Today in AgBioView: December 13, 2002:
* GM Plants Could Protect Against Cancer - Experts
* Food Has Big Effects On Health, Study Says
* Fight Against Biotech Foods - Is Real Target Free Trade?
* Food Safety, Stigma, and The Food Trade: Yesterday and Today
* Media's Role in Biotech Debate: "Frankenfood" Examined
* US Aid for Africa's Famine
* On "Greenpeace - Africans Should Eat GM"
* Malawi Should Have Rejected GM Maize - NGOs
* Genetically Modified Organisms a Health Hazard-Report
* Labels and Trade Wars
* More Response to 'GM Plants Cause Cancer'...
* USDA Secretary Stresses Importance of Biotech
* African Journalists' Views on Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture
* Berkeley Bean Fascists and (100% Organic) Black Widow Spiders in Your
GM Plants Could Protect Against Cancer - Experts
NZPA, December 13, 2002 ,
Genetic engineering of crops, which many people fear could make plants
dangerous, may in fact make them more nutritious and more able to protect
people from cancer and other disease, two United States researchers said
They said the same genes that plants use to defend against the sun's rays,
drought and other stresses work in the human body to protect against the
damage that leads to cancer, blindness and chronic disease. "Many of the
compounds that protect plant cells also protect human cells," Barbara
Demmig-Adams and William Adams of the University of Colorado wrote in a
review for the journal Science. "Improving plant resistance to stress may
thus have the beneficial side effect of also improving the nutritional
quality of plants," they wrote.
The environmental organisation Greenpeace and other groups say genetic
engineering has the potential to introduce dangerous allergens into food.
They oppose the genetic manipulation of crops. The two biologists, a
husband and wife team, reviewed more than 50 studies for their commentary.
Plants make antioxidants such as zeaxanthin and lutein to protect their
leaves and fruit from sun damage, and also help protect the human eye from
the sun's rays, they wrote. Lutein and zeaxanthin also may enhance immune
system response and protect against heart disease and cancer.
Scientists at companies and academic research centers are already at work
trying to make rice that will grow in salt-laden soil, that will germinate
at low temperatures, and that contain extra vitamin A. "Efforts to enhance
plant antioxidant content may serve a dual purpose," the two wrote. "We
may be able to manipulate plant response to environmental stress while
simultaneously enhancing the nutritional quality of plant foods."
People are already being urged by doctors to eat more plants, with study
after study showing that eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables
greatly reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and even disease such
as diabetes and macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.
Adams and Demmig-Adams cited studies that show some of the basic molecular
mechanisms that underlie these benefits. For instance, plants need to get
rid of the excess energy generated by photosynthesis, and a complex
interaction of genes does this.
One product of this genetic interaction is zeaxanthin, which itself is
made from beta-carotene -- best known as the precursor, in animals, to
vitamin A. Genetic engineering could be used to create plants that make
extra zeaxanthin. "Food molecules enter our bodies and modulate our
genes," Demmig-Adams, a biologist, said in a statement. "One's diet can be
more powerful than drugs."
The two researchers noted studies that have shown attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and dyslexia all can be influenced
by food. Adding omega-3 fatty acids, found in flaxseed oil, soy and canola
as well as fish oil, can improve these conditions. "If we had diets more
enriched with the right plant foods, we would likely live longer, and,
more importantly maintain a higher quality of life as we age," said
Food Has Big Effects On Health, Study Says
Scientists find plants work like hormones
- Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News, December 13, 2002,
Food can be "more powerful than drugs" in our bodies, altering genes that
affect whether we get cancer, heart disease, depression, schizophrenia or
dyslexia, two Colorado researchers report. Their study in today's issue of
Science magazine lends biochemical credence to the adage "we are what we
"If we had diets more enriched with the right plant foods, we would likely
live longer," said Barbara Demmig-Adams, biology professor at the
University of Colorado. "More importantly, we would maintain a higher
quality of life as we age." She and her husband, CU biology professor
William Adams, found that proteins that protect plants from the ravages of
sunlight, drought and poor soil can also protect human cells.
Without those proteins, the crops will wither, or, if eaten by humans,
will be shy of both nutrients and those protective qualities. Geneticists
recently have manipulated plants to alter their protein levels and protect
them from environmental stress, said Demmig-Adams, who co-wrote the paper
with her husband, CU biologist William Adams. When such plants are eaten
by humans, they produce higher levels of antioxidants that protect against
The CU pair's big surprise was finding that food molecules act like
hormones, regulating body functioning and triggering cell division. The
molecules can cause mental imbalances ranging from attention-deficit and
hyperactivity disorder to serious mental illness, she said.
Demmig-Adams hopes, but doesn't expect, that their finding that the
natural ingredients in plants can affect human hormones will dampen the
furor against genetically engineered food.
"Some of the concern springs from ignorance," maintains Demmig-Adams.
"These genes and proteins (from the bio-engineered plants) don't get into
us - our digestive system doesn't allow it. "We only get the metabolites
that the plants make naturally," she added. "We would just be getting more
of it" from plants that have been made more resistant to stress.
Most supermarkets sell produce that has been genetically altered through
cross-breeding first described by the monk Gregor Mendel in the 19th
century. The newer science of genetic engineering has many people arguing
that inserting genes from one plant into another can have unforeseen
If there is a public push for veggies richer in antioxidants, farmers can
get them to the supermarket shelves within a year or two, Demmig-Adams
said. Meantime, health-conscious people should eat more antioxidant-rich
foods such as carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, nectarines, herbs
and spices - most any fruit or vegetable that is colorful.
