Today in AgBioView: May 10, 2002
* Organic pesticide study
* MONSANTO GETS RUSSIAN BIOLOGICAL SAFETY CERTIFICATION FOR MODIFIED
* RESEARCH PUTS PAID TO 'SUPERWEED' FEAR
* Monsanto begins gene pyramiding in Bt cotton seeds
* SOYA THE ONLY MODIFIED FOOD IN THE MARKET
* LINCOLN STUDENTS SURVEY A WORRY
* Ewen-Street should get his facts right
Date: 10 May 2002
From: Thomas DeGregori
Subject: Organic pesticide study
I received a note from Chuck Benbrook concerning my posting - A Call to
Action - on the report in which he was a co-author. I do not feel at
liberty to post his note without his permission but did inform him of my
intentions should he wish to do so or otherwise reply. I would like to
share my reply with the readers of this news group.
Thomas R (aka Tom) DeGregori
Please re-read my posting. I clearly state - "I propose that the entire
report be obtained along with the press release and the major news stories
on it." I am delighted that you "bent over backwards to address clearly
the issues involving natural products" and that I and others were
responsible for your doing so. My posting was about the coverage in The
New York Times, by AP and others and the various press releases including
one in which you are quoted and appear to be involved. With the exception
of the AP story, all of them unequivocally state that organic products
have less pesticide residue than conventionally grown products. I stand by
my statement that "anything put on the plant to protect against pests, be
it paprika, an herbal mixture, cooked oatmeal (to state the absurd) or a
compound of arsenic, copper or sulfur, is a pesticide. This is not a
question of science or whether or not the pesticide is or is not benign
but of the basic and honest use of the English language."
Not too many of us will be reading your report - I look forward to doing
so. However, a far larger audience will be reading the press accounts and
I can expect that the claim of lower levels of pesticide residue in
organic produce will be circulating on the internet for some time to come.
Whatever the qualifications that are in the report are lost in the press
coverage and the lore and legends that will arise from them. I will do my
best to keep an open mind - face it, we all operate from some degree of
closure but we can try to be open - but I have real doubts that I will
find anything there that will warrant the conclusions that I being drawn
from it by Kenneth Cook and others.
Kenneth Cook was quick to call John Stossel a liar and repeatedly and
persistently demanded that he be fired. As I recall, you posted a note on
AgBioView that asked me to read the exchange of letters between EWG and
ABC. If you did not say that Stossel lied, you either implied it or came
close to doing so. As it turned out, what happened was a miscommunication
between the ABC liaison person and the researcher. I am not trying to
revive an old controversy but I have to say that I find the continued
statement (without any qualifications) by Kenneth Cook and others of
"lower levels of pesticide residue" to be misleading if not downright
dishonest. The reading public will accept the language in the media to
mean what it says and will not be able to judge how well or how poorly
that you address the "the issues involving natural products." If in
reading your report, I end up agreeing with you on "natural products" (not
likely but possible), I would still consider them to be pesticides and
therefore would challenge any data that showed lower pesticide residues
that did not include them or did not inform the reader that they were
being excluded and why. Since some if not all of the press releases are
being used to promote organic products and since groups like Kenneth
Cook's EWG have close ties to the "organic" food industry, I consider
their press release to be a form of deceptive advertising.
Sorry Chuck, I stand by my posting. I recall your infectious laughter when
I served on the NAS committee that you chaired for the report for USAID on
Sustainable Agriculture. I hope that we can continue the same kind of
civility that characterized our differences then and now.
All the best!
P.S. - I will be sending my reply (without your note to me) to AgBioView
for possible posting. You may wish to send it or some other note and/or a
reply to mine.
MONSANTO GETS RUSSIAN BIOLOGICAL SAFETY CERTIFICATION FOR MODIFIED
May 8, 2002
Food And Agriculture Report
The U.S. company Monsanto Co., a world leader in the production and sale
of genetically-modified crop seed, has received in Russia certification of
biological safety for its modified potatoes. Sources with the Industry and
Science Ministry's genetic-engineering commission have told Interfax that
the certificate was issued to the company this month. This does not mean,
however, that Monsanto has received final permission to sell the seed for
this particular potato, they noted. The company is figuring on all
outstanding issues being laid to rest over the next three years. The view
at the Russian Academy of Agricultural Science is that using the modified
potato would be the least expensive way to protect a crop from Colorado
beetles, which kill 20-40% of the crop each year, inflicting around 19
billion rubles in damages. Russia produces 150 billion rubles worth of
potatoes each year. Production weighed in at 34.8 million tonnes last
year, 2.6% more than the year before. Russia has already tested a number
of different kinds of genetically modified crops, including a domestic one
and two U.S. potato strains, U.S. and Swiss corn, U.S. and German sugar
beet. The strain-testing takes two to three years, that for biological
safety roughly the same amount of time.
