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March 14, 2002


Enough is Enough; Engineered for Success; Lagging India; Ignoran


Today in AgBioView - March 15, 2002

* Enough is Enough
* Engineered for Success: ..GE Crops are Gaining in Popularity
* Why Regulate Genetically Engineered Crops?
* Plea from a Farm Leader in India
* Plant Biotechnology in China and Why India is Lagging Behind
* Sustaining Tropical Agriculture
* Intellectual Property Management, Agbiotech Transfer and Trade
* Mexican Corn and CaMV Promoter
* Geneticists Get Steamed Up Over Public Access to Rice Genome
* Is Organic Produce Better?
* In Risk Assessment, One Has To Admit Ignorance
* We'll Feed Our People As We See Fit

Enough is Enough

- Prof. Michael Wilson, The Sunday Times (UK), Letter to The Editor,
March 10, 2002

Dear Sir

I was deeply disappointed that you chose to exploit the article
quoted below as a vehicle to propagate, yet again, biased alarmist
misinformation and prejudiced activist group propaganda against
thoroughly regulated, monitored and legal large-scale ecological
field trials of safe genetically enhanced crops.

In the 20 years since GM technology was developed as a more precise
adjunct to centuries of hit-or-miss "traditional, mutation-enhanced
or forced" plant breeding, there has been no sound scientific
evidence to support any of the scare-mongering doomsday stories of
harm to human health or the environment which your Science Editor
sadly seeks to perpetuate. On the contrary, all available factual
evidence and farmer experience points to significant benefits of GM
crops over conventional and organic agricultural regimes which depend
heavily on extensive labour and energy (fossil fuel) inputs,
over-tillage (promoting erosion, carbon dioxide release and reduced
biodiversity) and the intensive use of effective modern agrichemicals
or "natural" chemicals and toxic pesticides, respectively. Moreover,
unlike conventionally-bred crops and food products, those produced
through GM are required to navigate unprecedented and extreme tests
and regulations to guarantee consumer and environmental safety.

Globally, in 2001, about 5.5 million farmers voluntarily adopted and
benefited by growing a range of improved (GM) crop varieties on more
than 50 million hectares (120 million acres). In addition to higher
crop yields, improved consumer quality and safety (lower mycotoxin
levels in corn, for example), and greater profitability, these
farmers were also able to protect their crops against inevitable
predations by pests, diseases and weeds using substantially lower
amounts of chemicals. The statistics are impressive - reductions
equivalent to tens of millions of kilogrammes or litres of pesticides
(particularly older, more environmentally persistent, broad-spectrum
pesticides) were achieved. The consequent impacts on wildlife have
been strongly positive. For example, the number and diversity of
birds and insects, including the Monarch butterfly so beloved of
scaremongers, have increased according to census information and
numerous farmer reports in areas of GM cropping. The US EPA is
collecting further field data.

Since the first GM crops were planted commercially in 1996, over 170
million commercial hectares (10 times the total agricultural area of
the UK) have been grown successfully in 13 countries, and billions of
GM-meals have been consumed without evidence of a single case of
harm. The range and pace of uptake of GM-improved varieties with
targeted benefits to growers (input traits) or to consumers (output
traits) continues to grow in many countries including Argentina,
China and India, with many others eager to benefit economically,
environmentally or in terms of domestic food security.

Regrettably, thanks to clever propaganda campaigns and misleading
scare-stories by self-interested activist groups, biased
sensationalised media reports such as yours, trepid and over-zealous
regulators, the absence of political leadership, and a largely
"silent" scientific community, the UK and the EU have so far lost out
on the benefits of GM crops. We risk being stuck in a "time warp" of
mid-20th century chemical-dependent agriculture, or in an earlier
ideological age, arbitrarily reliant on even older chemical
pesticides. Or, of course, with no UK agriculture at all - only
imported food of doubtful provenance and a rural Theme Park.

It is misleading and contrary to all available scientific evidence to
propose, as you do in your article, that growing GM crops: (a)
results in an overall increase in chemical use; (b) causes a
reduction in plant, bird or animal numbers or diversity in fields or
in uncultivated areas; or (c) poses some undefined threat to tourism
or tourists.

Using GM and other modern technologies to reduce the impact and
improve the sustainability and efficiency of modern intensive
agriculture on land already ecologically disturbed or "converted"
will reduce the pressure in 50 years time, when the World population
hits 8-10 billion, to plough-up those same marginal or wilderness
areas to which profitable tourists are attracted. For some parts of
the World, this imperative is already upon them, irrespective of

The profitable co-existence of our UK farming- and tourism-based
industries would be served far better if balance and accuracy were to
feature in place of hysteria and propaganda in allegedly scientific
articles such as appeared last Sunday.

Yours faithfully,

Professor Michael A. Wilson, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire
>>"Labour to Rebrand the Countryside" by Jonathan Leake (Science
>>Editor) March 10, page 8
>>"......The timing of the rural rebranding will also clash with
>>another event - the announcement on Thursday of the latest sites for
>>trial plantings of genetically modified crops. Such crops are
>>designed to be resistant to pesticides - enabling farmers to apply
>>more chemicals and so suppress the weeds that support wildlife.
>> Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said encouraging
>>the widespread planting of such crops risked turning people away
>>from the countryside, damaging tourism as well as wildlife. He
>>said: "Ministers should be encouraging forms of farming that
>>encourage plants, birds and animals and so make rural areas more
>>attractive to tourists. Sterilising our fields with swathes of GM
>>crops that promote pesticide use will make the countryside as
>>unattractive to tourists as the concrete they have left behind.""

