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July 14, 2002


Seeds in Legal Minefield; Tumor Fighting Tobacco; Bt Cotton Mi


Today in AgBioView - July 15, 2002

* Seeds Sown in Legal Minefield
* Tobacco as Cancer Research Tool: Plants to Fight Tumors
* Scientists Develop Female Contraceptive from Tobacco
* Tomatoes for Research and Nutrition
* On Agribiotech and Big Business
* Fear Like Paedophile Hysteria - GE Expert
* Bt Cotton Misunderstood

Seeds Sown in Legal Minefield

- Graeme O'Neill, Sunday Herald (Australia) July 14, 2002

Noble causes need martyrs; individuals who have suffered oppression,
tyranny or great injustice, and who have the courage to defend their
deeply held views and their individual rights.

By these measures, Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser is a strange
sort of martyr. Mr Schmeiser became an international cause celebre when
the big agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto took him to court for
illegally growing one of its herbicide-resistant, genetically modified
canola varieties on his Saskatchewan farm.

It was clearly a case of an evil, profiteering multinational company
monstering some poor, innocent sodbuster whose crop, unbeknown to him, had
been contaminated by wind-blown pollen from a Frankenfood canola variety
growing on a neighbour's farm. That is essentially the way it was
represented in the media in North America and Europe. Although the episode
received little coverage in Australia, the anti-GM networks publicised it
widely on the Internet.

We tend to assume farmers to be honest folk, incapable of serious
duplicity, so there seemed to be no reason for Mr Schmeiser to
misrepresent his circumstances. Heck, he was vehemently opposed to GM
crops, so why would he plant GM canola on his property?

This columnist tracked developments in the Schmeiser saga through the GM
agriculture forum AgBioView (www.agbioview.com) (note: it really should
have been www.agbioworld.org...CSP) , which has a reputation for peeling
away the obscuring layers of hype and anti-GM hysteria surrounding such
issues, and getting to the core of the matter. Canola is an
open-pollinated crop - that is, its flowers ``prefer'' not to
self-pollinate, and are usually pollinated by bees or breezes that
transport pollen from flowers on nearby plants.

The probability of pollen transfer between individual plants declines with
distance. Even when bees do the job, the overwhelming likelihood is that
the pollen will come from a neighbouring plant within a radius of a few
metres. The chances of any individual flower being pollinated by stray
pollen from a GM crop on a neighbour's property 6km away, as Mr Schmeiser
claimed, are probably akin to my chances of winning Tattslotto this week.

Realising that even people naive in the matter of science and statistics
might find this explanation somewhat incredible, Mr Schmeiser suggested
some of the contamination was caused or augmented by a truck visiting his
property after being used to transport GM canola seed.

Some of this GM seed might have germinated on Mr Schmeiser's GM-free turf.
If so, the truck must have been driven in such a way that the seed
miraculously fell across the entire property, in a manner that bore an
uncanny resemblance to a tractor-sown canola crop.

Perhaps some curmudgeonly seed merchant had sold Mr Schmeiser some bags of
dodgy GM canola seed without his knowledge. Mr Schmeiser made no claim to
this effect. That left only one possibility: he had knowingly saved seed
from the Roundup-Ready canola crop he had sown in 1996 and sown it on his
own property not only in 1997, but in 1998 as well, in a deliberate
attempt to avoid the plant variety rights (PVR) royalty payment due to
Monsanto, which had developed the variety.

But an article in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper in June 2000 quotes Mr
Schmeiser as denying he knowingly planted GM canola. "I never put those
plants on my land," he said. "The question is where do Monsanto's rights
and mine begin?" Monsanto sued Mr Schmeiser for $460,000 for infringing
its patent; Mr Schmeiser counter-sued for $11.5 million for libel,
trespass and contaminating his fields with Roundup-Ready Canola.

Percy Schmeiser did not, as claimed on ABC-TV's 7.30 Report this week,
become a GM canola producer by accident. The Canadian judge found for
Monsanto, and against Mr Schmeiser. In his judgment, he said it was clear
Mr Schmeiser had retained GM canola seed sown in one field in 1996, sown
it in another in 1997 and then used the seed from that crop to sow his
entire, 800ha property to Roundup-Ready canola in 1998.

In the period between the case coming to court and the judgment, which
required him to pay court costs of more than $175,000, Mr Schmeiser was
feted by the anti-GM movement. He lodged an appeal in March and the
ruling is pending. Since early last year, he has travelled the world as a
guest of the multinational environmental activist group Greenpeace, to
recount his story to other farmers.

He is currently doing the rounds in Australia, in company with North
Dakota farmers Tom and Gail Wiley. The Wileys' complaint is that they
lost a lucrative sales contract with the Japanese for their non-GM
soybeans when one of their consignments was found to be contaminated with
GM soybeans.

The Wileys are anti-GM, and have been featured in a Greenpeace video,
Grains of Truth. Gail Wiley has claimed GM maize fed to dairy cows has
reduced milk yields. That unsubstantiated claim contradicts the findings
of more than 40 studies in which a range of GM crops have been fed to
dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and even farmed catfish, with
no evidence of any adverse effect.

