Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 27, 2002


GM Imports in Mexican Corn; Ethics and Ecofascism; Terminator Tus


Today in AgBioView: April 28, 2002

* GM Imports Find Way Into Mexican Corn
* Experts Predict Little Impact of Possible Biotech Corn in Mexico
* Advanced Agricultural Biotechnologies and Sustainable Agriculture
* Ecological and Agronomic Consequences of Gene Flow
* Ethics and Ecofascism
* Terminator Tussle: Controversial Technology Needed, Experts Say
* Green Biotechnology
* Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone
* Cartoons!
* GM Rice with a Protein From Human Breast Milk - to Enhance Infant

GM Imports Find Way Into Mexican Corn

- Victor Robertson, The Scotsman (UK), April 27, 2002

Accidental misuse of imported genetically modified maize intended for
human consumption but used as a seed could have led to the presence of
transgenic material in traditional Mexican corn, one of that country's
leading scientists has admitted.

In a new twist to the contentious findings of US scientists on this issue,
reported in Nature magazine and subsequently attacked, Dr Exequiel
Escurra, president of the Mexican Institute of Ecology, says this misuse
of unlabelled maize is the most likely explanation.

Farmers in the Oaxaca district, where the transgenic material had been
found in native corn, had confirmed in interviews with institute members
that they constantly exchanged seed and would often use these in their own
plots, he told a London news conference.

"All the time they are introducing variation into their plots and
selecting for the variety they have. Which is very interesting, as we have
this concept that varieties are a static thing. "But really, in nature and
in the wild they are changing all the time because farmers are constantly
selecting for different attributes and planting seeds they get from the

"So if a grain that is sold for food contains transgenic elements and
there is no indication of that [on the label], it is very likely that one
farmer or another will throw some grain together with his traditional
corn. They do this using the seed of the wild corn - which is a weed -
with their own corn as it confers resistance to disease to the cultivated

"They strengthen their native corn by stimulating gene flow from the wild
ancestor. They do this all the time. So it is very likely that sooner or
later you will get some pollution if they are using imported corn which is

He said there was no evidence this was being done on purpose. It reflected
the tradition of 5,000 years during which farmers had used the same
techniques which identified the seed that they ate as being the same as
the seed they planted.

"With modern varieties, starting with hybrid corn and now with the
imported corn, you are not supposed to plant what you eat. But farmers are
not informed of that.

"Seed and grain are different things on the agricultural market. But for
traditional farmers that difference does not exist. So it is very likely
that the presence of transgenic material just happened from the seed that
is sold for human consumption. That is most likely hypothesis."


Scientific Experts Predict Little Impact of Possible Biotech Corn in

- Marcia N. Vincent, April 15, 2002,

A recent editorial footnote in Nature is the latest installment in a
flurry of responses incited by a controversial article published in Nature
in November 2001. The article, "Transgenic DNA introgressed into
traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico" by David Quist and Ignacio
Chapela of the University of California-Berkeley reported that biotech
traits had introgressed into local Mexican landraces of maize and were a
threat to biodiversity in the center of origin for maize. In the latest
issue of Nature, the editors stated: "the evidence available is not
sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." The editors
also published critiques by respected molecular biologists from University
of California-Berkeley, the United States Department of Agriculture,
University of Washington and the Institute of Plant Sciences in
Switzerland, as well as responses and new data from the authors of the
original article, "to allow our readers to judge the science for

