- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* Ignatio Chapela -- activists FIRST, scientist second
* OECD Publication
* Technology-forcing and biotech animal feeds
* Do benefits outweigh side effects?
* DEBATE: Time to put GM foods back on the shelves?
* Full GM separation may double prices - US farmers
* MOST AMERICANS CAN ARTICULATE EXPECTED BENEFITS OF FOOD BIOTECHNOLOGY
* Study touts environmental benefits of biotech beans
* THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO THE GM STORY
* TACKLING CONCERNS OVER FOOD SHORTAGE
* Persuading the wary: consumers, GMOs and mistrust
Date: 29 Nov 2001
From: 'Andura Smetacek'
Subject: Ignatio Chapela -- activists FIRST, scientist second
Sadly the recent publication by Nature Magazine of a letter (not a peer-reviewed research article subject to independent scientific analysis) by Berkeley Ecologist Ignatio Chapela are being manipulated by anti-technology activists (such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Organic Consumers Association) with the mainstream media to falsely suggest some heretofore undisclosed ill associated with agricultural biotechnology.
To those who follow the activists, it should be no surprise that the likes of these eco-radicals were prepared with ready-to-go press releases before the first public mention of Chapela’s report were made. Research into Chapela’s history with these groups demonstrates his willingness to collude with them to attack biotechnology, free-trade, intellectual property rights and other politically motivated agenda items.
So, why would the journalists covering this story fail to ask Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or others how they were so prepared to help spread the word? A good question to ask of Chapela would be how many weeks or months in advance did he begin to coordinate the release of his “report” with these fear-mongering activists? Or more likely, did he start earlier and work with them to design his research for this effect?
Ultimately, the real question of course to ask is how would the presence of trace amounts of biotechnology-improved corn genes supposedly found in the Mexican corn be any different that finding hybrid or other conventional corn genes? The answer, of course, is that genes from all corn (if you test enough) are likely to produce traces of genes from other corn hybrids (conventional or biotech) and it doesn’t substantially change the corn – except to possibly make it better. The presence of these genes has been proven in multiple, peer-reviewed and independent research to show no harm to the environment. Hardly the ecological disaster predicted by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and professor Chapela.
Chapela, while a scientists of one sort, is clearly first and foremost an activist. Searching among the discussion groups of the hard-core anti-globalization and anti-technology activists Chapela’s references and missives are but a mouse click away. Unfortunately for the general consuming public, journalists today rarely make mention of such activities or affiliations when publishing any juicy tid-bit suggesting another false fear linked to biotechnology.
So, for the rest of us, here are the reasons why any reasonable person (and certainly any truly independent scientist) would question the motivations and design of any “research” conduced or anything published under the name Ignatio Chapela as relates to agriculture and biotechnology.
Ignatio Chapela is on the board of the Pesticide Action Network for North America (PANNA), an extreme anti-corporate, anti-agriculture and anti-biotechnology group. PANNA is a client of Fenton Communications. CITE: http://www.panna.org/panna/about/board.html
"Ignacio H. Chapela, Ph.D.; College of Natural Resources; University of California, Berkeley -- Before joining the College of Natural Resources faculty at UC Berkeley, Ignacio Chapela, a native of Mexico, worked in genetic materials sourcing for the transnational Sandoz (Switzerland). Renouncing corporate exploitation of genetic resources, Ignacio now researches and teaches about these issues while assisting Mexican indigenous organizations, NGOs and others to meet challenges related to genetic engineering."
Chapela is a spokesperson for Fenton Communication's Environmental Media Services on issues relating to genetic engineering. He was recently cited in releases opposing patents related to human genome research. CITE: http://www.ems.org/human_genome/zz.ems.00.06.22.html
Chapela has also been involved with the Organic Consumers Association's campaign against biotechnology. CITE: http://users.lanminds.com/~wilworks/events/baof1.htm "The Bay Area Organic Consumers Association presents Genetic Engineering and the Future of Food, a day of education & action, on august 26, 12:30-5:30 pm...
