Today in AgBioView - Feb 28, 2002
* Father of Green Revolution Supports Transgenic Crops
* Nature: Alleged Flaws In Gene-transfer Paper Spark Row Over GM Maize
* Klaus Ammann - Deprived of a Real Scientific Debate on the Mexican Corn
* Mexican Maize Issue......Comments from an author of the 'Nature'
* Correspondence between Dr. Pauli and Dr. Chapela on the Oaxaca samples
* Biotech Big Biz: 'Plant What We Tell You To, Eat What We Tell You To'
* One of Three Panel Judges Votes To Lift Brazil's GMO Ban
* Precaution Takes Centre Stage In GMO Policy Debate ..But At Whose
* China Spearheads GM Revolution: Could Help Reduce The Pressure on Land
* GM Food Safety: Are Government Regulations Adequate?
* Who Should Be Responsible For Ensuring The Safety Of Biotech Foods?
* Protesters Don't Know Beans About Milk
* .......An Affluent Society Gone Nuts
Father of Green Revolution Supports Transgenic Crops
- NČfer MuŇoz, Inter Press Service, Feb 26, 2002
San Jose, Costa Rica - Genetically modified food crops are a valid option
for fighting global hunger, says U.S. scientist Norman Borlaug, winner of
the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize and father of the "green revolution", which
transformed farming worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s.
"Biotechnology is a continuation of the green revolution," Borlaug, 88,
told IPS. Some experts credit the elderly scientist with saving the most
human lives in world history, thanks to the increase in crop productivity
achieved as a result of his research.
Borlaug, in Costa Rica this week to participate in an international
agriculture conference, said in a conversation with IPS that genetic
engineering is a good alternative for confronting the world's food crisis.
"The world must choose between two options: we either continue tearing
down trees to plant fields or we develop better technologies for fighting
pests and increasing productivity," said Borlaug, who has not worked
directly with genetic modification of food crops. The green revolution
achieved increased crop yields by using new varieties of seeds (created
through cross-breeding), fertilizers, machinery and pest control systems.
Borlaug's research led to more intensive production of certain varieties
of corn and wheat, which proved decisive in the efforts to feed millions
of people in countries such as India and Pakistan, and throughout Africa
and Latin America. The U.S.-born scientist, who in his younger days was an
environmental activist, believes that today's environmentalists have
distorted his ideas and have spread misleading information about the
potential impacts of genetic engineering.
"There does not exist sufficient scientific evidence to prove that
genetically modified foods are harmful to humans," he said. The issues of
human health and environmental protection are at the center of a bitter
clash between those who defend the production of genetically modified
foods, and those who describe such products as "Franken-foods" and warn
against their potential dangers.
The environmental watchdog Greenpeace International, which is leading a
global campaign against transgenic foods, says the world indeed is at the
threshold of a new green revolution, but it is based on ecological or
organic agriculture, which promises to feed the world in an
environmentally sustainable way.
Critics of the green revolution and of transgenic technology argue that
these scientific advances have failed to solve the world's food problems.
Some 35,000 people die of hunger each day and 1.5 billion people around
the globe suffer serious malnutrition, according to Greenpeace.
Environmental groups say that the rise in the use of chemical products in
farming practices, fostered by the green revolution, has caused the
disappearance of species that controlled pests naturally.
Borlaug believes that transgenic foods do not hurt the human organism
because in the process of genetic manipulation only scant quantities of
chemicals are used, and they do not pose any dangers. He commented that
those opposed to such uses of biotechnology are an elite from wealthy
countries who have never lived or worked with the poor.
"They say that developing countries should take care of themselves, but
how will they be able to do so if they are living in misery? How many of
those ecologists have lived alongside people who are dying of hunger?"
Borlaug says that the "scandal" spurred on by certain environmental and
health organizations with respect to genetic manipulation of food crops is
backed by "very little scientific data."
The production of transgenic foods is based on the same mechanisms
normally used in the Western world in manufacturing medicine, but "we have
a mental, psychological block when it comes to foods of this type," he
said. He predicted that one of the greatest global challenges in coming
years will be food security. "When I was born, the world had 1.6 billion
inhabitants. Today we are 6.2 billion, and the population grows by 85
million people each year."
Borlaug was invited to Costa Rica by the Tropical Agricultural Research
and Higher Education Centre (CATIE), the oldest graduate school of its
kind in Latin America, and organizer of the first Conference on the
Globalisation of Agricultural Research, Feb 25- 27. Researchers from the
Europe and across the Americas are participating in the three-day event.
Markky Kanninen, a Finnish national who is assistant director of CATIE,
told IPS that in the controversy about genetically modified products it is
important that consumers receive sufficient information so that they can
make informed choices. "It is essential that companies reveal which
products are genetically modified. That way, those who have a position on
the matter can decide whether to consume them or not," said Kanninen.
The utilization of genetically modified foods is truly a dilemma, he said,
because while there is no scientific evidence of their supposed health
risks, millions of people suffer from hunger. Costa Rica's Minister of
Science and Technology, Guy de Teramond, said in comments to IPS that the
technology is neither good nor evil in and of itself, but rather it
depends on how it is used. He mentioned the case of rice, a food that does
not normally contain vitamin A.
"Now there are varieties of transgenic rice that do contain vitamin A,
which can save thousands of people from going blind. Who can be against
that?" De Teramond wondered.
