Today in AgBioView: December 10, 2002:
* Man convicted of trespass at grocery
* Precautionary Plus Principle
* THE POTENTIAL OF GOLDEN RICE
* International Workshop on Biosafety of Transgenic Rice
* Allowing science to guide decisions
* Monarch - Bt Timeline
* UC DAVIS SEED BIOTECHNOLOGY CENTER PUBLICATIONS AVAILABLE
* Environment Ministers pave way for Council common position on GM
* Green Giant
Man convicted of trespass at grocery
Stickers he placed on foods warned of genetic alterations
The Daily Camera
By Pam Regensberg, Camera Staff Writer
December 6, 2002
Michael Layne Hartsell said he placed stickers on certain foods at a
Boulder Safeway store earlier this year to protect the children from the
ills of genetically altered foods.
It was a symbolic act, he said, "to protect our little ones."
"I hope my act is considered civil and not criminal," Hartsell said
After 15 minutes of contemplating Hartsell's actions on Sept. 7, a
five-person Municipal Court jury convicted the 35-year-old Denver man on a
charge of trespass at the grocery store.
Hartsell, who refused to pay court costs and fines and refused to perform
community service, was ordered to return to court on Monday to face
sentencing. He said he expects to go to jail for a short time.
Hartsell, who represented himself, said in his closing argument that
grocery store shelves are filled with genetically modified foods. He said
they contribute to neurological problems, build resistance to antibiotics
and trigger allergies.
"Personally speaking, my action was to practice direct non-cooperation
with those companies that would put genetically altered foods on their
shelves without labels," he said.
While many people fear that genetically modified organisms in conventional
foods may pose health hazards in the long run, research to back up those
fears is slim. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture contend that such foods are safe.
Hartsell said he once wondered why the United States hadn't given the
issue serious consideration.
"The answer came quickly: because of profits," he said.
City prosecutor Erin O'Brien told jurors that it doesn't matter what
Hartsell's reasons were for placing the stickers on the food. He entered
the Safeway at 2798 Arapahoe Ave. and remained there after a store manager
asked him to leave.
"Mr. Hartsell may have strong feelings on why he trespassed that day, but
it is nonetheless against the law," she said.
Hartsell was among nine people putting unwanted stickers on food and
refusing to leave the store, according to a Boulder police report.
Officers arrested Hartsell, who told police he was with the "Tierra Azul
Cooperative, Projects for Sustainable Living."
Date: Fri, 06 Dec 2002 15:23:03 -0600
From: "Tom DeGregori"
Subject: Precautionary Plus Principle
We now have a new "green" scientifice "principle" emerging. Let us call it
the "Precautionary Plus Principle." From "absence of evidence of harm not
being evidence of absence of harm," we now have the principle that you can
make a claim on the basis that no one has written a peer-reviewed article
refuting it. Come to think of it, I have not seen any peer-reviewed
articles refuting phlogiston or the geocentric theory of astonomy.
Consequently, I am at liberty to assume they are correct in making an
argument as long as I am furthering some noble NGO or "green" cause. If
not assuming a fantasy is correct, I can at least drop a few hints about
it which should appeal to an audience that already believes it and now can
claim a peer reviewed article that supports it.
In the exchange in Nature Biotechnology, when David Shubert was quoted in
reference to toxic metabolites that were created in "GM batches of
tryptophan," his response was that he merely stated that: "GM tryptophan
`was highly correlated with contaminants,' not that it definitively caused
the disease." Not being content simply to use the preceeding to back away
from an untenable claim, Schubert adds: "There is certainly no good
evidence in reviewed journals that it was the purification procedure that
caused the problems or that only people who used this brand took larger
amounts and therefore became ill." There are any number of problems with
that assertion but it ignores the fact that there were no peer reviewed
journal articles in any way indicating the GM bacteria as being the cause
so there was no need for any peer reviewed articles to refute it. The FDA
and other investigators did find earlier cases of eosinophilia-myalgia
syndrome and from the tryptophan from other manufacturers. Anyone who
thinks that the Japanese chemical companies manufacturing amino acids and
other vitamins today are forgoeing the vastly greater speed and yield from
using GM organisms, is living in a "green" fantasy world. This is simply
one of those uncomfortable facts that the believers have to hide from
themselves since they are consuming these products and feeling superior to
the rest of us by doing so. Checking the "green" newsgroups, I have found
the question raised as to whether GM organisms are being used and this has
always been followed by a deafening silence in every instance that I have
As far as I can tell, there were two news reports (one in Science and one
in Nature) very early in the investigation in which there was the
possibility was raised in one that a the GM bacteria may have been the
cause and that no evidence for such at been found in the other. The
absence of any further literature on that topic except by the "greens"
should be an indication not only that those involved in the investigation
could find no evidence but that the available evidence pointed in other
directions. For the Schubert or anyone else to continue to raise this
issue simply shows the almost total absence of any evidence for the case
that they are trying to make.
