Today in AgBioView
* Former President of Costa Rica & Nobelist Dr. Oscar Arias Endorses
* Complete List of Nobel Laureates Endorsing AgBioWorld Declaration
* South Africa Approves First Biotech Food Crop
* FDA Warns of Misleading Labels On Genetic Modification in Foods
* Trader Joe's Defenseless Against Greenpeace
* Readers' Comments - Teosinte, Bt Pollution, Pharm Companies
* On Pharmaceutical Crops * Forum on Plant Molecular Farming
* MSU Scientists Try To Create Perfect Christmas Tree
* Stop the Scaremongering; GE Foods
* Energy Consumption of Organic, Conventional and Integrated Farms
* Scientists Win Respect But Not Public Interest
* Plant Biotech - Publication by Croplife Canada
* Evolving Debate Over Forest Biotech: Pew Initiative
* Risk, Accountability, and Liability - AgBiotech and the Specter of Litigation
* Bill Lambrecht: Documenting the Development of a Technology
* A Look Alike For Anthrax
* For Plants, Reproduction Without Sex May Be Better
Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias Endorses AgBioWorld Declaration
Former President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate has
signed on his support for the AgBioWorld petition on agricultural
biotechnology. He joins 18 Nobelists who have already endorsed this
petition making it a total of 19 Nobel laureates and 3300 experts
supporting this statement so far (See list below).
From: "Julie Whitman, Arias Foundation"
Dear Dr. Prakash,
I have brought your request to Dr. Arias, and he agrees to endorse
your declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology.
Julie Whitman, Assistant to Dr. Arias
Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, San Jose, Costa Rica
NAME: Oscar Arias
POSITION: Former President of Costa Rica
ORGANIZATION: Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress
DISCIPLINE: Political Science
OTHER: 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate
Complete List of Nobel Laureates Endorsing AgBioWorld Declaration as
of Dec 21, 2001
The following NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS have signed the AgBioworld
Declaration of Support for Agricultural Biotechnology:
1. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize, 1970
2. James Watson, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1962
3. Peter C. Doherty, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1996 4. Paul Berg, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1980 5. Mario Molina, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1995 6. Douglas D. Osheroff, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1996 7. Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1993 8. Donald A. Glaser, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1960 9. Arthur Kornberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1959 10. Richard E. Smalley, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996 11. Marshall Nirenberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1968 12. Sheldon Glashow, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1979 13, Edward Lewis, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1995 14, Leon N. Cooper, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1972 15, Paul D. Boyer , Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1997 16. Eric Wieschaus, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1995 17. George A. Olah Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1994 18. Edmond H. Fischer, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1992 19. Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize, 1987
Dear AgBioView Readers
If you have not signed up the AgBioWorld petition yet, please do so
now and join the 3300 others including 19 Nobelists at
South Africa Approves First Biotech Food Crop
Farmers Plant First Roundup Ready Soybeans, Decision Caps Year Of
Agricultural Gains For Africa (Source: Katie Thrasher
ST. LOUIS, Dec 20, 2001 PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- South African
farmers have completed planting of the country's first commercial
biotech food crop. Roundup Ready soybeans were approved earlier this
year by South Africa's Executive Council for Genetically Modified
Organisms, the body that reviews the country's applications for
approval of biotech products.
"This decision is good news for South African growers who now have an
opportunity to share in the economic and environmental benefits of
Roundup Ready soybeans," said Kinyua Mbijjewe, Monsanto's spokesman
for Africa. "We believe growers in South Africa will find the
benefits of Roundup Ready soybeans are well worth their additional
investment in this technology," he said. "Where they're grown
commercially, Roundup Ready soybeans have demonstrated their ability
to improve yields and, in turn, increase growers' incomes."
This is the fourth biotech crop to be commercialized in South Africa
since 1998. Other approved crops include insect-protected maize used
for animal feed, Roundup Ready cotton and Bollgard, Monsanto's
insect-protected cotton. "This approval and planting in South Africa
demonstrates that both farmers and government regulators recognize
the benefits of biotechnology, which is why use of these technologies
continues to expand throughout the world," said Robb Fraley, Ph.D.,
Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto.
"This acceptance is driven by the overwhelming benefits of
biotechnology, such as dramatic reduction in pesticide use." South
Africa traditionally imports soybeans to supplement domestic
production and since 1999 has imported Roundup Ready soybeans from
other countries where they are grown. The recent approval by the
council allows Roundup Ready soybeans to be planted in South Africa.
Growers recently planted approximately 7,000 hectares (17,500 acres)
of Roundup Ready soybeans.
According to a recent report by the International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), there has been "a
significant increase of up to 100,000 hectares of transgenic crops"
in South Africa since 1998. The report is available on ISAAA's
website at http://www.isaaa.org . Another biotech crop, Bollgard
cotton, has been a particular advantage to growers in the Makhathini
Flats region of South Africa, one of the poorer regions of the world,
where bollworms traditionally have destroyed up to 60 percent of
growers' harvests. Insect-protected cotton, enhanced through
biotechnology to repel bollworms, significantly reduces pesticide use
and increases yields.
"The success of Bollgard in Makhathini Flats is a good example of how
biotechnology can help farmers in Africa and throughout the
developing world improve the quantity and quality of crops they
depend on for income and to feed their families and communities,"
said Mbijjewe. Although South Africa is currently the only country in
Africa that has approved commercial biotech crops, research and
testing on similar products is being conducted throughout the
continent and in other developing regions. For example, in 2001, the
first field trials of virus resistant sweet potatoes were completed
in Kenya, a milestone in a collaborative research project that
Monsanto has been involved in for several years.