Alleged Flaws In Gene-transfer Paper Spark Row Over Genetically Modified
- Declan Butler, Nature 415, 948 - 949 (2002); 28 February;
A political row has erupted over a scientific paper by authors who claim
to have found transgenic DNA from genetically modified (GM) maize in local
varieties of the crop in Mexico.
Calls from environmental groups to halt the planting of transgenic crops
in Mexico and elsewhere followed hot on the heels of the paper's
publication in Nature last November (Nature 414, 541-543; 2001). But some
researchers have since raised questions over the study's validity.
The paper was written by Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University
of California, Berkeley. In it they report that a promoter sequence of DNA
that originated in the cauliflower mosaic virus has shown up in creole
maize varieties in two remote mountain areas of Mexico. The viral DNA is
used in a variety of GM maize to enhance the activity of the introduced
Their results led the authors to ask whether such gene flow would threaten
native species of maize in Mexico, the centre of origin for the crop.
But an editorial in this month's Transgenic Research (11, 3-5; 2002) says
that "the data presented in the published article are mere artifacts
resulting from poor experimental design and practices". The article was
written on behalf of the journal's editorial board by the editor, Paul
Christou, who is director of the molecular biotechnology unit at the John
Innes Centre in Norwich, UK. It concludes that "no credible scientific
evidence is presented in the paper to support claims made by the authors".
Philip Campbell, editor of Nature, declines to discuss the matter in
detail. "We treat all submissions as confidential and so are not willing
to comment on specific cases," he says. "Our policy in general is to
consider criticisms received after publication as promptly as possible."
But on 19 February, 144 non-governmental organizations, led by the
Canada-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC),
issued a statement alleging that "pro-industry academics are engaging in a
highly unethical mud-slinging campaign against the Berkeley researchers".
The statement calls on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which
runs 16 agricultural research laboratories around the world, to "propose
an immediate moratorium on the shipment of GM seed or grain in countries
or regions that form part of the centre of origin or centre of genetic
diversity for the species".
Alex Avery, director of research at the Virginia-based Center for Global
Food Issues, which supports agricultural biotechnology, dismisses the
ETC's statement as "some last-minute damage control before the Quist and
Chapela study is thoroughly refuted". He claims that the ETC "doesn't care
about the scientific debate - it is just trying to sway reporters into
bolstering the credentials of Chapela and Quist".
Both sides of the argument are hoping to influence imminent decisions
about the regulation of transgenic crops - in particular, the fate of the
existing European Union moratorium on their commercial use. The United
States, which views the ban as protectionism, would like to see its
removal discussed at the next meeting of European leaders in Barcelona on
15-16 March. But according to one official at the European Commission, a
decision to lift the moratorium is unlikely until the end of the year at
Some experts say that the debate on the Mexico findings is, in any case,
somewhat beside the point. Because maize is wind-pollinated and varieties
cross readily, almost everyone agrees that genes from GM maize will cross
to local varieties if they are grown close together.
What really matters is the ecological impact of such gene flow. Local
maize varieties are not very stable, and farmers have long crossbred them
with other varieties. "Gene flow is a constant," says Tim Reeves, director
of the CGIAR International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in
Mexico. "The real question is whether it makes any difference if one of
the genes that flows in is a transgene."
Scientists are divided on that question. Some argue that the transgenes
will reduce genetic diversity, whereas others contend that they could
either have a neutral effect or actually enhance diversity.
On Nature Commentary.....
From: Klaus Ammann ; Debate 2002'0228 a
'Sub: Alleged Flaws In Gene-transfer Paper Spark Row Over Genetically
Modified Maize, Nature 415, 948 - 949, 2002 by Declan Butler'
I feel deprived of a real scientific debate about the Mexican corn case,
which could have been started in Nature weeks ago.
Instead we can read a journalistic piece where, without any judgement
based on scientific data, the controversy is reported in a 'neutral' way.
The article gives even more space to this unfortunate ETC statement,
citing expressis verbis the 'mud-slinging campaign against the Berkeley
researchers'. There is no mud-slinging campaign against the Berkeley
researchers, there are a multitude of statements doubting the scientific
base of their conclusions, that's what it is all about.
It has to be stated clearly that with this not so naÔve citation Nature
itself is involved in a mud-slinging campaign against those scientists,
who still believe in scientific facts, and the worst of all is that these
scientists are put into a light as if they would deny the possibility of
transgene flow in Mexico, which is not the case - I have seen probably all
statements of the scientists questioning the data of Quist-Chapela, and in
all those statements the possibility is left open and even commented as a
most probable event to happen anyway.
I find it outrageous that Nature refuses to discuss the scientific basis
of the controversy. Has Nature become a boulevard science journal all
Citation from the article: Philip Campbell, editor of Nature, declines to
discuss the matter in detail. "We treat all submissions as confidential
and so are not willing to comment on specific cases," he says. "Our policy
in general is to consider criticisms received after publication as
promptly as possible."
I have strong doubts about the last sentence - the facts are contradicting
the editor in chief.
And finally, I am puzzled by statements such as:
'Scientists are divided on that question. Some argue that the transgenes
will reduce genetic diversity, whereas others contend that they could
either have a neutral effect or actually enhance diversity'.
How on earth Nature editors allow for such statements without giving the
slightest evidence ?
Overall: Post-Modernism has taken over, where anything goes and everything
is open to interpretation, it is sad to see that Nature indulges in such
relativism, leaving the path of due scientific debate.
