Today in AgBioView: May 6, 2002
* Corn Rootworm Comments
* Nobel Prize Winner Speaks Out on Advantages of Biotechnology; Criticizes
* Nature report is challenged by academic researchers worldwide
* Starbucks protestors spread false fears about safe foods
* The Envirotruth!
* Batty over Bt, Punjab farmers blind to cost
* Genetic, natural foods sell about the same in Europe
Corn Rootworm Registration Form
To send your comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency simply fill out the information [at
http://www.corn-comments.org/commentsform.html]. You may submit the
provided text in its current form, or edit it to reflect your personal
views and/or any additional information. When you are finished, click the
submit button at the bottom of the page.
Rootworm-protected corn, developed through biotechnology, will help save
farmers hundreds of millions of dollars yearly and will reduce the use of
chemical pesticides. Your input will help ensure that regulators get a
wide range of input from consumers, farmers, academics and other important
stakeholders as part of their decision-making process.
Nobel Prize Winner Speaks Out on Advantages of Biotechnology; Criticizes
PEW Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
May 3, 2002
Dr. Norman Borlaug, awarded the Nobel prize for his work as a plant
geneticist, joined agricultural policy experts Tuesday in arguing that
high yield farming and genetically modified foods are the key to saving
the wilderness and feeding poor people in the developing world, reports
Life Sciences Network.
"We can use all the organic that is available, but we aren't going to feed
six billion people with organic fertilizer and we would level most of our
forests," Borlaug said.
Dr. Borlaug maintained that switching all food production to organic,
(farming without synthetic chemicals), would lower crop yields. "If we try
to go back to low yield agriculture, we would have no option but to clear
more land," he explained.
Tuesday's news conference in Washington was sponsored by the Center for
Global Food Issues, and was billed as the "Declaration in Support of
Protecting Nature with High-Yield Farming and Forestry." Among those
signing the declaration were former U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.)
and James Lovelock, the scientist who many environmentalists consider a
pioneer of the green movement.
Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues, a free market
food advocacy group, said the latest research shows organic food yields
are nearly 50 percent lower per acre than modern methods. Avery said if
Europe were to switch to exclusively organic farming methods, the cropland
needed to produce the resulting lower yields would equal "all the forest
area in Germany, France, Denmark and the UK (United Kingdom)."
"How many people in Western Europe would vote for organic farming if it
was put in terms of clearing all their forests?" Avery asked.
Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit, and a
former founding member of Greenpeace, was also on hand to promote the
joint declaration on high yield agriculture and forestry, according to
Life Sciences Network.
Moore, who left Greenpeace in the 1980s after becoming disillusioned with
what he considered the group's radical approach to environmental concerns,
said genetically modified food (GM) helps boost yields.
"Frankenstein foods, terminator seeds and killer tomatoes are all
metaphors taken from scary movies. Those are the most effective metaphors
that the movement against GMs can come up with to scare people. The
reality is -- heir message is as fantastical as the movies upon which they
are based," he explained.
Moore, citing the resistance of GM crops to pests, called the technology
the greatest boon to third world farmers because "these people are going
to be able to afford to buy houses and live a decent and dignified
lifestyle because of these new high yield crops."
He also lashed out at the groups, opposed GM foods. "This is the problem,
this ideological position against GM period. This zero tolerance approach
is not appropriate for one of the most important scientific discoveries
and technologies that we have ever come across," Moore said.
Moore explained that advances in forestry techniques have resulted in wood
becoming one of the most environmentally friendly products.
"We should be growing more trees and using more wood," explained Moore.
"The less wood we use, the more steel and concrete we use. The more fossil
fuels we use to make the steel and concrete, the more C02 emissions that
threaten climate change."
Moore explained that a greater demand for wood products leads to more
forested land, noting that 80 percent of the timber produced in the U.S.
comes from private property. He predicted that if "those land owners had
no market for wood, they would clear the forest away and grow something
else they could make money from instead."
"When you go into a lumber yard, you are given the impression that by
buying wood you are causing the forest to be lost, when in fact what you
are doing is sending a signal into the market to plant more trees," Moore
Ronnie Cummins, the national director of the Organic Consumers
Association, criticized the declaration on high-yield farming and
forestry, saying many studies have shown that organic farming can produce
"comparable" crop yields to those produced by non-organic farming.
The U.S. should "convert as rapidly as possible to organic agriculture,"
Cummins said, adding that organic food currently makes up about three
percent of the U.S. food supply.
"Organic is the future, let's bring it about as quickly as possible," he
Cummins also repeated the green movement's opposition to genetically
modified food, noting that GM food "brings no benefits to consumers or to
the environment and it's extremely risky."