Speakers include entomologist Sally Fox, author Anuradha Mittal, organic farmer Jason McKenney, UC Berkeley microbial ecology professor Ignacio Chapela, and food & farming editor at KPFA radio- Claire Cummings.
Chapela recently helped lead a public relations campaign called "The Kept University" critical of UCAL's agreements with Novartis. CITE: http://www.newamerica.net/articles/Washburn/washburnAM3.00.htm
"When I came to Berkeley," Chapela explained to us after the meeting, "the people who brought me here and who were my closest colleagues were largely in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Now I know that anything I say to these people can be turned around and handed over to Novartis. So I just can't talk to them anymore. If I have a good idea, I'm not going to just give it away." Chapela, like many critics of the deal, is hardly a confirmed opponent of university-industry relations. Before coming to Berkeley, he told us, he spent three years in Switzerland working for none other than Novartis -- then named Sandoz -- and he continues to have a relationship with the company. "I'm not opposed to individual professors' serving as consultants to industry," he said. "If something goes wrong, it's their reputation that's at stake. But this is different. This deal institutionalizes the university's relationship with one company, whose interest is profit. Our role should be to serve the public good."
Chapela has signed letters opposing biotechnology with Mae Wan Ho, Vandana Shiva and other extreme opponents. CITE: http://www.i-sis.org/whosigned.shtml
Chapela is involved in promoting organic, urban agricultural models with Peter Rossett (Food First) another anti-biotech campaigner. CITE: http://cityfarmer.org/CenterSustUA.html
As early as 1999 Chappella was posting inquiries to Spanish speaking lists on-line seeking information about genetically engineered crops in Mexico...
CITE: http://www.stock-talk.com/talk/MSK/108.shtml Posted by Ignacio H Chapela on September 15, 1999 at 12:54:33: In Reply to: Re: POR FAVOR NECESITO INFORMACION... posted by Cintya Dwyer on February 18, 1999 at
10:54:38: Soy un profesor en la Universidad de Berkeley con interes en el desarrollo de los productos agricolas generados por medio de las tecnicas nuevas de ingenieria genetica. Busco informacion respecto al porcentaje de maiz geneticamente alterado que se usa en los
productos relacionados a la tortilla, tanto en Mexico como en EEUU. Agradecere cualquier indicador o informacion sobre el tema. Cordialmente, Ignacio H Chapela, PhD Assistant Professor Environmental Science, Policy and Management
Chapela was also affiliated with "THE CONSULTING TEAM" of Mohammad H. Ahmad, Ph.D. Anthony Artuso, Ph.D. Edgar J. Asebey, J.D. Marilyn Barrett, Ph.D. Ignacio Chapela, Ph.D. Wade Davis,... for the Biodiversity Technology Group (apparently now defunct):
The Biodiversity Technology Group (BIODIVERSE-DOM)
c/o Andes Pharmaceuticals, Inc 1000
Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Domain Name: BIODIVERSE.COM
Administrative Contact, Billing Contact:
Wieting, Hardy (HW3057) hlw@ANDESPHARMA.COM
Andes Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
1000 Vermont Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20005
202-789-7300 (FAX) 202-789-1900
Date: 28 Nov 2001 16:33:30 -0000
From: "Frances B. Smith"
Subject: Re: OECD Publication
Re: OECD publication
Professor Kersten makes a very important point that needs emphasis and
re-emphasis in the current debate about agricultural biotechnology --
Agricultural biotechnology is a critical tool in promoting environmental, conservation and biological diversity goals.
That fact was recognized clearly in the 1992 Convention on Biological
Diversity, the unbrella agreement that gave rise to the restrictive
Cartagena Protocol in 2000. As some have written and shown, the
Protocol, in its setting up of substantial obstacles to the more
widespread use of agricultural biotechnology -- and its single focus on
the hypothetical risks of biotechnology -- seems at odds with its
Throughout the text of the 1992 Convention it is clear that
biotechnology was seen to have an integral role to play in advancing
the goals of biodiversity. Indeed, the Convention portrays biotechnology as an "essential" element to achieve the Convention's objectives and notes the importance of countries' having access to this technology.
