Today in AgBioView: March 20, 2002
* The Risk of Nations
* 'Reprioritize Biotech to Help Poor', Meeting Told
* Africa Must Make Better Use of Its Bio-diversity
* Improving Agricultural Production Through GM Seeds
* Mexican Jumping Genes
* Calling Poirot: Bizarre Case of Cross-Border 'Super Corn'
* Northern NGO 'Contamination' of Southern Food Policy
* Biotech Industry Seen Failing To Explain Benefits
* Biotech Provides Better and Safer Products To Consumers
* Brazil: Pratini Again Defends Transgenics
* Scientific American Quick Poll
* Dangers of the Salicylates in Organic Food
* How Monsanto Ignored the Rule of Holes
* The Precautionary Principle: A Workshop
* GM Food and the Consumer: NABC Meeting Report
* Determining Allergenicity In GM Foods
'The Risk of Nations'
In the US products are safe until proven risky
In France products are risky until proven safe
In the UK products are risky even when proven safe
In India products are safe even when proven risky
In Switzerland products are risky especially after they have been proven
In Kenya products are safe especially after they have been proven risky
In Canada products are neither safe nor risky
In Brazil products are both safe and risky
In Ethiopia products are risky even if they have not been developed
*(Author unknown. Forwarded by a friend)*
'Reprioritize Biotech to Help Poor', Meeting Told
http://www.agbiotechnet.com/, March 20, 2002
Biotech can help the poor if it is refocused on their needs, says
Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation, USA. He was speaking at
the conference Biotechnology And Sustainable Development - Voices Of
The South And North which took place in Alexandria, Egypt.
Smallpox eradication and the "Green Revolution" have helped millions,
and new sciences promise even more, says Conway. "Unfortunately,
however, many of these potential benefits may not be realized, or if
they are, may not be accessible to the people in greatest need. In
the worldís market economy, the profit objective of the private
sector directs research agendas toward the needs and desires of those
who can pay."
Awareness of developing country conditions is still a problem, he
believes. "Most of our brightest scientists are working in
sophisticated laboratories in industrial countries and have little or
no knowledge of the needs of the poor living in rural areas, a
continent away. We need more of our best scientists working in
well-equipped laboratories and field facilities in developing
countries, where they can interact with, learn from, and address the
needs of poor people."
Conway criticizes the current state of intellectual property
ownership. "The private sector needs to be willing to share more of
its technology and to enter into public-private partnerships that
allow profits to be made, while simultaneously strengthening the
public sector's ability to meet the needs of those who cannot pay,"
he says. "The rules governing the ownership of science need to be
fairer, more transparent, and more accommodating to the traditions
and values of all societies."
Magdy Madkour of the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research
Institute (AGERI) ARC-Giza, Egypt described how the Egyptian
government is moving towards privatization. Technology transfer to
the private sector has been achieved for in vitro micropropagation
and for virus-free potato technology. AGERI has been working with
Pioneer on co-development of technology as opposed to technology
transfer. He says this distinction "is especially pertinent in the
case of Pioneerís relationship with AGERI, in this collaboration, a
public-sector institution was able to bring a significant
contribution to the table." AGERI has isolated a number of Bt strains
with pesticidal activity. Scientists at AGERI and the University of
Wyoming have worked together on Bt, and isolated a strain in the Nile
Delta that is extremely effective against a broad range of insects
and nematodes. Madkour explains that in order to bring its results to
the farmers, AGERI set up "BIOGRO", a company responsible for the
commercialization AGERI's research results.
Marc van Montagu from the VIB Department of Plant Genetics,
University of Gent, Belgium argued for the need to use genomics to
"produce crop plants for a low input agriculture." It could also help
bring value to agriculture by developing plants to be used by the
processing industry, and plants as a source for producing fine
chemicals and pharmaceuticals. "To achieve these ambitious goals we
will have to develop a network of institutes that can use the
molecular technology of the developed countries to construct in the
developing countries the improved crop so badly needed," says Montagu.
The establishment of start-up companies and of a dynamic and strong
seed industry will be of the greatest importance, he believes. Also
vital is improving communication. "We will have to improve science
education worldwide and explain to the society the importance of
science in decision-making." Scientists will also have to be engaged
in a dialogue with the public at large and particularly with the
consumer organisations and NGOs. "They have to explain the
consequences of not using GM plants."
Brian Johnson from the Biotechnology Advisory Unit, English Nature,
UK discussed the threat of extending agricultural production to the
environment, pointing out that it could reduce areas available to
natural ecosystems and probably lead to severe degradation of soils,
water resources and biodiversity. "Although organic production could
reduce these impacts, it is unlikely to produce the required
increases in yield, "he says.
To achieve increases in productivity without further degrading the
environment, new cropping systems may be needed based on novel crop
varieties with traits like resistance to drought, pests and diseases,
coupled with changes in plant architecture and growth. "Provided it
can be used safely, biotechnology could deliver a sustainable way of
producing more food in 'quasi-organic' systems." The potential risks
to the environment do vary with the transgenic traits, crops and
environments considered, and it is important to be able to identify
sustainable systems. "Systems demonstrating gains in sustainability
may be crucial to public acceptance of transgenic products
worldwide," concludes Johnson. "If sustainability is to become a key
driver of new developments in agriculture, fisheries and food, there
needs to be greater public sector influence over the direction of
research and development, rather than the current paradigm of
strategies driven by narrow commercial imperatives," he says.