The "Precautionary Plus Principle" has great "green" potential. The more
absurd, unlikely and out-of-date an idea may be, the more likely that
there will not be any peer reviewed literature refuting it.
The "Precautionary Plus Principle" has been raised in the report on the
safety of GM food for the Zambian government. I qoute from the Times of
Zambia news article:
"Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika also said there was evidence that GM food tended to
make non-allergenic foods to become allergenic due to the inclusion of
foreign genes. He cited an example of a Brazil nut whose gene was
introduced into other foods and a lot of people who were allergic to the
nut reacted badly."
As far as I can ascertain, the only reference to the tree nut protein in
soybeans was the 1996 article in The New England Journal of Medicine which
clearly states on the opening page that the study was funded by the seed
company that did the research. The article makes clear that study was
conducted in advance of any possible release and that the findings of
potential harm meant that it would not be released so no one was harmed by
it. In fact, the results of this effort helped to identify the genes that
expressed the allergenic proteins which in the future might be useful in
making peanuts allergy free or at least sufficienetly less allergenic that
those with the allergy are not at continuous risk of a fatal response from
even the slightest accidental contact. In the case of the soybean, the
protocols for testing worked and it is an argument for the safety of GM
food not against it. But since no reputable scientist to my knowledge has
found it necessary to write a peer reveiwed article refuting an event that
never happened - "a lot of people who were allergic to the nut reacted
badly" - then under the Precautionary Plus Principle, it is fair to claim
I understand the moon is made of green cheese from milk the production of
which was enhanced using rBST. Is there any peer reveiwed literature
refuting that claim? If any of you travel there, avoid sampling it!
Thomas R. DeGregori
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg
THE POTENTIAL OF GOLDEN RICE
By Professor C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education
This is with reference to the article by Dr R V Bhat and Dr S Vasanthi
(The Hindu, December 5 and AgBioView December 7, 2002) on the potential of
(or rather the lack of it in) Golden Rice (GR) to ëeradicate vitamin A
Dr Bhat was at the International Workshop on the Biosafety of Transgenic
Rice, conducted by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, in
Chennai (October 27-30, 2002), where both Peter Beyer and I spoke on GR
and Dr Bhat shows no signs of having heard any of it.
Dr Bhat has resurrected RAFIís bogey (or is it Vandana Shivaís?) of the
need to eat several kilograms of rice to get the daily requirement of
beta-carotene from GR. It is ridiculous to think that any
self-respecting biotechnologist or seed company would develop a product,
spending millions of dollars and decades of time, that is required to be
consumed in kilos each day, to get the daily requirement of a
No one has ever claimed that GR will provide all the beta-carotene
required for the dayís supply of vitamin A. There is no single food
source that can do this. The early reports of a successful GR were only
a proof of an elegant concept. Metabolic engineering is employed to
enhance the titres to the feasible levels. Peter Beyer was at pains to
emphasise that work is going on to enhance the level of beta-carotene in
GR, and that he is hopeful that GR would provide a substantial quantity of
beta-carotene in the near future. In fact, significant progress on
enhancing the beta-carotene content of GR has already been achieved in the
later generations of GR.
In the first place, the confusion between beta-carotene (provitamin A)
that should come from vegetarian dietary sources, and vitamin A that forms
in the human body, should be cleared. One journalist at the Public
Forum, after the workshop in Chennai, claimed that ëAaviní (the milk that
is sold in Chennai) contains 45 per cent of vitamin A! and ëso we do not
require your GRí. Wonder why people in Chennai do not suffer from
vitamin A toxicity, which is identical with alcohol intoxication, after
ingesting such enormous quantities of vitamin A by consuming Aavin. To
experience vitamin A toxicity, try the liver of the polar bear.
It is important to know that beta-carotene is the most efficient of
carotenoids (all of them function as anti-oxidants) as one molecule of it
yields two molecules of vitamin A, while one molecule of alpha-carotene or
beta-cryptoxanthine yield only one molecule of vitamin A. The rest of
the molecule of the latter two adds to the chemical debris of the body and
what happens to this in the body is any bodyís guess. The other
carotenoids do not contribute to vitamin A in any appreciable manner.
When alternative sources of beta-carotene are suggested ambivalently, this
should be kept in mind.
Even as there are some non-vegetarian sources for vitamin A, we cannot
recommend them to vegetarians, much less to the vegans. We also cannot
deliver an armchair lecture on the need for diverse diet as we are aiming
at helping people who have no knowledge or access to food sources that can
solve their problem of malnutrition. The concept of balanced diet is an
integral part of every culture in the world and this could not do much to
alleviate the problem of malnutrition that is sourced in different
factors. Providing for some quantity of beta-carotene along with the
staple diet each day, with out involving any additional effort or
expenditure, is a highly commendable objective, and such a possibility did
not exist before GR.