In the space of only eight years from the signing of the Convention to
the signing of the Cartagena Protocol, there was a significant shift
from a positive affirmation of biotechnology92s role in the goals of
biodiversity to almost a complete disregard for its role.
The approach exemplified in the Cartagena Protocol seems to be shifting
back to a recognition of the critical role that agricultural
biotechnology could play in reducing the use of pesticides, in
improving yields so that less land is used for farming, in thus helping to preserve the habitat of indigenous flora and fauna, in growing crops in inhospitable soils, and in identifying the traits that would allow
native plants to thrive.
While I do not agree with Professor Kersten's recommendation for
"technology-forcing" regulations -- "killer" air bags and other ills
can result from such approaches -- I do heartily endorse his call for
environmental ministers to "adopt agricultural biotechnology as the
best technology available to address many environmental issues in
Frances B. Smith
1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 1128
Washington, DC 20036
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 10:00:20 -0500
Subject: Technology-forcing and biotech animal feeds
Drew Kershen's comment on the "technology-forcing" aspects of
environmental regulation deserves an expanded discussion on this listserver. As
an environmental lawyer, I can attest to the role of environmental
regulators in passing laws that have forced the adoption of new
technologies, even where my industrial clients had no idea what that technology
might turn out to be. In that sense, environmental law has acted a
primary driver of innovation directed at controlling environmental impacts.
As Prof. Kershen noted, there will be many applications in industry for
using biotech options to chemicals for industrial inputs (reducing
Biotech crops would also offer reductions in agricultural pollution
from animal waste. Assuming for the sake of argument that there are
currently some applications of agricultural biotechnology that could be found
to constitute the "best available control technology" for existing
pollution problems, could environmental regulators could mandate the use of
these crops? The answer is clearly a resounding "yes". Will they do
so? In the current environment, the answer is a very uncertain "don't
count on it."
There are new biotech animal feeds that reduce phosphorous emissions in
manure. The environmental groups that are traditionally responsible
for suing the EPA to force the adoption of "best available technology"
for water pollution control(like the Sierra Club) should take a hard look
at these emerging applications of biotechnology to reduce environmental
pollution from animal feeding operations. The Sierra Club has sued
the EPA to force changes in policy, tinkering with the rules about land
application of manure, causing an enormous outcry from farmers and
feeding poperations. Will the Sierra Club ever take the necessary step of
asking the EPA to require use of biotech feeds that could reduce the
pollution from these feeding operations? If they do not have the courage
to take this route, will another environmental group stand up to do the
"technology forcing" that has historically been the role of such
Unfortunately, the misguided fear of biotech crops will probably impede
this much-needed "technology-forcing" function. If there are some
alternative perspectives on this situation, I would greatly appreciate
Thomas P. Redick
Gallop, Johnson & Neuman, L.C.
101 South Hanley, Suite 1600
St. Louis, MO 63105
Do benefits outweigh side effects?
By PER PINSTRUP-ANDERSEN
November 29, 2001
To begin, let me directly address the first question: Do the benefits of GM crops outweigh the risks of possible side effects?
The answer: No damaging side-effects have been detected from any genetically engineered crops submitted for approval. This basic fact must be noted at the outset of the debate itself.
With respect to Bt Cotton, experience from South Africa and China, where it has been approved for on-farm production, shows large benefits. The use of chemical pesticides have been reduced dramatically.
This has reduced production costs for farmers, protected the environment from pesticide residues, and reduced illness and death from pesticide poisoning.
No damaging side-effects have been found. And huge benefits have accrued to all sections of society. It should therefore not be a surprise that Indian farmers want to grow Bt Cotton.