Let me be quite clear: I start defending scientific facts in cases where
those facts are simply ignored. It is another matter whether the debate
should be steered by scientific facts alone, where I would oppose just as
I still remain hopeful that this SCIENTIFIC debate will be published in
Mexican Maize Issue......
From: Johannes Fuetterer
I have co-authored (with Matt Metz) one of the critical letters to Nature
about the Quist and Chapela paper. Please find my comments below.
- Dr. Johannes F¸tterer, Institute of Plant Sciences, ETH Z¸rich,
Universit”tstr. 2 CH 8092 Z¸rich
Comments by Dr. J. F¸tterer, Institute of Plant Sciences, ETH Z¸rich
(co-author of one of the letters to Nature regarding errors in the Quist
and Chapela Paper).
The original findings published by Quist and Chapela in Nature have been
criticized by scientists on a scientific basis. Criticism of academic work
is a very important step on the way to correct interpretation of
observations. Publication in a peer reviewed journal cannot stop this
process. Usually, critical discussions occur amongst specialists and are
not realized by the public. This has to be different, when results are
already in the public domain and are used to prompt far-reaching political
decisions. To imply that criticism opposes academic freedom shows a clear
lack of understanding of the process of academic knowledge acquisition.
Several scientists arrived independently at the conclusion that the study
in question is flawed to an extent that demands a complete retraction of
the paper. Nature has handled the criticism in a possibly correct, but
slow way. This has precluded a detailed public discussion of the points
raised and has given time for a wide and unchallenged dissemination of the
conclusions forwarded in the paper. Recently, the shortcomings of the
paper have been discussed in an Editorial of "Transgenic Research".
As far as I know, nobody claimed that outcrossing is impossible and the
criticism is independent of any other findings that may detect such
events. Until now, most of the public scientific debate following the
publication of the paper dealt with outcrossing and the eventual
consequences. No convincing reasons have been found to explain why
transgenic hybrids would cause a greater threat for maize biodiversity
than any other hybrid. This is, however, not the point of the criticism
raised against the Quist and Chapela paper. This paper is used as a
scientific proof for outcrossing to influence a wide public. It is only
the scientific soundness of the paper that is questioned by the critics.
Some critics also include questions about some formalities, which
illustrate that not much care was invested in the writing - and probably
the reviewing - of the paper, but the crucial arguments are raised against
the quality of the data, particularly the data obtained in the iPCR
experiment. These latter data would provide the only evidence that the
found CaMV promoter sequences are linked to maize genomic DNA.
In the response to the criticism, the impression is generated that it is
directed against the method used to detect "transgenes" in plants.
However, the issue is that these principally valid methods in this case
have not been properly used, required controls have not been made, and the
forwarded interpretation of the results is highly biased and in several
instances simply wrong. Since with a Nature publication we are dealing
with scientific work, scientific standards have to be applied for its
evaluation. No doubt, that should have happened before publication, but
now the manuscript is out and heavily used precisely for its "scientific"
content. In such a situation it must be allowed to call "wrong" what is
wrong - and to do it in public.
In the past, antiGMO activists were very fast to declare irrelevant any
scientific publication concluding that some of the imagined risks
connected to GMOs are undetectably small. In contrast, everything that
claimed "scientific" proof of such risks was widely published, no matter
how good the actual data were. I have strong doubts whether most of the
signatories of the Joint Statement can actually judge the arguments made
in the Pusztay case or now in the Chapela case. It speaks of a very
simplistic vision of our world to denounce criticism as "intimidation" and
"mud slinging", to designate scientists that produced the "useful" results
as "respected academics" and critics of the respective publications as
"Pro-GMO " and "Pro-industry" (meaning that they will do everything for
money and therefore should not be believed); what would be needed is a
serious consideration of the arguments. I personally feel insulted by this
attitude. Of course, many scientists have some research projects that are
sponsored by companies; to assume that they therefore sell themselves to
the companies and would loose any sense for correctness, moral, and social
responsibility is outrageous. I am wondering about the moral constraints
of people, who have such a picture of human nature, when they work for
their own aims. In any case, a good cause should not require dubious or
wrong data for its justification.
So far, nobody has invalidated any of the substantial points of the
criticisms on the Quist and Chapela paper, nor is their any evidence that
in public appearances at least the very obvious errors are acknowledged.
Instead, from the Joint Statement it is clear that another martyr of the
anti-GMO fight will be generated if the scientific reasoning should lead
to a retraction of the paper or consequences for the authors.
An event does not become a damage, just because somebody defines it as
damage and an event is not proven, just because somebody says so. What we
need is an open discussion of prospects and dangers of all possible
agronomic technologies to find the best ways to deal with future demands.
It is unbearable that this field at the moment is dominated by simple,
one-sided definitions of "good" and "bad" and "right" and "wrong" that
preclude any real, fact-based discussions.
I would like to join the group of signers.
Following is the Correspondence to Nature I sent few days after the
publication of the Chapela-Quist articles.......but probably due to the
poor English the letter wasn't published.
Regards, Corrado Fogher
In the article "transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize
landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico" the authors justify the presence of the
sequence homologous to the 35S promoter in Mexican landraces as
consequence of the geneflow from modern transgenic hybrid maize. I
consider this hypothesis the less likely if the positive response of the
samples is confirmed.
If the found "alien" sequence were the product of a cross between the
criollo with pollen grain coming from a modern North American maize
hybrid, the progeny of that event would have dramatic (phenotypically)
consequence on the Oaxaca landraces. The fixation of the transgene in the
landrace without a deliberate choice of the grower would be impossible
and, in this case, leading to a new variety selected by the grower.