Engineered for Success: Despite Protests, Genetically Engineered Crops are
Gaining in Popularity. Why: Because They are Beneficial to Both
Consumers and Farmers

- Douglas Powell and Justin Kastner, Editorial, National Post,
March 14, 2002 (From Agnet)

Genetically engineered crops continue to grow. According to data
recently released by the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-Biotech Applications, genetically engineered GE crops were grown
on 130 million acres in 2001 by 5.5 million farmers in 13 countries.
That's up 19%, or almost 20 million acres, from 2000. And a poll
conducted by Reuters indicates that American farmers plan to increase
their acreage of biotech corn and soybean varieties in 2002. Although
no such predictions have been made for Canadian farmers, 2001 saw
record acreages of GE crops on

Ontario farms, with 25% of soybeans, more than 80% of canola and
approximately 40% of corn grown from seed varieties that had been
genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant or inherently resistant
to specific crop pests.

Why do farmers embrace this technology, even though organized
anti-biotech protest continues? Because the crops work. Yet while
some studies have confirmed clear advantages of growing GE crops,
such as higher yields or reduced pesticide use, the benefits aren't
easily quantified. An Iowa State study, for example, concludes that
GE crops are unlikely to result in any significant difference in
financial returns for farmers compared to traditional crops.

Yet growers claim that other, non-quantifiable benefits often prompt
their choices. They cite ease of pest and weed management (a 2001
study on soybeans in the United States cites "flexibility of weed
control in large-scale production" as the main reason that growers
choose GE soy), added insurance against pest devastation and other
production or environmental advantages that may not be visible
through traditional accounting practices, but which can also have a
significant impact on the success and sustainability of a farm
business. For example, GE canola, widely grown in Western Canada, is
appealing as part of a no- or minimal-till system, to help with soil
conservation. Those farmers also saved some 30 million litres in
diesel fuel in 2000 because of fewer tractor trips around the field
for the same weed control. Farm by farm, growers find real advantages
to growing GE crops that outweigh concerns such as shrinking
international markets.

But are those markets actually shrinking? In January, China announced
a new certification program for genetically engineered foods they
must be certified as harmless to humans, animals, and the environment
-- that was unlikely to spell the end of GE food exports to that
country. Although certain groups, Chinese corn farmers for example,
may benefit from food import restrictions, larger economic realities
indicate that food imports, including GE food, must continue. China
has a burgeoning population to feed and, like other trade empires
through history, simply could not afford an outright ban on food
imports. The announcement last week that China had negotiated a deal
with the United States on imports of GE soy confirms the need to
provide ample supplies of food.

Why, then, would China issue such a certification program?
Speculation generates sundry motives, but don't rule out that the
restrictions are simply the effects of the Chinese government
assuming roles commonly played by governments around the globe:
providing food safety assurances for its own consumers and sending a
message to the international community that it is not only a member
of the World Trade Organization, but an alert one, capable of
instituting health-related import restrictions. The announced
restrictions were likely geared towards providing the appearance of
regulatory muscle while assuring food safety for a population
unfamiliar with new production technologies and left uncertain by the
unsubstantiated rumours of orchestrated fear campaigns.

Calls for mandatory labelling of such GE products -- usually led by
countries that have little GE food production -- are often viewed by
economists as a non-tariff trade barrier. For decades, scientists
have used techniques such as embryo transfer, tissue culture and
mutagenic breeding to develop plant varieties which would not develop
naturally, but which appeal to farmers through higher quality, better
yield or more disease resistance. And that may explain the growth in
adoption of biotech crop varieties despite social controversy:
Throughout history, farmers have assessed new technologies and
adapted their practices to better produce food for their customers.
They know how to best run their own farms. -- Douglas Powell is
scientific director, and Justin Kastner a PhD student, with the Food
Safety Network at the University of Guelph. Mr. Powell testifies on
GE food issues today before the House Standing Committee on Health in


Why Regulate Genetically Engineered Crops?

- Doug Gurian-Sherman , AgBioView,
March 15, http://www.agbioworld.org/

In several comments in recent days, Henry Miller argues against
current and proposed regulations of genetically engineered crops. His
main point seems to be that genetically engineered foods are safe and
therefore do not need mandatory oversight (for example, he comments
that GE foods are currently over-regulated in the U.S.). However,
while the testing performed on existing commercialized GE foods
provides evidence that they are safe, Miller's view ignores the
findings of most scientific bodies that have carefully considered the
potential safety issues of GE crops. Those findings - most recently
from the National Research Council (NRC) regarding environmental
safety and in 2000 on human and environmental safety issues in a
study on EPA oversight in 2000 - clearly acknowledge that GE crops
have the potential to cause environmental and human health problems,
and should therefore be regulated.

Critics of regulation often cite several reasons why regulation of GE
either should not exist or be cursory at most. One is that GE foods
are at least as safe as conventionally developed crops, and the other
is that despite being grown on millions of acres, current GE crops
have shown no adverse effects. Those using the first argument often
ignore that, while reviewers such as NRC agree that GE poses no
unique types of risks, the potential harm from GE warrants
regulation. The support for such regulation stems from the
recognition that regardless of the risks from conventional crops, GE
crops have the potential to cause harm that would legally place them
under regulatory jurisdiction in the U.S. That legal standard for
food safety is "a reasonable certainty of no harm", or a "no
unreasonable risk" level for environmental safety at EPA. Critics
like Miller emphasize the "similar risk" argument from conventionally
bred foods but ignore the actual legal (and rational) standard for
adequate protection of public health - prevention of unreasonable
risk. If we generally followed MIller's advice on regulations, and
did not regulate GE because conventional breeding is not regulated,
we would soon find ourselves regulating to the lowest common
denominator rather than a reasonable level of regulation to assure
public safety. Fortunately, virtually all independent scientific
bodies have rejected Miller's arguments.

Miller's point that regulations actually make consumers more nervous
(supported only by a single quote based on the opinion of one person)
is not supported by any evidence. On the other hand, it is widely
understood that one of the main reasons that European consumers
oppose GE foods is that they have little faith in their regulatory
agencies after BSE and other recent food problems, and feel that GE
is not sufficiently regulated. In contrast, U.S. consumers
consistently express confidence in U.S. regulatory agencies, and
expect them to assure a reasonable level of safety. That confidence
in the agencies translates into consumer confidence in the products
that are regulated.

