Today's Topics in AgbioView:
* Biotech Corn No Threat to Mexican Corn
* The Organic Café Grill and Bar restaurant review
* Re: WHO Chief: GM Food Products Can Save Lives; Gro Harlem Brundtland
* Posponed: Alexandria Conference on Biotechnology and Sustainable Development
* Patrick Holden's clever wording
* Greenpeace has no objection to a cornfield that produces medicines
* New and improved: GM foods could even relieve anxiety
* USDA keeps forecast of bumper cotton crop in China
* Supreme Court Considers Plant Patents
From: Dr. José Luis Solleiro To: email@example.com
Sent: Tuesday, October 02, 2001 8:24 PM
Subject: To the editor
Biotech Corn No Threat to Mexican Corn
(Following is the text of yet unpublsihed letter sent to NY Times by Dr. José Luis
Solleiro, Director General, AgroBIO México, A.C.)
I submit this letter for publication in the New York Times with the intention of clarifying some important issues regarding recent information about the presence of material from genetically improved corn in native corn in the Mexican state Oaxaca. AgroBIO México, the organization I represent, is the association of the biotechnology industry with operations in Mexico.
Based on the opinion of well-known scientists in Mexico and other countries, the presence of GM corn does not represent a threat for the strains of native corn in the indicated region. Government data suggest that any transgenic corn, if present at all, is at a very low level that would not dominate the traditional, cultivated varieties. This level or even greater presence would not adversely affect the genetic diversity of native strains; they have maintained their basic characteristics despite the presence of conventionally bred hybrids for decades. In many cases, modern hybrids are planted in the same fields as native strains, exchanging pollen. There is no reason to believe that the presence of one or two transgenes would alter the course of natural selection.
The Mexican government, through the Comisión Intersecretarial de Bioseguridad y Organismos Genéticamente Modificados, CIBIOGEM (Inter ministerial Commission of Biosafety and Genetically Modified Organisms), is carrying out the corresponding investigations and AgroBIO México has made industry's resources available to support in these efforts, in order to reach solidly sustained conclusions.
Genetically improved corn used in the United States and other countries has undergone strict health and environmental evaluations to ensure their safety. The Biosafety Advisory Council has affirmed that safety for consumers in Mexico.
Agricultural biotechnology is a discipline in constant evolution. In our country, its legal framework has been formed in an equally dynamic manner, with the participation of diverse actors in society, to develop regulations that provide protection for health and the environment, and that strengthen agricultural progress.
The biotechnology industry has complied with the currently effective legal provisions that are applicable to the products of agricultural biotechnology, including the moratorium dictated by the Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación, SAGARPA (Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Alimentation) with regard to experimentation with genetically improved corn.
We are convinced that biotechnology is a fundamental tool for the modernization and competitiveness of Mexican agriculture. It represents the opportunity for our farmers to obtain important benefits by using seeds with high yields that are resistant to pests and adverse agricultural conditions, in addition to reducing the contamination of soil and water, as well as increasing nutritional value and the industrial efficiency of grain. It is therefore essential that this important technology be introduced to Mexico through proper channels and the industry ratifies its commitment to cooperate with the competent authorities and to act within the established biosafety guidelines, given that Mexico is the center of origin and diversification of corn.
Dr. José Luis Solleiro
AgroBIO México, A.C.
(The following wickedly humourous restaurant review was sent by "Cameleon"....CSP)
July 22 2001 FOOD - Restaurant review by A A Gill
The Organic Café Grill and Bar
51 Prince's Gate, London SW7 (020 7596 4006).
Mon-Sat, 11am-11pm; Sun, 11am-5pm
The United Nations department responsible for Third World
agricultural development has just produced a thoughtful and
exhaustive report in favour of GM crops, particularly in sub-Saharan
Africa. It has concluded that staple crops that double-yield in
shorter growing seasons, allowing for two or more harvests a year
and, most vitally, to dispense with the need for wasteful, expensive
and polluting fertilisers or pesticides, are a good thing. And GM, if
it does all it promises, unarguably is a good thing - though
naturally (or rather, unnaturally) that doesn't mean some folk won't
pick an argument.
The report has been met by a chorus of wailing from that discordant
choir of knit-your-own-world groups who think that another word for
poverty is diversity and that crippling hard work, ignorance and
constant fear are precious customs that need protecting. The great,
unfocused, irrational green movement has itself in a bind about GM,
because GM crops promise to do so much that's beneficial. It's just
unfortunate that they're made by the wrong people, in the wrong
place, for the wrong reasons.
