Today in AgBioView - July 9, 2002
* Mexican Maize Madness
* G8 Summit Produces Good Biotech Statement
* Payoffs To Agricultural Biotech: An Assessment of Evidence
* On EU Moratorium on Crop Approval
* European Move Will Stifle GMOs
* FAO Biotechnology: Archives of GMOs and Gene Flow conference
* Question and Answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU
* Animal Feeding Studies With Transgenic Plants
* Scientists Monitor Bt Protein in Corn Ethanol
* Pesky Pesticide Tests
Mexican Maize Madness
- ABC Science Program, The Lab Online, July 2002
In April this year, Nature took the unusual step of retracting a paper it
had published four months earlier which claimed that transgenic DNA had
been found in wild Mexican maize. Since then the case has become the
centre of a global war of words between those for and those against GM
crops. The Lab's Anna Salleh asks what really happened, and looks at the
future role of science in such controversies.
Part 1 - The War of Words Tainted Corn: November 2001
On November 29th 2001, the prestigious scientific journal, Nature,
published research which reported finding transgenic DNA in maize grown in
Oaxaca, Mexico, the centre of origin and diversity for the staple crop.
The paper by, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the Department of
Environmental Science at the University of California, Berkeley, was a
rallying call for environmentalists.
Greenpeace dubbed it "a worse cultural attack than tearing down Oaxaca's
cathedral to build a McDonalds" and demanded an immediate moratorium on
transgenic trade. Since Mexico had a moratorium on growing GM crops, US
food and feed maize imports were the suspected source of the rogue
"Gene-altered DNA may be 'polluting' corn" screamed USA Today. "Remote
Mexican crops 'tainted by GM corn'" said the London Daily Telegraph.
The pro-GM scientists network, AgBioWorld Foundation, swung into action.
Nature received a number of letters attacking the Quist and Chapela paper.
Among the critics were Matthew Metz and Nick Kaplinksy, former and current
graduate students of the Plant and Microbial Biology department at the
same university as the authors. In 1998 this department signed a five-year
$25 million contract with biotechnology company Novartis (now called
Syngenta). At the time Chapela testified at a government hearing against
the deal. Metz, on the other hand, wrote to Nature in defence of it and
today describes Quist and Chapela as "fervent anti-genetic engineering
activists" and their work a "testament to technical incompetence".
In February this year, the journal Transgenic Research published a
scathing editorial on Quist & Chapela's research, concluding "no evidence
is presented to justify any of the conclusions presented in the paper".
The same month, the anti-GM group Food First publicised a statement in
support of the researchers. It claimed that like Arpad Pusztai, whose GM
potato study triggered the great GM food debate in the UK before them,
Quist and Chapela were respectable scientists under global attack because
their findings had negative policy ramifications for the biotech industry.
It called on academia and private industry to "renounce immediately the
use of intimidatory tactics to silence potentially 'dissident'
scientists...and to censor those academics that slander the competence or
integrity of those who publish peer-reviewed studies."
The statement angered AgBioWorld members who claimed in their 3,700-strong
AgBioView email list that Quist and Chapela's paper was "junkscience that
shouldn't have made it past a rudimentary peer review process" and said
Chapela should lose his job if he didn't release his samples for double
checking. According to AgBioView, Quist and Chapela along with Pusztai
were anti-GM activists doing bad science to support their preconceptions.
"What is suffering is the reputation of science as being value free," said
leading Fellow of the Royal Society, Anthony Trewavas.
On 24 February, a public statement signed by 100 scientists, including
Australian scientists Rick Roush and David Tribe, was issued by
AgBioWorld. It defended what the Food First statement called "mudslinging"
and "unethical attacks" as "simply good, vigorous scientific discourse".
Such "relentless criticism and re-examination" was most important when it
conflicted with "a point of view driven by politics or activism, rather
than science", the statement said. It emphasised that "the kind of gene
flow alleged by Quist and Chapela was "inevitable", given the nature of
maize, and "welcome" since it might offer farmers a greater range of
traits to select from.
