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December 4, 2001


No Threat to Biodiversity: Mexican Scientist; Trade &


- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -

* Contaminated Corn Crop
* Mexican Gov't Statement On Transgenic Maize
* Illegal Bt Cotton in India Haunts Regulators
* China Will Accept Soybeans From U.S.
* El Debate sobre la Modificación Genética....
* GM Foods, Trade and Developing Countries: Is Golden Rice Special?
* Plotting a Course for GM Forestry
* Genetic Debate Sprouts Over Trees
* Mendel - Not the First Geneticist?
* Julian Simon and Lomborg
* Essential Biosafety CD
* Survey Says: We Don't Believe the Hype
* Agbiotech: History and Mythology
* Brazil: Seed Industry Sees GMO Soy Spreading Across Brazil
* GMOs are Good for The Environment
* Allergic to Real Life

From: Wayne Parrott
Re: Contaminated Corn Crop

With the issue of Bt corn and Monarch Butterflies apparently settled
in favor of their happy coexistence, the journal Nature has tackled
biotechnology-derived corn yet again [29 November 2001 issue (Vol.
414, pp. 541-543)]. In another letter to Nature, researchers try to
make the case that "Introgression" of transgenic DNA into Mexican
landraces has already occurred.

Mexico and Central America have a tremendous number of land races.
These come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, and are
maintained because each variety has its own set of uses, as
determined by color, taste, dough-making ability, etc. The various
landraces have been cultivated next to each other for centuries, and
the numerous landraces have not lost their integrity. Furthermore, US
hybrid corn has been imported for decades, and yet the landraces have
lost neither their identity nor their diversity. Yet,
cross-pollination is taking place between the numerous local
landraces and between North American hybrids and local landraces.

There are probably biological reasons why the various landraces have
not succumbed to centuries of gene flow. There are cultural reasons
as well. As a key part of their local culture, corn farmers select
for desirable plants and seeds each harvest season, thus ensuring
that each landrace maintains its integrity from generation to

Regardless of the Nature letter's title, the authors may have shown
the presence of transgenic corn, but they are a long way away from
proving introgression. Introgression has very definite meaning in
plant breeding. It means much more than that a first generation cross
has taken place. It means that gene is still around in advanced
generations. As is, absolutely nothing in this paper can support the
authors' premise that "the transgenic DNA constructs are probably
maintained in the population from one generation to the next."

Crossing between transgenic hybrids and local landraces of corn will
probably occur sooner or later, if it hasn't happened already. After
all, corns have crossed with each other since time immemorial. Such
gene flow -by chance or intent -has given rise to a large amount of
biodiversity, which is balanced as farmers select for specific
characteristics that make each local corn variety unique. To imply
that this age-old system will now be disrupted and that sustainable
food production will be imperiled is indefensible, unduly alarmist,
and irresponsible.

Wayne Parrott
Department of Crop & Soil Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
30602 http://www.cropsoil.uga.edu/parrottlab

p.s Will you please include a call to the authors of the Nature
paper to release their sequence data to the public immediately? They
claim that they deposited their sequences in GenBank, but as of 1 pm
EST today, the sequences have still not been released to the public.


Mexican Gov't Statement On Transgenic Maize

- CINVESTAV Unit at Irapuato, November 29, 2001 (Frorm Agnet)

Irapuato, Guanajuato.-- As regards the news report recently released
in the Nature magazine on the presence of transgenic maize in the
Sierra of Oaxaca, Mr. Luis Herrera Estrella, PhD, Director of
CINVESTAV Irapuato, commented that "there is no evidence that this
represents a threaten for maize biodiversity in Mexico."

This week, several communication media worldwide have made a large
spreading on such matter, since our country is the center of origin
and diversification place of such an important crop. Far from
contributing with elements from a solid scientific research, however,
such publication has turned into a tool for the groups challenging
agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Herrera Estrella says in his comments that "for decades, maize
landraces have lived together with commercial varieties, including
hybrids from multi-national firms, and such fact has not caused their
disappearance, and in most of the cases not even their replacement by
small growers." Likewise, he assured that "During all this period of
time, our maize landraces, and materials enhanced through
conventional techniques have had the chance to exchange genes, and
such fact, far from eliminating our domestic materials biodiversity,
have rather enriched them, and the small grower has incorporated
genes allowing him to obtain the native materials best suited for his
region, and which allow him for getting what suffices for his

About the publication, Herrera Estrella stated that "it is not
surprising that if someone planted transgenic maize, their genes had
been transferred to traditional maize landraces through natural
pollination processes. On the other hand, since the farmlands closest
to the areas where contamination was found are 100 kilometers away,
one of the critical questions is about the source of the pollen that
"contaminated" the domestic varieties of such maize. In addition, the
statements as to the negative consequences for biodiversity are
groundless speculations, since there are no experimental data to that
respect. It is very difficult to figure out that the presence of one
or two new genes in maize landraces might bring about their

To present days, studies are being conducted by Mexican authorities
through the CIBIOGEM, and in case they confirm there is presence of
genetic elements coming from transgenic maize in maize landraces, it
would not be expected such fact to represent a risk for consumption.
This since maize materials grown worldwide have undergone stringent
evaluations that guarantee their food and feed safety, stated Herrera
Estrella, with respect to the impact should these materials are

Dr. Luis Herrera Estrella was involved with the group of researchers
developing the first transgenic plant in the world. The CINVESTAV
Unit at Irapuato was the first research center in Mexico that allowed
producing and evaluating transgenic plants at a field level. This
institution has received significant awards from International
organizations such as the UNESCO, the Rockefeller Foundations, just
to mention some of them.


