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October 25, 2001


Good Public Interest NGO; Fact vs Myth; Combating Green


Today's Topics in AgBioView.

* Of Public interest?
* GM Food: Fact Versus Myth - 'Ignore the stories. Safety Checks work'
* Combating The Green Menace
* UK's FSA Rejects EU's GM Derivative Labelling
* European Official: Decision on Biotech Food Restrictions Will Be 'Political
* Gordon Couger: Comparing Bioengineering to Nuclear power
* Indian Farm Leader Tells Farmers To Protect the Bt Gene
* India: Bt Cotton Mix-up Shows Difficulty of Controlling GM Crops
* This Corn Isn't Fatal
* The Stockholm Environment Institute
* The Precautionary Principle - Book
* Rutgers Awarded 2.5 Million From USDA for Food Biotech Research
* Evolution of Natural Bioterrors

Of Public interest?

- Social Issues Research Center, 24 October 2001

"Genetically Engineered Foods On The Market Appear To Be Safe" says the headline. In an article strongly supportive of GMOs we read: "The tomatoes, potatoes, and wheat we buy in the supermarket have been drastically altered by breeding them with wild relatives, and those products are considered safe" … Genetically engineered crops could be a boon to farmers and consumers, especially in developing countries."

OK, they want this technology to be subject to strict government oversight, but who doesn't? And they call for rigorous testing for potential allergens and the possible damage to wildlife that might result from newly developed GM crops. There a very few people who will find this at all unreasonable.

So where does this gushing pro-biotech announcement come from? A Monsanto-funded campaign group, or a research centre which serves the interests of the multinational ag-bio companies? Far from it. It comes from a press release issued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest - an advocacy group based in Washington DC.

The CSPI has long been regarded as the one of the most virulent critics of not only of the food manufacturing and retail industries, but also of the philosophy that eating should be one of life's pleasurable experiences. Ronni Chernoff, a former President of the American Dietetic Association, once remarked: "We have a totally different view on food and nutrition than [Center for Science in the Public Interest director Michael Jacobson] does. He takes all the pleasure out of eating by scaring people and using terror tactics."

The Tufts Nutrition Navigator, arguably one of the best web directories of health and nutrition sites, has also taken exception to CSPI's proselytising style: "We take issue with their sensational and alarmist tone. 'The Facts About Olestra,' with its blacklist of brand names, 'anal leakage' humor, and numerous CSPI press releases seemed to be more of a vendetta than an objective presentation of the facts. And if you are to avoid as many processed foods and additives as they advise, what else is left to eat?"

Scare-mongering is the hallmark of the large majority of CSPI's reports and so-called 'information' booklets. It has claimed that America is 'drowning' in sugar, has called for 'sin' taxes on 'junk' food and is currently running a campaign to prevent Coca Cola from using Harry Potter in its promotion campaigns - "Coke and other soft drinks are JUNK, and certainly not what Harry would want kids to drink." Their newsletter regularly features 'tips' on how we can distinguish the "Right Stuff" from "Food Porn". In case we should start to become complacent about the current risks to our health that a normal lunch might present - such as seafood, or "Death on the Half Shell" - the CSPI warns us of other "emerging" risk factors, such as lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), and fibrinogen. Scary stuff indeed.

So what has happened to Frankenstein's monster? Has the CSPI abandoned the potential for whipping up hysterical reactions to 'tinkering with nature' and creating 'environmental catastrophe'? Their press release must certainly lead us to that conclusion. So too must the statement by the organisation's President, Michael Jacobson, uttered without any appreciation of apparent self-irony, that "Too many biotech critics have resorted to alarming the public about purported environmental and food risks."

The reason for this deep inconsistency within the CSPI is not too difficult to determine. Americans have been eating GM foods for many years now - all without ill effect. Genetically modified corn is indistinguishable from any other corn, and has the same nutritional benefits. A GM tomato is just a tomato - and it is increasingly difficult in the United States to scare people with a tomato.

Whatever the motives for the out-of-character stance taken by CSPI on GM issues, it is both welcome and an invitation to other 'advocacy' groups to perhaps reconsider their position. After all, like CSPI, they have many other scary fish to fry. These, however, detract us less from other fundamental concerns, such as that of providing the basis for sustainable agriculture in developing countries. There is something almost obscene about well-fed, white, middle-class opponents of food biotechnology seeking to deny innovation that can contribute significantly to alleviating famine in less well-fed and fortunate parts of the world. When the CSPI emphasises this very point it is time for a somewhat baffled round of applause.