Eusebius J. Mukhwana of the Sustainable Agriculture Centre for
Research, Extension Development in Africa, Kenya argues that
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that transgenic plants "cannot go far in
reducing the poverty and hunger that afflicts this continent, as this
poverty is structurally rooted in an unfair and exploitative system
of international trade and resource control. Improvement of yield
alone cannot improve the lives of the poor in rural Africa as
storage, transportation, marketing, distribution and ability to
purchase the food remain nagging problems. Cash cropping pushes
production to poor and marginal areas, he says.
Hence if the poverty and hunger of small-holder farmers in SSA is to
be addressed, their root causes must be understood and appreciated,
says Mukhwana. "Today, the farmers face many problems mostly because
of structural and policy inadequacies. Hence, while biotechnology can
help improve the situation, we should not lose focus of the bigger
picture that keeps many poor and hungry in SSA."
Africa Must Make Better Use of Its Bio-diversity
- Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, March 19, 2002
Poverty-wracked Africa should rally around making better use of its
bio-diversity and encouraging biotechnology, including research into
genetically-modified crops. Ugandan-born Dr John Kilama, who was
speaking at the Scifest in Grahamstown on Tuesday, said the continent
had an abundance of natural resources but simply did not exist in the
context of international economies.
Kilama, who heads the Global Bio-diversity Institute in the United
States, said Africa needed to eliminate its dependency on foreign
aid. However, to enter the global system required good governance.
African countries needed to move from industrial-based economies
which relied on raw material, real estate and cheap labour to
information-based economies providing information, knowledge, skills
and ideas. Kilama said, poor management and poor governance were key
reasons for Africa's diminished economic status. It also had
inadequate investment capital, technology adoption, and science and
technology capacity. There were numerous areas where the continent
could cash in on its bio-diversity and Africans could benefit from
their indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants.
Kilama said that traditionally, Africa ignored the ingenuity of its
local communities. This is sad. They could provide ideas that can
lead to useful products for Africa and the world. He said Africa also
rated its best food crops poorly. Nutrient-rich cereals, such as
sorghum, the staple diet of more than 500 million people in 30
countries, were often dismissed as a poor person's food. But sorghum
could be packaged in such a sexy way that young people in Chicago
will buy it because it's the thing to do. He said the development of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was huge, yet Africa looked set
to sit on the sidelines while others expanded their economies using
this avenue. It will be sad if 10 years from now we in Africa have
done nothing positive.
We must participate and judge for ourselves if this technology is fit
for us. He acknowledged that Africa faced problems with the European
Union which is strongly opposed to GMOs. However, Kilama predicted
that Europe, Africa's main trading partner, would go for GMOs, like
it or not. And we must be in a position to take advantage of it when
the opportunity comes. The erosion of bio-diversity in Africa was the
result of the pressure on the environment and not because of science
and technology, Kilama said.
India: Improving Agricultural Production Through GM Seeds
- S. L. Rao, Economic Times (India), March 18, 2002
Here are some who do not accept any need for increasing agricultural
production because of the accumulation of stocks of food grain with
the government, indicating that demand is already fully satisfied.
This is a ridiculous argument. The stock accumulation is indicative
of high prices and lack of purchasing power, not demand satisfaction.
There continue to be huge gaps in nutrition. These must be met.
Price support policies, public distribution, storage, transport and
credit are issues to be addressed. But production is not growing at
the rapid rates of earlier decades till the 1990s and this has to be
reversed. Public investment has been declining in agriculture and
Indian agricultural productivity, for most crop and non-crop
agriculture, is among the lowest in the world.
With the limits having been reached on additional lands brought under
cultivation, the answers are to contain wastage caused by poor
storage, rodent and pest damage, and by improving productivity. The
productivity jumps of the past in crops like wheat and rice have come
about due to careful plant breeding. Genetic variation available from
closely related organisms has been used to develop crops with more
desirable characteristics. But this seems to have slowed down in
recent years. The new method now offered to farmers is the use of
genetically manipulated seeds.
"Modern genetic engineering consists in extracting the DNA
corresponding to a particular gene from a donor organism and then
inserting it into the cells of a recipient in such a way that it
becomes incorporated into the recipient's genome." This can be done
even when the donor and recipient are in no way related. For example
the human gene for insulin has been successfully inserted into the
genome of bacteria, and these bacteria grown in industrial vats,
supply human insulin to the market.
Transgenic DNA transfers in agriculture till now have been mainly to
provide crop plants with resistance to insect pests. They have been
transferred from bacteria as well as many other crop plants that are
resistant to particular chemicals. In the last six years that they
have become available; over 20 per cent of US maize acreage is
transgenic. They have been widely used for cotton and soybean as well
among other crops.
Potentially, any new characteristic can be built in, ranging from
pest resistance to additional nutritional features. The technology
has been resisted in Europe. India also has witnessed opposition to
"GM" from a coalition of different groups, from NGOs working on the
environment to farmer groups.
Richard Lewontin in the New York Review of Books, (quoted above)
examines the different arguments for and against "GM" in agriculture.
He identifies five general issues in this debate over "GM" organisms.