How much scientific evidence would it take to convince Gail Wiley her
claim is simply wrong? It seems no amount of scientific evidence would
convince her, or Greenpeace, or any other anti-GM group, because they have
an unshakeable conviction that GM crops are dangerous. Such claims are
based on ideology, not science. Something that Greenpeace openly

To return to the Schmeiser case, a flier advertising a public meeting in
Clare, South Australia, last Monday, as part of the Greenpeace-sponsored
tour of Australia, contains the following statement: "Hear how Monsanto
successfully sued Percy Schmeiser for growing their patented GM canola
seed, which occurred due to cross-pollination and wind-drift." Whoever
wrote the statement didn't know that Mr Schmeiser's position has drifted
somewhat from his original story - as he surely had to do, given the court
case ruling.

Mr Schmeiser is now claiming it is his ancient right, as a farmer, to save
seed. In what historic document is the farmer's right to save seed
enshrined? Saving seed is an ancient tradition, and a necessity still for
some farmers in less-privileged nations. But to assert it is his right,
as a farmer, to save a seed variety that has cost millions of dollars to
develop, without paying for the privilege of using it, is desperate stuff.

Roundup-Ready seeds - whether they be canola, soybean, maize or cotton -
are an invention, and are patentable. If the breeders who develop new
fruit, vegetable and cereal varieties were unable to charge a premium for
superior new varieties with higher yields or disease resistance, there
would be no incentive to develop them, and modern agriculture would be in
dire straits.

Mr Schmeiser knowingly planted Roundup-Ready GM canola on his land three
years in a row. This is a very strange thing to do for someone who tours
the world at the expense of Greenpeace, decrying the evils of GM

It is a measure of Greenpeace's desperation that it not only seeks to
exploit a person whose truthfulness and credibility are in question, but
would actually represent him as a hero and martyr for the anti-GM cause.
It is reprehensible that some Australian media would publish Mr
Schmeiser's story, lock, stock and barrel, without mentioning these
inconvenient facts - as ABC-TV's 7.30 Report did last week. That such
claims have been published attests to the way in which the anti-GM
movement has been able to manipulate the Australian media, and exploit its

For two years or so, the Australian GeneEthics Network and the Organic
Federation of Australia have been telling Australians that the advent of
Roundup-Ready GM canola will compromise Australia's profitable niche
market for organic canola in Europe.

How profitable? A former member of the Genetic Manipulation Advisory
Committee, Dr Rick Roush, who is also director of the Cooperative Research
Centre for Weed Management in Adelaide, says he has been trying to get an
answer to that question for two years, without success.

As far as Dr Roush can establish, nobody has grown canola organically in
Australia for six years.

GM canola varieties are likely to be planted in Australia for the first
time next season. Mr Schmeiser and Greenpeace may be able to explain how
they will ruin an industry that no longer exists.


Tobacco as Cancer Research Tool: Plants Aid in Development of a Vaccine to
Fight Tumors

- Justin Gillis, Washington Post, July 15, 2002; Page A01

OWENSBORO, Ky. -- The plants stretching their leaves toward the hot
Kentucky sun in a greenhouse near here look like any other ordinary
tobacco plant. They are anything but. Deep inside their cells, they are
furiously cranking out microscopic fragments of human tumor. The plants
are destined not for a pack of Marlboros, but for a laboratory hard by the
Owensboro airport. There, the tiny tumor fragments will be recovered and
processed into vaccines designed to treat a type of cancer called

It's a dry run at the moment, but by this fall, vaccines produced this way
are to be flown to medical suites across the country and injected into
patients, in one of the largest tests to date of whether vaccination can
arrest the growth of human tumors. The shots the patients get will not be
of a single, standardized vaccine, but rather of a customized product
created specifically for each person's cancer.

The Kentucky project is sponsored by the California company Large Scale
Biology Corp., and it chose tobacco -- actually, a close Australian
relative of American field tobacco -- not for the satisfaction of using
that maligned plant to treat cancer, but simply because tobacco may be the
cheapest, fastest vehicle for growing the necessary fragments of tumor.
The project is designed as a test of whether the long-heralded,
much-delayed era of "personalized medicine" is finally at hand -- and
whether a long history of commercial failure can be overcome to deliver
such customized treatments at a tolerable price.

"It may be too early to say we're at the dawn" of the age of personalized
medicine, said Robert L. Erwin, chairman and chief executive of Large
Scale Biology. "We may be at that very subtle point right before the dawn,
where you know it's about to happen, but nobody else does." His company is
by no means the only one trying to use tobacco, or other plants, to grow
drugs. Projects to grow drugs in bulk that way are progressing around the
country, drawing excitement and a measure of environmental concern.

Nor is Large Scale Biology the only company pursuing personalized medical
treatments -- dozens are. Another company and a National Cancer Institute
laboratory are well ahead of Large Scale Biology in bringing the idea to
lymphoma treatment. But the Kentucky operation is perhaps the most
ambitious attempt in the country to marry the two approaches -- to use
potentially cheap production techniques based on plants to create
pharmaceuticals customized for individual patients.

Bringing a single new drug to market usually takes 10 years, if all goes
well. The people at Large Scale Biology say that eventually, they may be
able to produce a customized drug for a patient in six weeks, and to do it
thousands of times a year. "My ideology is that personalized medicine,
from the standpoint of strictly business, can be just as profitable as the
non-personalized type," Erwin said. "But most people won't believe that
until you can put the numbers in front of them."

