Today in AgBioView - December 18, 2002
* Vatican Blesses GM Daily Bread
* GM Foods Debate Hits Latin America
* Processors: Edible Crops Need Protection
* Seeds of Conflict: WTO Case Would Worsen Dispute Over GM
* The Biotech Debate
* Waiter, There's DNA in My Food
* Letter to the Editor: Eating GM Maize
* 'Phony War Over Biotechnology - Part III': Open Letter to the Regulators
* Confusion on Biotech Affecting Famine, Trade, Official Says
* Biotechnology: Following The Rules
* Vandana: Deepening Democracy
* Corporate Social Responsibility: Lots of It About
Vatican Blesses GM Daily Bread
- Independent, December 17, 2002 (via checkbiotech.org)
Vatican City - A top Vatican official said on Tuesday that genetically
modified foods could be used to feed the world's hungry, including in
Zambia, which has rejected US food donations because of fears such
products could be harmful.
Archbishop Renato Martino, who until recently represented the Holy See at
the United Nations, was asked about the issue at a news conference about
John Paul's annual world peace message.
"I lived 16 years in America and I ate what came from the market, what was
given to me," including, he said, genetically modified foods. "So far I
have had no ill effects." Noting that some starving people were reduced to
eating grass, Martino said that "he wouldn't make such a big deal" about
food being genetically modified. "When you're hungry you eat everything."
He contended that the controversy was more "political than scientific."
Now head of the Vatican's council dealing with social issues, Martino
offered a reflection from his past. He said that during World War II in
Italy he and others ate bread that was made of powdered marble as well as
flour to give it substance. "But we ate it because that's what we had,"
GM Foods Debate Hits Latin America
- J.R. Pegg, Environment News Service, Dec 12, 2002
WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - A forum on Latin America and
biotechnology did little to paint a clear picture of the future for
genetically modified crops in the nations south of the United States. 'But
it did clearly illustrate that the real debate over agricultural
biotechnology rests between the European Union and the United States.
Today's "Latin America Biotechnology Forum," hosted by the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce, detailed how Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are all at very
different points on the path to acceptance of genetically modified (GM)
foods. The agricultural industries in all three countries all seem keen to
deploy biotechnology in their fields, but their governments and public
citizens are not so sure.
And none of these countries can escape the shadow of the U.S./EU debate,
which is threatening to boil over into a major trade dispute.
The United States produces some two-thirds of the world's genetically
modified crops and is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the European
Union over its four year moratorium on the approval of new GM crops.
The U.S. agricultural industry claims it has lost hundreds of millions,
including $200 million in corn sales, because of the moratorium. In late
November, the European Union proposed stricter labeling and traceability
of all food and animal feed containing more than 0.9 percent genetically
modified ingredients. EU officials say they are simply responding to the
European public's demand for tight controls.
These new regulations could affect more than $4 billion in U.S.
agricultural trade. It is not surprising U.S. officials are warning of
possible action through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"The EU moratorium on approvals is a blatant violation of the WTO treaty,"
said David Hegwood, counsel to the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S.
Department of Agriculture. "If we can get the moratorium lifted without
taking a case, then it saves us a whole lot of time and trouble. But
that's our ultimate objective, to get the moratorium lifted."
Hegwood, the luncheon speaker at today's forum, focused not on Latin
America, but on the need to pressure Europe to change its ways. The ripple
effect of EU policies, he said, is having a devastating impact on African
nations who have refused U.S. food aid for fear of genetically modified
"The fear of Europe is keeping food out of the mouths of hungry people in
Africa," Hegwood said, adding that African governments are needlessly
concerned that the food aid will end up in crops or beef tagged for export
to Europe. These exports then could be rejected by the EU because of its
moratorium, he explained.
Still, many countries as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have
supported the right of African nations to ban genetically modified foods.
South Africa and Japan, among others, have said they can help fill the
void if U.S. GM corn is not accepted as food aid.
But the villain is clear in Hegwood's eyes, and the implications are
grave, he said. "European consumers aren't sure about biotechnology so
hungry people in Africa don't eat," Hegwood said. "If European attitudes
are influential enough to take food away from hungry people in Africa,
imagine what impact it is having in the rest of the world." "If it
happens to the United States, it will happen to every country that
utilizes biotechnology," Hegwood said.
According to representatives from Latin America at today's forum, these
attitudes are indeed having an impact on their countries. The governments
of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are all concerned about the export market
for genetically modified goods and this economic concern has been added to
a list of worries over the environmental and social impacts of
The patents for GM crops are held by only a handful of multinational
corporations and this weighs heavy on the minds of many Mexicans,
according to Jose Luis Solleiro, member of La ComisiÛn Intersecretarial de
Bioseguridad y Organismos GenÈticamente Modificados (CIBIOGEM)'s Biosafety
Council and technical director of AgroBIO Mexico. "There is concern over
increasing economic control by the multinationals," Solleiro said. "The
idea that biotechnology only benefits big multinational corporations has
very deep roots in Mexico."
Mexico allows genetically modified foods to be imported as long as they
are labeled, but the planting of GM crops has not been allowed. The fear
that genetic modifications could end up affecting the native corn is a
paramount concern for Mexicans. Corn has it origins in Mexico and is the
staple food for much of the population.
Fears over this biosafety aspect of genetically modified crops has
prompted the introduction of six separate Congressional resolutions
addressing the issue, said Alvaro Rodriguez Tirado, managing director of
Estrategia Total, an agricultural consulting firm. "Mexican society has
increased pressure on Congress to do something," Tirado said, adding that
a recent survey indicated 40 percent of Mexicans in support of GM crops,
40 percent opposed and 20 percent undecided.