Considering these elementary breeding knowledge, the presence, in the
cloned DNA, of multiple synthetic sequence containing regions of
transgenic maize, that the authors justify with the hypothesis of
occurrence of multiple introgression events, is only a clear demonstration
that the amplified and cloned fragments are artefact due to a DNA
contamination (usually in these cases, were microbiologist are not
familiar with grinder and seeds, the contamination come from the powder or
from the maize starch on the gloves).
Corrado Fogher, Professor of Genetics and Plant Breeding, Istituto di
Genetica, Universitý Cattolica S. Cuore, Via E. Parmense 84, 29100
From: Prof. Rob Martienssen, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NY
As any agronomy freshman can tell you, you do not need PCR to see
contamination of exotic Mexican land races with pollen from cornbelt
hybrids. Though the resulting plants might be missed by those to whom corn
was only a political issue, they would be completely obvious to any
Mexican farmer because of a large number of radically different traits. It
is therefore absurd to propose that such contamination would go
"unnoticed". Breeders carefully select the seed advanced for any
particular inbred or land-race and would only keep those with the
Also thanks for running Agbioview. It really is a great way to stay in
touch with the issues.
- Best wishes, Rob
Correspondence between Dr. Urs Pauli and Dr. Ignazio Chapela concerning
the Oaxaca samples
Forwarded by Klaus Ammann
In March 2001 Dr. Urs Pauli from the Ministery of Health of Switzerland,
his coordinates below, received some samples from Dr. Chapela, the results
of a full week's lab work in Switzerland.
The correspondence, the help and comments of Dr. Pauli were not quoted in
Chapela's Nature paper for obvious reasons, because they did not fit into
the concept of his own 'findings'. This adds to other proofs of Dr.
Chapela's scientific bias.
Dear Dr. Chapela
We now have generated the results, which are as follows: 1. For all
samples DNA was extractable (samples 1-9). DNA was diluted to 20 ng/ul. 2.
We then performed a corn-specific PCR (high mobility group gene = HMG) to
check for the amplificability of the DNA. For this amplification 200 ng of
DNA were used. Amplification was successful for samples 1-3 and 5-9.
Sample #4 did not display any band, suggesting that the PCR was inhibited.
3. Sample #4 was reextracted. 4. Corn-specific PCR was repeated for sample
#4. 5. Amplification with the 35S primers for samples 1-9 was performed.
This entire experiment was repeated once and identical results were
6. Summary of the results:
Samples 2, 3, 5, 6, 9: Negative for 35S amplification.
Samples 1, 7, 8: Positive for 35S amplification.
2nd extraction of sample #4 (lane 5) at 100-fold dilution (amplification
35S) shows a very faint band.
Several emails inbetween, where Chapela was inquiring about more exact
Below the answer of Pauli and Liniger:
Dear Dr. Chapela
to your questions:
1. As you stated, the faint band in lane 5 could be too large. In the view
of a paper by Stadler, H¸bner and Eugster (Mitt. Gebiete Lebensm. Hyg. 89,
308-317 (1988)) where they detected a artefactual band in that size
(however, in the paper the band was smaller than the control!) one would
have to sequence the band in order to be sure that it is the correct
2. Yes, there are faint bands in lane 3 which are smaller than the band in
lane 5. However, such a result is not a convincing evidence, that it is
the right amplification product. Also in this case one should sequence the
fragment in order to confirm its correctness.
3. In order to verify such a faint band, one should make 3-5 independent
extractions of DNA from the sample and always obtain the indentical
result. Otherwise such faint signal cannot be interpreted. Also a
sequencing of the faint band would make a stronger point in the
4. it has been shown that some plants (especially cruciferae) could be
infected with Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CMV), which will lead to a false
positive signal. There is a paper by Wolf et al. , Eur Food Res Technol
210, 367-372, (2000), "Detection of cauliflower mosaic virus by the
polymerase chain reaction: testing of food components for false-positive
35S-promoter screening results". Therefore, the sample should be tested
for the presence of the virus.
I would not consider such a faint band as a positive signal, unless
a) it is repeated in 3-5 independent experiments,
b) the fragment is sequenced,
c) the absence of CMV is shown and perhaps
d) a GMO-specific positive amplification is performed or e) amplification
with a nested 35S (or GMO-specific) PCR system (which is more sensitive
than the single PCR) is performed.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Kind regards, Urs Pauli and Marianne Liniger
Dr. Urs Pauli, Bundesamt f¸r Gesundheit BAG, Abt.
Lebensmittelwissenschaft, Sektion Mikrobiol. u. Hygiene; CH -3003 BERN,
Switzerland, email: email@example.com
Biotech Big Biz To Farmers, Consumers: 'Plant What We Tell You To, Eat
What We Tell You To'
Crop Choice, http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=551
(January 8, 2002 - CropChoice opinion) - The purveyors of genetically
engineered seeds and their supporters in government, academia and media
relied on a variety of their trusted tactics, including pressure and
obfuscation, last year in their ongoing effort to win the hearts, minds,
stomachs and fields of farmers and consumers around the world.
What we found interesting, albeit outrageous, was the twist on the biotech
spin when it came to the issue of transgenic DNA showing up in wild,
conventional or organic plant varieties. The argument had been that such
genetic contamination couldn't happen. The biotech biz condemned
detractors as loonies. After all, the official chorus of assurances went,
buffer zones would help to eliminate any possibility of gene transfer from
modified to unmodified crops. (Of course, no one has ever enforced these
buffer zones, which in actuality have everything to do with limiting the
effects of pesticide drifting onto neighbors' fields and nothing to do
with genetic drift. Pollen and seed ride on the wind, with insects and
with human and non-human animals.)
