Today in AgBioView: August 21, 2002:
* Potential Monsters Under the Bed
* World Population Headed For Eight Billion
* Food For Thought
* Wallowing in Genetic Chaos
* US Ready to Defend Modified Foods
* Meacher 'Sceptical' on Benefit of GM Crops
* Why Earth Summit Must Fail to Succeed
* 100 Years of Bacillus thuringiensis: A Critical Scientific Assessment
* Panel: Monitor Biotech Animal Food
* NAS: No Evidence Cloned Animals Are Unsafe to Eat, But Data Still
* International Food Markets and The Slow Global Uptake of GM Seeds
* Organic Farming Caused Dust Bowl
Potential Monsters Under the Bed
- "Andrew Apel" , AgBioView, Aug 21, 2002;
Few things are more conducive to stultifying over-regulation of
biotechnology than the abuse, wittingly or otherwise, of the word
ěpotential.î In The Scientist (Vol. 16, no. 16 . p14, Aug. 19, 2002) Lynn
R. Goldman joins the National Research Council in recommending ěimproved
methodology for identifying potential allergens in pest- protected
What, exactly, is a ěpotential allergen?î Of this much we can be sure:
itís not an allergen. An allergen will cause an allergic reaction with
noticeable symptoms. What are the symptoms of a potential allergic
reaction? There arenít any, of course. Theyíre imaginary, at best.
Tests are available which detect the presence of allergens in food.
Apparently, thatís not good enough for some and now we have to detect
ěpotentialî allergens as well. Since a potential allergen is not an actual
allergen, it is impossible to know what such a test might detect. And if a
test could detect a ěpotential allergen,î what would be its practical
relevance? It would be irrelevant, of course--except to those easily
Nothing brought this home more forcefully than the StarLink fiasco, in
which concerns over a ěpotential allergenî convulsed the entire food
chain. How many allergic reactions were caused by the ěpotential allergenî
in StarLink maize? Just as many as you would expect from a ěpotential
allergen:î none. Precisely zero.
Or conversely, we might say that during the StarLink fiasco, symptoms of
potential allergic reactions were popping up everywhere.
The same problem arises with the use and abuse of the phrase ěpotential
risk.î What, exactly, is a ěpotential risk?î Of this much we can be sure:
itís not a risk. Itís a risk of a risk, a risk that might exist. What are
the dangers of a risk that might exist? Precisely none, of course, because
it only might exist. How can people protect themselves from potential
risks? They canít, of course.
Fears of things like ěpotential risksî and ěpotential allergensî are what
motivate the adherents of the precautionary principle. Concerns over risks
and allergens are justified. Concerns over potential risks and allergens
are merely the adult version of worrying about the monsters under the bed.
Those monsters are always potentially there, of course, but most people
eventually learn not to lose sleep over them.
World Population Headed For Eight Billion: FAO
- Agence France Presse, August 20, 2002
The world's population will reach 8.3 billion by 2030, but people overall
will be better fed despite continuing problems in many countries and
especially in Africa, according to a new study by the UN's Food and
Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
"World population will grow from around six billion people today to 8.3
billion people in 2030," said the study, entitled "World Agriculture:
"The world population will be increasingly well-fed by 2030, with 3,050
kilocalories (kcal) available per person, compared to 2,360 kcal per
person per day in the mid-1960s and 2,800 kcal today," the report said
Tuesday. "This change reflects above all the rising consumption in many
developing countries whose average will be close to 3,000 kcal in 2030,"
The overall picture for developing countries is moderately encouraging,
with the number of hungry people expected to decline from 777 million
today to about 440 million in 2030. This meant, however, that the target
of the World Food Summit in 1996, to reduce the number of hungry by half
from its level in 1990-92 (815 million), by 2015, will not even be met by
The study stresses that "Sub-Saharan Africa is a cause for serious
concern, because the number of chronically undernourished people will only
decrease from 194 to 183 million." "Patterns of food consumption are
becoming more similar throughout the world, shifting towards higher
quality and more expensive foods such as meat and dairy products," the
It adds however that cereals will by far remain the world's most important
source of food, and that an extra billion tonnes of cereals will be needed
by 2030. The study draws special attention to the issues of water supply
and irrigation. "At global level there is enough water available, but...
one in five developing countries will be suffering water scarcity" by
2030, the study says.
The FAO singles out Libya, Saudi Arabia and large parts of China and India
as high risk areas. It called on developing countries to extend their
irrigation systems from 202 million hectares (500 million acres) to 242
million hectares (600 million acres) by 2030.
