Today in AgBioView - Feb 25, 2002
* Why Greenpeace Should See Green on GM Food
* Milking The Public's Food Fears: Protesting Starbucks -- Coffee, Tea
* Biotech Soybeans Help Soil Quality, Industry Says
* Wheat May Prevent Colon Cancer: GM Wheat Could Prove Effective
* Frankenfood' Labelling Rift
* US Team to Meet with China on GMO Policy - Veneman
Why Greenpeace Should See Green on GM Food
- Greg Pence, Birmingham News, Feb 24, 2002
Once upon a time, I thought that Greenpeace was an honorable
organization, that organic food surpassed genetically-modified food
in nutrition and safety, and that genetically-modified crops --such
as Bt corn -- posed substantial risks to the environment. Two years
of research changed my views, making me older and wiser.
Take Greenpeace. As on "Seinfield," we think of Greenpeacers as
heroes risking their lives before evil whaling ships. But in recent
years, Greenpeace has championed a high-minded environmental purity
in England and Europe that puts millions, maybe billions, of humans
at risk, opposing both Golden Rice that might cure river blindness
and the "dumping" of Bt corn on starving people.
Greenpeace has now abandoned all pretense of basing its views on
science and has succumbed to a purity-of-the-land ideology. It backs
Europe's view that GM crops and food should be prohibited not because
of evidence of danger but for logical possibility of danger. (It is
logically possible, but extremely unlikely, that the universe will
implode tomorrow.) So disgusted was Greenpeace, International founder
Patrick Moore by this anti-scientific turn that in 2000 he quit.
Alliances with Green parties in Europe resulted in spectacular
victories, such as a new law requiring the Dutch government to fund
Greenpeace. Other alliances, with organic food growers and
protectionist food organizations in France and England, created a
juggernaut against GM food. Greenpeace's further argument that GM
food would "McDonaldize" Europe gave it a winning hand.
What put Greenpeace in the game was mad cow disease, which scared the
British and Europeans in the 1990s after they learned, shockingly,
that their meat had become infected when their cattle were secretly
fed brains of dead animals. Then Monsanto erred greatly in secretly
introducing potato chips, corn, and soybeans that contained GM
varieties into these countries. Unsurprisingly, Europeans did not
embrace the news that their salads and potatoes might have been
altered in some way they didn't understand.
At this juncture, Greenpeace could've explained that hybrids have
been created for centuries, that scientists tested GM foods more than
any food in history, and that GM crops can help the environment.
Instead, it chose to be alarmist.
Health food stores sell all kinds of herbs, minerals, and supplements
that have not been tested and for which no one has to report any
unexplained deaths. Hybrids such as tangelos or super-broccoli mix
thousands of genes, but no one screams "Danger!" from the rooftops
about them. GM food only has a few, carefully controlled genes
inserted, which are well-understood.
What causes problems in people are proteins: we know the proteins
that cause food intolerance and allergic reactions. Any food that has
such a protein should be labeled, whether created by gene insertion
or sold as an organic supplement.
Field trials of GM crops, which could've proven GM crops to be safe
or dangerous, have been burned down over a hundred times in Europe by
Greenpeace and other radical environmental groups. Dozens of similar
terrorist acts have occurred in North America. Recently, and for the
second time in two years, the Earth Liberation Front burned down
agricultural buildings at the University of Minnesota where GM crops
were being studied.
Into this conspiracy against GM crops entered associations of growers
of organic food, who profit immensely each time people fear new
dangers in their food. Organic vendors implied that their foods are
best for the environment, but is this true?
Organic crops are fertilized with manure, which, if it already
exists, is a good way to dispose of manure. But what if billions of
people needed to grow food organically? Where would all this new
manure come from? Billions of new cattle would need to be created.
Organic crops, not using chemical fertilizers, also need a lot of
land to grow. That means, to feed a billion more people, cutting down
rainforests or plowing under pastures. On a planetary scale, organic
crops are not sustainable.
Nor are they good for human labor. Prince Charles can afford a dozen
people to tend his organic produce, but can most of us? And the
organic food is harvested usually by cheap migrant labor. Not a food
future I want to see.
Nor is organic produce perfectly safe. A very dangerous form of E.
coli, O157: H7, aka "the hamburger bacteria," has sickened people who
drank unpasteurized apple juice; various forms of organic produce
may also be contaminated with remnants of manure. In contrast, no one
has ever been sickened from GM food.
