Today in AgBioView: May 17, 2002
* How You Can Help AgBioView to Continue...
* Pontifical Academy of Sciences Endorses Biotech Crops
* History's Harvest: Where Food Comes From
* Evidence on the Safety of Conventional and Organic Foods
* Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology
* Soybean Yield Drag in Brazil?
* The Evolving Role of Public/Private Collaborations in Ag Research
* Shameless Disinformation?
* Danish Paper Sets Principles For Biotech Coop
* Public Poorly Informed About Agri-biotech In Europe
* Misunderstood Public Cause For Impasse In GM Debate
* CIMMYT Repeats: No GM In Maize Gene Banks
* The Case of the Monarch Butterfly: A Verdict Is Returned
*** How Can You Help AgBioView to Continue ***
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Pontifical Academy of Sciences Endorses Biotech Crops
- Andrew Apel , AgBioView, May 16, 2002
In "Science and the Future of Mankind: Science for Man and Man for
Science," the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has published the proceedings
of a wide-ranging investigation of the uses of science which was
undertaken at the direction of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
"When one speaks about the humanistic dimension of science, thought is
directed for the most part to the ethical responsibility of scientific
research because of its consequences to man," said the Pope in addressing
the Academy prior to its work."The problem is real and has given rise to
constant concern on the part of the Magisterium of the Church, especially
during the second part of the twentieth century."
The Pope also placed the scientific enterprise in a spiritual context."In
[Christ], the Church recognizes the ultimate conditions allowing
scientific progress to be also real human progress," he said."They are the
conditions of charigy and service, those which ensure that all men have an
authentically human life, capable of rising up to the Absolute, opening up
not only to the wonders of nature but also to the mystery of God."
Placing all of science and its many disciplines and discoveries within
this context was an arduous task and in the end, the Academy came also to
address agricultural biotechnology. Nicola Cabibbo, the president of the
Academy, presented "Study Document on the Use of ňGenetically Modified
Food Plantsă to Combat Hunger in the World." The document represents the
consensus of the Academy and a committee specifically formed to address
"During the closed session of the Academy held during the Plenary Session
many Academicians expressed deep concern at the distorted way in which
recent scientific results, and in particular those relating to genetically
improved plant varieties, haved been presented to the public," said
Cabbibo at the outset of his Introductory Note, adding that the study
document"expresses the concerns of the scientific community about the
sustainability of present agricultural practices and the certainty that
new techniques will be effective."
Here are some of the recommendations of the study document:
"Agriculture as it is currently practiced is unsustainable, as is
indicated by the massive losses of topsoil and agricultural land that have
occurred over the past few decates, as well as by the unacceptable
consequences of massive applications of pesticides throughout most of the
world. Techniques to genetically modify crop plants can make important
contributions to the solution of this common problem."
"There is nothing intrinsic about genetic modification that would cause
food products to be unsafe."
"Special efforts should be made to provide poor farmers in the developing
world with access to improved crop plants and to encourage and finance
research in developing countries. At the same time, means should be found
to create incentives for the production of vegetable strains suitable to
the needs of developing countries."
"This process [of genetic engineering] is very specific and avoids the
inclusion of genes that are undesirable... Even though such strains are
considered to be genetically modified (GM), the same label could be
applied equally appropriately to all strains that have been modified
genetically by human activities˛a process that owes its success to
selection for desirable properties.
"The genes being transferred express proteins that are natural, not
man-made. The changes made alter an insignificantly small proportion of
the total number of genes in the host plant... in contrast, classical
cross-breeding methods often generated very large, unidentified changes in
the selected strains."
"There is nothing wrong or unnatural about the movement of genes between
"There are many opportunities to use this new technology to improve not
only the quantity of food produced but also its quality. This is
illustrated most clearly in the recent development of what is called
"Genetically modified plants can be an important component of efforts to
improve yields on farms otherwise marginal because of limiting conditions
such as water shortages, poor soil, and plant pests."
"Genetically modified plants currently in use have already greatly reduced
the use of [pesticides and herbicides], with great ecological benefits. It
is expected that such benefits will be significantly enhanced as research
and development efforts continue."
"Risk cannot be avoided, but it can be minimized. The long-term aim is to
develop plants that can produce larger yields of healthier food under
sustainable conditions with an acceptable level of risk."
To access the remainder of the report, massing over 500 pages, visit
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Pontifical Academcy of Sciences -- Report on Biotechnology
Several days ago, AgBioWorld carried an announcement about a newly
published book by the Pontifical Academcy of Sciences on biotechnology.
I went to the Vatican website (under the Roman Curia, Pontifical
Academies) and located the book. I downloaded it to my ZIP drive. I have
read the concluding two statements of the PAS. Both are excellent
statements in support of science and agricultural biotechnology,
respectively. I commend them to anyone on this listserv.
I then decided to purchase a copy of the book for the OU Law School
Library. To my great gratitude and pleasure, I set forth the exchange
about this attempted purchase. I thought everyone on this list would be
interested to learn what I learned.
From: Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Dear Dr. Clement,
Following your e-mail message of May 16, 2002, we are pleased to inform
you that the book Scripta Varia 099, edited by this Pontifical Academy of
Sciences, is available. We have already mailed the book to your address,
free of charge (as usual for the Universities).
