inevitable future food of all
mankind, and I'm not talking about bananas modified with hepatitis
vaccines or polyester cornflakes or gasoline soybeans, (oops! it sure
ain't easy to segregate),
Cheerio! Craig Sams
From: Andrew Apel
1. Some may be "unaware" of members of the organic industry engaging in
"violence against the agrichemical complex." But they're doubtless
involved at many levels. Organic farmers often number among the vandals
participating in crop attacks. Communiques from groups that destroy
research labs occasionally refer to a fondness for organic farming and
more often to organic ideals. Pressure to stop the field trials in
Britain, and pressure to destroy those field trials, is directed by
groups advocating organic farming. One of the farmers who pulled out of
the British field scale trials under pressure from organic interests
finally succumbed when the safety of his small children was threatened
and his organic farming neighbor was quite happy with the result. In
short, virtually all crop attacks and attacks on research facilities
motivated either by (a) opposition to conventional agriculture; (b) a
wish to "make a statement" in favor of organic agriculture; or (c) to
"preserve the environment" along lines recommended by the organic
2. The organic industry and the movement behind it is, quite simply,
intolerant of other forms of agriculture. When intolerance is
into violence, that is terrorism. Distinguishing between lethal and
non-lethal terrorism cannot make either type excusable.
3. It is sad to see this last posting rife with clever diversions and
factual elisions. The CDC never studied E. coli in organic produce, so
never "clearly stated" anything on the topic. The PHLS study of 3000
organic foods in the UK found no pathogens on them because they weren't
testing for pathogens, just for fecal bacteria. Which, by the way, they
did find. Just because organic farmers are "obliged" to compost manure
doesn't mean they do it, as Britain's Advertising Standards Agency was
constrained to mention in rejecting the claims of organic interests.
4, 5, 6. The intolerance of organic agriculture to other forms of food
production is the only reason I can see which makes discussions of
agricultural subsidies a part of their agenda. However, being "organic"
is not a license to tell others how to farm, or how to conduct their
7. StarLink isn't an organic farming issue. Organic stuff also gets
8. I am unaware of any "hatred for organics," but in light of (1) and
above, a little bit of harshness toward its proponents cannot surprise
too many. Whatever that level of harshness may be, it's apparent that
organic industry brought it on itself. It would be better to heed the
advice of Voltaire and tend your own garden.
Date: Wed, 03 Oct 2001 09:55:34 -0400
From: Alex Avery
Just a couple of thoughts before Mr. Sams leaves us for good:
>5. Subsidies to agriculture are at least 5 times higher since the
>introduction of GM crops than before.
This is an absurd statement, however subsidies do depress prices and
are bad farm policy. On this we've agreed.
>6. Despite Dennis Avery, the intellectual guru of many of your
>subscribers, stating that pesticides will save the planet, many of
>you accept the argument that some GM crops will help reduce the
>200,000 pesticide relate d deaths annually worldwide, not to mention
>the permanent disability and many times more farmers.
Here's the truth about this oft-quoted but very misleading
statistic/guestimate: The World Health Organization originated this
figure, and the number they originally used is actually 220,000. But
according to the WHO, 91% of the 220,000 are deliberate suicides,
leaving ~20,000 annual deaths for all other causes combined,
globally. Thus, 6% are occupational-related deaths (13,200) annually
for all industry globally, including but not limited to farmers, farm
workers, pesticide factory workers, home and building exterminators,
and even aerial crop dusters that crash (hey, they are pesticide
related!). This leaves ~3%, or 660, for all other causes, including
food contamination. But, this 3% also includes accidental ingestion
by small children getting into mommy's garden supplies, ie.
accidental poisonings. So, somewhere between 0 and 660 people die
each year (roughly) due to contaminated food and between 0 and 660
die from accidental ingestion, etc. The WHO won't/can't get any more
specific than that.
>But this is why organic farmers don't use any pesticides, because
>they don't want to have any part of the killing.