Nature retracts - April 2002
On April 4, Nature published online two scientific critiques of Quist and
Chapela (lead authors: Metz and Kaplinsky), a rebuttal from the authors
(which included more data to back up their claim regarding gene flow), and
a carefully worded editorial which read:
"The authors have now obtained some additional data, but there is
disagreement between them and a referee as to whether these results
significantly bolster their argument," the editorial read. "In light of
these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded
that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication
of the original paper."
However as Quist and Chapela "wished to stand by the available evidence
for their conclusions," Nature decided to republish the original article
along with the critiques asking readers to "judge the science for
Nature's actions appears to have made much bigger news than the
publication of the original article. Some say Nature should not have given
Quist and Chapela so much rope to prove their case, while others protest
the role of character assassinations by industry PR hacks lurking in
cyberspace. Still others suggest picking at technical nits has deflected
attention away from the real issue of "genetic pollution" - a deliberate
strategy by the GM lobby to wipe out competition from GM-free crops. By
retracting the paper, Nature is now seen as part of this sinister plot.
Nature's editor, Philip Campbell denies his hand was forced. He said
recently in a letter to The Guardian that the retraction was because of
"technical flaws in the paper that came to our attention after its
publication (which we should have picked up), and by the author's decision
not to retract the paper themselves."
Due process or double standard?
Disagreement between scientists is the stuff of science but it is expected
to be based on legitimate scientific practice, as judged by peer review.
However, as Donald Kennedy Chief Editor of Science admits, sometimes peer
review doesn't necessarily get it right, and Nature "deserves credit" for
being so open about its processes - although many complain Nature has not
been open enough. According to Kennedy intense scrutiny of a controversial
paper can be expected both before and after publication. Certainly Chapela
says pre-publication review of the paper was "unusually strict".
Many papers are found to have errors in them after publication so what
line did Quist and Chapela cross to warrant Nature's public condemnation?
Campbell would not be drawn on the details of this however insists the
journal's turnaround had nothing to do with the fact that the paper was
about genetic modification.
"It must have been Murphy's law that ensured that our technical oversight,
embarrassing in itself, was in relation to a paper about one of the most
hotly debated technologies of our time," he said in his letter to The
But Paul Gepts, of UC Davis who studies the impact of gene flow between
domesticated and wild common bean in Mexico says the rules do seem to be
different for hot issues like this. "It think it is a very controversial
area right now and there is almost no middle ground when it comes to
transgenic crops," he said. "[Quist and Chapela] have seen a very
acrimonious reaction, more acrimonious than for other papers that should
not have been published"
Nick Kaplinsky, who wrote to Nature criticising Quist and Chapela,
suggests the bar for good science should be set much higher for something
with such broad-reaching policy implications - less it be a case of "the
boy who cried wolf". "Some day there is going to be a GMO organism that's
going to have adverse effects and there's going to be some science done
that points it out," he says. "And if you've had enough false warnings how
is the public - and more importantly how are policy makers - supposed to
make up their mind?"
"So it's incredibly important for a science that affects public policy to
be done well."
However Sue Mayer of the UK watchdog GeneWatch says when it comes to GM
risk the high standard is not being fairly applied. "Our feeling is there
is a really dangerous double standard emerging around how science is
judged in this field," she says. "No studies are perfect but it's deeply
worrying that such efforts are going into discrediting critical science
where the same efforts aren't going into looking at the safety testing."
She said if the same rigour was applied to the environmental and health
risk studies submitted to regulators by companies "a lot of things that
have been approved wouldn't have been."
A lack of research: the plot thickens
Many believe that such fuss over GM crops is a storm in a tea-cup and say
that despite five years of widespread GM crop planting, there is no
evidence of negative environmental or health effects. However, others say
that five years is not a long time when you consider it took decades to
discover the impact of chemicals like DDT on the environment.
Still others emphasise there's a lack of evidence either way. According to
LaReesa Wolfenbarger of the University of Nebraska, who has advised the US
EPA, there is in general very little peer-reviewed literature on the
ecological risks and benefits of transgenic crops.
She says key experiments which look at the complex interactions of GM
crops with other living organisms in the field are missing, as are other
studies which compare transgenic practices with conventional and other
agricultural practices such as organic farming. Such studies are
necessary in order to weigh up the relative risks and benefits of GM crops
compared to other options for moving forward. But there are factors
working against the collection of this much needed data.