Even when a particular food item contains high levels of the required
nutrient, all of it would not be available in the body (bioavailability).
Phenolic compounds, and such others, prevent their release. Phytic acid
inhibits the availability of iron that is present in rice. Phytase
neutralises phytic acid that forms phytate. Ingo Potrykus and his team
have developed a variety of rice with high iron and phytate and low phytic
acid. Negative impact of life style, such as intake of coffee/tea, an
hour before or after food intake, restricts nutrient absorption (this I
endorse from personal experience).
Bioavailability studies have now shown that the leafy vegetables, that
have been so highly rated all along as a rich source of carotenoids
provitamin A, are at the bottom of the bioavailability ladder. Palm oil
at the top of this ladder, cannot be consumed in adequate quantities,
besides is the factor of additional expenditure, and not to speak of the
fact that palm oil contains more of alpha-carotene. Exogenous supply of
vitamin A through nutraceuticals is highly impractical and prohibitively
expensive in the economic context of India.
The question of bioavailability of beta-carotene in GR certainly needs to
be addressed, only to satisfy the critics. Since carotenoids are
insoluble in water and are stable at temperatures at which rice is cooked,
there is really no problem. It is also now realised that the manner in
which rice is cooked, boiled or better steamed, is the ideal means of
A re-examination of bioconvertibility factors related to vitamin A
activity has shown that it is not ëretinol equivalentí, but ëretinol
activity equivalentí, as the apt criterion in calculating the daily
requirement of beta-carotene. This new approach has actually doubled the
quantities of beta-carotene required per day.
The statistics on the daily requirement of vitamin A are too general and
serve only as indicators. Several factors related to race, development
status of the country, economic status of the family, sex and age,
vegetarian/non-vegetarian food, etc., influence vitamin A needs. For
example, even among countries that depend upon rice, Japan has a very high
intake of dietary carotenoids, compared to the other Asian countries.
This has much to do with literacy levels. Women in the reproductive age,
from the post-adolescence times till menopause, require highest levels of
vitamin A, more so if they are pregnant. Next come the pre-adolescent
boys and girls. The actual requirement vitamin A is dependent upon not
so much the chronological age, as on the physical maturity of the
individual. For these reasons pre-adolescent children, who also suffer
most from the consequences of vitamin A deficiency, should be our focus.
Vitamin A synthesised mostly by the liver, is stored in the liver as an
ester of palmitic acid (retinyl palmitate). Palmitic acid, the most
common fatty acid, is a component of all edible fats and some of it also
comes from vegetarian diet that does not appear to be fatty. While it is
estimated that about 5 g of fat is needed for vitamin A metabolism, which
staple diet provides this? And why does this become a problem for GR?
Much was said also about a protein required in vitamin A metabolism.
This is the Retinol Binding Protein (RBP), which is endogenous, meaning
that it cannot be supplied from outside. It is in this context the
pre-adolescent intake of beta-carotene and consequently the levels of
vitamin A, become important. If beta-carotene intake levels were low
during the pre-adolescent period, the individualís ability to benefit from
a higher intake at the later ages is restricted, because the potential to
synthesise RBP is impaired.
There are serious no biosafety issues concerning GR. Carotenoids are
essential for plant life and are present in all green tissues.
Carotenoids are present in the green tissues of the rice plant as well,
but not in the grain of ordinary rice. Beta-carotene in the grain makes
GR different from the ordinary rice. Concerns related to gene flow from
GR to other plants are not supported by scientific data and beta-carotene
has no selective advantage in the environment, even if there were gene
Questions were raised on the acceptability of GR to the consumer, on
account of its yellow colour. This cannot be an issue since rice is
deliberately stained with turmeric or saffron, in a variety of
preparations in the Asian countries, particularly India.
Rice stained with turmeric called ëakshathaí is sacred to the Hindus and
is sprinkled on peopleís heads to bless them on auspicious occasions like
marriages, or sprinkled around to sanctify ëdefiledí places or to invoke
Gods to bestow peace. After one of my talks on GR, some one from the
audience said that GR could be used as instant ëakshathaí, avoiding the
effort of staining rice with turmeric.
GR Comes to developing countries free of technology costs. The only
expenditure would be on developing local varieties incorporating the
event, to suit different agro-climatic conditions.
These costs should be borne by the Governments at the Centre and the
States. This will be done without demur, since there is a lot of
political mileage in it. The cost effectiveness of GR and wheat
fortification is very much in favour of GR, as per a study conducted in
some countries in south East Asia.
GR is still in the process of development. It is good that so many
questions on its potential are raised, so that answers can be found to
them in course of time. It must be realised that some of the questions
and objections are irrelevant, grossly unfair and outright silly. All
the charming qualities that are not possessed by any other food item are
expected of GR, simply because it is a genetically engineered product.
