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May 29, 2002


Natural Mistake, CIMMYT: No GM Maize, Greenpeace Food Guide, German Organic Problems


Today in AgBioView: May 30, 2002

* Natural Mistake
* No Biotech Events Found in Maize Gene Banks in Mexico
* Truthñmissing ingredient in Greenpeace Food Guide
* Clarification On GE Terms Needed
* Information on the effect of ascorbic Acid on sugar cane
* Chicken slaughter begins after German herbicide scare
* Organic products pulled in Germany after contamination scare


Natural Mistake

Center for Global Food Issues By Alex A. Avery May 29, 2002

Warning: if you are a chemophobic individual who eats only high-priced organic fruits and vegetables in your quest for a pesticide-free existence, donít read the following or youíll become severely depressed. If not, read on and learn why organic food is a waste of money with no health benefits.

New analysis by researchers with Consumers Union and the Organic Materials Review Institute shows that one-fourth of all fruits and vegetables marketed as ìorganicî have significant residues of synthetic pesticides in them. And, nearly a third of the time that synthetic pesticide residues were found on the organic produce, they were present at concentrations even higher than the average levels found on conventional fruits and vegetables! This is on top of any residues of organic pesticides, which werenít even included in the analysis. So much for organic being pesticide-free.

Before you throw your organic kiwi and cucumbers into the toxic waste dump, itís important to know that this research has very little to do with real food safety. The traces of synthetic pesticides on both the conventional foods and the organic foods were well below safety levels set by the governmentólevels set using 100-fold safety margins. After exhaustive research, the National Research Council concluded in 1999 that residues of synthetic pesticide posed a lower theoretical cancer risk than the natural carcinogens found in our food, but that neither were present in high enough amounts to worry about. As toxicologists say: there is no such thing as a toxic substance. There is only a toxic dose.

In the report, published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, the researchers reviewed three pre-existing sets of pesticide residue data; one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and one from limited testing conducted for Consumers Union in 1997. In total, the three sets of data covered over 94,000 produce samples, 1,300 of which were organic. However, less than 200 of the 1,300 organic food samples were subjected to comprehensive pesticide residue tests.

Yet even this tiny organic sample was sufficient to demonstrate a surprisingly high synthetic pesticide contamination rate. Of the 194 organic food samples comprehensively tested, 47 (24 percent) were found to contain synthetic pesticide residues. In all, organic foods had about one-third as much synthetic pesticide residue as conventional foods. But thatís still vastly more pesticides than the organic marketers want their customers to know about.

It gets even more depressing for chemophobic consumers: In addition to the residues of synthetic pesticides, organic fruits and vegetables may also have residues of toxic organic pesticides.

Organic pesticides? Yes. The biggest myth of all about the term organic is that it means pesticide-free. Far from it. Organic farmers are allowed to use numerous natural poisons as pesticides. These include chemicals like pyrethrum, a mixture of nerve toxins squeezed from African chrysanthemums. In 1999, toxicologists with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deemed pyrethrum a ìlikely human carcinogenî after finally subjecting pyrethrum to the same rat force-feeding tests that synthetic pesticides are required to pass. The organic insecticide rotenone, a tropical root extract, is a neurotoxin that causes symptoms similar to Parkinsonís disease when administered to rats. Rotenone is also one of the most toxic fish poisons ever found. Copper sulphate, an organic fungicide, is broadly toxic to living things and can become a permanent soil contaminant. European regulators recently banned copper-based fungicides because of environmental concerns. This has caused Europeís organic farmers to worry because they say they donít have a natural alternative to pesticideóother than letting the fungi destroy their crops, which isnít a good one.

The big secret of organic foods is that nobody tests for residues of the pesticides that organic farmers are allowed to useóbecause the government has exempted them (in some cases because of decades of apparent safe use and in others because of apparent low toxicity). Such is the case with pyrethrumóthe one the EPA now thinks is likely to cause cancer.