According to Paul Gepts only one per cent of the US Department of
Agriculture's biotechnology program is committed to such studies. The
dearth of funding means much research is done using corporate funding and
this often brings with it problems of transparency and trust. The reach of
commercial influence can extend so far that finding independent referees
for peer review itself can be difficult.
Another problem is that assessing environmental health risk often depends
on monitoring a technology in the field, by which stage the resources
committed to it mean negative results are far less welcome. Perhaps
controversies such as the one over the Mexican maize research are a
symptom of a deeper malaise, as the case of the Monarch butterfly
controversy suggests. Given the scarcity of independent scientific
research on GMO risks, it is not surprising that groups concerned about
unforseen consequences may be tempted to seize upon any studies they can
to support their concerns - regardless of its status.
When the first paper to suggest Monarch butterflies could be harmed by Bt
corn was published in Nature in 1999, it was also recruited as evidence
for environmental concerns - despite the fact it was only a laboratory
study and could not say much about what might happen in the field.
However the public controversy prompted more detailed investigations on
risk, which were subsequently published in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Science (PNAS). These studies found that the only variety of Bt
corn that proved problematic for Monarchs was a variety that was being
phased out for other reasons anyway. The PNAS studies satisfied many that
the concerns about Bt corn were unwarranted and that in fact such crops
actually benefited butterflies due to reduced insecticide use.
Not all scientists agree. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example
say the effect of Bt corn on Monarchs remains uncertain and point to
specific studies that remain to be done. Others believe there was no basis
for concern in the first place - pointing out we've been playing with
genes for a lot longer than chemicals and haven't created havoc yet.
As critical as he might be of Quist and Chapela's research, however, Nick
Kaplinsky said he would have expected such studies to be been done prior
to the release of Bt corn. "I assumed that the companies that had put Bt
corn out there would have said 'Oh, we've done those studies and here's
our data which clearly shows that in the real world this isn't a hazard'.
And what was really an eye opener for me was that those kinds of
ecological studies haven't been done."
Some may lament that debates like this are damaging public confidence in
science as a tool for policy making, but perhaps they are linked to a
demand for more accountable risk assessment policy. Certainly, the
controversy over the initial Monarch butterfly study was the trigger for
research which many feel was long overdue.
Mexican stand-off or a way forward?
The Nature retraction has sparked an international controversy which calls
for an examination of the role of science, politics and money in the
debate over genetically modified food crops. At stake are billions of
dollars, public trust in science, and a technology that could feed the
world - or cause untold health, environmental and cultural damage -
depending on your point of view. Given the lack of independent research,
the passion of the principal protagonists and the issues at stake, what is
the best way forward?
Many advocate a more proactive, open, transparent and participatory
approach to dealing with GM and other technological risks.
The Union of Concerned Scientists calls for a new approach to funding risk
assessment research in which the agenda is formulated and overseen by
stakeholders to ensure more independent conduct, interpretation and
publication of data. Biosafety expert Anne Kapucinsky from the University
of Minnesota is promoting what she's calling the "Safety First Initiative"
in which independent safety advocates, under the guidance of a
multi-stakeholder steering committee, would veto the release of GMOs if
certain safety criteria weren't met.
Such initiatives promises to provide a more socially acceptable way
forward under an otherwise intractable climate of uncertainty over the
relative risk and benefit of new technologies. But their success, however,
will depend on the degree to which the public is made an equal partner in
decisions weighing risk and benefit.
While independent reliable scientific studies are essential to help pin
down what we know and what we don't know, the very questions asked, or not
asked, can be a very political issue. And judgments such as whether the
evidence available warrants proceeding down one track or another are also
value laden. No amount of "sound science" will ultimately settle such
debates as they belong well and truly in the realm of politics
There are many reasons why people may not want rogue transgenes in their
crops. Apart from concern over unforseen health and environmental risks,
they may want to trade GM-free produce as some farmers in Australia want
to, or they may want to protect a cultural icon, as maize is in Mexico.
They may believe there are more sustainable alternatives to GM crops. Such
factors can not be separated from arguments of GMO risk as they are values
that influence responses to uncertainties raised by the new technology.