The call to action from the scientific community was prompted both by the
authors' claim that the results demonstrated a high level of gene flow
from biotech corn to progenitor landraces of corn and, more importantly,
concerns about the scientific methods and data interpretations used to
deduce the claims made in the original publication. Quist and Chapela
reported that genetic elements commonly used in plant biotech crops were
detected in several samples of landrace varieties of corn taken from the
Southern region of Mexico. The authors and biotech opponents highlighted
the data as evidence of a potential threat to biodiversity and a deluge of
ominous media headlines suggested a potential threat to Mexico's ancestral
corn varieties. The Mexican government quickly responded by issuing a
press release stating that they would conduct further investigation.
Scientific experts from several universities challenged the scientific
methods and argued that the authors' data was flawed and their conclusions
were unsupported.
Closer scrutiny by several independent investigations of the scientific
methods and data released in the publication ensued. According to the
experts conducting these investigations, the polymerase chain reaction
(PCR) method used was flawed and lacked the proper controls, resulting in
detections of artifacts and inaccurate data interpretation. The technical
information provided in the original publication was analyzed in detail by
experts in the field, including the editorial board of Transgenic Research
magazine who stated that the report by Quist and Chapela is a "testimony
to technical failure and artifacts" resulting from the PCR methods used.
The editors noted: "no evidence is presented to justify any of the
conclusions presented in the paper."

Criticism of the publication by scientists was not taken lightly by
activist groups who had earlier demanded a ban on the import of GM maize.
The activists issued a statement accusing the scientists of "academic
intimidation." Over one hundred scientists issued a "Joint Statement in
Support of Scientific Discourse in Mexican GM Maize Scandal." According to
the statement: "scientists have a fundamental and ethical obligation to
rigorously examine the results and methodology of reported research. This
is how science corrects mistakes and ever more closely approximates truth
and understanding - all scientists worthy of the name understand that
relentless double-checking and independent third party evaluations are the
cornerstones of the scientific process."

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
headquartered in Mexico and charged with developing approaches to maize
improvement and protecting maize genetic resources, also tested samples in
their seed bank and in the field. CIMMYT indicated that they were unable
to find any evidence of transgenes in Mexico. According to their statement
released in February 2002: " We remain firmly committed to maintaining
genetic diversity in both farmers' fields and in our gene bank, a
commitment that long pre-dates the flamboyant and often misleading
headlines that dominate today's debate."

In March, at the conclusion of a scientific workshop organized to discuss
the potential effects of introducing biotech maize in Mexico, a team of
Mexican and international scientific experts participating in the Mexican
Society of Biotechnology and Bioengineering (SMBB) workshop said: "there
is no scientific evidence indicating a transgene may alter maize genomic
structure" and "any potential impact of releasing biotech corn must be
analyzed on a case-by-case basis."

The science presented in the Quist and Chapela paper has been questioned
and rebuked by a number of independent experts, lending less credence to
the authors' preliminary conclusions and prompting further scrutiny from
the editors of Nature. Setting aside this debate, Mexican farmers will
continue to utilize genetic diversity from available sources, including
corn grown in the U. S., to select germplasm that offers the best
potential crop. In this way, it is inevitable that biotech traits approved
in the U. S. will eventually be identified and accurately characterized in

The broader question is whether the presence of biotech traits in Mexico
would have positive or negative impacts on Mexico's landraces of corn. The
potential impact of biotech crops on biodiversity should be viewed in the
same manner as the impact of conventionally breeding crops. Commercialized
crops improved using biotechnology undergo thorough evaluation by global
regulatory authorities to ensure they are safe for food, feed and the
environment. The introduction of biotech corn in Mexico represents a
significant opportunity for increasing crop productivity in a way that
reduces the environmental footprint of agriculture, and in a way that puts
small farmers on an equal footing with large farmers, since the benefits
of biotech varieties are not scale dependent. The sooner the issues are
resolved, the sooner Mexican farmers will be able to realize the benefits
already being widely experienced by farmers in the United States, South
America and other areas throughout the world.

Resources: Nature editorial note: available at http://www.nature.com

A series of three "Brief Communications" were published in Nature's
Advanced Online Publications this month. Nature's editorial footnote
follows each of the three articles. The information including the Digital
Object Identifier (DOI) to include in a search for the articles and
editorial footnote on the Nature web site is listed below:

Biodiversity (Communications arising): Suspect evidence of transgenic
contamination by M. Metz and J. F¸tterer; DOI: 10.1038/nature738

Biodiversity (Communications arising): Maize transgene results in Mexico
are artifacts by N. Kaplinsky et al.; DOI: 10.1038/nature739

Biodiversity (Communications arising (reply)): Suspect evidence of
transgenic contamination/Maize transgene results in Mexico are artifacts
by D. Quist and I. H. Chapela; DOI: 10.1038/nature740

Additional Publications

Quist, D. and Chapela, IH. 2001. Transgenic DNA introgressed into
traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature 414: 541-543.