Brazil has had an import and production ban on genetically modified crops
since 1998, much to the distaste of the Brazilian representatives at
today's forum. Biotechnology could help the country lower its high costs
of production, according to Paulo D'Arrigo Vellinho, executive director of
the Brazilian Poultry Industry Union and vice president for the South
Region of Brazil.
"All we have in Brazil is a political issue," agreed Luis Antonio Barreto
de Castro, head of the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology/Brazilian
Agricultural Research Corp. from the Ministry of Agriculture and Supply,
known as Cenargem/Embrapa. "Agriculture is the only sector that is
profitable in Brazil," Barreto de Castro said, adding that he hoped
economic pressures could help prompt the incoming government to reconsider
the policy against GM crops.
There was evidence later today, however, that some change may be afoot.
Brazil's new agricultural minister told Globo TV today that Brazil might
need to import corn next year from genetically modified crop producers to
feed its livestock. Many Brazilian farmers already grow GM crops in
Brazil. Barreto de Castro said government officials estimate some four
million hectares of GM soybeans are been grown throughout the country.
This accounts for some 25 percent of the Brazil's soybean production.
GM soybeans is a crop Argentina has embraced with gusto, as some 90
percent of its soybean crop is genetically modified, according to Marcelo
Regunaga, Argentina's former agricultural secretary. Argentina is the
world's number one soybean exporter and has found the GM version of the
crop a major boon to its agricultural industry. "We don't subsidize
agricultural production so we need to be competitive through means that
can lower our costs of production," Regunaga said. "And these products
have a positive impact on the environment."
Less pesticides and higher yields, Regunaga said, have many in Argentina
convinced that genetically modified crops are the future. But its
experience with GM corn shows that all is not rosy with agricultural
biotechnology. GM corn from biotechnology giant Monsanto was introduced
in 1998 but has not been approved in Argentina. Argentina exports some 9.5
million tons of corn a year. Although only some of its corn is exported to
European markets, the fear that GM corn would be rejected has led the
government to avoid the genetically modified variety.
Argentina's dilemma is not one farmers in the United States are facing as
they embrace genetically modified crops with increasing enthusiasm. Some
34 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified, as is some 71 percent of
U.S. cotton and 75 percent of U.S. soybeans. "Biotechnology foods do not
create an environmental concern, nor are they a threat to consumers or
producers," said Tom Sell, majority deputy staff director for the House
Committee on Agriculture. "There is wide consumer acceptance in the United
"Scientists say these foods are safe - that is the established consensus,"
added Karil Kokenderfer, director of international trade environmental
affairs and coordinator of biotechnology for the Grocery Manufacturers of
America. Kokendefer expressed the unanimous view of all the forum's
panelists that labeling, especially the regime planned by the European
Union, is unnecessary.
"Labeling is not knowledge nor a surrogate for food safety," she said. "It
is not an appropriate import control nor is it a reflection of consumer
The European approach, added Terry Medley, vice president of global
regulatory affairs for DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition, will not enhance
public confidence as it is intended. "It will cause more trouble and
distrust," he said. More than 35 countries, however, have followed
Europe's lead and developed some form of labeling requirement for
genetically modified foods.
Processors: Edible Crops Need Protection
- The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, December 18, 2002
Washington - Genetically engineered crops must not be used to grow
pharmaceuticals and other products unless there will be absolutely no
contamination of the food supply, grocery manufacturers said Tuesday.
"We live in a world of zero tolerance," declared Rhona Applebaum,
executive vice president of the National Food Processors Association.
"Perception is reality on the part of consumers. If you cannot confine
these crops to the extent that it cannot get into food, then you should
not use these crops." Insistence on a zero tolerance policy by the
powerful grocery industry demonstrated the complicated tangle of interests
at play in the issue of how much freedom pharmaceutical manufacturers,
biotechnology companies and others will be given in using genetic
manipulation in producing nonfood products on the farm.
It also is another setback for the biotechnology companies, which have
been on the defensive since last month, when 500,000 bushels of soybeans
were destroyed in Nebraska, allegedly contaminated with an artificial gene
that had been used to produce an unidentified drug.
Corn contain ing the gene had been provided to an Iowa farmer by
ProdiGene, a College Station, Texas, bioengineering firm. After growing
the experimental crop on a small plot last year, the farmer rotated the
plot to soybeans. But some of the corn also sprouted this year, and stalks
were inadvertently mixed with the harvested beans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which quarantined, then destroyed the
contaminated soybeans, refuses to say what product had been growing in the
engineered corn. There are reports that it was a protein to be used to
treat or vaccinate for diarrhea, either in humans or hogs.
ProdiGene has agreed to pay a $250,000 fine and as much as $3 million for
the soybeans. Appearing with Applebaum and others in a forum to debate
whether "pharming" can be done safely, a representative of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization said ProdiGene had violated clear
rules and that the industry was eager to develop additional procedures to
protect food from contamination.
The BIO official, Michael J. Phillips, disagreed with recommendations that
only nonfood plants be approved for use in producing pharmaceuticals or
industrial materials, such as plastics. Aside from tobacco, very few
nonfood crops have been even tested as possible hosts for genetically
engineered industrial and pharmaceutical products, industry officials
Corn reportedly is used 70 percent of the time when farm plants are
bioengineered to produce nonfood substances. He said that "from a
scientific perspective, corn is a miracle crop for biotechnology."
But Allison Snow, a biology professor at Ohio State University, said it is
not practical to try to prevent escape of foreign genes from engineered
food crops grown on a commercial scale. "I recommend that we separate the
food crops from the pharmaceutical crops," she said, "and do not use the
same species for both."