Rather than dismissing such broader concerns as anti-technology,
anti-progress or risk-averse, those who make decisions on risk need to
engage rationally with them. Until a more inclusive science-based policy
making arises, a polarised debate will continue. Both sides will do their
best to attack each other's credibility and maintain moral superiority.
And every skerrick of scientific evidence of GM risk - no matter what its
status - runs the risk of becoming the eye of a storm of rhetoric which
achieves little more than an ongoing Mexican stand off.
G8 Summit Produces Good Biotech Statement
- Editorial, Honolulu Advertiser 7 July 2002
One of the less-well-noticed decisions coming out of that meeting in
Canada of the G8 nations was a statement urging the use of biotech food in
the global battle against hunger and malnutrition. Hawaii, which has
already established a niche in this area, should applaud the G8 statement.
No one argues that any scientific advance cannot carry with it dangers or
potential problems that must be carefully understood. In that,
biotechnology is no different from any other scientific advance. But the
possibility of problems is no reason to be afraid of moving forward on a
technology that could help feed the world's hungry. Among others, the
U.S. National Academy of Sciences has concluded that biotech is inherently
no more dangerous than other accepted food technologies.
Even today, out of the more than 6 billion humans on the planet, experts
say as many as 800 million are chronically hungry.
Critics of biotech say there should be other, safer, more sustainable ways
of creating the food the world needs. Others say the problem today is not
so much one of production as it is of distribution and unequal consumption
patterns among the world's people.
All this may be true. And it is a good bet that every avenue of food
production and distribution will have to be pursued in the years to come.
But to leave biotechnology out of the equation would be a cruel slap at
those who struggle to survive in a hungry world.
IFPRI Studies The Payoffs To Agricultural Biotechnology: An Assessment Of
- Michele C. Marra, Philip G. Pardey, and Julian M. Alston
Transgenic crops are relatively new technologies being adopted rapidly in
the United States and in a few other countries. The economic impacts of
these technologies have, thus far, been estimated in a piecemeal fashion.
The purpose of this study was to collect and characterize the economic
evidence available to date, organize it, and determine if any general
implications can be drawn from it. The general classes of economic impacts
at the farm level are discussed. The types of studies that generate
estimates of these benefits are also characterized and categorized in
terms of the implications for measuring economic impacts when the set of
things held constant in the type of study does not correspond to those
that economic theory suggests.
The evidence is presented, along with some general implications drawn from
the analysis. These implications are: (1) growing transgenic cotton is
likely to result in reduced pesticide use in most years and is likely to
be profitable in most years in most U.S. states in the Cotton Belt, (2) Bt
corn will provide a small but significant yield increase in most years
across the U.S. Corn Belt, and in some years and some places the increase
will be substantial, and (3) although there is some evidence of a small
yield loss in the Roundup Ready ’ soybean varieties, in most years and
locations savings in pesticide costs and, possibly, tillage costs will
more than offset the lost revenue from the yield discrepancy. There is not
yet enough evidence to generalize even these few conclusions to other
countries. More farm- level studies in more years and across more
locations are required before any additional implications can be drawn.
Studies that measure the non-pecuniary benefits and costs of these
technologies should be undertaken, as well.
On EU Moratorium on Crop Approval
Regarding EU Moratorium on Crop Approval. From all the debate I have read
and heard about the environmental concerns of GM crop is the "genes" will
escape and somehow will cause unleash forces that will either
"contaminate" biodiversity or "reduce biodiversity" or completely "destroy
biodiversity". Somehow "gene escape" in and by itself is bad as far as GM
crops are concerned, but no one seems to realize that gene escapes from
non-GM crops has also been happening since evolutionary times, and nothing
so catastrophic has happened. folks, gene escape was, is and will be a
reality, GM or no GM. The important question to ask is "so what". The
straight answer is "so nothing". I have not heard one decent possible
scenario that is so uniquely dangerous as far as GM concerned. What is
good for the goose must be good for then gander. If gene escape from
non-GM crops has not destroyed biodiversity, wild or weedy relatives, then
how a gene escape form GM crop can do harm?