Illegal Bt Cotton in India Haunts Regulators

- KS Jayaraman, Nature Biotechnology, Dec 2001 Vol. 19 No.12 p 1090

New Delhi, India: In the first litigation of its kind, India's
environment ministry is preparing to file a case with the supreme
court, charging Navbaharat Seeds (Ahmedabad) with violating the
Environment Protection Act (1986). The move follows the discovery of
$30 million worth of unauthorized GM cotton growing on some 11,000
hectares in the western state of Gujarat. While the episode
highlights the inadequacy of India's regulatory system, it also
indicates how the tide has turned in favor of biotechnology in the

Suspicions were aroused when 30% of cotton crops in Gujarat were
unaffected by the bollworm infestation that was sweeping the state
between June and October this year. According to the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the environment ministry's
apex body that regulates large-scale introduction of GMOs, tests
revealed that the cotton in question, variety NB-151, contained the
gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that codes for insecticidal
proteins, testing positive for Cry 1A(c) gene-indicating that it was

However, there are currently no transgenic crops approved in India,
and the only Bt cotton under consideration for approval by the GEAC
is that developed by Monsanto's Indian partner, Maharashtra Hybrid
Company (Mahyco). Therefore, citing environmental concerns, the GEAC
ordered the "destruction by burning" of the entire illegal cotton
crop that was still standing on the field (and compensation of
farmers for their loss). GEAC also asked the Gujarat government to
collect the cotton lint already harvested from the fields and keep it
"under safe custody until further orders." GEAC member Prasantha
Kumar Ghosh says the lint will have to undergo animal feeding trials
and allergenicity tests before being released into the market.

Navbharat Seeds, the company behind the illegal variety, insists it
is innocent of any wrongdoing. It claims it created the resistant
hybrid through normal breeding in which it used as a parental line
two plants that seemed healthy in an otherwise bollworm-infested
field in Maharashtra. However, GEAC sources say the parental line for
NB-151 is identical to that owned by Monsanto and couldn't have
arisen naturally, and thus is actually the property of Monsanto,
which owns the patent.

Monsanto cannot take action against Navbharat Seeds, according to
Ranjana Smetacek, Monsanto's director of government & public affairs,
because "Monsanto's Bt gene is not patent-protected in India, as so
far there is no provision for the patenting of such technology here."
However, GEAC is preparing to sue Navbharat Seeds for developing a Bt
hybrid without GEAC approval and marketing it without environmental
impact assessment. Government sources allege Navbharat tried to cash
in on the Bt gene, "hoping that they would not be noticed." They say
they cannot believe that Navbharat Managing Director DB Desai, who
has a doctorate in molecular biology from Mississippi State
University, would get himself involved in this. Desai declined to

Channapatna S. Prakash, professor of molecular genetics at Tuskegee
University (Tuskegee, AL, USA) and president of AgBioWorld
Foundation, speaks for the majority when he says that Navbharat acted
illegally. "The company simply stole the Bt gene, marketed a biotech
seed without regulation or approval, thus sending a wrong signal on
both regulatory and IPR [intellectual property rights] issues," he
says. Prakash adds that the incident could undermine public
confidence in the technology [and its regulation], fuel further
activist uproar against this technology, and seriously harm future
investment for the seed industry in India. (CS Prakash says the
episode indicates the eagerness of Indian farmers to adopt
biotechnology and has highlighted the torpidity of the country's
regulatory system)

Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner Michelle Chawla points out
that "the Gujarat episode has revealed the inability of the Indian
regulatory system to control the flow of GM crops." Indeed, although
it didn't apply for transgenic crop approval, Navbharat Seeds did
register NB-151, claiming that it gives better yield, matures very
early, and is tolerant to bollworm damage. But neither the GEAC nor
the state government tried to verify at that stage whether the
bollworm resistance was due to the Bt gene. However, Ghosh maintains
that Navbharat was fully aware the seeds were transgenic and so
should have sought formal clearance from the GEAC.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming feeling is that the illegal sale of GM
seeds was somewhat inevitable, given India's sluggish regulatory
system. Suresh Kotak, president of East India Cotton Association,
suggests farmers have been deprived of much-needed access to modern
technology for too long; indeed, Monsanto has been trying for six
years to have its GM cotton approved (Nat. Biotechnol. 19, 703;
2001). An editorial in the influential daily Hindu said: "While other
countries have adopted a clear-cut and unambiguous attitude toward GM
crops, either for or against, India continues to appear confused and
uncertain about how to exploit this technology."

Meanwhile, local farmers are clamoring for Bt cotton. After
witnessing NB-151's performance this year (for which they paid two to
four times the price for a normal hybrid-apparently without knowing
the variety was transgenic), farmers in Gujarat are now paying
Navbharat Seeds money in advance for a supply next year. And despite
the company's run-in with the law, there is widespread criticism of
GEAC's decision to burn the current harvest. "What has happened in
Gujarat is unfortunate, but burning the cotton is no solution since
Navbharat seeds have already found their way into other states like
Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh," India's
agriculture minister Ajit Singh told Indian Express. And the Tribune
asked in an editorial, "Why burn the crop worth millions of rupees
just to cater to the whims of a few indecisive experts?"

Food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma cautions farmers
against embracing Bt cotton on the basis of one (illegal) harvest in
Gujarat, warning them against future insect resistance. However,
Kameswara Rao, president of Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness
and Education (Bangalore), says, "There is overwhelming support in
the country ... that no time should be lost in legally releasing
Btcotton, which will also prevent clandestine releases."

"Ironically, I am somewhat glad that this happened," summarizes
Prakash: this episode has done much for biotechnology in India by
"showing the real value of this technology to the Indian farmers, who
have readily embraced it, and debunked the myths that they would not
pay more for better seeds, or that biotech has no value in the
developing world," he says. "It has also made Indian politicians take
notice of this technology for the first time, helped farmers come
together to defend and demand this technology, and also made the
media and politicians take a look at our gutless regulatory system
which has kept the legal seeds at bay."