Fight Against Biotech Foods -- Is Real Target Free Trade?
- Henry I. Miller, Investor's Business Daily, December 12, 2002
The new biotechnology, or gene-splicing, applied to agriculture and food
has a tough row to hoe. Beleaguered by activists, overregulated and
rejected even by Third World countries wracked by famine, its future is
uncertain. Senior U.S. officials have been saying all the right things.
Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies, lashed out at
African leaders who refuse food aid because of groundless fears of new
biotechnology products. "People that deny food to their people, that are
in fact starving people to death, should be held responsible . . . for the
highest crimes against humanity, in the highest courts in the world," he
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has also weighed in, blasting
Europe's Luddite and protectionist opposition to biotechnology as
"equivalent to that period when people were opposed to machines." He even
threatened to fire the first salvo in what could evolve into a major trade
war, saying the U.S. is "strongly considering" filing a World Trade
Organization complaint against the European Union for blocking the import
of American gene-spliced agricultural products.
However, before getting off a single shot, Zoellick is being outflanked by
European and American -- yes, American -- bureaucrats at the deliberations
of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the food standards program of the
U.N. That group's task force on gene-spliced foods is in the process of
crafting regulations that will provide cover for those who wish to
regulate biotech into oblivion.
Issue Of Free Trade. During 2 1/2 years of talks by the task force, the
Europeans and NGOs (which are permitted full participation) have led the
assault on technological innovation and free trade. The participants --
including the U.S. delegation, headed by a senior FDA food regulator --
have wilfully ignored scientific principles and the basic axiom that the
degree of regulatory scrutiny should be proportionate to risk.
They've disregarded the scientific consensus that gene-splicing is an
extension, or refinement, of older, traditional techniques of genetic
modification, and that it doesn't warrant discriminatory rules. They've
deliberately circumscribed only gene-spliced foods for compulsory
case-by-case "premarket safety assessment of . . . both intended and
unintended effects, identifying new or altered hazards and identifying
changes relevant to human health."
These requirements are more appropriate to potentially dangerous
prescription drugs and pesticides than to improved varieties of tomatoes,
potatoes and strawberries. None of the foods modified by less precise,
less predictable traditional techniques -- which comprise virtually the
entire diet of Europeans and Americans -- could (or should) meet these
standards. The requirements for gene-spliced foods, which are both
sweeping and vague, will vastly increase the costs to develop these
products, drastically impair their competitiveness in the marketplace, and
limit their use.
Derailing the development of gene-spliced foods is precisely what many of
those on the task force seek. At least for the Europeans, the reason is
clear. As Wellesley College political scientist Robert Paarlberg has
noted, the products of agricultural biotechnology have been "developed
mostly in U.S. laboratories, widely adopted by U.S. farmers, and pushed
out onto the world market by U.S. companies."
In other words, agricultural biotechnology is an icon of U.S.
technological success and supremacy. So, naturally, our trading partners
seek to punish it. Less obvious is why American regulators have gone
along. Milton Friedman explained it with his observation that you can
usually rely on individuals and institutions (including regulatory
agencies) to act in their self-interest.
That self-interest for regulators lies in expanded mandates and larger
budgets and bureaucratic empires. The FDA is adopting rules much like
those of their European counterparts that focus not on risk, but only on
those products made with the most precise and predictable techniques. The
public interest be damned.
The prospect of unduly burdensome Codex standards for gene-spliced foods
is ominous -- both for the prospects of the technology itself and for U.S.
hopes of WTO relief from protectionist European policies -- because
members of the WTO will, in principle, have to abide by those standards.
In other words, the standards will provide cover for unfair trade
practices, because any country that wishes to block trade in gene-spliced
foods for any reason can defend against charges of unfair trade practices
simply by remonstrating that it's deferring to Codex.
These unscientific standards will harm the environment and public health
by stifling the development of innovations that can boost farm
productivity (which reduces the need for more farmland), supplant
agricultural chemicals and conserve water.
The greatest threats to the planet's environment come from the world's
growing population and its demands for water and more land to be brought
into food production. Yet an important answer -- the development of
higher-yielding, drought-resistant plant varieties -- will be blocked by
discriminatory, hugely expensive regulation of gene-spliced plant
varieties. Although efforts should be made to reassure the public that
gene-splicing techniques are at least as safe as more traditional methods
of genetic modification, excessive regulation is not the way to do so.
Focusing On Real Risks. As the head of Consumer Alert, a U.S. consumer
group, testified a decade ago to a federal investigative panel, "For
obvious reasons, the consumer views the technologies that are most
regulated to be the least safe ones. Heavy involvement by government, no
matter how well intended, inevitably sends the wrong signals. Rather than
ensuring confidence, it raises suspicion and doubt."
Regulation should focus on real risks. It shouldn't be triggered by the
use of one technique or another. If the Codex approach is adopted, the
cost of biotechnology R&D will be greatly and unnecessarily inflated. The
result will be essentially irreversible constraints on innovation and
trade. A level playing field is of little use if it is knee-deep in mud.
The enemies of rational public policy and the problems confronted by
Zoellick and Hall lie not only across the Pond, but also inside the
Henry Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an adviser to the
U.S. delegation to the Codex Alimentarius Commission task force on biotech
foods. He was director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989-93.