Gene escape is a bogey raised to create unnecessary fear in the minds of
gullible public and the fearful regulators to delay and deny approval for
GMO. The scientific community needs to come out more openly and strongly
to allay fears in the minds of the public. the scientific academies should
now start dealing directly with the public, and stop publishing
self-serving reports after reports that is not really reaching the target
- Shanthu Shantharam
European Move Will Stifle GMOs
- Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, National Post , July 8, 2002 (Via
Henry I. Miller, a medical doctor and a fellow at Stanford University's
Hoover Institution, and Gregory Conko, director of food safety policy at
the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., write that
regulatory officials in the European Union seem to be ignorant of the Rule
of Holes: When you're in a hole, stop digging.
Repeated analyzes over two decades have documented Europe's lack of
competitiveness in biotechnology, but last week, by formally ratifying the
United Nations-sponsored Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the EU yet again
has embraced an oversight regime that wrongly and excessively regulates
the international movement and testing of safe, precisely crafted
products, while exempting more problematic ones. This is not the road to
either commercial success or consumer protection. Two and a half years
ago, when the agreement commonly known as the Biosafety Protocol was
negotiated in Montreal, it was heralded as a landmark of global
The Protocol requires ratifying countries to establish rigid, stringent
controls over nearly every aspect of research and development on GM crops,
animals and microorganisms. As a result of mandated - and gratuitous -
case by case regulatory review, corruption and red tape will dog these
products, from the cultivation of the first seed to their appearance on
consumers' tables. The Protocol is the culmination of an effort begun in
1993, when few people had ever even heard of GM, and when no GM crops had
yet been cultivated commercially.
The unwisdom of the effort was obvious from the start. A scientific panel
established by the UN Environment Program earlier that year to review the
need for such an agreement advised that this sort of "protocol would, for
no clear purpose: divert scientific and administrative resources from
higher priority needs; and delay the diffusion of techniques beneficial to
biological diversity, and essential to the progress of human health and
sustainable agriculture." Nevertheless, politicians saw biotechnology
regulation itself as a growth industry -- with themselves as the
"entrepreneurs" -- and were intent upon negotiating an agreement, even in
the absence of a demonstrable need for one, and knowing its palpable
disadvantages. Thus, the Biosafety Protocol was never contemplated as a
useful, risk-based regulatory apparatus, but as cynical justification for
new governmental mandates, bigger regulatory budgets and expanded empires.
Since the methods of gene-splicing were pioneered in 1973, dozens of major
scientific organizations -- including the U.K.'s Royal Society, World
Health Organization, American Medical Association and the U.S. National
Academy of Sciences - have investigated potential risks of GM organisms
and reached remarkably congruent conclusions: The process of genetic
modification is not inherently risky; genetically modified organisms do
not pose new or unique risks compared to unmodified organisms or organisms
modified in more conventional ways; and in fact, GM organisms are more
precisely crafted and predictable than other organisms. Over time, and
relying upon vast experience with a wide array of techniques for the
modification of plants and animals, scientists, breeders and farmers have
developed methods for keeping unsafe products off the market.
Still, supporters of the Biosafety Protocol (the EU was the 22nd entity to
ratify, almost halfway to the 50 needed for it to take effect) have argued
an additional layer of formal, pre-marketing (and even pre-testing)
government regulation must be introduced to detect unanticipated problems.
But they offer no explanation for limiting oversight to superior GM
techniques, and for ignoring the arguably greater risks of conventional
plant breeding and the introduction of exotic species into new
environments. The reality is that not a single plant, animal, or
micro-organism modified with conventional techniques could meet the
standards of the new biotech regulations. This bizarre dichotomy reveals
that the motivation behind the crafting of the Biosafety Protocol is no
more than politics and self-aggrandizement. Rich-poor politics also
explains why, more than two years after the agreement was supposedly
finalized, there is still considerable squabbling about how it will
actually be implemented. For example, GM pharmaceuticals were excluded
from the document finalized in Montreal, because pharmaceuticals are
already regulated by another multilateral agreement. Now, several
less-developed countries want to bring them back under the Protocol's
regulatory framework so they will have extortionate financial leverage
over European and North American drug manufacturers.