GM Food: Fact Versus Myth
'Ignore The Stories. Food-crop Genetic-engineering Technology Is Sound; Safety Checks Work'

- Far Eastern Economic Review, 01 Nov 2001

World food day ust ended. If you live in Hong Kong, you may have run into some of the people pictured below, Greenpeace protesters who had been slapping warning labels on supermarket products they claimed were made from genetically modified ingredients. Each year, the anti-GM-food lobby gains more converts, even in Asia. They succeed through stunts like this one, and by perpetuating myths that are unwittingly embroidered with each telling. With each new convert, the greater is the delay in introducing more GM food with its lower cost of production. And this only hurts the poor, many of whom live in Asia. Allow us, then, to attempt to clear the air.

KILLER BEANS. Each time we visit the issue of GM food, we're flooded with letters. Invariably, someone asks: What about that death from the ingestion of food laced with genes from the Brazil nut?

Well, folks, it never happened. A pro-organic food NGO (another common misnomer -- all foods are organic) wrote that "a major {genetically engineered} food disaster was narrowly averted when Nebraska researchers learned that a Brazil nut gene spliced into soybeans could induce potentially fatal allergies." From this may have evolved the myth of killer GM food.

The truth is far less dramatic. Beans are a nutritious staple in many parts of the developing world, but they lack two useful proteins. Incidentally, these are highly concentrated in nuts, especially Brazil nut. So researchers thought, why not splice the Brazil nut genes into beans? But this GM bean was never made. It was quickly realized that splicing a gene from a known allergy source to a major food crop was dangerous. Later, another group pondered animal-feed crops. Animal feed usually has one of the two proteins added in to spur growth. Again, the Brazil nut came up. Again, because of allergenic fears, the project was scrapped. So, let us say this again: No one died from nut-engineered soybeans or other crops. There's no such thing.

POISON POTATOES. The poisoned-food scare may have started with a British TV documentary in which a scientist declared that GM potatoes stunted growth and suppressed immunity in rats fed on them. He also said he wouldn't eat GM foods and questioned their safety. The ensuing controversy prompted the Royal Society to review the GM potato data, which it found to "provide no reliable or convincing evidence of adverse (or beneficial) effects."

The potato used in the study could well have caused damage -- the data isn't conclusive. But if so, that shouldn't be a surprise. The rats were fed a potato genetically modified with a gene for lectin, a protein that binds carbohydrates. Lectins can be poisonous -- a lectin was used in the infamous 1978 umbrella-tip assassination of a Bulgarian dissident. So if there was any toxicity in the potato, this was because of choosing a toxic gene to introduce, not because GM technology invariably leads to bad things.

BUTTERFLIES. Because the main pest for corn, the European corn borer, spends much of its life in the plant, Insecticides, usually a soil bacterium called bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, must be sprayed heavily. So why not put the gene for Bt into corn? This was done, and it worked. Then came the butterflies. Cornell researchers dusted Bt corn pollen on leaves and fed these to Monarch caterpillars in the lab. Nearly half died in days. Horror. But what the myth fails to mention is that corn pollen is dispersed at a different time from when these caterpillars feed. In nature, they're unaffected. Again, nothing wrong with GM technology. It was only that the choice of Bt could have caused a problem -- but not in nature. Indeed, butterfly mortality would be as much a problem in wrongly timed organic Bt spraying (which Rachel Carson of the anti-DDT Silent Spring advocated).

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT. The truth behind all three myths is that any potential problem was a function of picking what gene to splice; meaning there's nothing intrinsically harmful in GM technology itself -- any dilemma associated with it would have been faced by those seeking the same traits through conventional grafting. Moreover, no one died from GM food, because the scientific safety checks were, and continue to be, in place. The science is responsible.

Now, many of the points we raise above are to be found in The Skeptical Environmentalist, a new book that tackles a swath of fallacies. But lest you mistake its author, Bjorn Lomborg, for a Big Business lobbyist, he describes himself as an "old left-wing Greenpeace member." Indeed, this statistics professor is convinced there are environmental problems, but that fixing them requires facts. And that makes him our kind of environmentalist.


Combating The Green Menace

- National Business Review, New Zealand, 26 Oct 2001

Within a few days we will know the degree to which the (NZ) government has been captured by the Greens. Its response to the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification is likely to be cautious to the point of delaying GM field trials by a further two years. The report itself is so laden with environmental bureaucracy and political correctness as to make any moderate free-enterpriser throw up.

The government, with the help of National and Act New Zealand, easily has the numbers to carry out the report's recommendations but Labour and Alliance are slowly turning green. The irony is that the report, far from giving GM free rein, locks the research and development community in a green straitjacket from which there is no obvious escape.