But that all changed in November when Univeristy of California at Berkeley
microbiologists Ignacio Chapela and David Quist issued a peer-reviewed
(five rounds of review) study, which the journal Nature published --
The research found that the DNA from transgenic corn had mixed with that
of indigenous corn in remote portions of the Qaxaca state of Mexico. The
Mexican government confirmed those findings.
With Tuskegee University geneticist C.S. Prakash and his AgBioWorld.com
service in the lead, biotech proponents immediately criticized the work.
Prakash commented that, "we knew about it [the contamination]" and that
there was little reason for concern. After all, he reasoned, corn hybrids
from the U.S.A. and elsewhere have been crossing with the native Mexican
varieties for hundreds of years, and the transgenes might even improve
He forgot to mention that stopping such contamination of corn was the
basis upon which the Mexican government established a moratorium on the
importation and cultivation of genetically modified corn seed.
Those who question the efficacy or wisdom of planting and consuming
genetically modified crops should be concerned. Already in Canada, farmers
have given up on growing organic and conventional canola because of
widespread contamination from genetically engineered varieties. One group
of farmers is considering suing the government, Monsanto and others over
this mess, which has hurt their operations financially, agronomically and
environmentally. See story at
http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=499. And now, despite the
canola situation and the StarLink debacle in which one of Aventis'
transgenic Bt corn varieties ran amok and contaminated lots of corn,
Monsanto wants permission to commercialize its Roundup Ready wheat,
engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). See story at
Professor Chapela shared with CropChoice his reaction to the criticism
from Prakash and others regarding his and Quist's research:
"Even imagining that transgenic DNA is not different from traditionally
bred DNA, there are signs that introgression of hybrid materials into
landraces has indeed reduced diversity and produced genetic depression of
these important populations. This is shown, for example, by the
extraordinary increases in yield and vigour achieved by
diversity-enhancing management in the state of Tlaxcala, which in effect
purges out the accumulation of introgressed materials from these
landraces. So claiming that introducing transgenic DNA on top of the
hybrid-corn DNA is not important is equivalent to claiming that we should
not worry about chemical pollution in Mexico City simply because the place
is already quite polluted.
As we have already discussed, the 'Substantial Equivalence' dogma has
received enough of a battering as evidence accumulates in the 90s and
2000s to say that it is NOT a good principle to move the technology into
the future. Among others, see the report of the Royal Society of Canada
(January 2001), or the discussion in the journal Nature for more details.
Briefly, the question can be addressed from two perspectives:
1) Trait-based analysis. The traits expressed by transgenically produced
crops are nothing like traits obtained through traditional breeding. The
obvious and well-known bt-toxin production or Green-Fluorescent-Protein
glow-in-the-dark trait from a jelly fish are examples of traits which we
could not have dreamed of in traditional corn breeding. In the words of an
East-Oregon farmer: '[We] have not been crossing corn with bacteria
lately.' If insecticide production and herbicide resistance are
problematic in their own right (re. 'superweeds' and non-target effects),
we should be much more cautious about the traits expressed by second- and
third-generation products. These include the production of pharmaceutical
compounds, human proteins, viral pieces of all kinds, and other beauties
of the imagination, such as the spermicidal (yes human
male-contraceptive!) corn being peddled by a San Diego-based company
(Epicyte, http://www.epicyte.com). At the very least, we should be asking
what will happen when spermicidal corn starts showing up in India, or
2) DNA-based analysis. The statement 'DNA is DNA is DNA' is often used to
dismiss the relevance of even thinking about transgenic transformation per
se as a method of genetic manipulation. I believe that this is a good
statement for a chemist to make, but not for a biologist, since we
certainly know that different 'species' of DNA have extremely different
properties and behaviour in the genome and in the context of the cell, the
organism, the population, the ecosystem and the biosphere. I do not have
time to address here what should be obvious to any biologist worth her/his
salt, apart from noting that if the 'DNA=DNA=DNA' argument were true, we
would not be scrambling in jungles, hot-springs and ocean trenches for DNA
that might have unique properties. DNA from all organisms appears to be
equivalent only when the wrong disciplinary tools are used, namely those
of chemistry, not when the right ones are taken into account (population
biology, developmental biology, ecology, etc).
'So what?' I have addressed some of these questions from the biological
perspective above. It remains to be added that Mexicans place a very high
cultural value on their local landraces of corn, quite independently from
the great economic value of the genes contained in these landraces, the
subject of multiple economics studies. Mexicans are also not very
different from Europeans in being generally conservative about what they
put in their stomachs: they reject transgenic manipulations out of a
legitimate precaution for unexpected effects. In introducing transgenic
corn to Mexico, it should not be surprising that the public (as seen
through media attention) should be alarmed, not only at the materials
themselves, but at the fact that they were not consulted to have these
materials introduced to areas such as Oaxaca, which are particularly
sensitive biologically and culturally. Furthermore, the fact that markets
for transgenically-manipulated foodstuffs is closing down -or at least
faring at a discount-, means that Mexican growers have had their options
dashed to access the premium GMO-free markets (e.g. Europe, Japan). These
are weighty reasons to care about the phenomenon."