China Will Accept Soybeans From U.S.

- Bloomberg News, The New York Times Company December 4, 2001

WASHINGTON - China has agreed to import United States soybeans
temporarily while it adopts new rules governing purchases of
gene-altered crops, the United States trade representative's office
said today. In June, China blocked imports of genetically altered
soybeans, jeopardizing a $1-billion-a-year export market for the
United States. President Bush raised the trade dispute with Chinese
leaders at an economic conference in Shanghai in October.

Though sales of soybeans from the United States have resumed, China
had not officially agreed to any interim resolution until now, the
trade office said. China will accept soybeans from the United States
if they are accompanied by a government certificate saying they are
safe for the environment, safe for humans to eat and safe for
livestock feed, the trade office said. About 68 percent of the
soybean crop in the United States is genetically engineered,
principally to make the plants resistant to the Roundup herbicide
produced by Monsanto. China has imported or arranged to buy 2.05
million tons of soybeans from the United States since Sept. 1, the
beginning of the current sales season.


"El Debate sobre la Modificación Genética de los Cultivos en el
Contexto de la Evolución Agrícola"

My Plant Physiology commentary "The Genetically Modified Debate in
the Context of Agricultural Evolution" has now been translated into
Spanish and can be downloaded at


I thank Mr. Larry Fuell of USDA/FAS for his help in translating this

- Prakash


Genetically Modified Foods, Trade and Developing Countries: Is Golden
Rice Special?

- Chantal Nielsen (Denmark) and Kym Anderson (Australia)

Full paper at

The use of genetic engineering techniques in agriculture and food
production is seen as an exiting and valuable development by many
people who welcome the improvements in production efficiency that
they offer to farmers and the enhanced nutritional value that is
envisioned to benefit consumers. Others, however, are objecting
strongly, raising environmental, food safety, and ethical concerns. A
majority of people in Western Europe, Japan and Australia, for
example, want at least to have labels on products that contain
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), while the most extreme
opponents want to see genetically modified (GM) crops completely
excluded from production and consumption in their country.

The emergence of genetically modified foods has generated a variety
of policy reactions in different countries. The most extreme of these
could lead to trade disputes in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Regardless of whether developing countries are exporters or importers
of agricultural crops, they will be affected by the biotech policies
adopted in countries with which they trade - especially if
international trade disputes concerning GMOs emerge. The strong
consumer skepticism toward genetic engineering in some countries,
particularly in Europe, will also define the trading environment in
which developing countries must compete. China, for example, found
its exports of processed foods to the United Kingdom being restricted
in 2000 because they may have contained traces of GM soybean imported
by China from the United States. In turn China placed a moratorium
both on soybean imports from the US and on the use of GM varieties by
its own farmers for food and feed (but not cotton) production. The
use of genetically modified crop varieties is currently most
widespread in the maize and soybean sectors. These first-generation
GM crops have improved agronomic traits such as resistance to pests
and diseases, and tolerance of specific chemical herbicides. The
development of plants with such attributes aims at increasing farmer
profitability, typically by reducing input requirements and hence

A second generation of GM crops is focusing on breeding for
attributes desired by consumers. Although not yet commercially
available, a recent example of such biotech research involves a new
variety of rice, known as 'Golden Rice', which has been genetically
engineered to contain a higher level of vitamin A. In contrast to the
current commercial applications of biotech crops, this new rice
variety aims directly at benefiting consumers rather than producers.
More specifically, it aims at improving the health of poor people in
developing countries that rely on rice as their main staple food. As
with the first-generation, producer-focused GM technology, the
benefits over time will be shared between producers and consumers,
and hence between adopting and non-adopting countries - or would be
if countries remain open to international trade in these products.

This paper analyses the prospective impacts of the introduction of
Golden Rice seen in an international trade context. First, a brief
overview of the current status of genetic engineering in agriculture
is given, including a discussion of consumer attitudes toward GM food
and how the markets have already begun to react hereto. Then the
paper elaborates on ways in which the emergence of GMOs is prompting
the development of national regulations and international agreements
that could raise difficulties and potentially lead to trade disputes
in the WTO. Also considered are labeling schemes, as a means of
addressing certain consumers' skepticism and their claim of a 'right
to know'. The case of Golden Rice is then addressed by discussing
similarities and differences with biotech varieties of maize and
soybeans that are currently being produced and traded on commercial
terms. The paper concludes by drawing out implications of the

Read Full paper at

From: "Roger & Carolyn Morton" | Subject: Mao Tse Tung nominated for world food prize on activist mailing list
I nearly fell over when I read this on : biotechdebate@iatp.org

> From: Phil Bereano
> Subject: RE: the needs of the starving masses
> We can go round for a long time at the level of analysis you are utilizing.
> May I suggest looking at it another way and suggest that Mao Tse Tung
> alleviated far more human hunger than Norman Borlaug ever did. Ie, the
> solution to the problem of hunger is not technical. Scientists'
> unwillingness to acknowledge this context for their work leaves them
> increasingly irrelevant to the discourse.
> phil
> ============================================
> Prof. Philip L. Bereano
> Department of Technical Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195

Anyone out there know anything about this history of China that might like to comment on this?


Plotting a Course for GM Forestry

- A.H. "Toby" Bradshaw & Steven H. Strauss , Nature Biotechnology,
Vol.19 No. 12 p1103 - 1104, Dec 2001

To the editor: In recent months, the destruction of transgenic field
experiments and the fire bombing of our own university offices and
laboratories by extremists from the Earth Liberation Front have
propelled GM trees into the headlines. Ironically, at the same time
that our research was under attack from "ecovandals", we were in the
final stages of putting together a two-day symposium* bringing
together all sides of the debate for a discussion of the science,
ethics, and policy of forest tree genetic engineering.

