Today in AgBioView
* UNIDO Launches Broad Biotechnology Initiative in Latin America
* U.S. May Ask WTO To Intervene In Food Dispute
* BIO Tells President Bush of Goals in Year Ahead
* Why are the French Upset by GM Foods?
* Environmental Savior or Saboteur?
* After Bt Cotton, It's GM Mustard
* Not Leaving Science to Scientists or Suppression of Science? -
* FAO - BiotechNews
* Ethics And Public Perceptions of Biotech - Oxford Workshop
* Trieste Workshop On Science, Technology and Sustainability
* EU Research Funds: Call For Proposals on Plant Industrial Platform
* Commoner's Anti-Biotech Con
* Achieving Sustainable Food Security for All: Required Policy Action
* No Biological Apocalypse and Nothing to Avert
* Tuberculosis and Antibiotic Resistance (& GM Crops)
UNIDO Launches Broad Biotechnology Initiative in Latin America
- January 10, 2002,
Agricultural and agro-industrial enterprises in Latin American and
Caribbean countries stand to reap substantial benefits from a
regional biotechnology initiative launched recently by the United
Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). At a meeting
held last December in Montevideo, the Vienna-based Organization
outlined the mission of a Consultative Group called upon to assist
the region in its efforts to seize the opportunities offered by rapid
advances in biotechnology and deal with the challenges of biotech
security and commerce.
The Biotechnology Consultative Group for Latin America and the
Caribbean will include government officials and business leaders as
well as prominent bio-scientists and experts from other fields. It
will serve primarily as an independent discussion platform and
advisory mechanism on issues related to the development and
application of technologies relevant to agriculture and food
processing. With agriculture and agro-industry accounting for at
least 25% of the regional GDP, and more than 40% of exports, in most
countries in the region, the potential benefits of biotech
applications can hardly be ignored.
The Consultative Group will provide state-of-the-science advice to
policy makers in full compliance with the need to preserve the
regulatory sovereignty of the countries involved. Its services will
also cover public perception issues as well as the emerging
international regime of norms and practices in the trade with
biotechnology and biotech products.
Assistance in charting out the best ways in which individual
countries can tap their unique natural resources of biotechnological
relevance is another key service that the Group will provide. This
assistance will reflect a balanced approach giving due consideration
to social, environmental and ethical issues.
UNIDO will provide to the Consultative Group the technical
secretariat and other types of support, including the services of its
Regional Office in Montevideo. The Organization will also finance the
initial stage of the project, while the Consultative Group itself
will subsequently seek to secure further funding from various sources
in the public and private sectors.
For enquiries please contact the Executive Secretary of the Group,
U.S. May Ask WTO To Intervene In Food Dispute
- Bloomberg News, Jan 09, 2002
Washington -- The U.S. threatened to complain to the World Trade
Organization unless the European Union agrees to accept new
genetically altered food imports.
Alan Larson, the State Department's undersecretary for economic
affairs, said the European Commission should go to court to force the
EU's 15 nations to accept the imports, 70 percent of which are
produced by American farmers from seeds made by Monsanto Co. and
DuPont Co., among other manufacturers. If the commission, the EU's
policy-making arm, doesn't get the approval process for corn,
soybeans and other products resumed after a three-year freeze, the
U.S. may ask the WTO to intervene, Larson said.
The EU has approved some genetically modified soybeans for sale,
freezing further approvals because European policymakers say there's
public concern over a possible long-term health threat. European
farmers produce just 0.03 percent of the world's genetically modified
crops. Genetically modified organisms have their DNA manipulated in a
laboratory to give the crop a specific trait, such as resistance to
drought, diseases or specific herbicides.
U.S. companies such as Cargill Inc., based in Minnetonka, and Archer
Daniels Midland Co. are getting tired of waiting for the approval
process for genetically modified food to restart in Europe, and they
are encouraging the Bush administration to force the issue.