Erwin's curious plants, hundreds of them, were growing on a greenhouse
bench in western Kentucky not long ago. On one bench, the specimens of
Nicotiana benthamiana were making fragments from the tumor of a
58-year-old woman from Mill Valley, Calif. Plants on the opposite bench
were growing tumor fragments from a 57-year-old man from Hollister, Calif.
Awakening a Germ Fighter
Most people think of a vaccine as a drug given ahead of time to induce
immunity to a germ. That's accurate, but the term is really broader and
can be applied to many drugs designed to attack disease by inducing an
immune response.

For years, scientists have theorized that certain types of cancer might be
particularly amenable to treatment with vaccines. By definition, a patient
has cancer because his or her immune system has failed to recognize and
kill cells growing out of control. What if the immune system could somehow
be awakened to the threat and rallied to attack?

The technical details have bedeviled scientists, however, and no cancer
vaccine has ever reached the market. But lately, the idea has been showing
promise for the deadly skin cancer melanoma. And perhaps the most
impressive data have been gathered in efforts to treat lymphoma, a cancer
in which a type of immune cell called a B cell grows out of control. The
father of these efforts, Stanford University researcher Ronald Levy, more
than a decade ago reasoned that lymphoma cells, more than most other types
of cancerous cells, could be specially susceptible to vaccines. They have
unique regions on their surface that are different from patient to patient
but identical on one patient's cancer cells. In theory, a person's immune
system could be trained to hone in on these regions as targets and kill
the cells.

Using painstaking laboratory techniques, Levy and his disciples have been
making customized, experimental vaccines, patient by patient, and giving
them to people for years. Generally, these vaccines are made using copies
of the unique region from a lymphoma cell along with substances that tell
the immune system to recognize the region and mount an attack. By now,
hundreds of patients have been treated worldwide. The results are still
preliminary, but by the standards of cancer treatment, they are

About half the patients receiving a vaccine mount a strong immune attack
on their cancer, and many of these people appear to live for years longer
than would be expected using conventional treatment alone. The data are so
promising that the National Cancer Institute, under the leadership of a
former Levy student named Larry Kwak, has recently launched a large,
definitive test of the approach. Some experts doubt the labor-intensive
manufacturing technique Kwak is using can be scaled up to treat thousands
of patients, but at least one company intends to try. Yet other companies
think they can streamline and speed up the vaccine-making process using
alternate, potentially cheaper techniques. One of these, Genitope Corp. of
Redwood City., Calif., has mounted its own large test, but acknowledges
its technique can take six months to produce a vaccine. Lymphoma is a
slow-growing cancer and patients may well be willing to wait that long,
but Large Scale Biology is betting that they and their doctors will want
to move more quickly. That's where the tobacco plants come in.

A Virus Harnessed
Large Scale Biology has spent years working on techniques that will allow
it to produce potentially useful proteins in plants, especially tobacco.
Like some other companies, including one in Virginia called CropTech
Corp., the company uses tobacco because its long cultivation has produced
a hundred-year body of knowledge about the plant.

After hooking up with Levy, the company started making lymphoma vaccines
in 1999 and has tested the safety of the approach in 16 patients. It has
won permission from the Food and Drug Administration to begin larger
trials this fall, involving perhaps 250 lymphoma patients. The technique
does not involve genetic manipulation of tobacco plants, but rather of a
virus that infects those plants. Genetic material from a patient's tumor
is inserted into copies of the virus, called the tobacco mosaic virus, and
particles of it are sandblasted onto tobacco plants. They infect the plant
and take over the genetic machinery to crank out viral proteins --
including the newly inserted human tumor gene.

Ultimately, all tobacco compounds are discarded, leaving millions of
copies of the tumor protein. The protein is mixed with immune-stimulating
substances to create a highly tailored vaccine for one patient. No one is
sure what a course of vaccine treatment will cost, but people working in
the field give rough estimates of $20,000 to $50,000. That may sound high
for what amounts to a series of shots. But most insurance companies now
will pay upwards of $100,000 for bone-marrow transplants for lymphoma
patients, a last-ditch treatment. If researchers can suppress lymphoma in
half or more of patients for less money, "insurance companies may actually
like it," said Kwak, the National Cancer Institute researcher.

He does worry that companies like Genitope and Large Scale Biology may be
pushing ahead too fast, and could have problems with the potency of their
vaccine. Levy, the Stanford doctor, is taking a more agnostic approach,
hoping one company or the other gets the vaccine strategy to work on a
large scale. He sounded tickled at the idea that it might happen in the
very plant that causes an epidemic of lung cancer and other diseases in
the United States. "The idea of using tobacco to make a treatment for
patients would be terrific," he said.

Environmental Concerns
Around the country, projects in which companies want to use genetically
manipulated plants to grow human drugs are moving forward. But
environmental groups have begun to sound an alarm about the potential for
unintended consequences, especially if the drugs are grown in food plants,
as some companies intend.
"Just one mistake by a biotech company and we'll be eating other people's
prescription drugs in our corn flakes," said Larry Bohlen, director of
health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth, in a recent

Quietly, grocery manufacturers have been raising similar concerns in
Washington. The two main federal regulatory agencies, the Agriculture
Department and the Food and Drug Administration, have told Congress that
they are on top of the situation but also have been working to bolster
their guidelines for industry."The potential benefits of the technology
are so great that we can't risk losing them by not having a regulatory
system in place," said Michael Fernandez, director of science at the Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a Washington think tank.