They are threats to human health, possible disruption of natural
environments, threats to agricultural production from a more rapid
evolution of resistant pests (as happened with DDT), disruption of
Third World agricultural economies and moral objections to
So far a transgenic plant has poisoned no one. The Brazil nut protein
produced by a transgenic soybean was not released because it was
allergenic. This is cited as a good example of self-policing by
industry. But it might have also been because it was realised that
the regulatory authority would not have allowed it. India needs a
regulatory framework that can at all times identify such transgenic
products in use. We do not have one and even in the US such precise
identification and labelling has not been possible.
"GM" can cause ecological damage when transgenic crops are produced
on thousands of acres. They could then produce hybrids and weedy
species at the margins of cultivated fields, resulting in weedy forms
that will be unusually invasive. "No unequivocal conclusions can be
drawn about the overall effect of genetic engineering technologies."
All the threats mentioned are real ones and could happen. An
effective government regulatory system is essential and it must have
independent data, not relying only on what is given by the producers.
The real objection might well be to the disappearance of the idyll of
pastoral agriculture, with small organic farms. Large corporations
are now entering agriculture. They do not merely produce tractors and
farm equipment, motors, pump sets, PVC pipes, fertilisers and
pesticides but seeds as well. With transgenic seeds the farmer has to
commit that he will use the seeds exclusively, and not sell them. He
is becoming a businessman who has a contract as to what he can and
cannot do with the seed that he buys.
This development is part of a long historical marriage between
industry and agriculture. If we are to increase our agricultural
production we must not discard these new technologies, but adopt them
reluctantly and carefully with adequate safeguards in place.
Mexican Jumping Genes
- Howard Fienberg, TechCentral, March 18, 2002
A common nightmare for opponents of genetically modified (GM) (also
known as "transgene") crops: 'What would happen if the genes got
loose?' Would the herbicide resistance in some GM crops spread to
regular corn, resulting in a mutant super-weed immune to all
herbicides? What if GM seedlings destroyed the regular ones? The list
of theoretical fright-fests seems endless.
So the news media and the environmentally concerned stood at
attention in November, when the respected scientific journal Nature
reported that genes from GM corn had been discovered in native
Mexican corn and were destabilizing the Mexican corn's genome. As one
of the researchers told the Washington Post (Dec. 3), "Whatever its
source, it's clear that genes are somehow moving from bioengineered
corn to native corn."
In 1998, the Mexican government had declared a moratorium on the
planting of GM corn, primarily as a means to protect the crop
diversity found in the region where the genetic interlopers were
discovered, Oaxaca. In the wake of the Nature article, activists
called for the banning of all GM crops in Mexico and even used it as
a platform to ban GM crops worldwide. An activist for Greenpeace,
after the Nature article was published in November, called it "a
worse attack on our culture than if they had torn down the Cathedral
of Oaxaca and built a McDonald's over it." Accurate information was
getting lost in a sea of rumors and accusations. A clerk at a
government store told Newsweek International (Jan. 28) that the corn
could "cause a disease called cancer."
But while politics raged, the scientific community seethed:
fundamental flaws called into question all of the conclusions of the
The authors of the study, David Quist and Ignacio H. Chapela,
investigated corn native to Oaxaca (meaning corn varieties regularly
grown there, since no variety actually qualifies as "native"), called
landraces. Using highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and
inverse PCR (IPCR) approaches, they tested for the presence of
elements common to commercial GM crops.
Quist and Chapela reportedly discovered traces of the 35S promoter
from the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) in local landraces. CaMV35S
is regularly incorporated into GM crops in order to activate the
implanted genes. The researchers concluded that these GM corn genes
had "introgressed" (shifted from one pool of genes to another) with
landraces and implied that such gene flow was widespread from
presumed illegal plantations of GM corn within Mexico
The researchers also claimed the "introgressed" genes were unstable,
having "become reassorted and introduced into different genomic
backgrounds." In plain English, the mixing of the two corns put the
DNA chains in the genome into strange orders. This could lead to
unknown and unpredicted effects, since a "gene's behavior depends on
its place in the genome." (Science, Mar. 1)
When the Mexican government was informed of the corn findings last
year, Mexico's Secretary for of Environment and Natural Resources
ordered further tests. The government later confirmed that the
"contamination" of native strains had indeed occurred.
However, their tests simply duplicated those of the authors of the
Nature study. And the scientific community was not convinced that
those methods were any good.
The Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat in Mexico checked
out its own extensive stocks of corn as well as samples collected
fresh from the fields and found no evidence of the genes Quist and
Chapela reportedly discovered.
A molecular biologist at the Center, Marilyn Warburton, expressed
concern to Science on the reliability of the PCR tests. "If you get a
positive result, you have to check it repeatedly... And even then you
need to confirm it by another method to be completely sure you're not
fooling yourself." IPCR false positives occur often because samples
can become contaminated easily with the substance for which the IPCR
is testing. Both PCR and IPCR are prone to false positives because
they are so sensitive. Unfortunately, Quist and Chapela did not
report conducting any extra tests.
An editorial in Transgenic Research pointed out many problems in the
tests that Quist and Chapela did report. For instance, only one of
the gene sequences, the CaMV35S, was analyzed with both IPCR and PCR.
The rest were run only through the PCR. Transgenic Research concluded
that the results probably resulted from "minute contamination of the
ground sample powders." Transgenic Research's editors also complained
that the IPCR results were "problematic, internally inconsistent and
not what is expected from cross-pollination" by GM crops.
Like Warburton, the Transgenic Research editors were baffled by the
lack of extra testing. In particular, they wondered why the Nature
authors had not conducted "the easy and incontrovertible experiment
of growing out the suspected contaminated lines" which would make any
hybridization plainly obvious.