Food Safety, Stigma, and The Food Trade: Yesterday and Today
- Justin Kastner and Christian Battista; December 13, 2002; Commentary and
Video from the Food Safety Network www.foodsafetynetwork.ca
The European Union earlier this week made much ado about a potential new
approach to labeling genetically engineered foods, one that could see the
approval process initiated after a four-year hiatus. The U.S. is not
impressed. Canadians should be skeptical as well. The labeling proposals
feature an Enron-like paper trail that will be expensive, ponderous, and
do nothing to enhance the safety of the food supply.
The U.S. is rightly considering challenging the EU at the World Trade
Organization. Yet despite the conspiracy-minded meanderings of critics,
the WTO actually has little power and is fraught with enforcement
problems. The U.S. and Canada collectively won a WTO ruling against the EU
going back to 1998, that found the EU practice of barring beef produced
with the aid of growth hormones to be an unfair, unjustified trade
practice. The EU shrugged its shoulders, bore the brunt of some
retaliatory tariffs and things didn't change.
Or did they.
U.S. threats to challenge the EU on genetically engineered foods may have
less to do with Brussels and more to do with countries like Zambia, where
EU-style genetically engineered (GE) food restrictions have been adopted.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the theory -- one we have heard at
meetings -- that the U.S. exposing WTO violations of the EU could be a
down payment on other countries' compliance with WTO rules. In following
this strategy, the U.S. has its eye on countries like Zambia, where the
refusal of GE food aid from North America signals how a
phenomenon--stigma--can disrupt the international food trade. Most food
aid problems, such as those in Zimbabwe, are due to politics and unequal
distribution. However, the case of Zambia demonstrates that food safety
stigma, especially when used by activist groups, is equally troublesome.
There are currently over 2 million people on the brink of starvation in
Zambia. GE food aid from North America has been sent to Zambia, but the
Zambian government has refused to distribute it because it is deemed
unsafe. Meanwhile, people in North America and around the globe have been
eating GE food for years without any health problems; why, then, would the
Zambian government refuse it when it could help save its own starving
people? Several answers have been provided, but this is really a case of
stigmata, a mark or token of disgrace, which, while not always undeserved,
has served to unduly disrupt international trade ever since humans entered
into the business of spreading rumors, making scientifically unjustified
accusations, and spreading gruesome tales of disease. As rumors,
accusations, and tales are passed from person-to-person, theories become
absolutes, and fiction becomes fact.
How did 17,000 tonnes of North American food aid come to be refused? It
all started with a study at Cornell University that claimed that pollen
from a GE corn plant, Bt corn, was toxic to Monarch butterfly larvae. The
study, which did not replicate the conditions in the field, involved
force-feeding Bt pollen to the larvae. Despite its refutation by
scientists and regulatory agencies worldwide, the Cornell study entered
the rumour mill and, with the assistance of environmental activist groups
using electronic media, has served to stigmatize GE food. One result has
been Zambia's refusal of GE food aid.
If the US does in fact take the EU to the WTO, the case will necessarily
centre on the EU's GE regulations. Indirectly, however, it will also be
about stigma-fueled misinformation campaigns that, as in Zambia, can lead
to ridiculous import restrictions.
In a new web-based video, Food Safety Network researchers Christian
Battista and Justin Kastner consider the case of Zambia and the
century-old effects of stigma. The five-minute video discusses the role
stigma has played in Zambia's refusal of GE food aid and, by citing a late
nineteenth century trade dispute over trichinosis, demonstrates that
stigma is nothing new.
The video, at www.foodsafetynetwork.ca/trade/stigma.mov, is viewable with
apple.com's QuickTime (downloadable for free at
Conference Looks at Media's Role in Biotech Debate: "Frankenfood"
Phenomenon is Examined
- Alvin Powell, Harvard University Gazette, Dec 5, 2002
Corn, butterflies, and the media were center stage at the John F. Kennedy
School of Government Nov. 21 at a conference that examined the media's
role in keeping the public informed - or frightened - about the growing
presence of biotechnology in food production.
The conference, sponsored by the Kennedy School's Joan F. Shorenstein
Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, and the Pew Initiative on
Food and Biotechnology, brought together scientists, journalists, industry
representatives, and academics to examine the role the media has had in
the hysteria and hype around the issue.
Several panelists were critical of reporting that highlighted the
sensational aspects of scientific findings that genetically modified corn
could kill Monarch butterflies and reports of genetic "pollution" of
Mexican corn from genetically altered U.S. corn across the border. Others,
however, praised the handling of cases such as the 2000 disclosure that
modified StarLink corn - approved only for animal feed - had reached the
nation's food supply.
During a lively panel discussion focusing on genetically modified corn, a
diverse panel disagreed on many things but agreed that nobody -
scientists, the media, or the government - has all the answers.
Institute of Politics director Dan Glickman, former U.S. representative
and former U.S. secretary of agriculture, moderated the panel and
introduced it by reading a news story about how scientists are planning to
create new, artificial life for the first time. "Obviously, this is right
on target with where we are today," Glickman said.
The conference featured three separate discussions, "Media Coverage of
Science Issues," moderated by Shorenstein Center director Alex Jones;
"Genetically Modified Corn: Covering Science and Controversy - A Case
Study," moderated by Glickman; and "Communicating Food and Health Risks to
Consumers," moderated by Boyce Rensberger, director of Knight Science
Journalism Fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"The rising calls in Congress and the administration for sound science
reflects a growing sense in policy circles that there's a lack of sound
science behind scientific decisions. Critics complain that decisions are
often driven by political concerns driven by sensational headlines," said
Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology, who kicked the conference off. "These allegations raise
serious questions on the role of science in informing public policy and on
the role of the media in publicizing scientific discoveries."