Ironically, the "Bt" in "Bt corn" stands for bacillus thuringiensis,
which can be sprayed on food that is labeled organic. This same safe
stuff, as a gene, is what is added inside Bt corn. But it is not as
if nothing like that is put on organic corn.
Anti-GM food zealots push a lot of bad science.
The names of so-called scientists who attack GM food reads like a
"who's who" of malcontents who hate capitalism, hate America, or
fanatics who value environments over people (Edward Abbey: "I'd
rather shoot a man than a rattlesnake.") On the other hand, Nobel
Prize winners and the National Academy of Sciences endorse the safety
and environmental benefits of GM crops.
Behind all this lies a much graver danger. In a recent poll, two
thirds of North Americans agreed that, "The environment should be
protected at all costs." That statement should be critically examined.
The Third Reich glorified the purity of "blood and soil," the pure
Alpine air, the German volk, and considered Jews to be "weeds."
Hitler and some of his cabinet officers were vegetarians who pushed a
national program of converting industrial farms into organic farms.
This should warn us that other things may be masked by
In my heart, I believe GM crops will be good for humanity, especially
people in developing countries. I've suspect that environmental
elitists care too much about the biodiversity that might create
medicines and that sustains eco-tourism, but too little about how
starving people can grow their own food. I'm saddened by how the
reasonable, evidence-based arguments of advocates of GM crops
disappear in the media under the sleazy, alarmist tactics of
Gregory Pence is a professor of bioethics in the philosophy
department and medical school at the University of Alabama at
Birmingham and recently published "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or
Breadbasket of the World?" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
Milking The Public's Food Fears: Protesting Starbucks -- Coffee, Tea or
- San Francisco Chronicle, Editorial Page, Feb 24 2002
Don't expect Starbucks' founder Howard Schultz to show up anytime
soon in a "Got Milk?" commercial. His company, accused of spiking
lattes with "tainted" milk, faces a nasty spectacle at its coming
Demonstrations are planned Feb. 26 at more than 400 Starbucks in six
countries, with San Francisco and Seattle as major targets. At issue:
the company's milk policy. While innocent consumers might be silly
enough to believe milk is good for you, a coalition of activists
claims the opposite. According to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic
Consumers Association, as much as 90 percent of American milk is
"contaminated" with "pus, bacteria, and antibiotics."
True? Not according to Consumer Reports and virtually every medical
research and health group that has studied the issue. According to
the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. milk supply is regularly
tested for antibiotics and is perfectly safe.
But the Organic Consumers Association believes that the FDA is a
lackey for Corporate America, maintaining that the nation's milk
supply is polluted by being mixed with milk from cows treated with a
protein supplement known as recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST.
This controversy has been brewing for almost a decade -- since dairy
farmers discovered cows given rbST supplements produced more milk for
a longer time. That would seem to be good -- it means stable prices,
less feed and fuel expended, and environmental benefits from
lower-producing dairy herds.
The hitch is that the supplement was developed using a
bio-fermentation process. Although the process is similar to the
science used to produce beer and wine, and doesn't change the milk
produced, it involves biotechnology. According to activists, that
makes most of America's milk supply a "Frankenfood" -- and a mortal
threat. Starbucks is just a bit player and tactical target in this
As usual, anxiety has eclipsed the facts. "We believe it's dangerous
to animals and humans," says protest coordinator Simon Harris. Even
Michael Hansen, a scientist with Consumers Union (which publishes
Consumer Reports) and the most cited opponent of genetic engineering
in agriculture, acknowledges that "there is no conclusive evidence"
of danger. And Consumer Reports notes that numerous studies "have
concluded that milk from hormone-treated cows poses no appreciable
risk to humans."
But inflamed concerns over genetic engineering have prompted a number
of countries, including Canada and the European Union, to block the
use of the drug internally while allowing imports of food made from
the dozen or more countries that allow the use of rbST.
But, as Gene Kahn, founder of Cascadian Farm, a leading organic
grower, puts it: "Everyone talks about how environmentally
progressive our business is, and that's bull. The conventional food
industry, for all its faults, has higher levels of consumer
disclosure and ethics than organics."
If we follow the prescription of the activists, the entire organic
foods industry would have to shut down until it could guarantee
uniform and higher health and safety standards.
Smelling blood, anti-genetic engineering campaigners have come up
with an ingenious, if disingenuous, ploy -- calling on Starbucks and
other food companies to label products made with genetically
engineered ingredients. At first blush, this seems reasonable -- more
But in this highly charged situation, all sides acknowledge that a
label is akin to a "skull and cross bones," in the words of Arianne
Van Buren of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which
is spearheading the labeling resolution effort against some 30 other
companies. The economic effect of the labeling could be catastrophic.