It is all the more damaging when this tirade comes from scientific
personnel, particularly nutritionists.
GR should get the chance to prove itself. In the final analysis it is
the consumer who will make the decision of accepting or rejecting it.
The attempts to make its path rough, mostly on ridiculous grounds, should
not be allowed to result in GRís infanticide.
Sure, we have miles to go before ëGR can be claimed to help eradicate the
problem of vitamin A deficiencyí, as Dr Bhat says. In fact, nothing in
this world can eradicate this problem; we can only find solutions to
ameliorate, as in the case of poverty. There are no silver bullets,
particularly for such chronic and massive problems. All said and done,
there are inherent factors such as intestinal parasites and diseases like
measles that defeat us in our efforts in this regard. Anti-tech
activists, for reasons best known to them, add to the impediments. It
would be wonderful if we have a few genetically engineered scientists with
transgenes for activism, since the muteness of biotechnologists has a very
detrimental impact on the public acceptance of biotech products.
I would certainly have appreciated if Dr Bhat were to provide constructive
criticism and advice to help improve GR to meet the specific Indian needs,
which could be factored into rice breeding programmes right now.
Sadly, it looks that we have many more miles to go before we instil
awareness of the issues and confidence in GR, in the public mind. It is
unfortunate that we have to start this effort with scientists.
International Workshop on Biosafety of Transgenic Rice
Chennai, October 27-30, 2002
The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, New Delhi, India, conducted
an international workshop at Chennai from 27 to 30 October, 2002, to
address issues relating to biosafety and potential environmental impacts
emanating from the deliberate release of transgenic rice.
Agriculture, perhaps the oldest of all human occupations is at cross roads
as we enter 21st century. World population is reaching unprecedented
levels. Feeding the rapidly multiplying population with dwindling natural
resources is a daunting challenge. Global debate on agriculture has
veered to lay emphasis on sustainable systems of farm production while
concomitantly endeavouring to protect and improve the environment. Yield
increases ushered in by high yielding varieties of the green revolution
technologies have struck a plateau. In the days ahead, only incremental
increases can be expected from these technologies which were not long ago,
a major source of increasing global world production, especially in some
of the developing economies. However, these technologies do not seem to be
adequate to meet the food and nutritional security of the world. It is
estimated that we will have to produce an additional 50 percent more rice
by the year 2030 to meet the increasing needs of food of a growing
population of rice consumers and increasing consumptions because of
improved living standards. We need rice varieties with higher yield and
greater yield stability. We should use all the tools at our disposal to
meet these challenges. In the present context, a judicious combination of
conventional plant breeding in conjunction with marker-assisted breeding
and transgenic technology appear to be the best means of meeting the
challenges outlined above.
The safe and prudent application of biotechnology based on tenets of
science and technology for the benefit of humanity must be the order of
the day. That calls for complete assessment of the critical constraints
to agricultural production and a comprehensive evaluation of all the
technological options that can solve the problem in the most cost
effective and environmentally sustainable manner. Stakeholders of all
hues -private, public and civil society organizations- need to work
together to garner a comprehensive approach that can bring about safe
technological interventions to achieve the common goals.
Rice is the most important staple food crop for over half the world
population. Rice has been part of old world civilizations over centuries
and is both a cultural icon and religious symbol and revered by many
societies. Asia accounts for more than 90% of rice production and
consumption. Clearly, there are apprehensions when revolutionary changes
are brought into rice agriculture and production, as with any food crop.
One of the latest technologies to bring about utilitarian changes to rice
biology and rice agronomy is through recombinant DNA technology.
Currently, there are at least a dozen varieties of transgenic rice
cultivars that are on the anvil or under development in the greenhouses.
Another revolutionary development in rice research is the sequencing of
the rice genome and concomitant functional genomics that will herald a new
era of far-reaching developments on the application of rDNA to create
novel varieties of rice. Thanks to the efforts of the Rockefeller
Foundation and that of other organisations in the past twenty-five years,
the understanding of rice biology through modern science has witnessed
phenomenal growth. Rice is perhaps one of the best understood of the food
crops to date. This enhanced understanding of rice biology opens up new
vistas for unprecedented developments in the application of biotechnology
for rice improvement.