Rodemeyer said the conference would examine whether the interests and
goals of journalists, scientists, and policy-makers are at odds. He added
that media coverage of the issue has been criticized as one-sided, but
that that allegation has come from both sides of the debate. "Are the
impetus to simplify and highlight the news and to emphasize conflict and
controversy in the media appropriate in reporting science?" Rodemeyer
asked. "Nowhere are those conflicts as obvious as in the debate on food,
particularly genetically modified food."
The discussion on genetically modified corn featured Marc Kaufman, science
reporter for The Washington Post who broke the StarLink story; Andrew
Marshall, editor of Nature Biotechnology; Linda Thrane, executive director
of the industry trade group the Council for Biotechnology Information; Jim
Aidala, president of AgroChemical/Biotech, JCS, Inc.; Larry Bohlen,
director of health and environmental programs for Friends of the Earth;
and C.S. Prakash, professor in plant molecular genetics and director of
the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University.
The lively discussion focused on the cases of StarLink corn and the Bt
corn that was reported to be harmful to Monarch butterflies. It ranged,
however, from comparisons with the once-promising nuclear power industry,
to the level of information possessed by the public, to the regulatory
processes in place that protect the public from harmful products.
Though some media outlets have grabbed the easy, sensational headlines,
Kaufman said one reliable source for science reporting is the scientific
journals. Their peer review process, Kaufman said, ensures that reporters
are dealing with a story on which knowledgeable sources have already said
the science is sound.
Prakash was more critical of the press, however, saying that the media has
used scare tactics and words like "Frankenfoods" to appeal to the public's
emotions rather than relying on the science, which he said, shows the
foods are overwhelmingly safe.
Several panelists agreed that, though flawed, the U.S. regulatory process
has mostly ensured that unsafe products haven't made it to market. That
contrasts with the case in Europe, where cases of mad cow disease,
hoof-and-mouth disease, and salmonella have eroded the public's confidence
in its regulatory bodies. The result, panelists said, has been a broad
rejection of genetically modified foods in Europe.
They drew the contrast that in the United States, rather than rejecting
products based on the process by which they are created, regulatory bodies
examine the individual product to see if it is safe. "In the U.S., the
public does have confidence in the regulatory authority. In Europe it
doesn't," Marshall said.
Still, many uncertainties remain, according to skeptics on the panel.
Questions of whether a modified crop will be safe for people with
allergies, whether the crop can be grown safely in nature without
contaminating unmodified crops grown nearby, and whether they can be grown
without harming the environment all remain unanswered.
The public is also not very knowledgeable about biotechnology used in food
production, but given the questions that still can't be answered even by
experts, panelists said that's not surprising. That uncertainty is
reflected in articles, both in academic journals and in the mainstream
press, where scientific consensus is lacking.
Kaufman said that, given the level of interest in the issue, he thought
reporters had been under-aggressive in reporting about genetically
modified foods. "It is unclear to me that the public is getting as much
information on this as it should," Kaufman said. Industry supporters,
however, said that lost in the debate over safety is the potential for
these modified foods to increase yields, produce needed drugs, and reduce
the tons of chemical pesticides dumped on agricultural land each year.
US Aid for Africa's Famine
- William S Farish (US Ambassador to UK), The Guardian, December 13, 2002
(Sent by Andrew Apel)
You quote (Eco soundings, December 4) a UK government minister [Michael
Meacher, responding to a US offer of large quantities of GM grain to
Africa in famine relief] as saying: "It's wicked, when there is such an
excess of non-GM food available. We have the means to assist, but we are
playing politics over GM.î I was sad and angry when I read these words.
They are not true.
There is no excess of non-GM food available. Southern Africans eat maize.
More than 95% of US maize is GM. The US has offered to buy maize from
South Africa, but virtually all South African maize on the market is GM
World stocks of maize (of any sort) are nearly 25% lower than last year.
The World Food Programme has only received pledges for 56% of famine aid
needed for southern Africa. GM foods offered as food aid are safe to eat.
It's the same food Americans eat and have been eating it since 1996.
The US is the largest food aid donor in the world. Last year, we provided
62% of all food aid offered by the UN World Food Programme. In southern
Africa alone, we provided more than half of the total aid from all
This is not about commercial advantage or gaining markets. It's about
saving people from dying of hunger. Americans know that they are blessed
with prosperity, and want to help others meet their needs. Our response to
famine in Africa or anywhere around the world has always been swift and
generous. I encourage others to follow our example. The need is still
On "Greenpeace - Africans Should Eat GM"
- From: "Tom DeGregori"
Of all the NGOs, Greenpeace keeps saying that - Africans Should Eat GM
corn or at least they should eat GM corn if there is no other choice
available. In this they join the standard NGO litany that there are ample
supplies of non-GM maize available in Africa and on world markets. Thus if
Africans die of famine, it is the fault of those who are providing food
Over the last few years we have been subjected to the gross obscenity of
those who have never done anything to help the poor of the world feed
themselves attacking those that have done so much to raise food production
and consumption in the world. Little did we realize the further depths of
depravity (I used these words advisedly) to which some of these groups
were willing to descend in defense of their ideology. Not only are they
attacking those who are providing food aid but they are impugning the
provider's motives by claiming that this is some conspiracy to force poor
Africans into the greedy clutches of seed companies.