BIO Tells President Bush of Goals in Year Ahead
- Julianne Johnston, AgWeb, Jan 16, 2002
"Unfortunately, one of our largest trading partners, the European
Union (EU), has erected numerous nontariff trade barriers and
otherwise disrupted markets with a suite of contradictory policies
and moves that run contrary to the considered advice of even their
own scientists," states the letter. "The illegal European moratorium
on regulatory approval of crop varieties improved through
biotechnology has festered to the point that it now threatens the
viability of the global trading system, which is based on rules
grounded in sound science that the EU continues to ignore."
BIO reminded Bush it's "imperative that the administration move
forward, with dispatch, to remind European countries, in the most
effective way possible, of the need for them to honor their
commitments under international law." BIO says Europe should be
reminded of the various benefits its regulatory policies are denying
the peoples and environments of the world, and of the sad and
counterproductive history of parochial impediments to free trade.
Also in the letter, BIO said the United States should act to
strengthen a coalition of like-minded countries to broaden and deepen
the rejection of the ill-considered European policies in this arena
to avoid continuing spread of their unfortunate influence in this
matter. "The United States should, in particular, strengthen the
coalition of like-minded countries by working through their trade
delegates in Geneva, but also through a strategic, targeted use of
overseas development assistance and support for U.S. domestic
regulatory policies and public sector R&D" says BIO.
Why are the French Upset by U.S. Genetically Modified Foods?
See for yourself at
Environmental Savior or Saboteur?
'Debating the Impacts of Genetic Engineering: National Policy Forum
in San Francisco'
Environmental Activists, Policymakers and Academics to Debate
Ecological Effects of Genetic Engineering; National Consumer Poll
Will Be Released Evaluating Environmental Risks and Benefits
Washington, D.C. - The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
announced today that it is hosting a policy dialogue, "Environmental
Savior or Saboteur? Debating the Impacts of Genetic Engineering" on
February 4, 2002 from 10-11.30am PST in the Hawthorne Room of San
Francisco's Golden Gate Club/National Recreation area. Margaret
Warner, Senior Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,
will moderate the lively discussion with environmentalists,
policymakers, and researchers. A poll will also be released on
consumer attitudes towards agricultural biotech and the environment.
"Much has been researched and written about whether genetically
modified crops are good or bad for the environment," said Michael
Rodemeyer, executive director of the Initiative. "We hope, through
this policy dialogue, to stimulate an informative discussion about
the present and expected impacts of agricultural biotechnology on the
environment and to help examine the science as well as the passions
for why people feel so strongly -- one way or another -- about this
* Charles Benbrook, an environmental consultant and the former
executive director of the National Academy of Sciences Board on
* Professor Martina McGloughlin, director of the Biotechnology
Program at the University of California-Davis
* Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club
* Peter Raven, president of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science and recently named "Hero of the Planet" by
Note: The dialogue will also be presented via a live Internet webcast
(watch the webcast). To RSVP to attend the event in person or to
watch over the Internet, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The
event is open to the media and members of the public.
After Bt Cotton, It's GM Mustard
- Indian Business Insight, Jan 12, 2002
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry
of Environment and Forest, Government of India, has given go ahead
for large scale, multi-locational field trials for genetically
engineered hybrid mustard. The hybrid mustard is developed by Proagro
Seed Company Limited, a multinational now part of the Aventis
CropScience of Belgium. Hybrid mustard would be the second
genetically hybrid seed to be tested after Bt Cotton of
Monsanto-Mayhyco combine. Bt cotton is scheduled to be planted in
farmers' fields in the ensuing khariff season. Mustard is normally
sown in October month.
During the field trials agronomic performance and bio-safety aspects
will be evaluated. If everything go as planned the hybrid mustard
would be ready for commercialisation by 2002 rabi season. It is
claimed that transgenic hybrid mustard gives 25 percent more yield
compared to now available check varieties.
Not Leaving Science to Scientists or Suppression of Science?
- Picot Discussion Continues ....
From: Francis Wevers
Subject: RE: What are you trying to say ???
Moderation doesn't seem to feature in your communication when you
accuse as fascists those with whom you disagree.
It would be great to be able to continue the very balanced and
factual discussion we were able to have in front of the Royal
Commission on GM - but unfortunately that doesn't appear possible as
those opposed do everything they can to discredit the Royal
Commission and its very considered Report.