One of our main goals in convening the meeting was to try to reach a
broad consensus on a research agenda that would facilitate the
development of transgenic forest trees as an alternative source of
wood, fiber, and fuel for human use. Current projections estimate
that an additional 800 106 hectares (25% of the earth's current
forest estate) of low-yielding native forest might have to be logged
to meet demand by 2050 (ref. 3). This outcome might be avoided with
further development of plantation forests and continued improvement
in yield of food crops. Indeed, intensification of forestry has the
potential to spare the vast majority of native forest from commercial
harvest, although this favorable outcome might not be inevitable,
especially if the value of wild forests were to decline as a

While groups on all sides concur on the urgency of conserving forest
reserves, there is less agreement on the need for GM technology in
enhancing forest intensification strategies. Even here, however,
common ground can be found surprisingly easily, as demonstrated at
the meeting among scientists with diverse backgrounds and conflicting
viewpoints. Overall, broad consensus, if not unanimity, can be found
in the following areas: If GM forest trees are to play a part in
intensification, much more research is needed to assess risks and
benefits to the environment. GM forest trees potentially pose
ecological problems beyond those faced by transgenic agricultural
crops. Forest trees are essentially undomesticated, making escape of
transgenics to the wild more probable. The long life span of trees is
particularly troublesome for risk/benefit assessment. A meaningful
analysis of environmental impact will require at least one full
rotation age (from planting to harvest). The notion that transgenic
trees, characterized by one or many very highly directed genetic
changes, would behave similarly to invasive exotic species appears
unlikely because invasiveness is the result of the interaction of
many coadapted genes rather than any single gene.

A broad moratorium on all field research with genetically engineered
trees, as Greenpeace has demanded, would be counterproductive and
unnecessary. However, there is a minority of scientists who believe
that a moratorium on the commercial release of transgenic forest
trees would be advisable until more research is done. A wide-ranging,
inclusive debate is needed to help the public and politicians decide
whether genetically engineered plantation forests should be deployed
on a large scale. While science can inform all sides of the debate,
the ultimate decision about deployment of transgenic forest trees is
outside the realm of science.

We believe that ongoing efforts should focus on securing funding in
the above areas, as governments clearly will need to finance much
more applied and basic research if they wish to see the potential for
socially acceptable applications of transgenic plantation trees fully

Ecological and Societal Aspects of Transgenic Forest Plantations,
Skamania Lodge, Stevenson, WA, July 22-24, 2001

REFERENCES: 1. Kaiser, J. Science 292, 34-36 (2001).; 2. Dalton, R.
Nature 511, 409 (2001).; 3. http://greatrestoration.rockefeller.edu/


Genetic Debate Sprouts Over Trees

- August Gribbin , The Washington Times, 12/3/2001

Roasting chestnuts on an open fire - it's a vanished Yuletide
tradition that geneticists are making possible once more. And therein
lie the seeds of debate. Scientists working in the laboratories of
academe and industry are altering the genetic makeup of trees to
create super specimens that will grow faster, devour pollutants and
resist disease, drought and insect pests. Some environmentalists,
however, object that the researchers are "playing God" with trees and
taking risks that could lead to "silent forests," devoid of small
plants or birds.

"Genetic engineering challenges the conception of what is natural and
raises the hackles of all sorts of people who want a wild landscape,
not an engineered or modified one," says historian and author Char
Miller of Trinity University in San Antonio. Mr. Miller writes about
the environmental movements and people's relationships with nature.
He says in an interview: "This is a hot issue. At Michigan Tech
University a couple of weeks ago, they found two bombs outside the
genetic engineering department. The bombs didn't explode. The timers
were faulty. "But why would people try to hinder the genetic
research? They fear the manipulative power of science and the
expertise that shapes the food we eat. They don't want geneticists to
construct the aesthetics [of woodlands and forests] that we

The objection comes from the long-standing romantic sense that nature
is best left untouched - we're looking at something that hits a
cultural nerve when we talk of genetically engineering trees."
Although the tree-modifying issue is potentially volatile, it has
received little public attention. To remedy that and to encourage
debate on the issue, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a
nonpartisan public service group; the Society of American Foresters,
a professional group; and the Ecological Society of America, a
nonpartisan society of scientists, are sponsoring a conference in
Atlanta this week. In Atlanta, researchers and representatives of the
lumber industry and environmental groups will gather to "showcase
[their] diverse points of view" and inform the public, as a statement
by the sponsors puts it.

What Mr. Miller calls the romantic and cultural aspects of the issue
are especially at stake in scientists' work with the American
chestnut and elm, and with the pines and firs that traditionally
decorate homes during the Christmas season. Decades ago, the large,
sweet nuts harvested from stately American chestnut trees - often 100
feet tall - commonly were served as holiday treats from Maine to
Michigan and points south. The chestnuts disappeared, however, when a
disease imported from China at the turn of the century wiped out 3.5
billion of the nation's American chestnut trees, which constituted a
third of Eastern forests. The blight was one of history's worst and

By the 1940s, it had destroyed an industry built on chestnut wood,
which was weather-resistant and was used for everything from fence
posts to quality furniture. Now scientists are reviving the American
chestnut through a combination of genetic research and traditional
tree-breeding techniques. Scottish scientists announced in September
that they had created the first elm trees genetically altered to
resist Dutch elm disease. That plague has ravaged the graceful
species, called "the lady of the forest," that for generations shaded
many of America's city streets. If political objections are overcome,
the transgenic plantings will be sprouting in woodlands and
neighborhoods within a few years.

ene transfer work comes mainly as a response to economic demands.
Lumber companies want to produce wood fiber more cheaply and guard
against timber shortages. The average American uses some 750 pounds
of paper a year and consumes the equivalent of a 100-foot tree in
paper and wood products. To meet demand, the companies envision
developing special plantations of genetically modified trees. That
idea alarms environmentalists, who say that blooming transgenic trees
will fertilize and corrupt normal trees. They say the mutants
eventually will crowd out natural growth.