The study also gave a cautious welcome to biotechnology as a tool for
increasing world food production. "If the environmental threats from
biotechnology are addressed, and if the technology is affordable by and
geared towards the needs of the poor and undernourished, genetically
modified crop varieties could help to sustain farming in marginal areas
and to restore degraded land to production."
The study predicted that future food production will shift further towards
intensive industrial farming and warns this could threaten the livelihoods
of the 675 million rural poor who depend on small-scale livestock farming.
"If we do not take measures to correct the situation, the poor will be
unable to compete on the food market."
The study warned that "with many marine marine stocks now fully exploited
or overexploited, future fish stocks are likely to be constrained".
It sought however to minimise the impact of global warming. "The overall
effect of climate change on global food production by 2030 is likely to be
small," the report said. The FAO study, the fifth of its kind, presents
the organisation's latest analysis of long-term world trends in nutrition
and agriculture and includes projections for 140 countries and 32 areas of
food production and livestock rearing.
Food For Thought
- Asia Intelligence Wire, August 20, 2002
A curious situation has been unfolding in the Dark Continent over this
past month: Even as millions in drought-ravaged southern Africa face
possible starvation, their governments are reluctant to accept
international donations of food grain. No prizes for guessing that
"transgenic" is the operative qualifier here.
While Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland have felt morally obliged to feed
their masses perfectly edible grain, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, and
Zimbabwe have either said no, thanks, wed rather starve than eat this
stuff, or have laid down strict conditionalities before the grain is
The genetically modified maize in question is distasteful to these nations
for a variety of reasons. The Zambian government has cited health safety
concerns and the US (which is the major supplier) ulterior motives while
refusing food aid. Mr Mugabe of Zimbabwe previously indicated he wouldn't
let his countrymen eat the grain but has subsequently modified his stance,
insisting the maize is milled first he fears contamination of future
The Mozambique Prime Minister believes that GM crops are a hi-tech input
better kept away from his country: "We don't want to create a habit that
we cant maintain...".
Two of these concerns must be dismissed straightaway. Of the millions who
have consumed GM crops and foods across the world since 1995, not a single
person has been adversely affected. And, even if true, the US plan of
mobilising support for GM organisms to bolster its position in the
ongoing trade war against the European Union is not inimical to the
Souths interests. India, South Africa and China can confirm from
experience that GM crops boost yields, cut costs and thereby improve
That said, other concerns are valid. There is no guarantee that the
imported grain will not be sowed (as against merely consumed) in order to
obtain a transgenic harvest in the future. In the absence of biosafety
regulatory frameworks, the spectre of contamination of non-GM varieties is
real. As is the possibility of EU refusing to buy agricultural commodities
from the region in the future. And yes, there is no such thing as a free
lunch: The US has reportedly tied a $50 million loan to Zambias acceptance
of GM maize. Yet, these are precisely the reasons why these countries
should begin accepting GM grain. Sooner than later, it'll find its way
into these countries from South Africa, Malawi or Lesotho.
It therefore makes sense for Africa to make a virtue of a necessity, pool
together regional expertise and collaborate with international public
sector organisations, to develop capacity to assess, apply, and regulate
this technology. Only when it acquires the ability to improve agricultural
productivity can it hope to reduce dependence on a politically
Heres some food for thought for the developed world, too. A
non-discriminatory trading regime is not merely about economic interests.
In Africa, its about life.
Wallowing in Genetic Chaos
- Grant Burton, Newsquest Media Group Newspapers, August 20, 2002
The discovery that unapproved genetically modified seeds had been planted
in a trial site in the UK should not really cause much surprise. The whole
history of the efforts of the breeders to get genetic modification
established in this country and in the countries of other EU members, has
been littered with incompetence and muddle.
Genetically modified seeds have been accepted and grown widely in the
United States, Canada and many South American countries for a good number
of years now. The products produced from these crops are widely eaten
and accepted in those very large markets and abroad. The US, as we all
know, believes that nothing it does can possibly be wrong.
It has a real difficulty in working out why everyone does not embrace the
American way with the same enthusiasm as they do themselves. It is hardly
surprising that the large companies, most of them based in the US, were
just not ready for the levels of opposition which they met when they tried
to introduce the technology over here in Europe.
They were, however, entitled to expect that the trials, upon which the UK
government rightly insisted, would be carried out in a rigorous and
competent manner. They were entitled to expect that they would not be
interfered with by terrorists who were determined that the only outcome
would be one of which they approved.
Do these people never admit of the possibility that they might be wrong?