The researchers acknowledged the government blindness on organic pesticide residues and called for changes:

"The lack of residue data . . . and the lack of complete toxicological data for most [organic] insecticides, have seriously limited ability to carry out risk assessments for these pest management products. . . . It seems essential that the widely used botanicals be more completely tested for the full range of toxic effects that conventional pesticides are currently tested for. Expanded efforts to collect data on possible residues of the natural pesticides in organic and non-organic foods are also needed. Better toxicity data and residue data will improve the basis for risk assessments of these pest-management tools."

I couldnít agree more.

Mostly, this research is a testament to our technical prowess. Todayís analytical technology can easily detect parts per billion traces of chemicals. Indeed, most of the synthetic pesticide traces were below one part per million. For perspective, thatís equivalent to less than one second out of 11 days. But these same levels were on the organic foods as wellónot because there are so many chemicals in the environment, but because we can literally find the molecule in the haystack.

Organic food activists have claimed superior safety for years based on the myth that organic foods were toxic-free and that non-organic foods were drenched in chemical poisons. This research proves that in fact there is virtually no difference between the twoóother than the higher cost of organic food.

Alex Avery is director of research and education for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


No Biotech Events Found in Maize Gene Banks in Mexico

As part of its continuing effort to characterize maize gene bank accessions and breeding materials, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center's (CIMMYT's) Applied Biotechnology Center and Maize Program recently conducted another set of tests for biotech events in an additional 28 Mexican landraces.None of the materials tested were positive for the common promoter (cauliflower mosaic virus 35S) associated with biotech maize. If the promoter had been found and results verified, it would have indicated that a biotech maize plant had crossed with the sampled maize or a direct ancestor. To date, CIMMYT specialists have screened 152 Mexican landraces and failed to detect the presence of the CaMV 35S promoter. More info at http://www.cimmyt.cgiar.org/whatiscimmyt/Transgenic/FactsandFuture_08May02.htm

Truthñmissing ingredient in Greenpeace Food Guide

LSN Media Release 29 May 2002

ìIt is clear a new Greenpeace GE Food publication launched in Australia today is missing the one vital ingredient called truth, and as such consumers are urged to seek out other credible, factual and balanced information sourcesî, the Chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr William Rolleston said.

Greenpeace claims its new Food Guide will give Australian consumers control over their food. In reality the scientifically flawed and factually misleading GE Food Guide only serves to confuse and mislead.

ìThe intention to confuse and mislead is highlighted on page three where a disclaimer states no independent testing of the foods contained in the Food Guide has been undertaken. Greenpeace also states it cannot guarantee the GE- or GE-free status of the products listed,î Dr Rolleston explained.

ìSo, not only does this publication fail to provide consumers with responsible information, it also serves to tarnish the reputations of many Australian food companies who are black-listed simply because they declined to participate in a Greenpeace survey earlier this year. This type of retribution by Greenpeace is tantamount to blackmailî, Dr Rolleston said.

ìWith the scientific basis of the publication now in disrepute and the underhanded tactics used to gather information revealed, I would urge Australian consumers to disregard the information it contains and instead seek out factual and credible information sources from independent organisations such as Biotechnology Australia, ANZFA, Agrifood Awareness Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council Food Science Bureau and the CSIRO.

ìConsumers can rest assured that all genetically modified foods, additives and products used in the processing of food are rigorously examined by the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) before they are approved for use in Australia. They are looked at on a case by case basis which is what most people would do.î

ìContrary to the Greenpeace rhetoric, there is no evidence that GE food in Australia poses special risks for consumers.

ìHowever, there is a wealth of evidence showing GE food and crops are as safe as conventional varieties and Australia has one of the most stringent, credible and responsible regulatory systems for the introduction of gene technology in the world,î Dr Rolleston concluded.

Clarification On GE Terms Needed

Press Release by Massey University, 30 May 2002

The Genetic Engineering issue is once again in the media spotlight and Professor Paula Jameson, Massey University, says the Greens are misleading the public with their recent comments.

The plant biologist says it is crucial that commentators, the media and the public understand and use the correct terminology when discussing the highly emotional and complex issue of genetic engineering.