What about rotenone (Parkinson's), pyrethrum (cancer), Bt, nicotine,
sulfur, sabadilla and neem (very little safety testing of these
products)? Aren't these pesticides approved for organic farming?
>Cheerio! Craig Sams
Hasta la Vista, baby.
GM seeds seen salvaging Indian cotton yields
Times of India
October 4, 2001
By Suresh Shah
WORLD over more and more countries are planting genetically improved cotton to improve yields at a time when the controversies over the use of biotechnology is stalling the use of these seeds in India, the country with the world’s largest area under cotton cultivation.
Genetically improved cotton was 10 per cent of World Cotton Area in 2001, according to a report by the National Cotton Council of America.
"In 2001, an estimated 10 per cent of the world’s cotton area was planted with transgenic varieties in Argentina, Australia, China, Mexico, South Africa and the US," the council said.
All commercially available biotech cotton varieties were either insect-protected or herbicide tolerant, or both.
"The popularity of transgenic cotton varieties is due to improvements in insect pest management and additional options in grass and weed control," it added.
The report does not include 4,363 hectares of Bt cotton planted in Indonesia, where yields rose to 2.2 tonnes per hectare, far higher than the 1.4 tonnes for the Kanesia cotton commonly planted there, and 500 kg a hectare for other types of cotton. Indonesia has since decided to extend the permission for Bt cotton by another year, with no limits on hectarates.
Fourteen countries currently grow genetically improved crops, the latest to commercialise Bt cotton being Indonesia. Biotech crops were grown on 44.2 million hectares in 13 countries on six continents in 2000. China, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa accounted for a quarter of this global area. The figure of 44.2 million hectares represents a 25-fold increase in 5 years, from 1.7 million hectares in 1996.
"Rather than remaining mired in controversies, perhaps we should move forward purposefully in exploiting the potential offered by biotechnology, taking all precautionary measures advocated by scientists to avoid possible and unknown dangers," said East India Cotton Association president Suresh Kotak while presiding over the annual meeting of the association.
Cotton production in India, with the largest area of around 8.5 million hectares under cultivation, plummetted to an estimated 14 million bales during just ended 2000-01 season. This marked a sharp fall of 1.6 million bales from 15.6 million bales produced in 1999-00 season and as high as 2.5 million bales drop from earlier season.
Indian cotton continues to be pestered by pests and several other antagonistic factors that keep the productivity level dismally low.
"This is not only detrimental to the farmers’ interests but it also gives an avoidable cost-push to the industry’s major raw material, eroding its price competitiveness in world textile markets," pointed out Kotak.
"Biotechnology is now acknowledged to be the cutting edge science of tomorrow."
It has already demonstrated its potential in the case of cotton with several transgenic types being extensively grown in countries like USA, Australia and China.
"Genetic modification need not be confined to pest and weedicide tolerance but it can be utilised for implanting or manipulating genes that govern several other traits like drought tolerance, fibre properties, content and composition of oil in the seed," he suggested.
HOMEGROWN COMMON SENSE
Nature Biotechnology Vol 19 No10 pÝ891
According to this editorial, the developed and developing worlds are often
starkly contrasted -- nowhere more so, it seems, than in the responses of
their governments toward agricultural biotechnology. The story says that
while lawmakers in India have managed to forge sensible plant-breeding
legislation encompassing the respective rights of farmers and breeders (see
p. 895), the European Commission struggles to finalize a document (COM
(2001) 454 final) forming the basis for a discussion (that will lead
eventually toward) a platform for discussion about "a strategic vision of
life sciences and biotechnology." The Indians have sought, and apparently
have found, practical ways of satisfying the competing interests of
industry, farmers, and the nongovernmental organizations that voice farmers'
concerns. The Europeans, in contrast, abandoned pragmatism long ago in favor
of convoluted attempts to resolve matters within a framework of conflicting
The story says that ever since the European Union (EU) enacted its
obstructive cross-sector legislation on the environmental release of
genetically modified organisms, paternalistic Europeans have tried to arm
helpless developing nations against the supposed environmental and economic
threat of genetically engineered crops. These neo-colonialists hauled
genetic modification up higher on developing countries' agendas (a situation
partly exacerbated by corporate agbiotech; for example, Monsanto's ill
conceived terminator technology). They proffered European legislative
systems as templates. But it is India, a leading light among developing
nations, that has come up with another way forward for GM crops. Oddly
enough, it has few European features.