Out in the farm fields of Kentucky, the concerns are at once more prosaic
and more urgent.
Tobacco is a vital cash crop there, as in many parts of the country,
producing a quarter of farmers' income on 1 percent or 2 percent of their
land. But the crop is declining, and hard-pressed farmers are left to
wonder what will take its place. Danny Ebelhar is one of them. He sat in
an equipment shed on his farm the other day, cocking his John Deere cap
and explaining how he got involved with Large Scale Biology, growing test
plots of tobacco. These are unrelated to the company's lymphoma vaccine,
but play a role in its longer-term plans to produce other drugs. Ebelhar,
one of the county's leading farmers, is trying to hold together a solid
operation to pass along to his son. He doesn't expect that cooperating
with outfits like Large Scale Biology will ever produce more than 5
percent or 10 percent of his farm income, but he sees it as a way to give
tobacco a new lease on life.

"It really wasn't a hard sell for these guys to convince us to start with
them," he said. His neighbor, tobacco and cattle farmer Rod Kuegel, is
also cooperating with the company. He's equally realistic about the
potential profits, but he sees another benefit: "I thought it would be
nice to be on the politically correct side of tobacco for once."


Scientists Develop Female Contraceptive from Tobacco

- The Times of India, July 14, 2002

NEW DELHI: Indian scientists using genetic engineering have converted the
lowly tobacco plant into a potential source of material for a novel female
contraceptive. Researchers in New Delhi, in collaboration with scientists
from Germany, have coaxed tobacco leaves to produce an anti-body that
targets a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) that a woman
makes immediately after conception.

This hormone is essential for the fertilised egg to attach to the womb and
grow into a foetus. When injected, the plant-made anti-body will
neutralise HCG and thereby terminate the pregnancy. The lifetime of the
anti-HCG anti-body inside the woman's body is several days, which means a
woman can take a shot of anti-body as a protection against pregnancy
before starting a romantic vacation. Or, it can be used as an "emergency"
contraceptive after unprotected sex within seven days of the act. Both
vacation and emergency contraceptives are a multi-million dollar business,
especially in the US and Europe, and existing post-coital contraceptives
are based on hormones and have side effects.

The anti-HCG anti-body was very specific against the pregnancy hormone and
its safety had already been established, its developers - Pran Talwar of
the Talwar Research Foundation and his co-workers at the National
Institute of Immunology -said. Talwar, however, said on phone that while
their work on tobacco had shown a cheap way of manufacturing the
contraceptive in large scale "a lot more work is needed" before it reached
the drug store. NEW DELHI: Indian scientists using genetic engineering
have converted the lowly tobacco plant into a potential source of material
for a novel female contraceptive. Researchers in New Delhi, in
collaboration with scientists from Germany, have coaxed tobacco leaves to
produce an anti-body that targets a hormone called human chorionic
gonadotrophin (HCG) that a woman makes immediately after conception.

This hormone is essential for the fertilised egg to attach to the womb and
grow into a foetus. When injected, the plant-made anti-body will
neutralise HCG and thereby terminate the pregnancy. The lifetime of the
anti-HCG anti-body inside the woman's body is several days, which means a
woman can take a shot of anti-body as a protection against pregnancy
before starting a romantic vacation. Or, it can be used as an "emergency"
contraceptive after unprotected sex within seven days of the act. Both
vacation and emergency contraceptives are a multi-million dollar business,
especially in the US and Europe, and existing post-coital contraceptives
are based on hormones and have side effects.

The anti-HCG anti-body was very specific against the pregnancy hormone and
its safety had already been established, its developers - Pran Talwar of
the Talwar Research Foundation and his co-workers at the National
Institute of Immunology -said. Talwar, however, said on phone that while
their work on tobacco had shown a cheap way of manufacturing the
contraceptive in large scale "a lot more work is needed" before it reached
the drug store.


Tomatoes for Research and Nutrition

- Rautenberg O, Full text at

Tomatoes contain a naturally high level of the antioxidant lycopene, which
increases their nutritional value for human consumption. Through a
transfer of a bacterial enzyme to tomatoes, scientists succeeded in
prolonging the vine life of tomatoes. The prolonged ripening process lead
to transgenic tomatoes containing three times more lycopene than the
parental tomato plants. (Nature Biotechnology 20(6), 613-618).


On Agribiotech and Big Business

- From: Paul Christensen , INTLCORN@aol.com

In response to Amit Basole.

It may be somewhat misleading to describe the Agribiotech industry as
capital intensive. I think that careful study will disclose that one of
the major expenses in the biotech industry is the cost of complying with
the regulations that are in place. This capital is regulatory capital
demanded by government.

In the developed world, the issue of the benefits to the public from
patents is resolved in the democratically created patent law.
Legislatively, we have accepted the value of the good that society derives
from the technology that is encouraged by patents. Political moves to
attack the patent system usually do not get far, because the long term
public benefits are so large. Patents simply do not exploit customers.
They reserve some of the benefits of new technology for the creators of
the technology for a limited period of time. If there is no benefit to the
user, the user is free not to buy.

