Today in AgBioView: January 24, 2003:
* The Human Costs of Biotech Fear-Mongering
* US Set To Launch WTO Challenge on GM Ban
* Paris Says Too Early to Lift GMO Moratorium
* Genetic Change is A Part of Life
* Foods of the Future May be Tailored to Fit
* Too Early to Release GM Genie and Hope For Best
* No Stopping GM Crops: Promoter
* Free! - Biosafety Training Workbook
* How To Deal With Pro-organic Prejudice?
* Fighting Against Resistance
* Gordon Research Conference in Ag Science - Ventura, CA
* MBA Program with Biotech Major in Canada
* Cassava Biotechnology Network
* The Wayward Fund?
* Reuters is Peddling Alarmism!
* Farm Group Says USDA Put Bad Corn Into Feed Chain
* Lessons From a Decade of GE Crops
* CIMMYT's Position on the Issue of Transgenes in Mexican Landraces
The Human Costs of Biotech Fear-Mongering
- Robert Zoellick, Wall Street Journal (Letters), Jan 24, 2003
I am delighted to read that your Jan. 13 editorial "Immoral Europe" on
European biotech obstructionism has stirred six European Commissioners to
mass around an indefensible position (Letters to the Editor, Jan. 17). The
need for Europeans to debate the costs of their acquiescence to biotech
fear-mongering is long overdue.
The commissioners proclaim that "authorized GMOs [genetically modified
organisms] are freely traded in the EU." Notice the word "authorized":
Since 1998, the EU has refused even to consider approving biotech
applications, ignoring favorable risk assessments by the EU Scientific
Committee. Two co-signers of the letter you published have acknowledged
publicly that this political moratorium on biotech approvals is
unjustified and illegal. Furthermore, at least four EU member states have
banned imports of biotech products approved by the EU in years past and
the commission abstained from challenging these violations of EU law.
Since the six commissioners recommend "a little independent thinking" and
are disturbed by "misleading and wrong" statements, I commend to them the
December 2002 reports of the French -- I repeat, French -- Academies of
Sciences and Medicine: These studies conclude that biotech crops "have
been rejected in Europe, although there has never been a health problem .
. . or damage to the environment." They point to "propagation of erroneous
information" about biotech and conclude that "GMOs create very favorable
prospects for food." They urge the EU to lift its biotech moratorium.
The European fog of misinformation and protectionism resulting from EU
biotech policies has had life-and-death consequences. Africans, not
Americans, have cited these concerns in refusing to stave off starvation
by accepting the same food that Europeans freely eat when they visit the
United States. The six commissioners write that they have never asserted
that biotech foods are unsafe, yet Europeans block those very foods and
threaten African biotech exports. Perhaps this logic is persuasive to
Europeans in Brussels, but Americans and Africans find it contradictory.
African officials who fear European retribution have told me of Europe's
pressure to stymie biotech development. Since Commissioner Nielson
asserted in another forum that he only wants the truth, I would propose he
start by investigating the activities of the anti-biotech NGOs the
The truth is that biotech products offer African farmers the promise of
higher yields, better nutrition, fewer pesticides and greater resistance
of crops to various calamities.
These six commissioners know well that the EU's biotech moratorium is
politically motivated, damaging to world trade, and harmful to Africa,
Europe, America and the world. I urge them to direct their energies toward
the European states that are the cause of the problem, not the Americans
who point it out.
Robert Zoellick, U.S. Trade Representative, Washington
US Set To Launch WTO Challenge on GM Ban
- Lloyd's List (UK), January 23, 2003
The chief US agriculture negotiator said here yesterday the Bush
administration plans to challenge in the World Trade Organisation the
European Union's 4.5 year ban on genetically modified products, which
includes bulk grain for feed and food products, writes John Zarocostas in
"It's unjustified and should be challenged," the chief US agriculture
negotiator, Allen Johnson said. "We can be faulted for being too patient,"
he added. The US official said the move has a "lot of support" in the US
agriculture community, Capitol Hill, and in the administration. According
to diplomatic sources, the issue has already been discussed at cabinet
level, and a senior US official, who spoke on condition of
non-attribution, said Washington will "probably file its case in the next
If the US files a case, the EU "will respond vigorously to it", said
Arancha Gonzalez, spokeswoman for EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, About
30% of total trade in soybeans, maize, and cotton consists of GM, or
partly GM products, and the US is concerned the EU ban could adversely
affect the future development of this market.
But a senior EU official, who requested anonymity, said the commission has
been "trying to lift the de-facto moratorium on new GM authorisations,"
and said a decision by the US to go to the WTO would be "a
miscalculation". It would be wise, the EU official said, for the US "to
avoid litigation", and argued it would be better from a business
perspective if Washington tried to get the authorisation. If the US went
ahead and opened a WTO case, the EU official warned, the EU moratorium
would stay in place during the legal proceedings.
Paris Says Too Early to Lift GMO Moratorium
- Europe Environment, January 24, 2003 (Courtesy: Katie Thrasher)
French Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard said on January 14 that it was
too early to lift the European moratorium on genetically modified
organisms (GMOs). "We must not be too hasty when it comes to GMOs," Mr
Gaymard told the press.
The United States recently threatened to lodge a complaint with the World
Trade Organisation (WTO - see other article, same section), on the ground
that the embargo on marketing authorisations being applied since 1999 by
seven European Union countries - France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Denmark,
Luxembourg and Austria - is harmful to their exports, particularly of
maize, cotton and soya.
The European Commission hopes the moratorium can be lifted at the end of
the year. The EU's Agriculture and Environment Ministers reached agreement
at first reading, late in 2002, on rules for the labelling and
traceability of foods containing more than 0.9% GMOs, paving the way to an
end of the embargo. But the texts still have to be approved this year by
the European Parliament and opposition could well loom up again.