My understanding, from farming sources, is that growing genetically
modified crops does not cost all that much less than growing unmodified
crops. The charm is that a smaller range of chemical weed control is
needed. I suspect that the truth is that the claimed benefits will not all
be delivered. In such cases the benefits are not normally all delivered.
So even if the option to grow genetically modified crops were to be
allowed, the take up might not be very large. Here at home we are
producing pigs with food guaranteed to have no genetically modified
ingredients. The demand for such pigmeat does not seem to be particularly
strong. Could it be that the actual buying public, with their purses doing
the weekly shop, don't really care?
The hysteria which greets every announcement about genetically modified
seeds does not help the atmosphere in which scientific decisions are made.
Ours and other governments rely on scientists to give considered answers
to the questions they are asked. If they are being simultaneously pursued
by members of the press with their own agendas and beliefs, it is
difficult to get to the truth.
The saddest part of the whole sorry genetic modification debate, though it
is far from being a debate in any recognisable form, is the way that those
opposing the use of such crops have stolen the agenda.
In Southern and Central Africa, where very substantial numbers of people
face starvation, appeals have been made for food aid. We all know that
food aid is not ideal, because it only solves the problem in the short
term. The USA immediately offered and sent aid in the form of grain.
Because there is every chance that these grains are genetically modified
the governments of those countries are not going to allow them to be used.
I hope that the starving understand.
I know there are other reasons for famine in Zimbabwe, where those
suspected of not supporting Mugabe somehow do not receive food aid.
I hope the well-fed liberal establishment in this and other European
countries can live with their consciences.
I know I couldn't live with mine.
US Ready to Defend Modified Foods
- Jonathan Katzenellenbogen and Tamar Kahn, Business Day/All Africa Global
Media, August 20, 2002
Johannesburg, Aug 20, 2002 -- In anticipation of likely controversy over
food safety and biotechnology at the upcoming world summit, the US has
taken action to stress the safety of genetically modified food.
A lobby group representing US industry, the Biotechnology Industry
Organisation, has brought out senior official Val Giddings for the
duration of the summit. Giddings says he is here to address any issues
raised by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and pressure groups during
the summit about biotechnology.
Concerns about the safety of genetically modified food recently came to
the fore in southern Africa with Zambia's rejection of genetically
modified maize donated by the US to alleviate its serious food shortage.
Zambia is the only country so far to refuse food aid from the US because
it contains genetically modified organisms.
The US has repeatedly said that it would not send food to any country that
its own consumers would not eat. While the issue of biotechnology might
not be a hot one at the summit, activists from NGOs intend to raise it,
among a number of other matters, at the Global People's Forum the
gathering of organisations from civil society that began yesterday.
Biotechnology itself is not new it includes practices as ancient as crop
selection and animal breeding. Genetic engineering is a more recent
development within the field of biotechnology, that can involve the
transfer of genetic material between species.
SA currently produces modified pestresistant cotton, and yellow maize on a
commercial scale. The yellow maize is largely used for animal feed, but is
also found in breakfast cereals such as cornflakes. This winter local
farmers harvested the country's first crop of modified white maize, which
is intended for human consumption. Field trials are currently underway for
a range of other modified crops.
Meacher 'Sceptical' on Benefit of GM Crops
- The Birmingham Post, August 20, 2002
Environment Minister Michael Meacher has said he was 'sceptical' about the
benefits of genetically modified crops and that any decision to open up
commercial planting would be based on hard evidence.
Mr Meacher, said: 'We are not going to be bounced into this by the
Americans.' He acknowledged that opponents of GM technology believed the
changes were being 'steamrollered through'.
However, he said the public would be able to see all the evidence on the
impact of GM crops before widespread planting went ahead. The Government's
field-based trials are now in their final year but Mr Meacher said that he
was 'on the sceptical wing' of the argument over GM.
He added: 'Those people who do feel very strongly about it, to the extent
of going around ripping up crops, they may continue to do so. 'But what I
think many of them object to is the feeling that the Government is
steamrollering it through.
'There has been intense hostility, expressed in many quarters. 'However,
it is fair to say there has never really been a controlled and balanced
His comments followed the disclosure last week that trial crops have been
contaminated with unauthorised GM seeds since the trials began.
Campaigners against GM have warned that allowing crop trials to take place
has 'let the genie out of the bottle'.
