Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* Global GM Crop Area Continues to Grow - 125 Million Acres in 2001
* Patrick Moore: 'Greenpeace's Gestapo Tactics to Silence People'
* (Con) Fusion Cooking
* AgBiotech: The Road to Improved Nutrition and Increased Production?
* NZ Govt Plan To Keep GE Foes On Side
* Designer Seeds
* EPA's Recent Regulatory Decisions on Bt Crops
* Henry Miller: Bush Administration Deals a Blow To Biotechnology and Itself
* Tom DeGregori: Anthrax and Bt Sprays
Global GM Crop Area Continues to Grow:
Likely to Reach 50 million Hectares, or 125 Million Acres, in 2001
- ISAAA Press Release, October 18, 2001
The global area of transgenic crops, often referred to as genetically modified or GM crops, is likely to reach 50 million hectares, or 125 million acres, at the end of 2001. Preliminary information from a global survey conducted by Dr Clive James, Chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), indicates that this is more than a 10 % year-on-year growth compared with 2000. Despite the on-going debate on GM crops, particularly in countries of the European Union, millions of large and small farmers in both industrial and developing countries continue to increase their plantings of GM crops.
Since 1996, when the first commercial GM crops were grown, the global GM crop area has increased 30 fold, an unprecedented increase, reflecting grower satisfaction due to the significant and multiple benefits of GM crops. These benefits include:
* more sustainable and resource-efficient crop management practices that require less fuel, conserve vital soil moisture and control erosion
* less dependency on conventional pesticides, that can be a health hazard to resource-poor small farmers in developing countries applying pesticides with hand sprayers, and also result in environmental residues
* safer food and feed from products, such as pest-resistant Bt maize which contains less mycotoxin than conventional maize
* Collectively, these benefits offer growers and society more efficient and higher crop productivity that help contribute to a more sustainable agriculture and to the formidable challenge of ensuring global food, feed and fiber security in the future.
In the early 1990s, many critics of biotechnology were skeptical that GM crops could deliver improved products and make an impact in the near-term at the farm level. There was even more doubt about the appropriateness of GM crops for countries of the developing world. The experience of more than 15 countries including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, South Africa and the USA during the last six years, 1996 to 2001, has demonstrated that the early promises of GM crops are meeting expectations in both industrial and developing countries. These countries have grown a cumulative total of 175 million hectares (over 400 million acres) of GM crops. Legions of discerning farmers around the world, who have to practice risk aversion daily in order to survive, have all made independent decisions to increase their GM crop areas by almost 30-fold. The collective judgment of millions of farmers speaks volumes of the confidence and trust they have placed in GM crops that can make a vital contribution to global food, f
Governments, supported by the global scientific and international development community, must ensure continued safe and effective testing and introduction of GM crops and implement regulatory programs that inspire public confidence. Leadership at the international level must be exerted by the international scientific community and development institutions to stimulate discussion and to share knowledge on GM crops with society. The latter must be well informed and engaged in a dialogue about the impact of the technology on the environment, food safety, sustainability and global food security.
Societies in food surplus countries must ensure that access to GM crops is not denied or delayed to developing countries seeking to access the new technologies in their quest for food security. The most compelling case for biotechnology, particularly GM crops, is its potential vital contribution to global food security and the alleviation of hunger in the Third World. We must ensure that society will continue to benefit from the vital contribution that plant breeding offers, using both conventional and biotechnology tools. Improved crop varieties are, and will continue to be the most cost effective, environmentally safe, and sustainable way to help ensure global food security in the future.
ISAAA will release the 2001 Global Review of GM Crops when it is completed later this year. Copies will be available from ISAAA's Center in SouthEast Asia.
Please send questions, suggestions, and comments, to ISAAA SEAsiaCenter, c/o IRRI, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines. Phone: +63 2 8450563; Fax: 845 0606; Telefax: +63 49536 7216; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: http://www.isaaa.org
Patrick Moore: 'Greenpeace's Gestapo Tactics to Silence People'
Greenspirit, http://www.greenspirit.com October 15, 2001
(Source: Francis Wevers and Agnet http://www.plant.uoguelph.ca/safefood/archives/agnet-archives.htm )
I am sitting in my office in Vancouver, Canada after Greenpeace activists in Paris successfully prevented me from speaking via videoconference to 400 delegates of the European Seed Association. The Greenpeacers chained themselves to the seats in the Cine Cite Bercy auditorium and threatened to shout down the speakers. The conference organizers decided to retreat to the Sofitel Hotel where many of them were staying. The auditorium is in a very important building and they did not want their conference to be associated with an incident there. As the Sofitel does not have videoconferencing capability my keynote presentation was cancelled.