Sincerely yours, The Secretariat (S. Ulisse)
From: Clement, Shelly K [mailto:email@example.com]
Dear Sir: One of our professors (Drew Kershen) would like for the Law
Library to purchase a print copy of Science and the Future of Mankind;
Proceedings - Working Group, 12-14 November 1999. Jubilee Plenary Session,
10-13 November 2000, Vatican City, 2001, Scripta Varia No. 099. How would
I go about ordering this title?
Sincerely, Shelly Clement, Acquisitions & Government Documents Librarian,
University of Oklahoma Law Library
History's Harvest: Where Food Comes From
History's Harvest: Where Food Comes From is the documentary film produced
by the ASPB Education Foundation. It is available in VHS and DVD formats.
The DVD can be projected or viewed on a computer. The computer file
contains additional articles and information.
History's Harvest explores the controversy of genetic engineering by
putting the debate in an historical perspective. The film explores the
scientific evidence behind the controversy over genetically modified (GM)
food. Presenting a sweeping view of 10,000 years of agricultural history,
the film contains spectacular footage from locations in India, Mexico, the
United States and Britain. The film is fast-paced, informative, and
visually engaging. It is also presented in a way to which the general
public will relate and understand.
ASPB's Education Foundation developed this film is to provide accurate
information to the public on the importance of plant biology in addressing
world hunger and to education the public on where food comes from. In
addition to the vivid scenes of people, life and agriculture on three
continents, the film includes interviews with the most prominent
scientists in the world.
The film takes viewers from the fields where crops are grown around the
world, into the homes of people in India, into the labs where the latest
research is done, and into the grocery stores of America where every kind
of produce can be found in beautiful abundance. There are discussions with
farmers in Iowa, Mexico and India. There are interviews with restaurant
owners in California and leading scientists from around the world. The
film's inclusion of scenes most of us can relate to - in today's
supermarkets - adds to its appeal to today's audiences.
The Foundation is in the process of identifying distributors to bring the
film to TV broadcast networks. The film is also available for educational
use and for libraries. The Foundation's goal is to get the message out to
as wide an audience as possible.
History's Harvest was developed for the American Society of Plant
Biologists' Education Foundation and was produced by Stellarvision, a
London-based production company. Stellarvision is an award-winning
independent production company that makes programs for a number of
broadcasters such as the UK's Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC TV etc, as well as
Discovery and TLC in the U.S.
Evidence on the Safety of Conventional Food and Questioning That of
- From Tony Trewavas
I see there is some discussion from various sources about organic food and
pesticides in the USA.
I use the following pieces of evidence concerning the safety of
conventional food and questioning that of organic food
1. Life expectancy increases unabated in the last 50 years. Actual data
may be found for the USA in Doll Am J Public Health 82, 933-940 (1992) and
for the UK in Lomborg B. Skeptical Environmentalist page 51 (2001). If
pesticide residues had any detectable effect this would appear obvious
over the last 50 years. In the UK centenarians are ten times more common
than they were 50 years ago.
2. Activists always claim pesticide residues cause cancer. What is the
evidence apart form injecting huge amounts of chemicals into rodents.
Overall human cancer rates have declined by about 30% in the last 50 years
if the effects of smoking are removed from the statistics. Again the data
may be found in Lomborg Skeptical Environmentalist page 217. Data is from
WHO and CDC. Activists will raise questions such as breast cancer and
prostate cancer whose incidence is supposedly higher. Cancer is a disease
of old age, from 25 years old to 75 years old cancer rates increase 100
fold. If you keep a rat in a cage it normally dies of cancer after 3-4
years. As we die less from circulation problems then inevitably there are
more cases of cancer. It is common in autopsies of older men who have died
from heart attack that they also had prostate cancer as well.
A comment from Doll's paper is instructive (Doll was the first in the UK
to draw the link between smoking and lung cancer). "When this effect is
properly allowed for, the mortality from all other cancers considered as a
group is decreasing in middle and old age. To detect an effect from new
hazards of individual types of cancer we need to examine the trends in
incidence and mortality in early middle age (that is under 50 years of
age) as it is in the relatively young that the effect of new hazards is
usually first seen. Examination of these trends shows that most of the
important cancers are becoming less common in both Britain and the US, the
increase in recorded incidence of the others is mostly an artefact of
screening or the result of behaviour that the individual can choose to
avoid. Only the world wide increase in cancer of the testis and the small
increase in non-Hodkins lymphoma that is not attributable to immune
deficiency remain unexplained and may possibly be due to new environmental
hazards". Screens for breast and prostate cancer are well established and
it is those cancers that some increased incidence has been reported.
However mortality from breast cancer has not increased.
For the UK I refer people to the British Medical Journal 308 ,705-708,
Coggons and Inskip who provide statistics for cancer from 1950-1990
covering the period of pesticide use. These show marked declining rates
particularly in the young. The article by two epidemiologists concludes
"There is no evidence that toxic hazards such as pesticides, chemical
waste and other forms of industrial pollution have had a major impact on
overall rates of cancer" " When the substantial effects of tobacco are
discounted, there is no evidence that the overall incidence of cancer is
It should be remembered that the start of the whole pesticide scare
commenced with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. However she made a number of
claims that are incorrect including the statement that cancer rates were
increasing (see below).
3. Ames and Gold Mutation Research 447, 3-13 (2000) contains important
information that summarises about 172 epidemiological investigations on
the consumption of fruits and vegetables and cancer rates. 129 of these
show significant protection from cancer by a diet high in fruit and
vegetables. On average the protection is about two fold. The important
point is that these are conventional fruits and vegetables containing the
ubiquitous pesticide residues. So the more you consume of the supposed
damaging chemicals the healthier you become. If pesticide residues are
poisonous; some poison!