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said Mr Meacher's
comments 'are revealing in the sense that the GM sceptics wing in the
Government I think is growing as a result of the new disasters - from the
PR point of view - that happened last week. 'We warned several years ago
of all the potential dangers of introducing GM crops, the risk of crossing
into wild species, of contamination of GM free and organic food and of
Why Earth Summit Must Fail to Succeed
- W. Bradnee Chambers, The Daily Yomiuri , August 21, 2002
The issues are not right, there is no political will, and the world is not
ready for yet another summit on sustainable development right now. So let
it fail, and let it fail miserably.
Why? So that it can eventually succeed.
What is needed more than anything as an outcome for the summit is for
sustainable development to make its way out of the political wilderness
and back onto the mainstream political agenda. Today it is not a
priority--leaders are too worried about terrorism, globalization and the
threat of recession.
In fact, many diplomats can hardly believe that it has already been 10
years since the last Earth Summit in Rio. They do not know where to begin
negotiating or what their next step should be. This time around there are
no common rallying points such as a new treaty on climate change or
biodiversity, or an Agenda 21 as they had in Rio. This loss of direction
was reflected in the preparatory negotiations in New York and Bali.
Governments were not committing to the right issues. They were recycling
texts from other processes or attempting to bring into the negotiations
issues like trade and competition that are beyond the summit's reach and
ultimately will be decided by the more powerful Doha Round negotiations of
the World Trade Organization.
There are important issues that must be dealt with, such as poverty,
financing, education and governance, but the preparatory negotiations and
the draft negotiating text so far have not put in place the deep political
action that is required. And with only days until the World Summit on
Sustainable Development is set to open in Johannesburg, there is no word
of any major government initiatives.
Poverty discussions have become clouded by the rhetoric that it can be
eradicated rather than alleviated. Putting in place the financial
assurances that would work for more immediate targets would be more
sensible. The last thing developing countries need is another conceptual
approach to their problems. They need on-the-ground assistance for
practical issues like cleaner drinking water, sanitation, indoor air
pollution and infectious diseases. This can only be achieved through
better technologies, education and improved financing. Yet developed
countries are not ready to commit more money to sustainable development so
soon after their billion-dollar commitments to the Kyoto Protocol's funds
and at the Monterrey Financing for Development Conference in Mexico in
A new standard on education for sustainability that can create a skilled
labor force of professionals, technicians and scientists to harness
science and technology for sustainable development has not gained the
recognition in the negotiations that it deserves and is not likely to
emerge as a significant issue. Many of the world's scientific academies,
university associations and the United Nations University are calling on
the summit to create a greater role for education in the implementation of
Governance is perhaps the biggest disappointment so far. It was an issue
that should have been practical and relatively easy to solve compared with
poverty and finance. There are two simple levels to it. Within the
environment sector there has been a massive proliferation of organizations
working on environmental issues; these treaty secretariats and U.N. and
specialized agencies could be more effective if they worked together. At
the level of sustainable development, which is the ordering principle that
tries to bring the environment, social and economic sectors together under
one roof, there is no coordination. Issues such as health, food security
and trade are still organized and tackled in relative isolation from
environmental issues. Institutions such as the Commission for Sustainable
Development or the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
simply do not have the power and legitimacy to coordinate powerful
organizations such as the WTO. So in the end you wind up with
So let it fail to succeed. Taking the wrong course of action now and
creating a false sense of security that we are doing enough for the
environment and development is far too dangerous. Besides, in the last few
years we have seen better results after major failures. The Biosafety
Protocol on genetically modified organisms failed in Cartagena, Colombia,
but succeeded a year later in Montreal. The Sixth Conference of the
Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change failed in The
Hague, but succeeded a year later in Bonn, and the Seattle WTO ministerial
disaster was a wake-up call that led to the successful launch of a new
round of trade negotiations in Doha last year.
A major failure might be just the recipe that is needed for governments to
take international cooperation on sustainable development more seriously.
At the very least, it might bring the kind of attention that is needed to
understand the priorities and the course of action that are required in
the next 50 years in order to avert the kind catastrophes that mainstream
scientists are warning us to avoid.
Chambers is head of Multilateralism and Sustainable Development and senior
program coordinator at the U.N. University Institute of Advanced Studies.
100 Years of Bacillus thuringiensis: A Critical Scientific Assessment
Prominent Researchers Weigh-in on the Science and Safety of Genetically
WASHINGTON D.C--August 19, 2002--Events like the September 2000 discovery
of biologically engineered corn in fast food tortillas have focused media
attention and stirred controversy about genetically modified organisms.