The Indian legislation is plant breeder's rights law, not environmental
legislation, and it has much to commend it to those involved in crop
breeding and crop use. The story goes on to say that the Indian Plant
Variety Protection and Farmers' Rights Act could be a model solution, one
that other developing nations might follow. That, however, would be to
neglect the most important aspect of India's innovationóthat it is an Indian
solution to India's own particular weave of conflicting rights and
aspirations, as perceived by Indians. Other developing nations may look to
India for guidance, but their independence of thought and action is vital.
The "Indian solution" may work well in India, but if it does not, it is
within India's power to modify, improve, or abandon it. The same cannot be
said of, for instance, the 15 EU nations who are signed up to the four
pieces of horizontal EU legislation on GMOs or to the seven directives
covering GM seeds.
In official circles in Europe, the entire discussion of GM crops is hedged
about with fudge and weasel words. The search for practical solutions has
been replaced by a search for wording to accommodate diametrically opposed
meanings. European legislation progresses in some official sense, but
nothing really happens. Acts do not lead to action; Directives do not
direct; regulations exert no form of control. We trust India's practical fix
will reawaken the sure-sighted pragmatists in Europe.
From: "Van der Kaaij,Hengameh,VEVEY,CT-BIO/TT"
Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001 16:19:08 +0200
Could you please give more information on this topic
WHO Chief: GM Food Products Can Save Lives
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General, World Health Organization
I would like to know when and when she gave this talk.
Thank you very much
Hengameh van der Kaaij, Ph.D.
Tel: + 41 21 924 2295
Fax: + 41 21 924 4585
ORGANIC TARGETS 'CAN BE DISASTROUS'
October 2, 2 001
>From Farmer¹s Weekly Inteactive
Countries that have introduced a national target for organic production are
in some instances finding it a disaster, the government has been warned.
At a fringe meeting hosted by Friends of the Earth on Monday (1 October),
NFU vice president Michael Paske urged caution about the introduction of a
"I cannot agree with [environmental campaigners'] suggestion of and support
for an organic target Bill.
"In the countries where this is policy it is already proving a huge disaster
simply because it is being over-produced and the market is not there for it.
The doubly whammy is that it is costing more for producers to produce and
they are having to sell it at conventional prices."
He later added: "I am truly concerned about this idea that the production
comes first and the market comes later."
Mr Paske said in Denmark, where targets have been introduced, the country
already over-produced organic milk, eggs and pork.
This was leading farmers and growers to lose substantial amounts of money.
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael said that pushing the development of
organic food as fast as the market would take it was the best way forward.
He added: "We do need to think about the whole chain and not just think
about one part of it at a time."
More bugs in organic chickens
The Daily Telegraph
By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
October 4, 2001
ORGANIC chickens are three times as likely to contain Britain's most common food poisoning bug than battery birds, say Danish researchers.
A study of 22 organic broiler flocks found that all were infected with the campylobacter bacterium, compared with only a third of 79 conventional flocks.
The findings, published in the journal Letters in Applied Microbiology, undermine claims that organic food is always healthier than intensively produced food.
Dr Karl Pedersen, who led the study at the Danish Veterinary Laboratory in Aarhus, believes that organic birds are exposed to more bacteria because they can roam outside.
They are also kept alive for twice as long as intensively reared fowl, increasing the risks of infection. "But it turns out that the difference was far higher than expected," he said.