If Parliament and the Council cannot agree, a conciliation procedure will
be necessary, further delaying the process. The countries applying the
moratorium have made its waiver conditional upon effective labelling. In
December, French Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot said it would probably
be possible to put an end to the moratorium in "around a year," but added
that "precautions" would be needed.
Genetic Change is A Part of Life
- Dean Kleckner AgWeb.com, Jan 24, 2003 (Sent by
The enemies of biotechnology want you to think that they're fighting
against Frankenstein's monster--something so horrible and unnatural that
it shouldn't be allowed to exist.
It doesn't matter to them that farmers have been growing genetically
modified crops with great success for a decade, and that billions of
people have eaten these products without complaint or worry. The
fearmongers ignore such vital facts and hurl insults at the stuff, calling
it "Frankenfood" and the like.
They refuse to realize that genetic change is an ordinary part of life.
We're all examples of it. We come from parents who are different from us,
and whose genes fused together to create the people we are today. If we
didn't have this kind of genetic change, we'd all be clones--and what
would be more unnatural than that?
Farmers know more about genetic change than most people. In fact, we were
the world's first genetic engineers. Long before the folks in white lab
jackets discovered DNA, our farming forefathers were breeding all kinds of
crops to grow more food, better food, and healthier food. To them, this
was a matter of simple common sense. Today, however, we recognize that
they were actually manipulating genes.
Everybody loves eating big and juicy tomatoes. Farmers have grown them for
years, of course, but they've also changed them over time, through
tireless experimentation. The tomatoes we buy in grocery stores originally
derive from a wild species that produces little red berries. They're
nothing like the tomatoes we enjoy, which are the genetic creation of
A similar story might be told for just about every other crop. As the
scholar C.S. Prakash has pointed out, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
all derive from the same wild plant. Their variation comes from farmers
trying to breed a better plant. Kiwis are delicious fruits from New
Zealand, though they ultimately hail from the Chinese gooseberry, which is
not edible. Then there's corn, whose genetic diversification gives us
everything from sweet corn to flour corn--again, thanks to farmers and
their willingness to innovate.
Anthony Trewavas of the University of Edinburgh has pointed out that these
modern crops would survive in the wild "no longer than a domesticated
chihuahua would last in the company of wolves." Yet none of us would
consider the act of eating seedless grapes "unnatural."
Here's the bottom line: If farmers had clung to some pristine notion of
genetic purity, our food choices would be much poorer. Many of the foods
we know and relish simply wouldn't exist. We should therefore appreciate
biotechnology as the continuation of a historic process to improve crops
through better breeding.
Consider one of the most popular biotech crop varieties: Bt corn, so named
because it uses a gene from a common soil bacterium known by the
scientific name of Bacillus thuringiensis. These microscopic critters
happen to produce a natural toxin that's harmless to just about every form
of life -- except for the corn borer, a terrible pest that can ravage
acres upon acres of corn. For many farmers, there's nothing worse than a
plague of corn borers invading their fields, and there's nothing better
than being able to prevent this catastrophe by growing Bt corn. Other
benefits include farmers having to rely less and less on the pesticide
sprays that unsettle many consumers.
When environmentalists talk about protecting endangered species, they
often claim that preserving biodiversity is in our self-interest. Imagine
(they say) the cure to cancer lying within the genetic code of an
Amazonian frog species currently unknown to science.
Perhaps they're right, and one day we'll benefit from this gift. In the
meantime, we've already identified hundreds of species whose genes can
help us in more modest ways -- but only if we're willing to take advantage
of them through the latest advances in biotechnology.
A few outspoken radical activists may call this "unnatural"--though I
think it's unnatural not to want to use the tools of biotechnology to help
us feed the world.
Chairman, Truth About Trade and Technology, a national grassroots
advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in support of
freer trade and advancements in agricultural biotechnology
Foods of the Future May be Tailored to Fit
- Deborah Ball, The Wall Street Journal - Europe, January 23, 2003 (via
London -- Before breakfast every morning, Joan Robertson, a 50-year-old
professional, heads straight to her computer and pulls up a genetic
profile telling her exactly what sort of nutrients she will need to eat
that day. Foods in her kitchen have bar codes laden with information that
she will match to her profile. If she eats out, she runs a mini-scanner
over the menu to choose just the right foods. At the end of the day, she
e-mails the details to her insurance company, which charges her lower
premiums for healthful eating.
That day, her breakfast consists of a yogurt containing bacteria that
boost her immune system and cholesterol-lowering soy extracts. Her morning
tea has extra cancer-fighting antioxidants as well as a dash of
mood-enhancing tryptophan. For lunch, a pepperoni sandwich that has been
in the company vending machine for five years tastes as fresh as the day
it was made. A bottle of water has isoflavones to help her fight
osteoporosis. Dinner is a steak that is low in fat and high in protein and
iron, thanks to genetically modified cattle. A side order of fries comes
from potatoes with high starch content that leave them crispy with minimal
oil absorption. For dessert, she has a thin slice of chocolate cake
impregnated with protein microballs to make her feel full quickly.
Such could be the typical diet for a denizen of the wealthy industrial
world in 20 years, when so-called functional foods, now a niche market,
become the norm. While some developments may seem futuristic, demographic
trends point decisively toward a diet heavy on designer foods that
optimize health and performance. Longer life spans will mean more older
people who will need to fight age-related diseases such as osteoporosis
and heart ailments and will want to remain energetic, upbeat and mentally
sharp into their 70s and beyond. Today's Generation Xers, who grew up with
Gatorade and sports bars and who were weaned on news stories about the
links between diet and health, won't think twice about eating manipulated
"To a great degree, demographic trends are influencing the way in which
food will develop," says Werner Bauer, executive vice president in charge
of research and development for Nestle SA, whose 500-person research and
development division focuses heavily on nutrition. "Both older and younger
people will have a clearer perception of their nutritional needs."