4. Ames and Gold also show that fruits and vegetables contain about 10,000
natural chemicals that (like synthetic pesticides) are carcinogens in
rodents. From known consumption and determined toxicity, a Human
Exposure/Rodent Potency can be determined to place such chemicals in order
orf putative hazard. Lomborg places these as a figure (page 234)
indicating that coffee (caffeic acid) is the highest food hazard of all,
based on known general consumption although alcohol, dry cleaning fluid
and phenobarbitone beat it. However Ames and Gold calculate the natural
background of carcinogen consumption ( natural pesticides) which outweighs
synthetic pesticide residues by 20,000 to 1. In other words nature
provides a much greater hazard than anything the farmer adds. Pesticide
residues are miniscule and irrelevant compared to the fuss that is made of
5. In the UK only 25% of the populace and in the US only 20%, consume the
minimum fruit and vegetables necessary to protect against cancer. Thus
75-80% of the population are placed at risk of premature death from cancer
and unnecessarily so as well. Price determines consumption. Increasing the
price of fruit and vegetables as per going organic will likely decrease
rather than increase consumption thus placing even more of the populace at
higher risk. Even worse is claiming organic food is superior. The likely
result is that those on low incomes will buy organic but consume less
because of the expense.
6.The Food Standards Agency in the UK produced a set of data on estimated
deaths arising from food.
On an annual basis about 110,000 die from poor diet ( heart attacks and
one third of cancers that are thought in some way to originate from diet
but mechanism unknown although the figure may be anywhere from 10-% to
50%. These deductions made by Doll and Peto, derive from observations of
changes in cancer rates and kinds, of immigrants moving countries). About
50/year die from food allergies, 20 die/year from food poisoning, 15/year
from nvCJD and 0/year from pesticide residues and GMO's. If organic
ideologues had any sense of responsibility they would agitate to improve
diet by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and reduce meat and
milk intake. But they are usually indifferent.
7. There are no good comparative data on the disease frequency and
herbivore damage of organic compared to conventional or integrated crops.
There are a few measurements of mycotoxin levels and those I have,
indicate levels higher in organic products but extremely variable. I
referred to two in "Urban myths__" published in Nature. Such comparative
figures need collection. More important though is that pest damage
increases the synthesis of many secondary products (Karban and Baldwin;
Induced responses to Herbivory 1997, U of Chicago press list at least 40).
Two thirds of secondary products (Ames and Gold) have been shown to be
carcinogens. We do know that in four cases, two of potato (solanine and
chaconine;Lenape for example), celery (psoralen) and squash (cucurbitacin)
either breeding accidents or environmental conditions pushed these
products up to known toxic levels for humans. If pest damage is higher in
organic crops from not using pesticides then the effects of long term
consumption definitely need examination. Unfortunately when populations in
the UK and the US only consumed organic food, death rates were higher and
the population died younger. How many of these were food related is
unknown because diagnosis is still only 50% accurate for death. Disease
rates do seem to be higher for organic crops than conventional ones and I
obtained this verbatim from a farmer who grows both. His comment was that
there was less disease than expected on the organic field but failure to
use fungicides meant that disease rates were higher. Some recent
measurements in the UK showed that organic soups had much higher levels of
salicylate and for those that know salicylate accumulates when plants are
attacked by disease organisms. My concern is what else disease organisms
leave behind them.
So we know what happens when we eat conventional food and the answer on
health seems to be zero. For organic, well we don't know?
8. Errors in Silent Spring.
1. Environmental organochlorines (e.g. DDT) all man-made. 2. An
alarming increase in cancer due to pesticides.
3. Man alone creates carcinogens.
4. Mankind newly-surrounded by chemicals (carcinogens) from birth to
death. 5. Pesticides killed many birds.
1. Organochlorines made abundantly and naturally in decaying plant matter.
2. Overall cancer rates diminishing. A diet high in fruits and vegetables
containing pesticide residues cuts cancer rates in half.
3. At least 10,000 natural carcinogens in crop plants.
4. Mankind always surrounded by natural carcinogens. Life expectancy
increased unabated in last 50 years. 5. Habitat loss more likely.
The reference on abundant natural organochlorines is Myeneni Science 295,
1039 (2002). Various groups campaign against organochlorines still;
presumably they will now campaign against decaying plant matter.
web site http://www.ed.ac.uk/~ebot40/main.html
Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology
Jones and Bartlett Publishers and the American Society of Plant Biologists
present the second edition.
For more information or to order your copy http://plantbiotech.jbpub.com/
"Chrispeels and Sadava have written another winner! The new version of
Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology, Second Edition is a MUST for
students and researchers who are interested in the impact of plant biology
on agriculture and society. Chrispeels and Sadava do an outstanding job of
showing how modern agricultural research can help produce enough food in
the next 50 years to eliminate hunger and malnutrition and do it in an
environmentally sensitive way.
Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology, Second Edition is mandatory reading
for everyone who wants to separate myth from fact in the "GMO"
controversy. Chrispeels and Sadava have compiled an impressive set of
chapters that both educate and inform the reader on the basics of modern
plant research and its impact on agriculture. This wonderfully illustrated
book provides a conceptual background in plant biology and how modern
plant research, including genetic engineering, impacts our daily lives.
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in how a griculture
has transformed the civilization in which we live. I thoroughly enjoyed
reading the second edition of Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology."