According to the ISAAA report, the proportion of transgenic crops
grown in developing countries has increased consistently from 14
percent in 1997, to 16 percent in 1998, to 18 percent in 1999, and 24
percent in 2000.
"Despite the ongoing debate on genetically modified crops,
particularly in countries of the European Union, millions of large
and small farmers in both industrial and developing countries
continue to increase their plantings of GM crops because of the
significant multiple benefits they offer," said Clive James, Chairman
of the ISAAA Board of Directors, in ISAAA's latest report. In
addition to its commercial products, Monsanto shares its knowledge
and technologies on a non-commercial basis with public-sector
partners to benefit subsistence farmers and the environment in Africa
and throughout the world. This commitment is reflected in the New
Monsanto Pledge, a series of commitments that describe the company's
policies for products developed through biotechnology. "By sharing
our resources, we hope to facilitate and encourage additional
research that will lead to a wide variety of discoveries to enhance
their food security and nutritional needs in developing countries,"
Some of these Monsanto projects include providing broad access to a
working draft of the rice genome and participating in work to develop
the virus-resistant sweet potatoes in Africa and papayas in South
East Asia. In addition, the Monsanto Fund is supporting the St.
Louis-based Donald Danforth Plant Science Center's efforts to develop
a virus-resistant cassava, a staple crop in Africa. Monsanto's
efforts complement a recent report by the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) that stressed the importance of agricultural
biotechnology for developing countries. The Human Development Report
2001 also encouraged greater public investment in research and
development to ensure that biotechnology meets the agricultural needs
of the world's poor.
According to the UNDP report, biotech crops "could significantly
reduce malnutrition, which still affects more than 800 million people
worldwide, and would be especially valuable for poor farmers working
marginal lands in sub-Saharan Africa."
FDA Warns of Misleading Labels On Genetic Modification in Foods
- Scott Kilman, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2001
The Food and Drug Administration, trying to douse one of the hottest
trends in food retailing, is warning Hain Celestial Group Inc. and
five other natural-foods companies that they are misleading consumers
with labels touting products as free of genetic modification.
The non-GMO label -- the initials stand for "genetically modified
organisms" -- is on hundreds of food products. Virtually unknown in
North America just three years ago, the label is materializing on
everything from pasta and breakfast cereal to baby food and jam. The
label is popular because repeated surveys show that the majority of
U.S. consumers want to know about the presence of genetically
modified ingredients, apparently so that they can choose whether to
But the FDA letters, issued on Nov. 29, reflect the growing concern
of agency officials that some marketers might be trying to play to
the public's worries about an unfamiliar technology -- which that FDA
has declared is safe.
"We want to stop misleading statements," said Christine Taylor,
director of the FDA office that supervises label claims. It's far
from clear, however, exactly what a food company can legally say
about its efforts to avoid biotechnology. The agency is still wading
through 55,000 comments on the wording guidance it wants to issue to
Among other things, the FDA wants to stop companies from claiming
products are free of genetically modified ingredients. Regulators
fear consumers equate such a claim with a healthier product, much as
dieters seek out fat-free products.
The FDA also doubts that food companies can make a non-GMO claim with
absolute certainty. The Wall Street Journal, for a page-one article
on April 5, had a food laboratory analyze products that bore labels
claiming that none of the ingredients were genetically modified. Of
the 20 products tested, 16 contained evidence of genetic material
used to modify plants.
The FDA complained in its letter that some Hain products -- such as
Bearitos tortilla chips -- are labeled as "pure" with the claim that
they don't contain genetically engineered ingredients. Hain,
Uniondale, N.Y., didn't return phone calls seeking comment on the FDA
letter, which asks the company to explain how it intends to comply
with branding laws that prohibit misleading labels.
Some companies quickly backpedaled after receiving the FDA letter.
Healthy Times Inc., a closely held maker of natural baby food, will
probably drop its non-GMO label. "We have a natural philosophy, so
we avoid GMOs," said Richard Prescott, who runs the small Poway,
Calif., company with his wife. "But we aren't big enough to the fight
the FDA," he said.
U.S. Mills Inc., Needham, Mass., said it will try to reword the label
on its Erewhon brand of breakfast cereal and move it to a less
conspicuous spot on the box. "We need the information [on the box]
or people will constantly call us," said Charles T. Verde, president
of the company. "The FDA is way out of line on this." The FDA letters
also were sent to Spectrum Organic Products Inc. in Petaluma, Calif.;
B&G Foods Inc., Parsippany, N.J.; and Van`s International Foods,
Trader Joe's Defenseless Against Greenpeace
- International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources
Dec 14, 2001 http://biotech.ifcnr.com/article.cfm?NewsID=236
Trader Joe's specialty grocery chain threw in the towel after being
victimized by a year-long campaign of street theater intimidation
orchestrated by Greenpeace over the presence of biotech-enhanced
foods marketed under the store's private label.
The "victory" by Greenpeace signals the absolute necessity of
agricultural biotechnology concerns to create compelling advocacy
campaigns of their own supporting the environmental and nutritional
benefits of foods produced via modern science. Such proactive
campaigns would meet head on, and if properly implemented, defeat the
misleading advocacy tactics employed by radical opponents such as
Greenpeace who are opposed to the efforts of agricultural scientists
across the globe working to alleviate hunger and safeguard the
environment via modern agricultural innovations.
Groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and
others create raucous advocacy campaigns devoid of nutritional facts
or scientific merit in discrediting the benefits of biotech enhanced
food products. They also mask the economic interest Greenpeace and
other protest groups such as the Organic Consumers Association have
in raising public fears over competitor products.
The tactics used against Trader Joe's over the past year were nothing
short of the intimidation style of block bullies. Parades of masked
and face-painted individuals marched in front of Trader Joe's stores.
Trader Joe products were ceremoniously pulled from shelves by
protesters. Greenpeace's signature banners were hung from building
facades mocking the establishment as "Traitor Joe's."
Trader Joe's, according to Greenpeace, received a sleet of
Greenpeace-originated letters, email and telephone calls demanding
they empty their shelves of all "Genetically modified" food products,
and specifically those sold under the Trader Joe's proprietary label.
On November 13th, the grocery chain's resistance folded. The company
announced it "will work with any new vendor to produce private label
products...without genetically engineered ingredients."
The tragedy of the effectiveness of campaigns such as that waged
against Trader Joe's is that the message sent to the public - that
biotech enriched foods are somehow suspect in health and safety - is
not only untrue but also poses a grave threat to the environment and
to the planet's inhabitants. Further, it effectively covers up the
egregiously self-serving economic incentives inherent in Greenpeace's
The failure of the Life Science sector to establish its own advocacy
strategies - based on science and the truth - leaves institutions
such as Trader Joe's virtually disarmed when confronted by critics
such as Greenpeace. It surrenders the ethical and moral high ground
intrinsic to modern agricultural products of increased environmental
safety via decreased dependence on toxic pesticides. And it allows
critics to undermine the public acceptance necessary for further
progress in the development of even more scientific advances in the
effort to improve the world's food supply, alleviate hunger and
protect the environment.
Greenpeace and other participants in the Trader Joe's campaign are
heavily invested in the organic food industry. Greenpeace's United
Kingdom office head is one of the largest organic farmers in Europe.
Organic food industry spokesmen have publicly admitted that any "food
scare" whether factual or not alleged against the conventional and
biotech food sectors results in an immediate corresponding rise in
organic food sales.
The shame of the Trader Joe's incident rests not only in the fact
that an enterprising organization was left defenseless and without
allies before the unabashed economic intimidation and character
assassination of Greenpeace and friends, but even more so in the
specter of having radical and self-serving NGOs dictate the nation's
and the world's food policies based on deceptive tactics. That is an
unforgivable disservice to the public, to science, and to the
environment. It should not, and must not be allowed.
From: "Alain F.Corcos"
Subject: Teosinte Barrier
Referring to Andrew Apel e-mail of Nov 30 reminding us that teosinte
produced sterile seeds when pollinated by any type of maize, I am
asking the following question: how did George Beadle do his
teosinte-maize crosses? I reread his famous article, Scientific
American Jan, 1980. But he does not mention if he used pollen from
teosinte or from maize. He must have used pollen from teosinte, Does
anyone knows? - Alain Corcos
From: "Mieschendahl Dr., Martin"
Subject: GMOS POLLUTE THE St, LAURENCE: BT CORN TOXIN HAS CONTAMINATED RIVER SEDIMENT (!)
Please have a look at the following publication:
D Saxena + G Stotzky, Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 2001, Vol 33, Iss
9, pp 1225-1230
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin released from root exudates and
biomass of Bt corn has no apparent effect on earthworms, nematodes,
protozoa, bacteria, and fungi in soil
- Dr. Martin Mieschendahl, Federal Environmental Agency, Berlin, Germany
From: "Mary Ellen Jones"
Subject: Help locating pharmaceutical/tobacco companies
I'm hoping that AgBioView readers can help me to build a list of all
companies, worldwide, that are engaged in research to produce
pharmaceuticals in tobacco. (For example, CropTech in Virginia, USA.)
At this time, I am not looking for university or government research
groups unless they have a spin-off company in the industry sector and
I only need those working specifically with tobacco. Websites would
be terrific if you have them. - Thanks, MEJ
- Mary Ellen Jones, Ph.D., Assistant Director, School of Public and
Virginia Polytechnic, Blacksburg, Virginia http://www.spia.vt.edu/
- C. S. Prakash, Red Herring (Letters), January 2002. p12
I wish to commend Stephan Herrera for a very insightful article
"Protein Therapy Could Heal Agbio" (September 15, 2001) on how one
can now produce therapeutic compounds in crops. Molecular farming
is ideally suited to locally produce effective vaccines against many
infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria and HIV in the
developing countries. Edible vaccines against diarrheal diseases
such as cholera and Norwalk virus had already been produced in plants
such as potato and found to function well so far in the clinical
trials. Research with producing vaccines in plants against rabies,
hepatitis-B, and measles has also shown promise so far. Vaccine
production in plants is inexpensive as crops can be grown any where,
and obviates the need for cold-chain, a major constraint to vaccine
delivery in the Third World.
Agricultural biotechnology, if allowed to move forward and targeted
appropriately, can also help address the food security needs of the
The development of this technology, unfortunately, is being slowed by
the risk-averse European public, as well as by the irrational fears
that various interest groups have orchestrated against the safety of
genetically modified foods. Sadly, the greatest losers from this
slowdown are the people in the developing world who could gain much
from this technology. While the Western world, especially Europe,
readily accepts "red" medical biotech while being skeptical about
"green" food biotech, it must be remembered that for those who are
hungry, food is the medicine.
