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February 15, 2002


Precautionary Principle, Ultra and Golden Rice,


Today in AgBioView:

* Re: AGBIOVIEW: Extract from Commission communication COM(2000)1 on the precautionary principle
* Re:.Rick and Bob are right!
* UltraRice and GoldenRice
* Bt Corn Not a Threat to Monarchs

Date: 16 Feb 2002 01:21:05 -0000
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Extract from Commission communication COM(2000)1 on the precautionary principle

I have seen a lot of worthless garbage written about the Precautionary Principle, but this takes the cake in the category of verbose inanity. The proper test of any new technology is a comparison to the current state of the art. The ONLY relevant question is: "Does this improve on what we have now?"

"AgBioView from AgBioWorld.org" wrote:

> Extract from Commission communication COM(2000)1 on the precautionary
> 6.3. The general principles of application
> The general principles are not limited to application of the
precautionary principle. They apply to all risk management measures. An
approach inspired by the

Date: 15 Feb 2002 17:42:15 -0000
From: "Tom DeGregori"
Subject: Re:.Rick and Bob are right!

Rick Roush and Bob MacGregor are right!

1) Unlike wheat which involves a few countries supplying the rest of the world witht heir surplus, over 90% of the rice produced in the world is consumed in the country in which it is produced. It is likely that over 70% of the rice is eaten in the region within the country within which it is grown and over half of all rice production is eaten on the farm where it is grown. Those most in need of fortification are the children in families engaged in subsistence agriculture. Poor children in urban areas are likely to be already eating some fortified foods in their diet (fortiified wheat in their chapatis for example) and would certainly benefit from any Ultra fortification.

2) Those of us favoring vitamin A rice are not oppossed to Ultra fortification. We are strongly supportive of it but recognize that it cannot reach many of those most in need. So why are Red and Greenpeace opposed to using every strategy available to reach those in need rather than relying on a single "magic bullet"? Since the original discovery of vitamins (vital amines) in 1912, we have succesfully used a multiplicity of strategies promoting both diversity in diets and fortifying foods - vitmain D in milk for example. We still do today as OBs still stress the importance of a balanced diet to pregnant women but also prescibe a multivitamin and possibly an additional vitamin or two. Isn't it strange that Red and Green ( I hate to add "peace" to their name as it is so contrary to all that they espouse) have discovered the virtues of fortification when it is ultra but not when it is transgenic.

3) Between 2 to 3 billion people in Asia eat some rice everyday and for most of them, a delivery system to fortify the rice that they eat will be very difficault and expensive if it is even possible. For some of the poor subsistence farmers and their families, rice provides over 70% of their daily calories. Since rice is not calorically dense, this means that it provides way over 70% of their daily subsistence by weight. To the hungry, volume has importance after calories and nutrition.

4) Anyone who has worked in a village in say, Bangladesh where one goes along an narrow, elevated path to a village on a small elevated portion of land over the rice paddies, will know that every square inch of space is taken up with very modest (and overcrowded houses) and what few fruit trees that the villagers can find room for. It is racist in the extreme foe a bunch of white, northern European males who run Green (peace) or similar organizations to tell the people of these poor areas that they need to eat more mangoes or even green leafy vegetables.(Why not let them eat cake?) Believe me, they know that they need more diversity and they would like to have it. Even where there were exploitable possibilities for more vegetable production (thanks to the Green Revolution), it has been found that the bio-availabilty of the vitamins is sometimes only one third of what was thought to be available. Those of us who have been out in the fields and villages working with farmers trying to find a spot or two in the growing season for even an oil seed crop, know how hard it is to be able to come up with a set of crops that meet all their caloric and nutritional needs. Red, it angers some of us with field experience to have someone go online, find one project where there was obviously some land available for diversification and then procalim the universal validity of this approach. Some of us have been involved in projects such as these and strongly favor them but recognize their impossibility in many other even more critical areas. (as an aside - I have just downloaded the new Greenpeace report on the global viabilty of organic agriculture - The Real Green Revolution - and note that neither author lists any field experience even in the UK - I shall read it this weekend.)