The incidence of campylobacter infection in people has doubled since the mid-1980s. In 2000 there were 54,000 reported cases in Britain. The bacterium is usually passed on in animal droppings.
The Food Standards Agency has found that most chickens are infected with it. The bacterium is killed by cooking, but can easily be spread around the kitchen on knives, chopping boards, taps, cloths and on unwashed hands.
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, which regulates organic farming, said: "Because of the variation in standards for organic farming across the EU it would be difficult to use this research to make a judgment on the situation in the UK.
"The stringent standards set out by the Soil Association, such as lower stocking densities, mean that organically reared poultry in the UK would be naturally more resistant to strains of campylobacter.
"We will look at the research in more detail, but it is possible that antibiotics used in the non-organic poultry cases examined in the Danish research have suppressed the detection of infection from campylobacter. By contrast, organic farming prohibits the routine use of antibiotics."
From: Mary Murphy
Sent: 10/4/01 9:53 AM
Subject: Michael Pollan and monoculture
These are certainly are strange days. Michael Pollan, the notoriously organic-biased NY Times "journalist," is actually quoted in this article as saying that GM potatoes are probably better than conventional ones. On GM versus conventional:
"Which is more hazardous to my health?" said Pollan. "I would say probably the conventional potato."
But the rest of the article goes on to say, a la Vandana Shiva, that GM crops are the cause of monoculture, which is the main problem of modern agriculture. Am I missing something, or did monoculture begin to take place on a large basis back in the 1960s, well before GM crops were introduced? This is another example of anti-biotech people playing with half-truths. One would expect better from a NY Times journalist.
Read the whole article here at http://www.dailycal.org/article.asp?id=6512
what: online debate on genetechnology
who: an initiave by The Terlouw Commission, The European Network University and The Biotechnology and Development Monitor
when: 31 October to 13 November 2001
Whatís it all about? How far can gene technology be trusted to provide a safe and sustainable solution to the problem of hunger? Should privately funded research only benefit those who funded it? Will eating genetically engineered food affect our health in the long term? Do we have sufficient scientific evidence and information to make any judgments about these issues at all?
>From our experiences and the experiences of other people throughout the world we are searching for answers to such questions. In many countries changing climate conditions, natural disasters, and population pressure demand an urgent solution to the problem of food security. Genetechnology seems to offer promising solutions, but is this a technology that can be applied with trust and if so, under what conditions?
We would like to invite you to take part in an online-event organised by The European Network University (www.netuni.nl) and the Biotechnology and Development Monitor (www.biotech-monitor.nl), a quarterly magazine concerned with the socio-economic impacts of biotechnology in developing countries. Both organizations are based in Amsterdam. The aim of the event is to exchange experiences, explore opinions and generate new insights on the issue of genetically engineered food. This event is unique in that it aims to draw together those concerned with agriculture, food production and development in an international debate where the agenda is set by the priorities of those most closely affected by food insecurity.
Why? We have called our online debate Southern Voices. It is a response to the activity and discussion surrounding a Dutch Government initiative The Terlouw Commission - to involve public and private interest groups in the debate about genetechnology and food. This discussion has considerable implications outside the borders of the Netherlands itself. The complexity and global character of the agricultural chain and the intensity of trade in agricultural products with developing countries means that the issue of introducing genetically modified food crops is of critical importance to policy makers, researchers, civil society organisations and consumers, throughout the South.
How? The online debate will be divided into two rounds. The first round is set up around four dichotomies. These are: Food Safety vs. Food Security, Local vs. Global, Organic Farming vs. GMOís and Public vs. Private. Each dichotomy has a virtual ëroomí. Each room will be moderated by an expert in their field. The goal of the first round is to let participants brainstorm on those issues they consider most relevant in the discussion on genetechnology and food. In the second round, the ëdeepí round, participants will have the opportunity to enter into an indepth discussion on the key topics that have been identified in round 1.