Forum on Plant Molecular Farming - CFIA
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) held a Public Forum
recently to solicit public comments on plant molecular farming. The
CFIA is responsible for regulating plants with novel traits. The
issues raised regarding the application of plant molecular farming
included: how to achieve an equitable distribution of the potential
benefits of plant molecular farming; how to address intellectual
property and liability questions; and how to monitor and assess
potential long-term health and environmental effects. More
information on the forum including a discussion document on plant
MSU Scientists Try To Create Perfect Christmas Tree
- Associated Press, Dec 20, 2001
DETROIT (AP) - Scientists at Michigan State University are attempting
to create genetically modified Christmas trees that are so perfect
they look fake. In recent years, competition from the artificial tree
industry has cut into the sales of natural trees. Unlike grown trees,
artificial ones do not leave a mess and can be reused each year.
Researchers say the perfect natural Christmas trees would boast lush
colors, straight trunks and limbs that retain their needles.
"Consumers are becoming more and more particular," Laurie Koelling,
executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, told
The Detroit News for Thursday story. "We need to be able to compete
with other states." After a decade of work, scientists at Michigan
State University have begun to produce the first batch of genetically
enhanced seeds that will be sold to growers.
It takes Christmas trees seven to eight years to mature so it will be
that long before the industry knows whether it possesses a super
tree. Daniel Keathley, chairman of the university's forestry
department, said scientists are not just trying to make the trees
pretty. They also are experimenting with ways make trees that are
immune to pests and disease, trees that need less shearing and trees
that grow better in Michigan soil and weather conditions, he said.
"It's better for consumers and our industry," Keathley said. "We have
the leading Christmas tree research program in the Midwest." Michigan
once was the second-biggest producer of Christmas trees in the
nation. It specialized in the Scotch pine, an inexpensive
long-needled tree. But America wanted sturdier, better-looking trees.
When they were not scooping up artificial ones, they were buying
Fraser firs, which are bluish-green and have single needles.
The $45 firs were grown mostly in North Carolina and Oregon,
elevating those states above Michigan in tree sales. Michigan, which
sold 8.5 million evergreens in the mid-1980s, peddled only 3.5
million last year. So scientists at the university set to work on
creating the ideal Christmas tree that would lure customers back from
both the artificial and western tree sellers. Scientists have long
used genetics to improve crops like corn, but conifers were banished
to the back of the laboratory. Growers have gotten the attention of
researchers by arguing they're an important part of the state's
Now that Michigan growers are moving from Scotch pines to Fraser
firs, their jobs are harder. The Fraser fir is fickle, growing only
in certain soils. It needs lots of nutrients and rain, and is
sensitive to acidity levels and certain insects. Scientists are
experimenting with ways to make the firs, along with Balsam, Douglas
and Noble firs, more welcomed in Michigan. "For many years there was
a myth that Fraser firs could only grow in North Carolina," said
Cathy Genovese, whose Candy Cane Christmas Tree Farm in Oxford has
15,000 trees on 15 acres. "But they can do well in Michigan under the
Stop the Scaremongering; GE Foods
- The Spectator December 20, 2001 (Via Agnet)
Vincent J. Curtis writes regarding, 'Why won't our government label
GE foods?' (Dec. 15) to say that this article is an old drama with
the usual cast of characters: evil profit-seeking multinationals,
poor organic food growers, politicians corrupted by money and an
unsuspecting public. The plot is tired and predictable.
There is, however, a happy ending. The reason the government doesn't
require the labelling of genetically engineered foods is to protect
this fledgling technology from scaremongers. There are many who see
the movie, The Andromeda Strain, think it's a serious documentary on
genetics, and consider themselves biology experts. We've been in the
genetic manipulation business since we began breeding animals and
plants to improve their characteristics. Genetic manipulation in a
laboratory is simply an improvement in technique, not a new
principle. The technology works well, for GE foods have made
impressive inroads into the North American diet, and no one has
noticed the difference.
It is true that certain countries have banned GMOs (genetically
modified organisms), or have required that a red star of sorts be
pinned on foods derived from GMOs, like meat from cattle that were
fed GE crops. In those countries, scaremongering, not science, has
prevailed. There has been no outbreak of two-headedness or six-
fingeredness in North America. Federal politicians do not have a
vested financial interest in genetic engineering, as hinted by the
writer. Their pension plan is guaranteed by the government and
retired politicians do not require the success of Monsanto to receive
their pensions. Their political interest is, in fact, to side with
the scaremongers; and doing so, however reluctantly, scuppered food
irradiation technology in the 1980s.
We live no longer in a horse-and-buggy age. Six billion people on
this earth need to be fed, and we need all the technology we have to
Energy Consumption of Organic, Conventional and Integrated Farms
From: Tony Trewavas
Below are two things that might be of interest to Agbioview readers.
Loake C. (2001) Energy accounting and well being; examining UK
organic and conventional farming systems through a human energy
perspective. Agricultural Systems 70, 275-294.
This paper quantifies and compares the energy efficiencies of
conventional and organic farming systems in the UK from a human
energy perspective. To date studies comparing these two systems have
neglected rudimentary questions regarding the effort and energy
expenditure of farmers, instead devoting attention to consumer health
and selected environmental issues such as global warming and recent
energy crises. The need to focus on the human energy problem is seen
as fundamental in this paper as it concerns not just the balance of
calorific expenditure and consumption but also the negative health
effects associated with high levels of energy and effort expenditure.