Perhaps the most problematic issue is how the Protocol's call for a
"precautionary approach" to regulatory standard-setting should be
interpreted. Although the large agricultural exporting countries
specifically opposed including the words "precautionary principle" in the
final text, the European Union now argues for a strong reading of the
precautionary language that would give it leeway to ban imports on the
basis of no more than the most conjectural speculation about potential
health or environmental risks. Although numerous critiques of the
so-called precautionary principle, which is not a principle at all but a
kind of blanket justification for arbitrarily opposing disfavoured
technologies and products, have been promulgated, its shortcomings are
nowhere more evident than in GM regulation. This bogus principle has been
invoked repeatedly to support unwarranted restrictions on some of the
safest, most intensively studied food products in human history, and in a
way that reflects that the goal is protectionism, not consumerism: In
order not to disadvantage the one relatively active food-biotech sector in
Europe, for example, the EU has exempted from its regulatory burden
European cheeses, wines, and beers made with GM enzymes.
In the interest of human rights, economic justice and free markets, we
need global regulatory policies that make scientific and common sense and
that lead to greater productivity and consumer choice. But by creating
inconsistent and bizarre regulation, EU politicians (abetted by their
cronies at the UN) have diverted the attention of regulators and the
public from more significant sources of risk, discouraged research and
development, and in effect imposed a huge punitive tax on any products
that do emerge from the compromised development pipeline. The only winners
from such wrong-headed regulation will be government regulators, who will
enjoy additional power and resources, and anti-science extremists, who
will have succeeded in erecting yet another barrier to GM technology. The
losers will be consumers everywhere that the Biosafety Protocol is in
effect, who systematically will be denied access to safer, more nutritious
and affordable products.
FAO Biotechnology *** NEWS ***
1) Archives of GMOs and Gene Flow conference: The FAO e-mail conference
entitled "Gene flow from GM to non-GM populations in the crop, forestry,
animal and fishery sectors" ran for 5 weeks and finished on 5 July 2002.
Almost 400 people subscribed to this moderated conference and 118 messages
were posted, focusing primarily on the crop sector, by 61 different people
from 25 countries. The messages came from participants in North America
(41% of the total), Europe (21%), Asia (18%), Africa (12%), Latin America
and the Caribbean (4%) and Oceania (4%). 32 % of messages were sent by
participants in developing countries. The greatest proportion of messages
came from people working in universities (32%), research centres (24%),
NGOs (17%) and private companies (13%). The messages are available by
subject and date at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c7logs.htm or can be
requested as a single e-mail message (217 KB) from email@example.com.
2) UNEP - Africa Environment Outlook: The United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP) has just released the first "Africa Environment Outlook"
report. It provides a comprehensive and integrated analysis of Africa's
environment, including i) an overview of developments in Africa,
particularly over the three decades up to 2002; ii) a description of the
current state of the environment in Africa (outlining its physical
attributes in terms of the atmosphere; land; biodiversity; forests;
freshwater, marine and coastal areas; and the urban environment) and iii)
a set of scenarios for Africa's future over the next 30 years. The report
concludes in Chapter 5 with a list of 31 recommendations for specific
actions by policy makers. This list includes "Urge developed countries to
remove agricultural subsidies and apply the precautionary principle to
genetically modified organisms" and "Assist African countries in their
efforts to gain access to new technologies, particularly information and
communication technologies and create conditions for the development of
indigenous technologies to enhance economic development". See
http://www.grida.no/aeo or http://www.unep.org/aeo or contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
3) ICCP meeting report: The report of the 3rd meeting of the
Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
(ICCP), held on 22-26 April 2002, The Hague, Netherlands, is now
available. It is document number 18 at
http://www.biodiv.org/doc/meeting.asp?wg=ICCP-03 (in Arabic, Chinese,
English, French, Russian and Spanish). For further information, contact
4) DTREE - UNIDO: A new version of the Decision Support System for Safety
Assessment of Genetically Modified Crop Plants (DTREE) has been released
by the Biosafety Information Network and Advisory Service (BINAS) of the
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). See
http://binas.unido.org/dtree or contact email@example.com for
*** EVENTS ***
1) 16-19 September, 2002, Beijing, China. The 24th International Rice
Research Conference. This is one of the main features of the inaugural
International Rice Congress, organised by the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI), the Chinese State Development and Planning Commission,
the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural
Sciences and co-sponsored by FAO. The conference's programme includes
symposia and workshops, based on three major themes, the first of which is
"The application of genomics, bioinformatics, and modern plant breeding
approaches in rice improvement". See
http://www.irri.org/irc2002/IRRC2002/IRRCIndex2.htm or contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
2) 27-28 September 2002, Rome, Italy. "Decision making processes in plant
biotechnology". The European Science Foundation's Scientific Programme
"Assessment of the impacts of genetically modified plants" is organising
this meeting in collaboration with, among others, the International Centre
of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. See
http://www.siga.unina.it/circolari/Rome_Meeting.html or contact
email@example.com for more details.