Seeds of Conflict: A WTO Case Would Worsen The Dispute Over GM Foods
Distributed by Financial Times; December 18, 2002
US patience with the European Union's rejection of genetically modified
foods is nearing an end. Having failed to persuade the EU to lift its de
facto moratorium on approving new GM products, Washington appears poised
to challenge the ban in the World Trade Organisation. But, far from
resolving the problem, that would risk turning a tense stand-off into a
As Brussels acknowledges, the US stands to win a WTO case. However, there
is little reason to think a legal victory for Washington would cause the
EU to open its market. Much more likely, it would stiffen political and
popular resistance in countries opposed to GM foods, driving the final
nail into faltering efforts to end the ban.
EU defiance of a ruling against it would have serious consequences. It
would further undermine the authority of the WTO disputes settlement
procedures, already jeopardised by EU failure to respect a ruling on
hormone-treated beef and by US delays in implementing decisions against
its trade laws. If the world's biggest trade powers scoff at international
law, why should others bother to heed it?
EU failure to comply with an adverse WTO decision on GM foods could prompt
the US to retaliate against European exports. As well as unfairly hurting
European companies un-connected with the dispute, that would harm the US
by raising barriers to imports from the EU. There would be no winners from
Despite the compelling economic arguments against doing so, political
pressures in the EU to counter-retaliate could then become irresistible.
It has a devastating weapon in its existing right to impose Dollars 4bn
(Pounds 2.5bn) of sanctions on the US, which has failed to comply with a
WTO ruling against its foreign sales corporation tax law. If that right
were exercised, the conflict could swiftly escalate out of control.
The potential casualties are incalculable. But an early one would almost
certainly be the Doha world trade round. Already facing uncertain
prospects, the round would be doomed by a serious rupture in trade
relations between Brussels and Washington, whose close co-operation is
indispensable to the success of the negotiations.
That grim scenario should give the US pause. But it should also have a
sobering effect on the EU. Its ban on GM foods is based on no firm
scientific evidence that they are unsafe. EU policy has been driven by
scaremongering, resentment at US high-pressure tactics and an unedifying
combination of political cravenness and opportunism.
After the mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth crises, European consumers
are unwilling to accept government assurances on food safety. Rebuilding
the public trust essential to sound regulation will take years and require
real commitment by EU governments to reform. It will not be achieved by
bringing to the WTO disputes the organisation cannot hope to resolve.
Understandable as US frustration is, litigation and trade wars offer no
answers where reason, politics and diplomacy have so far failed.
The Biotech Debate
- Dipesh Satapathy, Span (India), Nov-Dec 2002. p 49.
'Plant biotechnologist C.S. Prakash speaks on genetically-modified crops
and the related debate'
Last October Mexico discovered some of its native corn varieties had been
contaminated. One study in Nature reported some evidence of certain
transgenic gene pods in native crops in Mexico. But the scientific study
was later found to be flawed, according to C.S. Prakash, director of
Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, Alabama.
He goes on to cite another, similar Mexican study where no contamination
was found. How well-founded the fear of conventional crop contamination by
genetically modified crops is remains unclear, and valid points are made
on both sides of the debate.
Yet Prakash remains a standard bearer for meticulously tested genetic
modification in agriculture, and maintains that opponents are reacting
with an emotional fear rather than a well-substantiated ecological fear.
He discussed his views during a visit to India early this year to deliver
lectures on biotechnology in various cities.
How are such studies, like the one in Mexico, done? One method uses marker
genes, Prakash explains. For instance, a green fluorescent protein that
can be very easily detected has been put into transgenic plants such as
canola, which have high chances of crossing with distantly related
strains. Scientists then measure the progeny of other non-transgenic
crops, planted at various distances, tracking the marker gene to see how
far it spreads.
Genetically modified (GM) crops cannot run amok, according to Prakash.
These are not wild crops or water hyacinth but are domesticated crops
completely dependent on man for survival. Crop plants have been removed
from the wild for about 10,000 years. Introduction of a single gene is
very unlikely to make plants more aggressive and invasive. The risks of
such invasiveness and gene flow are not unique to GM crops either, he
says. When any new variety of rice or wheat is introduced, the same issues
occur, but questions are seldom raised.
The risk in a GM crop depends on the product and not necessarily the
process. A self-pollinated crop does not have much pollen flow and there
are no wild relatives. If a gene from a known source with a history of
food consumption is used and the protein of the gene has clear data about
lack of toxicity and allerginicity, three to four years of test data are
required. Cases where the crop is cross-pollinated and genes without much
history of use as a food crop are used, then probably a lot more data
needs to be generated. On an average, GM crops need five to eight years of
rigorous testing before commercialization. India, however, does not have
to do this testing, because Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton is being
grown in about 10 countries, says Prakash. The United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA) has extensive data on its toxicity and all the food
safety issues. India still conducted tests because the environmental
aspect is more location specific, says Prakash.