All new technology should be tested for health and ecological risks before it is approved for release on farmers’ fields.
However, if such tests do not identify any risks or if benefits are judged by a responsible panel of people representing consumers and producers to outweigh risks, I see no reason for withholding approval.
Can the government keep delaying a decision on GM crops? Each GMO should be judged on its own merit. A blanket rejection of all GMOs does not seem to make much sense. If a particular GMO, say a seed resistant to a certain pest, has been tested and no unacceptable risks have been identified, I see no reason for delaying approval.
If GM crops were banned, can the ban be imposed? I predict that the demand for the release of safe GMOs from population groups who stand to gain, including small farmers and poor consumers will be so strong that the government will find the ban to be a political liability.
After all, what would be the justification for the ban? This is especially more true of poor developing countries, where Economics dictates that all possible means of gain be pursued.
Poor farmers are even more likely to go for Bt Cotton because of the potential gain. Governments will be unable to stop them without serious political risk.
And if not, do we risk suffering the side-effects without getting the benefits? As illustrated by the illegal action by the cotton farmers, it may be difficult for the government to enforce a ban on something with large potential benefits and no known risks.
If the government wishes to regulate the release and use of gm crops, it should be able to justify the regulations on grounds that can be understood and agreed to by the population.
I strongly believe that the risks are hyped out of all proportion while the benefits are being ignored.
This is especially so in the context of the developing world because, unlike the European consumer who spends a very small proportion of his income on food and hence can afford to ignore the cost-reduction benefits of GM food, poor consumers in the developing world spend close to 60-70 per cent of their income on food.
Any reduction in the price of food because of the higher productivity due to genetic modification is a net gain to him. Of course, in the final analysis, it’s a choice that each country must make, it is not for multilateral agencies to try and influence the choice or thrust it down the throats of developing countries.
There are also some preconditions that must be in place. These include a bio-safety system that can test for possible risks. European NGOs that oppose GM foods don’t say no to genetic modifications in the sphere of medicine. That’s because they know they need it, but they don’t need GM food. Indians must note this!
(The author is Director General, IFPRI, Washington, DC)
DEBATE: Time to put GM foods back on the shelves?
Their detractors would have you believe that genetically modified organisms represent science at its most arrogant and dangerous, a chilling step by sinister corporations into a potential Doomwatch scenario. Yet there is still no hard evidence that GMs pose any risk to human health whatsoever.
Highly respected voices have been heard to describe them as bringing many advantages to food supply, not least the possible elimination of world hunger. So is it time for a calmer, more rational assessment of GM foods, and, in fact, time to put them back on the shelves? We are bringing together two of the foremost figures in the GM debate:
For the motion: Hugh Grant, boss of major GM pioneer Monsanto.
Against the motion: Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association and passionate campaigner for organics.
In the chair: Clive Beddall, Editor, The Grocer
We promise a gripping if not heated evening.
TICKET HOTLINE 01293 610427
Join us in London on December 4, 2001, 6pm for 6.30pm
One Great George Street, London
Full GM separation may double prices - US farmers
November 28, 2001
BRUSSELS - Full separation of genetically modified (GM) soybeans from traditional varieties could double their cost to importers in the European Union, delegates at a food conference heard yesterday.
New EU proposals on traceability and labelling for food derived from GM crops now on the table, but U.S. farmer and industry groups fear they will be unworkable and could force the creation of two separate production chains.
"Strict identity preservation could easily double the price of soybeans," Jerry Slocum, president of the North Mississippi Grain Company, told the Agra Europe conference.
The European Commission has devised the traceability system as part of its new so-called farm-to-fork approach to food safety and to appease member states' concerns over GM food, which has led to no new varieties being approved in the EU for three years.
The proposal, if adopted by EU governments and the European Parliament, would require imported GM soybeans and grain, as well as processed foods, to carry details of their origin and path through the production chain.