For the diehard GE-free fraternity - a group that includes remnants of the Vietnam war and Springbok tour protest movements, conspiracy theorists and eco-fascists - the royal commission acted more like a green proxy than an independent commission of inquiry. The commission came out narrowly in favour of GM but with controls so draconian that some research scientists have already packed their bags and headed off overseas.

This year's knowledge wave conference, which the government part-sponsored, emphasised the need to create a climate to foster R&D and investment. Yet the commission's response to the ultimate expression of the knowledge wave, GM, was restrictive and regulatory. More eco-guardians, more controls, more cost - hardly the ingredients to create the knowledge economy the government keeps talking about.

A true climate of enterprise requires less government and fewer controls. But the government's wish to control everything - something we referred to in our editorial a fortnight ago ("The control-freak administration") - extends far further than a return to new-age socialism.

The green challenge, more accurately the green menace, cuts at the heart of the old left. Alliance, which once embraced the Green Party, could be the next green victim. High-profile Alliance members like Conservation/Local Government Minister Sandra Lee have countered the green menace by stepping up green politics. The Alliance mayoral candidate for Auckland city, party president Matt McCarten, became the latest leftie to don the green mantle. Yet Mr McCarten is anything but a natural green; it was just something he felt he had to have on his election CV.

Most New Zealanders want to live in a clean, green environment; most businesses do not want to pollute or despoil the landscape or waterways; most farmers and foresters hold the land dear These are not values that necessarily require heavy-handed legislation or a green revolution to survive. The greatest protector of clean, green New Zealand is prolonged economic growth that will generate the income to upgrade roads and railways and control erosion. A New Zealand that is nothing more than a regulated national park has no future.

What is especially sad about the campaign against GM is the willingness of many normally open-minded Kiwis to embrace it. It is a campaign based on scare-mongering misinformation and deceit but one spread enthusiastically by many in the media. New Zealanders' ability to embrace biotechnology from the earliest days of European settlement accounts in no small part for the development of a world-class food industry that can operate without subsidies or kickbacks. That success did not happen by chance - New Zealand has few natural advantages in farming without the aid of pesticides and fertiliser and expert animal husbandry.

Before we consign good science to the dustbin of ignorance we should look at the advantages it has brought us in the past 160 years. The Greens should read a little history before foisting their lamentably ill-informed views on an unsuspecting public. The public for its part should ask more questions of them and demand more answers.


(UK's) FSA Rejects EU's GM Derivative Labelling

- Financial Times, October 22, 2001 (source: Katie Thrasher )

The (UK) government is on a collision course with Brussels and consumer groups over EU plans to introduce stringent new labelling requirements for foods containing or derived from, GMOs. Under proposals drawn up by EU food safety commissioner David Byrne and agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler, GM derivatives would have to be labelled, whether or not the final products contain genetically modified DNA.

DEFRA denied press reports that it had bowed to pressure from the DTI and Tony Blair to reject the proposals and said it had followed the advice of the FSA. The Food Standards Agency defended its decision to reject the proposals on the grounds they were prohibitively expensive, open to abuse and impossible to enforce.

A spokesman said: "There are significant problems around traceability and enforcement. The equipment just isn't up to the job." Current provisions requiring labels on products with a GM content of 1% or above are by contrast "practical". The FSA is pushing for the introduction of a GM-free' label on a small range of products for which it is possible to provide complete traceability. Consumers' Association deputy director Kim Lavely said the FSA had "let consumers down" by voting for a "much weaker option".


Decision on Biotech Food Restrictions Will Be 'Political,' European Official Says

- Adrian Sybor, International Trade Daily, Oct 25, 2001 The Bureau of National Affairs

Prospects remain uncertain for European Commission labeling and traceability proposals that would affect U.S. exports of genetically modified foods to European Union countries, a senior agriculture member of the commission's delegation to the United States said Oct. 24. "The decision in the end will be highly political," said Tony Van der Haegen, minister-counselor for agriculture, fisheries and consumer affairs. "We don't know how it is going to finish and what member states are going to say."

He was referring to two draft rules proposed by the European Commission July 25 that would impose traceability and labeling requirements for Any food and animal feed products containing or derived from a genetically modified plant, including thousands of processed foods with ingredients from crops imported from the United States. The rules require adoption by the European Parliament and the Council Of Ministers, a process not expected to occur before the end of 2002.

But while agriculture ministers of some countries favor the requirements, the final decisions may not be theirs to make, Van der Haegen pointed out to a forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food and Technology. Some EU member states also favor extending labeling requirements to Meat and poultry, he added. Some Products Exempt: Current negative consumer attitudes toward GM products in Europe "will Not be turned easily," Van der Haegen said. "We have to give it time." Moderator David Gergen, author and a former top adviser to President Clinton, prodded the minister regarding GM additives in European cheese, wine, and ham, which would not require disclosure in labeling. "Is that politics or science?" Gergen asked. The GM-derived enzyme is a final additive, Van der Haegen explained, "not an ingredient." He said the EU sees a distinction in the process.