-- Professor Bob Goldberg , Department of Molecular, Cell, and
Developmental Biology, University of California, Los Angeles
Soybean Yield Drag in Brazil?
- From: Thomas R. (aka Tom) DeGregori
I received an email from a Brazilian journalist who asked some important
questions about the role of North American NGOs in Brazil opposing the use
of GM food crops.
My reply is as follows:
Thank you for your email. Let me answer your questions one at a time:
Your question - "I am a journalist in Brazil arguing for GM and the only
person quoted as saying that GM soya is failing and not as productive or
safe as conventional is Benbrook - he is used as proof that 'even'
Americans must admit their golden soya age is over and that therefore
Brazil should plant only conventional soya (neatly forgetting that between
30-60% of the soya planted in southern states in Brazil is GM."
My reply - First of all, Chuck Benbrook is one of nearly 280 million
Americans with a diversity of views on major issues. He is a scientist who
apparently derives most if not all of his income from promoting the cause
of organic agriculture. Fine! I still respect him as a scientist even
though he has aligned himself with a movement that rubbishes everyone who
disagrees with them and works overtime to fine connections, however remote
between scientists and multi-national corporations. Any connection
whatsoever becomes sufficient to dismiss someone's argument without having
to examine it. I know though I have never received even a penny from
multi-national corporations, I have been attacked because posted on my
webpage are links to articles that I have published with a scientific
organizations (on whose board I serve) that is alleged to be industry
supported. Fine, let us all disclose our biases (mine is definitely
pro-technology) and our affiliations and economic interests but then
please allow us to get on and argue issues on the basis of merit.
Chuck Benbrook being an American is totally irrelevant to any scientific
argument and to use his citizenship as some kind of admission by Americans
of the problems of GM food production is meaningless since Chuck
represents the interests that are not only opposed to GM food but would in
fact gain from having it banned. I will not blame Benbrook for this but
there is a very dangerous assumption by many including many in the media
that some groups have an innate purity that puts them beyond criticism.
After all, groups like Greenpeace and the US NGO AS-PTA have found
opposition to GM food to be a terrific source of fund raising and
financial support from the "organic" food industry. Yet to suggest that
the anti-technology NGOs or their supporters may have a bias and are not
totally disinterested is considered to be a "smear campaign" though they
regularly accuse others of the corrupt tools of multi-national
corporations. A good healthy skepticism is appropriate for everyone but it
should never be allowed to override the merits of an argument.
Benbrook's argument on "yield drag" is unworthy of Chuck. As an economist,
my response is a great big loud "SO WHAT! You are right on target when you
state "(neatly forgetting that between 30-60% of the soya planted in
southern states in Brazil is GM." And may I add that they are doing so
illegally and have been threatened Rio Grande de Sul with a possible jail
sentence if they are caught doing so. Tell all the anti-GM NGOs who claim
"yield drag" to pack-up and go home for their work has been accomplished.
No farmer is going to pay a premium for GM seed if he or she is going to
get a lower yield. That is unless the farmers are very stupid. The NGOs
like Greenpeace, dominated by white, northern European or North American
males using a local comprador class, seem to think that they have to save
people of color, particularly the poor of the 3rd world from their own
Question "also do you know the US NGO AS-PTA that appears to be
campaigning so much in Brazil versus GM?"
Answer I did a Google search (AS-PTA NGO) and it seems that they are
linked to ETC (formerly Canadian based RAFI Rural Advancement Foundation
International). They have been around for over a quarter of a century
taking money from Scandinavian development agencies in order to raise a
ruckus and to fund local branches which they use to legitimize their
activities in developing countries. You as journalist need to continually
raise the issue as do the rest of us, as to how many millions that they
have taken in and ask whether they have in any way ever been involved in
rural advancement. How many children have been immunized or saved from
diarrhea dehydration and death because of them? Or for that matter, how
many people can Food First have helped to grow more food to feed
themselves after having taken in and spent millions of dollars over a
quarter of a century. On these organizations, you need to contact Dave
Wood who posted some comments on them on AgBioView (His recent posting
I hope that this has been helpful! Keep up your good journalist work in
support of GM food crops.
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D. Professor of Economics, University of Houston
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 to this.
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 technology transfer.
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 corporations╠ 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.╠ 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.╠ 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
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 caved in.
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 farmer╠s 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 debates.
The Evolving Role of Public/Private Collaborations in Agriculture
- A symposium hosted by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable
June 25 2002, 9:30 am to 1:00 pm, School of Advanced International
Studies Johns Hopkins University Rome Building Auditorium 1619
Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Washington DC
Examines governance challenges and special issues of private-public
collaborations serving developing world needs from perspectives of a NGO,
of public research institutions and of a private foundation. Highlighted
will be the experiences of the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa "IRMA"
project which, among other elements, compares conventionally bred maize
with genetically modified varieties on efficacy, environmental and
socio-economic effects for resource poor farmers in Kenya.
Speakers : Heinz Imhof, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Syngenta and
President, The Syngenta Foundation; Raymond Offenheiser, President, Oxfam
America; Stephen Mugo, IRMA Project Coordinator for CIMMYT Kenya;
Josephine Songa, Program Coordinator for KARI, Kenya; Klaus Leisinger,
Syngenta Foundation Trustee, Professor of Development Sociology,
University of Basel, Switzerland. Discussion among the speakers and
questions from the floor after the presentations moderated by Andrew
Bennett, former Director of Rural Livelihoods and Environment, British
Department for International Development.