Although the scope of the experiment is limited, making inferences
about each system is difficult, the results reveal clear differences
in the annual energy and effort expenditure of the two farmers. Over
a typical year the organic farmer experiences far more physical
stress. Despite being more efficient in terms of overall energy (but
see below!) the organic farm is less efficient in terms of human
energy and the net energetic returns combined with the effort
intensity bring into question the health implications of organic
livelihoods both in the short term and the long term.
Leake, A (2000). Aspects of Applied Biology 62, 253. This paper
measures the actual energy consumption on organic, conventional and
integrated farms. Leake ran the CWS farming experiments which
compared the three systems over a seven year period. ( He has now
moved but the experiments continue). During one year he detailed
every use of his tractor and the consumption of fuel and energy
involved on all three farming systems. Organic used the most energy
easily and produced the most carbon dioxide and ozone layer damaging
NOx. Expressing the data as energy used/tonne of crop yield, organic
was 2.5-3 times more profligate in its use of energy than the other
two systems. Even factoring in the use of energy to make nitrate
fertiliser, organic and conventional are about level pegging whilst
integrated using No-Till is still twice as efficient in its use of
fossil fuels. Going organic will do nothing for global warming. The
higher consumption of energy for organic was accounted in part by the
need for mechanical weeding. The paper above indicates what happens
if you don't mechanically weed on organic farms.
Scientists Win Respect But Not Public Interest
- Nature, Dec 13, 2001. vol 414, p 680
A new survey has revealed a mixed set of attitudes towards science
among the European public. Europeans continue to trust scientists
more than other professions, but less than half of all Europeans say
they are interested in science.
Doctors, scientists and engineers took the top three spots when the
public were asked which professions they held in the highest esteem.
If a disaster struck in their neighbourhood, for example, most
Europeans say they would prefer to turn to scientists, rather than
journalists or government officials, for explanation.
But the Eurobarometer survey, published last week by the European
Commission, revealed that more than 60% of those surveyed did not
enjoy reading about science, and only 46% described themselves as
interested in the subject. The commission had already earmarked 50
million euros (US$44 million) to pay for initiatives towards the
public understanding of science during its next Framework programme
for research. http://europa.eu.int/comm/research
Plant Biotech - Publication by Croplife Canada http://www.croplife.ca/english/pdf/plantbiotechnology.pdf
"Plant biotechnology in Canada", 28-page report, provides an overview
of the plant biotechnology industry in Canada including the
regulatory system, processes in place to assure safety and minimize
risk, and the potential benefits of plant biotechnology.
Biotech Branches Out: Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
A Look at the Evolving Debate Over Forest Biotech: Forestry
researchers are working on ways to create trees to resist pests, to
make it easier to process pulp and paper products, and to assist in
the restoration of endangered tree species. Some are looking to
biotechnology to meet these goals. For others, however, questions
about the potential ecological risks of introducing genetically
engineered trees into the environment have tempered the urge to
proceed. This month we highlight some key issues in the debate
surrounding forest biotechnology.
Risk, Accountability, and Liability - AgBiotech and the Specter of Litigation
- John Lehmann, PhD, President , DrugIntel.com , Wayne, Pennsylvania http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=35
Genetic modification of agricultural products for commercial purposes
takes place in a context of vast tracts of ignorance about possible
repercussions and a young regulatory system in the federal and state
governments. It is almost a foregone conclusion that some of the
innovations of the AgBiotech industry will result in some adverse
effects, despite the best efforts of all concerned.
The major methods for individuals to participate in social
responsibility decisions by AgBiotech corporations include: *
Government regulation * Public acceptance and image * Ecological
terrorism * Litigation
Absent from most public discussions on the topic is the role of
liability and the scenario of attorneys suing large corporations for
damages. By analogy to the much longer history of drug safety, FDA
is in fact not the major or ultimate deterrent to imprudent decisions
by pharmaceutical corporations. Rather, the threat of litigation is
what transforms notions of social responsibility into financial
realities for corporate decisions, converting risks of tomorrow into
contingency budgets today, either with or without the role of
insurance companies. In cases that regulatory processes are broken or
bent or information is withheld from the regulatory bodies,
litigation remains a stronger enforcement tool than government
processes. Breaches of FDA policy are rarely if ever prosecuted by
the federal government, but create extreme vulnerability to
For the benefit of both corporate developers of new AgBiotech
products and the groups calling for regulation and restraint,
understanding of this process is useful in anticipating and hopefully
preventing ecological and medical catastrophes on a large scale. The
components of a successful liability suit should be understood:
1. Damage. No matter how deplorable a transformation to ecological
systems may be, such as introduction of new weeds or extinction of a
species, if damage to human individuals, corporations, or countries
cannot be demonstrated, there will be no suit. However, it is not
essential that dollar denominated damage have occurred. In fact, less
tangible damage often presents a more significant liability threat
than one that can be capped by a specific dollar amount. For
instance, escape of a herbicide resistance gene from a crop plant
into a weed plant requiring use of an alternative herbicide is a
damage whose cost can be exactly calculated, and is not a major
deterrent, from a corporate risk point of view. In contrast,
precocious puberty in girls caused by BST contamination of milk
represents a potentially huge class action suit.
2. Causality. There must be reasonable scientific certainty that an
action by plaintiff actually caused damage. This "certainty" is a
term used in the legal sense, rather than the scientific sense, and
is closer to the notion of "more likely than not" than to "P<0.01".