Faith Thompson Campbell, an official of the environmental group
American Lands Alliance, contends that fast-growing genetically
modified trees "can rapidly deplete soil fertility and water
resources." She argues that tree plantations "may finance and justify
[the] clearing of even more native forest - on the heels of centuries
of such clearing spurred by other forms of agriculture."

From: "Alain F.Corcos"
Subject: Mendel

In the Agrobioview of November 5, 2001, I read an article by Pardey
and Beintema,Slow Magic Agricultural R&D Century after Mendel. I read
: "A century ago, Gregor Mendel's research describing the pattern of
genetic inheritance, first published by the Austrian botanist and
monk, was rediscovered and reconfirmed."

That Mendel was the first geneticist is a myth, perpetuated in the
History of Science books. Mendel was a fantastic scientist looking
for the principles of breeding, not the principles of inheritance. As
a matter of fact he never used the word of inheritance in his paper
of 1866. But, if you were looking for the principles of inheritance
you would make the same pea crosses that he made. The right genetic
interpretation was made by Correns who never gave himself enough
credit for doing so. Anyone interested in this subject can read my
book written with the late Floyd Monaghan. (Gregor Mendel,
Experiments on Plant Hybrids: a guided study, published by Rutgers
University Press.) I know I am blowing my horn, but like to share
this information with the members of AGBIOVIEW


From: "Ferdinand Engelbeen"
Re: Lomborg

Once I was a believer of the "Club of Rome", at the base of "the
Limits of Growth" and their update "Beyond the Limits". While I still
am convinced that one has to reduce one's energy use and finite raw
materials use to a minimum, my believe in the "limits of growth"
completely vanished. Not at least because the "Club of Rome" was
wrong on every point that they predicted. The average fortune-teller
averages 50% accuracy in his/her predictions...

The book of Lomborg indeed is a restatement of the works of the late
Julian Simon. While I am not an economist, it is clear that Julian
Simon was better in predicting the future than his opponents. I have
read the book which depicts the discussions between Julian Simon and
Meyrs. While Meyrs mainly told stories with very little facts, Simons
story was full of facts, figures and statistics... And Simon won his
bet with Paul Ehrlich on the future availability and price of ten raw

The remarkable point is that Lomborg started his search as an
opponent of Julian Simon, trying to debunk Simon's work. But as his
work advanced, it became clear for him that Julian Simon was right.

I have not read the comment of Nature (yet) if someone can send me a
copy (fax: +32-3-605.43.96 or via e-mail)... Maybe they have good
arguments. But throwing pies in the face of Lomborg (as can be read
on http://www.anti-lomborg.com ) is not directly a valid argument to
debunk his theories...

- Sincerely, Ferdinand Engelbeen


Essential Biosafety CD

- From: Marga Escaler

AGBIOS, in association with the International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), is pleased to
announce the launch of the first edition of Essential Biosafety, a
CD-ROM with comprehensive information about the safety of genetically
modified crops. Innovations in biotechnology are increasingly
identified as significant contributors to global food security and
sustainable agriculture. Consequently, access to clear and factual
information is critical to building an understanding of the issues,
including the risks and benefits associated with agricultural
products of biotechnology.

Essential Biosafety includes: A Crop Database of safety information
about all genetically modified crop plants that have received
regulatory approval to date. For each product there is detailed
information about its molecular biology and the studies that were
conducted to evaluate environmental, food and feed safety. A Library
with over 650 citations relevant to the environmental, livestock
feed, and human food safety of genetically modified crop plants.

A Training Section with materials that were developed as tools for
providing practical experience in the environmental and food safety
assessment of transgenic plants. This CD-ROM is a tremendous resource
for scientists, regulatory personnel, and others interested in the
environmental and food safety of genetically modified plants.
Essential Biosafety will be published annually, and with each edition
the databases will be updated and new information pertinent to the
safety of genetically modified crops and foods will be added.
Essential Biosafety is being distributed free of charge by AGBIOS and

For more information, or to request a copy of Essential Biosafety,
please contact: AGBIOS, PO Box 475, Merrickvill, Ontario Canada, K0G
1N0 Phone: +1 613 269 7966; Fax: +1 613 269 4367 Email:

ISAAA SEAsiaCenter c/o IRRI DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 8450563, Fax: +163 2 8450606, Email:


Survey Says: We Don't Believe the Hype

- Philip Stott, Emeritus Professor of Biogeography, TechCentral Station

Recently, I had a most unexpected, but illuminating, experience. With
a local farmer, I was called on to defend genetically modified crops
in a major public debate held at a very beautiful cathedral in
southern England. The audience of around 300 comprised local school
children and their teachers. And the end of the exchange, the
audience would vote to determine who 'won' the debate.

The Green opposition was rabid in its denunciation of biotechnology
in agriculture. The chair of the debate, a well-known politician and
BBC radio personality, assured us that we would be roundly defeated,
lucky indeed if we obtained any votes at all.

But when the vote was taken, he was staggered: we won overwhelmingly
- by two-thirds. We were further amazed by the outstanding speeches
from the floor praising the potential of biotechnology, especially
for the developing world. The opposition seemed to be quite shaken by
the outcome. What had happened? The students had, some for the first
time, been allowed to hear the voice of reason, sound scientific
argument, and down-to-earth practical farming.