Space is limited so registration is requested. Online via
http://www.syngentafoundation.com, or telephone toll free in the US (800)
427-1896. Lunch will be provided.
"Andrew Apel" Ţ
Re: Shameless Disinformation?
Whether or not I agree with you that "The Corn Hoax: Extremist groups
sabotage U.S. farmers with disinformation" is shameless disinformation, I
would like to point out that shameless disinformation, along with its
opposite, are both featured prominently in AgBioView. An effort is made to
present all views, shameless and otherwise. If you believe the article you
refer to is shameless, I urge you to contact its author -- an editor of
the Tulsa World released the article on May 12.
I am aware that on 18 April 2002, it was announced at the Conference on
Biodiversity at the Hague, that the Mexican government had announced
massive contamination of native corn. I would point out that it was not
the Mexican government which made that announcement at that time; rather,
it was an activist referring to tests the Mexican government had made
months earlier--tests the government later found to be as flawed as those
conducted by Quist and Chapela. The Mexican government is still trying to
get conclusive test results but in the mean time, CIMMYT, the world's
largest and most respected corn seed bank, has been unable to find any
contamination anywhere, in fields or in its vast seed bank.
Unfortunately, public officials were also hoodwinked the same way--but
again, the presence of transgenes in Mexican corn has yet to be
determined. Most scientists agree transgenes will be found there
eventually, but they also agree that they haven't been found yet.
It is true that the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) recognizes that GMOs
may have potential adverse effects. Please note that a potential effect is
not a real effect, so the CBD is only saying that GMOs may not have real
effects--which, as you know, is the most extreme form of speculation
Thus far, as you well know, all actual risks GMOs have posed to the
environment have proven to be manageable, while their benefits have far
exceeded the risks. It is just as important to balance risks and benefits
as it is to balance the rhetoric one sees on all sides of the issues.
If you wish to have a less contentious source of information on
agricultural biotechnology, you might consider subscribing to AgBiotech
Reporter, an industry business publication with global coverage. You can
get a free sample at http://www.bioreporter.com
Thanks for your interest.
Best regards, Andrew Apel.
>> My husband and I are farmers- we signed up to the AgBioview website in
>the hope of finding balanced and scientific reporting. We find it
>disturbing that (in your zeal to discredit the legitimate concerns of
>other scientists, farmers, the wider public about genetic engineering)
>that you would run such a biased and inaccurate piece. ("The Corn Hoax;
>Extremist groups sabotage U.S. farmers with misinformation")
>> We assume that you are aware that on 18 April 2002, at the Conference
>on Biodiversity at the Hague, the Mexican government announced massive
>contamination of native corn has been verified. The Mexican government
>confirmed that, despite its ban on the cropping of transgenic maize,
>"there is massive contamination of crops in areas that act as the gene
>bank for one of the world's staple crops."
From: CROP BIOTECH UPDATE
Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA), and CAB
Danish Paper Sets Principles For Biotech Coop
Twelve principles for plant biotech cooperation between developed and the
developing countries were formulated by a team from the Danish Institute
of Agricultural Sciences. These principles were part of the conclusions
and recommendations of a working paper on the "Assessment of potentials
and constraints for development and use of plant biotechnology in relation
to plant breeding and crop production in developing countries." The paper
was commissioned by the Danish Agency for Development Assistance (DANIDA)
in order for it to strengthen its knowledge base on crop biotech as a
donor in developing countries.
Plant biotechnology support, according to the principles, should among
* Be demand-driven. A survey should be performed to define high priority
* Be properly anchored in the recipient country. The country should be
assisted in developing the proper institutional and organizational set-up
for future collaboration with institutions in the developed countries.
* Comply with international and national legislation prior to the
launching of the collaboration.
* Be focused. Particular problems in particular countries should be
addressed with sufficient resources to make the necessary impact.
* Devote resources to negotiate intellectual property rights with external
patent holders, perhaps via intermediaries such as ISNAR and ISAAA.
* Have clear objectives. These might be short-term applied projects but
could also be long term initiatives in genomics and functional genomics
addressing crops and plant traits of particular relevance for developing
* Devote part of the resources to technology development.
The working paper on modern plant biotechnology addresses not only
technological possibilities but also intellectual property rights, trade,
environmental and health related risks, and ethical issues.
The full paper is available at
Public Poorly Informed About Agri-biotech In Europe
The Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe (ABE), an initiative by the major
crop biotechnology companies in Europe, has released an issue paper on
public attitudes to agricultural biotechnology. The paper is ABE's
contribution to "facilitating an open debate on how biotechnology will be
applied in agriculture in ways that society finds acceptable."
Despite the prevailing notion that the public in Europe rejects the use of
biotechnology outside the laboratory, independent research shows quite
consistently that most people feel too poorly informed to come to a
sensible conclusion. Some important conclusions from the report show that:
* Most people are not anti-science or anti-technology. There is every
reason to suppose that they will accept modern biotechnology if properly
* The majority of the public wants more and better information on which to
* Consumer surveys show that people do not necessarily become more
comfortable when they know more. This is a reflection of a lack of trust
and confidence in the institutions of modern society, compounded by the
recent experiences of real food safety issues.
* This situation will change as people become more familiar with modern
biotechnology and its applications, and realize that the dire consequences
suggested by some have not happened. The setting up of the European Food
Agency and increasing trust in the ability of EU and national authorities
to assure a safe food supply should be a big positive factor in the long
The full paper is available at http://www.ABEurope.info
Misunderstood Public Cause For Impasse In GM Debate
Most stakeholders in the GM debate misunderstand public responses to
genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This represents one of the key
underlying causes for the current impasse in the GM debate.