Currently most testing of GM crops consists of comparison of GM crops with
the non-GM varieties-called "substantial equivalence." But opponents say
that GM crops should be treated as new drugs with extensive testing and
human trials before they enter markets. "What opponents are saying is
completely rubbish," asserts Prakash. "How can a human trial with Bt
cotton or Bt corn be started? Are you going to place somebody in a room
and feed him with corn for 10 years?" He says such opponents have
absolutely no knowledge of what the food safety issues are, and how
testing has traditionally been done. Genetic engineering does not make
anything more risky, he claims. A GM crop is developed with substantial
scientific and streamlined knowledge-what kind of gene is put in, its
origin, what kind of protein it encodes, any properties of allergens, and
toxic effects on animals. After all these are determined, "substantial
equivalence" is studied with tests for proteins, amino acids,
carbohydrates, oils and other nutrients and non-nutrients. If everything
is the same in both the GM and non-GM varieties, then there is no risk.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), quoting reports from the World
Health Organization, acknowledges that one could potentially transfer a
gene that codes for an allergen into a GM crop. "But why would anybody
want to do that when we can have strong scientific methods to detect
allergens like it happened in one case 10 years ago, where a brazilnut
gene for an improved protein quality was put into soybean. Right in the
preliminary testing it was detected to be an allergen. Now we have got
substantial advancement of knowledge for detecting allergens. And no
company would want to, even if there is a small doubt," he says.
The Starlink corn released in the U.S. by Aventis had one property of an
allergen and it raised doubts. But Starlink was approved. The company,
however, suffered $1 billion loss and had to recall it. "We are just
making a mountain out of a molehill," says Prakash. The risks are less. On
the positive side, by using this technology, scientists are developing
hypoallergenic peanuts, wheat with an altered gluten (the dominant
nutritional protein in wheat), so that people with celiac disease who
cannot digest gluten can enjoy wheat, he says. Three agencies in the
United States-Environmental Protection Agency, USDA and FDA-look after the
safety aspects of GM crops.
On labeling of GM products, Prakash supports the current FDA regulation
that GM products must be labeled if they are substantially different and
if they use any gene sources from allergenic foods. "One does not label a
product based on the process. Only if a corn variety is of higher protein
content, if it has an altered oil quality, will it be labeled," he says.
There are clear guidelines on what can be labeled and also a method for
voluntary labeling of products that are non-genetically modified. For
those who don't admire GM food there is organic food, which does not
contain any ingredient developed through biotechnology.
But Prakash thinks that if labeling is made mandatory, it stigmatizes the
new food when it is no different. It is counterproductive and works
against the development of this technology. Labels serve two main
purposes: they contain the nutrition information and they warn against
presence of allergens. "Those who want labeling on biotech foods want to
kill this technology," Prakash maintains. There have been cases of
planting of GM crops without the permission of the authorities in Europe,
the United States, India and Brazil. Prakash does not approve of illegal
planting because it brings down consumer confidence. Through extensive
testing and approval by government agencies, GM products have generated a
tremendous amount of confidence in the U.S. Complex regulation and red
tape, like that in India over Bt cotton, could lead farmers eager to try
it to importing and planting it illegally, says Prakash.
India's decision not to put GM crop testing data in the public domain has
received flak from opposition groups. Prakash agrees that not all
scientific data can be made public due to certain issues related to
business practices and competition. Admitting that much of these data
should be available, he says there is some proprietary information during
testing. Companies do not want competitors to know their secrets. Also
people who are scientifically "not very literate" can take the data, twist
it around and report it negatively. If somebody wants the data, it is not
that difficult to obtain. Once a product is commercialized, all related
regulatory information must be made public, he says.
Prakash feels that experts and not the public or activists should decide
what is safe. Before any product is approved in the United States, there
is an opportunity for public comment-notification is put on the Federal
Register and people can oppose or give an opinion about the product.
Environmental organizations do participate. There have been instances
where companies have been asked to do further studies, and their
In the United States some environmental organizations are very actively
involved. They do not oppose biotechnology but they want greater scrutiny
and more transparency. The system has benefited from their participation.
Prakash feels decisions should not be made based on flawed data.
Consumer acceptance is important. In Europe and other places where there
is opposition to GM crops, the consumer apprehension is based more on
"perception of risk" rather than the reality. "I am sure when consumers,
even in Europe, start recognizing that U.S. and many other countries have
been growing it, with farmers making profit, the environment getting
cleaner, food products getting cheaper and better and there is absolutely
no risk from the approved crops, then they will start seeing light at the
end of the tunnel," says Prakash.
Resistance development is a factor in GM crops as it is with pesticides.
It is a general cause of worry for seed companies. Maharashtra Hybrid Seed
Company (Mahyco), which has invested around $20 million in GM crops, does
not want its cotton to go off the market within five years. The United
States has been growing Bt cotton for the past seven years and not one
single bollworm has adapted to it. It will adapt eventually but putting
the "refuge area" concept, wherein Bt cotton has to grow in 80 percent of
an area, has clearly worked even with Bt corn. "Just because a knife is
going to become blunt after repeated use, you are not going to stop using
a knife," avers Prakash.
But is the refuge area criteria suitable for Indian farmers most of whom
have small holdings of less than one hectare? Prakash agrees that is a
constraint, as enforcement of that rule is very difficult in India and
farmers may not agree for fear of losses. Add to that the very
heterogeneity of Indian system and the mosaic nature of cotton planting.
Prakash thinks monitoring is needed for the first few years. It is the
natural mosaic nature of cropping patterns that would itself provide a
What does he think about segregation of seeds and contamination?
Segregation of GM and non-GM seeds is essential during transport. It is
being done in the United States. If you are exporting food, it is a
different story but the seeds have to be labeled so that one knows what is
being planted. There will be some amount of contamination, and that is
natural. Moreover, biotech seeds cost more so they have to make sure that
these are segregated. Europe once imported canola seeds from Canada which
were planted. It was later found that about one percent of those seeds was
GM. If you import white maize you will have one percent of yellow maize.
There is no such thing as 100 percent gold. Even medicines, prepared under
pure conditions, will have small amount of contamination, Prakash says.