This experience has been reinforced many times in schools where I
have spoken to the oldest students, including at some of the most
famous schools in England, such as Eton and Harrow. The pupils are
knowledgeable, thoughtful, skeptical, and open to real science. They
do not seem, in any way, to have been duped by the Green hype and
rhetoric so unthinkingly peddled day in and day out by our more
politically correct media. Indeed, there appears to be a growing
distrust of the press on environmental matters -- a clear mismatch
between journalistic excitability and the public they claim to serve.

Interestingly, two social surveys -- one in the United Kingdom, the
other in Australia -- have also just confirmed a significant decline
in general environmental interest. The Australian Bureau of
Statistics (ABS) has recorded a fall in concern nationally about the
environment from 75% of households in 1992 to 62% in 2001, with only
25% of South Australians and 14% of those living in the Northern
Territory willing to donate any time or money to environmental

In the United Kingdom, the figures presented by the new report on
British Social Attitudes are even starker. The number of people
willing to pay higher prices to defend the environment has fallen
from 46% in 1993 to 43% in 2001 and those willing to pay higher taxes
from 37% to 31%. Particularly surprising -- given the massive
overhyping of global warming in the UK -- only 14% said they would be
willing to cut back on their use of the car. And the overall drop in
concern is most significant in young adults (18 to 24-year-olds),
with support for environmental petitions, for example, falling from
50% in 1993 to a mere 31% in 2001.

These trends are quite extraordinary when one thinks of the constant
media coverage of Green issues during the last ten years or so. They
clearly demonstrate a remarkable ability on the part of people to see
through the distortions and extremes that so mar the debates over
topics like climate change and biotechnology.

I have long believed that the hype would eventually backfire. As my
wife said the other day: in the 1970s and 1980s, she was terrified by
the prospect of a nuclear winter and a plunge into another Ice Age;
in the 1990s, it was 'global warming'; today she will just get on
with her life and leave the eco-gloomsters to their own fraught world
of eco-chondria. We have enough to worry about with genuine problems
like terrorism, wars and poverty, thank you very much.

And this is the precise danger of the Kyoto Protocol. After all the
hype, when climate doesn't do what has been predicted - that being
most likely outcome - where then will be 'scientific' credibility?
The baby of sensible and cautious environmental 'science' could well
be thrown out with the dirty bath water of foolish exaggeration. The
extreme Greens are increasingly unrepresentative of the very
constituency that should be their own. Where there is simple,
straight, non-political, hard science teaching in schools and
universities; where people are able to hear rational arguments rather
than lies and distortions; and where a balanced attitude to real risk
replaces a fearful attitude to virtual risk, then the seeds of
extreme environmentalism fall on barren ground.

It is surely the moral duty of genuine science and environmental
correspondents, science teachers, and writers of popular science to
ensure that such a rational and balanced discussion of scientific
progress is feasible. We can all conjure up demons and dragons;
'truth' and reality are far tougher assignments. --- Philip Stott is
Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the University of London. His
latest book, with Dr. Sian Sullivan, is Political Ecology: Science,
Myth and Power (Arnold and OUP, 2000).


Agbiotech: History and Mythology - Book Review

'Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food' by
Daniel Charles; Perseus Publishing; $26.00, 368 pp, hardcover; ISBN
0738202196, 2001. Reviewed by Belinda Martineau - a former staff
scientist at Calgene and the author of First Fruit: The Creation of
the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Food (McGraw Hill,

Lords of the Harvest documents the development and commercialization
of genetically engineered crops. From before the first successful
plant cell transformations in 1983 to the current public debate over
so-called GM foods, Daniel Charles has painstakingly painted a big
picture of the agricultural biotechnology industry. A daunting task,
no doubt, but one that Charles, who had spent a decade covering the
topic as a technology correspondent with National Public Radio and
Washington correspondent for New Scientist, was obviously up for.
Taking advantage of his nonpartisan position as a journalist
overlooking the biotech battle, Charles traveled "unimpeded between
the bristling barricades" on either side of the "war over genetically
engineered plants." As a result, his book is a refreshingly unbiased
and thorough chronicle of the birth and formative years of the young
agbiotech industry.

All the major scientific advances in molecular and cell biology that
made the genetic engineering of plants possible are touched on in
Lords of the Harvest . Brief histories of many of the world's most
important crops-corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, and rice-and the
seed and chemical industries that grew up around them, put the new
technology in historical perspective. And Charles gives enough
background on the biochemical nature, extensive employment, and
environmental consequences of certain conventional pesticides to give
lay readers a foundation from which to appreciate the genetically
engineered crops that can potentially replace various hazardous
products of the green revolution.

Out of necessity, Charles gives cursory coverage to these myriad
topics, and molecular biologists may find it irksome to have "gene
promoter" defined four or more times in the text. Others will view a
few of Charles' explanations for why events transpired the way they
did as insufficient. To claim that the Food and Drug Administration
requested that Calgene conduct animal feeding studies "just in case
something interesting happened to the rats fed Flavr Savr tomatoes,"
for example, is too cavalier a way to explain a search for
"pleiotropic" effects that might have occurred as a result of the
genetic engineering process. But detailed descriptions of phenomena
like insertional mutagenesis are beyond the scope of this book. There
is simply too much other ground to cover.