When industry is not trying to argue that the work in Mexico is quackery,
it's relying on good old Uncle Sam to apply the pressure here and abroad
for approval and acceptance of biotech food.
One of Three Panel Judges Votes To Lift Brazil's GMO Ban
- Alastair Stewart, Dow Jones, Feb 26, 2002
Sao Paulo - Brazil's ban on genetically modified organisms came closer to
being lifted late Monday when one of a three-strong panel of federal
judges voted to overturn an injunction prohibiting the planting and sale
of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready soybeans. However, a final decision will be
delayed until at least March 15 after Judge Antonio Ezequiel, the head of
the judicial panel, demanded more information on the case.
A unanimous decision to overturn the injunction could clear the way for
the planting of RoundUp Ready soybeans in Brazil, possibly in time for the
2002-03 season. This could be the decisive chapter in the four-year legal
battle among Greenpeace and the Brazilian Consumer Defense Institute, or
Idec, looking to block GMO usage and the government and U.S. biotechnology
giant Monsanto seeking a GMO go-ahead. The key ruling in the wrangle came
in June 2000, when a federal regional court ordered the government and
Monsanto to carry out complete environmental and health impact studies
before approving any commercial GMO releases.
It is an appeal against this decision the federal regional court panel was
assessing Monday. After seven and a half hours of deliberation, Judge
Serene Maria de Almeida ruled Monday there was a scientific consensus that
RoundUp Ready represented no threat to human health or the environment,
and therefore a full impact study was not necessary. He also said CTNBio,
the government's biosafety committee, had the power to rule on the safety
of GMO crops introduced into Brazil, rejecting one of the main arguments
sustaining the injunction. The Brazilian government, which has now come
out fully in favor of GMO crops in Brazil, changed CTNBio's statutes in
September, giving it superpowers to counter the environmental and health
groups' main arguments.
The third judge on the panel, Joao Batista Moreira, has yet to rule on the
injunction. All would not necessarily be lost for Greenpeace and Idec if a
unanimous decision is registered. They could stretch out the legal battle
by appealing to the Supreme Appeals Court, or STJ, or even the Supreme
Court, STF, depending on the terms of the ruling. Also, there is another
injunction specifically banning the release of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready
beans. The government's attorney general has yet to file an appeal against
this decision at the STJ, although government officials feel the chances
of overturning this appeal would be extremely high given a unanimous
decision in the current case. Brazil is the world's No. 2 soybean producer
From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Ms. Shiva and Pest Control
I am most interested in how to implement zero pest cost Ms. Shiva
proposes. I have wasted a small fortune on pesticides in my life and would
like to use her as expert witness in law suits to recover the money that
obviously obtained under false pretenses.
Gene Flow in Transgenic Barley.....Correction
- From: "veli kauppinen"
Reading the agbioworld message (below) I noticed that you were kind
enough to publish the abstract on our paper published in Crop Science
42:278-285: "Measuring the Gene Flow in the Cultivation of Transgenic
However, two authors were missing from the abstract. The authors
mentioned were: A.Ritala, A-M.Nuutila and V.Kauppinen
The list of authors should read (as in the original paper) : A.Ritala,
A-M.Nuutila, R. Aikasalo, V.Kauppinen and J.Tammisalo.
I feel that this correction is in place since Dr:s Aikasalo and Tammisola
were in central position in performing this field experiment.
With kind regards, Veli Kauppinen. Professor Emeritus
(From Prakash: I regret the error)
Precaution Takes Centre Stage In GMO Policy Debate ... But At Whose
EU consumers can afford to be critical - poor farmers in developing
China Spearheads GM Crop Revolution: Gm Crops Could Help Reduce The
Pressure On Existing Arable Land
- Nick Easen in Hong Kong, CNN Asia, February 27, 2002 (via Agnet)
A new survey has revealed that research and development on genetically
modified (GM) crops and plant biotechnology is flourishing in China. With
a focus on feeding a fifth of the world's population and filling the "iron
rice bowl," China is cultivating a larger area of GM plants than any other
Now China is developing more plant biotechnology products than any country
outside North America, including GM technology trials for rice, wheat,
potatoes and peanuts. With a staff of researchers approaching 2,000, and a
1999 budget of $112 million, China is working on the largest plant biotech
program in the developing world. The survey, conducted by a team from the
University of California, showed that Chinese research institutes claim to
have developed 141 GM plants, the Science journal reports. Of these, 65
have already been approved for release into the environment.
Focus on the poor. Private life science companies in industrialized
countries have historically been the main developers of this technology,
with a focus on rich, modern farmers to pay extra for GM crops. Some 3.8
million square kilometers of land (1.5 M square miles), about 31 percent
of China, have been eroded to some extent, authorites hope GM crops will
help. Yet this has been of great concern amongst developing countries,
whose farmers cannot afford such products.
However, this recent survey shows that China's institutes are focusing on
crops that are grown by the millions of poor, small farmers; crops that
have not been scrutinized by industrialized countries. The pressure has
been on the nation's government funded and public-dominated research
system to produce GM crops, which increase yield and prevent pest
Feeding a hungry China and a fifth of the world's population, which lives
off only 7 percent of the world's arable land is the government's utmost
concern -- one that is likely to mount in the years ahead. Genetic
modification involves transferring genes of one species to another to
acquire certain characteristics, such as hardiness or pest resistance.
Keen acceptance. The keen acceptance of GM technology in China --
especially cotton -- is at odds with the widespread rejection of GM
technology in many other, particularly European, countries. "Using its own
human and physical capital, (China) is creating not only a large viable
biotechnology research program, it is working on creating new crops that
are important to a developing country and poor people," Rozelle told
Reuters news agency.