When I helped to create Greenpeace from a church basement in Vancouver in 1971 I had no idea that I would spend the next 15 years as an international director and leader of many Greenpeace campaigns. I also had no idea that after I left in 1986 they would evolve into a band of scientific illiterates who use Gestapo tactics to silence people who wish to express their views in a civilized forum. And I could never have guessed that my former colleague and then teen-age founder of Greenpeace France, Remi Parmentier, would be the one issuing the orders to silence me.
Over the years Remi has risen to the title of Political Director for Greenpeace International. (Remi is so political that when Francois Mitterand led the socialists to power in France he suddenly became a defender of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific) He has fought tirelessly against the reprocessing of nuclear waste, a campaign that I have some sympathy for. He has also directed the effort to prevent deep-sea disposal of harmless oil storage platforms in the Atlantic Ocean. This has resulted in hundreds of millions wasted for no good purpose. I imagine his intentions were good even though his priorities were misguided. But even if his intentions are good, he and his chain-gang have no right to deny freedom of assembly and freedom of speech by free people in a democracy. The issue, in this case, is the application of biotechnology to agriculture, genetic modification in particular. The conference in Paris was the coming together of delegates from seed companies, biotechnology companies, government
As a long-time leader of Greenpeace in its formative years, and someone who supports using biotechnology for the good of human welfare and the environment, I had been invited to give a presentation via videoconference from Vancouver. I would have told the assembled that the accusations of Frankenstein food and killer tomatoes are as much a fantasy as the Hollywood movies they are borrowed from. I would have argued that if putting a daffodil gene in rice can prevent half a million children from blindness each year then we should move forward carefully to develop the Golden Rice. I would have told them that Greenpeace policy on genetics lacks any respect for logic or science.
A few days ago the European Commission released the results of 81 scientific studies on genetically modified organisms conducted by over 400 research teams at a cost of US$65 million. The studies, which covered all areas of concern, have *not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods. Clearly my former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading the morning paper or simply don't care about the truth. And they choose to forcibly silence those of us who do care about the truth.
In response to Greenpeace's scandalous attacks on the promising development of Golden Rice, one of its inventors, Dr. Ingo Potrykus, accused Greenpeace of 'crimes against humanity'. I agree with him. But how can we fight back without resorting to crimes of our own?
What if 100 research scientists walked into a Greenpeace International meeting, chained themselves to the place, then called the media and stated their demands? Among those demands would be a promise not to prevent people from free assembly and free speech. What if those same scientists were to hang huge banners reading 'Greenpeace is Wrong about Biotechnology', 'Fight Anthrax, Not Corn', 'Millions of Children Condemned to Blindness by Greenpeace', 'Stop Greenpeace Lies' etc. I would be happy to help organize such an event.
- Patrick Moore, Ph.D. (Ecology), Co-Founder of Greenpeace, President of Greenspirit, http://www.greenspirit.com
The Greenpeace France media release on this action can be viewed at:
(Con) Fusion Cooking
- Irena Chalmers, spiked-central, 16 October
(Forwarded by Irena Chalmers )
Environmental campaigners' implacable opposition to food and agricultural biotechnology has found sympathetic friends among a bunch of celebrity chefs in the USA, who operate some of the grandest and most glorious eateries in the universe. Though their numbers are small, their influence is considerable, particularly since they took up televangelism.
'Food gives us the entrée to effect social change', proclaimed one of their leaders. Another big-name chef (not the Naked One) solemnly pontificates, 'Sustainable cuisine is an ethic that guides chefs to recognise that their food choices have a major impact on the integrity of the world's cultures and environment. This ethos leads chefs to buy local, seasonal food whenever possible, and to cook it in ways that celebrate the vitality and excitement of the traditional culinary legacies of the world's peoples'.
In response to this incandescent banality, freelance writer Richard Bermans observes in the weekly trade magazine for the restaurant industry, Nation's Restaurant News: 'Not coincidentally, the chef's anti-biotech cause is promoted by an "under the radar" coalition of organic food manufacturers and retailers. Guess who gains market share if the celebrity chefs can sow enough nervousness among consumers about advances in food technology?' What is wonderfully invigorating about these kinds of saints v sinners debates is how uplifted both sides become, as they practise the art of listening by talking louder and proclaiming their invincible rectitude to consumers - who are largely indifferent to the issues at hand. Consumers generally prefer to concentrate their energies on food that is fast, cheap, safe and convenient - these being the same four components that have led us to embrace indoor plumbing.