5) Because of the above, virtually everyone seriously involved in various agricultural issues in Asia, recognized the need for varieties of rice that produced in the field more vitamin A and more accessible iron. This was ecognized long before any issue of transgenics or Monsanto or any multi-national country emerged. Rockefeller Foundation, these companies, researchers such as Potykus and Beyer and others were responding to what was long recognized as a critical need. To say or in any way imply that they or the rest of us are promoting "golden rice" for any other reason than the nutritional needs of some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable human beings is obscene and despicable, particularly when it comes from those who have no track record of seeking to help those in need. To claim a high moral ground for opposing programs to help the poor is even more immoral as it is to use this opposition to garner publicity to raise money and increase membership.

From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: UltraRice and GoldenRice
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2002 10:31:53 -0600

>From: "Red Porphyry" >Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Purple rice and Ultra fortification

Responding to Red Prophyry,

Golden Rice is about the human ingenuity of a scientific team led by a Swiss, Ingo Potrykus. This scientific team used their knowledge to develop a rice variety that offers great benefits for many people, especially poor people. From all I have read, they did this as good citizens of the world, to benefit the world. I assume they were quite aware that investment money, markets, food texture/quality and numerous other factors would be important in deciding the impact that their discovery would ultimately have.

What they did not deserve and do not deserve is the ideologically driven campaigns built on falsehood and political agendas that retard their work and slander their reputations. I also do not believe that they deserve dismissive arrogance.

Bob McGregor and Rick Roush have made excellent points. UltraRice and Golden Rice are completely compatible and not necessarily competing technologies. I wrote in my first response and I reiterate that we should encourage both UltraRice and GoldenRice.

I would guess that UltraRice will feed urban people -- i.e. people who purchase their food in the market but who are poor and thus do not get an adquate diet (i.e. micronutrients) from the food that they can afford.

I would guess that GoldenRice will feed rural people -- i.e. people who grow their own food and who do not participate in the food market in urban centers. These rural people need a source of micro-nutrients. So long as governments allow or promote agricultural biotechnology through distribution of non-patented seeds of GoldenRice bred into local varieties by IRRI and others, these poor have been given easy and continuing access to a better (maybe even adequate) diet.

I can certainly understand why Asian governments, as good policy, might decide to mandate fortification of rice with micro-nutrients. I consider it unwise policy, however, to issue a mandate that would exclude fortification technologies other than UltraRice. Governments, like people, cannot forsee the future, nor anticipate the ingenuity of humans. Mandating a specific technology is unwise policy. Although UltraRice does have about a 15 year head-start, and is a worthwhile technology, 45 rpm records had at least a 15 year head start and were replaced by 78 long-play records, and on and on to the Internet delivery of music today. There was nothing wrong morally or economically with 45 rpm record technology but human ingenuity invented other technologies that met human demands/needs even better. What would have been morally and economically wrong? Scientifically ignorant, politically-motivated, and morally-questionable campaigns that prohibited or retarded human ingenuity would have been wrong, unwise, and harmful to humanity.

I do not know what the future holds. I do know for a fact that scientists in public and private research, investors, companies (start-up and established, small capital and multinational) are putting significant effort and money into agricultural biotechnology vaccines, nutrients, and medicines from crops and animals. Maybe Red will prove correct as a futurist that these agricultural biotechnology techniques will not prove as efficient nor as effective as other techniques. However, we can only know this result if, in a free society that allows and encourages human ingenuity, we do not permit scientific ignorance and political repressiveness to control the agenda for the future.

Best regards to all AgBioView readers,



Bt Corn Not a Threat to Monarchs

Last summer, when entomologist Mark K. Sears was researching whether Bt corn posed a risk to monarch butterflies, he noticed that two monarchs had hit his car's windshield as he drove to test fields around Ontario, Canada.

"That's probably more monarchs than were lost that day because of Bt corn, according to findings in our studies," says Sears, with the Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph.

Sears is part of a group of scientists coordinated and partially funded by the Agricultural Research Service who have spent 2 years investigating whether Bt corn is a threat to monarch butterflies.