RESEARCH PUTS PAID TO 'SUPERWEED' FEAR
May 9, 2002
The West Australian
By Lara Ladyman
The probability of a genetically modified "superweed" from a cross between
canola and radish is, according to University of WA researcher Professor
Stephen Powles very remote, although gene-flow between canola species can
occur at distances of up to 3km but the likelihood is less than 1 per
cent. The story says that six years ago as director of the Weeds
Cooperative Research Centre, Professor Powles started to look for the
facts to answer questions raised in superweed and GM pollen-flow debates.
In what was the first research of its kind in Australia, the team set out
to investigate whether genetically modified "superweeds" could develop
under field conditions.
The potential "worse case scenario" selected for the study was to
determine if canola was crossing with its close cousin, wild radish.
Professor Powles was quoted as saying, "We realised there would be some
questions and were concerned about outrageous claims being made."
Clearfield canola's release in Australia presented the team - which
included Dr Mary Rieger, of the University of Adelaide, and research
agronomist Michael Lamond, of York - with a once-off opportunity to study
the crop's gene flow to wild radish. If there were crosses between the
species, the Clearfield gene, which has been conventionally bred into
Clearfield canola, would be detected in the offspring.
Professor Powles said the occurrence of "cadish", a canola/radish hybrid,
under field conditions would be the same, whether the canola varieties
were conventionally bred or genetically modified. "So the opponents of GM
technology are wrong in stating these genes can rapidly flow to weeds and
the proponents of GM technology need to accept that gene flow can occur,"
he said. "The gene flow from canola to wild radish is occurring equally in
the canola we are now growing, so it is not a GM issue."
Professor Powles said because canola was 30 per cent cross pollinating,
gene flow from canola to canola was a far bigger issue in the genetic
engineering debate than gene flow from canola to radish. In 2000, when
Clearfield canola was released in WA, research agronomist Michael Lamond
measured how often the Clearfield gene was found in seeds from
non-Clearfield canola crops. A similar study was carried out in South
Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. "This work clearly established a
very low, less than 1 per cent, amount of gene flow at a distance of up to
3km," Professor Powles said.
Monsanto begins gene pyramiding in Bt cotton seeds
Financial Times Limited
By Chitra Phadnis
May 10, 2002
BANGALORE, May 9 MONSANTO is working on a second generation of Bt
gene-fortified seeds. The new seed will have two genes introduced into it
instead of one, a process called gene pyramiding.
The current generation of the Bt gene seed could continue for five to
seven years, after which there was a chance that insects might develop
resistance to it, said Dr T. Manjunath, Director, Research and Development
The company makes sure that the likelihood of resistance is minimal, by
recommending resistance management techniques. Farmers are asked to plant
five rows of non-Bt cotton around each farm of Bt cotton plants.
Dr Manjunath said the insects that feed on Bt cotton usually die. It is
the marginal per cent that might survive which could develop resistance in
the next generation. But this would happen only if they mated with other
Resistance management makes sure that chances are minimised. The rows of
non-Bt plants will ensure that insects, which have not fed on Bt plants,
(and therefore not likely to develop the resistance gene) are available in
plenty. Survivors mating with these insects are unlikely to be immune to
Bt even in the next generation.
However, this could hold good for the next few years, after which gene
pyramiding would have to be done to maintain the plant's efficacy against
The company is working on the next batch that will have two Bt genes (cry
IAC and cry 2Ab). The two genes are functionally similar (they both kill
the same insect pests) but the mode of operation is different.
This way, even if the insect develops resistance to one of the genes, it
does not really matter, because when it ingests the plant, the protein
from the other gene present, will kill it. The process is based on the
theory that it is highly improbable that any insect would develop
resistance to both genes.
The India R&D centre is intensifying its work on the cotton seed. The next
two Bt seeds are likely to be corn and soyabean, though work on that is
still in the preliminary stages.
There has been a sudden spurt in interest in and demand for Bt cotton in
the country. Part of it is unexpected fallout of activities of a large
seed company, which illegally smuggling Bt cotton seeds into Gujarat and
At present, Monsanto has licensed the gene to three companies - Mahyco,
Rasi and Ankur. The companies introduce the Bt gene into their individual
hybrids (most of which have been in existence for years) and market them.
This year, there are seeds with a capacity to be sown over one lakh acres
all over the country, though the demand is for more.
DBT has also decided that only those areas where trials were carried out
would be given the seeds.
Monsanto's clearance by DBT has opened floodgates for biotechnology say
industry sources. While a number of companies and institutions are working
on genetically-engineered crops, the immediate next in line is ProAgro's
mustard, which has applied for GEACC clearance.
SOYA THE ONLY MODIFIED FOOD IN THE MARKET
Financial Times Limited
May 10, 2002
JOHOR BAHARU, May 9 (Bernama) -- Imported soya bean is the only
genetically modified food product allowed to be marketed in Malaysia so
far, said BioMalaysia Science and Technical Secretariat 2002 manager at
the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, Dr Low Fee Chon.