There's no denying a farmer in bib overalls is wonderfully more scenic than a scientist in a white coat - and almost as exciting as a celebrity chef who wafts through his privileged domain anointing his guests like a butterfly bestowing nectar from one eager uplifted face to another. Eric Ripert is the chef/owner of the four-star Le Bernardin. He is lavishly adored for operating America's premier seafood restaurant. His palace of gastronomy has glowed ever more brightly in the super supper galaxy since he was anointed 'Best Chef in New York'. When Eric spoke, he revealed to a wondering world: 'I don't want a cow gene in my cabbage. I don't know exactly what they are doing, but at least everyone has the right to know and then they can decide if they want to eat the food.' Of course, he is quite right (about the right to know part). He might not have fully understood the bit about the genes. And we can all sympathise. It's awfully hard for a book-writing big-name, philanthropic, truly brilliant chef who contr
The owner of a steakhouse would be mightily cheesed off to discover that a vegetarian had reviewed his restaurant and awarded it no stars - yet this chef and his merry band of followers see little similarity between this analogy and their right and privilege to review science through the prism of a kitchen cabinet. It is awfully puzzling, too, to follow the logic behind chefs' opposition to splicing two daffodil genes into golden rice while happily stirring crocus stamens (also known as saffron) into a bowl of golden risotto.
The logic behind chefs' opposition to splicing two daffodil genes into golden rice while happily stirring crocus stamens into a bowl of golden risotto is puzzlingI cannot understand why chefs are so emphatically opposed to transferring a gene from a safe-to-eat flounder into a safe-to-eat strawberry (an idea that was a briefly contemplated with the hope of preventing strawberries from disintegrating into a mush when struck by frost). It was a nice try, but didn't work and so never happened - despite persistent rumours to the contrary.
But supposing it had? How much more awful would it have been than eating fish and chips followed by strawberries and cream? Or, for that matter, tucking into a Mousseline Of Seafood With Champagne Sauerkraut & Sevruga Caviar Served With A Poached Quail Egg Surrounded With Langoustines, Oysters, Squid Tentacles, Lobster And Shrimp And Drizzled With Beurre Blanc Sauce (this being, I kid you not, an actual recent offering on the menu of an upscale restaurant). One can only marvel at the philosophical underpinning that went into that enterprise.
Tony Trewavas, of the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology in Edinburgh, dryly observes: 'The sheer absurdity of protesting the presence of a single extra gene while contentedly paying the equivalent of three times the monthly utility bill to munch on trillions of genes is - well - tosh!' If we are to get deeply concerned about mixing up genes, we will almost certainly need to give some serious thought to the idea of two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame -seed-bun.
An inescapable truth is that human DNA hasn't changed a jot in all the years men and women have inhabited the earth. This remarkable finding holds true whether we hunted and gathered a loin of lion or the eye of newt, or whether our dinner was kippers in the kitchen, or whether we dined in tax-deductible splendour on four kinds of salmon reclining in three different sauces, garnished with two kinds of caviar, topped with a lone crawfish, pirouetting on a single sublime pea.
A study by the product testing organisation Consumers Union found no consistent differences in appearance, flavour, or texture between organically and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. The nutritional value and flavour of a carrot has less to do with whether it was fertilised with warm animal manure or something out of a plastic sack, than it has to do with the variety of carrot, how long ago and where it was dug up, how it was stored, and the prevailing weather conditions while it was growing.
And in a small attempt to keep these things in perspective, the late, great restaurateur, Joe Baum reminded us: 'People don't come to a restaurant because they're hungry. They come for fun and for the pleasure of being together.'
Irena Chalmers has sold over 18 million cookbooks. Her latest, The Great Food Almanac, won Chalmers her twelfth award of excellence. She is currently writing Food Matters: The Collision Between Tradition and Technology. Irena Chalmers will be speaking on 'Folklore vs. Scientific Lore - Food Biotechnology' at the Institute of Ideas' 'Science, knowledge and humanity - debating the future of progress', 26 to 28 October, New York City.