C.S. Prakash started the AgBioworld community in early 2000, as there was
no appropriate forum for objective and independent professionals and
scientists to have a voice. He brings out a newsletter with a readership
of about 5,000. The AgBioworld Web site, www.agbioworld.org, offers
scientific papers, extensive information and referrals to experts with
whom the media may interact. Initial funding was solely by Prakash. He has
been actively involved in enhancing awareness of food biotechnology issues
around the world, and serves on several government committees in the
United States and India.
Waiter, There's DNA in My Food
- Kristen Philipkoski, Wired News, December 13, 2002
The fight over whether genetically modified organisms in food are safe to
eat has been a nasty one, pitting biotech advocates against
environmentalists and natural food activists.
But an Israeli scientist has developed a technology that would appear to
benefit both sides in the debate, although he isn't finding much
enthusiasm in either camp.
The mechanism, called a "biobarcode," is a short piece of DNA that doesn't
have a biological function, much like the junk DNA that makes up 98
percent of the human genome. Biobarcodes can be inserted into the gene
sequence of a genetically altered organism when it's created. Anti-GMO
groups could use it to label what they believe to be potentially dangerous
genetically altered foods so people know what they're eating.
Biobarcodes could also benefit pro-GMO groups helping scientists protect
their GMO patents, as well as seed sellers who want to be paid for what
they say are superior seeds. "Today, if you want to know whether a product
has transgenic DNA, you have to analyze every transgene separately, as
there is no one test that fits all," Jonathan Gressel, who invented the
biobarcode, said in an e-mail. "The biobarcode is such a means."
Gressel, a plant sciences professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science
in Rehovot, Israel, has already generated millions of biobarcodes that are
ready to go. But until the technology is adopted, scientists and
investigators will have to continue to detect one GMO at a time.
And therein lies the problem: So far, both advocates and opponents of GMOs
seem cool to the idea.
Alex Avery, the director of research at the Hudson Institute's Center for
Global Food Issues, said that any labeling of GMOs is too much labeling.
Avery said labels will do nothing more than scare people away from buying
GMO food, which he believes is perfectly safe and, in many cases, superior
to natural food. "This labeling scheme is really a smokescreen," he said.
"(Anti-GMO activists) donít want (GMO) technology at all. They think it's
an affront to nature and they want to block all of it."
For their part, anti-GMO groups resist the idea of biobarcodes. Groups
like the Center for Food Safety contend that splicing yet another DNA
sequence into food is the wrong approach to the problem of how to keep
track of GMOs. Joseph Mendelson, the organization's legal director, said
every step of the food processing system should be tested for GMOs.
Organizations then need to keep good records and allow regulators to
access them. We need to have a much stronger way to trace things through
the system, but I think the means exist right now," he said. "Strong
tracing requirements, paper trails and audits can easily trace GMOs and
require transparency." But Avery and others say that strategy is too
labor intensive. While he agreed products should be tested for safety,
tracking every step of the food manufacturing process is excessive, he
Complicating matters, the final food product will sometimes test negative
for GMOs even if it was made with ingredients that contain them. For
example, the process for refining corn into corn oil removes any traces of
GMOs. Anti-GMO activists believe the product label should still let
people know that what they are eating was made with ingredients containing
But Avery and others say that if the final product doesn't contain a GMO,
then it should not require a label. "Whether food came from a GMO or a
non-GMO -- if the end product is identified, it's irrelevant how it was
produced," Avery said. "The reason for that is there would be no end to
the kind of labeling demands that interest groups could come up with."
Biobarcodes may not make friends of Greenpeace and Monsanto, but they do
offer an efficient way to track GMOs in food, advocates say. The
technology could also be used to trace genetic modifications in order to
help in preventing patent infringement and catching farmers who might use
GMO seeds without paying for them.
However, the Center for Food Safety believes the companies making GMO
seeds are responsible for contaminating crops where GMOs are not wanted,
and farmers should not be held responsible for contamination caused by
GMO crops can inadvertently spread to other crops, as in the case of
Starlink, a type of GMO corn developed by Aventis to contain a soil
bacteria that repelled certain insects. It was approved only for animal
feed, but it contaminated a corn crop that eventually made its way into
Taco Bell restaurants. "To the extent that you make it easier to identify
such biological pollution, that also opens up the producers to greater
liability for their contamination," Mendelson said.
Activists in the United States haven't been able to convince Congress to
pass GMO labeling laws. The European Union, on the other hand, has some of
the strictest guidelines in the world, and will vote on even stricter
proposals in 2003. Gressel, the biobarcode inventor, argues that this
fear of contamination is unfounded. He thinks his technology would be put
to better use protecting patent holders and seed manufacturers than
Anti-GMO activists in the United States and especially in Europe should
focus on known threats to the food supply, he said, such as mycotoxins,
which are produced by fungus or mold. Perhaps with the savings of using
biobarcodes they could shunt some of that money to measuring real threats,
not perceived ones," Gressel said with an air of sarcasm. "Europeans are
used to dying from (naturally occurring) food contaminants, so they are
OK. Highly tested GMOs are not. Luddism originated in Europe."
Letter to the Editor: Eating GM Maize
- The Daily Telegraph (London), December 18, 2002
SIR - My opinions have been incorrectly stated by one of those interviewed
in your Science page feature (Nov. 20). It was implied that I am concerned
about the health risk from GM maize offered as food aid by America to
Zambia and that I would not eat this maize myself. In fact the GM
varieties concerned have passed stringent safety tests and been approved
for human consumption both in America and Europe, and are regularly eaten
by 280 million Americans.