Christou, P. 2001. No credible evidence is presented to support claims
that transgenic DNA was introgressed into traditional maize landraces in
Oaxaca, Mexico. Transgenic Research 11: iii-v. (available at:

Martinez-Soriano, JPR, and Leal-Klevezas, D. S. 2000. Transgenic Maize in
Mexico: No Need for Concern. Science 287: 1399.

Martinez-Soriano JPR., Bailey, A.M., Lara-Reyna, J. and Leal-Klevezas, D.
S. 2002. Transgenes in Mexican Maize. Nature Biotechnology 20:19.

Joint Statement in Support of Scientific Discourse in Mexican GM Maize
Scandal (available at: http://www.agbioworld.org/jointstatement.html)

Mexican Maize Documents form the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan, Mexico (available at:

For Sociedad Mexicana de Biotecnologia y Bioingenieria Conclusion Paper,
contact smbb@prodigy.net.mx


Advanced Agricultural Biotechnologies and Sustainable Agriculture

- Thomas A. Lyson, Trends in Biotechnology; Vol. 20, Issue 5; May 1, 2002;
Pages 193-196

Abstract Agricultural biotechnologies are anchored to a scientific
paradigm rooted in experimental biology, whereas sustainable agriculture
rests on a biological paradigm that is best described as ecological. Both
biotechnology and sustainable agriculture are associated with particular
social science paradigms: biotechnology has its foundation in neoclassical
economics, but sustainability is framed by an emerging community-centered,
problem-solving perspective. Fundamentally, biotechnology and neoclassical
economics are reductionist in nature. Sustainability and community
problem-solving, however, are nonreductionist. Given these differences, we
might see the development of two rather distinct systems of food
production in the near future.

"Conventional agriculture is the system of production developed in
advanced industrial countries and promoted by researchers and outreach
workers at agricultural colleges and universities and by government
personnel affiliated with ministries and departments of agriculture. It
represents the accumulated knowledge and wisdom about the most widely
accepted procedures and techniques to grow crops and raise livestock and
poultry . Today, conventional agriculture is increasingly incorporating
practices and techniques associated with genetic engineering.

Conventional agriculture is grounded on the belief that the primary
objectives of farming should be to produce as much food and fiber as
possible for the least cost. It is driven by the twin goals of
productivity and efficiency. More particularly, the organizational
underpinnings of conventional agriculture rest within both experimental
biology and neoclassical economics .

Sustainable agriculture is a term that has been used to denote a more
environmentally sound and socially responsible system of agricultural
production than has traditionally existed in most western societies.
Although there are literally hundreds of definitions of sustainable
agriculture, one of the more widely accepted definitions, developed by the
US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is `an integrated system of plant and
animal production practices having a site-specific application that will,
over the long-term: satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance
environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the
agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable
resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and
controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance
the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole .

With respect to agriculture and food, advanced biotechnologies have the
potential to revolutionize virtually all aspects of society, from how,
where, when and by whom food is produced, processed and consumed to how
dietary changes might be used to treat illness and disease. The
consequences of genomics for agriculture and food production and for human
and animal health that are only now coming into view in both the advanced
industrial and the developing world are likely to be profound in social,
economic, political and demographic terms.

Agricultural sustainability presents a challenge to conventional
agriculture and genetic engineering. It is likely that the productionist
approach that has long dominated agricultural development must accommodate
not only the environmental and but also the community dimensions that are
embodied in sustainable agriculture. Many farmers environmentalists and
consumer advocates are calling for a more sustainable food and
agricultural system. Given the fundamental differences between
conventional agriculture and sustainable agriculture, it might be that in
the near term we will see the development of two rather distinct systems
of food production.