Agricultural Biotechnology: The Road to Improved Nutrition and Increased Production?
November 1-2, 2001, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts
"Agricultural Biotechnology: The Road to Improved Nutrition and Increased Production?" is being offered by the Tufts University Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. This conference is designed to provide an open dialogue and discussion with the international nutritional science and policy community.
Speakers: W. Paul Davies, Calestous Juma, Johanna Dwyer, Florence Wambugu, Gurdev Khush, Alan McHughen, Steve Taylor, Harry Kuiper, Mark Mansour, Ingo Potrykus
Why is this conference being offered?
This conference is as unique as it is crucial. It will examine agricultural biotechnology from the nutrition science viewpoint in an effort to evaluate the potential of combating hunger and undernutrition on a global basis. We aim to foster open discussion based on sound data and research. Biotechnology has not been evaluated from this scientific standpoint, and we believe a collegial approach will result in clarification of the role and value of biotechnology, as well as a direction for further research. Selected speakers and discussion leaders have international stature and expertise in the field. This conference offers a unique opportunity for participants to examine, in a neutral setting, the important issues involved in the debate and engage fully in a dialogue drawing upon the expertise of those present.
* To identify and examine the issues involved surrounding biotechnology as an approach to enhancing the nutritional quality of the food supply and assuring global food security.
* Provide the most up-to-date information about the effects of biotech agriculture on food safety and environmental issues.
* To educate and inform the nutritional science and policy community about biotechnology to foster discussion and identify areas for further research.
* To understand the variety of non-scientific issues that impact global acceptance of the technology, including economic, trade and political issues.
NZ Government Appears Set To Derail The Recommendations of The Royal Commission
Government Plan To Keep GE Foes On Side
- Francesca Mold, Vernon Small And Anne Beston, NZ Herald, 18.10.2001
(Forwarded by "Cory Bystrom" )
The Government is planning a two-year compulsory freeze on GE field trials to appease the Green Party and head off a threatened revolt by its own Maori MPs.
The Maori MPs met on Tuesday night to discuss their concerns that senior ministers were leaning towards decisions in line with the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. The Government is to announce its decision by October 30. A committee of senior ministers will consider the issue again next Thursday and the Cabinet is likely to approve the decision on October 29.
Sources last night said Prime Minister Helen Clark was proposing continuing the present moratorium for two more years as a compromise between the Maori MPs and ministers who favour controlled GM releases. They include Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton, Research, Science and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson and Finance Minister Michael Cullen.
The two-year extension would give the Government time to continue investigations recommended by the royal commission in July. These include considering whether GM researchers should bear the liability for any damage caused by their experiments. It would also give the Green Party a boost for next year's election, enabling them to argue that only a strong Green presence in Parliament would preserve the moratorium.
The Maori MPs have expressed cultural and religious fears about the mixing of human cells across species, the status of the Treaty of Waitangi and the ability to control field trials. Helen Clark said a wait of about two years would protect New Zealand's present status without impeding scientific progress.
The Green Party met ministers on Tuesday night, and are understood to have made it clear their support for the Government was at stake. "Clearly our constituents could not tolerate confidence for a Government that took us down the GE road," Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said yesterday.
The Greens are keen to see a moratorium put into law to avoid the uncertainty of ministerial discretion or a voluntary industry ban. They say this uncertainty prevents exporters tapping into the economic advantage of New Zealand being GM free.
The National Party has offered to free the Government from its reliance on the Greens if it decides to implement the commission recommendations, which support field trials of GM crops under strict controls and dismiss a GM-free New Zealand as probably impractical. National's environment spokesman, Nick Smith, said the party was willing to "work constructively" with the Government to prevent a continued ban on gene research outside the laboratory.
Meanwhile, some scientists are worried that the Environmental Risk Management Authority - the watchdog set up to control gene research - is preparing the ground for stricter GM controls before the Government has made its decision. "Erma seems to be getting in quickly to soften us up for the Government's decision on the commission's report," said HortResearch science manager Dr John Shaw.
The new guidelines, sent to research organisations this month and issued under last year's amendment to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, focus on extra monitoring of gene experiments and the use of buffer zones between GM and non-GM crops. Erma communications manager Julie Watson said the letter was "informal" and told scientists applying to do gene experiments what compliance criteria they could expect.