3. Knowledge. It is generally essential to show that a corporate
sponsor of a product knew or should have known about a risk. This is
achieved best by scientific reports in refereed journals which is not
undercut by language such as "More research is required to determine
the extent of the risk."
4. Failure to warn. If a corporate sponsor does adequately warn the
user of a product about the risks, then this may absolve the sponsor
of liability. If the plaintiff never had the option to avoid the
impact of the product, whether warned or not, then the sponsor is not
Inside the biotech public policy forums, there is much discussion
about the difficulty of quantifying risks and the size of potential
damage, including remediation. From a legal perspective,
quantification is much less important than clear identification, for
the purpose of assigning liability and accountability. Estimation of
probability and magnitude of risk becomes strictly the responsibility
of the corporate sponsor or their insurance company, who then
typically seek the help of regulatory agencies and vocal critics to
model worst scenarios. Government regulation conceivably could and
arguably should require contingency funds be dedicated by sponsors of
GM products for remediation of worst case scenarios.
Bill Lambrecht: Documenting the Development of a Technology
- AgbiotechBuzz Vol 1 Issue 7, Dec 20, 2001
For journalist Bill Lambrecht, biotechnology is an ongoing adventure
in a sometimes amazing, sometimes frightening and little-understood
landscape where science, technology, environment, politics, health,
medicine, trade and other vital fields all overlap.
"What makes it interesting as a reporter is that so many disciplines
converge on these matters," says Lambrecht, who for 18 years has
worked as a Washington, D.C.-based reporter for the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch. His new book on biotechnology and food Dinner at the
New Gene Café: How Genetic Engineering Is Changing What We Eat, How
We Live, and the Global Politics of Food, was released in September.
Originally trained in political science in his native state of
Illinois, Lambrecht was drawn to environmental journalism early in
his career. Biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
naturally came onto his beat because St. Louis is the hometown of the
Monsanto Company, which is considered the world leader in the
development of agricultural biotechnology products.
When Lambrecht heard about the first work on recombinant DNA in the
1980s, "It seemed to me then that this would be an important
political story," so he started following it. As a Washington, D.C.
reporter, he was able to cover hearings on bovine growth hormone and
other early biotechnology stories-well before the term "biotech"
became a household word. Still, he says, after almost two decades,
the U.S. public is far less aware of biotechnology than their
counterpart consumers in Europe, South America, Australia, India, New
Zealand and elsewhere.
He surmises that the reason might be that food is just not regarded
in the same manner in the U.S. as abroad. "In the U.S. this is not a
front of the mind issue," he says. In the U.S. and Canada, he says,
the average consumer is "notoriously uninterested" in where his or
her food comes from. In Europe, on the other hand, past deprivations
during wartime and recent food scares may have heightened public
awareness of food-leading to more widespread interest in the taste,
texture, appearance and other food quality issues, he says. Perhaps
that is the reason why biotech foods have been a far harder sell in
Europe and the technology ran into trouble there.
The lack of consumer concern in the U.S., however, is not necessarily
a good thing, says Lambrecht. Important decisions have to be made and
many dangers lie ahead if biotechnology does not proceed carefully.
The public has to be involved and informed-as do decision-makers. "It
looked to me (in the 1990s) that it wasn't being covered in the
U.S.," he says. And since he had already been covering biotech for a
decade, he decided it was time to write his book.
In Dinner at the New Gene Café, Lambrecht has done his best to
provide an objective look at the current state of affairs in
biotechnology and food. He includes transcripts from interviews he
has had with industry executives and includes the varied voices of
family farmers, anti-GMO activists and agricultural officials.
Lambrecht suspects that people on all sides of the debate may fault
him for not covering their side well enough. "You find people on both
sides of the debate that wanted me to write more about their issues,
but I had to be balanced and objective," he says. "I write from the
intersection of science and politics. I'm a journalist, not an
advocate. I wrote this book to give people what they need to make
choices about a transforming technology."
A Look Alike For Anthrax
- Data Times, Dec 19, 2001
Washington - The bacterium is found in soil, where it forms tiny
spores that can persist in a dormant state indefinitely. The anthrax
germ? No, a close cousin called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.
Used widely as a pesticide, Bt also is a useful "simulant" of the
bacterium that causes anthrax. When the Pentagon undertook a secret
project in Nevada two years ago to show whether off-the-shelf
equipment could be used to make a clandestine bioterror lab, it used
Bt as one of the working materials. Much of the focus of the current
anthrax terror investigation remains on potential suspects who may
have learned their skills at government or university laboratories, a
theory likely to be reinforced by the disclosure last week that Army
scientists at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah have been making
small quantities of powdered, weapons-grade anthrax in recent years.
But investigators have not ruled out other sources, and some experts
say the list of domestic suspects in the anthrax mail attacks also
should include those with expertise in making Bt biopesticides with
some equipment and techniques similar to those used to produce
anthrax powders. The FBI has been contacting Bt pesticide
manufacturers and distributors, according to Pamela Marrone,
president of AgraQuest in Davis, Calif. and chair of the Biopesticide
Industry Alliance. "Some of the individual Bt companies have had
inquiries," Marrone said.
But she and other industry officials questioned whether employees of
commercial pesticide firms would have the expertise to make the
finely grained anthrax powder that was mailed to Senate Majority
Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Unlike anthrax, Bt is non-toxic to
humans. Specialists said the manufacture of a powder containing Bt
spores requires equipment similar to that used for making anthrax
agents, including fermentation tanks for growing the bacteria and
precipitation filters or spray dryers to separate the spores from
their growth medium.
