Today in AgBioView: June 20, 2002:
* Greenpeace's cotton warning full of holes
* GM food: good for the Earth and our future
* WHY I GROW GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS
* Farmers, consumers `miss benefit`
* Team grows cancer-fighting tomato
* Research in tomato breeding
Greenpeace's cotton warning full of holes
June 20, 2002
By Patrick Moore
Since its introduction to Chinese agriculture in 1996, genetically
modified cotton has grown to occupy over one million hectares, or
one-third of the total area planted in what is northern China's most
important cash crop. This particular GM variety, called Bt cotton,
been modified to resist the cotton bollworm, its most destructive
Earlier this month, Greenpeace issued a media release
publication of a report on the "adverse environmental impacts of Bt
in China." In typical Greenpeace hyperbole, we were advised that
growing this crop are now finding themselves engulfed in
superbugs, emerging secondary pests, diminishing natural
destabilized insect ecology," and that farmers are "forced to
use of chemical pesticides."
Let's examine these allegations one at a time.
Bt-resistant superbugs. There is not a single example or shred of
in the Greenpeace report of actual resistance in bollworms to Bt
the field. Instead, the evidence comes from lab studies where
were force-fed Bt cotton leaves. Any scientist knows that this kind
experiment will eventually result in selection for resistance. But
Greenpeace is claiming this has actually happened to farmers.
Shirong Jia and Yufa Peng of the Chinese National GMO Biosafety
"no resistance of cotton bollworm to Bt has been discovered yet,
five years of Bt cotton planting. Resistant insect strains have been
obtained in laboratories but not in field conditions." So much for
Emerging secondary pests. Greenpeace points out that there are
aphids, spiders and other secondary insect pests in fields of Bt
that in conventional cotton. This is called an "adverse" impact in
report. The fact is that because Bt cotton requires much less
pesticide than conventional cotton, these other insects can survive
in Bt cotton fields. Sometimes they become so numerous that they
chemical control but in general there are more insects (other than
bollworm) in Bt cotton than in conventional cotton. This reduction of
impact on non-target insect species is one of the environmental
of GM crops. How Greenpeace figures this is "adverse" is beyond
Diminishing natural enemies. The Greenpeace media release
there are fewer of the bollworm's natural predators and parasites
cotton fields compared to conventional cotton, and also calls this
"adverse" impact. Again, the report provides no evidence for this
And again, according to Professors Jia and Peng, "As of today,
no adverse impacts reported on natural parasitic enemies in the
fields." And isn't it a bit obvious that if using Bt cotton reduces
populations of the bollworm, that the bollworm's predators will
reduced? Will Greenpeace now embark on an international
campaign to "save
the bollworm parasites?"
Destabilized insect ecology. This one is a hoot. To speak of "insect
ecology" in a monoculture cotton field, sprayed with chemicals up
times a year prior to the introduction of Bt cotton, is absolutely
ridiculous. The main impact of Bt cotton is to reduce chemical
use and therefore reduce impacts on non-target species.
Farmers forced to continue using chemical pesticides. This claim
Most Misleading and Dishonest Award. Bt resistance does not
100% protection, and because secondary pests sometimes need
controlled, farmers using Bt cotton usually use some pesticides
growing cycle. Professors Jia and Peng sum it up this way: "The
environmental impact of Bt cotton was its benefit to the
was a significant reduction (70%-80%) of the chemical pesticide
use. It is
known that pesticides used in cotton production in China are
be 25% of the total amount of pesticides used in all the crops. By
Bt cotton in 2000 in Shandong province alone, the reduction of
use was 1,500 tones. It not only reduced the environmental
also reduced the rate of harmful accidents to the human and
by the overuse of pesticides."
The Greenpeace report is a classic example of the use of
"science" to support misinformation and distortion of the truth.
who has studied the introduction of Bt cotton into China and other
countries knows that it results in reduced chemical use, reduced
non-target organisms, including other insects, reduced exposure
chemicals by farm workers, increased productivity and increased
benefit to farm owners. To date there are no substantiated
impacts from Bt cotton. Once again, Greenpeace demonstrates
policy on genetic modification (zero tolerance) can only be
resorting to distortion of the facts and false interpretation of data. In
other words, junk science.