Bt corn contains genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis so that the plant will produce proteins to protect itself against insect pests such as the European corn borer. This reduces the amount of insecticide farmers need to apply. Since Bt corn was introduced to the marketplace, use of the insecticides recommended for European corn borer control has decreased from 6 million acre treatments to slightly over 4 million in 1999, a drop of about one-third, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although Bt corn was approved in 1995, new concern about possible risk was raised when a note published in a May 1999 issue of Nature suggested that Bt corn could harm monarch butterflies when the caterpillars were given no choice but to feed on milkweed leaves heavily coated with Bt corn pollen.

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on leaves of milkweed plants, which grow in and around cornfields. But during the 1 to 2 weeks a year that corn pollen is shed, it can be blown onto the milkweed leaves.

In response, ARS organized a series of workshops that encouraged butterfly biologists, corn researchers, ecologists, entomologists, and other experts to work together to determine whether a risk actually existed. During a February 2000 workshop, a group of scientists from government, universities, industry, and environmental groups prioritized specific research needs. The idea was to ensure that all the most important questions were covered. In addition to funds already assigned, ARS contributed $100,000 to a grant pool, which was then matched by industry, to fund the research.

The collaborations established at the workshops continued throughout the research process. For example, the group agreed early on to use similar experimental designs and methods, such as how to handle the pollen. This ensured that data collected by different scientists would be compatible.

"Being able to pool data gave us much larger, more reliable sample sizes, so we could develop the best scientific answers to the question of risk," says ARS entomologist Richard L. Hellmich, with the Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit, Ames, Iowa. Hellmich was the lead ARS scientist on the project.

Cooperation even extended to how the research was published. All the researchers funded from the special grant pool got together and divided the data into logical sections and agreed to submit all manuscripts together to a single scientific journal. Publishing the exposure, toxicity, and risk-analysis studies at one time in one journal provided the most complete picture possible of whether any risk actually existed.

Two Big Questions

To determine whether the concern about Bt corn was valid, two major questions needed to be scientifically answered: "Exactly how much Bt pollen does it take to cause toxic effects in monarch caterpillars, and what are the chances caterpillars will encounter that dose under natural conditions?" Hellmich says.

First, the scientists assessed the feeding behavior of monarch larvaeócaterpillarsóto see whether Bt's presence on milkweed leaves influenced their weight and survival. Pollen from six Bt corn typesóBT11, MON810, CBH351, DBT418, TC1507, and BT176ówas tested along with no-pollen and non-Bt-corn-pollen controls.

"We looked at larval weight and larval survival and found it took large amounts of pollen to get any statistically significant effect," Hellmich says.

Eating leaves with pollen coating densities below 1,000 grains/cm2 had no effect on caterpillars' weight or survival rate. Above 1,000 grains/cm2, caterpillars were smaller than those from the control treatments, but their survival rate was no different from that of controls.

One type of Bt cornóBT176ódid show some harm to larvae at pollen levels of 10 grains/cm2. BT176 was the earliest Bt corn developed and was quickly supplanted by other types. It has never been planted on more than 2 percent of all corn acres and is likely to be completely phased out by 2003.

Once the scientists knew how much Bt corn pollen it took before monarch caterpillars showed any ill effect, the second question was how often are they exposed to pollen levels above 1,000 grains/cm2 under natural conditions?

To find out, the researchers established corn pollen density and distribution patterns on milkweed leaves near cornfields. Hellmich's team set up lines of collecting devices at seven different fields, from the edge of the field to 600 feet away, in all four compass directions.

The researchers measured pollen deposition three ways. They put out tubes holding cuttings of milkweed stems with two leaves, whole potted milkweed plants, and microscope slides coated with glycerin. Sampling lasted about 10 daysócovering peak pollen production periods.

"We found that, on average, less than 30 percent of the pollen that corn produces ends up on milkweed leaves, even when conditions are perfect, and most of that gets deposited on milkweed within the cornfield," Hellmich says of his field studies in Iowa.

In Ontario, Sears conducted similar field studies of pollen deposition and found the same pattern. Other pollen studies by University of Maryland and University of Nebraska researchers also confirmed the pattern and extent of pollen distribution.