But the most disturbing aspect of the Nature study, the reassortment
and unpredictable instability of the resulting hybrid genome,
elicited the harshest criticism. "Cross pollination and introgression
would not produce these results." Since the authors did not show "the
presence of intact inserts, which are more likely to be present than
fragments of unknown origin," Transgenic Research concluded that the
Nature study was most likely a "testimony to technical failure" and
common artifacts." Transgenic Research claimed to be disappointed
"that the editors of Nature did not insist on a level of scientific
evidence that should have been easily accessible if the
interpretations were true. Consequently, no evidence is presented to
justify any of the conclusions."
Concerned about such criticisms, anti-GM activists released a "Joint
Statement" condemning the scientific challenges as "academic
intimidation" and a "highly unethical mudslinging campaign." A bevy
of researchers and biotechnology advocates fired back with a Joint
Statement of their own in support of "vigorous scientific discourse."
Public debates aside, Transgenic Research is not alone in its
concerns. Three other different academic teams have officially
challenged Nature to withdraw Quist and Chapela's article, but have
been under a "blackout" imposed by the journal while it considers
their input. Editor Philip Campbell has been ducking questions about
them and the article, saying, "Our policy in general is to consider
criticisms received after publication as promptly as possible."
Serious scientific questions have been raised about a published
article with major public policy implications. Sensible policy debate
requires as much sensible data as possible. Hopefully, Nature will
realize that and publish the critical rejoinders soon.
Calling Poirot: Bizarre Case of Cross-Border 'Super Corn'
'Scientists Claim Genetically Modified Grain from US Invades Mexico,
Threatening Purity of Birthplace of Corn'
- Laurent Belsie, March 20, 2002 Christian Science Monitor
It's a border crossing of the worst kind. US biotechnology has spread
southward to Mexico, its effects showing up in the native corn of
remote southern villages. The high-tech invasion may threaten the
birthplace of corn, which is also a key center of biodiversity.
That's the contention, anyway, of two scientists in the United States
who have touched off a firestorm. Scientists around the globe are
trading increasingly vitriolic charges over the scientists' findings.
Mexican activists claim biotechnology has violated their natural
heritage. And an international research center in Mexico faces the
unsavory possibility of spending its entire biotech research budget
to test its gene banks for the offending material.
Can corn really be so controversial? Apparently so, when the subject
is bioengineering. The current corn clash shows how quickly and
unexpectedly genetically altered DNA can hop over national borders.
It also poses a new question for biotech crops: If the new genetics
invades its own cradle, will it weaken the old genetics? Or will it,
oddly, enhance it?
No one knows the answer yet. The skirmish had its beginnings last
September, when Mexico's Ministry of the Environment and Natural
Resources announced it had found native corn contaminated with
bioengineered DNA. The findings seemed to confirm what the two
scientists had already discovered in two remote locations of southern
But when the scientists - microbial ecologist Ignacio Chapela and
graduate student David Quist, both of the University of California at
Berkeley - published their findings in the journal Nature in
November, the fireworks began.
'Biotech invasion' One Greenpeace activist reportedly called the
biotech invasion a worse cultural attack than tearing down Oaxaca's
cathedral to build a McDonald's. Last month, the Mexican government
enacted a law threatening up to nine years in prison for anyone who
commercializes, stores, transports, or releases into the environment
a genetically modified organism.
Particularly surprising in the Berkeley study were the remote
locations where the altered DNA purportedly appeared. Not only had
Mexico banned the planting of such bioengineered corn in 1998, but
the affected native corn was growing many miles away from commercial
How it got there - if it indeed did - remains a mystery. In fact,
many crop geneticists doubt it has. They don't like the testing
methodology that authors Quist and Chapela used. "Poor experimental
design and practices," Transgenic Research, a scientific journal,
"Clearly, what they were picking up were false positives," says C.S.
Prakash, professor of agricultural biotechnology at Tuskegee
University in Tuskegee, Ala.
Such criticisms unleashed further charges and countercharges.
"Pro-industry academics are engaging in a highly unethical mud-
slinging campaign against the Berkeley researchers," read a statement
from 144 nongovernmental organizations. The respected and normally
mild-mannered International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in
Mexico weighed in with its own press release decrying "the flamboyant
and often misleading headlines that dominate today's debate."
Nearly lost in the furor is the key question raised by the original
study: What effect will bioengineered DNA have as it spreads into the
Scattered seeds. Scientists have long known that genes from their
biotech crops would scatter. What the study suggests is that they've
moved faster than expected and - perhaps - recombined in surprising
Quist argues that such findings call into question assumptions about
these genes behaving the same way whether they're in predictable
places, like Iowa, or unexpected places, like southern Mexico.
"We are becoming aware that the most basic conceptions and paradigms
of genetic engineering have fatal flaws, which need to be revisited
if these concepts fail to stand up to scientific rigor and new
experimental evidence," he says.
But crop scientists insist they have taken a hard look at "gene
flow." The likelihood of spread is already being reduced by mandated
buffer zones and other planting regulations. And spread isn't
necessarily bad, they argue. After all, nature and conventional
breeders have moved and recombined genes for thousands of years to
create today's "natural" foods.
Even Mexico's native corn, at the center of the debate, represents an
ever-changing collection of genes, says Marilyn Warburton, a
molecular geneticist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center. Over time, genes move in and fall out depending on which
varieties local farmers choose to plant the following year.