Philip Hanna, an anthrax specialist at the University of Michigan,
said some Bt pesticide formulations require milling of dried spores
to uniformly sized particles for spraying over crops. "They [the FBI]
should focus on people who know how to 'weaponize' spores," said
Hanna, whether the skills were learned at government facilities or
David Franz, former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research
Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., agreed. "We've
got to track down all the possible clues we have," Franz said. "It's
worth at least talking to them." Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman,
declined to comment on whether investigators are talking to companies
with expertise on Bt. It is unclear whether a technician from a
pesticide plant, with sufficient practice on Bt, could move on to
develop a high-grade anthrax powder, experts said. Industry officials
"Our goal is to make products that fall on plants," said Michael
Donaldson, president of Valent BioSciences Corp. in Libertyville,
Ill. "We look for large particle sizes." While an easily inhaled,
weapons-quality preparation of anthrax spores would have particles in
the 1 to 5 micron range, Donaldson said Bt powders have particles
more in the 50 micron range. (A human hair is about 100 microns in
diameter.) Donaldson said his firm contacted the FBI shortly after
the first anthrax cases appeared. "We wanted to let them know what we
do," he said, and to talk about such measures as employee background
checks. He said the FBI has not asked the company for a list of
current and former employees.
Michael DeGiglio, chief executive officer of EcoScience, a New Jersey
firm that recently shelved most of its biological pesticide program,
said "anybody who can do biologicals [such as Bt] has certain
capabilities" that might be applicable to anthrax as well. But he
said fermenting bacteria, coaxing them into dormant spores and drying
them into a powder is "as much art as science."
For Plants, Reproduction Without Sex May Be Better
- Anne Simon Moffat, Science, Dec 21, 2001. Vol. 294 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/294/5551/2463
A better understanding of how plants reproduce asexually by apomixis
may boost efforts to develop improved crops. Because the progeny of
apomixis are identical to the parents, traits transferred into an
apomictic plant, whether by classical breeding or genetic
engineering, wouldn't be lost in the genetic shuffling that occurs
during sexual reproduction. Apomixis also offers a possible way to
avoid the degeneration of breeding stocks of some vegetatively
propagated plants, such as potato and cassava, that accumulate
pathogens through repeated use.
Mention embryo formation, and thoughts usually turn to sex: the union
of sperm and egg to produce a new individual. But several common
plants, including dandelion, citrus, mango, and certain forage
grasses, can do without sex, producing their embryos from
unfertilized immature sex cells or even from ordinary somatic cells.
Although plant biologists have known about this bizarre form of
reproduction, called apomixis, for about a century, only recently
have they begun to get a glimmer of insight into how plants achieve
Within the past few years, researchers have identified a variety of
genes that may determine whether plants reproduce sexually or
asexually by apomixis. Eventually, they hope to use these genes to
develop new strains of apomictic crop plants. The payoff could be
enormous. Because the progeny of apomixis are identical to the
parents, traits transferred into an apomictic plant, whether by
classical breeding or genetic engineering, wouldn't be lost in the
genetic shuffling that occurs during sexual reproduction.
Apomixis also offers a possible way to avoid the degeneration of
breeding stocks of some vegetatively propagated plants, such as
potato and cassava, that accumulate pathogens through repeated use.
"Apomixis could play a major role in feeding the growing population
of our planet," says plant developmental biologist Ueli Grossniklaus
of the University of Zürich, Switzerland. "It could promise social
and economic benefits that would challenge those of the Green
Revolution." As a result, "apomixis is a very, very hot area of
research," says Robert Goldberg, a plant biologist at the University
of California, Los Angeles.
Funding agencies are beginning to pay attention. In 2001, for
example, the ApoTool European Union funded the $2 million program,
coordinated by Sacco de Vries of the University of Wageningen in the
Netherlands, to further the identification of genes that might go
into a custom-designed apomict. In addition, the International Maize
and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and various funding agencies
in the United States--including the Department of Agriculture (USDA),
the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the
Rockefeller Foundation--are providing modest, but increasing, support
for the research. And several biotech companies--such as Ceres of
Malibu, California, which was co-founded by Goldberg, and Apomyx of
North Logan, Utah--have research efforts devoted to apomixis,
although they are keeping quiet about the number of dollars invested.
A measure of this increased worldwide interest was evident at last
April's XVIth International Congress on Sexual Plant Reproduction in
Banff, Canada, where 170 people signed up for the apomixis section
alone. At the previous meeting, 2 years earlier, just 140 scientists
had attended the entire meeting.
One development that helped spark this interest came in 1998 when two
teams of classical plant breeders, working independently,
demonstrated the feasibility of introducing the apomixis trait into
crop plants that normally reproduce sexually. Bryan Kindiger, Phillip
Sims, and Chet Dewald of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) Southern Plains Range Research Station in Woodward, Oklahoma,
developed corn that reproduces by apomixis by crossing the grain with
an apomictic relative, eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides).
Their success didn't come easily.
The team had to perform at least 5000 backcrosses to get a fertile
grass-corn hybrid and thousands more crosses to get apomictic corn.
"It was a long haul, a difficult and elusive challenge," says Dewald,
whose team worked on the project for nearly 20 years. After a
similarly long slog, Wayne Hanna and his colleagues at the ARS
Coastal Plains Research Station in Tifton, Georgia, transferred
apomictic genes from the forage grass Pennisetum squamulatum to its
cultivated relative, pearl millet, a popular birdseed.