The Zambian government obviously has an important decision to make about
acceptance of the GM maize offer. Amongst others in the British
Government, I was very happy to speak at some length to the Zambian
scientists when they visited Britain. I pointed out that their concerns
about possible trade and environmental risks could be eliminated by
milling the maize before distribution. On human health grounds, I am happy
to eat these GM products; but the Zambian scientists did point out that
this was very different from providing people who were short of food with
a staple diet of GM maize.
I accepted that this was very different from the consumption of maize as
part of a balanced diet, as in America. Nevertheless, my personal view is
that these GM products are as safe for human consumption as other foods
currently on the market.
- Professor David King, Chief Scientific Adviser, London SW1
'Phony War Over Biotechnology - Part III': Open Letter to the Regulators
- Mark Mansour, AgBioView, December 17, 2002. http://www.agbioworld.org
Part III: To the adults who were supposed to turn out the lights on this
grotesque carnival, but who instead decided to jump on the rides:
To: The Regulatory Apparatus of The European Union:
You are individually and collectively responsible for the situation in
which you find yourselves (and half responsible for the humanitarian
crisis unfolding in Africa). You are confronted with a trade war over what
you, yourselves, have admitted is a wholly indefensible position. While
you were riding the back of the Greenpeace tiger, trying to regain the
credibility lost in the dioxin, blood, and Mad Cow scandals of the past
decade by focusing public attention on a phony issue, European governments
and industry scrambled energetically to invest billions in the future of
pharmaceutical technology, cleverly crafting a Biosafety Protocol that
caught grain and food in its web and neatly exempted the real cash cow,
Gorging on success, you then managed to force through your Commission and
Parliament a food directive that, mirable dictu, creates a bright line
between American-made snack foods that contain virtually undetectable
shadows of their transgenic source in the form of protein or DNA
(labelable), and wines, cheeses, beers and other delicacies, made in
Europe, that might just as likely been the product of transgenically
produced enzymes used as processing aids.
It is this distinction without a difference that has proved to be the slow
undoing of the EC's argument in defense of its biotech strategy. By first
claiming concern for the safety of future generations (out of fear of the
unknown), and then backtracking in favor of labeling as a function of the
"consumer's right to know" when the science didn't wash for the future
safety argument, you undermined its own future strategy. If there exists
an ethical responsibility on the regulatory apparatus to ensure that the
consumer is allowed to make an informed choice about transgenic foods,
where is the line drawn at the right to know? Between soybean oil in a
corn product made in the USA, and a block of cheese manufactured via
In throwing your lot in with Greenpeace and their allies, you made a deal
with an exceedingly clever and dissembling devil. Assuming, no doubt as
you did, that they would keep their promise to exempt pharmaceuticals from
their war on biotechnology, you forgot one critical factor. If the issue
is the right to know about the act of genetic recombination, and the
activist community has made that right inviolable, how can they ever
maintain their credibility by giving you a free pass on labeling of
anything manufactured from recombinant origins? And, if their stated goal
is undermining the technology because they believe it is a capitalist
plot, a biodiversity time bomb, or just because they hate the thought of
progress, what hope have you of keeping your wine, beer, cheese, and
pharmaceuticals out of their kill zone?
Now, on the eve of the establishment of your new European Food Safety
Authority, you are faced with trying to earn credibility with a skeptical,
indeed almost hostile public, on the pretext that you will solve the
continent's food safety problems by slapping labels on a few packaged food
products arriving from the other side of the ocean. Imagine how dismal
that prospect will seem once the fallacy of labeling as a solution is
exposed, at the same time yet another Listeria, E Coli, Camphylobacter, or
Shigella outbreak kills a score more of your unsuspecting citizenry.
We all know that you cannot do what you should do, and emerge to the
waiting arms of the media with something like the following. "We have
identified the root causes of Europe's pernicious food safety problem, and
it is neither the scourge of biotechnology, nor the absence of a
precautionary principle. The food safety problem in Europe is rooted in
centuries of hygienically problematic food preparation and agricultural
methods that are themselves the epitomy of unnecessary risk. While we all
adore raw milk cheese, Steak Tartare and organic vegetables, and the other
delicacies that grace the tables of La Belle Europe, the fact is, they are
very risky foods. Now, we can change the way we grow, cook, and eat these
foods, or we can continue to pretend that we have found the answer in
biotech labeling and the precautionary principle. Freedom begets choices,
so we beg you to choose soon and wisely."
The road to redemption begins with responsibility. Cease this futile,
embarrassing war on transgenic food, roll up your sleeves, and usher a
splendid agricultural and gastronomic tradition as painlessly as is
possible into the twenty-first century. Keep your traditions and culture,
but tell the Zambians you'll take their grain, biotech or not. Maybe then
their government will relent and allow its starving citizens to eat. Then
again, maybe it wonít. But at least the responsibility will have been
partially removed from your sholders.
And Finally, To: The Rest Of The Regulatory World, Including The United
The American regulatory system, though not without flaws, enjoys a greater
degree of public confidence than any in the world. No one will remember
any of that, however, if you abandon your mission under political
pressure, worse yet pressure manufactured by a few clever folks who have
demonstrated an ingenious capacity to make their hundreds appear as
millions. Follow your empirical instincts, with sensitivity for the
public's need for real information, and lead with confidence and a firm
hand. The public will forget the debate if you do the right thing. Their
outrage, if biotechnology and reasonable food prices are sacrificed at the
altar of expediency, will be a thing to behold however. You are winning
the debate, even though many of you fail to realize it. Stick to your
guns, and realize that nothing worth winning comes without sacrifice and
cost. Those of you in the developing world, study carefully both the
successes and the mistakes of your role models. It is in your grasp to
determine which way your citizens will live.