"We expect that they won't want to risk alienating their customers
with labeling, so they'll eventually decide not to use any bio stuff
at all," agrees Michael Passoff of Sow Your Own, another anti-genetic
engineering investor group. As of today, the only alternative to
"tainted" conventional milk is organic milk, costing 50 to 100
Why pick on Howard Schultz? Because, writes Cummins in an Internet
missive, if activists get Starbucks to "surrender" and dump all food
that includes bio- ingredients, the really big fish -- food suppliers
like Kraft and the national grocery chains -- will roll over, too. In
other words, aim at a high-profile company like Starbucks that is
vulnerable to challenges to its reputation for being "socially
It has worked before. In November, Trader Joe's, a billion-dollar
upscale grocery chain "capitulated," in Cummins words, and pulled all
products known to have genetically engineered ingredients.
Starbucks' executives are trying to figure out how to pull the
company's beans out of this public relations bonfire but so far, they
have looked pretty hapless. More than a year ago, Starbucks embarked
down the path of surrender when it declared that it would soon
provide "safer milk" -- that did not come from cows treated with rbST.
That was like lighting a match to kerosene. As activists duly noted,
why was one of America's most noted brands callously risking its
customers' health by offering "less safe" milk?
Whether fears fueling this controversy are more foam than substance,
all sides agree that how Starbucks navigates the genetic engineering
debate will have considerable effect on the American dairy and
agriculture industries. Let's hope that Schultz and company recognize
that acting responsibly means rejecting extortionist threats and,
once and for all, rejecting hysteria as the measure of corporate
Jon Entine, http://www.jonentine.com, is a contributing author of
"Case Histories in Business Ethics: The Virtues and Moral Decision
Making in Business" [Routledge, 2002].
Biotech Soybeans Help Soil Quality, Industry Says
- Julie Ingwersen, Planet Ark, Feb 25, 2002
NASHVILLE - Genetically modified soybeans are promoting soil
conservation by allowing farmers to plow less, a biotechnology
industry group said. "Biotech is allowing farmers to practice more
conservation tillage," Linda Thrane, executive director of the
Council for Biotechnology Information, told reporters at the
Commodity Classic, the annual joint convention of the American
Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association.
With conservation tillage, farmers leave the plant residues from
harvested crops on the surface of the soil before planting again,
rather than plowing them under. The decaying organic matter puts
nutrients back in the soil and acts as a sponge for water, reducing
runoff from heavy rains and preserving moisture during drought.
The drawback is that weeds can thrive in unplowed fields. Farmers
have attacked that problem by using strong herbicides known as
glysophates, but these can pose a risk to crops as well as weeds.
Soybean varieties engineered to resist the herbicides, primarily
Monsanto Co.'s Roundup brand, were introduced in 1996 and quickly
grew popular, making up nearly 70 percent of the 2001 U.S. soybean
Soybean farmers have increased their use of conservation tillage in
recent years, Thrane said. She cited an American Soybean Association
survey last fall of 452 soybean growers in 19 key soybean states.
The growers doubled their no-till soybean acres between 1996 and 2001
to 49 percent of total soy acreage, and were practicing reduced
tillage on 33 percent of their fields, an increase of 25 percent
since 1996. Gene-altered varieties made up 74 percent of the
respondents' 2001 soybean crop, the survey said.
"Although farmers have been practicing con-till (conservation
tillage) long before the biotech crops, it has become a weed-control
resource that lets them do so even more, and with much more
confidence," Thrane said in an interview. The debate over the safety
of genetically modified crops has overshadowed some of their
environmental benefits, said Dan Towery of the nonprofit Conservation
Technology Information Center, which analyzed data from the ASA
survey and other studies.
"One of the reasons we did the study was for the ag and the non-ag
audience to recognize that there are some benefits from biotechnology
that are not readily apparent," Towery said. "Improved water quality,
less treatment costs at the water treatment plant, more wildlife when
they're driving in the countryside - those are some of the
intangibles, if you will."
Wheat May Prevent Colon Cancer: 'Genetically Modified Wheat Could
- BBC, Feb 23, 2002
Wheat may be a vital weapon in the fight against cancer and other
diseases, according to experts. Whole grain wheat contains powerful
antioxidants which may help to prevent colon cancer and possibly
diabetes and heart disease. Biochemists at Kansas State University,
who carried out the research, say the findings may enable them to
create modified wheat strains with high levels of cancer-fighting
Dr Dolores Takemoto, who co-ordinated the study, said: "We hope we
will be able to create a genetically modified plant.