Surveys consistently show that when U.S. consumers are given a choice
between buying a GE food product or its otherwise identical
conventional counterpart, about 60% or more would not buy the GE
food. Similar percentages feel that GE foods are not as safe as their
conventional counterparts. U.S. consumers are not as concerned about
GE foods as their European counterparts, but there is an underlying
level of nervousness and suspicion about such foods. Much of that
nervousness may be based on lack of understanding about GE or food
production in general. But regardless of the reasons, given the
current state of their concern and given the confidence that U.S.
consumers have in their regulatory agencies, it is clear that
adequate regulation is needed to improve consumer confidence in GE.

The other argument often used by opponents of regulation is that we
already have sufficient experience to show that GE is safe. But most
of that evidence is based on only two types of commercially produced
GE - herbicide resistance and Bt. And we already had considerable
commercial experience with the latter through previously registered
Bt microbial products. While many products have been reviewed by one
or another of the agencies, most have not been commercialized. None
of the crops that FDA has reviewed represent the complex changes in
plant biochemistry that FDA itself acknowledges may pose higher risk
than current crops that consist of the addition of only a couple of
proteins. Similarly, in its new review, NRC recognizes that the small
scale and cursory field studies required by USDA/APHIS are not
sufficient to assess potentially significant environmental impacts of
widely commercialized products. That is why NRC recommended
post-commercialization monitoring of GE crops.

Based on both science and consumer confidence, adequate regulation of
GE is needed. That regulation should be adapted to the unique aspects
of GE, and should recognize the level of risk. Many, perhaps the
substantial majority of GE crops, may have no appreciable adverse
impacts, or, as Miller says, in some cases actually be safer than
their conventional counterparts. But considering the wide potential
of traits that GE can and will allow, it needs adequate oversight.
That oversight must include mandatory safety approval processes that
are based on independently determined scientific standards.

- Doug Gurian-Sherman, Center for Science in the Public Interest


Plea from a Farmers' Leader in India

In the past few months, there are many disturbing developments on
biotechnology front in India. The GEAC of Govt. of India has
postponed the meeting on Bollguard cotton issue. There were writs in
various High Courts against granting permission to transgenics.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling party in India are seriously
making efforts to take a anti-Bt stand by the party. Many articles
appeared in various papers against transgenics creating a fear
psychosis amongst farmers, intellectuals and ordinary public.

My enquiries have revealed that the BJPs decision was initiated at
all India level by an organization known as Swadesi Jagarana Munch
(SJM) which is affiliated / supporter of BJP. The SJM has very strong
influence on RSS and is in a position to put pressure on the Prime
Ministers office. Further, the European anti-Biotechnology lobby is
going all out to oppose permission to Bollguard cotton seed.

The question before us is how do we counter this multi-pressure
groups ? The people opposing Biotechnology are many. They include
environmentalists, anti-MNCs, anti-globalization groups, organic farm
groups, religious groups, pesticides manufactures, communists,
nationalists and others. On the other side, the ultimate
beneficiaries of transgenic seeds poor and illiterate farmers and who
have no organizations of their own and are easily carried away by
misinformation. They are not in a position to counter the campaign by
the anti-Bt groups as they do not have sufficient funds nor a network
at the state or national level.

On the contrary, environmental NGOs who are spearheading anti-GM
campaign are receiving massive funds from abroad and have established
good contacts with mass media to carry on their campaign.

The amount of misinformation is mind boggling in Indian context. The
word 'Terminator' seed simply terrifies the farmers and others. So
also that it damages other crops, develop 'superweed' and Bt forces
the farmer to use the new seed every year is all terrifying to
ordinary masses. This mindset of the entire Indians is one of the
anti-Bt. Day-in and Day-out, the anti-Bt lobby creates the fear
psychosis amongst the people specially the vocal sections who are
mostly ignorant of the farmers problems of increased production cost,
competition from developed nations and other farmers issues.

It is in this context, we, in the Federation Of Farmers Associations,
AP are making a small effort to counter the onslaught of anti-Bt
lobby. We have been organizing seminars / workshops / holding
meetings with Members of Parliament and sending notes to
intellectuals and others. We have written many articles in various
papers and submitted Memorandums to the Ministers and other important

We are of the view that this small effort by us may not be sufficient
to counter the onslaught of anti-Bt lobby. What is required is a long
term strategy to change the mood of Indians.

There is need for united effort by all the biotech research
companies, industry, scientists and well meaning people across the
world to take a joint campaign addressing the widespread misconcept
and fears on Bt. Acceptance of Biotechnology by Indian farmers will
be a trend setter and will become a model for all the developing
nations. It will have a far-reaching beneficial consequence for
future of Biotechnology.

I request you to give a serious thought to this subject and take it
up with all concerned at the highest level. We need to prepare a long
term strategy by all the concerned to counter this anti-Biotechnology
campaign. On hearing about the inputs that can be provided and also
their point of view, a strategy can be prepared by us and be
implemented. I need not once again remind about the urgency of this

Yours sincerely, P Chengal Reddy
President, Federation Of Farmers Associations, AP, India,


Plant Biotechnology in China and Why India is Lagging Behind

- Letter from a Govt. of India Official in the Dept. of Biotechnology

Dear Prof. Prakash: I read with interest your article in Times of
India dated March 11,2002. You are right sir that we have to take
quick decisions; otherwise we will be nowhere. I admire you because
you always because you sensitize people by writing in International
and Indian media in particular. The tremendous progress made by China
is amazing. I am enclosing my frank views on that below (Name Removed)


1. China's success story in Agricultural Biotechnology is unparallel
and doubtless. Beside increased spending on AgBiotech compared to
other developing countries, one of the most important factors is,
early initiative in the implementation and execution of
biotechnological research in that country. Secondly, their scientific
and political commitments to see that biotech product should reach to
the poor farmers and to transform social structures. This is not new
for them, they have also proved same thing earlier too. We should not
forget that the anther culture technique, which has been developed in
Indian lab, becomes the technique of practical significance in
China's agriculture particularly in hybrid rice cultivation.