Dr. Warburton and other crop scientists doubt that altered DNA poses
much risk to Mexican corn, since farmers aren't likely to select
traits from corn bioengineered for other climates and other pests.
But everyone agrees more testing needs to be done.
"There shouldn't be a massive impact of this gene flow on
biodiversity," says Luis Herrera Estrella, director of the plant
biotech unit at Mexico's National Polytechnic Institute.
"Nevertheless, we should make a study to determine the possible
Meanwhile, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center has
put Warburton in charge of testing its own gene banks for evidence of
the bioengineered corn. So far, the 125 varieties of tested native
corn show no signs of contamination. But that's only 1 percent of the
holdings - and testing all of them, she says, would eat up the
center's biotech research budget.
Northern NGO 'Contamination' of Southern Food Policy
An Open Letter to the Chairman of the CGIAR on the Need to Place a
Moratorium on Northern NGO 'Contamination' of Southern Food Policy
- From Dave Wood: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr Johnson,
We met during your visit to India last year. I support and commend
the very fine work done by your organization, the CGIAR, in helping
national researchers in feeding the poor, contributing to national
food security, and saving the biodiversity of vast tracts of wildland
by increasing crop yields. I hope that biotechnology will contribute
Because of this fine record in feeding desperately poor farmers and
landless farm labourers in developing countries, the CGIAR is being
attacked yet again by meddling 'North-down' NGOs. Specifically, a
letter sent to you on February 6th and signed by the usual
anti-development North-down NGOs - including ETC Group, Canada, and
Food First, USA - demands that you intervene in what is certainly
Mexican national sovereignty over food policy. The issue is the
supposed presence of promoters in Mexican traditional maize varieties.
As a former manager of a CGIAR genebank (CIAT in Colombia) I can
assure you that technical arguments of these North-down NGOs are
exaggerations, scare-mongering, or simply wrong. First, there are far
more serious threats to the integrity and exchange of genebank
accessions than innocuous and scarcely-detectable promoters - notably
seed-borne pests and disease, for which international protocols have
been in place for decades.
Second, there are repeated claims that uncontaminated genebank
accessions are vital for future food security. Are they? This is one
of the great myths of the NGOs as they seek to stifle agricultural
development as destroying genetic diversity. In reality, farmers as
breeders can create crop diversity readily every season, have their
own off-farm seed sources, and never depend on genebanks; breeders
and national programmes use selected varieties from their own working
collections, and very rarely, if ever, have an absolute need for
genebank samples. If such samples are ever used in breeding, traces
of promoters can readily be removed during backcrossing. All this
fuss over genebanks is a classic North-down NGO excuse to prevent
This is not science or genetic resource management, but political
meddling by the vested interests of agricultural protectionism. You
should reject this letter outright.
For example, one of the signatories, the Californian NGO Food First,
has long opposed Mexican crop exports to the US. Their
agro-nationalistic book Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity
(Lappe, Collins, and Fowler, 1977), apart from the objectionable
sub-title, is profoundly anti-trade: p. 226. 'Because of American
multinational corporationsí ability to run away to wherever labor and
other resources are cheaper, the United States imports consumer and
agricultural goods that could well be produced at home.í p. 254
specifically notes the 'The Mexican Connection': Mexico exports to
the US asparagus, cucumber, eggplants, squash, tomatoes,
strawberries, cantaloupes, damaging US agriculture.
Finally, p. 408: 'At least 40 percent of all imported food that
directly competes with United States farm production comes from
underdeveloped countries.í The clear aim of Food First is to turn
Mexico into an outdoor farm museum, claim the maize varieties of
Mexican farmers as a 'global heritage', and certainly not allow
Mexican farmers access to the latest technology. Thus they directly
challenge Mexican sovereignty and also promote an illegal non-tariff
barrier under NAFTA. What will farmers in the Sahel think of plump
Californians attacking the 'Myth of Food Scarcity'?
And what of RAFI - now ETC Group? First, they recently lifted the
name ETC without permission from a respectable Netherlands NGO
founded in 1974 (as they had previously cloaked themselves with the
once-respectable name of the Rural Advancement Fund, founded in
1934). Second, RAFI-Canada is the most blatant example I know of
export protectionism. They howled (successfully) to the CGIAR over
Australian chickpea registrations (Canada is a major chickpea
exporter). They howled (successfully) to the CGIAR over 'Terminator'
(a clear threat to Canadian wheat exports) and the CGIAR foolishly
But the present argument - that the CGIAR should deny access to
improved agricultural technology to any country that is a Centre of
Crop Diversity - is breathtakingly self-serving. By intelligent
design, most CGIAR Centres are actually in Centres of Crop Origins:
are they not to work with and for their host countries? And surely
any moratorium is for developing countries to decide, not North-down
NGOs or the CGIAR? Especially not North-down NGOs such as Food First
and ETC, whose home countries are exporting crops to Mexico on a
massive scale. And these same NGOs are curiously 'silent' (their
word) on massive GMO soybean exports by the US to China - the Centre
of Origin of soybean.