GM food: good for the Earth and our future
Why oppose a technology that improves health and the
especially when it will may be essential to feed future
June 20, 2002
By David Dennis
We hear a great deal about the possible detrimental effects of GM
This is invariably based on inadequate research that has been
hysterical levels. Slowly but surely, however, the health and
benefits of these crops are becoming obvious.
In China's Hebei Province in 1997, Chinese farmers sprayed their
plantation with toxic organophosphate and organochlorine
photograph I have seen shows a mother spraying young cotton
her children play around her.
In 1998, insect resistant Bt cotton was introduced into Hebei
by the year 2000, most of the crop was insect resistant. The impact
As reported in the January 25th issue of the journal Science, the
these insecticides on Bt cotton is reduced by more than 80%,
improving the health of these farm workers. For normal cotton,
cotton farm workers reported headaches, nausea, skin pain or
problems. For those working with Bt cotton, this was reduced to
In addition to the improved health of workers, there are economic
benefits. The cost of producing cotton was reduced by 30%, the
applications of insecticide reduced from 20 per season to seven,
quantity of insecticide from 61 to 12 kilograms per hectare with a
reduction in costs of 80%. It is difficult to see how anyone could
In Canada, potatoes require large quantities and repeated
toxic insecticides, just as cotton does. Prince Edward Island uses
insecticide that it contaminates ground water. Each year, there are
reports of fish being killed in waterways.
This could all be prevented, or at least drastically reduced, by the
of insect resistant Bt potatoes. They are not grown because
its allies campaigned against them and persuaded McCain's and
not to use them. These groups celebrated when farmers were
continue to use toxic insecticides.
Other benefits of GM technologies are now becoming increasingly
Farmers who were alive in the 1930s still talk of the soil blowing
during the droughts. But the rivers still run brown and the air is still
filled with dust when the fields are plowed. In conventional
the topsoil is unstable because it is plowed in the fall, disked
planting and cultivated once or twice during the growing season to
Soil is a complex material consisting of sand and clay into which
interwoven organic matter. It is the organic matter that gives the
its stability. When the soil is plowed or cultivated by tilling, the
organic matter breaks down and is released to the atmosphere as
dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Also disrupted is the network of fungal
that stabilizes the soil and enhances nutrient uptake into plants.
Modern technology allows the seeds for a new crop to be planted
plowing or tilling and this has been made much more effective by
introduction of herbicide-resistant crops. The debris of the
summer's crop is left to rot on the surface of the soil. Over the
the organic matter in the soil increases, the soil is stabilized and
not end up in rivers, nor is it carried away by the wind. The
organic matter removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and
fungal network enhances the uptake of nutrients by the crop.
come up with the crop are controlled by the application of a mild
herbicide such as Roundup that kills the weeds but not the
The American Soybean Association last year estimated that 80%
soybeans were herbicide resistant and mostly grown by no-till or
reduced-till farming. In this area alone, in the year 2000, 247
tons of irreplaceable topsoil was preserved. In addition, fewer
passes over the land, saving 234 million gallons of fuel. As one
said, "For the first time in modern history, we have the technology
implement sustainable agricultural practices that are saving soil
These are not the only benefits we will receive from GM crops. In
future, drought and cold resistant crops will be producing
harvests even in inclement seasons. Yields will increase and
marginal farmland to be left for wildlife.
Organic farming is sometimes offered as an alternative, but you
solve 21st century problems with 19th century technologies. In
grandfather's day, the world population was two billion, not the six
billion we have now and the nine billion it will become. The yield of
then was 30 bushels per acre, a far cry from the 150 bushels now.
farming, with its inefficient use of land and yields that are only 50%
70% those of a modern farm, would be an environment disaster,
panacea it is claimed to be if it were widely adopted.
We stand on the threshold of major advances for agriculture
science and knowledge, not prejudice. Whatever the rich nations
the developing world will welcome GM crops for they will ensure
equitable future for their people.