2. Though total investment in Agricultural biotechnology in China is
80% higher than Indian investment, the major factor would be the
quick and hard political decisions to support biotech research. One
simple example is of functional genomics in rice about which India
has just started the process of supporting research grants, China has
started it way back in 1997 and produced rice mutants by the use of
AC/DS transposons and T-DNA mutagenesis. We are 5-6 years behind them
even in our thinking, planning and taking decisions.

3. Identifying key areas of research is another important aspect in
China`s success story in Agricultural biotechnology. It can be seen
that 90% of China's GM field trials are targeted on insect and
disease resistance, thus reducing pesticide usage which are
unaffordable to the resource poor farmers.

4. Indian biotech programmes are focused on plant biotechnology
rather than agricultural biotechnology. It can be easily seen by the
amount of funding pored in agricultural biotechnology in basic
research, which culminated in publications only. However, there is
lack of collaborative efforts and inter-institutional linkages to
transform basic research in the applied one and put that into

5. Another important aspect is monitoring the research projects
funded by various government agencies. Though (Govt of India's Dept
of Biotechnology) DBT has introduced a good system of project
monitoring, it should be more stringent, focused and accountable. Of
late, realizing importance of inter-institutional linkages, DBT has
started funding of network projects in different areas. It would
probably be a successful approach, if the institutes having varying
types of expertise should be asked to join hands on a project to
achieve common goals.

6. Another problem which I see (this is totally my view)is that
number of times there is resource drain towards one type of program
in a hope to obtain product expecting result of concerted efforts by
various groups.In the process other programs are either side lined or
poorly funded which are naturally expected to give no result because
of working under constrained financial conditions.That kind of
funding has to go waste.We probably need to evolve more than one kind
of program and identify real potential groups who have shown
something in the past. Newer groups may be encouraged but not to
expect too much from them as far as products are concerned.

7. Though we talk at every scientific forum about accountability in
scientific research, however I have yet to see some strong examples
where some body's poor scientific achievements have been
punished.So,we may take humanitariun attitude as for as somebody's
job is concerned but research funding should not be made either on
humanitariun or personal grounds.

8. In brief, various factors like trained human resource, cheap
labour and manpower in India are almost similar to that of China. The
only difference I can see is of total commitment and seriousness of
the scientific community and administrators. Partly the
administration is also responsible for this debacle since we are
unable to recognize properly the contributions made by Indian
scientists by using resources available within the country. Now, it
is the time to weed out and identify non-serious peoples in biotech
research and give opportunity to the young enthusiastic serious
scientists who has defined goals to achieve. It is really high time
for introspection for all of us!


Response From CEO of an Indian AgBiotech Company

Dear Prakash - Thanks for sharing this with me. If this person is
serious, (s)he should organize a dialog with private sector in India
and get things moving. My hypothesis as to why this has worked in
China is because there is a good blend of business (particularly
private) and technology.

In India, we are still holding onto the Government as a provider of
technology model which does not, generally work. The biotech
entrepreuners in India are good and capable but the system is
stifling - this is a combination of resources (financial, people) and
commitment to speed plus a system that focuses on rewarding the
people who deliver as opposed to emphasis on punishing the ones who
do not. I understand the SBIR model is being tried in biotech in
India - I would encourage them to accelerate the process. The road
map to nutritional security is complex and requires multiple tools.

The role of the Government has to be carefully orchestrated both as a
policy making as well as a capability building body. One of the key
areas is regulatory policy for biotech products, particularly plant
based products. A clear path to the approval process coupled with a
value protection system is critical if both public and private money
has to flow into the sector. Kish


Sustaining Tropical Agriculture

- CalestousJuma, Nature 415, 960 - 961 (2002)

'Exploring Agrodiversity' by Harold Brookfield , Columbia University
Press: 2001. 608 pp. $75, 54
'Securing the Harvest: Biotechnology, Breeding and Seed Systems for
African Crops' by J. DeVries & G. Toenniessen CABI Publishing: 2001.
224 pp. 27.50, $50 (pbk)

Debates over the role of new technologies - especially genetic
modification - continue to dominate international policy discussions.
Advocates of biotechnology invoke images of the bountiful supplies of
food that the technology can deliver. But critics stress the risks
associated with the new technology and urge caution, or even outright
bans, on its use. The din generated by this confusion of views has
drowned out most efforts to present reasoned positions.

The absence of detailed scholarly works exploring these issues has
conspired to perpetuate a false dichotomy between agricultural
diversity and technological innovation. Two new books give the
policy-making community a chance to go beyond the rhetoric and to
assess the practical implications of biotechnology for sustainable

In Exploring Agrodiversity, Harold Brookfield brings together a rich
collection of evidence to underscore the importance of ecological
diversity in the resilience of small-scale farming. His scepticism
about the role of biotechnology stands in contrast to Securing the
Harvest, which is a meticulous attempt to identify the opportunities
for using biotechnology to improve traditional agriculture. Whereas
Brookfield seeks to celebrate the resilience of small-scale farming
systems worldwide, DeVries and Toenniessen focus on ways in which
they can be improved to expand the economic value of African

The books are rooted in two different analytical traditions.
Brookfield builds on his peerless work documenting diversity in
farming systems around the world; DeVries and Toenniessen bring to
their book unparalleled practical experience in agricultural
technology, accumulated over the decades through the pioneering
efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Both books acknowledge the socio-economic risks associated with
previous agricultural models, but do so from different vantage
points. Brookfield extends the critique of the green revolution and
argues for a cautious approach that seeks to protect small-scale
farmers. DeVries and Toenniessen, on the other hand, call for the use
of biotechnology to improve small-scale African agriculture.