When? The first round will start on the 31 October 2001 and will run until the 1st of November 2001. The second round will begin shortly afterwards, on 6 November 2001 and will last until 13th of November 2001.
How can you join? You can register as a participant on our site: http://www.southernvoices.nl
What about the results? Round one will result in a ëtopic mapí available online before the second round starts. A report of the second round will be published online. You can immediately view the results of the discussion you contributed to. This report will be presented to the Terlouw Commission for consideration in the further discussion on Dutch Biotechnology Policy.
This is a unique opportunity to share your ideas with divergent minds from all over the world. We look forward to hearing your voice on our site.
tel: + 31 (0)20 561 8163
Growers Hail EPA Decision On Genetically Modified Cotton
FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Northwestern Alabama cotton farmers are
cheering news that the Environmental Protection Agency has extended
the use of a genetically altered cotton until at least 2006.
The cotton, commonly known as Bt cotton, has a bacterium gene
inserted into it that produces a toxin deadly to some worms that
damage cotton buds and bolls. The registration for the enhanced
cotton, developed by Monsanto Co. and marketed as Bollgard, was to
expire Monday. Monsanto is now called Solutia.
The EPA's decision Monday extends use of the cotton for five years.
"We are delighted EPA has extended the registration for the Bt
technology," said Hollis Isbell, a Colbert County cotton farmer.
"Growing Bt cotton has a tremendous amount of advantages for the
farmer. It also has advantages for the environment."
By growing cotton with its own insecticide, farmers use less chemical
pesticides in their fields, said Isbell, chairman of the American
Cotton Producers of the National Cotton Council. "We don't spray our
fields very much anymore," Isbell said. "We just let the beneficial
insects keep the pests under control. The Bt has been a big plus for
the farmer and a friend of the environment."
Although farmers and St. Louis-based Solutia tout the modified cotton
as environmentally friendly, some environmental groups asked
regulators to reduce the amount of Bt cotton grown in the United
States. Environmentalists fear insects will develop a resistance to
the Bt gene, which is a common ingredient in organic pesticides. EPA
officials said they have found no evidence insects are developing a
resistance to the Bt insecticide.
Protein Therapy Could Heal Agbio
Stephan Herrera , Red Herring September 15, 2001
If only agbio scientists had tried to develop therapeutic drugs
first. Instead, agricultural biotechnology's first act was to cross a
tomato with a flounder, to help the vegetable withstand frost. For a
second act, the fledgling industry produced genetically modified corn
and soybeans; that proved a boon to farmers and seed companies but
won the scorn of environmental groups. Given the perfectly rational
response of consumers to be wary of any potential danger in the food
supply, the ensuing fear and loathing of these developments was to be
expected. Now, however, agbio has a third act: medicine.
"There is no doubt in my mind that agbio would be the crown jewel of
biotechnology if it had pushed human therapeutics first, instead of
frost-resistant tomatoes and super seeds," says Mich Hein, president
and founder of Epicyte <http://www.epicyte.com>, which makes
therapeutic antibodies from plants to treat human diseases. "I can
assure you, Greenpeace has no objection to a cornfield that produces
Now, thanks to the efforts of companies like Epicyte, there's a push
to produce monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) -- the building blocks of
therapeutic drugs that fight illnesses like AIDS and cancer -- from
corn and other plants. And the companies are doing it on an
industrial scale using a technique called molecular farming, which
promises to be cheaper and faster than existing MAb-production
techniques. If this gambit works, agbio just might shake its
According to Dain Rauscher Wessels, the market for MAb production is
expected to grow to $8 billion by 2004, up from about $3 billion this
year. Using molecular farming, Epicyte says it can produce
commercial-scale quantities of MAbs in two and a half years, compared
to the industry norm of four years, at less than half the typical
$100 million to $500 million cost. Naturally, Epicyte isn't the only
outfit vying for this promising market. Akkadix
<http://www.akkadix.com>, CropTech <http://www.croptech.com>, Genzyme
Transgenics, IPT, Medicago <http://www.medicago.com/indexeng.html>,
MPB Cologne <http://www.mpb-cologne.com>, ProdiGene
<http://www.prodigene.com>, SemBioSys Genetics
<http://www.sembiosys.ca>, and other startups are also entering the
field. Most of the bigger companies, like Dow AgroSciences
<http://www.dowagro.com> and Syngenta, are getting involved, too. And
MAbs aren't the only market; practically any protein can be produced
in a plant.