"We've got to get the terminology straight so we all know what we are talking about. Rod Donald was reported saying that 'a moratorium on field trials for GE lifts next October'. That's incorrect. The moratorium recommended by the Royal Commission is on 'commercial release'. There is no moratorium operating on field trials now, that was lifted when the Royal Commission reported was accepted by Parliament."

Professor Jameson says subsequent to the Report being accepted changes have been made to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act to address some of the recommendations, including placing a moratorium on commercial release (ie release without controls) and placing more stringent controls on field trials.

She says the current Act is inadequate in relation to commercial release as the Environmental Risk Management Authority does not have the ability to impose conditions or controls on such a release.

"Which means if there were a commercial release there is nothing to insist that the person who owns the commercial release has to protect other farmers."

Professor Jameson says the Greens also appear to be trying to heighten concerns over the issue of GE content in foods. She says a recent advertisement placed by the Greens claimed that genetically engineered food would be on the menu from October next year.

"Food products derived from GM crops have probably been on New Zealand shelves since 1996 in the form of soy oil and processed foods containing soy flour. Recently, regulations from the Australia New Zealand Food Authority have come into effect, which insist all GM foods must be labelled. However, if the product is a highly processed oil or sugar from a genetically modified plant it doesn't have to be labelled. Fortunately, consumers will still have a choice if companies decide to utilise Recommendation 8.2 from the Royal Commission report that allows companies to indicate if a food doesn't contain any GM ingredients"

She also disputes their claims that lifting of the Moratorium in October 2003 will result in widespread release of GE crops, animals or viruses next year. "There are additional requirements now in place on organisations that wish to conduct field trials and a lot more still to be added to the HSNO Act relating to release. ERMA addresses each application on a case by case basis and organisations applying for commercial release will have to present a case that includes environmental and economic impacts. In October 2003 there may be applications for release, but these will need to be considered by ERMA. Widespread releases will not occur in October 2003. At the end of the day the Minister of the Environment can veto any release."

Professor Jameson says she can see a role for 'conditional' release. If this category were to be introduced into the Act then ERMA would have the power to impose controls and conditions. "The Royal Commission likened conditional release to clinical trials. I can see a place for conditional release but only if strict controls were in place and ERMA retained control over how the product will be handled."

From: "Lizex" Date: Wed, 29 May 2002 20:24:22 +0200 Subject: Information on the effect of ascorbic Acid on sugar cane

Hi There

I have just joined in on the world of biotechnology. I am a student in Plant biotechnology and enjoy reading the letters from scientist around the world. I have to do research on the effect of Ascorbic acid on sugar cane production when sprayed on sugar cane . My colleagues and I have surfed the net in order to find information on ascorbic acid, especially when sprayed on sugar cane.

I would be very greatful if anyone could give me information in this regard or e-mail addresses of people I can contact in this regard.

I hope that you could help me.


Lizex South Africa


The Scotsman May 30, 2002, Thursday By David Scott Scottish Government Editor

ROSS Finnie, the environment and rural development minister, insisted yesterday that genetically modified crop trials were safe and would go ahead on a "step-by-step" basis.

He rejected a call by the SNP for an immediate moratorium on GM crops, in view of a report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) describing the trial of genetically modified oilseed rape as "high-risk".

Mr Finnie said everyone wanted Scotland to be at the forefront of science, but he stressed that the Scottish Executive would never promote science on a careless basis. He said European directives required decisions to be made on scientific evidence and he would continue to go to independent bodies like the advisory committee on releases to the environment for advice on whether there was likely to be any serious harm to human health.

He added: "That is an entirely reasonable process, and given the way in which the legislative framework is written, I believe that is also a responsible basis on which to proceed. It allows us to progress with science but never ever puts at risk human health or our environment."

The SNP argued during a stormy debate that Scotland should take the same action as Belgium and stop the trials in view of the EEA report.

The report states oilseed rape can be described as a high-risk crop "for pollen-mediated gene flow from crop to crop and from crop to wild relatives".