Biotechnology will not heal all of the world's ills. However, by allowing
the chief peril of the information age, the cynical manipulation by a few
for profit or warped psychic gain, will guarantee future food fights, far
more sterile, depressing and destructive than this one has been. If you
doubt it, ask the Zambian who is denied ART therapy for AIDS; the diabetic
who depends on transgenic insulin; the infertile couple that depends on
transgenic fertility drugs, or the billions unknown who might live as a
consequence of therapies not yet conceived, and which might never see the
light of day, should you choose the easy way out and abdicate your
responsible to educate, lead and decide.
For the rest of the world, which is viewing this spectacle from the
outside in with amusement, bemusement or, it is hoped, dismay and outrage,
it is time to learn, to read, to think and to become involved.
This is one of those once-in-a-generation issues that involves far more in
its intricate web than the mundane questions of agriculture, food and
It is, in a very real sense, a debate about whether we choose to live in
ignorance while we are drowning in information, or whether we will wake up
and realize that within our grasp are miracles as well as risks, and that
a civilization blessed with the genius to conceive and realize such
wonders has the capacity to properly regulate and manage those risks, and
in doing so leave for its posterity a legacy far greater than that of war,
conflict, genocide and death that have characterized the past hundred
Confusion on Biotech Affecting Famine, Trade, Official Says
- Washington File, December 17 2002 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
'Biotech could boost food production in poor countries, he adds'
Unjustified negative attitudes about agricultural biotechnology are
contributing to the ongoing famine in southern Africa and harming U.S.
agricultural trade, a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
In December 16 remarks before a biotechnology forum at the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce in Washington, David Hegwood, USDA special counsel, said
biotechnology is "one of the brightest hopes for improving food production
in Africa" and decreasing hunger.
But, he said, fears that Europe will reject food exports if they contain
some biotechnology has led Zimbabwe, one of the countries suffering from
famine, to refuse U.S. food aid, which primarily is maize that may contain
grain derived from biotechnology.
Further, Hegwood said, some countries are refusing to import U.S. maize
and soybeans because a growing number of third countries are requiring the
labeling of foods that may contain biotech ingredients. The United States
does not segregate biotech from non-biotech crops because there is no
scientific evidence to indicate that commercially available biotech
commodities and processed foods are less safe than their conventional
counterparts, according to a State Department fact sheet.
A recent "troubling development" in agricultural trade involves U.S. food
manufacturers moving production facilities to other countries and using
non-U.S. food ingredients to avoid the labeling required by the European
Union (EU), Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Hegwood said. "They,
too, are afraid of the European attitudes toward biotechnology," he said.
Hegwood blamed European governments for not acting "responsibly" in
adopting labeling rules and for keeping in place a moratorium on approvals
of new foods derived from biotechnology -- both of which are serving as
He said European governments are interfering in the marketplace by
imposing costly regulations on the food system. Mandatory labeling already
is causing higher consumer prices and stifling farmersí use of innovation
in Europe, he said.
Hegwood urged governments to maintain a distinction between health and
safety issues and consumer information issues. "Mandatory process-based
labeling is not a health and safety issue, and it is a grave mistake for
governments to allow consumers to believe that it is. Doing so undermines
consumer confidence in the regulatory system," he added.
Regulations to protect consumer health and safety should be based on sound
science and not discriminate against any country in trade, he said. All
countries should respect the internationally agreed rule-based regulatory
system "to ensure biotechnology is not overwhelmed and eventually
suffocated by irrational fears," he said.
Following is the text of Hegwoodís prepared remarks:
Biotechnology: Following The Rules
- David Hegwood, Special Counsel to the Secretary United States
Department of Agriculture
Forty million people in Africa are at risk of starving to death. The
United States has pledged over 500,000 tons of food aid to Africa since
the beginning of the year, the largest contribution of any country in the
world. Yet some countries in southern Africa would rather see their people
starve than distribute the corn we have provided.
Why? Fear. Fear that the corn is not safe to eat? No. This corn has been
approved for production and consumption in the United States. In fact,
Americans have been consuming this corn for years with no ill effects. The
heads of the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, and the
United Nations have all said it is safe.
No, it is fear of Europe that is keeping our corn out of the mouths of
hungry people in Africa. European consumers are not sure about
biotechnology, so hungry people in Africa donít eat. Itís that simple.
The government of Zimbabwe will not allow biotech corn to be distributed
within the country because some poor, starving farmer might plant a few
kernels and contaminate the country. Then Europe might refuse to import
food products from Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, the famine continues. It will continue in 2003, and 2004, and
on and on until the underlying causes are remedied. The problems are
inadequate food production, HIV/AIDS, civil and political strife, and
failed government policies.
Resolving these problems will not be simple. We need every tool we can
find and biotechnology is one of the brightest hopes for improving food
production in Africa.
It can be done. 1965, the Indian subcontinent was wracked by famine.
Thanks to Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution, by 1968 Pakistan was
self-sufficient in wheat and India became self-sufficient only a few years
later. Biotechnology can help to bring about a similar revolution in
Africa. It is one of the tools that can help to provide a much needed
boost to agricultural productivity in the region.
Today, only one country in Africa ñ- South Africa -ñ has approved
commercial cultivation of transgenic crops. Only a handful of others have
active research programs. Improving productivity will take time, even with
biotechnology, but negative attitudes such as those in Europe are not
merely an obstacle to progress toward future goals. They need to be
overcome NOW so starving people can eat TODAY.