As a former activist myself I will do everything I can to defend the
democratic right of people to have an alternative, and different,
point of view. But that does not go so far as to defend their right
to abuse us and to seek to misrepresent our arguments. Activism for
it own sake is anarchy; for a greater purpose is sometimes the
expression of wisdom. But for activism to be wise it must be grounded
in truth and provable facts - which is the constant and fearless
pursuit of science.
A correspondent, noting our exchange, had this to say in response:
"I appreciate your comments re: Adrian Picot. It should also be
pointed out that when someone writes that science shouldn't be left
to the scientists, they are failing to heed the lessons of history.
Millions of people starved to death in Russia, China and elsewhere
because they embraced Lysenkoism in biology and didn't leave science
to the scientist. They died because Stalin politicized science and
those who "dissented" from standard scientific techniques and levels
of proof won the battle and lined the biologists up against the wall
and shot them (literally and figuratively). Keep up the good fight! -
>From: Adrian Picot (DSL AK) [mailto:AdrianP@datacom.co.nz]
>Subject: What are you trying to say ???
>What am I to make of your paranoid rant in AgBioView ? That anyone
>who dares to criticize GM deserves the third degree ? That all
>opponents to GM are bomb-throwing ignoramuses bent on the
destruction of all thats good and pure in our world ?
>Here is a list of the words you used in response to my request for
>more balanced discussion. - 'stifle debate discussion and
>understanding; attacking your opponent on specious grounds;
>fundamentalist; lack of ability to apply scientific knowledge to the
hunger and health; Talebanic rigidities'
>Really ? Just a little bit over the top isn't it ? Gosh I could say
>these things about the pro-GM lobby !! I will be posting an article
>in AgBioView with specific examples of the danger of GM that are not
>being addressed by mainstream.
> Thank you for your interest in my article - Adrian Picot
From: Andrew Apel
Subject: Re: Picot
Calling someone a "fascist" is not on a par with name-calling, such
as "****head" or "***wipe." "Fascist" is a real word, with a real
meaning, and can be accurately and properly applied. I would refer
anyone interested in the use of this word to an excellent article by
Umberto Eco, the reknowned semiotician, entitled "Eternal Fascism:
Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." It first appeared in the
New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995, was excerpted in Utne Reader,
November-December 1995, and can be read online at:
In my opinion, this is the most definitive piece on fascism ever
written and Dr. Wevers has properly used the word.
From: "Graydon J. Forrer"
RE: On Adrian Picot
I think that we must not let the neo-Luddites forget history.
Politicians and political activists elevated Lysenko and resulted in
the death of millions, just as politicians and political activists
were behind the bogus science of the Nazi era. When real science is
fostered -- peer-reviewed science that is subjected to fact and hard
questioning and analysis -- than the public can only benefit.
However, we must all understand that those opposed to biotech are
not, and never have, argued the science. The proof is in the fact
that it matters little when their story is proved wrong or
inaccurate, they pick up and move on...remember, we are all still
hearing about Dr. Pusztai's potatoes (don't know how to spell his
name) and the death of Monarch butterflies in Iowa's field.
What we really have here is an argument not for more information,
popular inclusion or open discussion, but for vigilante justice. The
real difference here is that real science will encompass, assess,
analyze the bad idea and abandon it and move on. It has must,
otherwise we would still be living on a flat planet. The great
challenging idea has not been political or rhetorical but rather
based on facts and method. Galileo and Pasteur were outsiders pushing
new ideas, they were radical and challenged the scientific community,
but, in the end, they succeeded because they had facts and method
that couldn't be denied.
However, the opponents to biotechnology only have politics, and often
only bad facts. To abandon their facts is to abandon their politics,
and this, I am afraid, they will likely never do.
Also, thought the piece by the President of Unilever was interesting.
Doesn't Unilever own Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream? If he wants a fresh
start and a search for truth and information, maybe he should take a
close look at some of his subsidiary organizations.