Public responses to GMOs in decision-making circles were framed either in
terms of a lack of knowledge or of 'non-scientific' ethical concerns. It
was noticed that the dominant characterizations of the public and the
policies which derive from them do not capture the full nature of public
concerns, nor do they recognize the social, cultural and institutional
factors shaping those concerns.
This conclusion was derived from the final report of the PABE research
project on "Public perceptions of agricultural biotechnologies in Europe"
funded by the Commission of European Communities. A research team from
five European countries led by Brian Wynne from UK's Lancaster University
conducted an in-depth study on public attitudes, perceptions and
evaluations of biotechnology in agriculture and food.
According to the report, these mistaken interpretations of public
perceptions play an influential role in shaping the communication
strategies and policies of decision makers in government and business, as
well as in consumer and environmental groups. Hence, policies, says the
report, continue to fail to respond adequately to public demands and
therefore fail to resolve or advance the debate.
The research team adds that there is a need for a broad based cultural
change in policy thinking about public perceptions of science, technology,
The full report is available at http://www.pabe.net and also at
CIMMYT Repeats: No GM In Maize Gene Banks
As part of their continuing effort to characterize maize gene bank
accessions and breeding materials, scientists from the International Maize
and Wheat Improvement Center's (CIMMYT) Applied Biotechnology Center and
Maize Program recently conducted another set of screens aimed at detecting
the presence of transgenes in an additional 28 Mexican landraces.
None of the materials tested were positive for the common transgenic
promoter (cauliflower mosaic virus 35S, abbreviated as CaMV 35S)
associated with transgenic maize. If the promoter had been found and those
results verified, it would have indicated that a transgenic maize plant
had crossed with the sampled maize or a direct ancestor.
Seed for all 28 landraces was collected in the Mexican state of Oaxaca
during 1997-99; 18 of the samples come from accessions maintained in
CIMMYT's maize germplasm bank (part of the Wellhausen-Anderson Plant
Genetic Resources Center) and are designated as being held "in trust" for
the benefit of humanity under a 1997 agreement with FAO, which means they
must be kept free from any intellectual property restrictions (such as
The other 10 samples represent varied maize races from Mixteca, a region
in southeast Mexico that includes parts of Oaxaca and Puebla states. To
date, CIMMYT specialists have screened 152 Mexican landraces and failed to
detect the presence of the CaMV 35S promoter.
Visit http://www.cimmyt.cgiar.org for more about CIMMYT.
The Case of the Monarch Butterfly: A Verdict Is Returned
- Angharad M.R. Gatehouse, Natalie Ferry and Romaan J.M. Raemaekers;
Trends in Genetics Vol.18 No.5 May 2002, Opinion; http://tig.trends.com
Abstract. A publication reporting the harmful effects on the monarch
butterfly of maize genetically modified to express insecticidal endotoxins
from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis( Bt) caused much public
interest. A series of ecologically based studies were subsequently carried
out to evaluate rigorously the impact of pollen from such crops and to
quantify the risks. The results demonstrated that the commercial
large-scale cultivation of current Bt˝maize hybrids did not pose a
significant risk to the monarch population. Further studies also
demonstrated that Bt-expressing crops posed little risk to other nontarget
insects, including beneficial insects such as pollinators and natural
One of the major public concerns voiced in opposition to the introduction
of genetically engineered crops is their potential impact on the
environment. In Europe, this concern has resulted in serious setbacks for
the AgBioTech industry. Among the different agricultural traits being
engineered into crops are those for the control of insect pests. However,
in addition to controlling pests (targets), there is the potential for
such crops to affect nontarget insects, including beneficial insects, and
thus have a negative effect on ecosystems.
In 2000, transgenic crops were grown on 44.3 million hectares globally. Of
this, 23% was maize that had been genetically modified (GM) to express
insecticidal endotoxins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis
(Bt) to control the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) .
Financial losses as a consequence of this pest are in excess of US$1
billion per annum in the USA alone. Furthermore, B. thuringiensis colonize
and kill a large range of insects, with different strains of the bacterium
being specific towards different insect orders. This specificity is
primarily determined by the array of crystal (Cry) proteins that are
produced during sporulation . A summary of the major Cry proteins,
together with their known toxicity, is given in Table 1; further details
can be obtained from the Bacillus Stock Centre
(http://bacillus.biosci.ohio-state.edu). B. thuringiensis has also been
used as a biopesticide by organic farmers over the past four decades ,
and it is interesting to note that this use has failed to cause the level
of public concern now being expressed over the growing of transgenic crops
expressing this insecticidal protein.
Initial studies Given the current level of public concern surrounding GM
crops, it is not surprising that a publication reporting the harmful
effects of pollen from transgenic maize towards the monarch butterfly
(Danaus plexippus), a Űconservation flagship speciesÝin the USA, caused so
much public interest and was readily embraced by the media . In their
letter to Nature, Losey and colleagues claimed that both the survival and
consumption rates of larvae fed milkweed leaves (natural host) dusted with
Bt-expressing pollen were significantly reduced . On the basis of this
single laboratory experiment, the authors concluded that their results
Űhave profound implications for the conservation of monarch butterfliesÝ.