But Moore believes, "If Greenpeace or the other anti-GM groups were to
admit that there was even one good GM crop ... then they would have to
admit there might be others and then they would be reduced to a rational
discussion of this subject like the rest of us mortals."
Eugene Lapointe, former secretary general of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),
also signed the declaration Tuesday. Lapointe said he was not surprised by
the opposition from environmental groups.
"[GM foods] are a solution to a major problem and most environmentalists
are not solution oriented. They are drama, they are scandal, they are
problems manufactured. Without the problem the drama and the scandal, you
lose fund-raising capabilities," Lapoint said.
[FOR MORE, SEE HTTP://WWW.HIGHYIELDCONSERVATION.ORG]
'Plant Scientists Among 72 New Members Chosen by Academy'
'WASHINGTON, April 30 -- The National Academy of Sciences today announced
the election of 72 new members and 15 foreign associates from 12 countries
in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in
original research.' Additional information about the institution is
available on the Internet at [ http://national-academies.org
]http://national-academies.org. A full directory of NAS members can be
found online at [http://national-academies.org/nas
I could recognize at least three scientists with expertise in plant
biology and biotechnology among this elite list. I congratulate all of
them for a great honor that they so richly deserve. - Prakash
1. Chandler, Vicki L.; professor of plant sciences and of molecular and
cellular biology, department of plant sciences, University of Arizona,
2. Doebley, John Francis; professor of genetics, University of Wisconsin,
3. Duvick, Donald N.; affiliate professor of plant breeding, Iowa State
Mexican jumping genes
Nature report is challenged by academic researchers worldwide
by Howard Fienberg
A common nightmare for opponents of genetically modified (GM) (also known
as "transgene") crops: ìWhat would happen if the genes got loose?î 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
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 (December 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 (January 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 Nature study.
A Nature editorial note in March officially ended the scam. ìNature has
concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the
publication of the original paper.î
GM trace elements found
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
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 these GM corn genes had "introgressed"
(shifted from one pool of genes to another) with landraces and implied
such gene flow was widespread from presumed illegal plantations of GM corn
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, March 1)
Scientific community responds
When the Mexican government was informed of the corn findings last year,
Mexico's Secretary for 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 those methods were
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
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.
But 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
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." 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."
War of words begins
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 was not alone in its concerns.
Three other academic teams 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 ducked
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 were raised about a published article with
major public policy implications. Sensible policy debate requires as much
sensible data as possible. Although Nature has not published the critical
rejoinders, at least it has given no more ink to the flawed study.
on the TechCentralStation.com Web site.
Starbucks protestors spread false fears about safe foods
Misleading attacks on milk and safe foods cause unnecessary concerns for
parents and consumers
by the American Council on Science and Health
Anti-biotechnology activists engaged in a week of "direct action" at
Starbucks Coffee shops in February with false and misleading information
about food safety, nutrition, and the environment.
The same people who brought you a long list of other false health and
environmental scaresóincluding the infamous Alar-in-apples scare, the
Dow-Corning breast implant campaign, and dozens of other debunked
fearsóare at it again. This time the scaremongers are targeting such safe
foods as milk and other dairy products in your local Starbucks.
As they did with the Alar-in-apples scare, activists often attack products
associated with childrenólike milk and ice creamófalsely linking these
products with horrible ills such as cancer to evoke the greatest fear
among parents and the consuming public. The harm and cost to consumers and
farmers alike can be significant.
Much ado about Alar
In 1989 environmental activists and their public relations firm, Fenton
Communications, claimed apple growersí use of the plant growth regulator
Alar was causing cancer in children who eat apples and drink apple juice.
The claims made national headlines and were highlighted on news programs
like 60 Minutes. They turned out to be false, but they cost apple farmers
(particularly those in Washington State) hundreds of millions of dollars,
increased consumer food costs, and caused a significant spike in consumer
purchases of organic produce. Fenton Communications also represented
organic food industry interests, who funded the environmental activists.
When the science and health community responded, showing the offending
"cancer-causing" chemical was, in fact, less carcinogenic than bacon, tap
water, or peanut butter (Bruce Ames, University of California Berkeley),
it was too late. The public relations firm had achieved its goal: "The PR
campaign was designed so that revenue would flow back to the (client) from
the public." (Fenton Communications memo published in the Wall Street
When confronted over a decade later, when the false ìcancer in childrenî
fears failed to materialize, the PR firm referred inquiries to its client,
the Natural Resources Defense Council, which stated, "The message of that
report might have been muddled by the media, and the public might have
over-reacted, because we never said there was an immediate danger from
Alar..." (PR Central's Inside PR Monday, September 4, 2000)
Starbucks deja vu
Now, more than a decade later, the same public relations firm and the same
activists are in Seattle and at local corner coffee shops across the
country, spreading false fears about the safety of milk from cows
supplemented with bioengineered bovine growth hormones (rbST).