Pursuing Premium Products
Food and biotechnology companies are already investing heavily in
functional foods in their never-ending search for premium products to sell
in industrialized countries that already enjoy an abundance of food. The
thinking is that consumers will want to enhance their health and
well-being, but in a much more customized way. "In the past, dietary
guidelines took the whole population and gave recommendations, which might
work for about 60% of the population," says David Schmidt, senior vice
president of food safety at the International Food Information Council in
The result will be foods that are enhanced through genetic modifications
or the addition of certain natural components to address a plethora of
needs, such as fighting cancer, enhancing mood, increasing mental acuity
or boosting the immune system. This goes hand in hand with genetic
research that will determine our vulnerability to disease, mental illness
or environmental stresses, as well as intolerance to substances such as
gluten or wheat. In theory, a specific diet could one day be tailored to a
person's DNA profile to maximize health and well being. "Foods are going
to be advertised in the same way that dietary products are," says Marion
Nestle, chairman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New
York University. "Supermarkets will look like drug stores."
The possibilities are virtually endless. For instance, soy, a product that
could help protect against a host of ailments, including heart disease, so
far has been associated with less-than-tasty tofu and soy milks. However,
scientists see great potential in soy and are working hard to identify and
extract its beneficial components, which could eventually find their way
into everything from oil to muffins.
A woman might eat yogurts with different levels of amino acids during
various stages of pregnancy and lactation in order to enhance the
long-term health of her child. Farmers would breed chickens that carry
antibiotics to produce meat for those, such as the old or infirm, who have
difficulty ingesting pills. Scientists also are trying to understand the
mood-enhancing components in chocolate in the hope of developing
less-indulgent pick-me-up foods. And as obesity levels skyrocket around
the world, food companies are searching for the magic bullet in weight
control. While zero-calorie cookies are unlikely, Nestle is working on a
way to replace fat with protein in order to make us feel sated on fewer
'Golden Rice' and Tomato-Juice Vaccine
While such designer foods will appear first in rich countries, related
developments could help solve some of the developing world's most
difficult nutritional problems. Vitamin A supplements already have helped
reduce blindness in many parts of the developing world, and scientists
have come up with a genetically modified rice ? dubbed "golden rice" for
its yellow color ? containing large amounts of vitamin A. Other new ideas
include a breed of potato with much higher levels of protein, another
nutrient often in short supply in poor countries' diets.
Industry experts say these are the tip of the iceberg. One sign for the
future comes from a tomato developed recently by Charles Arntzen, a
biologist at Arizona State University. The tomato carries a gene from a
strain of the E. coli bacterium, which can cause potentially deadly
diarrhea. If drunk as juice, the tomato could act as a vaccine and prompt
the body to fight off the disease.
Daring ideas are coming from the U.S. military, which needs to feed
soldiers in the most extreme circumstances. The Combat Feeding Directorate
in Natick, Massachusetts, which cooperates with the U.S. National
Aeronautics and Space Administration in finding food solutions for space
travel and also works with producers such as Kraft Foods Inc. in
joint-research products, is working on "the ultimate in survival rations,"
Director Gerald Darsch says. One product under development is a type of
envelope containing encapsulated enzymes. Soldiers stuck in isolated areas
could use the enzymes to convert inedible carbohydrates such as twigs and
leaves into rations to keep them going until they can find normal foods.
On the outer limits of nutrition is a thick, Band-Aid-sized patch that
could administer nutrients through the skin through electrocharges that
force them through pores.
"It can't replace a mashed-potato and roast-beef dinner," says Mr. Darsch.
"But it could administer some key micronutrients a soldier needs to
enhance his performance."
No Stopping GM Crops: Promoter
- Barry Wilson, Western Producer, January 23, 2003
Genetically modified crops are spreading across the world, says a U.S.
industry-supported biotechnology promoter that expects herbicide-tolerant
wheat to be part of the mix before long.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications, a 12-year-old biotechnology and world hunger advocacy group
with offices around the world, reported on Jan. 15 that in 2002, GM
acreage grew 12 percent worldwide to 145 million acres in 16 countries. GM
crops now account for $4.25 billion US in sales. The group predicts the
value of GM crops will increase to $5 billion by 2005.
Canadian farmers remained the third largest embracers of GM crops with 7.7
million acres of canola, corn and soybean planted in 2002, up nine percent
from 2001. The United States, Argentina and China are the other top users,
with the U.S. being home to most GM acreage.
Group chair Clive James told a telephone news conference Jan. 15 from
Cornell University in Ithica, New York, that he expects GM wheat to join
the list of GM crops. Monsanto has applied for variety registration in
Canada and the U.S.
"We see this growth continuing," he said. "We expect the portfolio of
biotechnology crops to increase and that will include wheat." Soybeans,
corn, cotton and canola are the largest GM crops now in production. James
said GM crops will be increasingly important in developing world
countries. He predicted farmers there will be watching the debate between
North American GM boosters and European GM skeptics, but in the end will
see the technology's benefits.
"Countries in the south will listen to the dialogue that is occurring in
the North but in the end, they will make their own decision," he said.
"I'm confidant we will see an increase in the use of these products."
ABSP Biosafety Training Workbook
- Andrea Johanson
'Biosafety & Risk Assessment in Agricultural Biotechnology: A Workbook for
Authors': Patricia L. Traynor, Robert J. Frederick, Muffy Koch
Published by: The Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP),
Michigan State University.