"I can't imagine an exporter from the United States would take on the liability of shipping a cargo without knowing what was in it," Slocum said. "The way we read it (the proposal), it leads all the way back to my farm in northern Mississippi."
Given the way grain was harvested and transported to ports for export, only complete segregation from start to finish could guarantee there was no mix between GM and traditional varieties.
Slocum said a 50,000 tonne shipment of soybeans, for example, could contain seven million beans from perhaps thousands of farms across the United States.
However, the tough rules are probably the only way EU governments will end their de facto moratorium on new approvals, even though some want to go even further and introduce rules to hold GM producers liable for any damage to the environment.
European food safety Commissioner David Byrne and environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom have recommended restarting GM approvals based on the current traceability and labelling proposals, even though they could be up to three years away from being officially adopted as national laws.
They believe the present impasse could be illegal and leaves the EU open to challenge at the World Trade Organisation.
However, a number of hardliners led by France have insisted that the legislation has to be in force before they would consider any fresh GM clearances.
MOST AMERICANS CAN ARTICULATE EXPECTED BENEFITS OF FOOD BIOTECHNOLOGY
International Food Information Council
A survey conducted for the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that most Americans (61%) believe and can state how biotechnology will benefit them or their families in the next five years. Consumers anticipate benefits including: improved health and nutrition (39%); improved quality, taste, and variety of foods (33%); reduced chemical and pesticide use on plants (21%); reduced cost of food (9%); and improved crops and crop yields (9%). (ref.2162) Support for these benefits is also seen in the total number of Americans
(65%) who would be likely to purchase a variety of produce-such as tomatoes or potatoes-that have been modified through biotechnology to be protected from insect damage and require fewer pesticide applications. In addition, 52% of consumers are likely to purchase the same produce if it has been modified through biotechnology to "taste better or fresher." The ability to foresee and support benefits of biotechnology may be in large part related to the amount of information consumers are receiving concerning the issue. Consumer awareness remains stable, with 74% of respondents saying they have read or heard "a lot," "some," or "a little" about biotechnology. The survey also found that 78% of consumers could not think of any information "not currently included on food labels" that they would like to see added and only 1% of consumers named "genetically altered" as an item they would like to see added to a food label. Additionally, 65% of consumers surveyed either support or do not oppose the Food and Drug Admi
Study touts environmental benefits of biotech beans
Topeka Capital Journal
Growing up on the family farm in western Iowa, it was a common sight to see mile after mile of plowed ground in the late fall and early spring. Every farmer plowed in the fall. Every farmer knew you had to use a moldboard plow to turn under crop residue. Anyone who thought differently was either a radical or a sloppy farmer.
I also remember the dirty snow that piled up along field borders during the wintertime. During bitterly cold and windy days, you could literally see the soil move on plowed ground with no snow cover. Who knows how much precious topsoil was lost?
During the spring, the plowed ground had to be disked before planting and then cultivated once or twice during the growing season to control weeds. Once crops were taller than the cultivator, any visible weeds were chopped down or pulled by hand.
That was back in the '50s and '60s. Since then, we have learned much about saving soil from water and wind erosion, keeping expensive fertilizer and farm chemicals out of surface water and being better environmental stewards. Some farmers still use moldboard plows, but the number is small and growing smaller every year.
A first-ever Conservation Tillage study, released last week by the American Soybean Association, or ASA, hints that the rapid expansion of no-till and reduced-tillage cropping systems in the past few years has been driven as much by new biotech soybean varieties as it has been by economics and common sense.
The study quantifies what most producers already know, according to ASA President Bart Ruth. Biotechnology gave farmers another tool to control weeds that lower yields and reduce crop quality. Biotechnology also helps producers improve their stewardship of the environment.
According to the study, 73 percent of the soybean growers surveyed leave more crop residue on the soil surface than they did in 1996, when biotech-derived soybeans became available for commercial planting. More than half of the 452 farmers surveyed credit the introduction of Roundup Ready Soybeans as the factor that had the greatest impact on their adoption of reduced-tillage practices.