The fact that the United States became a major provider of food aid over
80 years ago after World War I and has been continuously providing it
since World War II - (about 62% of all food aid today is from the United
States) seems not to matter to the critics. What evil motives were there
behind food aid prior to GM food distribution? It doesn't seem to matter
that by law, the US government buys food on the open market in the US for
distribution abroad and that it is not deliberately buying GM food but is
buying clean nutritious corn that is available and simply as no way of
knowing whether or not it is GM.
Unlike the critics, I have known and even worked with some of the
dedicated people in various food for peace programs in Washington (on an a
research advisory committee) and in the field where I have seen them
respond to earlier crisis. I have never know a more dedicated and decent
group of individuals. I have also seen the conditions to which they were
responding. How many of those who jetted into Lusaka for the Luddite love
feast, brought their own food with them rather than further restricting
local supplies? Was there even a bus tour out to the famine areas? Did any
of the participants with their "expert knowledge" of food and food policy,
actually stay on and go into the field to help?
I have been and remain a constant, consistent critic of many aspects of
U.S. foreign policy - that is what democracy is all about - but I have
never found anything to quibble about in the implementation of our
policies of food aid or other forms of disaster relief. Yes the farm lobby
may promote it but many urban members of congress support it and it is
willingly paid for by American taxpayers who have also privately responded
to disasters abroad.
Let us assume as is claimed by the NGOs that there is plenty of non-GM
white maize available in Africa. A modest proposal - why doesn't
Greenpeace (with their 140 million dollar a year budget for
self-aggrandizement), Friends of the Earth, Food First, ETC etc. etc., get
together, pool their financial resources and buy it for delivery to those
To the NGO critics - Show us on it is done. Put us to shame! Buy the
non-GM maize, ship it, keep clean and wholesome and then distribute it in
a way that reaches those in need. No miniscule showpiece efforts for the
cameras but a genuine food distribution program that reaches tens or
hundreds of thousands of people and saves them from starvation. You take
money from the public, foundations and even development agencies allegedly
so you can defend the poor and make sure that their food needs are met.
As I have stated before on other issues, now is the time for the critics
to put-up or shut-up. If you have the solution to the problem as you
claim, than do it. If not, then you are the guilty ones who are not only
letting people die needlessly but you are actively working to prevent
others from helping.
I am at a loss for vocabulary to describe your indecent behavior so please
stop trying to claim some moral superiority to the rest of us. Until you
have actually done something to make food available to those in need, why
don't you have the common decency not to criticize those who do and get
the hell out of the way of humanitarian endeavor.
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of
>> 'Greenpeace - Africans Should Eat GM' Letter to the Editor - Guardian,
>Nov 2, 2002
>> Roger Bate of Washington's International Policy Network accuses Zambia
Malawi Should Have Rejected GM Maize - NGOs
- Thom Khanje, Nation (Malawai), Dec 12, 2002
Malawi and other southern African countries facing hunger made a mistake
in accepting the genetically modified maize aid from the United States
government because the decision will affect all future generations of
people, plants and animals, experts have said.
A network of international NGOs, including the Malawi Economic Justice
Network (Mejn), which have brought together 10-African countries to a
conference currently taking place in Lilongwe to discuss the problems of
GM food aid, told participants that persistence by Zambia to reject US GM
maize paid off because the country has now received a grant from the
European Union to buy GM free maize from other sources.
"It took a lot of political will for Zambia to reach the decision of
rejecting GM food. This shows that GM food aid can be resisted if there is
enough political will from the respective governments. This should be an
example to other African countries," reads a research paper compiled by
the conference organisers.
Until now, the safety of GM food for human health has not been confirmed.
Experts are particularly worried that although some people in the US have
been eating GM food for the past five years, the case in Africa could be
different because the maize will be eaten as staple food.
According to Dr. Mwananyanda Lewanika, a biochemist at the Institute for
Science and Technology in Zambia, when the maize is used to make porridge
and nsima, the heat applied may cause foreign proteins to be transferred
to human beings thereby becoming a risk to their health.
Other experts say once GM crops are in the open, cross-pollination leads
to contamination of other crops. This is said to have caused problems in
Canada where weeds become resistant to pesticides.
Fears have been expressed that acceptance of GM food may also destroy
international markets for African agriculture since most, if not all,
European Union countries do not buy agriculture products from countries
that have GM crops.
"It is a given fact that people receiving GM food in seed form will plant
some of it. There is thus no way to avoid the spreading of genetic
contamination. Unlike chemical contamination, genetic contamination can
never be recalled," reads the research paper.
The conference, which started on Wednesday and ends on Friday, aims at
developing an African recommendation on food security strategies and GM
Genetically Modified Organisms a Health Hazard-Report
- The Times of Zambia (Ndola), December 6, 2002
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) can cause resistance to anti-biotics
and compromise immunity in people with poor health status, a report by
Zambian scientists has said.
The report also says GM maize can have a negative effect on local organic
varieties and that all the Western countries visited by the scientists
confirmed that GMOs were a health hazard. 'The team can confirm that
health-related concerns in the consumption of GM foods could be harmful in
the following areas: new food toxins, new allergens and anti-biotic
resistance,' it said.