Question and Answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU
- EU Commission, July 3, 2002 (From Bio-Scope http://www.bio-scope.org/ )
The European Commission answers with this fact sheet question to
GMO-regulations. The first part covers legislation in force. The second
part covers the new legislative proposals and in the third part already in
the EU approved GMOs as well as those still in the approval procedure are
listed. The fulltext is available as English, German and French PDF-file.
Ý This European Commission factsheet answers briefly to questions
concerning the current EU-legislation on GMOs, e.g. risk assessment
procedure, procedure for approval and GM food marketing rules. It answers
also to the new legislative proposals for GMO-labelling, traceability and
thresholds. The annexes give overviews about e.g. approved GMO products
and GMO products under pending approval in the European Union.
The factsheet contains the following parts:
* Part A : European Union legislation in force (directives 90/220/EEC and
2001/18/EC) * Part B : New legislative proposals * under directive
90/220/EEC * Annex 3 - Pending applications under Regulation (EC) Nƒ
258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council * Annex 4 -
Notifications Pursuant to Article 5 of Regulation (EC) Nƒ 258/97 of the
European Parliament and of the Council * Annex 5 - Labelling of GM-Food
and GM-Feed Examples
The fulltext is available as English, German and French PDF-file (ca. 27
pages, 230 kB). download it at http://www.bio-scope.org/
Feeding Studies With Transgenic Plants
- Bio-Scope,May 5, 2002
A recurring quoted argument criticizing the commercialisation of
transgenic varieties is the lack of comparative feeding studies. However,
a look to the literature reveals that during the past years many studies
were conducted primarily with already marketed varieties. The main purpose
of these studies was - apart the proof of harmlessness - the proof of
nutritional equivalence between the transgenic and the parental
conventional variety. The following list presents an overview of already
conducted feeding studies with varieties placed on the market. Ý
Scientists Monitor Bt Protein in Corn Ethanol
- USDA/ARS, M2 Presswire, July 5 2002
Protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis has earned much
praise for its environmental and economic benefits as a natural pesticide.
But less well known is what happens to the protein in Bt-modified corn
when processed into ethanol.
To find out, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemical engineer Bruce
Dien and colleagues designed small-scale experiments with wet-and
dry-milled Bt corn hybrids that enabled them to monitor the protein during
all stages of ethanol production.
According to Dien, with ARS' National Center for Agricultural Utilization
Research in Peoria, Ill., there's been little prior research delving into
Bt's effects on ethanol even though Bt-modified corn accounts for roughly
25 percent of the U.S. crop.
Bt corn contains genes from the bacterium for making the protein as a
built-in pesticide against the larvae of European corn borers. At each
stage of their experiments, Dien's team checked for the presence and
amount of the Bt protein, CRY1Ab, using an antibody-based test called an
Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay.
During dry milling, they found, the use of heat to liquefy corn meal
quickly destroyed the protein, and there was no detectable trace of it in
either the mash or resulting ethanol. In wet-milled corn, they detected Bt
in whole kernels, gluten, germ oil and fiber at concentrations of 170 to
453 parts per billion. But nothing turned up in the starch or steep liquor
fraction, used to produce the ethanol.
Ethanol yields from Bt corn also matched that of non-Bt hybrids. Typical
industrial ethanol yields are about 2.7 gallons per bushel via dry-milling
and 2.5 gallons for wet-milled corn.