David Hegwood, counsel to the U.S. secretary of agriculture, had Already pointed out objections to labeling by process. "The type of process-based labeling proposed by the EU would lead to fraud and abuse," Hegwood argued, "which would further undermine consumer confidence in the EU food safety regulatory system." The traceability and labeling requirements in the proposed rules "do nothing to improve food safety or environmental protection," he said. Traceability 'Nearly Impossible.' The traceability provisions would require U.S. exporters of bulk commodities such as corn and soybeans to identify specifically the genetically modified varieties contained in each shipment. Hegwood said the task is "nearly impossible" and the information would not even be passed on to the consumer.

Fred Yoder, president-elect of the National Corn Growers Association, argued the benefits to be obtained from the use of biotech crops, including less insect damage, less harvest losses, fewer mycotoxins, the reduced use of pesticides, and the potential for decreasing hunger around the world. But Julia Moore, public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., claimed that consumers will show greater acceptance when they perceive a consumer benefit. British consumers accepted a genetically modified tomato paste, labeled As such, because it provided better taste at less cost, she said. "If a trade war is looming between Europe and America, it is not just about food," she said. "It's about whom the public trusts to make choices about using 21st century technologies, and it's about whom they see as benefiting from new science in the future."


From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Comparing Bioengineering to Nuclear power

It will be difficult to bring the same objections against biotech that are used against nuclear technology. Biotech has yet to cause any harm, there have been no cities destoryed by it and there is not a hint that it causes cancer. In fact there is not a credible case of it every causing harm.

In the case of nuclear energy there is no doubt in anyones mind that there are real dangers present. In the case of biotech so far many of us are convinced that the only dangers are in the minds of the ignorant. Until the greens can point a dead people caused by biotech I don't think they have any chance to prevail. They can be very annoying but any group that members will fall for banning 'dihydorgen monoxide' has real problems. when they are loosing ground in every election that comes up I think we are the ones winning not them.

- Gordon Couger, Stillwater, OK http://www.couger.com/gcouger


India: Sharad Joshi Tells Farmers To Protect Bt Gene

- Times of India, October 25, 2001

Ahmedabad: The Sharad Joshi-led Shetkari Sangathan ( A farmers organization..CSP) has rallied support for cotton farmers in Gujarat who are being threatened that their standing crops would be destroyed because they had used an unapproved hybrid variety of genetically engineered seeds.

Joshi, in a statement on behalf of the Kisan Coordination Committee (KCC), said the Khedut Samaj of Gujarat would hold a kisan rally in Bharuch on October 30 on this issue. The rally will be addressed by Sharad Joshi, Bhupender Sing Mann (Punjab) and Prem Simha Dahiya (Haryana), among others. Joshi said Gujarats farmers had been able to save their crop of cotton from the attack of bollworms, thanks to the use of a special seed. The crops from all other seeds have been devastated by the pest. Use of Bt-gene cotton seed in India was blocked by the Union ministry of environment and forests last May, even though other cotton-producing countries have gone ahead with the use of transgenic cotton.

Joshi said the green lobby in India is all out to have the plots in question uprooted. This lobby, led by Vandana Shiva and Karnataka Rajya Ryot Sangh president Nanjunda Swami, have been uprooting trial plots of Bt-gene cotton and are happy that the government security forces are doing the uprooting now.

The KCC, he said, had always stood for freedom of access to markets and to technology for Indian farmers. The KCC had strongly protested against the blocking of the Bt-gene seed and had alleged that the governments decision is equivalent to sending the jawans to Kargil armed with .303 rifles to face the enemy wielding automatic machine guns.

He said the governments decision to destroy the standing crop without any compensation was entirely unjust. The farmers used the seeds that they could procure through normal channels and could not be faulted if the seed eventually turned out to be of transgenic variety. It was governments duty to ensure that the proscribed seed was not marketed. This year, cotton crop has failed in Gujarat with the exception of that form the proscribed variety.


India: Bt Cotton Mix-up Shows Difficulty of Controlling GM Crops

- Inter Press Service via COMTEX, October 25, 2001

MUMBAI, India,- Three years ago, Indian farmers angry at illegal trials of transgenic Bt cotton torched fields in southwestern Karnataka state. This time, the fields are being burned by the Indian government, which recently discovered thousands of hectares that had been planted with transgenic cotton without the government's knowledge or approval.