Funded by: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Designed to complement technical biosafety-assessment training courses in
developing countries, this workbook provides a background for the
practical application of biosafety review procedures using a case study
approach. The intended audience includes members of national biosafety
committees, biotechnology regulatory officials, and scientists working in
the public and private sectors. It is a useful resource for national
decision-making bodies, government regulators in related areas, and those
charged with monitoring approved field-test releases.
For further information contact: The Agricultural Biotechnology Support
Project (ABSP) Institute of International Agriculture, 319 Agriculture
Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing MI 48824 USA Fax: (517)
353-1888 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Single copies of the workbook will be sent free of charge to individuals
from Developing Country Institutions. Either email your request to the
address above, or fill in the online order form at
http://www.iia.msu.edu/absp/biosafety_workbook.html to request a copy.
The workbook can also be downloaded in .pdf format from the ABSP website
-- Email: email@example.com ;Phone: (517) 353-2290 Fax: (517) 353-1888
Need Help on Facts
- Rick Roush
Dear All: I am writing a reply to a letter to the editor from an
Australian senator, John Cherry. Many readers will recognise the obvious
errors of fact Cherry's letter (follows), most of which I can contradict
with sources already to hand.
However, I believe but can't confirm that Korea accepts US corn. Can
anyone help me on this? I could also use a list of some of the many
professional organisations that have disagreed with the British Medical
Association. In another media release, Cherry claims that there was a
recall of 300 foods contaminated by Starlink just last November. Can
anyone confirm or deny such a recall?
- Thanks, Rick
Too Early to Release GM Genie and Hope For Best
- Sen. Cherry, The Canberra Times, Jan 23, 2003
It has taken the arrival of 50,000 tonnes of genetically modified corn on
our doorstep to awaken a debate that is long overdue. Australia is on the
verge of allowing the commercial planting of genetically engineered canola
for the first time. An application for commercial release of GM canola is
currently being considered by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
All signs indicate the application will be approved. Certainly the release
has the support of the federal and state governments, which are investing
increasing amounts of money into biotechnology research with no public
discussion at all. Does Australia want to become a GM country? The
question is critical, because if there is any clear conclusion from the
science surrounding genetically modified plants, it is that GM plants
cannot be segregated from other food plants and wild plants.
Once the GM door is open in Australia, it is open all the way. Once GM
canola is released, it will contaminate other crops and other plants. It
will be carried by wind, water, animals and humans across Australia, like
an unseen cane toad in our fields.
Answering the question involves a complex mix of science, culture,
religion, ecology and economics. Debate frequently becomes mired in the
inarguable matters of God, or the nature of harm but several realities
lead the Australian Democrats to conclude that we are not ready to become
a GM country. We don't know whether GM plants will have an effect on human
No testing on humans has ever been conducted and it is inexcusable hubris
to simply release the GM genie and hope for the best. Only last month the
British Medical Association reiterated its policy of not supporting the
expansion of GM crops because ''insufficient care has been taken with
regards to public health'', arguing ''there is a greater need for more
comprehensive risk assessments which include interactions between GMOs and
the long-term effects on health and the environment before field trials
are taken further''. The Democrats share the scepticism of the British
Medical Association that GM crops are a panacea to solve salinity, hunger
and medical problems.
All new technologies bring new problems, many of which don't appear for
years. The long-term effects of contamination by GM plants are unknown. We
don't know whether plants that carry genetic modifications will survive in
the long term, whether they will become like weeds and whether they will
impact on other species that use the plant for food.
Further, evidence is starting to accumulate that the use of Roundup Ready
GM crops in the US could be encouraging ''super weeds'' that are resistant
to Roundup and other glyphosates. The dire predictions made by opponents
of GM may be entirely wrong, but at this stage we don't know and have no
way of knowing. Releasing GM canola in such a state of uncertainty and
ignorance is both dangerous and unnecessary.
When the GM corn was authorised to come into Brisbane, a variety of
stringent measures were imposed to ensure that there was no release into
the wild. The measures only emphasised what a dangerous game we are
playing with GM crops. Indeed, Australia, in accepting American GM corn,
was prepared to go where Korea, Japan, India, Zambia and the European
Union were not prepared to go.
Caution is also warranted because the economic claims made by proponents
Monsanto and Bayer now appear wildly inflated. Recent reports from the
Grains Council and the Association of Soil Scientists indicate that
Australia may face massive costs as a result of becoming a GM country. In
the United States, it is now estimated that GM imposes a $12 billion
annual cost in lost production and lost markets.
Research by the European Union has also shown mixed productivity
improvements (in the medium term), as well as a huge cost (up to 10 per
cent of harvest returns) to develop fully segregated production chains for
GM and GM-free farm sectors. Organic farmers or producers who export to
GM-free countries may face the loss of their livelihood. Despite the
evidence, no cost-benefit analysis of introducing GM crops has ever
Democrat amendments that would have required such an analysis were
defeated by the Coalition and the ALP in the Senate last year. Monsanto
and Bayer will lose neither sleep nor money. While they stand to profit
enormously from GM crops in Australia and to exercise unprecedented levels
of control over Australian food production, liability for any harm caused
by GM crops will rest with individual farmers, who may have only heard a
small part of the GM story.
Putting our food security in the hands of corporations makes as much sense
as putting our health in the hands of insurance companies. Unfortunately,
that is exactly what this government plans to do. Underpinning the
Democrats' concern about GM is our concern that this government is
determined to impose these technologies on the Australian public whether
we want them or not.
Discussion and debate about GM has been minimal. This may be one of the
most important decisions that Australia ever makes about its land, its
food and its communities, but the Australian public has still not had the
opportunity to hear the arguments, to debate the issues and to make their
Senator Cherry is the spokesperson on agriculture for the Australian
How To Deal With Pro-organic Prejudice?