For the record, the 'Trust Agreement' between CGIAR Centres and FAO
does not, as claimed in the NGO letter, specifically state 'that
accessions cannot be placed under any form of intellectual property':
this is NGO wishful thinking. Any country supplying samples to the
CGIAR, or any country of origin of a sample, can and does receive
duplicate samples back from the CGIAR with no restriction on future
IP whatever (Article 10, second sentence). Such countries can patent,
negotiate IP, sell rights over samples to others, and do what they
like subject only to their national laws. For example, the US
supplied about 100,000 samples to the CGIAR and can claim duplicates
of all back with no legal strings attached. India now has legislation
that permits PVR on 'extant' varieties such as any farmerís variety
in CGIAR genebanks: these can be reclaimed and protected. North-down
NGOs cannot stop this, although they routinely and deceptively
confuse Plant Varietal Rights laws with what they call 'exclusive
monopoly patent laws' (Mooney, 1983 Revisiting the Law of the Seed,
p.26), in an attempt to discourage technology generation.
I live a country that has produced some of the finest NGO leaders in
the world - the likes of the late very lamented Anil Agarwal. I urge
the CGIAR very strongly indeed to identify and work only with such
wise, legitimate, and caring South-up NGOs, and not manipulative
Northern 'contaminants' that continually insert themselves into CGIAR
Biotech Industry Seen Failing To Explain Benefits
- David Brough, Reuters March 18, 2002 (via checkbiotech.org)
Alexandria, Egypt - The global biotech industry needs to do a much
better job explaining how it can benefit humanity in a debate so far
dominated by consumer and environmental protest, delegates to a
conference said on Monday.
Biosciences have the potential to dominate the first half of the 21st
century, just as chemistry achieved prominence in the second half of
the 20th century and physics in the first half, said Ismail
Serageldin, chairman of a four-day conference on biotechnology and
sustainable development. The promise of biotechnology, bioinformatics
and genomics to revolutionise the war on hunger and disease needs to
be better explained to the general public, he told experts on
biotechnology, including academics and representatives of industry
and consumer groups. "We need to better articulate the problems faced
by the new life sciences,'' he said.
Federico Mayor, former director-general of United Nations education
body UNESCO, referring to the mapping of DNA in the human body, said,
"Now we have knowledge of the language of life. We must present clear
guidance of what to expect from biotechnology.'' Advances in
biotechnology, especially in food production, have triggered violent
protests from consumer and environmentalist groups, primarily in
Opponents are concerned about threats to food safety and the
environment from new, genetically modified (GM) crops which they say
need to be more thoroughly tested for a long period before entering
the market. Environmentalists have torn up GM crop fields and blocked
cargoes of genetically modified grains and oilseeds shipped from the
United States, which staunchly backs the new technologies.
Biotechnology enthusiasts say risks are entirely under control as
long as strict biosafety standards are respected. They say that
shuffling genes between food varieties can boost yields and farmers'
incomes, increase resistance to pests, drought, salt and viruses, as
well as tolerance to herbicides, and reduce the need for expensive
This, in turn, can help fight hunger while the developing world's
population continues to grow rapidly. Furthermore, biotechnology is
being used to develop drugs that are now benefiting at least 250
million people in the world suffering from a long list of diseases,
including hepatitis and diabetes.
EUROPE-U.S. DIVIDE. Thomas Hoban, a sociology and food science
professor at North Carolina State University, said that cultural
differences between the United States, whose life science companies
are at the vanguard of biotechnology, and the European Union, where
consumers are sceptical about GM foods, underline the divide in
attitudes to the new sciences.
"In the United States, the thinking is, products are safe until
proven risky,'' he said. "In Europe, on the other hand, products are
risky until proven safe.'' He told Reuters that the biotech industry
will have to demonstrate to worried consumers that biotech products
give them benefit in order to overcome their fears.
Brian Johnson, a British geneticist, said that reassurances alone may
not be enough and biotech products must prove themselves by showing
no ill effects after being consumed for a long time. "The proof of
the pudding will be in the eating,'' he said.
Biotechnology Provides Better and Safer Products To Consumers
- Canada NewsWire, Mar 20, 2002
Modern biotechnology is being used in agriculture and food production
to provide more abundant, better, and safer products, according to a
new book Biotechnology and Food for Canadians, released today by The
"Unfortunately there is much misinformation, misunderstanding and
confusion about this technology. This leads to needless anxiety and
obscures any real hazards that might exist as well as possible means
of controlling them," says Alan McHughen, professor of genetics at
the University of California and the book's author.
This new book provides a basic understanding of the techniques and
goals of biotechnology, as well as an overview of what products are
now available, what is currently in the research and production
pipeline, what is on the drawing board, and how products of
biotechnology are regulated by various government agencies. What is
Simply put, biotechnology uses living systems to give society more or
better foods, drugs, and other products. Our understanding of
science, especially genetics, has advanced to the point where
specific genes and traits can be optimized to provide even greater
benefits while reducing or eliminating undesirable features. This
precision can provide, for example, greatly increased crop production
and nutritional enhancements at little or no additional cost.
For example, recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology offers the potential
for expanding the world's food supply and biotechnology-derived food
crops have increased yields and better resistance to pests, disease,
and environmental stress.
Over the past quarter-century, rDNA technology has given us
life-saving drugs and provided a range of precise genetic diagnostic
tools to identify a number of conditions at an early stage.
The Impact of Public Opinion The application of rDNA to medical
problems was rapidly embraced by researchers and by the public.
However, the same technology applied to agriculture is facing
resistance by some people who think it might be inherently hazardous.