While new approaches in agricultural biotechnology have improved crop
quality and yield, the incorporation of genes from other organisms into
food plants has raised concerns about possible health risks and
A new report from the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) looks at the
case of a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and its use in
agriculture in a careful examination of what we know--and what we need to
know--about transgenic plants. The document, ě100 Years of Bacillus
thuringiensis: A Critical Scientific Assessment,î follows the experience
with Bt since it was discovered over 100 years ago as a cause of disease
in Japanese silkworms. Bt insecticides, made of bacterial spores and
protein crystals, have been applied to crops in spray products since the
1940s. In 1987, researchers discovered that the insecticidal crystal
protein (ICP) genes from Bt could be introduced into plants to produce
It is now estimated that 12 million hectares, or about 29,652,000 acres,
of insect-protected crops with Bt ICPs are planted worldwide each year.
Corn and cotton are most common, but the release of Bt rice, soybeans,
canola and some fruits and vegetables is expected soon. Bt crops, the
report says, have many positive effects. Reducing insect damage with
insecticidal proteins reduces fungal toxins in the food supply, while
better crops improve farmersí livelihood. Replacing chemical pesticides
has reduced toxic hazards to the environment and to farm-workers. Yet
concerns related to Bt crops include the potential for harm to organisms
other than the insects targeted by Bt, the development of Bt-resistant
insects, the possibility of toxicity or allergenic properties in Bt crops
or their pollen, and the consequences of gene flow to related wild plants
or other organisms.
The report details the issues, assesses current scientific knowledge, and
compares Bt technology to alternatives. It presents the conclusions of
twenty-five (25) scientists with expertise in plant biology, microbiology,
entomology and ecology brought together in November of 2001 for 21/2 days
of in-depth discussion of Bt technology and its intended and unintended
outcomes. Specific recommendations are made for future research,
evaluation and environmental monitoring, scientific coordination and
exchange, and public education.
The American Academy of Microbiology is an honorific leadership group
within the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) whose mission is to
recognize excellence and foster knowledge in the microbiological sciences.
Its programs include convening critical issues colloquia and developing
consensus-building position papers that provide expert scientific opinion
on current and emerging issues in microbiology. For more information and
to get a copy of ě100 Years of Bacillus thuringiensis: A Critical
Scientific Assessment,î contact Andrea Lohse at the American Academy of
Microbiology (202)942-9292 or firstname.lastname@example.org. MEDIA CONTACT Andrea
Lohse 202.942.9292 email@example.com
Panel: Monitor Biotech Animal Food
- AP, August 21, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP)ÝÝA report by a panel of scientists is feeding consumer
groups' claims that federal regulators should work to ensure food safety
by tightening oversight of animal cloning and genetic modification.
The National Research Council released a report Tuesday that evaluated
risks of animal biotechnology, including food safety. The Food and Drug
Administration commissioned the report in response to questions about
whether dairy and other food products from cloned animals might be unsafe
to eat or drink.
While foods made from cloned animals probably are safe, the committee
said, products from transgenic animalsÝthose altered with genes from other
species or from drugs might not be. The panel believes the federal
government needs to balance addressing people's concerns with allowing the
technology to advance, said council chairman John Vandenbergh, zoology
professor at North Carolina State University. "By identifying these
concerns, we hope we can help this technology be applied as safely as
possible without denying the public its potential benefits," he said in a
The panel wasn't asked to recommend policy changes, but it said the three
agencies monitoring biotechnologyÝthe FDA, the Department of Agriculture
and the Environmental Protection Agency need to toughen guidelines and
clearly define their responsibilities.
The report also questioned "the legal and technical capacity of the
agencies to address potential hazards, particularly in the environmental
area." Genetically engineered animals could become an environmental
problem should they escape, squeezing out their relatives in the wild by
taking control of the food supply and wiping out weaker animals, the group
Rebecca Goldburg, a spokeswoman for Environmental Defense, said the report
underscores the need for stronger federal oversight, especially in the
case of altered fish. The population of the genetically modified version
of Atlantic salmon is quickly growing, she said, and it has escaped the
fish farms, taking control of territory where wild salmon spawn. "The few
remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the U.S. are on the endangered species
list," Goldburg said. "Genetically engineered Atlantic salmon ... could
further imperil wild salmon."
The Center for Food Safety said the report demonstrated that the
government shouldn't allow modified animals to be used in food production.
"You don't rectify the regulatory inadequacies by letting it come on the
market," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center. "That is
potentially going to lead to terrible results for human health and the
The industry, however, believes the benefits of transgenics and cloning
outweigh the risks. Scientists have working mostly with cows, introducing
genes to produce drugs or plasma in large quantities in milk.