More than providing a dry historical account gleaned from newspaper
articles, patents, SEC filings, court documents, and other government
papers, Charles has turned an "epic into simply a story-the kind of
tale one tells about a slightly crazy uncle with all his quirks and
contradictions." And he has done so largely through the voices of the
approximately 300 scientists, entrepreneurs, and environmental
activists he interviewed for the book-people who actually produced
pieces of this historical puzzle. Lords of the Harvest is perfused
with personalities and inside information. Readers will learn not
only how John Sanford's gene gun influenced transformation
capabilities in corn and soybean, but also how pesky squirrels
influenced the invention of the gun itself. Biotech business
strategies and deals are often described by the CEOs who diagrammed
the original plays, some of whom mince no words in their post-game
commentary: "Once you've pissed in the soup, you pissed in the soup!"

Those familiar with the field will enjoy the personal details: that a
prominent academician cut off his ponytail before presenting science
to Washington bureaucrats; a Monsanto scientist was initially against
developing Roundup Ready crops; and an FDA official (apparently)
started the name-calling ("troglodytes," "intellectual Nazis") all
too common in the current biotech foods debate. Most of this story's
real-life characters are identified, but unnamed sources, often
revealing parts played by unnamed participants, add an additional air
of intrigue to some of the most amusing scenes.

I recommend Lords of the Harvest not simply as a survey course on
agbiotech made vivid through interviews of the historical figures
involved, but because it contains a few useful lessons. The first is
that agricultural products, even genetically engineered ones, are not
"pharmaceuticals or chemicals or any factory-made product." And,
because they are not widgets, agricultural products are "destined to
annoy and frustrate the grandest ambitions of genetic engineers."
Many industrial scientists have, of course, already learned this
lesson the hard way. "You're producing products outside, for God's
sake! The wind blows, the rain falls, the sun shines ... it's a
crappy business! End of story. It's a crappy business!" sighs John
Bedbrook, formerly of DNA Plant Technologies, now at Maxygen.

The other lesson, however, is one that has yet to be learned by
participants on both sides of the biotech foods controversy. While
Charles agrees that the dispute involves facts, he is convinced that
the debate is more about seductive, passionately held myths. It is
the "agrarian populist" story (corporate giants and city slickers
exploit honest vulnerable farmers) mirrored by the "free-market
conservative" version (opponents of capitalism resort to
fear-mongering in an effort to undermine private enterprise in
agriculture). It is also a "tale of progress ... expanding the
boundaries of human possibility," versus the "story of unpredictable,
threatening technology unleashed upon an unsuspecting world through
human folly."

Especially in light of his position as a well-informed yet
conscientiously nonpartisan observer of the biotech foods debate, I
can only hope that he will convince others that he is right.
Scientists, particularly, should "learn where the myth of agriculture
ends and reality begins" and drop their preconceptions that "aren't
really about agricultural biotechnology at all." Perhaps then, more
effort will be put toward providing society with the additional cold
hard facts necessary to substantiate the benefits of, and allay
justifiable concerns related to, specific products of this new
technology. When that happens, I will join Daniel Charles in being
"optimistic that the chaos of public argument might actually yield an
outcome that is both reasonable and wise."


Brazil: Seed Industry Sees GMO Soy Spreading Across Brazil

FWN Financial via COMTEX Nov 20, 2001

The farming of illicit genetically modified soybeans in Brazil has
spread from the southern states to the center-west and northern
regions, according to Joao Henrique Hummel, executive director of the
Brazilian Seed Producers Association (Abrasem). He estimated that
300,000-350,000 hectares in the center-west region and Bahia state
would be planted with clandestine GMO soybeans in the 2001-02 season.
The area is a tiny proportion of 7.5-million hectares seen planted in
the region this year, but Hummel warned that the GMO usage could
expand tenfold in the coming year as producers reproduce seeds from
their first GMO crop. Brazil is the world's only major soybean
producer that continues to prohibit the planting of genetically
modified seeds.

However, it is universally accepted that GMO beans have been used in
the south of the country for three to four years. The seeds were
originally smuggled from neighboring Argentina into the southernmost
state of Rio Grande do Sul, but now the main source of transgenic
seeds is home production. As a result, Hummel estimates that 65-80%
of Rio Grande do Sul's 7 to 8 million-tonne soybean crop will be
illegal transgenics.

The extent of GMO penetration is contested by Brazilian analysts.
"The figure is probably around 35-45%, but will continue growing,"
noted Anderson Galvao Gomez, analyst at the Minas-Gerais-based MPrado
consultancy. He said the GMO percentage in the southern state will
probably reach the 80% level currently seen in Argentina over the
next few years, whether Brazil frees planting or not. ABRASEM based
its allegations on the stagnation in seed sales. It estimated
official seed demand in Brazil would total 680-700,000 tonnes in
2001, only slightly up on 670,000 tonnes the year before.

Meanwhile, soybean planted area is expected to grow by 11%. "We are
starting to see demand stagnate in other areas along the same lines
as Rio Grande do Sul. Official seed demand has remained stagnant at
200,000 tonnes per year in Rio Grande do Sul over the past five
years, despite an increase in planting area. One factor that has
limited the expansion of GMOs into other regions is the lack of
suitable varieties for the tropical conditions in the center-west of
the country. However, there have been unconfirmed reports that
Monsanto is developing a GMO seed for use in Paraguay that would be
suitable for the region.

Soybean and soymeal importers have certainly been favorably disposed
to Brazilian produce because of its non-transgenic status. However,
there is some controversy over whether this factor has actually
boosted sales. Two years ago, environmental and consumer groups
achieved an injunction blocking GMO production and marketing pending
an environmental impact study. The government has not succeeded in
sidestepping this demand and the issue remains stuck in the courts.
Brazil is the world's second largest producer and exporter of


GMOs are Good for The Environment

TT (Swedish News Service Agency), September 12, 2001

People in Sweden and Europe are unnecessarily afraid of gene
technology in agriculture. GMOs are a lot healthier than so called
ecological food, according to one of the world's foremost experts in
the field, the Indian-American scientist Channapatna Prakash. He was
visiting Sweden to try to turn public opinion around.