Brookfield acknowledges the possible contributions of transgenic
agriculture, but suggests that small-scale farmers are likely to
benefit more from "lower levels of technology". DeVries and
Toenniessen contend that African agriculture "has yet to be
transformed from subsistence, low-yield systems dependent on shifting
cultivation to efficient, modern systems capable of producing regular
surpluses". The two books appear to be presenting contradictory
arguments, but a closer examination reveals that they are indeed
complementary, offering new insights into the future of tropical

Brookfield elegantly outlines the importance of agrodiversity.
However, his data provide no compelling evidence that biotechnology
would necessarily undermine diversity. His use of analogies from the
green revolution ignores the fact that farming systems can be
redesigned to reflect new social goals. The book does not distinguish
between the limited role that biotechnology can play in solving
technical problems and the wider critique of corporate control of

Fundamentally, the challenge lies in the choice of farming system,
and this is independent of specific technologies. It is here that
DeVries and Toenniessen offer complementary perspectives, especially
through their emphasis on identifying technical opportunities for
improving crops such as maize, sorghum, rice, cowpea, cassava and
banana. Unlike Brookfield, they are concerned with socio-economic
viability and offer new insights into the development of the seed
sector. However, they pay less attention to ecological issues.

The two books use different units of analysis. Brookfield focuses on
farming systems, whereas DeVries and Toenniessen are concerned with
improving individual crops. By downplaying the role of technological
innovation, Brookfield's analysis ignores the major challenges for
African agriculture, such as its low productivity, and his approach
tends to be over-optimistic about the ability of Africa's current
systems to meet its growing food needs. DeVries and Toenniessen,
however, leave themselves open to possible charges of technical
determinism by not including a more detailed discussion of the policy
implications of their recommendations. But read together, the two
books offer unique insights into the relationships between ecosystem
management and technological innovation.

They also offer divergent policy approaches. Brookfield makes a
passionate appeal for global social justice as a way of protecting
small-scale farmers from the risks of new technologies. But political
appeals are not enough to protect farming systems from change. Nor
will they be protected by diplomatic victories in international
forums. DeVries and Toenniessen, on the other hand, pin their hopes
on the co-evolution of technological change and institutional
innovation, but they underestimate the challenges associated with
these processes. And to have a dynamic agro-ecological system, all
technological options must be kept open.

If read individually, the two books would only fuel the debate that
is raging over agricultural biotechnology. But together, they provide
clear indications on how to promote sustainable agriculture.
Calestous Juma is in the Science, Technology and Innovation Program,
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Massachusetts 02138, USA. He is a former executive secretary of the
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.


Intellectual Property Management, Agri-biotechnology Transfer and
Trade in an International Context

An Intensive 5 day seminar at SWIFTT Cornell University, Ithaca, NY,
USA with a Cornell University Certificate; 11 to 16 August 2002 and
12 to 17 January 2003

The seminar for professionals is aimed at early or mid-career
scientists, researchers, administrators, policy makers and
licensing/tech transfer officers who have or will have responsibility
in tech transfer, licensing, policy making, plant variety protection,
and other aspects of intellectual property management, either in
government, plant or animal breeding institutions, universities or
private companies.

Focus: Whereas some would view IP as a barrier and a stumbling block,
or an additional expense, this course will help seminar participants
gain a clearer understanding and appreciation of IP management as a
useful tool with a special focus on licensing and deal-making. This
is in recognition of the fact that no matter what IP one holds, it
only becomes meaningful in the context of what one does with it. In
other words, emphasis will be placed on institutional strategies, the
forging of alliances, and what IP strategies to follow to reinforce
institutional strategies in a real-life context, dealing with the
range of issues where IP is at the crossroads of academic research,
business development, and technology transfer from academia to
companies, and to the developing world. This course is an essential
preparation for almost any career related to the plant sciences and

For more information http://www.swiftt.cornell.edu


Discussion on Mexican Corn and CaMV Promoter on an Activist listserv

Daniel Webster wrote on Wed 13/03/2002:
>>Thus not only are the flanking sequences not coding for an active
>>virus, they are not even for the sequence found in the GM maize. The
>>fact that the caMV35 sequence was detected in some samples, whether
>>a contamination or real is a mote point, it did not come from GM
>> What can we conclude from the Nature study? If real, or a
>>contamination, it suggest the CaMV35 sequence may normally be found
>>in many plant species. It's origin was most likely due to infection
>>of maize or other plants with an active virus in evolutionary time,
>>at least a 1000 years ago. Following deactivation by methylation,
>>the viral material must have recombined with other material and part
>>of it were eventually lost (which requires 1000's of generations).
>>My guess is one could probe, using the same methods of PCR or IPCR,
>>and find the other fragments in other parts of the maize genome
>>and/or in other plants. Even if it is a contamination, it must have
>>been an amplification of something with a similar evolutionary
Well Daniel,

The Quist and Chapela study would only suggest the CaMV 35S sequence
is normally found in maize if it is NOT a contamination. If CaMV 35S
would be a normal part of the maize genome it would be expected that
maize seed banks would test positive for CaMV 35S. And they don't. I
would like to add that Chapela is no fool, and that his lab has quite
some experience with PCR and species detection, most notably the
detection of certain fungi (Escovopsis) in the nests of Atta and
Acromyrmex ants. Such tests are particularly prone to contamination,
so it is certainly something his lab is aware of.

What worries me however is the low signal obtained by using single
PCR (even with 40(!) cycles). According to the studies done by the
mexican government (cited by Quist et al) 3-10% of the kernels test
positive for CaMV 35 S. Chiueh et al.(Journal of Food and Drug
Analysis, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2001, Pages 50-57) are able to detect
0.01-1% GM-corn in a sample easily (giving very clear bands) with
just a single PCR. The faint (and smearing) bands in the Quist paper
could point to flawed (inefficient) primer design, erroneous cycling
protocol or to extremely low levels of CaMV 35S DNA. This makes me
really want to see the gels with the Cry and nos-terminator PCR's.