Dr Mwananyanda Mbikusita-Lewanika, who was part of the team of scientists
that went on a fact-finding mission in America and Europe, explained that
when a person got sick after eating GMO, he could develop resistance to
anti-biotic drugs. He said the British Medical Association had also raised
concern over the matter.
It is important to consider the health status of would-be consumers and
looking at Zambia, most of the people in the outlying areas are of an
average health status and if the consumption is high then the toxicity
would equally increase," Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika explained. He said the
Government should maintain its current stand not to accept GM foods.
The scientists also confirmed that GM maize could have negative effects on
varieties of maize cultivated in Zambia. The concern was shared by all the
countries the team visited, namely; America, South Africa, Britain,
Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands.
Economic advisor to the President Dr Moses Banda, headed the group. 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
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. He
said the National Academy for Scientists of the United States had
expressed worry about the current method used to detect substances likely
to trigger an allergenic reaction.
'We already have the testing kits and I wish to state that there is a need
to test the maize in the country to make sure that what was given as food
aid does not contain anti-biotics or the other gene components that would
pose a threat to the consumers,' he said. The team also found that the
method used to test GM food was not accurate and the Food Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) was aware of the fact.
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika also said that the team had confirmed that while it
was said that GM maize was consumed by millions in America, it was eaten
in a highly processed form and was not a staple food while maize was the
main source of carbohydrates in Zambia. The team recommended that Zambia
should build capacity in biotechnology and biosafety and implement the
National Biotechnology and Biosafety policy as well as the Cartagene
This would help Zambia interact more appropriately with other countries on
issues pertaining to international movement of GMOs. The report says
Government was supposed to establish the types of GM maize already in the
country, including that which had already been consumed to determine
whether the grain had toxic elements.
The report noted with concern the manner in which the World Food Programme
(WFP) continued shipping in GM maize even after the Zambian Government
rejected the stocks. The withdrawal of the maize in the satellite depots
should be done urgently to prevent hungry people in the country from
consuming the commodity, a situation that could make the WFP liable.
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika also said that it was not in order for the United
Nations wings to propagate the interests of one nation at the expense of
those of many member countries. The Zambian Government caused a stir when
it rejected the GM maize donated to her at the height of a food crisis,
arguing that it had limited information on the effects of consuming the
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika, Dr Godden Bola, Godfrey Mwila, Paul Chale, Agness
Aongola was assembled and sent out to establish whether GMOs were safe for
human consumption or not. Some villagers in some parts of Zambia have
however, looted the GM maize due to hunger.
The Government has stepped up relief food of non-GM to all affected areas
in Zambia to ensure no one died of hunger. On Tuesday the Vice-President
Enoch Kavindele told Parliament that President Mwanawasa had permitted the
scientists to release the report to the public about their findings after
the fact-finding mission on GMOs.
Labels and Trade Wars
- Roger Bate, Tech Central Station, December 12, 2002 (Sent by Andrew
This week the Environment Committee of the European Parliament met to
discuss the traceability of genetically modified (GM) food and its
labeling. With some luck Parliament will base its decisions on sound
But it got no help or guidance last week when the European Union's
Agriculture Council botched an opportunity to resolve the genetically
modified food labeling dilemma. It chose to make labeling mandatory,
shamefully exempting those products of large European multinationals.
EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne welcomed the
decision but simultaneously deplored 'scaremongering', stressing that all
GMOs authorised in the EU have been evaluated for safety. While allegedly
catering to consumer concerns, the new rules in effect accommodate
powerful lobbies, while maintaining the doubt on the safety of GM
So far European policy on GM food has been unscientific, misleading and
even internally inconsistent. It has created costly uncertainty for
European food producers and consumers, delayed the uptake of the
life-saving aspects of the technology in developing countries and it has
increased trade tensions with its most powerful trading partner the United
States. The latest EU decision could well aggravate those tensions to the
point of triggering an outright trade war.
For example, there is no traceable GM component in soybean oil, but if it
was derived from a previously modified soybean, it will have to be labeled
according to the new regulation. This is absurd. The EU currently imports
26 million tons of soybeans from the Americas. This represents 70 per cent
of the total vegetable protein used in animal feed in the EU. Of this at
least 8 million tons comes from the US. A single boat will bring 50,000
tons, and each ton contains more than seven million beans from thousands
of farms collected and commingled at every point of a ten stage handling
system. Each of these farms will have planted a variety of non-GM and GM
beans. Proposing to trace individual supplies through such a system is
Moreover, the labeling requirement could lead to widespread fraud since
there is no way to establish the province of a product's lineage cheaply.
If a seller rightfully claims that his product contains no GM ingredients,
it is costly to prove him wrong.
However, catalysts used in the production of a wide range of food products
currently sold and consumed in the EU, such as beer and nearly all
processed cheese, are currently exempt in the proposals. In other words,
making cheese with a GM enzyme like chymosin or aspartic requires no label
even if GM components are traceable in the food.
This omission is scientifically illogical since this cheese would be
'contaminated' with GM technology. But there's a good political
explanation. Powerful French and German producers do not currently make
food derived from GM produce (unlike American producers) but they do use
GM enzymes to make numerous foods. Since European companies don't want the
curse of a GM label on their produce, the latter type of GM technology is
omitted from the new labeling rules. The EC, so fond of disclosure on
biotech labeling, has not found it fit to let European consumers know that
German beer and French cheese are likely to be produced with GM
technology. But they are quite happy to single out GM crop products such
as soybeans and corn, which are, of course, American.