So far, the new corn and millet apomicts aren't fertile enough for
commercial application, but fertility is improving. "We've gone from
having 4% or 5% fertility in corn to about 10%, but we're still a
long way from a commercial crop," says Dewald, who adds that 80%
fertility would be a desirable first goal for a commercial cultivar.
Despite these successes, conventional breeding of new apomicts faces
a big obstacle: Few valuable food plants have close apomictic
relatives that can be used for crossbreeding. To get around this,
plant researchers are hoping to engineer an apomictic plant. They are
trying to identify mutations of genes coding for key steps in sexual
development that could produce a form of apomixis when transferred
into other species. "I think it can be done with the newer, molecular
tools," says Dewald, who began breeding natural forage apomicts some
years before molecular tools became available.
As in much of plant genetics these days, the search is focusing on
the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. In recent years, researchers
have identified hundreds of mutations in Arabidopsis and a few other
plants that affect embryo development. And they have found that the
products of some of these genes can elicit embryo formation from the
vegetative tissue of Arabidopsis. In 1998, for example,
Goldberg--with John Harada of the University of California, Davis;
Bob Fischer of UC Berkeley; and their colleagues--cloned a gene
called LEAFY COTYLEDON 1 (LEC1). The researchers showed that the
gene, which was already known to be involved in embryo formation, can
trigger the formation of embryolike structures when it is expressed
Last August, the same team described a second gene, LEAFY COTYLEDON 2
(LEC2), with similar activity. And in unpublished work, Kim Boutilier
of Plant Research International, a nonprofit research institute in
Wageningen, cloned the BABY BOOM gene from canola (Brassica napus)
and showed that when that gene is expressed in Arabidopsis it has an
even more dramatic effect than LEC1, leading to the production of
hundreds of embryos on seedlings. The group has applied for a patent
on the gene.
The proteins produced by the LEC and BABY BOOM genes are thought to
regulate gene activity directly, but genes that make other types of
proteins can also enhance the production of embryos from somatic
cells. One example, found this year by De Vries, is a gene called
SERK (for somatic embryogenesis receptor kinase) that increases
sensitivity to growth-inducing compounds, such as plant hormones.
Getting embryos to form is only half the battle in producing viable
seed, however. Conventional seed formation requires two
fertilizations, one of the egg, which yields the embryo, and another
of the so-called central cell that goes on to make the endosperm that
nourishes the embryo. As a result, apomixis researchers are also
focusing on isolating the genes involved in endosperm development.
In the late 1990s, three groups--one including Goldberg, Harada, and
Fischer; another led by Zürich's Grossniklaus; and the third led by
Abdul Chaudhury of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial
Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Canberra, Australia--described
mutations in three genes that lead to formation of endosperm and
partial seeds in the absence of fertilization. All three genes,
called FERTILIZATION-INDEPENDENT ENDOSPERM (FIE), FERTILIZATION-
INDEPENDENT SEED (FIS2) and MEDEA, encode polycomb proteins, similar
to polypeptides found in the fruit fly, mouse, and other species that
are associated with condensed chromatin and repression of gene
About a year ago, Rod Scott of the University of Bath, U.K., Hugh
Dickinson of the University of Oxford, U.K., Fischer, and their
colleagues extended this work. They showed that reducing DNA
methylation, which can be achieved by means of mutations in any of
several genes, improves endosperm development in FIE mutants.
Meanwhile, a few researchers are taking a very different tack to
identify genes that might be used to engineer apomicts: Instead of
looking for genes that influence seed development in Arabidopsis,
they are probing select apomicts to see if they can find the genes
involved in this asexual reproduction. For example, Peggy Ozias-Akins
of the University of Georgia, Tifton, is studying Pennisetum, grasses
related to millet; Ross Bicknell of Crop and Food Research Ltd., a
government-sponsored company in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Anna
Koltunow of CSIRO in Adelaide, Australia, are studying the dandelion
relative Hieracium aurantiacum. Bicknell notes that this work is
still in the very early stages and accounts for only 10% to 20% of
all funds devoted to apomixis research. Indeed, he says, "we exist as
the lunatic fringe of apomixis research."
Still, Bicknell cites some progress. A few years ago, his team
identified a mutant form of Hieracium that had lost the ability to
reproduce by apomixis and used ordinary sexual reproduction instead.
Since then, he and his colleagues have discovered more than 80 such
mutants. By comparing their gene expression profiles with those of
plants that are naturally apomictic or sexual, the researchers hope
to identify regulatory pathways that are critical for apomixis.
Bicknell says they have already picked up several genes that seem to
be important, although he declines to offer details, because the work
was done under contract to Ceres and the genes may be patented.
Not everyone thinks that tinkering with a few or even generous
clusters of genes will be enough to make apomicts, however. These
researchers note that classical breeding programs had to add at least
one complete alien chromosome, and often more, to transfer the
desired trait into new species. John Carman, a plant evolutionary
biologist at Utah State University in Logan, goes so far as to claim
that "apomixis genes [per se] don't exist." Instead, he suggests, the
process likely involves many genes located at different places in the
genome that influence traits such as the timing of flower and embryo
development. Even apomixis researcher Goldberg describes the study of
apomixis as "far more daunting than the study of parthenogenesis in
Nevertheless, what researchers have learned so far has raised their
hopes. "The versatility of reproductive systems and the variability
in known apomicts suggest that apomixis can be engineered," predicts
Grossniklaus--even though the plant engineers' approach may not be
the same as Mother Nature's.