Heine; Drs. H. Deelstra, Afd. Microbiologie, Universiteit Utrecht,
3584 CH Utrecht (NL)


Geneticists Get Steamed Up Over Public Access to Rice Genome

- Declan Butler, Nature 416, 111 - 112 (2002)

Twenty top genome researchers have written to the editorial advisers
of Science protesting at the way the journal occasionally publishes
genome maps without requiring the authors to place the supporting
sequence data in public databases.

The letter is signed by such luminaries as Bob Waterston, head of
genetics at Washington University in St Louis, Nobel laureate Aaron
Klug of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, and
Michael Ashburner, former head of the European Bioinformatics
Institute at Hinxton near Cambridge. In it they argue that new genome
sequences should be made available in public-domain databases in line
with what they term "accepted norms of the field".

"There are strong rumours in the field that Science is considering
allowing the publication of papers from commercial companies on the
rice and mouse genomes, without demanding the submission of the data
in GenBank as a condition," their letter says.

Boiling point: disputes about gene data have spilt over to the
planned publication of a rice genome. Several sources confirm that
Science intends to publish a paper by the Swiss-based agricultural
biotechnology company Syngenta on its draft of the rice genome. The
supporting sequence data will not be deposited in GenBank, the
sources say, but will be available free to academic researchers from
Syngenta's website, subject to certain restrictions.

Science drew criticism last year when it agreed to publish the draft
human genome assembled by Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland,
despite the company's restrictions on access to the sequence data.

Donald Kennedy, Science's editor-in-chief, declines to comment on the
pending paper. "Science is committed to full public access," he says.
"But we will consider rare exceptions if the public benefits of
removing valuable data and results from trade-secret status clearly
exceed the costs to the scientific community of the precedent the
exception might create. This was true for the human genome sequence,
and for the most important agricultural commodity in the Third World,
the case is surely even stronger."

According to several researchers, Science also plans to publish a
draft sequence of Oryza sativa L. ssp. indica, the major crop rice
cultivar in China, alongside the Syngenta genome. This second rice
genome was completed recently by a team led by Huanming Yang,
director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, and the supporting
sequence data have been deposited in GenBank.

A draft sequence of the rice genome by the agricultural biotechnology
company Monsanto, based in St Louis, Missouri, and one by Celera of
the mouse genome, are also under preparation, but have not yet been
scheduled for publication in any journal.

Syngenta currently makes its data available to a handful of academic
groups through special agreements. The publication of Syngenta's rice
genome in Science might result in changes to the company's policy,
giving more researchers access to the sequence data. But, as the
letter demonstrates, researchers remain deeply divided over the terms
of such access. "This goes to the heart of what science is all about,
the free exchange of ideas, data and reagents," says Bruce Stillman,
director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York state.
Science should not compromise on making the data freely available, he

But Ron Cantrell, director of the International Rice Research
Institute in the Philippines, is more supportive of Science's
decision to publish. "You have to ask the question 'is it better not
to have any access at all?'," he says, adding that, in his
experience, Syngenta and Monsanto have "been very forthcoming" in
collaborations with the public sector.

Chris Novak, a spokesman for Syngenta, says that the company hopes to
work with the publicly funded International Rice Genome Sequencing
Project (IRGSP). The project intends to produce a 'finished'
high-quality sequence, as opposed to the drafts, containing many
gaps, that are about to be published.

Researchers point out that Science's agreement with Syngenta is not
entirely analogous to the one it reached last year with Celera on the
human genome. Celera contributed no data to the public Human Genome
Project, instead relying on data from the public project to complete
its own sequence. In contrast, Syngenta has already contributed
significant mapping data to the IRGSP, through a collaboration with
Clemson University in South Carolina.

But Syngenta has so far refused to share its raw sequence data with
all of the public group - unlike its rival Monsanto, whose
contributions of sequence data are credited with strongly
accelerating the public project.

In January, however, Syngenta began talks with the IRGSP and,
according to one IRGSP official, has agreed in principle to match the
Monsanto agreement. If it does, "all the Syngenta and Monsanto data
will be in the public domain by the end of the year", says the
official. The likelihood of this happening might be a factor in
persuading Science to accept restrictions on the rice data for the
time being, observers suggest.


Is Organic Produce Better?

- Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., Health Facts and Fears, March 12, 2002,

Supporters of organic agricultural systems promote their exclusive
use for a variety of reasons. These include: a dislike of large
agribusiness; fear of health effects from traces of synthetic
pesticides, bioengineered material, or irradiated products; concern
about the environmental effects of conventional agricultural systems;
and finally a belief that organic products are nutritionally superior
to conventionally-produced ones.

Political positions aside, most of those concerns have little, if
any, solid scientific support. But some of the myths surrounding
organic foods are long-lived and appealing. Thus, it has become
almost a mantra to assert that our conventional agricultural systems
"deplete our soils," rendering the plants grown on them less
nutritionally valuable for either animal or human consumption.

The basis for this statement is nebulous. To my knowledge, there has
been little in the way of careful scientific analysis to support it.
Even proponents of organic agriculture, such as retired Columbia
University professor of nutrition education Joan Gussow, have
acknowledged the lack of substantiating data.

Thus, a few weeks back, I was surprised to see a reference on a
vegetarian website to a research article supposedly showing that
organic produce was nutritionally superior to the conventional
produce. In this article (by V. Worthington, in volume 7, issue 1 of
the Journal of Aleternative and Complementary Medicine), the author
presents a survey of the scientific literature comparing the nutrient
content of organic fruits, vegetables, and grains with that of their
conventionally-raised counterparts.

The main problem in doing the survey, Dr. Worthington noted, was that
the studies are quite dissimilar in terms of "crops grown,
fertilization methods used, storage methods, if any, etc." She goes
on to say that "These factors can make it hard to interpret data from
such studies in any conclusive manner." But she does it anyway - she

In all, Dr. Worthington found some 41 studies in the scientific
literature published between 1946 and 1999. These reported the
effects on nutrient content of differences in fertilization
techniques - either conventional fertilizers or strictly organic
ones. But that's where any consistency seems to end.