Mandatory labeling of food should only be if there is a health concern
enforced (such as warnings on cigarette packs). And the US Food and Drug
Administration, as well as all major international food and health bodies,
have declared the products safe. No European body has found any compelling
scientific reason to delay its uptake. But precaution and fear predominate
in Europe after many food scares like BSE and Foot and Mouth disease.
Who Wants War?
The new regulations mean labeling nearly everything in the US destined for
export to Europe. GM commodity soybeans and GM commodity corn are not
separated from conventional produce at source in America, which makes it
impossible to say that corn or soybeans are GM free. Furthermore, these
products and numerous others that use GM technology are found in most
processed foods. Food manufacturers using American inputs (that is most
large manufacturers) would have to produce one set of labels for America
and another for Europe, at significant cost.
This position is strenuously opposed by US producers and the US Trade
Representative to the World Trade Organisation. The tensions surrounding
the issue are already high. Last month, Byrne admitted at a press briefing
in Washington that if the US complains to the WTO 'the legal defences that
would be available to the EU would be very narrow'. Byrne acknowledges the
EU could lose.
EU consumers and taxpayers are already being gouged by high taxes and
expensive staple foods, and worse is yet to come. Mandatory GM food
labeling is illogical and encourages protectionism. If the EU seriously
wishes to reassure consumers and encourage choice it should define clearly
what it considers GM food. And it could start by reversing the illogical
proposal to label foods according to the process especially since it
hasn't even had the courage of its convictions to include GM enzymes and
vitamins. If the EU can develop a sensible definition, producers of non-GM
foods would then be able to label their produce correctly and provide a
verifiable traceability system for the EU to monitor and regulate.
Otherwise the new EU policy may well pave the way for another trade war.
More Response to 'GM Plants Cause Cancer'...
Many thanks to Wayne Parrott for alerting the worldwide readership of
CSP's website to the sort of sensationalist reporting and junk scientific
nonsense (not even new nonsense!) that we have to endure in the UK! Can
anyone wonder that the UK/EU public and hence regulators, influencers and
politicians are completely confused and scared by such downright
misinformation peddled by the media and hack journalists for maximum
impact without any accountability, requirement for evidence, substance or
Typically, the 'Sunday Herald' did not bother to investigate this issue
properly and get the facts right - even the most fundamental facts about
the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter fragment (not the whole 8kbp
genome) used in many transgenic crops - and that the whole DNA of the
virus does replicate and exist in millions of copies in every cell in most
of the brassica vegetable crops that we have ever eaten, raw or cooked,
worldwide. Plant viruses, not surprisingly, do not infect humans. Why do
they scare their readers with such rubbish? To sell newspapers and gain
market share - hardly a social conscience.
Michael Wilson, Horticulture Research International, UK
>> GM Expert Warns of Cancer Risk From Crops
>> Rob Edwards, Sunday Herald (UK), http://www.sundayherald.com/29821
>(Sent by Wayne Parrott
Letter sent to The Editor, Sunday Herald
Dear Sir: I have read the article concerning Dr Stanley Ewen's comments on
the safety of GM plants. Of course GM crops and food are safe. We have
been eating foreign genes for millennia, ever since our first ancestor ate
a leaf. What does Dr Ewen think is any different in today's
genetically-improved crops than in yesterday's plants made using
conventional breeding, irradiation technology or any other process of
And is he suggesting we have a moratorium on eating raw cauliflower (which
must be an even more potent source of cauliflower genes and cauliflower
virus genes than any other minutely-modified plant)? Can't he introduce
some robust common-sense into his arguments rather than stoking the fires
of fear with these nonsensical hypotheses? I'll be carrying on eating
fresh fruit and vegetables, whether or not they've got all these genes and
viruses in them, because experience has told me that the only thing wrong
with this is eating to excess, and the occasional food poisoning germ, not
whether they have been improved by modern agricultural technology.
Yours faithfully, Mr L P M Lloyd-Evans, Cambridge CB1 2BX
USDA Secretary Stresses Importance of Biotech
- From Knowledge Center, ISAAA.org
US Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman underscored the importance of new
technology, including biotechnology, in improving agricultural
productivity, particularly in developing countries. "Technology is one of
the most powerful tools we have to achieve the goals of increasing
agricultural productivity, ending famine, and improving nutrition",
remarked Veneman to the International Food Policy Research Institute
Veneman added, "It is all too easy for many of us to take for granted the
essential role played by new technology and those who develop it". For
this, Veneman gave recognition to "the importance of agricultural research
and the whole CGIAR (Consultative Group for International Agricultural
Research) system". She stressed that "It is important to spread the
message about the potential of biotechnology to improve the food supply".
Secretary Veneman lauded Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, IFPRI's former
Director General and currently Senior Research Fellow in the Director
General's Office, for advancing and recognizing the important role of
agricultural biotechnology in enhancing food production. "While others
hesitated, Dr. Andersen realized the potential of biotechnology especially
to the developing world. In the ensuing public debate, he has been a
constant and sometimes lonely voice of logic and reason", she said.
Veneman also announced a ministerial-level conference scheduled on 23-25
June 2003 in Sacramento, California. The international conference aims to
broaden knowledge and understanding of agricultural science and technology
and how these technologies can be accessed through public-private
partnerships. The conference will be participated in by public officials
and private experts from more than 180 countries worldwide.