Even so, the one critical factor that will likely limit the realisation of
the numerous proven and potential benefits of genetically engineered rice
will be the lack of a scientifically sound regulatory review process that
banks on the highest standards of science to pave the way for its safe
deployment in the environment. Given the populist rhetoric and attendant
counter-claims and confusion that have engaged the regulatory processes
all through its evolution -especially in most parts of the rice growing
world- and the consequent lack of clarity in the current regulatory
scenario, it is not far to seek why the transfer of technologies from the
lab to the cultivated lands has been such an arduous process. The main
reasons for such delays are the lack of clarity in matters of science,
inadequate valid data and poor dissemination of information that have
delayed the eliciting of answers to issues critical to biosafety and
This international workshop was designed precisely to address these vexing
issues: as a high level scientific consultation of acknowledged experts in
various aspects of rice biology and agriculture, besides knowledgeable
resource persons in other relevant domains to provide the best possible
scientific information on transgenic rice. It is expected that regulators
would make use of the information arising from this workshop to make their
own considered and informed regulatory decisions and facilitate safe
transfer of transgenic rice varieties into the field for testing and
The workshop was inaugurated with keynote address by one the most
distinguished rice experts of India, Professor S. V. S. Shastry, former
Executive Secretary of the FAO Rice Commission who set the stage for the
entire workshop by highlighting rice cultivation practices and offering
simple and practical suggestions by which one could enhance rice
production. A plenary lecture on the biology and ecology of rice crops
and its wild and weedy relatives by Dr. Gurdev Khush clearly laid the
stage for how biotech interventions can be safely brought into rice
cultivation systems. Topics ranging from whether transgenic rice can be
released into centers of diversity and origin, what kinds of genes should
or should not be deployed in transgenic rice, and the utility of deploying
herbicide tolerant transgenic rice, food and feed safety issues of
transgenic rice, a series of three lectures on models of transgenic crops
risk assessment including the application of precautionary principles were
presented. There was a special session on the societal, economic and
ethical issues surrounding transgenic rice. In addition, there were
presentations on risk communication and principles governing the
establishment of a transparent regulatory system in the developing
countries with effective public participation. The workshop concluded
with a valedictory lecture by Dr. M. S. Swaminathan on managing
technological changes in agriculture with special reference to
The workshop deliberated on a set on non-binding biosafety and regulatory
recommendations that are given here:
1. The workshop recognizes the importance of conventional plant
breeding and strongly recommends its further strengthening through
incorporation of new scientific and technological tools, including
2. There are real benefits to be had, by all sections of the
society, from the application of biotechnology, in particular the
recombinant-DNA (rDNA) technology. A broad based consultative process must
be conducted to rank priorities for transgenic rice development suited to
national needs on an ongoing basis.
3. Developing rice varieties having greater tolerance to drought,
submergence and salinity, better resistance to pests and disease, and rich
in micronutrients, appear to be achievable goals through rDNA engineering
and should be pursued actively.
4. A comprehensive science-based risk assessment system must be
practiced for genetically engineered crops ñ including rice ñ that takes
into account issues relating to Centers of Diversity and unique social and
5. Currently, genetically enhanced transgenic rice conferring high
level of resistance to stem borers and leaf folders are in advanced stage
of development in some countries. Transgenes encoding d-endotoxins of
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are the commonly used insecticidal genes in
view of their good record of specificity and efficacy against target
pests, and its non-toxicity to humans, other mammals and birds. The
workshop recommends that to enhance its efficacy, wherever possible such
transgenes must be put under the control of target tissue- or
stage-specific regulatory elements rather than the constitutive ones.
6. Importance of resistance management through integrated pest
management has been stressed in the workshop, as also the imperative to
extend the usefulness of Bt and such other transgenes. Resistance
management strategies for the predominantly tiny rice farms of Asia need
to be fine-tuned in keeping with the local practices. The aspect of
refugia in particular would merit special attention. The workshop
recommends that studies be undertaken to assess efficacy of refuges and
refugia provided by non-transgenic rice crops. Given the scenario of
greater vulnerability to resistance breakdown in Asian rice farming
systems, deployment of two-genes (having dissimilar mode of action)
transgenics may be required to prolong resistance.
7. The potential of gene flow in rice exists and its occurrence has
been scientifically established. This phenomenon must be addressed for
transgenic rice through appropriate regulatory oversight, on a
case-by-case basis. Given the importance of rice as a staple crop,
regulatory agencies must develop and put in place a comprehensive
monitoring mechanism to assess long-term environmental/ecological impacts
from the release of transgenic rice.
8. The regulatory process relating to genetically engineered crops
need to be made transparent, participatory (involving all stakeholders),
effective and efficient. Appropriate regulatory oversight based on sound
scientific information should be an essential requirement for the approval
and release of crops derived from rDNA technology.
9. International experience garnered across different species must
be used to make appropriate case-by-case study of biosafety assessment and
regulatory oversight while taking into account current difficulties
experienced internationally in interpreting and applying concepts such as
the precautionary principle and substantial equivalence.
10. No credible scientific evidence is available indicating horizontal
transfer of antibiotic-marker genes under natural conditions, and chances
of such transfer are far greater from other microbes in the environment.
The workshop recommends use of alternative systems of selection where
feasible. The Workshop also recommends use of ëclean DNAí (minus the
vector background) technology for transformation.