High antioxidant levels mop up the free radicals. Dr Dolores
Takemoto, biochemist "We won't be modifying it to adapt to its
environment, like most genetically modified plants, but we will be
modifying it to produce more of its own cancer-fighting chemicals.
"We want to produce strains of wheat that are nutraceuticals, which
are higher quality grains that have enhanced amounts of these
antioxidants in them."
Antioxidants are important because they combat the body's free
radicals - charged particles, produced by the body, which can damage
cells. Dr Takemoto said: "Throughout life you make a lot of free
radicals. "You want to keep them from forming because they
contribute to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cataracts, even
wrinkling. "High antioxidant levels mop up the free radicals."
Vitamin supplements. Dr Takemoto and her colleagues are in the early
stages of developing wheat with high levels of orthophenols - a
chemical compound which acts as an antioxidant. A successful
modification could lead to wheat's ability to combat cancer by simply
including it in a daily diet. The biochemists are optimistic about
wheat's cancer-fighting ability because their preliminary testing
shows some available wheat strains already contain a great number of
But Cancer Research UK says studies to determine whether increased
intake of any particular food substance directly protects against
cancers and other diseases are notoriously complex. The charity
organisation suggests it is even more difficult to establish the
individual nutritional components that impart protective effects.
Fruit and veg. Science Information Officer Sara Hiom said: "These
scientists report that antioxidants, in addition to fibre, are
protective in whole grain wheat. "We agree that antioxidants can be
effective in reducing DNA damage that can lead to cancer.
"Cancer Research UK maintains that these antioxidants are best
consumed from a variety of natural sources such as vegetables and
fruit as well as whole wheat products." Antioxidants can be found in
several vitamins, including vitamins E and D, but research shows that
eating whole grain products and wheat germ is critical for the
antioxidants to be absorbed.
In the UK, there are approximately 20,000 new cases of bowel cancer
diagnosed every year. Only four out of ten patients are alive five
years later. Kansas produces about 16% of the US's total wheat yield
- the largest amount on a state by state comparison
Frankenfood' Labelling Rift
- Anne Dawson, The Toronto Sun, Feb 23, 2002 (Via Agnet)
Dr. Channapatna Prakash, a University of Alabama (sic) genetics
professor here to meet with justice department officials, was cited
as saying that genetically modified foods don't need labelling
because they are safer than their natural counterparts, and that
environmental groups and the organic food industry are responsible
for the hysteria over GM foods.
Prakash was further cited as saying GM goods have been stringently
tested for up to eight years in both Canada and the U.S. and that
while U.S. testing is strict, standards are even tougher in Canada,
adding, "These are much safer than ... conventional crops."
Greenpeace spokesman Pat Venditti was cited as saying the testing is
done by big corporations that have a financial interest at stake and
that governments use the corporate data to decide whether to approve
the food products, adding, "People have a right to know what they're
eating and ... a right to demand large corporations don't shove
things down their throats. No one knows what the long term ...
effects are going to be because we're eating something that is
US Team to Meet with China on GMO Policy - Veneman
- Reuters, Feb 22
NASHVILLE, Tenn. , - A team of U.S. officials will travel to China
next week to discuss China's controversial new rules for imports of
genetically modified foods, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman
said on Friday.
"We must not let regulatory barriers, such as the proposed
regulations on biotech, restrict our exports. We will send a team
next week again to further discussions on this issue," Veneman said
in an address to farmers at the Commodity Classic, the annual joint
convention of the American Soybean Association and the National Corn
"I got a phone call on the plane advising that the team was going to
go for sure next week," Veneman told reporters after her speech.
adding that she did not have details of the U.S. team's agenda. "As
far as I know, they're going to continue discussions with officials
about the regulations, about how they may be put forward," she said.
"The whole array of how this regulatory scheme might be put forth,
but also the implementation process itself, will be under
discussion," she said.
Earlier, China's Premier Zhu Rongji appeared to rebuff U.S. requests
for flexibility on the rules, telling U.S. President George W. Bush,
in Beijing on an official visit, that they were in line with
international practice. The United States wants the rules governing
genetically modified (GM) foods, which threaten $1 billion in U.S.
soybean sales annually, to be delayed or relaxed. On Thursday a U.S.
Department of Agriculture official raised the possibility of lodging
a complaint against China through the World Trade Organization.