Genetically, molecular farming is straightforward, if a bit surreal.
By inserting human genes into corn, for example, the kernels produce
human proteins instead of natural plant proteins. This technique is
similar to the genetic engineering being done with cows and mice, but
with considerable cost and yield advantages. Think of a plant as
simply a new host for the production of a protein.
Certainly there are hurdles for molecular farmers. Convincing "big
pharma" and biotech customers to buy these farm-raised molecules will
be a slow process.
But a pair of deals that ProdiGene recently struck with Eli Lilly and
Avant are attracting attention. Competition from existing
technologies will be fierce, too. Fermentation techniques using
Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, for example, have been in place
for 25 years, and most drug companies have already spent billions
building their protein-production lines around this platform.
Moreover, it won't be easy to convince a general public skeptical of
anything genetically modified that this new agbio bounty, which could
appear in numerous drug compounds, is not also suspect. But
proponents say the facts are on their side. "Producing a therapeutic
protein from plants, instead of standard means like Chinese hamster
ovaries, eliminates the risk of the mutant strains of genetically
modified organisms people seem to be so worried about," says Robert
Dose, vice president of business development at ProdiGene.
Still, while plants cannot harbor mammalian viral or prion pathogens,
like those that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow
disease), there are some legitimate concerns. For example, the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration and the generally centrist Union of
Concerned Scientists want to know more about the environmental
impacts and the risk to the food supply should a corn kernel packed
with human proteins somehow get misplaced somewhere along the
distribution chain. Fair enough.
Despite these hurdles, the case for using plants to grow proteins is
powerful. Plants are already the most efficient bioreactors on the
planet: they relentlessly transform light energy into protein energy.
In the lab, harvesting and extracting industrial quantities of
proteins has been done mainly with fermentation methods that employ
CHO-cell technologies. Another protein-production technique involves
proteins commonly produced in cow's milk. But proteins from seeds are
easier to purify than those obtained from hamsters or cows, because,
from a molecular perspective, the ingredients are less complicated.
Therefore, the purification process requires fewer steps and
Enter molecular farming. Its development could help address the
worldwide shortage of raw materials and manufacturing capacity to
make the therapeutic proteins needed for MAbs. Companies like
Immunex, Genentech, MedImmune, and many others are scrambling to
finish building new facilities to keep up with demand for their
popular MAb-based products.
Before these new production facilities are completed, though, it's
likely that demand for MAbs will outstrip supply, making the need for
molecular farming more urgent. Meanwhile, companies like Medarex and
Abgenix that produce MAbs from transgenic mice are betting they'll
need help keeping up with demand, too.
In anticipation of this, Medarex recently signed an antibody
discovery and development deal with Epicyte.
But not every company is rushing to embrace plant-produced MAbs. Many
are concerned about glycosylation -- the possibility of diminished
antibodies produced by gene alterations in plants. "Transgenic plants
look particularly good from an economic standpoint," says Jim Thomas,
vice president of process sciences at Immunex. "The big issue is
glycosylation." In other words, drug companies like their antibodies'
half-lives boring and predictable.
There are already 96 traditionally produced antibodies (primarily
from hamsters or cows) in late-stage clinical trials and awaiting FDA
approval, and nearly 500 or so in early stages. Typically, 70 to 80
percent of these won't make it to market. Those that do, particularly
those designed for chronic illnesses like psoriasis, allergic asthma,
and rheumatoid arthritis, will require thousands of kilograms of
purified proteins to meet demand. Scarcely a fermentation facility in
existence can produce more than 100 kg per year. A 200-acre
cornfield, however, could produce enough raw materials -- the
therapeutic proteins in corn plants -- to manufacture nearly any drug
on the market today.