Prakash, Professor at Tuskegee University in the United States,
serves on advisory committees to the U.S. government and to the
government of India on issues related to biotechnology in
agriculture. He is also working to collect endorsements from
scientists from around the world for his declaration in defense of
the technology.

Since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, people have tried to
genetically change plants and animals through the method we know as
breeding. According to Prakash, it is nothing other than continuous
attempts to get certain genes to dominate at the expense of others.
The new technology we are using is simply more exact, and much
quicker because we can transfer genes from one species to another.

Corn is like poodles: He is of the opinion that the concern regarding
GMOs in Europe is without basis, for example in regards to the fear
that they will spread to the environment and harm wild animals and
plants. Our plants and domestic animals are completely helpless
without our care. Gene-modified corn or soybeans can be compared to
dog species such as poodles and dachshunds. They will not become
wolves because we let them loose, they will die of starvation. He
opines that genetically modified plants may even promote wild fauna
and flora, e.g. corn, which has had the introduction into its gene
pool of a gene that makes the plant itself produce insecticide. In
the United States corn farmers are using less and less pesticides
because they are no longer necessary. Other plants can be altered so
that they can be grown on less acreage and with less water. That
would also be good for the environment.

Europeans are romantics: He thinks that statements that GMOs are
dangerous for our health are ludicrous. Two billion people the world
over have eaten GMOs during the last five years without a single
known case of illness. Europeans are funny. They romanticize an
antiquated form of agriculture but would not last a day in India's
countryside. The food that is produced there is much more dangerous
than the food produced in the West. It's the same with so-called
ecological food, according to Channapatna Prakash. It contains more
toxins, requires more acreage, and depletes the earth at a faster
rate than plants that are farmed using modern methods.


Allergic to Real Life

- Miranda Ingram, The Times (UK), November 21 2001

'Most of those who claim to have a food allergy are just on a diet'

The myth of food allergies has finally been exposed. Celebrities and
their pretenders won't, after all, choke to death if their vegetables
are not lightly steamed or they accidentally bite into wheat-infested

One in five claims that food intolerance is the root of their
physical malaise, but the true figures are nearer 1-2 per cent of the
population. In recent tests most of those who were surreptitiously
fed foods - disguised in soup - to which they were supposedly
intolerant showed no ill-effects whatsoever. From now on, we are told
by the trend pundits, eating everything is set to be the new food fad
- the triumph of the welladjusted.

Imaginary food allergies are rude to dinner party hosts, offensive to
true sufferers, exceedingly boring, but most of all symptomatic of
the most obsessive self- regard, which is perhaps at the root of much
of the current criticism of affluent Western society.

Nine times out of ten the devotees of food intolerance are simply
struggling to maintain a size 8, but, too special to admit that huge
hunks of bread and cheese make them as fat as ordinary mortals. They
claim to be intolerant of these foods rather than prey to the
calorific havoc of too much saturated fat. If you need to lose weight
you should certainly go on a diet, but you do not take it out to
dinner with you, give your host an advance list of culinary
requirements, and bore the rest of the table with pseudo-scientific
justifications. This used to be called bad manners.

Taking my children to their first grown-up lunch party recently, I
warned them that even if they didn't like the food they should eat it
up, and say thank you, then watched my five- year-old son gallantly
pushing cottage pie round his plate. He hates mince, but had he
announced the fact and refused to eat it he would have been written
off as a spoilt and ill-mannered child, which is exactly how the food
intolerants behave.

Real food allergies are a frightening business - a friend's small
children would go into anaphylactic shock if they so much as ate food
cut with a knife that had previously cut a piece of cheese. They have
to take their own school lunches, avoid party food, spend the family
holidays in specially appointed allergy-free cottages, syringes and
adrenalin always at the ready, and still no trip is ever complete
without at least one visit to the local A&E.

Despite living in constant fear of a stray nut - one emergency
involved an unanticipated school project making bird-feeders - they
are happy, well-adjusted children and their inevitably compromised
family life cheerful and uncomplaining. My sister's children's mouths
break out in blisters if egg products pass their lips, so obviously I
check the smallprint on tubs of ice-cream when they come to stay.

Unlike a friend of mine, who always serves great joints of beef and
refuses even to entertain vegetarians, I have no problem with food
choices based on conscience - food miles, battery farming - or real
health concerns. Nor would I force-feed a double- cream pudding to
someone I know is genuinely trying to lose weight any more than smoke
over children, or slip a double vodka into a recovering alcoholic's
orange juice.

What is most galling about the nine out of ten whose claimed food
intolerance is proved to be a sham is the number of self regarding
hours that have preceded these conclusions, the endless faffing
around eliminating first one food group, then another, reintroducing
them, endless jottings down of perceived shifts in mood and well
being, food diaries and, no doubt, a series of costly counselling
sessions thrown in as well. I am all in favour of trying to eat
healthily, get to the gym, make time for yourself, relax, do yoga,
not to mention a good dose of pampering. But looking after yourself
has its time limits; it is not - as seems to be increasingly the case
- a religion.

Let's face it, every new syndrome you read about is typified by
lethargy, stress, headaches and irritability. We could all claim to
suffer from all of them. And all of us constantly desire to lessen
our stress and boost our energy, be it by drinking too much coffee or
popping Siberian ginseng. But in the meantime life has to be lived,
albeit in a state of less than perfect wellbeing.

Singling yourself out as a victim of run-of-the-mill afflictions, as
someone too special to eat basic foodstuffs for want of which
hundreds of thousands of refugees are dying, is intolerably

If you don't want to eat bread and animal fats, fine, but don't dress
it up as an exotic affliction.

Admit it - you are, like most of us, simply on a diet.