The produce used to derive the data came from such varied locations
as research plots and greenhouses, conventional storage facilities,
and farm stands and markets. Further, for three of the studies,
detailed descriptions of analytical methods were lacking - this is
problematic, as it is hard to believe that analytical techniques were
constant over this long a time period. Data from all these types of
studies were combined.

In the studies Dr. Worthington examined, she found 1,297 comparisons
made between organic and non-organic produce. Oddly, she chose not to
use 57 of those comparisons, saying they didn't report results in
clear, numerical fashion. Perhaps excluding those comparisons was
appropriate, but it should be noted that the majority of those
studies were ones that concluded that organic and non-organic produce
do not differ in nutrient content. That means that, deliberately or
not, Dr. Worthington excluded results that did not support her
conclusion that organic is superior. That wouldn't be troubling if
she had consistently used very high standards in deciding which
studies to include, but many of the ones she did include appear to
have been inconsistent in various ways, as noted above.

In all, comparisons were made for 35 vitamins and minerals, as well
as "protein quality and quantity." Protein quality was assessed by
measuring the produce's content of essential amino acids, which were
reportedly higher in organic crops. This is difficult to understand.
A cabbage plant will make cabbage protein; it won't make corn, wheat,
or beef protein, no matter how it is grown - and the amino acid
composition of its proteins are specified in its DNA. Thus, it's hard
to see how the actual quality of the protein would be changed by
fertilization methods.

Quantity is a different issue: surely a plant that doesn't receive
appropriate nutrition might not grow normally or make the usual
amount of protein. But here too, some more detail would be useful.
For example, is there more protein in an organic cabbage than a
conventional one? Is that because the organic one is larger? How were
the data expressed? Usually, nutrients in foods are expressed per
specific amount of a food. That is, the size of the food item or
portion is specified. Thus, one might compare the protein or vitamin
C in 3 ounces of organic versus conventional cabbage, but not just in
"a cabbage." Further, a food scientist examines the content of
nutrients on a dry weight basis, that is, after the water has been
removed from the food. This practice allows one to control for the
fact that produce can lose water during transport or storage -
sometimes a substantial amount.

Worthington uses the data from these varied studies to calculate
percent differences in nutrients between organic and conventional
crops. These differences are sometimes statistically significant, but
it is not clear that they are really biologically significant. For
example, she says that on average, the organic vegetables surveyed
had 27% more vitamin C than the conventional ones. The author found
this difference statistically significant. But whether or not it
would make a difference to a person consuming the food would depend
on the consitituents of the whole diet and which foods actually
supplied that person's vitamin C.

Worthington did attempt to address this issue by estimating the
nutrient content of the vegetable portion of a person's daily intake.
In her discussion, she notes that while the conventional produce
provides 67.9 mg of vitamin C, the organic one would provide 89.2.
Thus, the organic one - but not the conventional one - would fulfill
the adult male RDA for vitamin C. It's important to recognize,
however, that even if these calculations reflect reality, they
probably are not veryimportant because this is not the vitamin C
content of the whole diet: no fruits or grains were included, and
much of the vitamin C in the typical American diet comes from fruit
and fruit juices.

Yet another problem with the data used in this analysis is that no
information is provided about the varieties of vegetables or fruits
used in the studies. While a rose by any other name might smell as
sweet, an Early Girl tomato will not necessarily have the same
nutrient composition as a Beefsteak. According to Dr. Jack Francis,
professor emeritus of food science at the University of Massachusetts
in Amherst, there can certainly be large differences in composition
due to genetic differences between strains. Such differences must be
controlled for in any valid study.

In sum, Dr. Worthington made a valiant effort to show that organic
methods produce nutritionally superior produce, but the data simply
are not strong enough to allow her legitimately to do so. What we
need are rigorously controlled studies of the same varieties of
plants raised by either organic or conventional procedures. These
plants must be grown at the same time, under the same conditions of
weather. Further, if one wishes to determine whether differences in
fertilizer types cause differences in nutrient content, then
fertilizer type (organic vs synthetic) should be the only variable
that differs between the plants - the same pesticides should be used
on both. And of course, one year's crop is not enough for a rigorous
evaluation. Whatever the outcome, the data should be replicated to
increase the validity of the data.

Without such careful study the issue can't really be settled, and we
are left with only belief systems to fall back upon. Or, as the early
computer programmers used to say, GIGO: garbage in/garbage out.

If you wish to respond to this editorial please email your comments
to forum@acsh.org. Also, visit the ACSH FORUMS at www.acsh.org/forum/.


In Risk Assessment, One Has To Admit Ignorance

- Nature 416, 123 (2002) Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Sir - The risks and benefits of novel technologies such as
genetically modified foods continue to be fiercely debated. Risk
assessment is at the crux of these conflicts, as shown, for example,
by the report of the United Kingdom's Agriculture and Environment
Biotechnology Commission last September, Crops on Trial
( http://www.aebc.gov.uk/aebc/reports.html). Yet it is often
overlooked that scientific risk assessment is fundamentally limited
by ignorance.

Naturally, scientific knowledge refers to known processes and their
influence upon known state-variables. Within this domain of
reproducibility and control, uncertainty can be explicitly stated and
reduced by reproducible experiments under controlled conditions.
However, the domain of ignorance, characterized by the interaction
between unknown processes and/or unknown state-variables, tends to be
implicitly neglected in risk assessment. As the well-known examples
of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and chlorofluorocarbons
(CFCs) suggest, our ability to assess novel risks is primarily
limited by the fundamental difficulty of taking these interactions
into account.