I can't think of anything as chronically hypocritical as the queues
outside First World, urban, organic health-nutter shops, where young,
rich folk, in awe of some fairy-tale Third World way, spend fortunes
trying to eke another couple of years out of lives that are already
twice as long as the global average. The multinational green business
is more totalitarianly prescriptive, deaf, blind and self-righteous
than any industrial conglomerate. While you seek out organic,
fair-trade bikinis for some poorer beach this year, remember that
your absolute belief that progress is a bad thing will actually
starve a lot of people to death. Opposition to GM isn't caring
scepticism, it's fashionable colonialism. It keeps them where they
are, so you can continue to choose to be where you are.
I'm sorry: none of that's particularly funny or entertaining. I
mention it because, this week, we patronised the Organic Café Grill
and Bar, and I don't want you to be under any illusions about where I
stand on this sort of thing.
The Organic Café is a duly spartan room, set in the Goethe Institut
on London's Exhibition Road: a street built and named for the Great
Exhibition, which was a huge celebration of industrial and
So, a little touch of irony there.
As we entered, I picked up a leaflet. This is the sort of place that
can't just have a menu, it must also have a mission statement. I wish
I had space to reprint this bog-paper missive in its entirety. It
reveals that the cafe is part of a chain, which, naturally, includes
a health-food shop in Notting Hill, and is certified by the Soil
Association - though not, unfortunately, by two psychiatrists. Its
cushions are organic cotton (which, by the way, is fantastically
wasteful of water and land) and are coloured with low-impact dye,
which seems to mean Indian indigo - so just the same as your
multinational exploitative jeans.
The glasses are recycled, the menus are hemp and the bar is "made
from storm oak that was literally [as opposed to metaphorically?]
bowled over in the great storm of 1987". Why God knocking over a tree
should be any more environmentally friendly than doing it with a
chainsaw is not explained.
Nor is the fact that waiting for extreme meteorology is a lousy way
to build furniture. Oh, and the waiters (who are made from reclaimed
bits of smiley love and unused facial hair) are dressed in "PC
organic T-shirts". Ours had FCUK written on his, which is presumably
a sort of expletive recycling.
There's also a printed warning: "Walking in the park, even on the
cloudiest of afternoons, can still do potentially lethal damage to
your skin, and studies show that sun lotions are toxic." So you're
basically buggered either way.
But it's not all bad news. They're going to open a home store where
you can luxuriate in organic babywear, nontoxic toys and a range of
organic clothing, including underwear: "And yes, hemp can be sexy."
This, I imagine, is as close to a joke as an organic cafe in a German
arts centre is going to get.
Now the food. Our reversible Brazilian waiter told us that the soup
of the day was "gazpacho made with beetroot". Ah, you mean borscht?
He looked at us with lovingly endlessly renewable pity. "Bores,
what's bores?" Well, I could tell you, but borscht is gazpacho made
with beetroot. "Oh really," he said, as if humouring infants. "Our
one is gazpacho made with beetroot." It was borscht. Made with
beetroot. But without talent.
I had the pasta of the day: penne with pesto. I can tell you exactly
what this was like. You know when you were 18 and you went out and
got really, really noisomely, flat-faced hammered? And then you
brought everyone back to yours for something to eat? Well, this is
what you made.
The lemon and rosemary marinated chicken was a shameful waste of the
life of a chicken. And I simply had to have a natural cola: "Made
organically without any of the nasty chemicals and colouring and
stuff." So water, then? It was gratifyingly vile, insipid, emetic,
ersatz; a greenly pointless exercise. The Blonde kicked me hard when
I tried to inquire if the bottled water was recycled by the
management or whether they got indigenous hunter-gatherers to do it.
Pudding was a pecan pie made with treacle, a flavour that, while
being wholly wholesome, cleverly manages to recycle the savour of
petrochemical waste. The coffee tasted as if it were made from acorns
- literally blown from the tree that made the bar. The restaurant was
virtually - and literally - nearly empty. Yet this simple, careless,
uninspired, do-gooder's grub took three hours to serve. Time, also,
is apparently recycled.
What was most extraordinary, though, about this finger-wagging,
holier-than- thou chapel to abstinence wasn't that it was like eating
retread compost-grown Moonies, it was that the Blonde and our guinea
pig, Marcelle D'Argy Smith, both thought it was wonderful. "We think
it's wonderful," they both said.
If you didn't know this was Soil Association recommended and a heart-
warmingly refried mulch restaurant, you'd hate it, wouldn't you?
"Yes," said the Blonde with a faraway smile. "But
I do know, and I think it's brilliant. For once, we're eating proper,
healthy food. I can feel it doing me good."
No, you can't.
"Yes, I can."
No, you just think it's doing you good.
"So what's the difference? I also think that eating here is
immeasurably making the world a softer place. It's making poor
people laugh out loud.