WHY I GROW GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS
Commentary from the Food Safety Network (Via Agnet)
The suits have gone home. The protesters wearing butterfly wings
perhaps taken their dance to the G-8 summit in Kananaskis. And
the rhetoric of the world's biggest biotechnology conference has
from Toronto, what's left is farmers growing food. The hail on
I started growing genetically engineered sweet corn and potatoes
years ago on my family-run, 250 acre fruit-and-vegetable farm in
of Toronto, and will again this year. Both sweet corn and potatoes
high management crops, requiring a high degree of vigilance to
quality that consumers demand. The complexity around the
make is vast, imperfect, not always fair, but at the end of the day,
provides an abundant array of affordable food. Genetic
me, on my farm, factors into that decision-making.
Apparently many other farmers feel the same way.
The use of genetically engineered crops in North America
increase. While estimates for this year remain preliminary, it is
that some 70 per cent of canola, 35 per cent of corn and 30 per
soybeans grown in Canada will be from genetically engineered
this year. In the U.S., about 75 per cent of soybeans, 70 per cent of
cotton and 30 per cent of filed corn will be GE.
Why? One of the biggest stories at the recent biotechnology
Toronto was new research documenting a 46 million pound
pesticide use in the U.S. in 2001 because of genetically
such as cotton, canola, soy and field corn. Such crops helped
farmers reap an additional 14 billion pounds of food and improve
income by $2.5 billion.
The most recent study from the Washington-based National
Center for Food
and Agricultural also predicted that if the 32 other biotech crop
varieties still under development were planted, they would reduce
pesticide use by 117 million pounds per year, bringing total
reduction for all biotech crops to 163 million pounds annually.
resistant to rootworm, for example, could replace 14 million
insecticides used on this crop each year (the complete report,
commissioned with a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, and
expanded with industry funding, was reviewed by nearly 70 plant
biotechnology scientists from 20 academic and government
is available at www.ncfap.org)
Of significance to my operations was the Center's findings for
and potatoes. Genetically engineered insect tolerant sweet corn
potatoes have been approved and used in the U.S. and Canada
However, they are rarely used today because of a circular,
argument that consumers don't want the products. The fast-food
consumers don't want genetic engineering so processors like
farmers not to grow genetically engineered Bt potatoes. So they
sprayed. A lot.
The NCFAP study predicted that if Florida sweet corn growers
used the same
genetically engineered variety that I grow, there would be a
per year, or 79 per cent reduction in insecticide use, at a net
$1.3 million. The pesticide reduction for potatoes was even more
But there is a flaw in this consumer-is-always-right reasoning,
consumers say on surveys they would be less likely to buy a food
if they knew it was genetically engineered, irradiated, or played
any way. The limited data on actual consumer decision-making
consumers often say one thing and do another.
For example, while all manner of consumer revolt was predicted
commercial introduction of recombinant bovine somatotropin or
in dairy production, the furor subsided once such milk became
U.S. grocery stores in 1994. Milk consumption went up, not down.
majority of consumers refused to pay even marginally more for
rBST-free milk. The pundits were wrong.
A supermarket test on irradiation found that consumers preferred
appearance of and purchased irradiated papaya over
in spite of perceived consumer concerns. Raw hamburger,
lessen the risk of E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens is selling
the U.S. now that is actually available for consumers to buy.
vote at the check-out counter. And they usually vote on the basis of
price, taste, nutrition and safety.
For the past two years, the consumers in my farm market -- when
given a choice -- preferred the genetically engineered sweet corn
potatoes because of the reduced chemical use. And contrary to the
anti-duality of most discussions about biotechnology, this is not
feeding the world; there is already sufficient food supplies. The
question is what amount of environmental degradation will be
continue feeding the world, both at home and abroad.
Agriculture, after all, is not natural. The high-yield, reduced-input
agriculture that some genetically engineered crops help facilitate
that less land is brought into cultivation, fewer chemicals are used,
biodiversity is actually enhanced. It's about providing food under
sustainable conditions and as a farmer, I'm interested in anything I
do to minimize the environmental impact of growing food. Of
genetic engineering, like any other tool, is no magic bullet. On my
explore any production practice that can make my farm more
friendlier for my surrounding environment. My family lives here.