Controversy continues to rage over revelations that up to 10,000 hectares or more of land in western Gujarat state has been planted with Bt cotton, which is resistant to bollworm pests. The Gujarat farmers say the transgenic cotton seeds they used were supplied by an Ahmedabad-based company called Navbharat Seeds Private Limited. They report being told that the seeds were "hybrids."

The farmers say they did not realize they were growing transgenic cotton until it was tested by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company), a Mumbai-based firm that has been waiting for government permission to grow genetically modified crops commercially in India. The U.S. giant biotech firm Monsanto has a 26 percent stake in Mahyco and has licensed Bt cotton technology to it. Monsanto holds a patent on the transgene involved from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which encodes an insecticidal protein that allows the cotton to resist bollworm pests.

Because it has been waiting for approval and has been limited to controversial field trials -- Mahyco has spent $8 million on preparing to commercialize Bt cotton in India -- the firm was furious upon finding that bollworm-resistant seeds were already available in Gujarat. But apart from the commercial rivalry involved, experts say the discovery of Bt cotton fields shows the difficulty of regulating the entry and use of transgenic material in developing countries like India. This "raises serious questions about the ability of developing nations to regulate the introduction of GM varieties," K.S. Jayaraman wrote in the magazine Nature.

E.A. Siddiq, chairman of the Indian Department of Biotechnology's committee on transgenic crops, was quoted as saying: "This is a foretaste of a frightening situation where transgenics will be out of control and all over the place." Last week, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the ministry of environment, which gives approval for the research into and use of GMOs, ordered the torching of the standing crop of Bt cotton, which is almost ready to be harvested in Gujarat.

It has called for a meeting on Oct. 31 to ask Navbharat Seeds to explain how it came to sell the cotton seeds without permission - not least because the Indian government has not yet allowed commercial production of GM crops. On Jun. 19, the GEAC said that trials of Bt cotton, done by Mahyco, should be conducted for another year and halted the commercial release of Bt cotton until this was done.

Navbharat's managing director, Dr D.B. Desai, has been quoted as saying he would reserve comment for now, but reports say the seeds were probably imported from the United States and crossed with an Indian cotton variety. Meanwhile, the Gujarat farmers are furious that the government wants to burn their fields without any mention of compensation. After giving orders to burn the cotton crop in Gujarat, the GEAC has withdrawn into silence.

But P.K. Ghosh, adviser to the Department of Biotechnology, said the GEAC has given orders to burn the fields and it is now up to the Gujarat government to act fast. The company which sold the seeds, Navbharat, and the farmers who bought the seeds are both at fault, he adds. They can be punished under the environmental protection act and the polluter -- in this case the seed company - must pay, he explains. But the Gujarat government has yet to carry out the GEAC order, and is more worried about working out compensation for farmers.

For its part, the Department of Biotechnology, eager to push transgenic crops, has been making repeated statements that there is no problem from its perspective. The government has been claiming that Bt cotton will increase crop yields and farmers could get 1,000 kg per hectare as opposed to the present 350 kg per hectare, and also reduce the load of pesticides. More than 50 percent of the pesticides used in India are used to destroy pests in cotton alone.

The Indian government has just presented a new Seeds Policy 2001. This states that genetically-modified seeds would increase productivity and improve quality, but would have to adhere to safety norms like environmental, health and biodiversity safety before commercial release. Transgenic seeds varieties would be imported only after clearance from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee and after testing to determine their agronomic value by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research.

Meantime, Mahyco, which sent its findings about Bt cotton in Gujarat to Indian government agencies, wants the government to take strong and immediate action against Navbharat company for "its illegal action and blatant contravention of the legal and regulatory processes, which govern the commercialization of transgenic crops in India." In the last six years, Mahyco said it has conducted more than 100 field trials in different climatic zones and has carried out nutritional and biosafety studies with Bt cotton under directives issued by the regulatory authorities. In June 2001, GEAC directed Mahyco to conduct large-scale trials on 100 hectares, now underway in seven states. The last round of trials for genetically engineered (GE) Bt cotton encompasses 430 sites in six states.

Bt cotton technology has been commercialized in seven countries -- the United States, China, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Indonesia. It is being used by farmers for the control of bollworm on 1.5 million hectares worldwide. More than 300,000 small farmers in China alone planted Bt cotton on 500,000 hectares last year. Ranjana Smetacek, director for government and public affairs of Monsanto, said: "We are particular in ensuring that all necessary approvals are sought and received before any Monsanto technology is commercialized."

But Monsanto cannot challenge the fact that another company has produced Bt cotton seeds, since India does not yet have a plant patent regime in place. "Our lawyers are examining the options," Smetacek said. "Monsanto will be affected by the recent events in Gujarat to the extent that we own a 26 percent stake in Mahyco and any damage to their commercial interests would therefore impact us."