The ASA estimates that no-till and reduced-till farming is now the preferred planting method on more than 80 percent of all soybean acres in the country. Almost half of the growers in the ASA study said they have increased their no-till soybean acres in the past six growing seasons (1996-2001). More than half of the growers surveyed also said they are making fewer tillage passes in soybeans.
Based on results of the survey, ASA is projecting that reduced- tillage practices in soybeans saved 247 million tons of irreplaceable topsoil in the year 2000 alone. The group also estimates farmers saved 234 million gallons of fuel because of reduced tillage.
Growers who wish to view the survey results can find them online at www.soygrowers.com.
There is, however, a downside to planting Roundup Ready Soybeans. Some growers experience a yield lag compared to conventional soybean varieties. Biotech seed is more expensive than conventional beans, mostly because of technology fees. Growers are also prohibited from saving back seed to plant the following year. That was a common practice until Roundup Ready beans came along.
Some scientists have also expressed concern that overuse of glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide used on Roundup Ready beans) could result in the natural development of superweeds.
On the whole, however, most growers would readily admit that the benefits of biotech soybeans clearly outweigh the negatives.
Those benefits, which include less soil runoff, cleaner surface water and reduced fuel usage, are good news for farmers who work the land --- and for their city cousins.
Kelly Lenz is farm director for AM 580 WIBW Radio and the Kansas Agriculture Network.
THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO THE GM STORY
November 28, 2001
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
By Kevin Hursh
Last Sunday, as we were going into church, people were handing out petition cards, asking parishioners to fill them out to voice their opposition to genetically modified crops. "We believe that seeds and living organisms are part of our collective heritage," reads the petition card from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. "If these are genetically modified, patented and commercialized, the consequences will be devastating for millions of farmers in the north and in the south." But, says Hursh, what anti-GM forces seem to ignore is that farmers and researchers have been modifying crop genetics for hundreds of years through regular plant breeding. Without earlier maturing wheat and varieties with rust resistance, there wouldn't have been much of a wheat industry in Western Canada. And where do people think canola came from? It was developed from rapeseed, which wasn't suitable for human consumption. Without plant breeders modifying the nutritional characteristics, canola would never
TACKLING CONCERNS OVER FOOD SHORTAGE
November 28, 2001
South China Morning Post
Food shortages in parts of Asia and less developed areas of the world could, according to this story, get worse without the use of new technologies to boost production. The story says that the need to increase food production and the impact of new technology on food and agriculture will be discussed at a forum moderated by Professor Samuel Sun Sai-ming, professor and chairman, Department of Biology, Chinese University of Hong Kong. Professor Sun says biotechnology is considered to be among the most powerful and economically promising technological means for use in many areas of food production but there is also the need for greater transparency. "As scientists we must be open and honest about the intrinsic consequences of certain technologies in terms of health, the environment and social justice," Professor Sun says. Sustainable development and sustainable food security will not be achievable without better governance and a new dimension of solidarity between the rich and poor nations of the world. It will
Persuading the wary: consumers, GMOs and mistrust
By Sharman Esarey
LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The debate may have cooled and slipped off newspapers' front pages, but European consumers still show little appetite for genetically modified foods three years after near panic swept them off supermarket shelves.
The European Union, anxious not to cede the scientific race, has gently tried to reopen a public debate, but so far there are few signs that moves to address consumer concerns will jumpstart stalled EU approvals for GM crop growing.
Consumers still distrust authorities who claimed mad cow disease could not hurt humans -- only to have 100 people die from the human variant. They fear long-term environmental harm and are unwilling to be reassured by safety claims.
This time, they would simply rather be safe than sorry.
"If the biotech industry or governments want to recover a place for GM crops and food in Europe I'm afraid they have got to do it on the public's terms, or not at all, because they've lost its trust," said Dr Donald Bruce, director of the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project.(SRTP)
In the three years since the widespread rejection of GM food products, industry and governments have stepped up efforts to understand and address consumer concerns.