- John W. Cross
I have a question to open for discussion in reference to Thomas
DeGregori's article on media attitudes.
Regards Professor DeGregori's Lesson, "Advocates of sound science are at a
disadvantage. Somehow, we have to educate assignment editors and
journalists to the fact that there are scientific views other than those
of the activists. If sound science isn't in the story, we must flood them
with (good) letters to the editor."
Here is a typical situation. The Food section of the Washington Post often
positively gushes whenever "Organic" grocers, ingredients or restaurants
are mentioned. This is usually just a brief mention or comment that is
tangential to the point of the story: a new grocery store, a tasty recipe
or an excellent chef's new venue. It is not clear that direct challenges
would be worthwhile when what is objectionable is presented as a brief
comment or aside.
How can one deal with this this cultural problem? - John Cross
>> Reference: Thomas R. DeGregori (January 13, 2003) "Pseudo-Science and
>the Media: Problems and Lessons."
Fighting Against Resistance
- Christof Fellmann, Checkbiotech.org, January 24, 2003
Basel - Resistance to insecticide expressing transgenic plants is a major
problem in modern agriculture. But lately, leading scientists are honing
in on new biotechnological solutions.
Professor David Corbin (Chesterfield, MO) and Professor Charles Romano
(Medfield, MA) developed a new patented method to produce transgenic
plants that synthesize a new variant of the B. thuringiensis .delta.(Bt)
endotoxin, called Cry2A.
This new patented toxin represents a first step in preventing the
development of insect resistance by reducing the target group and
increasing toxin levels expressed in transgenic plants using this system.
As a result, their new invention leads to a more effective control of
susceptible target pests, and therefore lower probability for the
development of resistance.
Until now, transgenic cotton, corn and potatoes expressing the
Bt-endotoxin have been shown to be effectively protected against major
insect pests. Since the transgenic plants express the toxin themselves,
growers have been able to significantly reduce the application of costly,
toxic and sometimes ineffective topical chemical insecticides. Due to
these advantages, transgenic plants expressing the Bt-endotoxin are
planted on a large scale.
Bt-endotoxins are toxic to a variety of insects when ingested. The
effected insect orders are the lepidopteran (butterflies, moths,
skippers), the coleopteran (beetles, weevils) and the dipteran (two-winged
or "true" flies). The ingested Bt-endotoxin is transformed in the midgut
of the insect into the active form of the toxin, which in turn lyses the
midgut wall and eventually leads to the mortality of the insect.
However, scientists now dread the development of resistant insects
strains. Resistance can evolve if the toxin is expressed in insufficient
quantities by the plant, or if insects acquire a resistance from similar
toxins applied as foliar sprays.
This is the point where Corbin and Romano's invention comes into play.
Even though the Cry2A toxin comes from the same bacterium as the
"classically" used Bt endotoxin, they are not homologous. Thus, resistance
against one insecticide does not mean resistance against both.
Furthermore, the Cry2A toxin is non-toxic to dipterans (two-winged
insects), and is more prevalently expressed in plants compared to existing
Bt transgenic plant systems. Since a lot of commonly cultivated plants are
not damaged by dipterans, the restriction of the target pest group is a
welcomed environmental-friendly benefit. The second benefit of this new
patent, the higher level of Cry2A prevalence in the plant, translates into
a reduced likelihood of insect resistance.
One set back with current Bt transgenic crops is that if Bt expression is
not high enough throughout the plant, then farmers often have to spray
with insecticides. This occasional need to spray is significantly reduced
in compared to the amount of insecticide spraying non-Bt crops require,
but with Cry2A the need to spray insecticides is rare, if not eliminated.
This benefit reduces insecticide use in the environment, while also
cutting costs for farmers.
The overall assessment of this new invention is that it leads to an
improved control of susceptible insects, a minimization of resistance
development and therefore a lasting protection from pathogens. These
benefits have shown to translate into larger yields for farmers.
Christof Fellmann is a writer for Checkbiotech and a student at Basel
Gordon Research Conference in Agricultural Science
- Ventura, CA; February 16-21, 2003
Includes many renowned speakers such as Roger Beachy, Val Giddings,
Josette Lewis, John Ryals, Bob Goldberg etc. The Gordon Research
Conferences promote discussions and the free exchange of ideas at the
research frontiers of the biological, chemical and physical sciences.
Scientists with common professional interests come together for a full
week of intense discussion and examination of the most advanced aspects of
their field. These Conferences provide a valuable means of disseminating
information and ideas in a way that cannot be achieved through the usual
channels of communication - publications and presentations at large
MBA Program with Biotech Major
- From: Julie.Parchewski@usask.ca
Greetings, I have two announcements to make to the listserve:
First: The College of Commerce at the University of Saskatchewan is
pleased to announce the launch of its new format MBA program, with classes
beginning in September 2003.
The new format MBA is a 12 month, fully-integrated program with a
Generalist option as well as advanced specializations in: * bioTECHNOLOGY
Management * Agribusiness Management * Healthcare Management * Indigenous
Economic Development * International Management/International Trade and
Development (September 2004). For more information, please visit
http://www.commerce.usask.ca/programs/mba/ and follow the links!
Second: I have recently had my web site updated to include many new
papers, links, etc. The address is http://www.agbio-management.org
Cassava Biotechnology Network
- Chikelu Mba, CBN-LAC Coordinator
We are glad to announce the launching of the CBN Web site at
http://www.ciat.cgiar.org/biotechnology/cbn/index.htm. We are expecting
your feed back on how to make it a better site. We are all invited to
visit the site often as the contents shall be continually updated.