In the developing world, the current threat from exploitation of the
patent holders is not significant. The current transgenic technologies are
not patented in most developing countries. In some cases the legal
mechanisms are not in place, or have only been put in place recently. In
other cases the owners of the technology simply decided that it was not
worth protecting in poor countries. In most cases it is not patents that
are preventing farmers in developing countries from use of biotechnology.
It is regulations or the inability or unwillingness to put them in place.

Ironically, in some cases, biosafety regulations may give technology
owners some ability to control the use of their technology where there is
not patent protection. The biosafety approval may exclude others who are
not approved.

The expansion of the World Trade Organization and the provisions that it
puts in place for patents will make it more possible that patents will
have an important impact on the distribution of benefits from
biotechnology in the future. In this generation, the inhabitants of the
developing world have an opportunity to get a lot of technology free, if
they play they plan to create a regulatory environment where it can be

Restrictions of commerce in the seed Industry are unlikely due to the ease
of entry into the business. If there where a restriction of competition in
some particular situation ordinary antitrust legislation should take care
of it. There is no need to attack property rights.

In the history of the 20th century it is quite clear that the
"undemocratic enterprises which survive by keeping poor, illiterate and
marginalized people in darkness," were usually governments, not big
business. Where "knowledge and resources remain" the property of big
government we can be assured that they will be misused and used to benefit
a ruling class of unpredictable nature.

Failure in development does not usually result from exploitation by big
business. Development is a very complicated process with a multitude of
ways to fail. Blaming the outsider, is not usually a productive first step
to success.


Fear Like Paedophile Hysteria - GE Expert

- Seth Robson, Hoovers Onlinem July 14, 2002,

Anxiety over genetic engineering (GE) is similar to the last wave of
public hysteria about paedophiles, says a top British adviser on GE.
Oxford professor Alan Ryan, in Christchurch for a philosophy conference,
yesterday described opposition to GE in New Zealand as ?crazy?.

The chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the British
Government's foremost independent advisory committee on genetic
engineering, blamed the Green Party and the media for misleading the
public over the issue.

?The Greens are behaving in an opportunistic and wicked fashion. ?I don't
think it does the public any good to be stirred up and frightened.?
Professor Ryan described coverage of the issue in the mass media as
hopeless: ?It has been either mischievous, ignorant, or a combination of
the two,? he said.

GE was the next panic after paedophilia. ?Panic seems to be a contemporary
sort of response. There was a year when everybody in Britain thought the
world was full of paedophiles. One woman was driven from her house because
she was a paediatrician. ?Sainsbury's had a brand of GE tomato puree which
took 65 per cent of their sales. It was a penny cheaper than the non-GE
variety and it tasted better. ?Before the great row everybody knew it was
GE and it was marketed as GE. The moment the row broke out sales collapsed
and Sainsbury`s took it off the shelves.?

Professor Ryan said his committee found there was no reason to believe GE
posed a risk to health and that given suitable protection about where
crops were planted and their relation to neighbouring wild species there
was no reason to be anxious about effects on other plant life and the
environment. ?If you plant GE maize varieties in Mexico where there are
lots of wild varieties you might get lots of cross breeding. But if you
plant GE canola in Mexico it is unlikely to be a problem. ?Since most food
plants are incapable of surviving against wild competition there is no
threat of them running amok.?

The working party looked at religious and quasi-religious issues. ?We
took the line that in a secular society the religious hang-ups of any
particular group could not be allowed to dictate public policy but public
policy ought to operate in such a way that people with religious reasons
for disliking something could keep out of the way of it. ?Our general view
was that we thought the public at large had a hard time understanding the
science and the more people understood about how non-GE plants are created
the less they would worry about GE.

?New plant varieties are being created constantly by people exposing
conventional crops to radiation to create mutations. ?If the public
realised that most of the food it was eating had been developed by people
bathing plants in radiation they would be equally alarmed.? Professor Ryan
expected GE crops to be grown in Britain within a few years. ?The
Government obviously wants to get ahead and let people grow it. ?Consumers
go on price and they only go for organic food because they think it is
better for you. ?There is quite a backlash in Britain where it has been
pointed out that most organic food is less healthy than stuff grown
through conventional methods.?


Bt Cotton Misunderstood

- Gurumurti Natarajan,

My Sunday morning was floating by smoothly with all the non-events in the
political and economic world around us emanating from four different
dailies until I turned to the leisure pages and then it was no more a
overflowing cup of joy.

Suman Sahai is at it again (Sunday Express). Ironically, her lambaste is
featured under the pompous title of INSIGHT!

She has once again crowned herself with yet more drapes of non-science,
reeking in ignorance and telltale rhetoric that has been the hallmark of
all these mischief mongers who make a living out of MNC bashing.

Her statements are merely laced with seeming facts; look a little closer
and there is not a fig leaf to cover.