But they are a long way from accomplishing the job.
"The new European Commission proposals for mandatory labelling of GM foods by process of manufacture are essential if people are to have any real choice," said Bruce, whose SRTP is due to update its GM study "Engineering Genesis" next year.
"But they are rather like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted," he said.
THE CREDIBILITY GAP
Many say it will be a long hard haul. Environmental groups who are fundamentally opposed to genetic modification feel they have secured a victory but they would likely ride to battle again should the threat reappear.
"They probably feel they've secured a very definite victory in Europe and delayed it for a decade and they may well be right," said Dr Sandy Thomas, director of the British-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
"I think what's obvious now...whatever Europe does is going to be in isolation to the rest of the world," she said. "Whatever happens in the next 10 years -- and I suspect in Europe that will not be a lot in terms of GM technology -- much of the rest of the world will continue..."
Still, some say consumers might be persuaded of the merits of the genetically modified case were certain standards met.
But that won't be easy. Biotechnology in agriculture has not offered tangible benefits the way it has in medicine.
"Consumers in Europe made a simple risk-benefit equation," said Bruce. "They asked very reasonably 'What are the benefits and risks of GM food. The benefits are mostly for seed and biotech companies in the United States, and if there are risks, they are all ours, so why should we eat the stuff?"
At the root of public concern is GMO decision-making made solely on a narrow assessment of scientific risk, said the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), the British government's biotech advisor, in its September report.
"The public is not necessarily expressing a lack of trust in science or scientists, but simply pointing out that judgements are being made, both within and beyond the science, which demand wider public involvement," the AEBC said.
Risk is a big concern, but scientific estimates of potential risks of new human allergies or environmental change are only one part of the picture.
There are underlying notions about tampering with nature and irreversible change which have to be taken seriously, as well as the simple case of giving people a fair choice.
The following are some of the main hurdles ethicists and roundtable groups insist GMO foodstuffs must take to win over wary, battered consumers:
-have a nutritional or health benefit
-have insignificant health risks
-minimise environmental damage in light of damage caused by conventional agriculture
-be tested independently with public or charitable funds
-be commercialised through a process that involves more than a scientific risk assessment.
Despite the size of the job, the European Commission plans to unveil a policy initiative at the end of the year to make Europe a world leader in the field of biotechnology.
COSTS VERSUS BENEFITS
But the costs of some of these "musts" may well cripple the industry, handicapping its ability to come up with a next generation which is aiming at nutritional and health benefits.
"The opportunity costs of what we are seeing are simply phenomenal," said Dr Henry I Miller, a former senior official in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, now a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University.
"When you over-regulate a technology to the point that it is no longer cost-effective, it goes away," Miller said.
The AEBC report recognises that the EU approach, which regulates specifically for GMOs, suggests they are unique in their potential impact on the environment.
"From a scientific perspective, there is little reason why the full weight of regulatory oversight should fall on GM crops. Many would argue that there are potentially more environmentally damaging practices...in conventional agriculture," it said.
Gregory Conko, director of food safety policy at the U.S.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, added that we may be accepting risks and forgoing benefits with the current approach.
"A product coming on the market may have a certain risk but it may still be net beneficial to the health and environment. What we would like is a regulatory system that weighs both of these equally," Conko said.
For some scientists, who regard GMOs as a refinement of cruder, older technologies, the consumer response can be, at least in part, blamed on government officials, who according to Miller, "prefer regulation to education."
"If public officials, including regulators, had spent one percent of the time on educating the public that they've spent on implementing unnecessary regulation, the public would understand that what we have is an improvement, and that these products are more predictable, more precisely crafted and ultimately safer," Miller said.
((Sharman Esarey, London Newsroom +44 207 542 4645, Fax +44 207 542 8077 firstname.lastname@example.org))