Low frequencies of cross-pollination have been recorded at distances of up to 4km from the source, the report says.

Bruce Crawford, the SNP environment spokesman, said that, because Mr Finnie had repeatedly pledged that he would halt GM trials if credible evidence of a danger was presented to him, he should now impose an immediate moratorium on GM trials.

For the Tories, John Scott called for a fresh and complete review of all scientific evidence. He said this was necessary not just on environmental grounds, but also on public health grounds.

Chicken slaughter begins after German herbicide scare

Agence France Presse By LORNE COOK May 30, 2002

German states began slaughtering thousands of chickens on Thursday following the discovery of a dangerous herbicide in animal feed sent to organic farms.

The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state agriculture ministry said almost 63,000 chickens were killed to prevent over-crowding and disease after supermarkets in Germany halted sales of organic chicken meat and eggs.

The move came after some 550 tonnes of wheat used to feed chickens on more than 100 organic farms were found to be contaminated with the herbicide Nitrofen, in a major blow to a thriving German industry. Authorities said the herbicide, which is believed to cause cancer and is banned in Europe, could have entered the food chain through meat and eggs.

In the neighbouring state of Lower Saxony, where the tainted wheat was first discovered last week, farm authorities were preparing to slaughter thousands of chickens which could have come in contact with the feed.

"There is absolutely zero-tolerance," said state agriculture minister Hanns-Dieter Rosinke, who explained that culling was being arranged as suspect animals were detected.

Edeka supermarkets, discounter Wal-Mart and the Metro supermarket chain, which groups Real, Extra and Kaufhof, have halted sales of organic farm eggs and some sausages made from poultry meat as a precautionary measure.

The source of the contamination was still unclear on Thursday, but authorities in Brandenburg, where the problem was thought to have arisen, said the eastern state now appeared to be clear of tainted wheat.

Agricultural officials there said they were now examing animal feed imports from Eastern Europe for traces of Nitrofen, which affects the blood and central nervous system and could be harmful to human reproduction.

On Wednesday, Lithuania announced that it was banning imports of livestock, meat and animal food from Germany over the scare. Russian veterinary authorities have also asked Berlin for information.

The start of culling was accompanied by a call for the agriculture and consumer affairs minister, Renate Kuenast, to resign over the scandal.

Kuenast, a Greens party member who invested significant political capital in the industry after coming to office in January last year, described the call by the Free Democratic Party as nonsense and political game playing.

The liberal FDP could be a potential king-maker in general elections in September. Kuenast's Greens are part of the Social Democrats-led government.

A meeting on the Nitrofen crisis had been planned for later Thursday with the relevant state authorities, she said.

Kuenast was given a sweeping mandate to improve the quality and safety of food following the mad cow and foot-and-mouth crises.

She had blamed intensive farming methods for being partly responsible for the livestock diseases and gave her unprecedented backing to organic farming.

Organic farming only accounts for about 2.3 percent of German agricultural sector turnover, but the industry has been growing steadily since 1999. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Organic products pulled in Germany after contamination scare

Deutsche Presse-Agentur May 29, 2002, Wednesday

German retailers were rushing to pull organic food from stores Wednesday after it was revealed an animal feed company used wheat contaminated with a cancer-causing herbicide.

Among the major chains removing organic chicken, turkey, eggs and sausages were Wal-Mart, Metro and the supermarket chains Edeka, Tengelmann and Kaiser's, media reports said. Edeka spokemsman Joachim Brozio said: "Nobody knows for sure if contaminated feeds were used."

Metro, which owns supermarkets Real, Extra and Kaufhof, described the measures as "precautionary", the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said.

Consumer and Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast alleged Tuesday that a feed distribution company in Lower Saxony, GS agri, had knowingly sold wheat tainted with Nitrofen from last November to May this year.

It was unclear how the herbicide - which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals - was mixed into the wheat. There is speculation that wheat from other countries was mixed into GS agri's feeds.

Nitrofen has been banned in Germany since 1988.

A spokesman for GS agri denied it had known it was selling Nitrofen contaminated animal feeds.