Bt Cotton - Missing Information and Misleading Conclusions

Biotechnology has become the bashing boy of activists who eke a livelihood
out of fear mongering. Matters of science, scrupulous facts, world-wide
experience garnered from across millions of acres spread over a multitude
of agro-ecological regimes and plain common sense reasoning have all been
sacrificed at the altar of indulgent self-perpetuation. High decibel
rhetoric based on non-science, malleable generalities and hearsay are
being bandied by academics-past and present-who don't hesitate to flash
their ignorance in the guise of 'insightful' essays to gain further
mileage in what must be a perpetual quest for self-indulgence and personal
gain. For how else can one fathom blatant lies and wanton suppression of

Take for instance Suman Sahai's treacherous essay that Bt cotton was
tested under temperate US conditions and shown to be reasonably effective
(Sunday Express, 16.06.2002 Why Bt cotton won't help us). Through this
article, in one telling stroke both the burgeoning Bt technology and
knowledge about age-old agriculture have been blasphemed! Indeed, the Bt
technology was developed in the US and has since been adopted in several
countries. However, in every country where Bt cotton has been
introduced-be it China, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia,
Mexico or India-the standard operating procedure has been to transfer a
few identified genes into local cultivars of cotton to confer native
resistance to bollworm in them. Ergo, these transformed cotton cultivars
produce the Bt-endo-toxin all through their life cycle in every plant
tissue, thus thwarting the insatiably hungry bollworm from wreaking havoc
on the cotton crop and thereby reducing the number of chemical sprays to
counter these devouring beasts. No American cultivar of cotton has been
supplanted into Indian fields. It is simply not done. Reason, better
performing cultivars have to be generated indigenously through careful
breeding by factoring various local biotic and abiotic components. And it
is into these proven, successful Indian cultivars that the Bt gene has
been infused with a view to enhance native resistance to bollworm attack!

The second part about Bt cotton being tested (and shown to be reasonably
effective) under temperate US conditions takes the cake. The fact is that
both traditional and Bt cotton are being cultivated in 17 different states
spanning from Virginia, N. Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the east coast
through California in the west and includes Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico
and Arizona, all of which experience day temperature exceeding 40 C
during the cotton cropping seasons. As to 'reasonably effective', Bt
cotton was and has been an unqualified success that the acreage of Bt
cotton in the US has been increasing by leaps and bounds every year after
its introduction in 1996 and is now cultivated in excess of 2.1 million
hectares. In India, Bt was approved just this season. Give it a few
growing seasons; the jury is still out on it; the farmers will either lap
it up when they realise its utility, or, equally, wouldn't hesitate
trashing it, if it fails to deliver. As simple as that.

The lies continue...Bt technology will not work because land holdings are
small. Quite the contrary, Bt technology is a hands-down winner especially
because it is scale neutral benefiting the small farmer just as much as a
large farmer. The author continues in her unique vein of ignoramus
malapropism when she asserts that average land holdings in the US are
several thousand acres, the statistic being 451 amongst cotton farmers!

Elsewhere, the article reeks of half-truths (GEAC has appointed the
company to continue to undertake studies on possible impacts on non-target
insects and crops) and questions the wisdom of having the same company
that developed the product to monitor its performance also. However, in
the very same GEAC approval of environmental release of three transgenic
Bt cotton hybrid varieties contingent upon 17 conditions, one of the
mandates has been "Monitoring of susceptibility of bollworms to the Bt
gene will also be undertaken by an agency identified by the Ministry of
Environment and Forests at applicant's cost".

In the US too which has the maximum acreage under GM crops and which has
been the pioneer in commercialising this technology, it is the industry
that has been entrusted with the onus of monitoring crop performance and
to render appropriate stewardship of its products once approved for
environmental release. Thus India is not first in the world in this front
as averred ignorantly by the author. Nor is India the only country to do
so, for every country where GM crops have been approved for environmental
release, the agency responsible for developing these new cultivars is
charged by their governments the onus of continuous monitoring, inter
alia, crop performance, its impact on target- and non-target-species,
effect on biodiversity, allergenicity to humans, animals, birds, other
co-denizens, ecological impact and so on.

In what is a veritable treasure trove of ignorance in science the article
raises the spectre whether the company would report of cotton pollen flow
(that) can be detected over large distances. Cotton is described as an
"often self-pollinated crop" which stems from the fact that the pollen of
cotton is laden with nearly 70 per cent moisture, rendering it sticky as a
result of which pollen grains clump together and rarely travel beyond
short distances! Cotton pollen is spinescent, which also aids and assists
pollen grains from clumping together, which also inhibits long distance
travel! Sahai has confused pollen travel to gene transfer. How very
ignoramus! She has got her socks mixed up when she makes a sweeping
statement that mere pollen is synonymous to gene transfer. Gene transfer
is a complex mechanism and is dependent on many factors including that of
plant variety, plant density, environmental conditions and nature of
pollinators. Further, a transferred gene will introgress into a genome and
establish itself in that population when and only if there is a selection
pressure applied.

The article is way off the mark when it avers that BT cotton was developed
for cold countries like the US where the predominant pest is the bollworm.
Because of the climate pest attacks are not as heavy as in the hot
regions. Fact is cotton is susceptible to at least 21 different kinds of
insects the major ones being the early-season Thrips, bollworm, Aphids,
Lygus, Stink Bugs and Cotton Flea-hopper, in that order.

The labouring on the refugia really takes the sketch to its abysmal pits.
Without setting aside 20 per cent as an insect refuge the technology can
not work gushes the author. Fact is, the technology will work with or with
out a designated refugia! Refugia has been recommended as a means of
providing alternate feed to the bugs so that they may not evolve into
becoming impervious to the Bt-pesticide over a period of time.
Fortunately, the bollworm sustains on a whole range of crops that include
chickpea, pigeonpea, sunflower, tomato, okra, etc., which are raised in
the same neighbourhood, in the same season as cotton and sometimes as a
mixed crop with it too. These crops serve as 'natural' refugia. Thus, the
scope for insect resistance management is far greater in India and the
imposition of a sequestered moat of non-bt crop comprising at least 20
percent of the cropped area in every field is tad overkill.