This time, Fenton Communications represents ice cream manufacturer Ben &
Jerry's and a variety of other "organic" and "natural" products companies
whose sales benefit from these scares. Fenton also represents the
Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition, which is attacking the safety
of dairy products derived from cows supplemented with rbST. Once again,
the activists are funded by the benefitting organic industry interests.
The public relations campaign promotes false claims by evolutionary
ecologist Michael Hansen, Dr. Samuel Epstein (ranked by the American
Association for Cancer Research as the least credible scientist on issues
of environmental cancer), and fired Fox journalists-turned-activists Steve
Wilson and Jane Akre.
These self-proclaimed experts claim dairy products from rbST-supplemented
cows cause cancer; that the cows themselves are harmed by rbST
supplements; and that small dairy farmers are hurt by the competition. But
hundreds of real experts have published and commented on these issues, and
their conclusions differ dramatically from those reached by the
* American Cancer Society: "There are no valid findings to indicate a
risk of human carcinogenesis."
* Health Canada (Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
expert panel): There is "no biologically plausible reason for concern
about human safety."
* Children's Nutrition Research Center (Baylor College of Medicine):
There is "no scientific basis for claims regarding bovine somatotropin and
IGF-1 ... [I]f (these claims) were true, then human colostrum, human
breast milk, and indeed, all milk would be incriminated as a cause of
cancer ... [W]omen and their children have nothing to fear regarding the
nation's milk supply."
* The American Medical Association: "BST is a protein hormone that is
produced naturally by cows to help them make milk. Supplementing cows with
small amounts of BST has been shown to increase their milk production by
10-40 percent per cow without harming the animal or altering the
nutritional value of their milk."
* National Institutes of Health (Journal of the American Medical
Association): "rbST-treated cows experience no greater health problems
than untreated cows."
* Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop: "Unfortunately, a few
fringe groups are using misleading statements and blatant falsehoods as
part of a long-running campaign to scare consumers about a perfectly safe
food. Their long-range goal is to prevent the benefits of biotechnology
from reaching the public. Because dairy foods are an important, widely
consumed source of nutrition, it is necessary to condemn these attacks on
the safety of milk for what they are: baseless, manipulative, and
So, next time you look at a pint of eco-friendly Ben & Jerry's or the
premium-priced organic milk option offered by Starbucks, remember: All
milk contains bovine growth hormonesóthey are naturally produced by all
dairy cows. Supplementing dairy cows to help them maintain their natural
peak levels of this hormone does not change the milk in any wayóbut it
does help protect our environment by enabling family dairy farmers to
produce more milk with fewer cows. This results in significantly less
water and fuel use, less grain and land under the plow, and less animal
waste. This safe productóused by more small dairy farmers than largeóalso
helps family farmers remain profitable and ensure they can afford to pass
along their farms to future generations.
Biotechnology helps farmers produce more safe and nutritious food, using
less land and less input. This is good for consumers, good for the
environment, and good for farmers. Misleading fear campaigns, on the other
hand, are not.
For more information ...
Visit the Web site of the American Council on Science and Health,
Do you want the truth? You can handle the Envirotruth!
A new web site, sponsored by The National Center for Public Policy
Research, gets to the truth in the environmental debate. The
Envirotruth.org <http://www.envirotruth.org> is dedicated to injecting
badly needed truth into the
debate about our environment. For too long, environmental groups have
seized the world stage and the public's attention by distorting facts,
bending the truth and even committing acts of terrorism against innocent
The Envirotruth.org site includes the following sections:
Issues: what are the key issues that environmental organizations have used
to spread their messages?
Quotes: What have those affected by environmental groups - and the groups
themselves - said?
Credibility: Should we believe what the environmental groups say?
Ecoterrorism: How does destroying millions of dollars worth of property
help advance the cause of environmentalism?
When you visit the Envirotruth.org site, be sure to sign up for weekly
free email updates with the latest in Envirotruth!
Visit http://www.envirotruth.org today!