- Margie Patlak. Complete document at http://www4.nas.edu/beyond/beyonddiscovery.nsf/web/seeds?OpenDocument
For millennia, farmers have battled insects, microorganisms, and weeds that destroy or compete with their crops--threatening their families with starvation. Indeed, many major events in history have resulted from devastating plant disease epidemics or insect infestations. The Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s, which was caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans, killed more than a million people and prompted a massive Irish emigration to the United States.
In hopes of preventing crop-plant destruction by pests, ancient Romans made sacrifices to their various gods. Modern farmers use other techniques in their attempts to kill pests, including spraying pesticide and herbicides, and plowing under weeds. They also make use of improved management practices and benefit from traditional breeding techniques to strengthen their crops. Some of the newer methods, however, have substantial costs and disadvantages. Excessive plowing can cause soil erosion, for instance. And pesticides and herbicides can pollute both soil and water as well as contribute to species extinction.
Thanks to recent advances in the genetic engineering, or bioengineering, of plants, farmers are now beginning to have at their disposal crop seeds that are genetically endowed not only to resist damage from insects but also to be resistant to herbicides. These bioengineered seeds have the potential to revolutionize agriculture and improve environmental quality by making it possible to reduce the use of pesticides and keep plowing to a minimum.
Like most scientific innovations that have had significant effects on society, bioengineered seeds did not emerge solely from the efforts of researchers to improve pest or weed control. Rather they were the by-product of earlier researchers' curiosity about such basic science questions as: How do bacteria cause plant tumors? How do some viruses protect plants from other viruses? What enables some bacteria to kill insects? The following article explores the trail of research that ultimately led scientists to bioengineer the plants that are beginning to transform agriculture. This story provides a dramatic example of how science works and how basic research can lead to practical results that were unimaginable when the research began.
(This article was written by science writer with the assistance of Drs. Roger N. Beachy, Mary-Dell Chilton, Maarten J. Chrispeels, Nina Fedoroff, Robert Haselkorn, Ernest Jaworski, and Arthur Kelman for Beyond DiscoveryTM: The Path from Research to Human Benefit, a project of the National Academy of Sciences.)
Read the rest on NAS website.....
From: "Cindy Lynn Richard, CIH"
Subject: Data and Rationale re: EPA's recent regulatory decisions on Bt cotton and Bt corn available on the web
The U.S. EPA has posted two new documents explaining the data and rationale for their recent regulatory decisions to extend the registrations of Bt cotton and Bt corn.
The documents are titled Bt Cotton Confirmatory Data and Terms and Conditions of the Amendment, which includes the EPA's regulatory position on Bt Cotton and Bt Corn Confirmatory Data and Terms and conditions of the Amendment, which includes the EPA's reulatory position on Bt Corn. Both documents are posted to
as part of the Biopesticides Registration Action Document for the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Plant-Incorporated Protectants (October 15, 2001)
From: "Henry I. Miller"
Subject: EPA's regulatory decisions on Bt
The fascinating EPA documents just forwarded to us by Cindy Lynn Richard remind me of an observation made by my friend, microbiologist and Nobel Laureate (Medicine/Physiology) Salvador Luria, "Something that isn't worth doing at all isn't worth doing well."
Having obligated itself by regulatory policies that make neither scientific nor common sense to perform such exercises, EPA has expended monumental public resources on an arguably superfluous, tautological analysis. It ends up rather like concluding that you get wet if you run out into a thunderstorm. The primary team alone at EPA consisted of 19 staff, in addition to those above them in the bureaucratic feeding chain who would have had to review and sign off on the documents (plus any contractors who might have been involved).
The policies in question are those embodied in EPA's "plants as pesticides," or "plant-incorporated protectant," rule. For any of you who may think that this rule and EPA's approach to genetically improved plants generally make sense, recall that only recombinant DNA-modified plants are captured for torturous case-by-case review and registration (and re-review, and re-re-review, at intervals, as in the documents sent out by Cindy Richard). Wide crosses -- in which genes and traits are transferred to crop plants by interspecific or intergeneric hybridization -- are exempt, even though whole chromosomes or even whole genomes may be transferred, sometimes from wild grasses, always imprecisely. See, for example, Table 1 of the paper, "Gene Transfer in Crop Improvement," by Goodman et al, Science 236, 40 (1987). It is particularly interesting that the traits desired and obtained in these wide crosses are most often pesticidal traits -- for example, as shown in Table 1 of the Goodman paper, decreased incidenc
See, also, the article on the EPA rule from the September issue of Nature Biotechnology, below.