Ecological and Agronomic Consequences of Gene Flow from Transgenic Crops
to Wild Relatives

- Meeting Proceedings, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, March 5-6,

Gene flow from transgenic plants to wild relatives is one of the major
research areas targeted by USDA's Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research
Grants Program (BRARGP). On the first day, speakers discussed the general
context for gene flow research, the information needs of USDA-APHIS, EPA,
and the biotechnology industry, and case studies of specific crop-wild
complexes, including cucurbits, brassicas, sunflower, sorghum, rice,
wheat, maize, strawberry, poplar, and turfgrasses. Written summaries of
these talks are included below. On the second day, breakout groups
discussed the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches for
studying the occurrence of gene flow and various effects of gene flow
(fitness effects of transgenes in wild relatives, effects on population
dynamics, indirect community effects, and effects on the genetic diversity
of wild relatives).

The crops, wild relatives, and regulatory issues we discussed focused on
the USA, but much of the workshop was also relevant to similar situations
in other countries. Proceedings and abstracts from the workshop are
available for download from the workshop website


Bridging the fields of weed science and plant ecology, this workshop
helped to define the most appropriate and rigorous empirical methods
available for studying questions related to gene flow from transgenic
crops to weedy and wild relatives.


Ethics and Ecofascism

Book: Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World. - Gregory
E. Pence. Reviewed by Peter Marsh - 25 April 2001

Gregory Pence teaches bioethics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
in the United States, and he is no stranger to controversy. His views on
human cloning, where he argued that it is wrong to rule out the potential
for such procedures and portrayed opponents of cloning as 'genetic
fatalists' who cannot entertain new ideas and scientific progress, made
him a target for quite vitriolic censure.

His new book, Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World,
will similarly upset the 'naturalists' and those who oppose even modest
applications of science and technology as a means of improving the human
condition. It is not so much what Pence has to say, but more the clarity
with which he expresses his views - a rare and refreshing exception from
the normally more cautious and hedging style of bioethicists. He simply
does not mince his words. Take, for example, his analysis of one of the
leading groups opposed to GM foods:

"How has Greenpeace International arrived at the morally bankrupt position
that preserving plants is more important than feeding millions of starving
humans? What has gone terribly wrong in the ethical footing of this
elitist organization that it has slipped to this terrible place?"

Another 'heavyweight' anti-GM activist receives similarly short shrift:
"Although trained as a physicist, Vandana Shiva writes as an agricultural,
Hindu theologian who wants to preserve each species as a natural kind and
maintain an ancient India where 80 million cows formed the background both
of the religion a farming system where women did most of the milking,
feeding and recycling - But such thinking and writing distort the
complicated truths about humans today. For example, I don't know any
Indian girls who want to be milkmaids, but I know a lot who want to be

There is, perhaps, little that is really new in Pence's book about
biotechnology itself. There is a clear, 'text book' introduction to the
development of genetically modified foods and their safety compared with
conventionally grown, and pesticide-sprayed, crops. There is also a tidy
summary of the basis of many food fears - the issue of BSE/CJD in
particular. It is, however, in the exercise of his own profession as an
ethicist, and his critique of the moral positions of those that oppose GM
so vociferously, that the book comes alive.

The term 'ecofascism' is used by Spence not as a loose, political insult
but as a carefully reasoned and justified description of many of those in
'green' organisations and the ecology movement who for too long have laid
claim to the moral high ground. He highlights the clear parallels between
the fundamental tenets of contemporary environmentalism and those at the
heart of National Socialism in the 1930s. He also comments:

"Members of today's Green parties in Europe seem to view their
environmentalism as separate from Nazi ideology. This is a dangerous
mistake. The importance of Nature in Nazi ideology had real consequences:
it led to breaking up estates and holdings across Germany to make organic
farms. Hitler's and Hess's vegetarianism followed a devotion to purity and
a horror of pollution that paralleled their thinking about race, eugenics,
and ultimately, their actions in the Holocaust - The acceptance today - of
starvation for peoples of developing countries to preserve environmental
purity over acceptance of genetic veggies is not far removed from the
claim, then, that racial and environmental purity must triumph over the
needs of poor, non-German citizens."