And the final myth that activists and concerned scientists are aghast.
Every premiere national academy of science worth its name from all parts
of civilised society, besides innumerable Nobel laureates to boot, have
endorsed the utility of biotechnology as a tool worthy of being harnessed
to alleviate our growing want. As to the activists, one sure gets a feel
for who they represent, don't we?

In answering her question which lobby is railroading India's GM policy,
the filibuster is not far to seek...the author's romanticising the poverty
of the indigent Indian farmer, her condemning him to be yoked to poverty
by denying him technological opportunities that would emancipate him from
the vicious cycles of poverty, save his crop from being devastated by
devouring pests entrenching him deeper into frustration and vilifying
articles as these based on innuendos and unfounded information is what is
robbing the hapless farmer his fair share in exchange for trusting
sleek-talking and malicious writing urbanites masquerading as teachers of
science. The least one ought to do is read up and learn from the mounds of
science-based, peer-reviewed literature that inundates you at the click of
a button. Stop it she must from making political mileage out of falsifying
data and indulging in raising a bogey of unfounded fear; learn she can to
be honest with herself, by reading up and especially from her past delving
into Mendelian findings that she professed to have taught.

By no means is biotechnology the silver bullet to provide a magical fix to
all our problems of feeding a growing population, or setting right the
environmental imbalances from excessive use of ground water for irrigation
and other needs. Nor is it the only means to check the massive pollution
of soil and ground water caused by excessive use of agricultural chemicals
or prevent the denuding of forests to accommodate growing wants of
urbanisation and greater demands of food, feed, fibre and fodder.

Conservation of biodiversity and leaving a better planet for our future
generations through deploying every available tool at our disposal ought
to be the concern of every right thinking individual. In this day and age,
biotechnology offers to provide certain technological advantages that
merit pursuing. What is more, there has not been one reported instance of
harm to human or animal health in the six years of commercialising
biotechnology. It carries an enormous potential. It would be sad to reject
it blindly without a proper assessment of its scientific merit.
Gurumurti Natarajan

>>> Why Bt cotton won't help us
>>> - Suman Sahai, Indian Express, June 16 2002,
>>> Three hybrid varieties of transgenic Bt cotton using Monsanto's Bt
>>cotton technology have been given official approval for commercial
>>release in India. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) laid
>>down certain conditions for the cultivation and monitoring of these Bt
>>varieties. The first is that Bt cotton will have to be grown with an
>>insect refuge of 20 per cent non-Bt cotton. In addition, the GEAC has
>>asked Mahyco-Monsanto, the company that has developed the varieties, to
>>''monitor annually the susceptibility of bollworms of Bt gene vis-a-vis
>>baseline susceptibility data and submit data relating to resistance
>>development, if any, to GEAC''. In addition to this, the GEAC has
>>appointed the company ''to continue to undertake studies on possible
>>impacts on non-target insects and crops, and report to GEAC annually''.
>>> Activists and concerned scientists are aghast. In what must be a first
>>in the world, monitoring and regulating a GM crop has been entrusted to
>>the very same company that is producing and selling the GM variety!
>>Countries across the world are making a lot of effort to put in as much
>>transparency and independence into their monitoring systems, as possible.
>>In many nations, it is mandatory to have public discussions on risks and
>>benefits of the proposed GM variety. Here, Mahyco-Monsanto will be
>>monitoring the performance of Mahyco-Monsanto! Is it realistic to expect
>>that the company will be reporting negative data about itself?
>>> Is it likely that Mahyco-Monsanto will inform the government that
>>pollen flow can be detected over large distances, that there is a real
>>danger of foreign genes getting transferred with the pollen? Do you see
>>them reporting that the insects have developed resistance and that their
>>variety has failed? And will the company spend money to hire expert
>>scientists needed to do this kind of work if it is going to cut into
>>their profit margin?
>>> Bt cotton was tested under temperate US conditions and shown to be
>>reasonably effective. Since it was not developed for hot tropical
>>countries, it will not work in those regions. That is the reason it will
>>not work in India where the cotton belt is a hot region and landholdings
>>are small. Its irrelevance to our small farmers is the crux of the
>>resistance to its introduction here. Another reason why many have opposed
>>Bt cotton is the fact that it belongs to Monsanto which has a record of
>>prosecuting farmers for technology infringement and harassing them with
>>> Using their technology will have implications in the field of
>>Intellectual Property Rights because their policies are in conflict with
>>Indian law. Apart from this, there has been anger at the way public
>>opinion was orchestrated before the release. The way reports were
>>planted, people interviewed selectively so that no critical voice was
>>heard, senior members of the scientific administration promised release
>>of not one but many GM crops, even before the authorised Committee had
>>met. All this told its own story.
>>> An interesting thing during the build-up to the release of Bt cotton
>>was the sponsored 'Dilli Darshan' of all the pro-GM farmer leaders,
>>including Sharad Joshi, an ardent advocate of patenting of seeds and GM
>>crops. It was made out in many strategic TV interviews that the farmers
>>were all in support of Bt cotton and nobody had the right to deny them
>>what they wanted. This group of farmers represent a very tiny fraction of
>>the farming community. On whose behalf do they speak?
>>> The tragic fact is that the real farmers, the mass of India's farming
>>community, have no idea what Bt cotton is nor what GM crops are. All
>>these so-called farmer leaders are speaking as lobbyists, not farmers.
>>The pro-GM farm lobby, specially Joshi, asserts that the farmers, not the
>>scientist, will decide whether Bt cotton technology is appropriate for
>>Indian agriculture or not. This absurd contention displays abysmal
>>ignorance about this new technology. When a farmer buys a pumping set or
>>a thresher, he expects that the Indian Bureau of Standards would certify
>>the efficiency and safety of such products after experts had tested it,
>>because he lacks the ability to test these things himself. By which
>>ridiculous argument then should Joshi's farmer be considered competent to
>>evaluate the human health and environmental safety of a complex and still
>>unproven technology?
>>> Bt cotton was developed for cold countries like the US where the
>>predominant pest is the bollworm. Because of the climate, pest attacks
>>are not heavy as in the hot regions; so the Bt toxin approach works quite
>>well and pesticide use can often be reduced. Because the landholdings are
>>large, and subsidies are so huge that the risk taking capacity of farmers
>>is substantial, the farmer is able to try new technologies without too
>>much risk.
>>> Bt cotton is unlikely to work for more than a few years in India
>>because it is fundamentally at odds with the agricultural and climatic
>>conditions here. Insects are likely to develop resistance quite fast,
>>making the variety useless in a few years. For the Bt technology to be
>>successful, Monsanto stipulates that the farmer has to set aside about 20
>>per cent of his acreage for non-Bt cotton. This is essential so that the
>>bollworm can feed partly on non-poisonous, normal cotton and remain
>>susceptible to the Bt toxin. Otherwise, the bollworm will quickly become
>>resistant to Bt toxin and the crop will fail.
>>> In the US with average landholdings of several thousand acres, wasting
>>20 per cent of the acreage, even more if needed, is not an issue.
>>Pesticide use can be reduced because there is only one main pest, the
>>bollworm and that is killed by Bt toxin. Should even then everything go
>>wrong, the subsides given to agriculture are so high that the farmer is
>>fully protected and will get the value of the lost crop as compensation.
>>But there is nobody to protect Indian farmers should Bt cotton fail.
>>> In most tropical countries like India, dependent on agriculture and
>>where 80 per cent of the farmers have small landholdings, the economies
>>of Bt cotton cannot work after setting aside 20 per cent as an insect
>>refuge. And without that, the technology cannot work! Apart from that,
>>the Bt approach alone is unlikely to succeed. There are many kinds of
>>cotton pests in India apart from the bollworm. The use of pesticides will
>>have to continue because spraying will be needed to kill these other
>>> Pesticide use will also continue because as in all tropical countries,
>>pest attack is far more intense and the number of insects per acre will
>>be far higher than in colder countries. It is unlikely the Bt strategy
>>alone will be effective in controlling the intense pest attacks common in
>>the tropics. Monsanto itself knows this and therefore recommends that
>>farmers should count the number of insects in their fields and if these
>>exceed a certain number, pesticide sprayings should be done.
>>> So why is Bt cotton being pushed into India? The GEAC, in its final
>>approval, stated clearly that Bt cotton is not recommended for small
>>farmers. But wasn't the whole rationale for Bt cotton built on the backs
>>of these small farmers? The scientific administrative establishment these
>>past few years has been saying that Bt cotton was crucially needed to
>>provide a good cotton variety to small farmers to stop the tragedy of
>>suicides. As for the use of Monsanto technology, they said that the small
>>farmers were in urgent need of help and that they could not wait for the
>>Indian technology. The GEAC surely knew that this Bt technology would not
>>help the small farmers. It should be made to explain to the public who is
>>responsible for pushing Monsanto's technology. Which lobby is railroading
>>India's GM policy?
>>> Given the record of pesticide abuse in India, is it realistic to expect
>>that the complex system of refuges will be implemented even by larger
>>farmers? People are already acknowledging that implementing and
>>monitoring the refuge will be almost impossible.
>>> Faced with the problem of insects developing resistance, the people
>>pushing Bt cotton are saying that resistance in the pest is bound to
>>come, it is natural. Of course it is! If resistance is going to come in
>>just two to three years, does the variety have any relevance for the
>>farmers? [NL][NL]In the Gujarat-Maharashtra belt, farmers are reporting
>>no significant yield differences between Bt and non-Bt cotton. Add to
>>this the additional cost of expensive Bt seed and non-productive refuges
>>amounting to 20 per cent of the landholding and you don't have to be a
>>genius to realise that Bt cotton is not economically viable under Indian
>>> There are many reasons for the cotton problems. Most important are the
>>bad quality seeds and adulterated pesticides landing the farmer in debt.
>>Lack of credit and proper education about agro-chemical use compound the
>>problem. Finally ad hoc government policy when sudden decisions to import
>>cotton severely reduce the value of the farmers' cotton crop. By
>>importing an irrelevant technology, the official establishment has not
>>made an effort to help the Indian farmer.
>>> The author, who taught Genetics at the universities of Chicago and
>>Heidelberg, is Convenor of the Gene Campaign