Rather than contributing to the GM debate in a positive way, this
publication polarized it further. Scientists in the field were quick to
question the validity of conclusions based on such preliminary data. For
example, no attempt was made to quantify the pollen dose on the leaves or
to determine whether these levels used in the laboratory assay reflected
realistic levels to which the larvae would be exposed in the field.
Afurther criticism levelled at the study referred to the fact that
Űno-choiceÝ tests were carried out. Although this scenario does not
reflect the field situation, it could be argued that nochoice tests do
provide the necessary baseline data on which subsequent studies would be
A further study, published shortly after the Nature letter, made similar
claims to Losey et al. , reporting that the effects of Bt˝maize pollen
on the monarch butterfly could be observed at least 10 m from transgenic
field borders, although the highest larval mortality was likely to occur
on milkweed plants within a range of 3 m from the edge of the maize field
. These studies were again laboratory based, but were more realistic in
that the pollen levels used were comparable to those found in the field.
Although these authors were more cautious in their conclusions, they
recommended that the ecological effects of such transgenic crops required
greater evaluation before being planted extensively. In the wake of these
two earlier reports, a series of ecologically based studies were
commissioned to evaluate more rigorously the impact of pollen from the
Bt˝maize crop, and to quantify the risk posed by the commercial wide-scale
growing of Bt˝maize. Because different Bt˝maize events (see Table 2) use
different promoters to control gene expression, they will have different
expression patterns for Bt proteins (Table 2). The findings from this
comprehensive set of studies were recently published, and their
significance is discussed below.
Quantifying the hazard Risk is defined as Űhazard exposureÝ; thus, even
if the potential hazard is great, if the exposure is effectively zero, so
will be the risk. In an attempt to quantify the hazard, Hellmich et al.
 carried out a systematic study to evaluate the toxicity of purified Bt
protein to monarch larvae. Of those endotoxins tested, Cry9C and Cry1F
were relatively nontoxic to first-instar larvae (the most susceptible
stage), whereas the larvae were sensitive to Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab ; the
fact that Cry1A proteins were toxic is not surprising because they were
originally selected on the basis of their known toxicity to lepidopteran
pests [7,8]. As expected, pollen from transgenic maize expressing Cry9C
and Cry1F was nontoxic to monarch larvae.
However, pollen from maize expressing Cry1Ab (events Bt11 and MON810) was
also nontoxic; in both cases, the promoters used in the gene constructs
were almost inactive in pollen, resulting in very low levels of the gene
products accumulating. Thus, in the case of event Bt11 and event MON810,
although there was hazard in that Cry1Ab is toxic to monarch larvae, there
was minimal exposure, and thus negligible risk.
One line of transgenic maize expressing Cry1Ab, event 176, did produce
pollen that did have deleterious effects on monarch larvae at high doses.
Pollen from this line contained 40-fold higher concentrations of endotoxin
compared with MON810, owing to the use of a different promoter. This
result demonstrates that levels of Bt expression in the pollen are very
important for subsequent toxicity of the transgenic maize pollen. Similar
studies have been extended to include larvae of another nontarget
herbivore, the swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), demonstrating that larvae
from both species were adversely affected by the high Bt-expressing pollen
[9,10]. Interestingly, these field-based studies showed that mortality was
not associated with proximity to Bt˝maize but could have been due, at
least in part, to predation . No deleterious effects were observed
with pollen from maize event MON810, either in the laboratory or in the
The level of exposure of monarch larvae to the Bt-expressing pollen is the
other crucial component in the risk-assessment process. Because monarch
larvae feed primarily on milkweed, Pleasants and co-workers carried out
detailed analyses of the density of maize pollen on milkweed leaves, both
within maize fields and at different localities, to obtain reliable
information on naturally occurring pollen density profiles . As
expected, exposure of pollen to monarch larvae was highest within the
maize fields, rapidly declining away from the field boundary. Of
importance was the finding that the pollen density on the upper leaves,
where the egg masses are laid, was only 30˝35% of that on middle leaves,
and that the pollen densities were significantly higher around the leaf
midrib, an area avoided by younger larvae. All of these findings suggest
that, in reality, vulnerable firstinstar larvae were less exposed to maize
pollen on the preferred host plant than had been thought originally.
Oberhauser and colleagues made an important contribution to the debate by
investigating both the spatial and temporal overlap of pollen production
by maize plants during the larval stage of the monarch butterfly .
There was greater temporal overlap in the northern compared with the
southern part of the summer breeding range. Thus, migration behaviour of
the insect is an important consideration to be taken into account. Using a
comprehensive set of data from many different geographical locations,
Sears et al.  formalized an approach to risk assessment that
integrates aspects of exposure to characterize the risk posed to monarchs
from Bt˝maize. On the basis of a two-year study, these authors concluded
that the impact of Bt˝maize pollen from current commercial hybrids on
monarch butterfly populations was negligible. Maize lines derived from
event 176, which could give cause for concern, are in the process of being
withdrawn and represent <2% of the crop planted.
Arriving at a verdict In contrast to the two early reports [4,5], the
evidence to date leads to a conclusion that transgenic Bt-expressing maize
plants will not have a detrimental impact on the monarch butterfly.
Despite a >40% increase in planting of Bt˝maize, the monarch population
was estimated to have increased by 30% over the same duration, as
indicated by the Monarch Watch website (http://www.MonarchWatch.com) and
Ref. . Contrary to media hype, the primary threat to the monarch
population is loss of crucial winter habitats in southern California and
central Mexico (as described by the website http://www.bio.org), rather
than the commercial growing of Bt˝maize. It has been suggested that
agricultural practices such as weed control might also adversely affect
the monarch population .