This is strong stuff. And it needs to be said and heard. Pence cannot be
dismissed as crank or Monsanto lobbyist. His credentials and intellectual
rigour are such that while many might disagree with his views, or squirm
in discomfort at this attack on their ethical position, he cannot be
ignored. Those who for too long have relied on emotion-laden mysticism to
sustain their holier-than-thou Green posturing must now be required to
re-consider their ethical and moral credibility.


Terminator Tussle: Controversial Technology Needed, Experts Say

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A genetic plant sterilization technology - known as
the Terminator gene - that is heralded by scientists as a possible
solution to the ecological problem of gene drift is being scorned by many

It's a conundrum that has some scientists scratching their heads.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which is being held
in The Hague this week (4/15-19), is examining the issue of whether plant
sterility genes should be banned internationally. So far, India is the
only nation to ban the technology, although the technology is not being
used in any nation.

Purdue University bioethicist Paul Thompson says much of the opposition to
plant sterilization technology is misplaced fury. "It's an issue that's
not very well understood, and I think environmental groups haven't thought
through the potential benefit of the gene," Thompson says. "The important
thing that is being overlooked is that incorporating the gene is a good
strategy for limiting the environmental impact of genetically modified
plants." Thompson holds the Joyce and Edward Brewer Chair in Applied
Ethics in Purdue's Department of Philosophy, and is the author of
"Agricultural Ethics: Research, Teaching, and Public Policy" and "Food
Biotechnology in Ethical Perspective."

William Muir, professor of animal sciences, has done extensive work on the
ecological risk of introducing genetically modified plants and animals
into the environment. Through his research, Muir and Rick Howard,
professor of biology, have shown that if a genetically modified plant or
animal has a reproductive advantage, such as being larger, it could become
an invasive species or even drive the native population to extinction.

"Any ecosystem took billions of years to co-adapt to other species and
become established," Muir says. "A major problem with maintaining such an
ecosystem is the introduction of exotic plants and animals, as we see with
the introduction of things such as zebra mussels and the gypsy moth.
"Genetically modified species are similar in many aspects to exotic
species. Genetically modified organisms should only be introduced into
wild ecosystems after extensive study of the risk and they are found to be
safe. The so-called Terminator technology would bypass this hazard, and
the downside of the technology is minor in comparison to the potential

If a plant sterilization gene is inserted in a genetically modified plant,
the plant is unable to produce fertile seeds. Critics of the technology
say this is unfair to poor farmers because it prevents them from setting
aside a portion of the harvest as seed for the following year and forces
them to buy seed each year.

However, farmers in the United States and other industrialized nations
don't commonly replant seed from the previous year's crop. Marshall
Martin, associate director of Agricultural Research Programs at Purdue,
says that most U.S. farmers do not save seed. "Farmers cannot save seed
from hybrid corn because it will not produce a good yield. Farmers who buy
genetically modified soybeans sign an agreement saying they won't save the
seed," Martin says. "With crops such as soybean, cotton or wheat, because
private companies and land-grant universities continuously develop and
release new varieties that offer greater yields and disease resistance,
farmers prefer to buy this improved seed rather than save seed from the
previous year."

Because of poor profit potential in low-income developing nations, major
seed companies don't consider farmers in these countries to be attractive
customers, Martin says. "When they have developed biotech crops for these
nations, such as Monsanto did with the disease-resistant sweet potato,
they have often given away their discoveries to public institutions," he
says. "In the case of the sweet potato, Monsanto gave the discovery to the
Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya for further development and distribution.
The companies realize they're not going to make much money off of farmers
who are growing crops mostly for their families. The transaction costs are
fairly high to deliver small amounts of seeds to farmers in remote areas
who have limited capital and acreage, so they try to get as much
humanitarian and public relations value out of it as they can by giving it

"For a seed company there would be limited commercial opportunity for a
crop such as sweet potato compared to crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat,
cotton, canola, etc., that are grown in many parts of the world by larger
commercial farmers."