The Bush Administration Deals a Blow To Biotechnology and Itself
- Henry I. Miller, Nature Biotechnology, Sept 2001 Vol 19 No 9 pp 807 - 808
A persistent criticism of the Bush administration, according to polls, is that its policies too often favor the interests of big business over those of consumers. Although these criticisms of "deregulatory" policies usually have been dubious at best, on July 19 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; Washington, DC) issued a regulation that is genuinely anti-consumer, anti-environment, and anti-farmer. The only beneficiaries will be a handful of big agribusiness companies and the regulators themselves.
The subject of the regulation, the use of recombinant DNA techniques to enhance the intrinsic pest resistance of crop and garden plants, offers a safe, viable alternative to chemical pesticides; but the testing and commercialization of these plants have been systematically obstructed since 1994, when EPA first proposed to regulate them as though they were dangerous chemical pesticides. EPA remonstrates that it is regulating not new plant varieties, but only the introduced pesticidal protein, which it now calls by the neologism "plant-introduced protectant" (PIP). However, that is a distinction without a difference, similar to suggesting that US states enforce emission standards not for automobiles, but for engines and exhaust systems.
Innovative, recombinant DNA-modified varieties have already demonstrated their commercial, environmental, and public health benefits. An example is recombinant "Bt cotton," which differs functionally from other varieties by the presence of a single protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The protein, made by a gene transferred to the cotton plant by recombinant DNA techniques, is toxic to certain insects but not to humans or other mammals. The use of toxin is not new: For decades, preparations of live Bt bacteria have been sprayed onto plants by home gardeners and commercial farmers, with an admirable record of both safety and effectiveness.
Bt cotton is used to control the cotton and pink bollworm and the tobacco budworm, which together account for a quarter of all losses due to pest infestations and cost US farmers more than $150 million annually. In 1999, states that had a high rate of adoption of Bt cotton showed a significant reduction in the need to treat fields with chemical pesticides. Treatments were cut from an average of three treatments per acre to about one and a half. Bt cotton has eliminated the need for more than 2 million pounds of chemical pesticides since it was introduced in 1996.
In purely economic terms, the aggregate advantage to cotton farmers nationally?the net value of crops not lost to pests, savings in pesticides, and so on?is in the range of $100?150 million per year. But the economic benefits pale beside the environmental advantages. Three of the chemicals that must be used in much greater amounts on conventional, non-Bt cotton 'endosulfan, methyl parathion, and profenos' are thought to have negative effects on birds, fish, and other aquatic organisms.
By diminishing chemical pesticide usage, the adoption of Bt cotton also reduces occupational exposures to the toxic chemicals by workers who mix, load, and apply the pesticides, and who perform other activities that require their presence in the field. Moreover, as the amount of pesticides applied is reduced, the level of runoff into waterways is reduced, a major problem in many farming regions.
Federal regulation of recombinant plants is inconsistent and discriminatory, and bears no proportionality to risk. In fact, there is arguably inverse proportionality to risk, in that the more precisely crafted and more predictable recombinant organisms are subjected to far more stringent regulation than more crudely crafted, less predictable organisms. This violates a cardinal principle of regulation: that the degree of regulatory scrutiny should be commensurate with risk. The EPA holds the new technology to an inappropriate standard, requiring hugely expensive testing of recombinant DNA-modified crop and garden plants, such as cotton, grapes, and tomatoes, as though they were highly toxic chemical pesticides?a policy that has been repeatedly condemned by the scientific community. The agency has imposed requirements that could not possibly be met for products of conventionally bred crop plants, and its policies fail to recognize that there are important differences between spraying synthetic, toxic chemical
There is a broad and longstanding scientific consensus about the continuum between conventional and new biotechnology1. As a 1992 Nature editorial states, "no conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes"2. Scientists worldwide agree that the process of adding novel genes to plants does not make them less safe either to the environment or for humans to eat. And yet transgenic varieties are singled out for particular scrutiny, while dozens of varieties produced through hybridization and other traditional methods of genetic improvement enter the marketplace each year without scientific review or special labeling. Many of the latter products are from "wide crosses"?hybridizations in which genes are moved from one species or one genus to another to create a plant variety that does not and cannot exist in nature.