More details about these studies, including new findings on the role of
corn starch on ethanol yields, appear in this month's issue of
Agricultural Research magazine, available on the web at:
Pesky Pesticide Tests
- Howard Fienberg, June 3/2002
One of the main reasons some consumers choose "organic" produce over
conventionally-grown produce is to avoid the pesticides used in
conventional farming. A study published last month in the Food Additives
and Contaminants Journal (Vol. 19, No. 5), seemed to provide evidence in
support of that choice. "The report shows what we suspected all along: if
you want to reduce your exposure to pesticides, eating organic is a very
good way," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
Early critics of the study seized upon an obvious methodological problem,
which The New York Times (May 8) mentioned in passing: organic produce
represented only a minuscule portion of the study's data. Of the 94,227
samples studied, only 1,291 were grown organically (about 1.3 percent of
That is not specifically the researchers' fault. They examined three sets
of data: the USDA's Pesticide Data Program; the California Department of
Pesticide Regulation's Marketplace Surveillance Program; and private tests
on four selected foods carried out by Consumers Union. The California and
USDA programs tend to sample close to the market share for the different
kinds of produce. So since organic produce has such a small market share,
it is only a tiny part of their samples. With a three-way comparison as
the stated goal, a better study might have included equal amounts of the
three categories of produce. (Note: the Consumers Union data, while only a
small part of the total data set, at least included a near equal number
from each category).
This sample disparity is not enough of a problem to discredit the study.
However, there was a much more important methodological shortfall, ignored
by the Times but highlighted by the Associated Press (AP). The study
tested only for specific "synthetic" pesticides, neglecting "the many
special pesticides that are approved for organic crops" derived from
botanical and mineral sources, like rotenone, sulfur or copper-based
fungicides, and biological preparations like the microbial insecticide BT.
When it comes to organic farming, the label "natural" does not mean a lack
of pesticides, but a lack of a particular kind of pesticide.
The researchers claim in their study that "there is no basis to conclude
that residues of natural pesticides in any foods... pose risks remotely
comparable to those represented by residues of conventional (synthetic)
pesticides." It is true that the EPA and FDA do not consider most
"natural" pesticides worthy of analysis -- partly because the agencies
feel they do not pose enough risk, partly because of the minuscule market
share of organic farming that uses them. And yet, the AP reported that,
while "government inspectors do not test for them," natural pesticides are
not harmless. One "natural pesticide used by organic farmers, pyrethum,
may cause cancer, and another is linked to neurotoxic effects in rats."
The researchers dismiss such claims by pointing out the greater evidence
in favor of effects from synthetic pesticides.
Such an argument is pointless without the right data on exposure. Thanks
to studies such as this, we have some necessary data for "synthetic"
pesticide residue. But data on "natural" pesticide residue, presumably
highly prevalent in organic farming, is not so easy to find. The
researchers point out that, "Few or no confirmed methods are available for
these residues; consequently, they are generally not tested for by
programmes [sic] and laboratories that routinely monitor foods for
pesticides." They argue in favor of more research in this area.
Though it was glossed over in the media coverage, consumers should take
home one over-riding point about this study: organic produce is not
necessarily pesticide free, as many organic promoters would prefer. The
tested pesticides may not have turned up as frequently in organic produce,
but they did turn up, and often in higher concentrations than in the
Does that sully the reputation of organic produce? Commenting on the study
to the AP, Edward Goth, president of Consumers Union, said organic produce
is still the best. "Less is better... Fewer residues and lower levels of
residues are better than higher levels of residues and more residues."
Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true. The concentrations of
"synthetic" (and presumably organic) pesticides in produce, no matter
which way it was farmed, pose no known threat to human health. Bruce Ames,
the famed biochemist and cancer researcher with the University of
California at Berkeley, regularly stresses that Americans "consume more
carcinogens in one cup of coffee than we get from the pesticide residues
on all the fruits and vegetables we eat in a year." Mother Nature laces
most of our food with oodles of "natural" carcinogens more powerful than
just about anything we could add.
As the AP struggled to explain, the study's findings "don't mean that any
of the produce is unsafe."
So please, eat more fruits and vegetables. They're good for you, plain and
simple. Just don't presume you're making yourself healthier when you eat
organic rather than conventional ones.