But environmentalists and NGOs have long criticized the move to commercially sell Bt cotton and the fact that the test results have been clouded in secrecy. The initial field trials were illegal, according to Greenpeace and other groups. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology has filed a public interest lawsuit in the Supreme Court against the Department of Biotechnology, alleging large-scale violations of biosafety guidelines during the field trials.

But even biotechnology proponents are worried by the Gujarat Bt cotton, saying that "law-abiding" companies would suffer if regulation was poor. Government biotechnology officials also say India would need $2 million to boost the capability of existing laboratories to better monitor genetically modified organisms.


This Corn Isn't Fatal

-The Providence Journal, October 25, 2001 (Source: Agnet)

According to this editorial, it is important to be concerned about ecological and environmental matters, but it's at least as important to apply reason and balance to such concerns.

Consider, as an instance, the widely publicized assertion by many advocacy groups that genetically engineered corn crops pose a significant threat to the population of the handsome monarch butterfly. This is no trivial matter: The criticisms have been directed at a major segment of the agricultural industry. The biotech crops in question (Bt corn), first approved as safe for human health and the environment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1995, account for some 20 percent of corn acreage in North America. Fortunately, any lingering anxieties about the alleged detrimental impact on monarch butterflies have now been largely debunked by serious scientific analysis.

A series of a half-dozen research papers on the issue was released last month just before publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The editorial says that the essential findings on the most highly publicized aspect of the controversy are not ambiguous: In the overwhelming majority of cases, crops genetically modified to produce their own protective pesticide don't, as so often charged, pose a significant threat to the larvae of monarch butterflies.

This does not mean that there are no threats to these larvae. Nature itself supplies some of them, including spiders and ladybugs. But compared with the impact of such predators, that of genetically modified corn seems negligible. This is not a matter of politicized activists handing out press releases aimed at swaying a largely untutored and sometimes overly credulous general audience. Instead, these are findings drawn from the most comprehensive peer-reviewed research papers on the topic. It should be added that, on the basis of its own review of the data, the EPA agrees that there is little danger to the larvae of monarch butterflies and is now renewing its approval for use of the genetically engineered corn for seven additional years (with monitoring rules and also continued research on the matter).


The Stockholm Environment Institute
- From: ivar.virgin@sei.se

As for your request on info on contacts of developing country people and institutions developing products in the fields of environmental and industrial biotechnology, I may have some useful info for you.

Since 1999 we (the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)) is co-ordinating the East African Regional Programme and Research Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy Development (BIO-EARN). The BIO-EARN is Programme supported Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)/Department for Research Co-operation (SAREC).

The main objective of the program is to build national capacity and competence in biotechnology, biosafety and biotechnology policy in the region. Selected institutions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, receives support through a regional network. Swedish institutions hosts PhD students through a 'sandwich model', which means that students share their time between East African and Swedish institutions. In the area of biosafety and biotechnology pollicy capacity building, a number of reputable European and African organisations provide supports. There are 3-5 Network partners in each country. The Programme Involves more than 70 researchers and more than 100 policy makers in the region. Within the BIO-EARN programme there are six PhD project in the field of environmental and industrial biotechnology (each of them with an approximate budget of USD 50 000/year).

For more information on BIO_EARN please visit the webapge( http://www.bio-earn.org): For more information on the above projects and network partners please visit (http://www.bio-earn.org/biotech/projects.htm). Should you need any more information from us, Please do not hesitate to contact me again.

- Best regards, Ivar virgin


The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment
Author: Indur M. Goklany

Hardcover, 124pp. ISBN: 1930865163, Cato Institute http://www.cato.org, October 2001; Amazon.com Price: $12.56

The "precautionary principle"—the environmental version of the admonition first, do no harm—is now enshrined in numerous international environmental agreements including treaties addressing global warming, biological diversity, and various pollutants. Some environmentalists have invoked this principle to justify policies to control, if not ban, any technology that cannot be proven to cause no harm. In this innovative book, Goklany shows that the current use of the precautionary principle to justify such policies is flawed and could be counterproductive because it ignores the possible calamities those very policies might simultaneously create or prolong.

The precautionary principle, unfortunately, does not provide any method of resolving such dilemmas, which are commonplace in the field of environmental policy. To address that problem, Goklany develops a framework consistent with the precautionary principle to resolve such dilemmas. That framework ranks potential threats to the environment on the basis of their nature, magnitude, immediacy, uncertainty, persistence, and the extent to which they can be alleviated.