People should realize that scientists aren't trying to play with nature,
said Lisa Dry, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry
Organization. Rather, they are trying to develop drug therapies through
transgenics and cloning. Citing Hematech Inc.'s research as an example,
Dry noted that the Sioux Falls, S.D., company and its partner, Kirin
Brewing Co., are harvesting disease-fighting human antibodies in cow's
milk. The proteins will be used to treat illnesses ranging from tetanus to
"These are important treatments that you just can't get any other way,"
Dry said. The FDA is considering whether cloned animals will require
government approval before they can be sold for food. Farmers and
companies owning cloned animals aren't allowed to sell the animals until
the debate is resolved.
Potential Environmental Problems With Animal Biotech Raise Some Concerns;
No Evidence Cloned Animals Are Unsafe to Eat, But Data Still Lacking
- Bill Kearney, Media Relations Officer; NAS, Aug. 20, 2002 ;
WASHINGTON -- The possibility of certain genetically engineered fish and
other animals escaping and potentially introducing engineered genes into
wild populations tops the list of concerns associated with advances in
animal biotechnology, says a new report from the National Academies'
National Research Council. On the other hand, no evidence yet exists that
products from cloned livestock are unsafe for human consumption, although
the committee that wrote the report found it difficult to identify
concerns without additional information about food composition, which
could be collected using available analytical tests.
The report was requested by the Food and Drug Administration as it
prepares to rule on the safety of certain animal-biotechnology products,
particularly cloned cattle. The committee was asked only to identify
science-based concerns; it was not asked to identify potential benefits
from animal biotechnology or to make policy recommendations. "As is the
case with any new technology, it is almost impossible to state that there
is no concern, and in certain areas of animal biotechnology we did
identify some legitimate ones," said committee chair John G. Vandenbergh,
professor of zoology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. "By
identifying these concerns, we hope we can help this technology be applied
as safely as possible without denying the public its potential benefits."
The committee said the greatest concern is the ability of certain
genetically engineered organisms to escape and reproduce in the natural
environment. Genetically engineered insects, shellfish, fish, and other
animals that can easily escape, that are highly mobile, and that become
feral easily are of particular concern, especially if they are more
successful at reproduction than their natural counterparts. For example,
it is possible that if transgenic salmon with genes engineered to
accelerate growth were released into the natural environment, they could
compete more successfully for food and mates than wild salmon.
By creating transgenic animals with genes from another species, or by
removing or "turning off" genes, animals can be produced to grow bigger
and more rapidly, or possess traits beneficial to humans, such as meat
with more protein and less fat, eggs with less cholesterol, milk
containing pharmaceutical products, or even tissues and organs suitable
for human transplantation. And through somatic cell nuclear transfer --
the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep -- scientists can create an
almost identical copy of an adult animal with desirable traits. The owners
of a few hundred cows cloned this way in the United States have been asked
by FDA to hold off selling the cows' milk and meat, or breeding them,
pending regulatory approval.
In transgenic animals developed for human consumption, there is a low
probability that a few new proteins expressed when genes are inserted from
another species may trigger allergic or hypersensitive reactions in a
small, but unknown, percentage of people. The potential for allergenicity
is difficult to gauge, however, since it can only be detected once a
person is exposed and experiences a reaction. While a reaction will be
recognizable, as it is with well-known allergens like peanuts and
shellfish, the uncertainty surrounding new proteins and potential impact
on consumers who may be allergic is serious enough to elicit a moderate
level of concern, according to the committee.
Animals genetically engineered to produce non-food products, such as cows
that produce drugs in their milk, are not intended to enter the food
supply. But the committee said there are grounds for concern that adequate
controls be in place to ensure restrictions on the use of carcasses from
such animals. In at least one instance, meat from the carcasses of such
animals was used to make a food product.
The applications of biotechnology may someday reduce the number of animals
needed for food and fiber production, but they also can have adverse
effects on the welfare of animals, the committee noted. For example,
calves and lambs produced through in vitro fertilization or cloning tend
to have higher birth weights and longer gestation periods, which leads to
difficult births often requiring caesarian sections. In addition, some of
the biotechnology techniques in use today are extremely inefficient at
producing fetuses that survive. Of the transgenic animals that do survive,
many do not express the inserted gene properly, often resulting in
anatomical, physiological, or behavioral abnormalities. There is also a
concern that proteins designed to produce a pharmaceutical product in the
animal's milk may find their way to other parts of the animal's body,
possibly causing adverse effects.
Although the committee was not asked to make any policy recommendations,
it suggested that the current regulatory framework may not be adequate
given that the responsibilities of federal agencies for regulating animal
biotechnology are unclear in some respects.