- Thanks, G. Forrer
FAO - BiotechNews
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
wishes to announce the launching of FAO-BiotechNews, an e-mail list
containing news and events items that are relevant to applications of
biotechnology in food and agriculture in developing countries. We
invite you to subscribe to this list.
The aim of FAO-BiotechNews is to inform policy makers and technical
decision-makers about current developments and issues in agricultural
biotechnology, with a particular emphasis on developing countries, as
well as to inform scientists of the wider
policy/regulatory/agricultural development aspects of their work. The
news and events items will focus on FAO's work and the work of its
main United Nations (UN) and non-UN partners. Each update will
contain a small number of short items (roughly 4-6 lines) and, where
relevant and possible, a weblink and/or e-mail address will be
provided for each item to allow users to get further information. The
list is free of charge and updates will be sent periodically (at
least once a month and at most once a week).
FAO-BiotechNews will cover the crop, forestry, animal, fishery and
agro-industrial sectors. For the purposes of this list, the term
biotechnology includes a range of different technologies, such as
gene manipulation and transfer; the use of molecular markers;
development of recombinant vaccines and DNA-based methods of disease
characterisation/diagnosis; in-vitro vegetative propagation of
plants; embryo transfer and other reproductive technologies in
animals or triploidisation in fish. The subject matter dealt with
will include the implications and importance of agricultural
biotechnology for food security, sustainable use of biodiversity, the
environment and food safety. It may also cover the socio-economical,
policy, technical, legal (including intellectual property rights) and
ethical aspects of agricultural biotechnology.
If you wish to subscribe please send an e-mail message to:
leaving the subject blank and entering the one-line text message as
No other text should be added to the message (e.g. mail signature)
FAO's mailserv facility will reject the subscription request.
- The Coordinator of FAO-BiotechNews,
Ethics and Public Perceptions of Biotechnology - Oxford 2002 Workshop
- Andrea Gondov, "efb.cbc"
'European Federation of Biotechnology Task Group on Public
Perceptions' is organizing the EU advanced workshop on biotechnology
ethics and public perceptions of biotechnology.
Oxford Course 2002 is an intensive, interactive workshop on various
aspects of biotechnology ethics and public perceptions of
biotechnology, communication and company strategy for biotechnology
PhD students, lecturers, postdoctoral fellows and industrial
researchers. The course can be taken as part of the European
Doctorate in Biotechnology study programme and is sponsored by the
European Commission." Details at:
International Workshop on Science, Technology And Sustainability
Harnessing Institutional Synergies ; Trieste, Italy; February 6-9
2002; Organized by the Third World Academy of Sciences, (Forwarded
by Klaus Ammann )
Workshop Co-conveners: Mohamed Hassan, Third World Academy of
Sciences; Calestous Juma, Harvard University; William Clark, Harvard
EU Research Funds: Call For Proposals on Plant Industrial Platform
The next deadline for submitting research proposals in the areas:
"Sustainable agriculture, Agro-Industry, Fisheries, Forestry",
"Bioethics and SocioEconomics", "Accompanying Measures" and "Research
Infrastructures" will be soon. For more information, write to
or Dr. Gert de Vries and
also see http://www.bart.nl/~pbp/pipfront.htm
Subscribe PIP NewsBrief at: http://www.terra-eu.org
Commoner's Anti-Biotech Con
Jan 17, 2002 http://www.consumerfreedom.com/
You'd think activist Barry Commoner would have learned a lesson from
his 1980 presidential campaign, when 99.7% of those who voted
rejected his left-wing message. But he's back, attacking genetic
improvement of foods in the new issue of Harper's magazine as
"unpredictable" and "catastrophic."
Commoner, a "scientist" who offers no new science in his article
(simply putting a spin on existing research), is hardly unbiased on
biotech. Commoner is a frequent figure at anti-technology
"biodevastation" protests where "direct action" against scientific
research groups is plotted and executed. Commoner has also appeared
at events organized by anti-consumer groups like Greenpeace, Friends
of the Earth, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
Northeast RAGE, and the Genetic Engineering Action Network.
Like many of these groups, Commoner receives foundation funding for
his technology trashing. To learn more about anti-consumer groups and
where they get their money, visit ActivistCash.com.