The large seed companies were interested in plant sterilization
technology, also known as trait protection technology, because it would
allow them to sell genetically modified seed to farmers without having to
enforce a user's agreement. Now, when some farmers violate the user
contracts companies must take them to court, which is an expense and
detracts from the company's public image.

Drew Kershen, who is the Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law at the
University of Oklahoma College of Law, says scientists in the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and in Delta and Pine Land Company first
developed trait protection genes as an environmental protection technology
in 1993.

When the patent for the gene was issued in 1998, some companies,
particularly Monsanto, were interested in licensing the patented
technology. This interest melted away in face of the controversy, and no
crops containing the plant sterilization genes were ever put on the
market. "After environmental groups campaigned vigorously against trait
protection systems, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization
declared it an immoral technology," Kershen says. "As a result, scientists
who work with the United Nation's Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research adopted a policy prohibiting the use of the
technology in their breeding programs. The FAO decision was a political
decision not based on understanding neither the science nor the
environmental benefits of trait protection systems.

"This occurred despite the fact that the USDA scientists who created the
genes envisioned the technology as a means of preventing an unwanted
spread of transgenic traits into weedy relatives of crop plants and into
other non-transgenic crops. Delta and Pine Land Company continues to
develop trait protection technology." Thompson says the Terminator
technology has garnered more than its share of attention. "Terminator has
captured the public's attention unlike any other form of biotechnology out
there," he says. "I have no idea why that is. My speculation is that
making a seed sterile goes against some basic sense of what's right."

But Thompson says it may be the Terminator label itself that caught the
public eye. The Terminator name was given to the technology by
anti-biotechnology interest groups. The scientists who developed the gene
originally gave it the name "control of gene expression." Thompson says
the Terminator tussle is just one example of how language has been used to
misconstrue science.

"This happens on both sides of the biotechnology debate," he says. "On the
one hand you have some groups using scare tactics and using labels such as
Terminator or Frankenfoods. On the other hand you have corporate public
relations departments doing massive consumer attitude research to come up
with names for the products that get people to think about the products in
cuddly and friendly terms.

"Either way you're manipulating the issue rather than addressing it."
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined the issue of the
Terminator gene in 2000, there was disagreement between the scientists and
the environmental groups, says Martin, who was a member of the USDA
Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee when it examined the issue.
"The majority view of those of us on the USDA committee was that we should
go forward with research on the technology," he says. "But all of the
public comments that we received from the environmental groups were

Because the technology would seem to prevent an environmental problem,
some people in agriculture have suggested that the issue of plant
sterilization genes is a stalking horse - that these groups are opposed to
the technology simply because they oppose any type of genetic

"If an environmental group gets to the point where it is trying to make
the technology as dangerous as possible to stop people from using it, that
strikes me as a cynical approach," Thompson says. "If we shouldn't be
doing any genetic engineering of plants, we should be making that argument
on the merits. We should not encourage reckless policy decisions that make
biotechnology more dangerous."

Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809; tally@purdue.edu; Sources: Paul
Thompson pault@purdue.edu; William Muir; bmuir@purdue.edu Marshall
Martin, marshallmartin@purdue.edu; Drew Kershen dkershen@ou.edu


Green Biotechnology

- Klaus.Ammann@ips.unibe.ch; Debate 2002'0426 a: In Focus: Green
Biotechnology, Heinz M¸ller and Martin R

Dear friends, An excellent collection of arguments in favour of Green
Biotechnology in the perspective of the Deutsche
Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank, written up by Heinz Mueller and Martin
Roedinger. There is also a German version available, please write for this
to Heinz Mueller: heinz_mueller@dgbank.de


See also the link to the article of the Luzerner Neueste Nachrichten, it
should work now, since in Debate 2002'0425 a I simply forgot to put the
document on the http server, sorry.