"Since the basic technology is the same, it is difficult to see why
it might be hazardous to use biotechnology to make foods but not to
make medicines, says McHughen. "In any case, the distinction is
becoming blurred: biotechnology is used, for example, to develop
plants that make medicines. There is currently leading-edge research
underway in Calgary that is genetically modifying crop plants to make
The extent to which modern biotechnology will be fully utilized for
the benefit of consumers depends on support for innovation and
improvement in farming and food production, on the one hand, and on
support for scientifically sound regulatory policies that protect
against tangible food safety risks, on the other.
Biotechnology using similar genetic techniques in the field of
medicine and human health is well accepted by the public and
professional communities as a safe and effective means to provide
more and better treatment. With the continuing accumulation of
evidence of safety and efficiency, and the complete absence of any
evidence of harm to the public or the environment, more and more
consumers are becoming as comfortable with agricultural biotechnology
as they are with medical biotechnology.
About the Author Alan McHughen is a public-sector educator, scientist
and consumer advocate. A molecular geneticist with an interest in
crop improvement, he has helped develop Canada's regulation covering
the environmental release of plants with novel traits. He is
currently acting Chair on the International Society for Biosafety
Research and serves on a panel of the U.S. National Academy of
Sciences that is reviewing the American regulatory framework for
genetically engineered plants.
Brazil: Pratini Again Defends Transgenics
- Gazeta Mercantil, March 19, 2002 (Translated from Portugese)
Yesterday, the (Brazilian) Minister for Agriculture, Marcus VinÌcius
Pratini de Moraes, again defended the development of biotechnology in
the Brazilian agriculture. "Brazil is the world's largest producer of
technology for tropical agriculture. However we are getting close to
our limits in technologies for traditional agriculture", said the
minister yesterday, at the opening of the 4th Agribusiness Congress,
promoted by the Brazilian Agricultural Society (Sociedade Nacional de
Agricultura - SNA).
"It is no good wasting time, since our world competitors are reducing
costs and increasing the soybean and cotton yields through the
adoption of biotechnology", said the minister. According to him, the
area of cotton crops in Parana dropped 20 percent this year due to
the competition of the genetically modified product, or transgenics,
produced in the United States at costs lower than those of
"We miss out on growing and selling, and we will possibly have to
import the ransgenics that Brazil is deprived of producing", said
Pratini de Moraes. He also warned that the sanitary barriers are the
newest form of commercial protectionism adopted by the rich countries.
In view of that, the minister stressed that Brazil and the South
Cone, large foodstuff exporters, need to develop an epidemiological
strategy to guarantee and control the animal and vegetable health of
their products. According to him, the first step for doing so in
Brazil is to educate more specialists in the science of epidemics.
However, in the minister's opinion, the greatest enemies of the
Brazilian agriculture still are the subsidies granted by the USA, the
European Union and Japan, which together amount to US$ 1 billion per
day. According to his calculations, only in the soybean area, Brazil
missed out on the export of US$ 1 billion last year, due to the
internal subsidies by the USA to its farmers.
"It is impossible to compete with the Treasury of Washington,
Brussels or Tokyo. Without a guarantee of market access for the
Brazilian agricultural products, the Country will not negotiate the
Free Trade Area of the Americas (Alca)." However, Pratini de Moraes
believes that with the future ingress of Poland and Hungry in the
European Union, the Europeans will no longer be able to maintain the
current levels of agricultural subsidies. In spite of restrictions
and thanks to competitiveness, the trade balance of the Brazilian
agribusiness will reach US$ 21 billion, compared to the US$ 19
billion in 2001, he anticipates.
Scientific American (http://www.sciam.com) Quick Poll:
In your opinion, genetically modified foods are basically:
Total number of votes: 3865
Dangers of the Salicylates in Organic Food
- From: email@example.com
It has been brought to my attention that the opening ANON comments
about the dangers of the salicylates in organic food have a very
solid basis in fact and is "common knowledge" among dieticians who
advise patients with "acute sensitivity to salicylates" not to eat
"organic" food. One dietician states that "three most common causes
of food sensitivites (not allergies) are salicylates, amines, and
glutamates which are all found naturally in foods. They are found in
higher levels in organic foods because they are produced to protect
I therefore wish to modify my comments about the study being
"trivial" to say that since the amounts are miniscule, the study is
trivial for those who need salicylates and contrary to the claims, it
is dangerous as noted in our posting for those with acute sensitivity
to salicylates. In other words, the study demonstrates the exact
opposite of what it claims and what is being claimed for it.
Below is the corrective communication which I received.
I saw your comments about salicylates posted in the AGBIOVIEW. I
realize that the amounts of salicylates in the food seem trivial, but
they can have a great impact on people like myself with an acute
sensitivity to salicylates. These minutes amounts can mean the
difference for me between having a serving of vegetables every day or
only once a week.
When my problem was diagnosed my dietician told me not to eat organic
foods precisely because they contain higher amounts of salicylates.
She told me this 14 months ago, so it has been common knowledge among
dieticians. She said the three most common causes of food
sensitivites (not allergies) are salicylates, amines, and glutamates
which are all found naturally in foods. They are found in higher
levels in organic foods because they are produced to protect the
Thanks for working to provide a balanced picture of the current research.
Kind regards, Jean Brumbley, Research Assistant
Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Indooroopilly, QLD Australia;
How Monsanto Ignored the Rule of Holes
- Henry Miller, Financial Times, Letters To The Edito, Mar 14, 2002
Sir, Monsanto's self-flagellation ("How Monsanto got bruised in a
food fight", March 8) is misplaced. It is, indeed, to blame for many
of the problems that confront genetically modified crops, but not in
the way the company portrays it.