Jeff Wilson is a farmer in Hillsburgh, Ont.
A 3.5 km self-guided walking trail is now open at the farm and
consumers a closer look at the challenges, trade-offs and
used to grow safe, affordable, quality produce. For those who can't
the farm, video updates are available at
Farmers, consumers `miss benefit`
June 20, 2002
By Kultida Samabuddhi
The United States Department of Agriculture's biotechnology
says opponents of genetically engineered technology are denying
to farmers and consumers.
Thais should not let non-scientific data about the technology`s
effects disrupt development, US-based geneticist Channaptna
Prakash told a
briefing on GE technology held by the US embassy.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia said the USDA was promoting the
its own benefit.
``The US is the biggest GM crops producer, so it is not surprising
they want people to accept the technology,`` said Varoonvarn
a Greenpeace campaigner.
Mr Prakash said: ``After two decades of researching the
found that it has not a single negative impact on consumers and
environment. The dangers have been exaggerated by anti-GMO
GM crops were safer and produced higher yields.
Mr Prakash said the US could save 10 million litres of pesticide if
American farmers turned to Bt cotton, a GM crop variety containing
``The benefits of this technology are real.``
``Thailand should look at the positive side of GM crops,`` said Mr
European countries, the strongest GMO opponents, were likely to
around in next couple of years as data about the safety of GM
became more widespread.
Mr Prakash said the government should lift its ban on field trials of
plants to allow biotechnology to develop.
The government last April agreed to an Assembly of the Poor
field trials until a biosafety law was in place to prevent possible
from GMO leakage.
Team grows cancer-fighting tomato: Engineered variety is three
rich in antioxidants
The Ottawa Citizen
June 19, 2002
A team of American scientists has created a tomato that contains
times as much lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant, as a
The new tomato was developed by scientists from Purdue
Indiana and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The new version
accidental side effect of attempts to create a tomato that would
longer to ripen. "Lycopene is a naturally occurring substance, we
every day," says Avtar Mattoo, one of the scientists involved in the
discovery and the head of the USDA's vegetable laboratory. "All we
to increase a naturally occurring substance by modifying the
The new tomato was created by splicing a yeast gene into the DNA
tomato. Yeast encourages tomatoes to produce lycopene and is
present in tomatoes, but becomes dormant as the tomato ripens.
Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red. Once inside
this pigment captures electrically charged oxygen molecules that
damage tissues and cause cancer.
In 1995, a six-year study of nearly 48,000 men by Harvard
that men who ate at least 10 servings of foods containing tomato
tomatoes, per week were 45-per-cent less likely to develop
Other research has shown that lycopene can reduce cholesterol
therefore, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The new tomato is important because attempts to increase
lycopene in the
human diet through supplements have failed. In some cases, a
supplement can even increase the chance of cancer in smokers.
But when the
antioxidants are contained in food, the results are far more
"You would have to eat 10 to 15 tomatoes a day to get the kind of
you can now receive with three or four of our modified tomatoes,"
Now that a seed has been created, there is a possibility the
appear in supermarkets within the next two years, but this doesn't
everyone jumping for joy.
"We are very concerned about experiments with food, because
human testing is rarely done after a discovery like this has been
says Julie Daniluk, spokeswoman for Gene Action, which raises
the potential dangers of genetically modified foods.
"You might be increasing a naturally occurring anti-cancer agent,
are the side effects?" says Ms. Daniluk.
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 04:32:53 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Roovini Weerasinghe"
I am a Ph.D student doing a research in tomato breeding using
QTLs and DNA
fingerprinting for characterization. I would wish to obtain
about primers which have been used in tomatoes for RAPDs and
I would be very thankful if the research scientist could reply me
Your kind attention is verymuch appreciated.
Roovini Weerasinghe (Miss)
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postal address: O.R Weerasinghe
Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture
University of Peradeniya