11. The technological application of micronutrient-enhanced rice must be
reviewed through the regulatory process, keeping in view the social,
political and cultural implications.
12. Prior to commercialising herbicide resistant rice, issues relating
to the potential development of resistance in the genetically modified
crop besides the ecological, social and cultural factors from such an
introduction to the society must be addressed.
13. The workshop recommends that transgenic rice producing
pharmaceuticals and drugs must be assessed carefully for their impact on
food and feed chain. It was strongly felt that rice crop must be avoided
to produce such compounds as far as possible. However, if there was
critical need to develop such transgenic rice, a distinct set of
bio-containment protocols must be developed under rigorous oversight.
14. No scientifically valid environmental or ecological impact issue was
identified with respect to releasing transgenic rice varieties in
centre(s) of origin and centres of diversity.
15. Basic research relating to transgenic rice should be encouraged even
as effective regulatory systems are put in place.
The agenda, the program and a final report of the workshop can be accessed
Dr. Gurumurti Natarajan (email@example.com)
For the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences
New Delhi, India.
Allowing science to guide decisions
Monarch butterflies are familiar to most people as a welcomed garden
visitor. They also have become a poster insect for the need to preserve
wildlife and wildlife habitat.
But in May 1999, the monarch took on another role ñ as the center of a
tornado of controversy when a small laboratory trial was published that
appeared to indicate that the pollen of genetically modified Bt corn
presented a threat to monarch caterpillars. Although this experiment in no
way duplicated natural conditions under which monarch caterpillars may
come in contact with corn pollen, mainstream media reported that monarch
butterflies were threatened.
Considering the popularity of monarch butterflies, the public outcry that
followed media reports that pollen from transgenic corn was killing
monarch butterflies was not surprising. These media reports had the effect
of heightening public awareness and increasing scrutiny of transgenic
plants in terms of potential environmental impact. The reports also
intensified one of the most controversial and polarizing issues to face
agricultural scientists in recent memory.
Often, such a public outcry drives decision making in advance of true
scientific evidence. But in this case of Bt corn and monarch butterflies,
an attitude prevailed, even among groups with differing agendas, that
decisions about transgenic plants should be based on the weight of
In response to the furor in the media and the public, a group of public
and private scientists designed multi-faceted studies to answer questions
about Bt corn pollen and the monarch butterfly. They published their
findings as a group after rigorous scrutiny of their work by the
Their scientific evidence shows that the risk to the monarch butterfly by
Bt corn pollen is negligible. The steps taken by these scientists
represent a model for risk assessment research of genetically modified
plants. Further, the work represents an important example of allowing
science to guide decision making.
Monarch - Bt Timeline
UC DAVIS SEED BIOTECHNOLOGY CENTER PUBLICATIONS AVAILABLE
December 9, 2002
UC Davis ‚ Press Release DAVIS, Calif.
The UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center announces publication of a new
plant biotechnology resource. You can find the link for Biotechnology
Provides New Tools for Plant Breeding at:
http://sbc.ucdavis.edu/Outreach/abc/abc_series.htm. This new publication
is the first of many in the series titled Agricultural Biotechnology in
California (ABC's). These informational pieces are peer reviewed by UC
scientists and managed by an Agricultural and Natural Resources editor.
This publication covers a general overview of plant biotechnology and is
the springboard for many other ABC's. A second in the series, Identity
Preservation of Agricultural Commodities, is available at
http://sbc.ucdavis.edu. This document describes the essential features of
IP programs, using seed certification as a model. Issues related to crops
developed using biotechnology are addressed, and examples of specific
commodity IP programs, including the California Rice Certification Act and
the National Organic Act, are presented. Finally, economic issues
associated with IP programs are discussed. To request more information
about these publications or to make suggestions for future ABC's, call
530-754-7333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Environment Ministers pave way for Council common position on GM
Brussels, 10 December 2002:
EuropaBio welcomes the Environment Councilís decision to complete the GM
legislative package. ìWhile yesterdayís decision paves the way for a
common position on new legislation for GM food and feed in Europe it
places onerous burdens on the European Agro-Food industries and on
national authorities who will have to enforce the law,î says Simon Barber,
Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at EuropaBio (1). ìIt is
important to underline that these rules are not about safety rather they
are about how to extend labelling of GM products to meet consumer choice.î
The Environment Council has confirmed its policy of extending labelling to
all end products derived from GM crops irrespective of whether they are
physically and chemically identical to products derived from non GM like
sugars and oils. ìIn theory labelling must apply to all ingredients
derived from GM products, but in practice can only be checked in those
that have detectable novel DNA or protein,î says Simon Barber. This will
force the food industries to duplicate their systems to meet European
requirements of keeping identical products separate, increased costs will
be incurred (2). ìIn essence, the labelling regime now proposed requires
GM labels on foods that do not contain any GM material, so that people can
avoid something that is not there.î EuropaBio, supports labelling of food
and feed that can be verified through testing (3)
It is because of the policy decision to extend labelling to products that
do not contain GM protein that the traceability proposal has to go further
than simply putting in place the requirement for detection tests for the
tracing of GM protein. The traceability requirements for GM Food and Feed,
and derived ingredients are in addition to the existing EU traceability
rules for food and feed (4). Furthermore, rules governing the growing of
GM crops (Directive 2001/18/EC) already provide for a high level of safety
by requiring the monitoring of their behaviour to enable their tracing and
withdrawal from the market if a safety issue is identified (5).