Achieving Sustainable Food Security for All: Required Policy Action
- Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Mansholt Lecture (Mansholt Graduate School).
Identifies the key driving forces that will influence the prospects
for sustainable food security in coming years and proposes a set of
high priority policy actions.
Download at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/articles/articles.htm
No Biological Apocalypse and Nothing to Avert
Dear Editor of 'Indian Express':
I refer to the article "A Biological Apocalypse Averted" by John
Robbins of the Third World Network Features in today's Indian Express
(Jan 17, 2002). The author simply invokes an untrue story on
Klebsiella, based on flawed scientific research and a faulty
interpretation to spread fear
of progress from using genetic technologies in agriculture. His
example of "the artificial sweetener saccharin...later found to be
carcinogenic" simply confirms the dubiousness of his arguments.
Saccharin has now been declared as safe for human consumption and
does not carry any warning label according to a recent directive of
the Food and Drug Administration of US.
Please look at the following letter and a story from Canada which
address this issue in a very comprehensive manner.
Yours, C. S. Prakash, Professor, Tuskegee University, USA
Klebsiella: Letter To The Editor
- Vancouver Sun. Jan. 9/02 Re: Food for Thought, January 7, 2002
Mia Stainsby's Jan 7th profile of author and environmentalist John
Robbins in 'Food for Thought' dregdes up almost every rumour about
the evils of genetically-engineered (GE) food spread during the last
decade. Most striking was the description of a GE bacteria that,
according to environmentalist David Suzuki, "could have ended all
plant life on this continent." Unfortunately, there was no mention of
the controversial origin of this claim. The GE bacteria at issue,
named Klebsiella planticola SDF20, was designed to make fuel-alcohol
from crop waste.
While the bacteria was in development, Professor Elaine Ingham of
Oregon State University and a Ph.D. student worked with the bacterium
and grew wheat plants in soil inoculated with the bacteria in an
eight week lab experiment, not a field experiment as Stainsby's
article stated. The plants growing with the bacteria died, and based
on this evidence, Ingham foresaw deadly global consequences. Ingham
gave testimony before New Zealandís Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification last year in which she asserted that the US
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had approved field trials of
the bacteria with little thought to the ecological consequences. She
alleged that her independent research had caused the EPA to cancel
field tests, averting possible environmental disaster.
"This could have been the single most devastating impact on human
beings since we would likely have lost corn, wheat, barley, vegetable
crops, trees, bushes, etc, conceivably all terrestrial plants" she
said. Greenpeace widely publicized her findings, but her comments
also drew close scrutiny from fellow scientists. A debate followed
and vital details came to light. Ingham was found to have been
mistaken or to have misled the Royal Commission. Firstly, she said
the EPA had approved field trials for the bacteria. Not true. There
was never an application to the EPA to do a field trial, and both
Ingham and Greenpeace were forced to issue 'clarifications' on this
point to the Royal Commission. Secondly, Ingham apparently falsified
a journal reference for her research. For academics, these
publications mark both their accomplishments and their integrity. The
paper was cited many times, complete with non-existent volume and
page numbers. Thirdly, her doomsday scenario was found utterly
indefensible by many of her colleagues including David Tribe, a
microbiologist from the University of Melbourne. With others, he
issued rebuttal testimony to the Royal Commission. In a written
statement they noted that many alcohol-producing Klebsiella
planticola varieties are found in nature, without harmful effects to
plants. They also stated that over the eight weeks of Ingham's
experiment the quantity of the bacteria in the soil decreased 1
million-fold, suggesting it had a poor capacity to survive in the
In summary Tribe and colleagues wrote "It is our opinion that Dr.
Ingham has presented inaccurate, careless and exaggerated information
to the Royal Commission; incorrectly interpreting published
scientific information and generating speculative doomsday scenarios
that are not scientifically supportable" Comments made by
environmentalist and author John Robbins, profiled in Stainsby's
article, suggest he has little awareness of Ingham's critics. Other
quotes attributed to Robbins in the article are misleading or simply
wrong. For instance, Bt corn is not engineered to be resistant to
herbicide, it is insect-resistant. Robbins' quote about Bt, "we're
eating a substance toxic to caterpillars, we're not sure if it's
toxic to people" is perplexing, since he is a proponent of organic
Organic farmers spray Bt bacteria on their crops as a pesticide - the
very same bacteria that contributed the Bt gene used to make Bt corn.