It's putting a wind chime on every doorstep. It's helping small brown
babies be born painlessly into caring extended families. It's cloning
Nelson Mandela. It's irrigating deserts and hugging rainforests. It's
kissing Aids better. It's sending mountain gorillas to university so
they can become doctors to cure all the sickness that ever was, using
just bits of bark and the juice of an as yet undiscovered fruit. It's
growing back female circumcisions, cancelling Third World debt, putting a chicken
in every pot (but only if the chicken agrees to it and the pot's
It's giving everyone in Africa a duvet and avocado moisturiser. It's
making the whole globe sing and dance in one great magic pop concert,
with guest-star humpback whales and liquorice condoms free at the
point of delivery. Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya."
Oh, good grief.
All paragraphs and sentences in this review have been recycled from
other articles. Words are free from artificial vowels and chemical consonants, and no grammar was harmed in the writing of this column. Dispose with care. Have a nice day. Soft fruit loves you right back.
>From: "Van der Kaaij,Hengameh,VEVEY,CT-BIO/TT"
>Could you please give more information on this topic
>WHO Chief: GM Food Products Can Save Lives; Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General, World
>I would like to know when and when she gave this talk.
Several individuals wrote to me about Bruntland. Sorry about not citing the original reference. Frances Smith forwarded the original piece to me. She wrote back saying:
The article appeared in the Manila Bulletin newspaper on Oct. 2, but did not indicate the source (speech, article, etc.). Brundtland has discussed this topic previously along similar lines. I've also included a link to one of her earlier speeches. Probably the best thing is to write to the website of the Manila Bulletin for further information about source.
An earlier speech by Brundtland:
Will try to follow up on this further,
Posponed: Alexandria Conference on Biotechnology and Sustainable Development: Voices of the
South and North
Conference Postponed: New Date: March 16-20, 2002
We have received many requests for postponement of the conference in light of
the recent and most tragic events. In response to these requests, we have
decided to postpone the conference to March 16-20, 2002. We sincerely hope
that this will not cause too much inconvenience to those who still wanted to
come in October, but we are certain that they do understand the importance of
choosing a time where attendance would be maximized. We hope that the new time
will be suitable for those who had been actively asking for a postponement, and
for the public at large.
The Organizing Committee
Alexandria Conference on Biotechnology and Sustainable Development:
Voices of the South and North
Co-sponsored by the Government of Egypt
and BIOVISION, FAO, UNESCO, WORLD BANK, OECD, CGIAR, ICARDA,
AGERI, AAS&T, KISR and NAS, TWAS
at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt
March 16- 20, 2002
Date: Thu, 04 Oct 2001 11:37:57 -0400
From: "Andrea Labaj"
Subject: Patrick Holden (quoted in article about organic chickens and bacteria)
I love the cleaver wording that antibiotics might have "suppressed the
detection of caphylobacter" in the non-organic produced chickens of the
study. Antibiotics "kill" bacteria when used properly. They don't
From: "Steve McCommas"
Subject: Pharmaceutical plants
Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 11:54:19 -0500
In an article from Red Herring, a quote is given: "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 medicines."
I am not so sanguine about the reaction of environmentalists to crops producing medicines. Instead of worrying about people eating insecticidal proteins, they can worry about people accidentally overdosing on drugs by eating the wrong type of corn or tomatoes. And then they can worry about these dangerous drugs hybridizing into wild plants, somehow increasing the danger to us. No, where there is money to be raised from contributions based on fear, there is no limit to the ingenuity of these folks. Heck, the people running these organizations have got to get their fat salaries from somewhere, don't they?
New and improved: GM foods could even relieve anxiety
by Paul Thacker
October 4, 2001
Steve L. Taylor, head of the department of food science at the University of Nebraska says GM crops will become important in lowering allergic reactions to foods. Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies; these include peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, and wheat. Ongoing studies at Alabama A&M University are removing allergenic proteins from the peanut, so that everyone might some day be able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without fear.
Beyond increasing crop yield, lowering pesticide use, or merely creating a redder tomato with a longer shelf life, genetic technology has great potential for improving health care. At a briefing today sponsored by the American Medical Association (AMA), researchers reviewed their progress toward using genetic modification to create vaccines in crops, and to remove allergies from them.
Perhaps the biggest concern about genetically modified (GM) crops involves possible allergic reactions to novel proteins introduced in the process. (The concern which is not just hypothetical after the appearance of Starlink GM feed corn in human groceries, although there is no documented proof of anyone having been harmed.)
"None of the current biotech products have been implicated in allergic reactions or any other healthcare problem in people," said Steve L. Taylor, head of the department of food science at the University of Nebraska. He added that with only a few hundred known plant allergens, "the chances of introduced genes creating a problem are very low."
On the contrary, he says, GM crops will become important in lowering allergic reactions to foods. Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies; these include peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, and wheat. Ongoing studies at Alabama A&M University are removing allergenic proteins from the peanut, so that everyone might some day be able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without fear.