The Environment Council has also broken with the Cartagena Protocol, by
insisting that bulk commodities be labelled differently to what the
International Treaty demands. The same Environment Council had agreed to
the Protocol text only a few months ago. EuropaBio supported the
Commissionís proposal to label bulk commodities intended for food, feed or
processing as ìmay containî accompanied by a single list of all GM crops
that made up the bulk of the commodity at its original source.
The consequences of increased demand for non-GM food and feed supplies to
Europe has not been adequately considered by the Environment Ministers
either. Globally, more than 5.5 million farmers are growing GM crops on
more than 50 million hectares (6), which will lead to some technically
unavoidable trace levels (adventitious presence) of these in non-GM food
and feed products. EuropaBio supports the Commissionís proposal to exempt
products that have less than 1% trace levels of GM from labelling.
The Council Common Position will be submitted for a Second Reading to the
European Parliament in early 2003. EuropaBio looks to the Parliament to
agree practical rules that are enforceable and that strike a proper
balance between the interests of the environment, consumers, industry and
authorities. EuropaBio asks legislators to consider biotechnology as a
part of the toolkit that will help European agriculture develop a more
harmonious balance between food production and our surrounding
environment. Evidence that GM crops are good for the environment and for
the competitiveness of agriculture is mounting in those parts of the world
that are already growing GM crops (7).
For further information, contact;
Adeline Farrelly, Tel: +32 2 739 1174 (Direct), Tel: +32 2 735 0313
Simon Barber, Tel: +32 2 739 1172 (Direct), Mobile: +32 476 44 24 20
Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug is credited with saving the lives of 1
So why is a small cadre of activists bent on tarnishing his legacy?
The Dallas Observer
BY MARK STUERTZ
Jeanie Laube wasn't sure what her father was up to in India and Pakistan
in the late 1960s. He was almost never home, and he wasn't in the habit of
calling, she says. That's why she was stunned one morning in 1970. While
listening to her car radio in Wisconsin she heard that her daddy had won
the Nobel Peace Prize. "I couldn't believe it. I had no clue," she admits.
If Laube was clueless then, the rest of America is largely clueless now.
While other American Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Dr. Martin Luther
King (1964), Henry Kissinger (1973), Elie Wiesel (1986, Holocaust survivor
and author) and Jody Williams (1997, anti-land mine activist) might at
least spark vague recognition, Borlaug's name would most likely elicit
blank stares. Yet among many who know him, mention of his name draws forth
a different response. "I believe that Norman Borlaug will eventually be
recognized as one of the 10 greatest contributors to humankind of the 20th
century," says Bruce Chassy, professor of food microbiology at the
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Yet the pith of his greatness is--at least to those whose bellies have
never cramped from hunger--mundane: cereal grains. In the mid-'60s,
Borlaug traveled to India and Pakistan in an attempt to avert massive
disaster. The countries had plunged into one of the worst droughts in
years. Millions teetered on the edge of starvation. For several frantic
months, Borlaug and his team dodged war, struggled with bum seeds and
battled entrenched bureaucrats. Yet by employing agricultural techniques
he developed in Mexico, he was able to nearly double South Asian wheat
harvests between 1965 and 1970. His work was coined the "Green
Revolution," and it spread rapidly across Asia. Largely because of
Borlaug's work, global food production outpaced surging population growth
over the closing decades of the 20th century, averting the global calamity
so many predicted.
When Borlaug was selected for the Nobel Peace Prize, Laube says, Norwegian
officials phoned her mother in Mexico City at 4 a.m., but Borlaug had
already left for the test fields in Toluca Valley, about 40 miles west of
Mexico City. A chauffeur was dispatched to take her to the fields to meet
her husband. "And my mom said, 'You won the Nobel Peace Prize,' and he
said, 'No, I haven't.'" He refused to believe it. "'I'm not going in to
talk to the press,'" Laube says her father insisted after finally
accepting the news. "It took some convincing," she says. "He thought the
whole thing was a hoax."
In the years since, many have struggled to frame Borlaug's accomplishments
as just that: a hoax; a brown revolution that has wreaked far more
environmental and cultural havoc on the planet than benefit; a Western
public relations stunt designed to fatten the agro-industrial complex, not
feed the hungry.