Last fall the EPA re-registered Bt corn varieties for another seven
years. Their report suggested Bt corn may be healthier than
conventional corn for two reasons: the Bt trait has reduced pesticide
use, especially on fields of sweet corn (corn-on-the-cob), and Bt
corn has lower levels of mycotoxins (toxic compounds produced by a
corn disease) than conventional corn. Another inflammatory and
baseless quote from Robbins was that people 'eat weedkiller' when
they eat Roundup-ready genetically-engineered crops. Roundup is a
herbicide applied on both conventional and GE crops. It is preferred
by growers in part because it is safer and more biodegradeable than
other herbicides. Robbins' quote "when genes shuttle between wide
varieties of species, they can take with them genetic parasites such
as viruses" is deceptive.
When plants are genetically-engineered, researchers carefully choose
the gene sequences they want to move. It is true that a common
sequence used in GE plants originated with the cauliflower mosaic
virus, but it is used intentionally, it is not an interloper. The
plant virus is routinely found (and safely eaten) on broccoli.
Krista Thomas, research assitant, Food Safety Network
Douglas Powell, scientific director, Food Safety Network, dept. of
plant agric, Univ of Guelph.
Food For Thought: The Case For GM Foods: UBC Prof, Health Canada
Disagree With Robbins
- Mia Stainsby, The Vancouver Sun, Jan 7, 2002 (Via Agnet)
According to this accompanying story, not everyone shares John
Robbins' abhorrence of genetically modified food. Brian Ellis, a
plant bio-technology professor in the faculty of agricultural
sciences at the University of B.C., was quoted as saying, "It's a
question of risks and benefits," and that a major benefit of GM
technology is it can create more productive agriculture, tailoring
plants so they perform better in our current food production system.
Ellis was cited as saying he does not agree with arguments that
Roundup, which is sprayed on crops with Roundup resistant genes, has
health impacts, adding, "There is no evidence. It's a herbicide that
tends to break down quite quickly. It's considered the most benign of
herbicides out there." Farmers like GM seeds, he says. They're paying
higher prices for the seeds but spending less on pest and weed
Ellis states that, "A lot of inflammatory language is being used and
I don't think it's justified. I'm not saying there aren't any
problems with it but there's a lot of fear-mongering going on." On
the matter of genes crossing species barriers, he says there is no
sacred barrier. "Gene transfer has been going on over billions of
years. It just hasn't been on a massive scale." Contrary to
allegations, GM crops are regulated for nutritional quality, he says.
"Health Canada does look at nutritional levels." He does not believe
Bt genes are harmful to humans. "You can spray it from an airplane
and people don't drop dead on the street. It's a very specific toxin
that acts on a particular species of insects." The story says that
Ellis does, however, believe insects will develop resistance,
stating, "The companies say they've got another gene waiting and they
won't have a problem staying ahead of insect resistance. What makes
me uneasy about that strategy is, it leaves them in control of the
modified versions." While science can't predict outcomes with GM
foods, that's the case with every new technology, he says. "But given
current screening and testing methods, the risk to human health and
environment is pretty small with existing GMO technologies."
He says the intention of GM crops was never to feed the world. The
irony is, it sells in the most efficient farming market in the world.
On the matter of labelling GM foods, he feels it's a non-starter,
stating, "The reality is 95 per cent of consumers don't read labels.