"It is developing new methods...that one day may be able to compete with
the life science companies in the industrialized countries," he
reiterated. If China's GM crops -- the most important of which is likely
to be rice -- are released successfully the country's biotechnology
expertise could be exported.
China may well become the world leader in GM-crop technology for other
developing countries in the Asia-Pacific, especially if it is successful
modifying the regions main grain crops. "There have already been sales
between China and south and southeast Asian countries," Rozelle told the
GM Food Safety: Are Government Regulations Adequate?
- Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, Feb 26, 2002
Full Text at http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=42
With over 70 percent of the processed foods on the grocery store shelves
currently containing some ingredient that has been genetically engineered,
Americans are consuming an increasing amount of biotech foods. While there
is no evidence that foods currently on the market are any less safe than
comparable conventionally-bred foods, some people believe that the
technology can pose food safety risks and that the government should be
doing more to evaluate the safety of biotech foods.
Under U.S. food safety laws, food manufacturers are responsible for
ensuring that the foods they bring to market are safe; the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) does not require approval of new food or crop
varieties before they are brought to market. In 1992, the FDA decided that
genetically engineered food varieties would generally be considered
substantially equivalent to conventionally-bred varieties.
As a result, just as with conventional varieties, FDA makes no finding of
safety before biotech foods are brought to market. Instead, as with
conventional foods, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring safety.
"There is no scientific difference between the safety of GM and non-GM
foods so there is no need to regulate them differently," said Gene
Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), an association
based in Washington, D.C.
Who Should Be Responsible For Ensuring The Safety Of Biotech Foods?
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, Feb 26, 2002 (Via Agnet)
Full Text at http://pewagbiotech.org/buzz/display.php3?StoryID=43
Food Safety Is A Shared Responsibility. Henry I. Miller, Hoover
Institution, "Skeptics about agricultural biotechnology lambaste it as
unnatural, unproven, untested, and unregulated. Nothing could be farther
from the truth." "Those who mistrust food crafted with the newest
techniques of biotechnology gloss over a fundamental point: Neither
genetic modification in general, nor that accomplished with the most
precise gene-splicing techniques, is new; and consumers, government and
industry all have extensive-and positive-experience with them."
"Genetic modification can be dated from humans' recognition that animals
and crop plants can be selected and bred to enhance desired
characteristics. Early biologists and agriculturists selected for desired
physical traits, such as better taste or higher yield, while poorly
understood changes in the organisms' genetic material occurred
concomitantly." "Putting it another way, "nature" didn't give us seedless
grapes, the tangelo (a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid) or fungus-resistant
strawberries: plant-breeding did."
"During the past half-century, better understanding of genetics at the
molecular level has added to the sophistication of the genetic improvement
of all manner of organisms. The genetic engineering of wheat-an important
component of the "Green Revolution"-was recognized by the awarding of the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 to Norman Borlaug." "These applications of
"conventional" genetic improvement represent scientific, technological,
commercial and humanitarian successes of monumental proportions. However,
the techniques used for these earlier successes were relatively crude and
recently have been supplemented by "the new biotechnology," a set of
techniques such as "gene-splicing" that make possible highly precise and
predictable genetic modification."
"The desired "product" of gene-splicing may be papaya trees that resist
viruses, feed grain that is more completely digested by animals (improving
their health and reducing odor and the disposal problems of manure), or
fruits and vegetables with greater health-enhancing properties." "Thus,
what has changed since the demonstration of gene-splicing in the early
1970s is the technology of genetic enhancement. The new technology is more
precise and predictable than its predecessors and yields more versatile
and predictable products."
"And what a cornucopia of agricultural and food products! Dozens of
gene-spliced crop and garden plants on the market have been genetically
improved with a variety of introduced genes. These include
insect-resistant corn and cotton (which require smaller amounts of
chemical pesticides) and herbicide-resistant soybeans (that permit the use
of a more environment-friendly herbicide, and in smaller amounts)." "What
about risks? For years, plants produced by the new biotechnology have been
grown on more than 100 million acres annually, and more than 60 percent of
processed foods in the United States contain ingredients derived from
gene-spliced corn and soy. There has not been a single mishap resulting in
injury to a single person or ecosystem. Thus, both theory and experience
confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing
technology and its products."
Protesters Don't Know Beans About Milk
- Jon Entine, National Post
Don't expect Starbucks' founder Howard Schultz to show up in a "Got Milk?"
commercial. Accused of selling "tainted" lattes, Starbucks has faced
demonstrations over the past week, culminating with yesterday's rally at
its Seattle annual meeting.
"I hate Starbucks," said a demonstrator over the weekend in Toronto, at
one of 400 protests in six countries. "We have to pressure them to be
The issue? The company's milk policy. While consumers might believe milk
is good for you, organic activists allege 90% of North America's milk is
"contaminated" with "pus, bacteria and antibiotics." They've specifically
targeted Canadian Starbucks, which sell Frappuccinos that they claim
Health Canada has rejected as unsafe because of "animal and public health
This issue, to be clear, is not about milk or Starbucks. The histrionics
are directed at genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Activists charge
that dairy supplies are polluted by being mixed with milk from cows
treated with a protein supplement, recombinant bovine somatotropin or rbST.