Physicist and eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, director of the Research
Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi, decried this
supposed disaster in her 1991 book The Violence of the Green Revolution:
Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics. She blames the Green
Revolution for the destruction of Indian crop diversity, drought
vulnerability, dependence on agrochemicals that poison soils and waterways
and for generating "pseudo surpluses" reflecting boosts in wheat and rice
production while concealing declines in the production of pulses,
oilseeds, millets and maize. "There was great violence at the heart of the
Green Revolution," Shiva wrote in a 1994 article published in The Guardian
in London. "People were at each other's throats."
Jeanie Laube says she never knows where in the world her father is. He
skims the globe--sub-Saharan Africa, Oslo, Mexico, Tokyo--attending
conferences, giving speeches, conducting scientific research, teaching
scientists from developing nations. As a child growing up in Mexico City,
she only saw her father on holidays or for special events. Infrequent
family picnics would take place in Mexico's experimental wheat fields,
where Laube would help her father put plastic sleeves around wheat stems
to facilitate cross-pollination. But now, she says, her father is home in
Dallas more than he ever has been, maybe three weeks out of the year,
though technically the 88-year-old Borlaug has lived here for more than 20
years. "He's never anywhere except in an airplane," she says. "I don't
know how he does it. His sleep schedule is all messed up. He probably
sleeps four hours per day."
Because her mother, Margaret, now 91, is blind, Laube manages the mail
that flows into her North Dallas home. The stream is heavy, with thousands
upon thousands of requests from around the world for her father's
autograph. She once came across a postage stamp with her father's picture
on it that someone had requested her father sign. Laube doesn't remember
from what country the stamp originated, but India issued a postage stamp
in 1968 honoring the Indian wheat revolution her father fomented.
What confounds Laube is how little of this mail comes from the United
States. "They have Time magazine with pictures of people who don't do
anything for humanity," she says. "They have stamps for people who don't
do anything for humanity. And here's this person, an American...I think
he's really underappreciated in America."
The reasons for this are not difficult to understand. Agriculture is not a
sexy subject. The beneficiaries of his innovations and energies are
primarily brown and yellow people from Third World countries. Then there
is simply this: Desperate hunger is an alien affliction in the United
States, where malnourishment is more likely to result in obesity than
Yet more than that is a prevailing criticism that a cadre of elites--from
activists to academics to business and governmental organizations--has
leveled against Borlaug since he embarked on a radical plan to feed the
desperate millions in South Asia in the mid-'60s. They thought his program
was pure madness, an example of reckless arrogance.
Borlaug wrote in 1988 that this faction of "clairvoyant doomsayers" was
both surprised and dismayed when his success proved them wrong. During the
1980s as Borlaug turned his attention to Africa, some environmentalists
took aim at high-yield agriculture as a global ecological threat and
sought to starve him of funding by pressuring foundations and donor
countries to steer clear of Borlaug's work, which utilized heavy doses of
chemical fertilizers. The pressure repelled the Ford Foundation and the
World Bank from Borlaug's efforts.
"These people have never been around hungry people," Borlaug says of his
well-fed critics. "They're Utopians. They sit and philosophize. They don't
live in the real world."
In 1999, the Texas A&M University Board of Regents named its Center for
Southern Crop Improvement in honor of Borlaug, who has been a
distinguished professor of international agriculture at the university
since 1984. But the part-time professor didn't take an office in the
handsome $16 million complex. Borlaug works in the Heep Center in a
shadowy section of the building drenched in drab green. There is no plaque
to indicate a Nobel laureate dwells among the papers, books and pictures
from Mexico and Africa stuffed into a room barely larger than a broom
closet. Instead, a slip of paper with his name printed on it is taped to a
raised rectangle affixed to the wall.
Despite his age, Borlaug is sharp and articulate. His speech wavers but is
vigorous, and he has never been one to shy away from physical danger or
discomfort. For the past 60 years he has trekked through the globe's most
desperate and backward corners--Peru, Guatemala, Egypt, sub-Saharan
Africa, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan--in a relentless drive to teach
people how to adequately feed themselves.
For most of his adult life Borlaug has rarely indulged in the comforts of
the industrialized West for any extended period of time. His choice has
been to immerse himself in locales where people stare death in the face
"Traveling in the back country is not very pleasant," he admits. "The
hotels were miserable. The food was bad. In any of these countries I'd
never eat fresh food that wasn't cooked, unless I knew where that damn
lettuce came from. Chances are pretty good it was irrigated with sewage
He was born in 1914 and grew up on a small farm in the northeastern corner
of Iowa in a town called Cresco. He and his family raised corn, oats,
timothy hay, cattle, pigs and chickens. Schooling was in a one-room
schoolhouse that spanned kindergarten through eighth grade.