For example, Triticum agropyrotriticum is a new synthetic "species" that resulted from the combination of genes from bread wheat and a grass sometimes called quackgrass or couchgrass. Possessing all the chromosomes of wheat and one extra whole genome from the quackgrass (containing tens of thousands of genes), T. agropyrotriticum has been independently produced in the former Soviet Union, Canada, United States, France, Germany, and China, and is grown for both human food and animal feed. The inconsistency of EPA's policy is illustrated by the fact that if a single gene from quackgrass were introduced into wheat by recombinant DNA techniques, the new plant would be subject to the EPA's draconian review and licensing process for pesticides.
EPA's policy is so potentially damaging and outside scientific norms that it has galvanized the scientific community, which has repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the agency's approach3, 4. Dozens of major scientific societies representing more than 100,000 biologists and food professionals have warned that the EPA policy discourages the development of new pest-resistant crops, prolongs and increases the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, increases the regulatory burden for developers of pest-resistant crops, expands federal and state bureaucracy, limits the use of biotechnology to larger developers who can pay the inflated regulatory costs, and handicaps the United States in competition for international markets3, 4.
As predicted, the EPA's policy has already caused extraordinary mischief: namely, the recall of corn products found to contain minuscule amounts of a recombinant corn variety call StarLink, which unlike other commercial varieties contains a Bt toxin called Cry9C. This bacterial protein, introduced into corn with recombinant DNA techniques, was approved by EPA for animal feed but not for humans because, although Cry9C does not resemble known allergens, it was not immediately degraded in digestion tests. (Most food allergens are not readily digested, so the EPA wanted more data before concluding that consumers could not be allergic to the protein.)
However, the food products in question are actually far less likely than thousands of other products on the market to cause allergic or other health problems. More than 20 million Americans report that they are allergic to peanuts, and about 125 deaths a year are attributed to food allergy. Fava beans, a fixture of upscale restaurant cuisine in North America and Europe, can be life-threatening to persons with a relatively common hereditary enzyme deficiency. Unlike those foodstuffs, however, even after exhaustive testing, no allergic reactions, toxicity, or any other problem has been demonstrated for Cry9C or any substance similar to it.
The ripple effect of this StarLink non-problem is monumental, and growing. Because EPA classified the Cry9C as a pesticide, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA; Rockville, MD) was forced to recall the hundreds of products found to contain minute traces of it. (EPA sets pesticide tolerances?zero in the case of Starlink?and the FDA enforces them) "Contamination" with StarLink's Cry9C has been found in corn exported to Japan, which annually imports about 16 million tons of US feed corn (worth around $2 billion) and has a policy of "zero tolerance" for the banned variety (considering violations to be criminal). The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries finally accepted a baroque US plan for testing corn exports to ensure that they are free from StarLink.
The just-finalized regulation concerned with recombinant plants is not the first instance in which biotechnology (and society) has been a victim of EPA's wrongheaded policymaking. In 1997, the agency issued a regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the effect of which has been to halt most research into any "new" microorganism?defined inexplicably as one containing combinations of DNA from unrelated sources?that might be used, for example, to degrade oil spills or clean up toxic wastes. Under this regulation?for EPA "newness" is synonymous with risk, and because recombinant DNA techniques can easily be used to create new gene combinations with DNA from disparate sources?these techniques "have the greatest potential to pose risks to people or the environment," according to the agency's tortured logic. However, as described above, a broad scientific consensus holds that the genetic technique employed is irrelevant to risk, as is the origin of a snippet of DNA that may be moved from one organism to
The final regulation on recombinant DNA-modified plants emerges at a time when the Bush administration is still operating with a skeleton crew, one that includes a scientifically illiterate EPA chief, Christine Todd Whitman, and her deputy, Linda Fisher, a former Monsanto senior executive who continues to promote industry's interests at the expense of the public interest. The vast expense of EPA's policy?actually a kind of punitive tax?acts as a market-entry barrier to seed and biotechnology companies undertaking recombinant DNA research, so big agribusiness companies and the US Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) have lobbied tirelessly for it.
Little can be done in the short run to remedy this public policy debacle. Even a direct order from the President to revise the policy and undertake remedial rule-making would likely be ignored by tenured bureaucrats?and would take years, in any case. Getting the current regulation written and published took more than seven years?even with EPA and the Clinton White House strongly behind it.