He said soya products were allowed to be marketed in the country after it
had undergone several levels of stringent tests in the United States (US)
since 17 years ago.
Japan has also allowed soya products to be marketed there for the last
several years, he told reporters after presenting a working paper What Is
Biotechnology at a one-day biotechnology seminar, here today.
He said many other food products which had been genetically modified were
already being marketed in the US for the past seven years and were
expected to be in the world market in future because of its positive
effects on food products and production.
He said biotechnology, including the genetically modified food production
methodology, provided a guarantee in meeting the national food
requirement, reducing imports of food products and creating job
On developments in the field in Malaysia, Dr Low said Mardi was testing a
type of exotic papaya which had been genetically modified to delay the
However, the tests will take a long time, years more....only after it has
been found to be suitable will we allow the products to be marketed, he
Dr Low, who is also a member of the Genetically Modified Advisory
Committee (GMAC) in the ministry which is responsible for all aspects of
genetically modified products in Malaysia, said besides soya, the ministry
was also considering approval for genetically modified corn.
In addition, he said the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim)
would also undertake genetically modified studies on oil palm to determine
its herbicide tolerance level.
Dr Low said other crops which had the potential for genetic modification
were padi for virus resistance, pineapple for overcoming Black Heart
diseases, orchid for increasing lifespan and colour and rubber tree for
better value added rubber.
LINCOLN STUDENTS SURVEY A WORRY
May 10, 2002
LSN Media Release
The way in which the Lincoln Students Association announced the results of
its survey on GM raises some real worries about whether the student body
has been captured by anti-GM activists, the Chairman of the Life Sciences
Network, Dr William Rolleston, said today. 'The failure of the student
body to report that only 199 out of more than 4000 students took part in
the survey is irresponsible. 'It is not possible to conclude from such a
result that Lincoln students are opposed to genetic modification.
Conversely, what the survey appears to show is that the vast majority of
Lincoln students donít care enough about this issue to want to participate
in the survey. 'That is also a worry because it means a small group of
anti-GM activists can hijack the proper democratic process and make
preposterous claims which purport to represent the views of the entire
student body. 'Unfortunately the recent survey is another example in a
growing list of junk science and dodgy research used by anti-GM activists
to try to pretend they have widespread public support,' concluded Dr
Ewen-Street should get his facts right
NZ Life Sciences Network
Green Party MP Ian Ewen-Street should take care to get the facts right
when he rushes into print promoting organic farming, the Chairman of the
Life Sciences Network, Dr William Rolleston said today.
ìThe only food scare in recent history in New Zealand stemmed from the
farming methods of organic farmers and others who use unconventional
ìIn late February this year New Zealanders were regaled with stories about
ëkiller zucchinií which had developed high levels of natural toxins and
been sold on the vegetable market. The result was several recorded cases
of people suffering food poisoning in the Canterbury area.
ìNow it turns out that, where the growers were able to be identified, a
significant proportion were organic growers.
ìAn examination of common factors shows the levels of toxin apparently
increased among zucchini growers who did not spray their crops. Unusual
climatic conditions meant there were huge numbers of aphids about in
January and insect predation is sometimes associated with increased levels
of toxins in plants.
ìA literature review by Crop & Food scientists showed there was no direct
research to show increased levels of the particular toxin (cucurbitacin)
in zucchini fruit as a result of insect activity, though it has been shown
in leaves. Neither does this research mean the contamination did not
result from insect activity. More research will need to be done to
establish the facts.
ìOf greater relevance was the clear link between increased toxin levels
and older open-pollinating varieties of seeds.
ìThe Royal Commission on Genetic Modification was told many times by
organic growers of their preference to save seed from previous crops. It
is likely zucchini grown from saved seed will therefore be more vulnerable
to toxin build-up.
ìThe reviewing scientists are very clear that the most likely cause of the
build up of toxins is a genetic weakness in older varieties.
ìThis is a clear case where the growersí decision to use older varieties
and to save seeds is likely to have resulted in a health risk for
consumers - something which has never happened with crops derived from
ìIt is possible the problem may have been exacerbated by the pressure put
on the zucchini by insect predation.
ìTo the extent there was an insect problem this could have been avoided
through use of the same sprays which all conventional vegetable growers
use to limit insect damage, and to make their crop safe for consumption.
ìMr Ewen-Street should acknowledge that, in this case, the organic growers
should have responded to the insect infestation with pesticides, or
withdrawn their product from the market for food safety reasons. Organic
production methods sometimes impose risks to the health of consumers and
that certifying food as organic does not make it safe.
ìMr Ewen-Street should further acknowledge that all food production
methods carry risks; that human error and failure to follow the right
procedures are the biggest food safety risks we face ñ not new technology.
ìThose who live in glass houses should not throw the first stone Mr
Ewen-Street,î concluded Dr Rolleston.