A decade ago, farmers discovered that cows given supplements produce more
milk for a longer time. It means less feed and fuel expended, and
associated environmental benefits compared with lower-producing dairy
herds. But the bio-fermentation production process, which is similar to
making beer and wine, and doesn't change the milk, involves biotechnology.
Anti-GMO activists attach the label "Frankenfoods," which serves the
purpose of demonizing bio-engineering.
Despite the controversy, farmers have seen increases in yields of corn,
soybeans and cotton. These have been genetically modified to include
natural insecticides, which also cuts spraying of chemicals. There is no
evidence that GMOs pose any more risks than traditional crossbreeding and
gene-splicing that have given us such products as the tangelo and seedless
Are milk drinkers endangered? Not according to Consumer Reports, which
notes that studies "have concluded that milk from hormone-treated cows
poses no appreciable risk to humans." That's telling because the most
cited critic is Michael Hansen, a scientist with Consumers Union, which
publishes Consumer Reports. Yet even Hansen says no studies confirm human
health risks. The only mildly damning issue: rbST results in more udder
infections in cows. But the slightly higher risk of infections, which are
treatable, is the natural consequence of producing more milk, not from the
Inflamed concerns prompted Canada and the European Union to block internal
use of rbST, while allowing imports of food made with it. Health Canada
commissioned the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons to study the
allegations of harm to humans. The January, 1999, report rejected the
concerns voiced by Hansen and determined milk from rbST-supplemented cows
to be as safe as any other milk.
Undercut by research findings, anti-GMO forces invoke the lowest common
denominator in scientific disputes, the "precautionary principle." "Better
safe than sorry" has nice a ring of moderation, but it's deceptive.
If consumers apply the principle to alternative foods, organics would be
pulled from the shelves overnight. Numerous investigations, including a
series in The New York Times and a piece by me in Vegetarian Times, both
in 1998, documented that "natural" and organic foods are plagued by
quality control concerns. "Everyone talks about how environmentally
progressive our business is, and that's bull," Cascadian Farm founder Gene
Kahn told me. "The conventional food industry, for all its faults, has
higher levels of consumer disclosure and ethics than organics."
While alternative growers have faced numerous health incidents -- consider
the death of a Seattle girl from drinking unpasteurized, and E. coli-laced
apple juice, made by a natural and organic producer -- there have been no
documented health problems, and certainly no deaths or injuries, linked to
Social investors, who could have taken the high road on a complex issue,
instead embrace the tactics of activists. Yesterday, they proposed a
resolution, overwhelmingly defeated, that would require Starbucks to label
products made with GMOs.
At first blush, this seems reasonable ... more consumer disclosure. But as
Arianne Van Buren of the U.S. Interfaith Center on Corporate
Responsibility cheerfully notes, that's akin to slapping "a skull and
cross bones" on the product. "We expect that they won't want to risk
alienating their customers with labelling, so they'll eventually decide
not to use any bio-stuff at all," agrees Michael Passoff of As You Sow.
"Ethical" campaigns are planned against 30 companies. Why Starbucks first?
Activists boast that if they can intimidate it into "surrendering," the
really big fish such as Kraft will roll over. In other words, target a
weak link -- a high-profile company that is vulnerable to challenges to
its reputation for being "socially responsible."
Sadly, if bio-engineered crops and supplements are shelved, the biggest
losers would be consumers and farmers, particularly those in the poorest
countries, and the environment. In this climate, it's understandable that
executives are holed up at Starbucks headquarters trying to figure out how
to pull the company's beans out of this public relations bonfire.
All sides agree that how Starbucks navigates this issue will have
considerable impact on the entire agriculture industry and the future of
genetic engineering. Let's hope Schultz and company recognize that acting
responsibly means rejecting extortionist threats and, once and for all,
rejecting hysteria as the measure of corporate social responsibility.
Jon Entine is a contributing author of Case Histories in Business Ethics:
The Virtues and Moral Decision Making in Business (Routledge, 2002).
German Law to Keep Pigs Happy.......An Affluent Society Gone Nuts
From: Mark Mansour
(Enjoy it; this is a true story. More reason for the need for subsidies!)
GERMAN pig farmers are buying their animals toys and giving them "quality
time" in order to meet the requirements of a new directive from the
country's agriculture ministry. The rules, introduced last week, are part
of a series of EU guidelines for pig farmers which the German government
has decided to phase in by the end of 2003, beginning with the states of
North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig Holstein.
Dr Karl-Heinz Placke, who is responsible for animal welfare in Schleswig
Holstein, said that, according to the rules, "all pigs should get at least
20 seconds of the farmer's time each day - 10 seconds in the morning and
10 seconds in the evening". "For larger pig farms with up to 1,500 pigs it
will obviously be necessary for the farmers to either take on more staff,
or get family members involved in this duty," he said.
"The pigs should be kept happy with two or three toys to stop them
fighting each other, namely toys that have wooden grips or straw dummies.
"Every pig must have daylight, and in winter extra lighting should be
provided to stop the pigs becoming depressed. "The drains in a stall must
be kept out of the way and the floor must be given a soft covering with a
rubber mat or straw. Air conditioning must be installed in the pig pens.
"A special hospital area should also be set up for sick pigs to recover in
The German agriculture authorities say that spot checks are being carried
out to make sure that farmers are following the rules, which are effective
immediately for all new farms. Many larger pig breeders are unhappy about
the amount of care they are now forced to give to their animals. Breeders
in North Rhine-Westphalia received their guidelines from Baerbel Hoehn,
the regional agriculture minister, at the end of last year.