It is important to put the GM debate into perspective; all technology has
the potential for risk, but the relevant question is whether the new
technology poses more, or less, risk compared with current practice. In a
comparative study, the pesticide ´-cyhalothrin had a dramatic effect on
the survival and development of the monarch larvae in non-Bt fields ;
the effects of the Bt-expressing pollen, however, were negligible. This
result supports the view that GM technology has the potential to
contribute to the preservation of biodiversity relative to other
management practices .
Public concerns expressed over the growing of Bt˝maize are not only
restricted to nontarget insects, such as the monarch butterfly, but also
to the potential impact on beneficial insects, such as the natural enemies
of pest insects (predators and parasitoids) and pollinators (e.g. bees).
Extensive laboratory and field studies have been conducted to evaluate the
effects of Bt proteins through the tritrophic interaction where the plant
represents the first trophic level, the pest the second trophic level and
the predator/parasitoid the third trophic level. Although detrimental
effects of Bt Cry1Ab have been observed in lacewings (Chrysoperla carnea)
when incorporated into artificial diet , exposure of the predator to
the amounts offered would never occur under field conditions. In fact,
Dutton et al.  showed recently that no effects on this predator occur
when fed ŰcontaminatedÝprey from Bt˝maize plants. These findings are
consistent with most other studies carried out to date using a range of
different predators and parasitoids . Similarly, Bt protein (Cry1Ba)
exhibits no toxicity towards pollinators such as honey bees (Apis
mellifera) . Interestingly, the same study reported that B.
thuringiensis biopesticide preparations at comparable concentrations had a
significantly deleterious effect upon both survival and food consumption
of bees; however, such preparations will also contain other insecticidal
Implications for future developments The large-scale cultivation of
Bt-expressing crops raises wider issues than those discussed above. Of
major concern, particularly to the organic farming community, is the
potential for pest populations to develop resistance to Bt proteins. Such
an event would not only limit the effective lifespan of Bt-expressing
crops, but would also limit B. thuringiensis-based biopesticides.
Considerable effort has been devoted to delaying, what many consider as
inevitable, the development of Bt-resistant pest populations [20,21].
Ahigh-dose strategy coupled with the use of refugia has been recommended
and adopted in most regions growing Bt-expressing crops. Another strategy
being developed by the AgBioTech industry is to ŰstackÝ or ŰpyramidÝ genes
encoding different Cry proteins; that is, use multiple resistance genes in
a given line. Given that cross-resistance is known to occur for some Bt
proteins , we feel that reliance upon this approach is somewhat
short-sighted. Because industry has the responsibility to prolong the
effective lifespan of Bt proteins, other strategies based on entirely
independent and novel modes of activity should be developed and adopted.
Many lessons have been learnt from the Űmonarch sagaÝ, not least that it
is imperative that conclusions concerning environmental or nontarget
effects of transgenic crops be based on appropriate methods of
investigation and sound risk-assessment procedures. Although laboratory
studies make a valuable contribution to risk assessment, they are limited
in that they cannot replicate the diversity of environmental factors
encountered in the field, nor can the impact upon communities be measured;
longer-term field studies are thus essential to the risk-assessment
process. For laboratory studies to be meaningful, realistic levels of test
material must be used. Indeed, one of the reasons for the discrepancies
between the original  and subsequent studies [6,9˝13,15] appears to be
due to the excessive and unrealistic levels of pollen used in the early
bioassays . On this, as with other issues, policy must be informed by
rigorous and objective science. We, as scientists, have both the
responsibility and duty to provide this.
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crops: 2000. ISAAA Briefs No. 21, Preview, ISAAA 2 de Maagd, R.A. et al.
(2001) How Bacillus thuringiensis has evolved specific toxins to colonize
the insect world. Trends Genet. 17, 193˝199 3 Flexner, J.L. and Belnavis,
D.L. (1999) Microbial insecticides. In Biological and Biotechnological
Control of Insect Pests (Rechcigl, J.E. and Rechcigl, N.A., eds), pp.
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monarch larvae. Nature 399, 214 5 Hansen-Jesse, L.C. and Obrycki, J.J.
(2000) Field deposition of Bt transgenic corn pollen: lethal effects on
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(2001) Monarch larvae sensitivity to Bacillus thuringiensis-purified
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Pleasants, J.M. et al. (2001) Corn pollen deposition on milkweeds in and
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Oberhauser, K.S. et al. (2001) Temporal and spatial overlap between
monarch larvae and corn pollen. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 98,
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monarch butterfly populations: a risk assessment. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.
U. S. A. 98, 11937˝11942 14 Hodgson, J. (2000) Critics slam new monarch
Bt˝corn data criticized. Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 1030 15 Stanley-Horn, D.E.
et al. (2001) Assessing the impact of Cry1Ab-expressing corn pollen on
monarch butterfly in field studies. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 98,
11931˝11936 16 Hilbeck, A. et al. (1999) Prey-mediated effects of Cry1Ab
toxin and protoxin and Cry2A protoxin on the predator Chrysoperla carnea.
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herbivores feeding on transgenic maize and consequences for the predator
Chrysoperla carnea. Environ. Entomol. 27 (in press) 18 Schuler, T.H. et
al. (1999) Parasitoid behaviour and Bt plants. Nature 400, 825˝826 19
Malone, M.A. et al. (2001) Effects of