(From Prakash: This is a must 'download'. Although bit long at 92 pages,
this report is peppered with splendid graphs and data, and a very useful


Book: 'Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone'

- Mark L. Winston, Amazon.com price $19.57; June 2002. Hardcover 272

With genetically modified crops we have entered uncharted territory--where
visions of the triumph of biotechnology in agriculture vie with dire views
of medical and environmental disaster. For two years Mark L. Winston
traveled this fraught territory at home and abroad, listening to farmers,
industry spokespeople, regulators, and researchers, canvassing
high-security laboratories, environmentalist enclaves, and cyberspace,
making a thorough survey of the facts, opinions, and practices deployed by
opponents and proponents of transgenic crops. Through his sympathetic
portrayal of the passions on all sides, Winston brings a clear, unbiased
perspective to this bewildering landscape.

Traveling with Winston, we see the excitement and curiosity that pervade
laboratories developing genetically modified crops, as well as the panic
and outrage among dedicated opponents of agricultural biotechnology; the
desperation of conventional farmers as they look to science for solutions
to the problems driving them from their farms, as well as the deeply held
values of organic farmers who dread the incursion of genetically modified
crops into their expanding enterprise. And, Winston shows us, these
contrasting attitudes transcend national borders, with troubling
counterparts and consequences in the developing world. As he seeks a
middle ground where concerns about genetic engineering can be rationally
discussed and resolved, Winston gives us, at long last, a full and
balanced view of the forces at play in the chaotic debate over
agricultural biotechnology. ---- Mark L. Winston is Professor of
Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia.
He is the recipient of a Killam Fellowship from the Canada Council.



To see todayĖs Consumer Freedom cartoon, please visit:

To see all of our cartoons, go to:


GM Rice Carrying a Protein From Human Breast Milk Could Be Used to Enhance
Infant Formula

- Nature Science Update, April 26, 2002

Genetically modified (GM) rice carrying a protein from human breast milk
could be used to enhance infant formula, researchers hope. But at present,
the protein would not gain approval for use in the United States.

Nutritionists agree that breast milk is best for a baby; infant formula is
not as nourishing as the real thing. So for mothers unable to breast-feed,
the biotech industry is engineering crops or animals to make human breast
milk proteins to 'humanize' formula.

Yuriko Adkins of the University of California, Davis and her colleagues,
have modified rice plants to carry a human gene for a milk enzyme called
lactoferrin. Babies need this to use iron efficiently and fight infection.
Rats fed the rice-raised 'recombinant' enzyme together with a second
enzyme, lysozyme, were better able to kill gastrointestinal bacteria, she
told the Experimental Biology 2002 meeting this week in New Orleans.
Sterilization inactivates the lactoferrin in current cow-based infant
formula; the GM form is stable.

But the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will not approve the
recombinant protein, warned Steve Taylor of the University of Nebraska,
who has been involved in worldwide GM food committees. "I'm about to throw
a bit of cold water on this debate," he said. To test if GM products could
cause an allergic reaction, the FDA compares a GM protein with known human
allergens - including lactoferrin from cows.

The FDA's regulations are designed to cover biotech plants that carry
drugs or pesticides. They will have to be rethought before rice-grown
lactoferrin, and other human proteins made by genetically modified
organisms, can be approved for production, says Taylor. Researchers may be
able to bypass the regulatory process if they can prove that the
recombinant protein acts identically in the gut to the human one. The two
might then be treated as the same, hopes Todd Stoltz of Ventria
Bioscience, the company planning commercial production of the human
proteins in rice.

Murky milk

In future, recombinant proteins might be used to customize milk formulas,
for example to enhance premature babies' nutrient absorption or to help
newborns fight HIV. HIV-positive mothers are advised against
breast-feeding by the World Health Organization.

Human breast-milk proteins are already experimentally produced in
organisms ranging from fungi to cows. "These proteins are out there by the
tonne," says Bo Lonnerdal, who studies them at the University of
California, Davis. Yet it is unclear exactly what some of them do in the
body, or what tests must be done to demonstrate that they are safe and

For example, there are no animal models that adequately mimic human
allergy. And it is unclear whether an animal's response to a human protein
is comparable to that of a person. Babies fed breast milk develop fewer
infections than those on formula and have different gut bacteria. But
there's no guarantee that consumers will accept humanized biotech milk;
they may be particularly concerned about feeding GM food to their baby.
"It's a very emotive issue," says Lonnerdal.