Applying that framework to three contentious environmental policy issues facing humanity and the globe—DDT, bioengineered crops, and global warming—Goklany shows that some popular policy prescriptions, despite good intentions, are in fact likely to do more harm than good.

"Any policy analyst worth his salt would investigate the costs and benefits of a policy before judging whether or not the policy has passed or failed a rationality test. But an ever-increasing array of policies, domestic and global, invoke guiding principles that are ill-defined, vacuous, or unworkable. Such is the precautionary principle. Indur Goklany dissects the good from the bad and attempts a reconstruction. Agree or disagree with his judgments, this is a provocative and challenging read. Highly recommended." —David Pearce, OBE, Professor of Environmental Economics University College, London

"The debate over the precautionary principle will benefit greatly from Dr. Goklany's superb and original contribution. His framework for evaluating multiple factors for and against regulatory actions is eminently reasonable. A "must read" for all policymakers, regulators, and environmentalists who invoke the precautionary principle to ban, eliminate, or restrain activities and technologies that benefit mankind." —Donald R. Roberts, Professor of Tropical Public Health, Uniformed Services University, DoD

"A masterpiece that is tremendously valuable in understanding a rather nebulous principle that has become a tool for risk-averse neo-Luddites who want to stop or slow down technological progress. Indur Goklany helps us through the decision-making process by providing a framework for careful analysis of the threats posed by various technologies while keeping the larger perspective of the gains they can offer." —Prof. C. S. Prakash, Tuskegee University


Rutgers' Food Policy Institute Awarded 2.5 Million From USDA for Food Biotechnology Research

- Ascribe News, The Public Interest Newswire http://www.ascribe.org

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- What do we know about how the public perceives biotechnology, and to what degree does our understanding help to guide policy makers, regulators, consumers, farmers, food firms, and those in the biotechnology industry?

Unfortunately, the answer is, "not much," says Dr. Bill Hallman, principal investigator of a $2.5 million project to evaluate consumer acceptance of biotechnology in the United States. The USDA awarded the grant to the Food Policy Institute, a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional institute based at Cook College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

"Significant decisions made in the coming years by policy makers, regulators, consumers, farmers, food processors, food preparers and distributors, and those in the biotechnology industry will define the direction of food biotechnology in the United States. From an economic, environmental, and public health perspective, the implications of such decisions will be far reaching for American society," says FPI founder and Director, Dr. Adesoji Adelaja. "A little over a year ago, our board identified consumer perception about biotechnology as a key issues facing the food industry and the public and charged the FPI to form a national study team to investigate it, says Dr. Adelaja." By pulling together some of the leading scholars around the country and internationally to work on this issue, the FPI was competitive in attracting USDA funding.

Central to the research project is the gathering and assessment of information about consumer perceptions of food biotechnology. The information will help farmers, food and biotechnology firms, extension professionals and policy makers as they make decisions relating to food biotechnology. The information will be gathered through structured interviews with stakeholder groups and through a series of national surveys. The research will be used to assess and monitor American consumer knowledge, awareness, and perceptions of food biotechnology over time, and within an international context.

The role specific product characteristics play in public acceptance of food biotechnology will be examined using consumer preference modeling, mental modeling, consumer panels, and experimental approaches. Mental modeling will also provide more in-depth understanding of differences in stakeholder groups' perceptions of food biotechnology. The role of media coverage in shaping consumer awareness and attitudes will also be explored.

"Decisions about the applications of biotechnology require rigorous scientific evidence regarding the potential risks, costs, and benefits to health, society, and the environment," says Hallman. "However, because of their broad consequences, it is also clear that decisions about biotechnology transcend science and will be significantly influenced by public opinion. As such, it is important to both develop a deep understanding of the opinions of consumers, as well as to understand the key influences on public opinion about food biotechnology."

"Biotechnology is a defining technology for the future of food and agriculture," notes Hallman. "Science and industry are poised to bring consumers a wide variety of products that have potential for meeting basic food needs, as well as delivering health, environmental, economic, and other benefits."

Billions of dollars have already been spent on biotechnology to develop new and improved foods, fuels, feeds, fibers, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceuticals. However, the fact that consumer reception has been decidedly mixed, especially in Europe, has led both the private and public sectors to be cautious and critical in embracing biotechnology. Indeed, some have already rejected it altogether.

"The knowledge generated through this program will aid companies and the agricultural community in their understanding of factors driving consumer attitudes toward food biotechnology, inform policy makers of the concerns and needs of consumers, and help in the design and delivery of an appropriate message and awareness campaigns," says Adelaja. "The program will ultimately enable consumers to make more informed decisions about food products produced through biotechnology."