"Biotechnology offers the only hope for consumers to one day incorporate these foods into their diet," Taylor said. He also says that current regulations seem to be doing a good job of controlling any introduction of new allergens. For instance, his tests on soybeans that incorporated a protein from Brazil nuts to boost their methionine content, created by Pioneer Hybrid in 1996 to enrich feed stocks, showed that the Brazil-nut protein was highly allergenic. "When we tested the protein, we found that antibodies reacted to it in eight out of ten people with Brazil-nut allergies," he told BioMedNet News. The product was never marketed.
Alexander Karasev, professor of microbiology and immunology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, chimed in for edible vaccines. He described a trial in Poland testing spinach that contains a virally expressed protein epitope used in a rabies vaccine.
After participants ate a small salad, said Karasev, "we got a good immunological response and substantive titer of antibodies." (There was one adverse reaction, Karasev admitted: Two of the sixteen participants said they hate spinach.)
"The two things determining this research are safety and cost," he said, noting that vaccines grown in plants will have the greatest impact in the developing world. "The people who need vaccines the most are the ones who can afford it the least."
"The scale-up on this type of vaccine can be very simple, since all you would have to do is plant more acreage," said C.S Prakesh, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology at Tuskeegee University.
Karasev also said that future use might involve drying the plants and then pressing them into traditional pill form. The process is currently being tested on a lettuce-based vaccine for Hepatitis B, a disease with 400 million carriers. "Hepatitis B is a good candidate for this technology," he said, "because we already have a good vaccine, but $450 for three vaccinations makes it too costly."
Why is the AMA suddenly speaking up for GM foods? So that consumers can make informed choices, said one of the meeting organizers.
USDA keeps forecast of bumper cotton crop in China
WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Citing favorable warm weather and broader use of genetically modified varieties, the U.S. Agriculture Department on Thursday reiterated its 2001/02 forecast for the largest China cotton crop in a decade, estimated at 23 million bales.
"Current weather is favorably warm and dry for cotton harvesting (in eastern China), which started in late August and will continue through October," said the department's Foreign Agricultural Service.
Last month, USDA forecast 2001/02 China crop production at 23 million 480-lb bales, up 500,000 bales from August's estimate and above last year's 20.3 million bales.
USDA will release its new world cotton supply and demand estimates, along with wheat, soybeans, corn and other crops, on Oct 12.
USDA said cotton yields have been trending upward in the last decade due to widespread adaptation of insect-resistant and genetically modified varieties.
Last year, farmers in eastern China reduced grain area and shifted back into cotton due to rising cotton prices and changing government polices, USDA said.
Planted cotton area is seen at 4.8 million hectares, up 20 percent from last year.
Supreme Court Considers Plant Patents
AP October 4, 2001
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Delving into the scientific side of agriculture, the Supreme Court pondered Wednesday how to balance farmers' rights with those of seed research companies.
The court will decide if certain plants can receive patents.
Companies that embark on costly seed testing insist they deserve patents, which can ensure they are compensated for up to 20 years when their seeds are used.On the other side, attorney Bruce E. Johnson, representing an Iowa farm supply business, argued that companies ``can lock up the genes''
of plant varieties and control planting by farmers and research by other companies.
The last time the high court dealt with such a patent case was 1980, when justices ruled that patents can be given to bacteria. Based on that decision, the government began granting patents to new varieties of plants produced from seeds.
Justices did not discuss genetically engineered crops or other agriculture technology, instead repeatedly turning Wednesday to the impact on the everyday farmer.
Farmers contend the patents drive up seed costs and force them to dispose of seed left over from a previous harvest. Because of the patents, the companies that created the seed still control it _ even seed created in the farmers' fields through natural sexual reproduction.
``What do they do with the seeds, throw them in the river?'' asked Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist offered this idea: ``Put them out for the birds.''
Lawrence G. Wallace, arguing for the federal government, said patent holders must be compensated for the reproduced seed as well. He said that the government wants to make sure that companies are rewarded for innovation and are encouraged to pursue research that will benefit the public.
Congress had set up a system for granting special plant certificates, in which researchers can register their products. Wallace said about 5,000 plant varieties have been given certificates, and 1,800 types have received
patents.The court will decide if Congress intended to allow plant breeders to get both certificates and patents.
``It is hardly news to Congress this is and has been occurring,'' said Edmund J. Sease, attorney for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, which is owned by DuPont Co. and is the world's largest producer of seed corn.
Pioneer claims that the Iowa company, Farm Advantage Inc., infringed on its patents for 17 corn seed products by reselling them to farmers.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been granting patents for so-called sexually reproduced plants for 15 years.
``Don't we owe those decision-makers some deference?'' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.
The dispute does not involve plants produced from grafting or cutting, just those made with seeds.
Malla Pollack, a patent expert at Northern Illinois University College of Law, said the outcome will affect everyone.
``It involves our basic food supply,'' she said.
The case is J.E.M. AG Supply v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, 99-1996.