Batty over Bt, Punjab farmers blind to cost
May 06, 2002
FOR farmers in southern Punjab's cotton country, one word with two
alphabets spells freedom from the bollworm menace: Bt. Though Bt cotton
hasn't been cleared for commercial use in the state and the Punjab
government has cautioned farmers against its use, that hasn't stopped
intrepid - and desperate - farmers from going to any lengths to procure
the seed. While three Bt varieties have been cleared for commercial use,
the fourth, which is considered most conducive to Punjab's agroclimatic
conditions, hasn't received the nod, pending more trials. Like narcotics,
seeds of Monsanto-Mahyco Bt Cotton are being smuggled into Malwa region
from elsewhere in trucks. Several farmers across southern Punjab have sent
money by demand drafts to owners of Bt cotton trial farms in Vadodara and
elsewhere in Gujarat; others even hopped across the map to secure it
Sardool Singh, of Gurusar Sainewala village, has got what he believes is
Bt cotton seed from Vadodara. He paid Rs 555 for an 800-gm packet, which
is marketed by a self-proclaimed owner of a Bt cotton trial farm. Sardool
plans to spread a cotton cocktail over 18 acres - six acres with Monsanto,
five acres already sown with 'Bt' and seven acres with White Gold hybrid
"Last year, we sowed cotton over 38 acres, but we burnt our fingers
badly," he said. The Gujarat violence has prevented some Punjab farmers
from trekking across the countryside in search of Bt. "If it weren't for
the riots, many more farmers would have gone to Gujarat and got their
hands on the real Bt seed," declared Sulakhan Singh of Thandewala village
"We know that a number of farmers are sowing Bt seeds which they have
procured on their own. We're advising them against it," said Harwinder
Singh Bhatti, Chief Agriculture Officer of Bathinda. For one, most of the
farmers haven't heard of the numerous guidelines that the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) stipulated when it cleared Bt for
commercial use - for one, Bt fields have to be surrounded by a belt of
'refuge' land on which the same non-Bt variety is to be sown. And many
farmers still don't know the ABC of Bt. Ask the English speaking Bathinda
farmer what Bt is and he replies:
"It's some super-superior variety of hybrid cotton. I heard of Bt cotton
only six months ago," a senior agriculture officer told The Indian
Express. The officer also didn't know about any of the mandatory GEAC
guidelines. But senior agriculture officers in the state said awareness -
or its lack - is not the only issue. Punjab simply doesn't have the means
of enforcing implementation, they claimed.
"I don't have enough people, and the farmers won't listen to us either.
Even now, I don't know what I am supposed to do if I find a farmer using
Bt cotton without approval. We can only issue advisories," Bhatti said.
Even advice from the venerable Punjab Agricultural University is falling
on deaf ears. Haunted by the American bollworm, farmers last season threw
all caution and regard for rules to the winds by carpeting their fields
"Do not use synthetic pyrethroid insecticides in more than three sprays,"
said a much-respected PAU booklet. But almost every farmer used thrice as
much: Sardool Singh confessed that he made 20 sprays. Others owned up to
40. "When farmers saw field after field being attacked by bollworm, all
they could think of was more and more pesticides. Expert advice is taken
with a pinch of salt here," said Nand Singh Mehta, said to be one of
Bathinda's most progressive farmers. "Farmers are now prepared to listen
to anything as long as it is named Bt cotton. Otherwise, they are not
Genetic, natural foods sell about the same in Europe
United Press International
May 6, 2002
Manufacturers who sell both genetically modified foods and natural
products say the two versions sell at about the same level in Europe --
and that does not surprise a Purdue University economist.
Charles Noussair, an associate professor at the West Lafayette, Ind.,
university, said it is common for public opinion and consumer behavior to
"Opinion surveys capture the respondent in the role of a voter, not in the
role of a consumer," Noussair said. "The two behaviors can be quite
different." Noussair worked with economists in Europe to study the issue.
Some surveys have shown that up to 90 percent of people say they do not
want to have anything to do with foods that come from genetically modified
Their research showed that most people, when it came time to shop for
food, did not care enough to pay attention to the ingredient lists on food
packaging to really be able to tell the difference.
"What is not read in the laboratory will probably not be read in the
supermarket," the scientists wrote, in a report published in the Economic
Letters academic journal.
The report found that consumers did not notice a food contained
genetically modified products even after they were seated and left for
three minutes with nothing to look at but the ingredient label.
Consumers were given 150 francs (about $21) and asked to bid on a product.
Consumers bid on large chocolate bars made by a major multinational
company that produces both genetically modified and non-genetically
The study found even after they were told the chocolate bars contained
genetically modified ingredients, most of the consumers were still willing
to buy them but only if the price was about one-third less than
Research was funded by a partnership of 37 organizations, including groups
as diverse as Monsanto, which produces many food products from genetically
altered seed, and Greenpeace, which opposes genetic foods on the belief
not enough is known about them to ensure they are safe for human