They go straight for the price. For all the noise people make about
aspartame, it's consumed in millions of tonnes every year by people
who can read the label. The fact is, the noise on the street doesn't
affect purchasing habits." He says Europeans find it easier to reject
GM foods because their farms are not as industrialized as in North
America. "They're small production family farms, heavily subsidized
because from a European perspective, it's important to maintain those
social structures." The major problem with GM crops right now, he
says, is that they weren't introduced in a way that was sensitive to
Everyone agrees that the way it was introduced and handled was an
unmitigated disaster." This is a question of risks and benefits, he
says. "That's the irony. Producers reap the benefits and consumers
inherit the risk." Health Canada would not comment on health aspects
of GM foods despite repeated requests. According to their Web site,
"After five years of reviewing the safety of novel foods [which
includes GM foods], Health Canada is not aware of any published
scientific evidence demonstrating that novel foods are any less safe
than traditional foods. The regulatory framework put in place by the
federal government ensures that new and modified foods can be safely
introduced into the Canadian diet. Safety assessment approaches are
well established to address the potential risks associated with
foods." On the matter of possible long term health effects, it says
GM foods pose no greater risk than conventional goods. "Therefore,
there is no current evidence to indicate that long-term studies are
needed to ensure the safety of food produced using this technology."
Tuberculosis and Antibiotic Resistance
- C. S. Prakash, Current Science, Vol. 82, No. 1, p17-18. Jan 10,
2002 (Commentary) http://www.iisc.ernet.in/~currsci/contents.htm
Recently, several Indian newspapers have carried stories on the
impact of 'Bt-cotton gene on tuberculosis (TB)' alleged by
Greenpeace, because of the presence of the antibiotic marker gene in
these crops. Here, I analyse this risk issue from the use of
genetically modified cotton, based on the published literature.
Bt-cotton is a genetically enhanced cotton variety that provides
protection against damage by Lepidopteran insect pests of cotton.
Doreen Stabinsky, a scien-tific advisor to Greenpeace International
recently claimed (Times of India, 2 Nov. 2001) that products (fibre,
animal feed, cotton-seed oil) from Bt-cotton plants can lead to an
increase in the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
including those that cause TB and gonorrhoea. She implied that the
antibiotic resistance gene (aad) present in the Bt-cotton genome
could be transferred to pathogenic bacteria that cause these
diseases, making them resistant to drug therapy.
However, critical scientific review of the facts makes it clear that
there is no evidence that such a transfer could occur. Furthermore,
there are many studies demonstrating that resistance to the spe-cific
antibiotics is relatively common in these disease-causing bacteria.
Therefore, there is no additional risk associated with growing or
using Bt-cotton or products of these plants. Additionally, there are
many environmental and safety benefits asso-ciated with the use of
Bt-cotton compared to traditional cotton, like higher yields,
reduction in use of chemical pesticides and safety to non-target
organisms, that include beneficial insects, birds, fish and mammals,
General studies by academic scientists and regulatory advisory groups
have been undertaken to estimate the potential risks and determine
whether the antibiotic resistance genes encoded by DNA from
genetically engineered plants could trans-fer to any species of
bacteria in the field, or in the animals or humans that might eat the
plant products. There are two mechanisms by which antibiotic
resis-tance genes can be transferred into strains of bacteria that do
not already contain these genes.
The first is by direct DNA transfer from a different but related
bacterium that is resistant through either conjugation, a kind of
mating of bacteria, or by specific infection of the bacteria by
bacteria-specific viruses that can transfer DNA between bacteria.
Such methods are efficient but restricted to certain kinds of
bacteria, including many pathogens. The second is by general uptake
of free DNA from the environment. This method is inefficient compared
to the first one and rarely occurs in bacteria outside the
laboratory. The second method is the only one by which resistance
could be transferred from plants to bacteria, and as studied by many
scientists, is very unlikely to occur. Such a transfer would be much
less frequent than transfers of DNA between bacteria . An important
consideration is the availability of intact genes (DNA) in proximity
to the bacteria.
The bacteria that cause TB and gonorrhea only grow in humans, in some
animals or in the laboratory. Since the DNA in cotton is severely
degraded and removed by washing and processing in making the various
cotton products (oil, cotton fibre and especially products used for
feminine hygiene or surgical dress-ings), it is extremely unlikely
that these bacteria would be in contact with the DNA in Bt-cotton.
Therefore it is even less likely that these bacteria could become
resistant to antibiotics because of the presence of these genes in
the cotton plants.