Full transcript of Secretary Veneman's speech can be viewed at:
African Journalists' Views on Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture
- From Knowledge Center, ISAAA.org
African journalists who attended the Workshop on Food Security and
Sustainable Development, organized by UN-HABITAT and COASAD in Nairobi,
Kenya, from 21-22 November 2002, made vital recommendations for Africa's
food security and sustainable development. They appreciate the recognition
accorded to the media as an "instrument in creating awareness and
conscientization of African people in the fight against the scourges of
food insecurity, famines, and malnutrition affecting much of Africa.
It was stated in the workshop declaration that the journalists believe
Africa is faced with multifaceted developmental and social problems and it
is their moral, professional and social responsibility to address these
through communication. There is a serious lack of information in the areas
of adequate policy formulation and implementation as well as
biotechnology, especially genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Bulk of
food consumed in Africa is produced in the rural areas, and statistics
show that rural women are the main producers but they do not own the land
they farm or other relevant resources and they do not have access to
appropriate agricultural extension services. Lastly, The issue of food
security is pivotal to the realization of the goals of poverty reduction
and better living conditions in cities and villages. Their recommendations
* That the media should play a more active role in highlighting the
problems of food insecurity and sustainable development at national and
regional levels; That Policy makers, Parliamentarians and Journalists come
together That future for a be more interactive, allowing Journalists to
learn from each other and share experiences from their respective
* That because of the critical role of women in food production, there is
a need for more active and visible participation of women including rural
women in food security workshops; That as highlighted at this workshop,
the absence of critical and substantive information on GMOs as a solution
to Africa's food shortage should be urgently addressed;
* That there should be sustained information and networking among
journalists which can be enhanced through the creation of a web site and
database on food security, open to both journalists and food experts as a
resource center; and That a Network of African Journalists on Food
Security (NAJFS) to propagate these issues be formed.
The application of biotechnology in agriculture has the potential to
redefine value creation on a scale that is revolutionary in its
implications for markets, industries, companies, and the global economy.
The ag-biotech product pipeline is shifting from crop protection to
value-added traits, for an array of industries, including food, materials,
energy, animal/human nutrition, and pharmaceuticals, as well as agronomic
traits. The market impact of new waves of technology will trigger
structural change, and catalyze the convergence of markets and industries
- and the formation of a highly complex business landscape. The integrated
value-creation potential of agriculture, catalyzed by biotechnology - the
ag-biotech value multiplier - is expected to fundamentally alter the way
global stakeholders view agriculture and agricultural biotechnology.
BioInnovation, is an e-publication focused on critical strategic views,
commentary, analysis, and the implications for business and financial
value, triggered by the ag-biotech value multiplier. '
Berkeley Bean Fascists and (100% Organic) Black Widow Spiders in Your
- Todd Seavey, American Council on Science and Health, Dec 12, 2002 (From
One of the nice side effects of last month's elections was the defeat of a
proposal in Berkeley that would have sentenced people to jail for selling
non-organic coffee beans.
Even in Berkeley, apparently, the idea of hauling people off to jail for
coffee crime was too much to swallow - though some 30% of the voters were
in favor of the measure, which is still disturbing. Even my friend Gersh
Kuntzman (a product of Brown University's failed education system) praised
the ballot measure and lamented its defeat in his column for MSNBC.com,
noting that the "once reliably liberal city" of Berkeley had let him down.
There was a time, a century or so ago, when "liberal" meant tolerant, not
draconian but it's probably time to abandon all those old, useless
political labels anyway.
Perhaps a new label bean fascists will enter the lexicon after the
Berkeley incident. After all, it takes an authoritarian mindset to
consider jailing people for coffee infractions. If the bean fascists had
good grounds for their views by scientific standard, one might almost be
able to forgive them, but the case for organic food (and drink) being any
better for you is weak, as is the case for conventional pesticide residues
But then, if the pro-organic crowd weighed risks rationally, there
wouldn't be DEADLY BLACK WIDOW SPIDERS in British produce. That's right,
in an effort to avoid dreaded man-made pesticides, the British grocery
chain Tesco used DEADLY BLACK WIDOW SPIDERS as bug-killers in its grape
vineyards, with the unsurprising result that some customers found the
still-living spiders crawling around in their fruit (as reported by an
eager British press). At least if any customers die from spider bites,
they'll die organically. We wouldn't want them exposed to some strange
chemical compound nature never intended, after all.
Meanwhile, the fittingly-named town of Vedic City, Iowa, under the
influence of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (mystical pal of the Beatles,
magician Doug Henning, and Reform Party/Natural Law Party presidential
candidate John Hagelin), contemplates a ban on all non-organic food. Since
the Maharishi's followers believe they have the power of levitation, they
will presumably be able to remove bugs from their organic produce without
using either man-made pesticides or black widow spiders.
Of course, we'd be better off if governments just kept their hands off the
food supply altogether, but that seems unlikely. (Indeed, the U.S. House
of Representatives, noting fluctuations in the price of coffee, found time
last month to pass a resolution calling upon its members to "adopt a
global strategy to respond to the coffee crisis," according to the New
Don't I vaguely recall them having more important geopolitical matters to
worry about?) If governments simply must get involved, though, it would be
nice if politicians and voters alike paid attention to science instead of
mystics and environmental activists and avoided assuming that organic
food is superior simply because it is less "tainted" by the hand of
Better to raise a strong, non-organic cup of coffee with the hand of Man
than be jailed in Berkeley, spider-bitten in England, or levitated in
Vedic City, Iowa, I'd say.