Please take particular note of the announcement for "The GinÈs-Mera
Memorial Fellowship Fund For Postgraduate Studies In Biodiversity" in the
"What's New" section. Kindly give this as wide a publicity as possible.
The Wayward Fund?
From: Rick Roush
Dear All: I am writing to ask for some more help. An organisation called
The Wayward Fund from the UK is listed in the Annual Report of the the
Australian Conservation Foundation as a donor to GeneEthics, an anti-GM
group in Australia. I can't seem to find out much about this group other
than it seems interested in permaculture and the like. Does anyone know
anything about this organisation, and indeed why it would be funding an
anti-GM group in Australia? Thanks, Rick
Reuters Is Peddling Alarmism!
- Andrew Apel
The story below is not news, it is irresponsible alarmism. Years ago,
scientists at Iowa State University said the problem referred to in the
story had nothing to do with genetic engineering--though the story refers
repeatedly to GE. A suggestion was made that the cause could be a fungus,
though the corn tested negative for every known fungal toxin known to
cause pseudopregnancy. Therefore, it is likely not a fungus.
The problem occurred on two farms so whatever the cause, it is highly
isolated, so it has nothing to do with a particular variety of corn, and
if it is of fungal origin, the fungus doesn't spread very much, if at all.
Assuming it is something mixed with the corn, feeding it to animals is not
necessarily cause for alarm, expecially since the worst known effect is
pseudopregnancy--and remember, the dose makes the poison, so dilution will
reduce or eliminate this effect.
Regardless, it is still unknown whether the problem is something the
animals ate. More than 20 farmers have complained over the last two years,
but that's activists talking. Only two farms were hit, once. Testing to
detect the unknown, which amounts to attempting to prove a negative
proposition, is a pointless exercise, yet is typically insisted upon by
activists. The most accurate headline for this story would be, "Activists
Allege the Unknown is Unknown."
Farm Group Says USDA Put Bad Corn Into Feed Chain
- Reuters http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/news/5015110.htm
Posted on Thu, Jan. 23, 2003
DES MOINES, Iowa - Iowa farmers and an environmental group on Thursday
charged the U.S. government with selling a problem supply of genetically
engineered corn to a feed company despite complaints that the corn had
caused hormonal problems in pigs.
The Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) and Friends of the Earth sent a letter on
Thursday to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, asking
the USDA to bar use of the corn in human or animal food "as long as the
cause of reproductive failure in swine is unresolved.Ó
More than 20 farmers have complained over the last two years about sows
that ate the corn developing pseudopregnancy, exhibiting signs of
pregnancy for a full term without carrying a fetus. The corn is being
tested to see if it caused or contributed to the problems, the groups
They complained on Thursday that despite the potential problems, the U.S.
Commodities Credit Corporation sold 950 bushels of the suspect corn on
Jan. 9 to the G&R Grain and Feed Company in Portsmouth, Iowa.
"They thought they could sell a minute amount and blend it in with other
corn and the farmers would accept it,Ó said Iowa Farmers Union
representative Lori Sokolowski. "We felt that further scientific testing
needed to be done for USDA to determine if this ... is a risk. But they
arenÌt waiting for the testing to be done.Ó
Officials at the USDA had no immediate comment, but said they was
preparing a response. In August, a USDA researcher wrote "one possible
cause" of problems with sows "may be the presence of an unanticipated,
biologically active, chemical compound within the corn.Ó
"Why would USDA Secretary Veneman allow her Department to sell this corn
to a feed company before finishing a scientific investigation to learn if
it is harmful to pigs or other farm animals?Ó said IFUÌs Chris Peterson in
a statement issued Thursday. "We want sound science to avoid reproductive
problems in IowaÌs swine herds. Independent hog farmers have told us that
this problem could be the final blow to their farms."
The sows in question had all eaten a genetically modified corn, some of
which was also found contaminated with a type of mold. Researchers have
not yet determined what about the corn could cause the hormonal changes,
but have not been able to rule out the corn as the cause, the farmers
union said. "Their hormones are all messed up. The veterinarians couldnÌt
figure out what was wrong with the sows," said Sokolowski
Friends of the Earth, an activist group generally opposed to biotech
crops, said it had been corresponding for months with the USDA on this
matter. A letter from the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards
Administration dated Oct. 29 said "scientists are testing the corn to
determine if it contains a novel toxin that might impact swine
production,Ó but no final determination had ever been communicated.
The farmers union and Friends of the Earth acknowledged that researchers
at Iowa State University have said that genetically engineered Bt corn is
not the cause of swine reproductive failures experienced by numerous local
But they said, research has not concluded whether some other aspect of the
corn was causing the problems. The USDA has about 22,000 bushels of the
suspect corn, having obtained it as collateral on a loan to the operators
of a Harlan, Iowa, farm. The groups said the FSA attempted in late 2002 to
sell the corn for ethanol production but it was rejected by a local
"When there is a mysterious problem that could affect the fate of farmers,
our health and the environment, we need answers -- not attempts to sweep
it under the rug like the USDA has done," said Friends of the Earth
spokesman Larry Bohlen.
USAID Answers Questions About Biotechnology and U.S. Food Aid
Andrew Apel writes:
>>Given the situation in Africa, and with the advents of Vandana Shiva, Mae
>>and Gaia, it is perhaps timely to coin the word "faminists." I'd leave
>>others to determine whether this word should be applied to all genders.
>> C S. Prakash wrote: "Eco-Faminists" will then be the logical next group?