Even with enormous cost savings, economies of scale, and ease of
purification from molecular farming, calming fears about these agbio
products won't be easy.
"What scares people about agbio is the transgenics, the perceived
risk to the environment, and public health," says Klaus Düring,
president and CEO of MPB Cologne. "But what's to fear from a potato
that just happens to produce a lot of proteins?"
Consider last year's taco-shell fiasco. Some taco shells were found
to contain the now-withdrawn StarLink brand of cornmeal, which wasn't
approved for human consumption and was thought by some to possess an
allergen. Millions of people ate products with StarLink and not one
of them suffered so much as a bellyache.
But the furor triggered dozens of product recalls, cost billions of
dollars, and proved the last straw for Wall Street and venture
"Despite all the bad news," says C.S. Prakash, who runs the Center
for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama,
"agbio is really quite healthy, and if anything, the market potential
is just increasing."
He's right. Developing countries are sorely in need of the benefits
that agbio has to offer. In those nations, agbio won't receive the
kind of resistance it does in the developed world. Consider this: the
global population is expected to swell by 73 million people a year
through 2020, and most of this growth will occur in developing
nations, where need outweighs the ethical issues surrounding
genetically modified plants for food and medicine. People in nations
like China, with 1.4 billion people, and India, with 1 billion, have
no qualms about genetically modified food. Nor do people in most
sub-Saharan African nations, where malnutrition, HIV, and
tuberculosis among children are pandemic.
Still, with so much potential, it remains to be seen whether the
public can overcome its overblown fears. Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes,
associate professor of agribusiness at the University of Missouri at
Columbia and editor of the newsletter AgBioForum, remains hopeful.
"You're looking at a technology with a life cycle of 100-plus years
that's just beginning," he says. "It is not going away." Mr.
Kalaitzandonakes believes that life could be difficult for agbio
entrepreneurs at least until the backlash subsides, probably another
Or until the public understands that agbio is safer than traditional
animal and plant breeding. "When you breed animals and plants you
change hundreds of genes," he said. "With transgenics, you're
changing one. It's a far safer, far more restricted approach," says
Jay Short, president and chief technology officer of the biotech firm
Aside from quelling safety concerns, the immediate challenge for
agbio is the skepticism of investors. Many public and private
investors still see agbio companies as riskier than genomics firms,
which often possess little more than a nifty algorithm to cull
massive amounts of data, or than pharmaceutical startups, many of
which have developed experimental drugs that have only a one-in-ten
chance of reaching the market. The reason: the word agbio conjures
images of sickly stock prices, lost write-offs for hasty spin-offs,
and protesters wearing corncob costumes. Only a handful of VC firms
are moved by molecular farming. The three most visible are Burrill
<http://www.burrillandco.com>, Bay City Capital
<http://www.baycitycapital.com>, and the ATP Group.
Startups that are pursuing molecular farming also have to contend
with nay-saying consultants hired by VC firms. Most of them argue
that the agbio market is so dominated by Monsanto, Aventis Crop
Science <http://www.aventis.com>, Syngenta, Dow, and DuPont that
opportunities don't exist for startups in this sector. Since most of
these consultants are employed by these big transgenic seed
companies, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. "Agbio is not of
interest to us, as there are only a few companies, and they all
appear to be doing the same thing," says a VC who requested
anonymity. "We looked at several plays, talked to Monsanto, and
developed an unambiguous opinion."
Indeed, biotech's old guard still dominates agbio through its control
of the global seed business. But that technology has led to new
technologies -- like molecular farming. The question is whether big
pharma will further realize its inventions for drug development. Dow,
for one, is an investor in Epicyte and others. But if the past is any
indication, many of the big chemical companies that control the
enabling patents on technologies like molecular farming will prefer
to compete for markets by going to court.