The FPI is a unique partnership created to focus on policy issues and challenges facing the food industry and food consumers in the mid-Atlantic region. Based at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the mission of this recently founded institute is to develop timely and relevant research programs that address pressing food policy issues and to engage in outreach and education to industry, consumers, and policy makers. The objective is to maximize the quality of decision-making for industry executives and government regarding food production, distribution and consumption.


Evolution of Natural Bioterrors

From: David Tribe
Cc: creuss@bluewin.ch (Christoph Reuss)

>Well, first you seemed to suggest that non-GE bacteria in the same ballpark
>as GE bacteria in terms of dangerousness.

Dear Christoph

Some extra comments about the idea that only laboratory GE germs are a hazard, and that natural bacterial and viral matings are safe seem to be needed, as this is a completely wrong idea that will cause real harm with all of the current worries about bioterrorism.

Additionally if we are going to discuss such bioterrorism and the possible role of scientists in creating new diseases realistically and honestly, we need to have a fair appreciation of the rate at which new disease germs emerge in nature. I suggest to you that the rate which this occurs is huge, because the numbers of germs is huge and the possibilities for natural gene movement are huge. You would probably be alarmed to realise that is occurring in your throat as you read this posting!

It appears to me that you seem to assume that microbial genetic rearangements only occur in the laboratory, and that you are largely unaware of the extent to which disease germs exploit genetic recombination to continually evolve new disease variants. It also seems you are unaware of the extent to which natural gene shuffling causes many deaths.

An example to prove the point I am making is the emergence about 1994 of a completely novel cholera pandemic in the Indian sub-continent which has spread widely among many countries since then causing many thousands of deaths. I have taken the trouble to document this dangerous cholera pandemic with a few references from the scientific literature pasted below.

Genetic recombinaton also has a well documented role in generating new disease germs of manyother different types - eg meningococcus, streptococcus, helicobacter, enterococcus, influenza, and malaria to name a few. The scientific literature on this is huge and the death toll is huge. It is the reason for massive efforts in public health to contain emerging epidemics.

There are in fact relatively few types of disease bacteria in which recombination and horizonatal gene movement does not play an extensive role in the constant emergence of new disease variants. Study of this naturaL biology is a major part of current medical biology research, with dozens, if not hundreds, of published papers on the topic appearing each week. One rare exception to infectious bacteria evolving by genetic exchange may be the Mycobacteria that cause TB and leprosy, which do not exchange genes.

I do hope that you are supportive of the efforts on medical scientists and public health specialists such as myself in their efforts to mitigate these problems with any technique that can be safely deployed. I hope you are willing to become more aware of the role genetic manipulation has played in improving public health, and for example, favour the sensible use of vaccines such as polio and hepatitis B vaccines which exploit gene technology in various ways. I also hope that as the next generation of anti-HIV vaccines come along you do not thoughtlessly oppose them merely because gene technology was used in their development, and when new antibiotics reach the market from similar genetic work, you do use them even though gene technology was needed to develop them.

Regards, David T

P.S. In the interests of brevity I only cite a few papers on cholera but if you continue to doubt my argument I am more than willing to continue serving up more evidence, but I warn you the scope of the evidence is huge, and my ability to document it using electronic references is considerable given Internet access to huge literature data bases.

1: J Infect Dis 1994 Sep;170(3):701-4 The novel epidemic strain O139 is closely related to the pandemic strain O1 of
Vibrio cholerae. Berche P, Poyart C, Abachin E, Lelievre H, Vandepitte J, Dodin A, Fournier JM.INSERM U411
2. : Gene 1999 Sep 17;237(2):321-32 The genes responsible for O-antigen synthesis of vibrio cholerae O139 ar closely related to those of vibrio cholerae O22.
Yamasaki S, Shimizu T, Hoshino K, Ho ST, Shimada T, Nair GB, Takeda Y.
3. FEMS Microbiol Lett 1998 Jul 1;164(1):91-8 Vibrio cholerae O22 might be a putative source of exogenous DNA resulting in the emergence of the new strain of Vibrio cholerae O139.
Dumontier S, Berche P.
4. : EMBO J 1995 Jan 16;14(2):209-16 Genesis of the novel epidemic Vibri cholerae O139 strain: evidence for horizontal transfer of genes involved in polysaccharide synthesis.
Bik EM, Bunschoten AE, Gouw RD, Mooi FR.
5. : Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2001 Nov;45(11):2991-3000 Molecular Analysis of Antibiotic Resistance Gene Clusters in Vibrio cholerae O139 and O1 SXT Constins.
Hochhut B, Lotfi Y, Mazel D, Faruque SM, Woodgate R, Waldor MK.

- David Tribe Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Dep Microbiology and Immunology, Univ of Melbourne