EPA's inept treatment of biotechnology is not an anomaly. The agency has been widely criticized for being inefficient and unscientific. When the Office of Management and Budget analyzed the cost effectiveness of a panoply of regulations throughout the federal government, of the 30 least cost-effective regulations on the list, no fewer than 17 had been imposed by EPA. This impression of inefficiency is reinforced in an analysis by Washington, DC?based Resources for the Future of eight major EPA regulatory programs of the past two decades. Resources for the Future concluded that the science behind the policy often gets distorted or ignored: "EPA for a variety of reasons is unwilling, unable, and unequipped to address and acknowledge the uncertainties in the underlying science."
EPA Administrator Whitman should now be put on notice that she is on probation and that another major blunder will result in President Bush "accepting her resignation," as the euphemism goes. And Ms. Fisher should depart now, before she does further damage. The new EPA regulation is only one symptom of the rot within the agency, but it is a serious one. It ensures that the potential of biotechnology applied to agriculture and food production is tarnished?as is the health of the environment, not to mention the reputation of the Bush White House.
US National Research Council. Field testing genetically modified organisms: Framework for decisions. (US National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1989).
Editorial. Nature 356, 1-2 (1992). | PubMed |
Appropriate oversight for plants with inherited traits from resistance to pests. A report from eleven scientific societies. (Institute of Food Technologists, Chicago, IL, 1996).
Council on Agricultural Science and Technology. The proposed EPA pesticide rule. (CAST, Issue Paper No. 10, October 1998).
Henry Miller (e-mail: email@example.com. edu) is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was an FDA official from 1979 to 1994 and is the author of "Policy Controversy in Biotechnology: An Insider's View.
From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: Anthrax and Bt Sprays
Given that there is a rising of concern over Anthrax in the United States and over the possibility that it might be spread from crop dusters, it may be a tad unfair and even perverse to point out that currently millions of pounds of a live bacillus, Bacillus thuringiensis, (known as Bt - it is a member of the same genus or even the same species as Bacillus anthracis), are being used in organic agriculture. I say a tad unfair because those who support the use of it have sought to frighten the public over the insertion of a single gene from the bacillus that codes for a protein which protects the plant from the European stem borer but is completely broken down into its amino acid components when ingested in the stomach of humans.
The critics of transgneic Bt corn have worked the European consumers to a hysterical pitch, caused great harm to those who might benefit from it including the poorest and most vulnerable of the earth's inhabitants such as small farmers in Africa and continue to make false claims about harm to Monarch butterflies. I happen to concur that the possible harm from the use of live Bt is extremely remote but those informed on the subject whom I have consulted indicate that however remote, the dangers are far greater then presumed dangers from transgenic Bt about which so much hysteria has been generated.
>From my recent book, AGRICULTURE AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY: A DEFENSE (p. 109), I have the following on the comparative dangers of the two practices:
Live Bt is defined to be "natural" and is used in "organic" agriculture. ... In many respects, the using the plant to produce the Bt toxin may be safer from both an environmental and human health perspective than using Bacillus thuringiensis. Bacillus thuringiensis. Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacillus cereus, Bacillus mycoides and Bacillus anthracis are members of the same genus, and many scientists consider them actually the same species or very closely related as members of the Bacillus cereus group. The "plasmids of Bt "seem innocuous" but are "the main part of Bt's genetic material codes for toxins that can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle and kidney damage and liver failure." Because Bt has a "novel gene-swapping system that enables Bt to exchange an unusually wide variety of DNA with other Bacillus cells, there is the "potential for spawning very dangerous strains and unleashing them into the environment" (MacKenzie 1999, 22). The genes for critical toxins are present in Bt, and we currently do not know
- Agaisse, H. M. Gominet; O.A. Oekstad, A-B Kolstoe and D. Lereclus. 1999. PlcR is a pleiotropic regulator of extracellular virulence factor gene expression in Bacillus thuringiensis. Molecular Microbiology 32(5):1043-1053, June.
- Bouchie, Aaron J. 2000. Bacillus Identity Crisis, Nature Biotechnology 18(8):813, August.
- MacKenzie, Debora. 1999. Friend or Foe, "Friendly" Bacteria Make Terrific Insecticides. But Just a Few Genes Separate the Good Guys from the Bad Guys. New Scientist 164(2207), 9 October.
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of Houston; http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg
Subject: Bacillus anthracis
Can some one tell us what are the surface carbohydrate/sugar residues of Bacillus anthracis? If this is known, a lectin specific to these residues can be identified. And such a lectin can agglutinate and immobilise the bacillus and/or premept its binding sites, thus reducing the chances of pathogenesis.
C Kameswara Rao