Response from Klaus Amman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear friends, Faminists - Great new term! eco-stalinists, eco-marxists,
eco-faminists, eco-nazi, - and what else ? and a place where those people
And after having submitted successfully the first ten manuscripts, they
Lessons from a Decade of GE Crops
- ISAAA Crop Biotech Update http://www.isaaa.org/kc
A major lesson learned after a decade of genetically engineered (GE) crops
is that high quality data must be made available to regulatory agencies to
enable them to make sound decisions. Public confidence arises only from
public knowledge that regulatory agencies are overseeing the new
technology comprehensively, fairly, and rigorously. This point was raised
by John Radin, national program leader of plant physiology and cotton, US
Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
Radin says that the "future of GE is bright, with potential benefits
perhaps not yet imagined. But like all technologies, it must be deployed
properly to prevent unintended consequences. Globally, consumers have
clearly demonstrated a desire for more information about the risk of any
unintended consequences, and this desire has limited markets for US
Other lessons learned, adds Radin, include the realization that GE does
not solve all problems. He cites the case of virus-resistant squash that
was only partially resistant and thus did not replace the need to control
insects carrying the virus. A most important lesson is, "the customer is
always right." Radin explains that the "ongoing globalization of trade has
increasingly thrown together diverse consumers in a marketplace that must
serve them all." Thus, consumers, particularly in Europe, were able to
create a backlash against its large-scale use, and even pushed for the
discussion of such issues as segregation and labeling of GE foods.
These lessons, according to Radin, will enable the second decade of GE in
agriculture "to have many more success stories than the first."
The full article appeared in the January 2003 issue of the Agricultural
Research Magazine and can be viewed at
CIMMYT's Position on the Issue of Transgenes in Mexican Landraces
- CIMMYT, Mexico; December 5, 2002
Director General Iwanaga Gives CIMMYT's Position on Issue of Transgenes in
Mexican Landraces and Implications for Diversity Worldwide -
El Batan, Texcoco, Mexico - CIMMYT's host country, Mexico, is the center
of origin and genetic diversity of maize. Mexico has been a focal point of
the debate over transgenic food crops since late 2001, when genes from
transgenic (genetically modified) maize were reportedly found in Mexican
Landraces?the maize races developed and maintained by small-scale farmers
over the centuries?have evolved and been selected to thrive under
particular environmental conditions and to meet local food preferences.
Consequently, landraces often possess unique traits, which they carry and
exchange through their genes. Given the large number of landraces in the
world, especially in Latin America, the diversity of traits and genes is
Reports of transgenes in Mexican maize landraces have caused people to
fear that a resource of immense practical and cultural value has been
lost. As an international maize research institution charged with holding
maize genetic resources in trust for humanity, CIMMYT wishes to
recapitulate its position on the many questions surrounding the issue of
transgenes in maize landraces. Why are landraces an important resource?
Has this resource been lost? What happens in farmers' fields in Mexico and
other developing countries when transgenic varieties are present? What
steps have been taken with regard to the maize varieties in CIMMYT's
First, however, it is important to know one basic fact about how maize
plants reproduce. Unlike many crop species, maize plants are not
self-fertilizing. They reproduce by crossing with other maize plants, a
process that can cause the genetic makeup of maize plants to change
dramatically from one generation to the next. If two distinct varieties of
maize?a hybrid and a landrace, for example?grow in neighboring fields and
flower at the same time, it is entirely possible that they will cross and
that some of their offspring will possess characteristics from both
varieties. Obviously this fact of maize reproduction has implications for
the flow of genes between transgenic and non-transgenic varieties.
Why do we care about landraces?
CIMMYT has an international responsibility to conserve maize landraces
from all parts of the world. One of the first activities of CIMMYT's
founders was to collect and conserve an enormous number of maize
landraces, many of them from Mexico. We have continued this activity for
more than three decades to ensure that the irreplaceable diversity
represented by maize landraces is conserved for all people, everywhere.
The genetic diversity in hundreds of these landraces has enabled CIMMYT
and partner organizations to develop maize varieties that resist insects
and diseases and tolerate drought, saline and infertile soils, and other
stresses. Varieties possessing these traits are essential for helping
people in the developing world to feed their families and improve their
CIMMYT also works in rural communities to understand how farmers manage
and breed landraces and thus manage genetic diversity. The landraces that
farmers grow today are often somewhat different from those collected in
the same communities decades ago, and they are certainly different from
those grown centuries ago, precisely because they have continued to evolve
under the combined influence of farmers and the environment. Mexico is not
a center of diversity for maize simply because many landraces are "found"
in Mexico. In reality, those landraces are the products of farmers'
continuing desire to maintain a great deal of diversity in the maize they
grow. For this reason, we feel it is extremely important to study the
dynamic conservation of landraces in farmers' fields as well as the
relatively more static conservation of landraces in genebanks.
Understanding what happens in farmers' fields
In Mexico there is a moratorium on planting transgenic maize, but Mexico
imports large quantities of maize grain from the USA to be ground into
flour for tortillas. Sources at the US Department of Agriculture report
that 34% of the US maize area was planted to transgenic maize in 2002, and
it is quite possible that some of the maize imported into Mexico was
transgenic. Simply by looking at the grain, it is impossible to identify
it as transgenic. It has been hypothesized that transgenic maize could
have entered farmers' fields if someone unwittingly purchased transgenic
maize grain and, instead of eating it, planted it, just to see what might
happen. Traditional farmers continually experiment with their maize
landraces, crossing them with other maize varieties to see if they can
improve their maize crop.
When transgenes are present in Mexican maize landraces grown by farmers,
does this mean that an important resource is lost forever? As scientists,
we would answer "no," because the landraces may have changed, as they do
all the time, but they have not disappeared. On the contrary, with the
addition of a transgene, they could actually be considered more diverse.
This additional diversity may not be desirable, however. It is precisely
this issue that the Mexican government must resolve.