Epicyte's Mr. Hein knows well that Monsanto could squash his company
or at least keep it from advancing in the market for years. "No doubt
about it," he says. "The legal haggle over anything pertaining to
genetically modified seeds has held back progress significantly. But
up until now, there wasn't a shortage of antibodies, so I see the
logjam breaking up one way or another."
"The pendulum had swung perhaps too far [in agbio] to the benefit of
big grain producers and farmers," says Roger Wyse, managing director
at Burrill. "Now it's coming back to the middle around the health
benefits using genomic technologies." The big challenge for this
sector is to convince consumers that they need not fear the gene in
the bottle. Only then will molecular farming go from being a fringe,
100-year science to a billion-dollar opportunity for therapeutic
October 3, 2001
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 canceled a number of events worldwide, including the planned World Bank-International Monetary Fund meetings scheduled to take place in D.C. at the end of September. Most rational people understood why the meetings had to be canceled, but not the "professional protesters" who were gathering in D.C. to trash the city in the name of peace and justice. Many were quite angry that they had lost the target of their mindless violence.
Fortunately for these protesters, they are nothing if not resilient. With no IMF-World Bank to protest, they immediately switched gears to denounce the United States and burn our flag. A flag that 100,000 Americans a day are buying to honor the victims of Sept. 11 and show their belief in our nation. The protesters burned our flag, they say, to protest the upcoming war on terrorism. I beg to differ.
I have often thought that many in these protest groups would rather protest life than live life. That they bounce around from one cause to another, and one decade to another, because if they pause long enough to take a look in the mirror, they will see a wasted life spent running from responsibility. That they will see a human being who never quite fit in with society or was never willing to do the hard work to get to a position where he or she could effect real change — say in the military or the police and fire departments.
So, rather than evaluate a life wasted, or responsibility shunned, they attach
themselves to the fringe of any and all protest movements, and fool themselves into thinking they are making a difference or are warriors for change.
The fact is that none of them are warriors and many of them are outright frauds. Warriors are the courageous men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and who are lining the ramparts of liberty and preparing for battle, even as these protesters denounce everything they represent.
An example of how detached some protesters are from reality, or how they view it as a game to be played until something better comes along, was in evidence recently on the waters outside of Vandenberg Air Force base. There, a group of Greenpeace activists tried to disrupt a test missile launch for the proposed National Missile Defense system, (a system we need now more than ever in light of the attacks of Sept. 11) by taking inflatable boats into restricted waters near the launch site.
They took this action hoping and expecting to be arrested. Another misdemeanor badge of honor to brag about as they tool around the world on daddy's inheritance. Except there was only one small problem. The government is charging them with a felony, not a misdemeanor. Whoops. That's no fun.
As was reported in the press, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles stated that the protesters warranted felony charges because they knowingly proceeded into a federally restricted marine area, delaying the missile launch and endangering the safety of the protesters and those sent to arrest them — including a helicopter crew who had to medivac two protesters who jumped into the ocean and were suffering from hypothermia.
Again, the protesters were hoping to get arrested, held for a few hours and then released in time to be home for dinner and pats on the back by the international protest community. That's the way the game is supposed to be played. Upon learning that they were being charged with a felony, they expressed shock and outrage. How dare the government really hold them accountable for endangering lives and breaking the law. Why, some of the protesters may not have even known what they were protesting.
If the government is successful in their prosecution, the protesters would face a maximum sentence of six years in prison, and fines of $250,000. While that is the least we can hope for, I fear it will have no effect on slowing their mindless tactics or movement.
If the loss of almost 6,000 innocent souls cannot convince these "professional protesters" that evil exists in the world and it is marshalling its forces against civilized humanity, then I don't know what will.
That said, I have no doubt that the terrorists will welcome any allies that delay or cast aspersions upon the implementation of justice.