In the case of DDT, the increase in concentrations of this
insecticide resulted in (among other things) fragile egg-shells,
threatening the survival of rare species of birds. Here we are
dealing with interactions between a known process (increase in DDT
concentration) and an unknown, thus neglected, state-variable
(egg-shell thickness); between this neglected state-variable and a
neglected process (population dynamics); and between this neglected
process and the neglected state-variable of bird population. All of
these interactions fell within the domain of ignorance for the
contemporary environmental risk assessments of DDT. As long as
egg-shell thickness was not understood to be a relevant
state-variable, there was no reason to monitor it. Therefore, it was
exceedingly difficult at the time to identify the unknown effect of

In the case of CFCs, risk assessment was initially limited to human
toxicity. The highly stable nature of CFCs was considered desirable
because it was thought to indicate the very low reactivity of these
novel compounds and thus their suitability as non-flammable
refrigerants. Vertical transport of CFCs into the stratosphere was
not then considered a relevant process; their concentration in the
stratosphere was not monitored (neglected state-variable). Nobody
suspected a connection between stratospheric CFC concentrations and
stratospheric ozone concentration (neglected photochemical processes
in the stratosphere). Once again, these state-variables and
interactions were neglected because they belonged to the contemporary
domain of ignorance.

The impossibility of taking unknown processes and variables into
account may be a more fundamental obstacle to credible risk
assessment than our inability to describe the known interactions
accurately. Yet the current discussion on uncertainty tends only to
deal with the latter.

The possible consequences of ignorance are a major concern among the
public regarding new technologies: time and again, people ask who
will be in charge of responses to inevitable future surprises, and
whether they can be trusted.

The policy response to these concerns has typically been to recommend
further research on known uncertainties, with the intention of
creating greater certainty and hence reassurance that risks are
controlled. This response fails to reassure the public since it
mistakenly assumes their concerns to be inspired by a demand for zero

To overcome mutual misunderstanding by scientists, policymakers and
the public, it is important for all to acknowledge that unanticipated
effects of novel technologies are not just possible but probable -
and that potential harmful consequences cannot reliably be
established by further research since they fall into the domain of

Risk assessment and policy need to emphasize uncovering the limits to
knowledge, rather than proving existing knowledge to be correct.
Multiple interacting perspectives should be encouraged, as each can
be useful in pointing to limitations of the others. Lay knowledge, in
particular, can be a valuable addition to expert knowledge, because
it is based on different experiences.

Both the UK Office of Science and Technology guidelines on scientific
advice for government
( http://www.dti.gov.uk/ost/aboutost/scientific_advice/index.htm) and
the European Union communication on the precautionary principle
( http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/health_consumer/library/pub/pub07_en.pdf)
laudably advocate greater inclusiveness, transparency about
uncertainties, and accountability in scientific inputs to risk
policy. But they also need to recognize and address the crucial
distinction between uncertainty and ignorance. Otherwise, they may
inadvertently contribute to the continuing confusion of the pretence
of control with the reality of unanticipated consequences. Failure to
address this predicament may unintentionally encourage further
erosion of public confidence in science.
Holger Hoffmann-Riem, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology, Grabenstrasse 3, 8952 Schlieren,
Switzerland; Brian Wynne, Institute for Environmental Philosophy and
Public Policy, Furness College Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1


AgBioView.....Selection from the Past..

We'll Feed Our People As We See Fit

- Hassan Adamu, Washington Post, September 11, 2000;

It is possible to kill someone with kindness, literally. That could
be the result of the well-meaning but extremely misguided attempts by
European and North American groups that are advising Africans to be
wary of agricultural biotechnology. They claim to have the
environment and public health at the core of their opposition, but
scientific evidence disproves their claims that enhanced crops are
anything but safe. If we take their alarmist warnings to heart,
millions of Africans will suffer and possibly die.

Agricultural biotechnology, whereby seeds are enhanced to instill
herbicide tolerance or provide resistance to insects and disease,
holds great promise for Africa and other areas of the world where
circumstances such as poverty and poor growing conditions make
farming difficult. Fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, machinery,
fuel and other tools that richer nations take for granted as part of
their farming regimen are luxuries in poorer countries. Moreover, the
soil in tropical climates, or in areas with inhospitable weather,
cannot be farmed successfully in the more traditional ways. These
circumstances demand unique agricultural solutions, and many have
been made available through the advances of biotechnology.

To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures
by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic
but morally wrong. Certainly, those with fertile lands and an
abundance of food have every right to decide how they would like to
grow their crops and process their foods. Organic farming,
sophisticated methods of distributing food and other approaches are
well and good for those who can afford to experiment. Starving people
do not have this luxury. They want food and nourishment, not
lectures, and we certainly won't allow ourselves to be intimidated by
eco-terrorists who destroy test crops and disrupt scientific meetings
that strive to reveal the facts.

It is wrong and dangerous for a privileged people to presume that
they know what is best for everyone. And when this happens, it cannot
come as a shock that those who are imposed upon often see this
attitude as colonialist. Millions of Africans--far too many of them
children--are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Agricultural
biotechnology offers a way to stop the suffering.

As Florence Wambugu, one of Africa's leading plant geneticists said
recently, "In Africa, GM [genetically modified] food could almost
literally weed out poverty."

With regard to agricultural biotechnology, Africans are not asking
for others to come in and grow our food. We are not asking for others
to provide the financial means to establish this system in our
countries. We want to come to the table as stakeholders. We know the
conditions of our fields. We know the threats, the insects and
diseases. We can work as partners to develop the seeds that could
build peoples and nations. We do not want to be denied this
technology because of a misguided notion that we don't understand the
dangers or the future consequences. We understand. We understand that
this system must continue to undergo study and careful use.

We also understand that agricultural biotechnology has been deemed
safe and nutritious by a host of nationally and internationally
respected organizations such as the National Research Council,
Nuffield Council on Bioethics, World Health Organization, Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development, the American Medical
Association and the American Dietetic Association.

We will proceed carefully and thoughtfully, but we want to have the
opportunity to save the lives of millions of people and change the
course of history in many nations. That is our right, and we should
not be denied by those with a mistaken idea that they know best how
everyone should live or that they have the right to impose their
values on us. The harsh reality is that, without the help of
agricultural biotechnology, many will not live.
The writer is Nigeria's minister of agricultural and rural development.