Different advisory groups in the World Health Organization and the
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations reviewed
available data in 1993 and in 2000 and determined that there is no
evidence that such a transfer is scientifically likely to occur and
pose a risk to consumers or the environment. The opinion of the
European Commission's Scientific Committee on Plants was clear that
the possibility of transferring either the nptII gene (kanamycin
resistance) or the aad gene (streptomycin resistance) from Bt-cotton
to bacteria is extremely small. Furthermore, in the unlikely event
that such a transfer may occur, no additional risk would be involved,
as many bacteria are already resistant to these antibiotics .
TB is a serious, common disease caused by an infection of
Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and is usually focused in the lungs. It
is estimated that there are more than 8 million new infections every
year, worldwide. The bacteria causing the infections are frequently
resistant to antibio-tics because they carry genes for multiple drug
resistance, making the disease very difficult or impossible to treat.
Results of hundreds of studies have been published about the
antibiotic resis-tance of the TB bacterium, including many in India.
While the number of cases of antibiotic-resistant TB is increasing,
it was noted in the 1980s and 1990s that resistance was common in
India. Doctors in Chennai studied more than 3000 TB patients over six
months of antibiotic treatment in 1989 and found that 31% of the
survivors still had active infections, with 65% resistant to the
antibiotic isoniazid, 12% to rifampicin and 19% to streptomycin.
Testing for antibiotic resistance in 150 strains of M. tuber-culosis
isolated from TB patients in east Delhi demonstrated that many
patients had bacteria resistant to one or more antibiotics, including
streptomycin. Drug resistance is higher in those who have received
antibiotic therapy and the specific pattern of resistance does vary
with time and medical practice.
A study of patients in Mumbai, with recoverable tuberculin-type
bacteria in sputum sam-ples, indicated that 53% were infected with TB
resistant to streptomycin and 25% resistant to kanamycin, as well as
variable resistance to other antibiotics. Similar results were
obtained by Varaiya and Gogate at another hospital in Mumbai, and by
Mathur et al., in the Jodhpur district. International health-care
studies have demonstrated that in many TB patients, bacteria that are
resistant to one drug are resistant to three or four anti-biotics and
that the incidence of multi-drug- resistant tuberculosis is
increasing due to ineffective treatment, often because the patient
does not take the full course of the prescribed dose of antibiotics
during the first months of treatment. It is clear that the common
finding of streptomycin and kanamycin-resistant M. tuberculosis in TB
patients in the late 1980s and early 1990s occurred long before any
genetically engineered crops were grown anywhere in the world.
While most strains of bacteria that cause gonorrhoea (Neisseria
gonorrhoea), an important sexually transmitted disease, are
susceptible to streptomycin or kana-mycin, resistant strains have
been reported . Since the DNA in cotton-fibre products that would
likely be in contact with the bacteria has either been damaged or
removed by washing and processing of the fibre, the probability of
transferring resistance from the plant to the bacteria is remote.
Further, genes that cause anti-biotic resistance to streptomycin and
kana-mycin are present in many other species of bacteria in the
environment. Therefore the bacteria causing either TB or gonor-rhoea
are much more likely to become resistant through contact with those
The information that is available from a large number of important
studies, demonstrates that growing Bt-cotton in India or anywhere
else in the world and using products derived from this crop will be
safe and will not have any effect on the incidence of antibiotic
resistant-bacteria that cause either TB or gonorrhoea.
In summary, Bt-cotton has been grown commercially in the US and
Australia since 1996, Mexico and South Africa since 1997, and China
and Argentina since 1998. There have been no reports of increased
incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause either TB or
gonorrhoea, which can be attributed to the production of Bt-cotton in
these countries. Also, several agricultural and environmental
benefits have been realized by commercial use of Bt-cotton varieties
that include reduced chemical insecticide treatments for target
pests, highly effective pest control, increased yields and increased
population of beneficial organisms in cotton.
See References at http://www.iisc.ernet.in/~currsci/contents.htm
C. S. Prakash is at Tuskegee University, Milbank Hall, Center for
Plant Biotechnology Research, Tuskegee, AL 36088, USA (e-mail: