Today in AgBioView: July 22, 2002:
* 'Extremely low' risk of GM transfer
* Skewed priorities
* Farmers urged to face facts in GM decision
* Put facts before fervour in GM food debate
* Re: Public Distrust and Labelling
* Zimbabwe Grapples With Genetically Engineered Crops
* African biotech experts optimistic about WSSD
* Farmers turn to biotech crops
* Drought resistance research underway
* Re: Fish Genes in Strawberries?
'Extremely low' risk of GM transfer
Food Standards Agency (UK)
11 July, 2002
A series of FSA research projects have concluded that it is extremely
unlikely that genes from genetically modified (GM) food can end up in
bacteria in the gut of people who eat them.
The Agencyís independent advisers on genetically modified foods had
expressed concern about the presence of a particular gene (an antibiotic
resistance marker) in GM maize approved for consumption by the European
Community. This led the Agency to commission five related research
projects to investigate the transfer and survival of DNA - the fundamental
genetic material of all living things - in the bacteria of the human gut.
The most recently completed study - which will be published in a
scientific journal later this year - shows that in real-life conditions
with human volunteers, no GM material survived the passage through the
entire human digestive tract. Although some DNA survived in
laboratory-created environments that simulated human or animal
gastrointestinal tracts, the research concluded that the likelihood of
functioning DNA being taken up by bacteria in the human or animal gut is
Much of the work from the first four research projects has already been
published in respected scientific journals. All five reports, including
the study involving human volunteers, can be accessed via the links below:
FSG01007 - Survival of ingested DNA in the gut and the potential for
genetic transformation of resident bacteria
G010008 - Evaluating the risks associated with using GMOs in human foods
G01010 - Assessment of the risks of transferring antibiotic resistance
determinants from transgenic plants to micro-organisms
G01011 Dissemination of GM DNA and antibiotic resistance genes via rumen
Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 14:11:42 -0500
From: "Abigail Salyers"
Subject: skewed priorities
I have not contributed to AgBioWorld during the past year because as
president of the 42,000 member American Society for Microbiology, my
attention was focused on real infectious disease problems. Frankly, plant
biotechnology is one of the few bright spots in the human health safety
picture, so it seemed safe to ignore it. I was just communicating with the
staff at ASM about a huge infectious disease setback, the isolation of the
first known fully vancomycin resistant strain of Staphylococccus aureus, a
warning of infectious disease disasters to come, when an aquaintance sent
me a copy of a manuscript by Netherwood et al, which was getting a
considerable amount of media attention in Europe. This manuscript purports
to show that DNA from GM plants gets into intestinal bacteria. In the
U.S., this report would have been dismissed immediately as incomplete
science (at best) and junk science (at worst). The authors reach their
conclusion based on a weak PCR signal that picked up the epsps gene
detected in a subcultured mixed culture from the fluid from an ileostomy
patient. The "control" was fluid from the same patient starved for about a
day before being given as substantial dose of soy protein products
containing GMs soy flour. No signal was found in a bacterial fraction from
normal people with an intact colon. This should have raised an immediate
question that the authors apparently did not consider: Was the signal they
were detecting coming from a soil bacterium that either contaminated the
flour preparation or the ileostomy bag. Recall that the epsps gene is a
bacterial gene isolated originally from a soil bacterium.
Ileostomists have been an extremely valuable and generous group of people
who have participated willingly in many studies designed to determine what
dietary materials get through the small intestine. But as a human model
system, they have some limitations. One is that people whose small
intestine has been fused to an opening to a hole that allows them to expel
intestinal fluid into a plastic bag. A bacterial population that is
associated specifically with that unusual physiology develops and has not
been well characterized. It can include bacteria from the external
environment, including bacteria from soil, that would not normally be able
to survive in the intestines of people who have intact colons. The data
presented in the manuscript may simply reflect this feature of ileostomy
patients, especially in view of the fact that no such signal was found in
feces from people with intact colons.
My real problem with this study, however, arises from a deeper concern.
Who cares whether DNA from plants is entering bacteria? Also, keep in mind
that if one gene is getting in, presumably all plant genes, GM or not, are
getting in as well. So this is not exactly a new phenomenon. More to the
point, since the concern expressed about GM plants is focused on the
antibiotic resistance genes they carry and the concern that these might
get into intestinal bacteria, you might ask why the authors did not focus
on the resistance genes. The answer is simple. The genes cloned back in
the 1970s for use as marker genes in cloning vectors are so widespread
that they would have had a background that swamped any signal they could
detect. Does this suggest a simple conclusion? Even if the rare case of
marker genes from transgenic plants did get into bacteria, so what? This
would be the infectious disease nonevent of the century.
Who is paying for these studies? Are they living in the 21st century? In
the US, it would be difficult or impossible to get money for a study like
this one because we take into account that against a background of over
100,000 deaths due to hospital-acquired infections in the US alone, many
of which are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria (which, incidentally,
got resistant the old-fashioned ways - through mutation or acquiring genes
from other bacteria) who would invent non-existent safety problems to
I once explained this European hysteria about GM plants to a science
writer in the following. Imagine that you are in your home and hear
noises. Looking out the window, you see a gang of thugs in the process of
breaking through your front door. You run to the phone and call the
police. A recorded message tells you that the police are unable to respond
to your problem because they are attending a workshop on what their
response would be if space aliens landed in your town. Think about it.
Farmers urged to face facts in GM decision
BY ANNA MEROLA
Thursday, 18 July 2002
The grains industry is being urged to decide on the future of genetically
modified crops in Australia without being "misled by claims not supported
Chief executive of the Adelaide-based Cooperative Research Centre for
Australian Weed Management, Rick Roush said the current debate was
ignoring some of the key scientific findings and publicly known facts.
He said the use of GM technology in cotton had reduced pesticide use in
China by as much as 25pc. And recent Australian research had also shown
that only tiny amounts of pollen were transported between crops by wind
and insects, meaning that even under the strictest testing procedures,
requirements of anti-GM buyers would still be met.
"Much of the debate is dominated by fear of the technology, fear of the
food product, or fear of the multinationals. We want to make sure that our
science is part of this discussion," Dr Roush said.
In light of recent research, Dr Roush has also questioned the validity of
claims made by Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who was among the
Concerned Network of Farmers group, which toured South Australia last
"We are concerned that farmers are not getting all the information they
need to consider the issues properly," Dr Roush said.
"They deserve better than ideology. They need to know what the
international market is saying, what consumers worldwide are accepting,
and what options they have for profitable production."
Mr Schmeiser alleged his canola crop was accidentally made herbicide
tolerant as a result of wind or insects carrying pollen onto his land.
Dr Roush said he was unconvinced that was entirely true.
"Our research shows that far from 70-90pc of a crop being affected by
pollen carried by wind or insects, as was claimed, we would expect no more
than 0.07pc," he said.
"This means that farmers on nearby properties need not fear their
traditional crops will be influenced by pollen to any measurable extent.
Even under the strictest testing procedures, even the requirements of
anti-GM buyers will be met."
Dr Roush said the new generation of herbicide-tolerant crops represented
an attractive option for canola growers. With the exception of Europe - a
net exporter of canola - there was a strong world market for the product.
Canada's canola exports had grown 25pc despite being more than 50pc GM, he
"The world has embraced this technology and is making and consuming canola
oil from all sources of seed. There is no evidence whatsoever that food
products are inferior," Dr Roush said.
"In particular, many growers around the world have found that
herbicide-tolerant canola is a much more economic proposition for them
than traditional canola. Competition from weeds could reduce yield by
"If the weeds can be dealt with without harming the canola crop, the whole
farming operation is much more profitable," Dr Roush said.
Put facts before fervour in GM food debate
By ROGER MORRIS
July 22, 2002
It would be easy to conclude from the political debate that genetic
engineering is the greatest risk we face in providing safe food to New
Zealand consumers and to our export markets.
As a scientist involved in providing safe food, but with no involvement in
GM matters, I feel a duty to make some facts available to counter the
fervour which seems to be dominating discussion of this issue.
We have been using genetically modified products for many years. The best
example is the insulin which diabetics use. This used to come from pigs,
but for many years now has come from genetically engineered bacteria.
If we are serious about avoiding GM products, why don't we go back to
getting our insulin from pigs? Because the GM product has proved to be
safe and effective, and is a little easier to produce.
The Greens claim this is somehow different because it has medical
benefits, but it is hard to see the difference. We have also used GM
vaccines for some diseases, because these have considerable advantages.
The evidence from around the world says GM ranks low down on the scale of
risks we face from our food, and we should keep a sense of balance about
where the risks lie.
The greatest risk we face of getting sick from our food, in New Zealand
and overseas, is from infections of various kinds.
If we want to protect consumers, that is where the greatest gains can be
made. But it is difficult to convince the anti-GM lobby to focus on issues
in order of importance.
Ironically, the food production systems they support - for example,
outdoor extensive piggeries - present a higher risk of spreading some of
these diseases than do high health commercial pig farms, so this creates a
bit of a problem.
As a local example, over the past year there have been two notable
incidents of unusual animal infections associated with extensive pig farms
near Auckland causing human disease cases.
Should we therefore ban extensive systems of outdoor pig production, which
the people who warn us of the risks of GM strongly advocate?
There is no plausible experimental evidence that GM foods are harmful, and
it is part of the structure of life that organisms constantly exchange
genes in a variety of ways. We are just catching up with nature.
The argument that GM foods are likely to produce food allergies also holds
Food allergies are already widespread and typically associated with
various commonly used foods.
GM techniques can potentially be used to remove the allergenic features of
such proteins, and are not especially likely to create more.
New Zealand has built a high international reputation for its honesty and
integrity as a food supplier, and for basing its actions on sound science.
If we build our future on fervour instead of fact, we will seriously
undermine our international standing, rather than enhance it.
This is not to say we should rush headlong into new technologies without
The lessons of history are that the real risks often come from unexpected
directions, and that we should go through a careful, steady process of
developing and evaluating new technologies.
If we move cautiously but positively while giving adequate attention to
evaluating the risks as we go, we will make the gains and minimise the
This is the approach which has made New Zealand a premier supplier of
high-quality food products to the world, and we need to focus on a careful
way forward which protects our market advantages, not stay in a time warp.
* Professor Roger Morris is an expert in control of animal diseases at
Massey University, and an adviser to the World Health Organisation on
animal diseases which can be transmitted to people.
Subject: RE: Re: Public Distrust and Labelling
Date: Fri, 19 Jul 2002 16:54:10 -0400
From: "Greg Conko"
Bob MacGregor asked about survey research regarding the public's desire to
label mutation-derived foods. I don't know about mutation-breeding, but in
a survey commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest
(http://www.cspinet.org/new/poll_gefoods.html) completed in the Spring of
2001, 40 percent of respondents said they favored mandatory labeling of
products containing hybrid corn. Only 44 percent of respondents said that
they would buy products containing hybrid corn. And more respondents
wanted food labels to mention pesticide residues than wanted labels to
mention genetic engineering (provided that they could add only one item).
So, I guess that, any day now, the Campaign to Label GE Foods will close
up shop and start demanding that pesticide residues and hybrid corn be
labeled? Or are they not really interested in what the "public demands"
From: "Bob MacGregor" Re: Public Distrust and
Anti-GE folks often quote polls of the public that give a high percentage
desiring labelling of GM foods or which indicate a desire/intention not to
consume these products. Do any list members know if similar questions have
been asked about mutation-derived foods?
Zimbabwe Grapples With Genetically Engineered Crops
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
July 19, 2002
Leading private research scientists have said biotechnology-derived maize,
cotton and soya beans yield environmental benefits and pose no more
environmental concerns than conventionally developed crops, reports Africa
However, local researchers said Zimbabwe should not be quick to be embrace
the new technology as this would affect the country's beef markets in
Europe and elsewhere.
There were fears that the capacity of genetic engineering to move genes
across general groups of closely related species and between animals and
plants could give rise to unanticipated interactions with the genome with
unknown effects. A local biochemist at the University of Zimbabwe Idah
Sithole-Niang said no one denied that all the gene shuffling could have
risks as well as benefits.
Sithole-Niang said the risks fell into two basic categories: environmental
consequences and social and consumer issues like the effects on human and
The local scientists however, said while Zimbabwe should be cautious in
embracing the new technology, there were no guarantees that genetically
modified (GM) foods were finding their way into country or not.
"With the current food shortages in the country once the maize arrived in
the country it goes straight to the millers,î said the local scientists.
ìWe do not know if we have mechanisms to check on whether maize is not
genetically modified or we rely on suppliers information. If that is the
case then the whole country is at risk of consuming the GMO food."
Bruce Chassy of the University of Illinois, says that there was nothing
that showed that genetically engineered maize was harmful if consumed.
ìResearchers have concluded that soil, air and water quality all benefit
from the responsible use of biotechnology,î he said. ìBiotechnology is the
only sure way of averting starvation in developing countries.î
Asked if developed nations would protect indigenous firms and people from
developing countries from manipulation and exploitation in the name of
embracing the right technology, he said they should compete in an open
He added that although many African countries have refused to accept GM
foods for fear of losing lucrative beef markets in the European Union,
Europe was slowly embracing the technology and Africa was facing the risk
of lagging behind.
African biotech experts optimistic about WSSD
Asia Intelligence Wire
July 22, 2002
Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - Prof. James Ochanda, chairman of the African
Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), has cited the transfer of
biotechnology among key topics lined up for the coming World Summit on
Sustainable Development WSSD), noting that at issue was how best the world
can protect its environment while affording its people self-sufficiency.
How can we talk about sustainable development when we do not have enough
food, or when our farmers are not enjoying subsidies like it happens in
the US? Ochanda queried, explaining that in this regard we are looking at
the role of biotechnology in wealth creation.
Briefing PANA after a meeting this week to review ABSF's position ahead of
the WSSD slated for August-September, he said the Johannesburg meeting
would have to reach beyond the traditional problems of the world to
address the unique problems of Africa such as unfair trade and WTO rules.
In Africa, we have drought, pests, diseases, environmental problems,
poverty, famine and all sorts of problems. What we need to ask is how
biotechnology can be used to solve some of these problems, since it can be
used to enhance development and also to conserve our environment, he said.
Also commenting on the issue, Dr Sam Wakhusama of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotechnology Applications (ISAAA)
noted that only four African countries - Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and
Zimbabwe - have so far come up with biosafety policies.
Regarding gains made by Africa on biotechnology since the Rio de Jeneiro
summit in 1992, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) director Dr
Romano Kiome said there was little to write home about.
He indicated that only three countries (Egypt, South Africa and Kenya) had
registered products developed from genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
adding that a fourth country, Cote d'Ivore, has only just begun the
process of developing a product.
For the next decade, we would have to run if we have to catch up with the
rest of the world, Dr Kiome said, adding there was need for the local
people to be educated on the benefits and advantages of biotechnology.
Farmers turn to biotech crops
By Erik Martensson
July 18, 2002
Mary Lou Garr of Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the
Environment (AGCare), was cited as saying that with farmers under pressure
to squeeze every penny out of their operations, more and more are turning
to biotechnology- enhanced crops, adding, "We're seeing a higher level of
confidence within the farming community with biotech products. Farmers are
pretty smart people and put a lot of thought into what goes into the
And it's pretty obvious that they're deciding that they favour the
environmental and economic benefits to these genetically engineered
crops." Garr points to statistics gathered by AGCare from commodity groups
and seed sales. They show that roughly half of soybean and corn, and
almost all canola plantings in 2002 are from seed stock that has been
Peter Pauls, a professor of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph
was cited as saying it's not surprising that more farmers are turning to
biotech seeds that lessen reliance on insecticides, and can lower the
number of costly herbicide sprayings, adding, "If we look at how farmers
survive, it's not through price increases for their commodities -- they
really haven't increased over the years. But they've been able to survive
by being more efficient, more productive."
Jeff Wilson of Birkbank Farms north of Hillsburgh uses both conventional
and biotech seeds. He believes the number of farmers using biotech crops
will continue to rise, stating, "As margins in farming get tougher, as
farms get larger and as the number of farmers are falling dramatically,
anything that eases the workload on farmers' shoulders and backs is viewed
as a positive."
As an example Wilson points out that his biotech crops have allowed him to
devote time to his farm's water needs during the current dry spell,
without having to turn his attention to pest and weed management. While he
understands why farmers are attracted to the potential economic savings of
biotech crops, Francis Tapon, a professor of economics at the University
of Guelph, was cited as saying he has misgivings about them, stating, "The
advantage of using seeds that have evolved over tens of thousands of years
is that there's a lot of diversity. So if one crop fails, or one type of
seed fails, we've got others to fall back upon. But if we engineer a few
seeds of this and a few seeds of that, and they fail, then we're in the
soup. Plus there is an impact on the environment, which we often cannot
foresee. The seeds drift to other fields, they hybridize plants and even
plants of the same species and produce we don't know what."
Jo Dufay of Greenpeace was cited as saying she is worried Ontario farmers
who use biotech crops will lose access to world markets that don't want
them, adding, "As we see market acceptance continue to decrease, farmers
may find that the promise of genetically modified organisms may be a dead
end. They may find that they've been sucker- punched. I think the ma rket
will drive this. But I think by the time farmers are made aware it may be
too late and there may already be too much environmental contamination."
Garr was quoted as responding that, "I think there was a worry at one
point about whether a farmer could sell GM corn if they grew it. They are
finding that yes, some markets are cautious about taking it, but there are
also markets that take it readily."
As for consumer confidence in Ontario, Garr believes it is strong stating,
ìWhat we're seeing is that the whole argument against genetic engineering
just isn't as strong as it used to be. And that indicates to me that
consumers have had some time to think this through, and to think about
what we've been telling them; which is that we've been altering crops for
decades and that we produce a good, safe, quality food."
Drought resistance research underway
Science Magazine (via Crop Biotech Update)
Research is underway for drought resistance, one of the awaited traits for
Scientists from the United States and Europe have been trying to identify
genes that help plants cope with arid conditions.
Drought resistance trait would also allow plants to withstand cold
temperature and high salt concentration in the soil because all three
conditions result in the plant's dehydration.
Researchers found that plants have developed several mechanisms to guard
against drought. One way is through compounds called 'osmoprotectants'.
These compounds shield proteins and membranes from the damaging effects of
dehydration by forming a protective shell on their surfaces or by removing
destructive hydroxyl radicals that would otherwise chop up proteins.
However, not all crop plants produce osmoprotectants.
Hans Bohnert, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is
currently working on osmoprotectants.
He took a gene that produces the osmoprotectant D-ononitol from ice plants
and introduced it into tobacco plants. Though the modified plants were
able to withstand stress more, the improvement was not enough for field
Another researcher is Eduardo Blumwald of the University of California,
Davis. He and his team showed that the Arabidopsis plant, as well as
greenhouse-grown tomatoes, can be protected from high salt concentrations.
Scientists hope to transfer the modest successes they make to cereal
The article was published in Science Magazine and can be downloaded at
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 10:08:49 +0100 (BST)
From: "muhunthan rajaratnam"
Subject: Re: Fish Genes in Strawberries?
In response to Dr. Douglas Powell, Dept. of Plant Agriculture, University
of Guelph, Ont.Canada.
To my knowledge there are no such GE strawberries with
fish-gene,"Fishberries" have been released commercially in US/Canada. I
think transgenic tomatoes and strawberries are under development which
contain the ëíanti-freezeíí gene from an arctic fish to improve tolerance
to frost. These transgenic strawberries could withstand ñ10C, owing to
the insertion of the "antifreeze" gene from the winter flounder.
RajaratnamtMuhunthante of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Sri