For Mexico the course of action with regard to transgenic maize will be
particularly sensitive because of the desire to conserve maize landraces
and because of the perception by some that landraces cannot be traditional
and transgenic at the same time. A critical issue for Mexico at this
juncture is to determine what occurs when transgenic maize enters farmers'
How would a transgenic maize hybrid, adapted to conditions in a developed
country with a temperate climate, survive in subsistence farming systems
in the tropics or subtropics? Would the transgenic variety and the local
landraces even flower at the same time? If a transgenic and landrace
variety cross, would their progeny have characteristics that appeal to
farmers? Or would the resulting plants be so disappointing that farmers
would gradually eliminate them? CIMMYT has repeatedly urged that research
be conducted on these issues, not only in Mexico but also in other
countries, to provide data for informed decisions. In 1995, the year that
commercial transgenic maize was first released in the USA, we raised these
questions at an international forum and have persistently sought funding
and partner institutions to answer them.
Building on our previous research, and thanks to newly available funding,
CIMMYT is initiating a study to give decision makers better information on
how small-scale farmers manage and select seed and thus influence how
genes (including transgenes) flow into and between landraces. Key related
questions include: How may the diffusion of transgenic varieties affect
the livelihoods of small-scale farmers? Can this process and its impacts
be managed or, if need be, reversed? What are the implications for wild
relatives of transgenic food crops? Appropriate policies and regulations
will be difficult to develop or promote successfully in the absence of
detailed information from farmers' fields and communities.
Finally, the perception that transgenic maize is reducing diversity must
not obscure the very real need for research to mitigate the many confirmed
threats to maize diversity. Every day, diversity is eroded by habitat
destruction, human migration from rural to urban areas, and the
irreparable loss of traditional maize seed and knowledge as the farming
population ages. The present concern about transgenic maize may only add
to these threats. If farmers and consumers are convinced that landraces
are "contaminated" by transgenes and therefore unsafe to grow or eat,
farmers will have even fewer incentives to preserve landraces in their
Could maize landraces in the CIMMYT genebank contain transgenes?
Because of threats to diversity in farmers' fields, CIMMYT maintains one
of the world's largest collections of maize and wheat seed. We hold these
collections in trust for humanity under an agreement with the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the UN. Seed held in trust is conserved for
the long term and remains exempt from intellectual property protection.
CIMMYT has taken several preventive measures to ensure that the seed of
maize landraces stored in our genebank is not transgenic. Our approach for
the genebank, like the multi-layered security system of a conventional
bank, comprises a series of firewalls, each reinforcing the other, making
the introduction of transgenes into the landraces in the genebank
First, during collection, seed samples are examined for obvious physical
indications that they are true landraces and not the descendents of a
modern variety. Next, the seed samples undergo molecular characterization,
which means that their genetic makeup is analyzed for the presence of
transgenes. As an internal check on the validity of the molecular
analysis, the seeds from those samples are planted and grown out in a
CIMMYT greenhouse. The resulting plants are sprayed with herbicides that
the majority of commercial transgenic varieties are known to resist,
because they were either developed to possess herbicide resistance or
because the herbicide resistance gene was used as a marker gene. If a
plant survives the herbicide treatment, it is assumed to contain a
transgene, which should also have been identified with the molecular
tests. To date, none of our samples of landrace seed have tested positive
Once a seed sample is accepted for the genebank collection, tight quality
control measures ensure that the seed sample is not mixed with seed from
other samples and that its collection history is preserved. All seed
samples are electronically tracked with bar codes and put into long- and
short-term storage. In long-term storage, seeds are preserved in foil
packets at ?18†C. In short-term storage, seeds are kept in tightly capped
plastic jars at low temperature and humidity. Access to the seed storage
vaults is restricted to authorized personnel.
To maintain sufficient stocks of landrace seeds, genebank curators must
periodically plant stored seed and grow it to maturity to maintain
viability and produce more seed, a process known as regeneration.
Regeneration offers a potential opportunity for transgenes to cross into
landraces. Here again CIMMYT has erected rigorous barriers to prevent such
occurrences. During regeneration, landraces are pollinated by hand. Each
maize tassel is covered to ensure that only pollen from that tassel will
be used to pollinate the ears. Pollen is collected from the covered
tassels and then dusted carefully onto silks that were also previously
protected from inadvertent pollination. The pollinated ears are finally
enclosed in a special breeding bag to guarantee that no extraneous pollen
can pollinate the silks. To further ensure that extraneous pollen is kept
out, buffer zones that isolate the regeneration areas from other maize
plants are strictly enforced.
It is highly unlikely that all of these systems would simultaneously fail
and thus allow transgenes to enter CIMMYT's maize landrace collection.
Along with taking measures to screen new seed samples, we continue to
screen older samples for the presence of transgenes, especially those
collected or regenerated since 1995, when commercial Bt maize was first
released. The methods and results of these studies are made available to
the public through the CIMMYT website.
Research must inform the debate
CIMMYT believes that no single technology will alleviate hunger, reduce
malnutrition, and overcome many crop production problems, but all options
should be brought to bear on these critical challenges. Transgenic wheat
and maize offer tremendous opportunities in this regard, but it is clear
that genetically modified varieties?or any given modern variety, for that
matter?will not be appropriate for every farm setting in every part of the
world. The debate about Mexican landraces, genetically modified organisms,
and genetic diversity has raised scientific questions that have
implications around the world as countries wrestle with the many issues
related to genetically modified crops. We urge national authorities to
ensure that decisions with respect to genetically modified crops are based
on factual information and involve consultation with a wide range of
concerned individuals and groups. Through our research, we at CIMMYT
strive to bring clarity and scientific fact to these deliberations. We are
grateful to the organizations that have recognized the need for continued
research and appeal to the international development community to support
these important efforts.