International Food Markets and The Slow Global Uptake of GM Seeds
- Prof. Robert Paarlberg, , Department
ofÝPolitical Science, Wellesley
College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA
Genetically modified (GM) foods are widely produced in the United States
and in two other Western Hemisphere countries (Argentina and Canada) but
almost nowhere else. In most other wealthy industrial countries, including
Europe and Japan, it is legal for farmers to plant these crops, but they
voluntarily refrain from doing so because consumers are averse to eating
GM. In most developing countries it is not yet legal for farmers to grow
GM foods, nominally on biological safety grounds. Yet biosafety is not the
real issue.Ý Poor countries are now trying to stay "GM-free" so as to
retain the option of exporting food to Europe and Japan.
New regulations now coming into force in the EU, regulations on the
labeling and traceability of imported GM foods and feeds, will only
increase the potential cost to exporters of planting GM seeds. When these
regulations come into effect some time in 2003, all foods in the EU or
entering the EU from abroad will have to be labeled "GM." This new
labeling rule will apply to processed as well as unprocessed foods, and to
animal feeds as well as foods for direct human consumption. In order to
avoid a "GM" label, products will have to be 99.5% free of any GM
ingredients, even if those GM ingredients have been approved as safe for
human consumption by European regulators. Moreover, for foods that are
labeled GM, each separate GMO in those foods will now have to be "traced"
through the market chain with documentary records, a regulation which
could require ń for exporting countries that plant GM seeds ń costly new
investments in the physical segregation and identity preservation of GM
versus non-GM foods, all the way from "farm to fork."
European farmers will have little trouble conforming to these new
regulations because they do not plant GM seedsÝ Farmers and government
officials in countries that export to the EU will face problems, however,
if they are planting GM seeds or were intending to begin planting GM
seeds. In countries that are currently GM-free, these new regulations are
a commercial reason to remain GM-free. In the United States, where GM
seeds are widely in use, these new EU regulations are a major commercial
threat; they place an estimated $4 billion worth of U.S. farm exports to
Europe at risk.
EU officials have admitted there is no scientific evidence of greater
risks to human health or the environment associated with any of the GM
foods currently approved for the European market, so trade policy
officials in the United States could credibly challenge these new EU
regulations as violations of the SPS and TBT agreements of the WTO. Yet
this course of action is unlikely to succeed, for two reasons.Ý First, the
WTO is no longer the sole international agreement governing trade in GMOs.
Trade in living GMOs (LMOs) is also governed now by the new Cartagena
Biosafety Protocol, an agreement which gives importers greater freedom to
restrict trade, even without a scientific demonstration of risk. Second,
the new EU regulations on labeling and traceability will be regulations of
the EU Parliament as well as the EU Council, under the new "co-decision"
procedure in place under the 1993 Treaty of the EU. Once a food safety
policy has been endorsed by the EU Parliament, it is unlikely to be
altered by outside pressures from the United States or the WTO. The United
States learned this lesson when it recently tried to use the WTO to
challenge an EU ban (which had been endorsed by the EU Parliament) on
hormone treated beef. The United States won this case in a WTO dispute
settlement body, but the EU refused to lift the ban, opting instead to
meet its WTO obligations by accept trade retaliation against an equivalent
value of its own agricultural exports to the Untied States.
In a world without agreed or enforceable rules to govern trade in GM
products, it will be the big importers (such as the EU and Japan) that
will, by default, set the trade standards that exporters will have to
follow. In commodity markets the customer is always right, and Europe and
Japan are the biggest customers.Ý The EU and Japan together purchase more
than $90 billion worth of agricultural products from the rest of the world
every year.Ý If customers in the EU and Japan say they do not want GM, and
if governments in the EU and Japan then use their sovereign power to
impose restrictions or onerous labeling and traceability requirements on
GM imports, it will be the exporters ń if they want access to these
lucrative markets ń who will have to adjust.Ý For exporting countries that
are currently GM-free, particularly in the developing world, the easiest
adjustment to make will be to remain GM-free.
We thus see that international markets are not always a force favoring the
rapid spread of powerful new technologies.Ý
Commission of the European Communities. (2001). 'Proposal for a Regulation
of the European Parliament and of the Council Concerning Traceability and
Labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms and Traceability of Food and
Feed Products Produced from Genetically Modified Organisms and Amending
Directive 2001/18/EC'. COM(2001) 182 final, Brussels, Belgium.