Data pooled from Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland, and Ontario showed that the average Bt corn pollen density on milkweed leaves inside cornfields was about 170 grains/cm2, and it rarely went above 600 grains/cm2.

"These pollen densities mean monarch caterpillars inside cornfields will encounter pollen levels exceeding 1,000 grains/cm2óthe lowest observable effect doseóless than 1 percent of the time," Hellmich points out.

Many factors contribute to keeping pollen density low. Corn pollen is relatively heavy, so it doesn't blow far; higher milkweed leaves tend to shelter lower leaves; and rain washes pollen off of milkweed leaves easily, Hellmich says.

Given the low toxicity of Bt corn pollen and the low rates of exposure, the effect of Bt corn pollen from common commercial hybrids on monarch butterfly populations is negligible. "Furthermore, you need to compare the potential for risk to monarchs from Bt corn with the alternative, which is chemical insecticide use," Hellmich says.óBy J. Kim Kaplan, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff

This research is part of Crop Protection and Quarantine, an ARS National Program (#304) described on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov.

Richard L. Hellmich is in the USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames, IA; phone (515) 294-4509, fax (515) 294-2265.


Toxic Anthers

When Hellmich and his colleagues began their Bt corn/monarch butterfly laboratory studies, they encountered a much higher level of Bt protein in the pollen than expected. They checked several possible explanations, including inspecting their methods for pollen collecting and preparation.

"We found that some of the pollen we were using in our tests was contaminated by ground-up or fractured anthers," Hellmich says. Anthersóthe organs at the end of plant stamens that produce pollenóhave a much higher level of Bt protein than does pollen itself. "But simply passing the pollen through a fine screen before using it removed the anthers," he adds.

The problem of anther contamination may explain the toxic results in some earlier studies, Hellmich points out. But that left the question of whether caterpillars might eat the high-Bt-containing anthers under natural conditions.

"Anthers have commonly been found on milkweed leaves within cornfields, but none of them were fractured. Fractured anthers appear to be an artifact of pollen processing in the laboratory," Hellmich says.

Then they looked at caterpillar-anther interaction. "Our preliminary results show that small larvae avoid anthers. With the size difference, it would be like a person trying to eat a city bus," Hellmich points out. "Wind and rain also readily dislodge anthers from milkweed leaves, making it less likely that caterpillars will encounter anthers."

"Bt Corn Not a Threat to Monarchs" was published in the February 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.



Meating Place
By Dan Murphy
February 15, 2002

Count on the Aussies to tell it like it is, mate.

The Australia-New Zealand Food Authority is supporting the safety of genetically modified foods, saying they are as wholesome as their natural counterparts and free of danger, according to the Australian Associated Press. The acting managing director of the ANZFA, Greg Roche, said scientific studies showed that genetically modified (GM) foods are safe and free of allergenicity. He said that despite concerns raised by GM opponents, there is no evidence showing any health risks relating to genetically modified foods. "I can say with some certainty that we know more about the genetic make-up of these GM foods than any other food in the food supply," he said. „I can also say with certainty that the scientific evidence shows that the GM foods studied and recommended for approval are no more allergenic or toxic than their conventional counterparts, and are just as nutritious.¾ The Australian authority's backing came as the Royal Society of Great Britain issued its own study that found no scientific evidence to back assertions that GM foods posed a health threat to consumers.

The authority issued for public comment two new proposals to market GM foods:

Monsanto is seeking approval for GM corn, and Aventis is seeking approval to sell GM canola oil. Both products have been genetically modified to make them resistant to herbicides; the GM corn is also resistant to an insect pest. Both GM foods are grown outside of Australia and would be contained in processed food. Roche said the food authority had received 23 applications for GM food, of which 12 had been approved, four were pending ministerial approval, five were out for public consultation, and two had been withdrawn. In its report, Britain's Royal Society said there was no evidence to back the claims of GM opponents. Claims that the DNA of GM foods could pose a health threat did not stack up, especially as humans consumed a huge range of DNA material every day, the society said. It also found the risk of increased allergic reactions because of introduced DNA in GM foods was the same as that in natural plants. In fact, the biggest benefits offered by GM products appeared to be in plants which were enhanced to offer better nutrition.