The fundamental mistake by Monsanto (and a handful of other leading
agribusiness companies) was to insist that, because of their
intrinsic uniqueness, genetically modified plants and the foods
derived from them merit extraordinary government oversight. Using
regulation as a market entry barrier to smaller competitors, the
companies requested more restrictive regulation than could be
justified on scientific grounds. Not only did the resulting policies
make research and development hugely and unnecessarily expensive but
they also played into activists' scare scenarios, discouraging public
acceptance of the new products.
Although efforts should be made to reassure the public that GM
techniques are in fact safer than more traditional methods of genetic
modification, excessive regulation is not the way to do so. As the
president of a US national consumer organisation testified to a
federal investigative panel: "For obvious reasons, the consumer views
the technologies that are most regulated to be the least safe ones.
Heavy involvement by government, no matter how well intended,
inevitably sends the wrong signals. Rather than ensuring confidence,
it raises suspicion and doubt." (Emphasis in original.)
The companies appear not to have learned the Rule of Holes: When
you're in a hole, stop digging. Hendrik A. Verfaillie, Monsanto's
chief executive, "believes the way forward is for Monsanto to attempt
to find common ground with its critics rather than confront them".
That policy didn't work for Neville Chamberlain, and it won't work
- Henry I. Miller, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University,
Stanford, CA 94305, US
ISRTP Gathers Panel of Experts to Discuss Continued Emergence of
(From: Mansour@khlaw.com; If you have any questions or would like to
attend please let me know, or call the number below. Regards, Mark)
The International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology
will present "The Precautionary Principle: A Workshop" June 20-21 in
Arlington, Virginia. This important conference, designed to clarify
the meaning and nature of the "Precautionary Principle," will bring
together representatives from government, industry, and consumer
groups throughout North America and Europe. For more information,
including a full agenda of the proceedings and registration forms,
or call ISRTP at (410) 992-9083.
ABC 13: Genetically Modified Food and the Consumer (2001)
You can order your free copy of this publication from NABC at
Table of Contents
I. Part I ó Meeting Summary
i. High Anxiety and Biotechnology: Who's Buying, Who's Not, and Why?: An
Overview II. Part II ó Workshop Report
i. The Great Agricultural Biotechnology Debates: Outcomes from the
III. Part III ó Session I: Lessons To Learn From
i. Agricultural Biotechnology: Savior or Scourge?
ii. Frames for Public Discourse on Biotechnology
iii. Lambasting Louis: Lessons from Pasteurization
iv. An Agricultural Response to the Feeding Frenzy
v. The Genetically Modified Crop Debate in the Context of Agricultural
IV. Part IV ó Session II: Influencing The Consumer Lens
i. Lessons from Risk Perception in Other Contexts
ii. American Consumersí Awareness and Acceptance of Biotechnology
iii. What You See Depends On How You Grind the Lens
iv. Genetic Engineering and the Concept of the Natural
V. Part V Session III: Divergent Lenses Of Stakeholders
i. A Farmer's Perspective: Producing Food and Fiber for an Unforgiving
ii. A Scientist's Perspective: the International Arena
iii. What the EU Wants the US to Understand About European Biotech Imports
iv. The European Situation
v. Ethics and Genetically Modified Foods
vi. The Food Industry
vii. A Legal View: Promoting Product Stewardship and Regulation
Winter 2002 NABC Newsletter
Please go to http://www.cals.cornell.edu/extension/nabc/ to download
the Winter 2002 NABC Newsletter containing registration, program, and
speaker information for the upcoming NABC Annual Meeting: NABC 14:
Foods for Health: Potential, Perspectives, and Policy
Determining Allergenicity In GM Foods
- Mary Eubanks, Environmental Health Perspectives March 2002
Vol.110, No. 3 (From Agnet)
Three criteria are, according to this story, currently used to
determine if a transgenic protein is safe for human consumption.
First, a sequence comparison to food proteins known to elicit
allergic reactions is conducted to see whether the novel protein has
a linear sequence of amino acids similar to known allergens.
Scientists then test the reaction of antibodies to known food
antigens in the new food. Finally, they run test tube assays to
determine how well a protein withstands digestion. These same
criteria can be useful for crops produced by more conventional
agricultural cross-breeding as well. But, the story says, questions
remain as to the effectiveness of these methods for assessing the
safety of foods with novel proteins.
The bioinformatic tools and databases available to compare sequence
homology were developed to look at evolutionary relationships between
different organisms. In predicting allergenicity, the critical
questions involve much more subtle differences within organisms that
are not necessarily revealed by available computer programs and
search engines. One issue is that there is no standardization of how
many amino acids should be looked for in a sequence. The fewer the
number of amino acids in the sequence search, the more possible
matches, and many of those matches may not be valid indicators of
On the other hand, the greater the number of amino acids in the
sequence search, the higher the likelihood of missing a sequence that
may cause a problem. The question is determining the optimal number
of search sequences. Robert Hamilton, director of the Johns Hopkins
Dermatology, Allergy, and Clinical Immunology Reference Laboratory,
pointed out that another problem with the comparison of the primary
amino acid structure to proteins already in databases is that
allergic reactions often arise while or after proteins are
metabolized. In such cases, this technique could not reveal