Paarlberg, R. (2001). The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified
Crops in Developing Countries. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Johns Hopkins
David Vogel. (2001). 'Ships Passing in the Night: The Changing Politics of
Risk Regulation in Europe and the United States'. EUI Working Papers RSC
No.2001/16. Dan Domenico, Italy: European University Institute.
Organic Farming Caused Dust Bowl
- Dennis T. Avery and Alex R. Avery, Spokesman Review; Knight Ridder,
August 18, 2002
Have modern American farming practices ruined the soil, as a recent writer
claimed? Far from it, say Dennis Avery and Alex Avery .
WASHINGTON -- American farmers are destroying the topsoil and can no
longer produce healthy food, claims George Pyle, writing for the Kansas
Land Institute recently. Pyle warns that we must go back to traditional
farming before we create another Dust Bowl. But if traditional farming was
so wonderful, how come we had the Dust Bowl in the first place?
In the 1930s, when the original Dust Bowl crisis hit America, all farming
was organic and low-intensity. That's what Pyle recommends for our future.
But the dust clouds roiled, literally, from the prairies all the way to
the U.S. Capitol in Washington where gritty-eyed senators hurriedly
created the U.S. Soil Conservation Service.
"The Grapes of Wrath" chronicled the thousands of gaunt, sunburned
families fleeing the Great Plains in rickety Model T's. Pyle is trying to
pretend a crisis by erroneously citing U.S. Department of Agriculture
estimates that wind and water "are carrying away 2 billion tons of soil
per year, or 5.6 tons per cultivated acre." But the USDA number is an
estimate of soil moved, not lost. Most of it is moved to another part of
the same or neighboring field.
Better evidence on soil erosion comes from Dr. Stanley Trimble of UCLA.
Trimble dug out the 1938 government soil survey on the famously erodable
Coon Creek Basin in southern Wisconsin and resurveyed Coon Creek in the
1970s, and again in the 1990s. He found it's now losing only 6 percent as
much soil as it did during the Dust Bowl days. Coon Creek farmers are
building to psoil, not losing it. Trimble says alarmists like Pyle "owe us
the physical evidence."
So far, no dust clouds, no streams choked with sediment, and no detectable
differences in food quality exist. In fact, the Soil and Water
Conservation Society of America calls modern farming "the most sustainable
in history," thanks to high-yield seeds, chemical fertilizers, integrated
pest management and a new farming system called conservation tillage.
Pyle warns that our crops are becoming "chemically dependent." Big news,
George, nature made them that way. The original Dust Bowl occurred because
farmers weren't replacing the nitrogen, phosphorus and potash that all
growing plants take from the soil. In plain words, they weren't using
enough fertilizer. The Great Plains suffered severe droughts before the
1930s and has had them since, but we've had only one Dust Bowl. That's
because, in the 1930s, farmers depleted the last of the soil nutrients
built up by eons of manure from billions of wild bison, antelopes,
grasshoppers and birds.
When the Plains were first plowed in the 1870s, the corn stalks grew 9
feet tall. But after 50 years of low-input farming, the soil nutrients
were gone. Plowing had vaporized the organic matter needed to nourish soil
bacteria and store moisture.
The Dust Bowl taught us that low-input farming was unsustainable. We began
mining natural deposits of phosphate and potash, and capturing millions of
tons of nitrogen (the most critical plant nutrient) from the air.
Without nitrogen from the air, our crops would need the manure from
another 1 billion cattle. But growing the forage for another 1 billion
cows would leave our nation no land for food crops or national forests.
Conservation tillage throws away the traditional plow and, instead, uses
herbicides to control weeds. It keeps the crop stalks on the soil surface,
cutting soil erosion by 65 to 95 percent. It can double the amount of
moisture retained in the soil, and double the number of earthworms and
soil microbes. Amazingly, because it uses herbicides, it is on the Land
Institute's hate list.
A peak population of 9 billion people in 2050 is likely to require more
than twice as much farm output for the high-quality diets they will
demand. We're already farming in early half the land on the planet not
covered by deserts or glaciers. If we want to save room on the planet for
wildlife, we can't waste high-quality farmland on low-intensity farming.
The Land Institute's low-input farming would not only crowd out the
wildlife, but would push us back into the same system that wore out the
farms and created the Dust Bowl in the first place.
(Editor's note: George Pyle's column on farming, written for the Los
Angeles Times, appeared in this space in The Spokesman-Review on Aug. 4.)
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute
(www.hudson.org), and was formerly the senior agricultural analyst for the
U.S. Department of State. Alex R. Avery is research director of the Hudson
Center for Glo bal Food Issues.