You might wonder why, at a conference on biotechnology in Latin America, I
am talking about Africa. If European attitudes are influential enough to
keep safe food away from hungry Africans simply because it was produced
with biotechnology, imagine what impact these attitudes are having on the
rest of the world, including the Americas.
Five years ago, when the public debate in Europe over labeling first
started to heat up, many people thought the whole issue could be brought
to a swift and relatively painless conclusion. The rationale was that once
mandatory labeling was implemented, consumers would quickly lose interest
in the labels and the issue, and the furor would die down.
Mandatory process-based labeling was and still is bad policy, but at the
time there was hope it would be sufficient to overcome consumer concerns
about the technology.
Then traceability was added to the agenda, followed shortly by the
moratorium on new approvals. Consumer attitudes worsened, or at least
government perceptions of them did. The United States lost a $200 million
dollar corn market and we have little hope of getting it back anytime
Our problems in Europe were bad enough, but then the contagion started
spreading. Other countries began to require labeling, including Japan,
Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. More countries every year, including
some in this hemisphere, are taking up the issue of mandatory labeling.
This year we faced the threat of losing a $1 billion [$1,000 million]
dollar soybean market as China tried to implement new approval and
The trade impacts of all of these regulations are both direct and
indirect. Our exports to China and Europe have suffered because of the
regulations in those countries. But we have also seen exports to third
countries affected. Customers have stopped buying our corn and soybeans
because they do not want to have to label the food products they sell to
More recently, we have seen an even more troubling development. Food
manufacturers in the United States are moving production facilities
offshore and sourcing non-U.S. ingredients so they can avoid labeling. The
food companies have been very clear: they do not want to put GMO
[genetically-modified organism] labels on their branded food products.
They too, are afraid of the European attitudes toward biotechnology.
If it is happening to U.S. exports and U.S. companies, it will happen to
every other country that utilizes biotechnology. And if they can do this
to biotechnology, they can do it to any other issue that captures the
attention of the European public.
In fact, the European Union [EU] has proposed in a paper submitted in
Geneva for the current WTO [World Trade Organization] negotiations on
agriculture, that countries should be able to pursue agriculture non-trade
concerns through mandatory labeling requirements for food and agriculture
This path is leading us toward chaos. Without question, public acceptance
of biotechnology is the ultimate answer to many of the problems we now
face. However, the lack of public acceptance is no excuse for governments
to avoid their responsibilities.
In fact, the failure of governments to act responsibly is in large part
responsible for the mess we now find ourselves in. Consumers in Europe
lost confidence in the ability of the regulatory system to protect them
because of government missteps in a series of crises, including Mad Cow
Disease and the dioxin scare to cite just a couple.
Because of the global nature of the agri-food industry, those crises have
had repercussions for consumers, businesses, and governments all around
the world. As we see in southern Africa, sometimes those repercussions can
How do we bring order to this chaos? Through rules. For the past 60 years
countries have been working together to establish workable, effective
rules for trade in food and agricultural products. The rules framework
consists of the WTO Agreements and the international scientific and
standards setting organizations such as the Codex Alimentarius, the IPPC
[Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control], and the OIE [Office
International des Epizooties].
However, countries are not following the rules they have agreed to. The EU
moratorium on new approvals is a blatant violation of the WTO SPS
[sanitary and phytosanitary] Agreement.
Mandatory labeling requirements are being applied in a discriminatory
manner. For example, some countries require exporters from the United
States to demonstrate the absence of biotech ingredients in exported food
products, a requirement that is not applied to other countries. The
traceability and labeling requirements recently approved by the EU Council
will not improve the situation. We believe the new rules are unworkable
and will create incentives for fraud and abuse. At the same time, they
give encouragement to other countries to proceed with mandatory
process-based labeling requirements.
To bring more reason to government policies on biotechnology, we need more
focus on the rules-based framework countries have already agreed to.
First, we need to maintain the distinction between health and safety
issues and consumer information issues. Mandatory process-based labeling
is not a health and safety issue, and it is a grave mistake for
governments to allow consumers to believe that it is. Doing so undermines
consumer confidence in the regulatory system.
Second, regulations intended to protect health and safety must be based on
sound-science. Sound-science provides an objective standard for
distinguishing between legitimate health and safety protections and
disguised barriers to trade. Without an objective standard, the rules
would be meaningless.
Third, countries must not be discriminated against. This is one of the two
fundamental principles of the international trading regime.
These are basic and well-known rules. Unfortunately, when it comes to
biotechnology they are routinely ignored. To make matters worse, some
countries are working actively to subvert the existing rules.
Letís look first at labeling and consumer information. Labeling is usually
couched as a consumer choice issue. Markets offer choices; governments
Government-mandated, process-based labeling is an unwise, inefficient and
unnecessary interference in the market. The United States, for better or
worse, is the most consumer-oriented society in the world. Consumers in
the United States have more choices than consumers anywhere else in the
world. Consumers here can get anything they want from the marketplace,
including non-biotech foods, if they are willing to pay for it.
In Europe, the government has substituted itself for the marketplace. It
is imposing costs and regulatory burdens on the food system that it will
not bear. Mandatory labeling will not work in the current food system. We
are already seeing some of the dislocations it is causing. Consumers will
suffer through higher prices. Farmers will suffer from the stifling of
innovation. And hungry people in Africa will continue to suffer.
Not content to impose an unworkable system on its own economy, the EU is
working to enshrine the right to mandatory process-based labeling in
Codex. If successful, this would be the first time Codex has adopted
mandatory labeling guidelines based solely on consumer choice instead of
health and safety. The reputation of Codex as an international standards
setting body would be severely, perhaps irreparably damaged.
With approvals the story is similar. Some countries in Europe refuse to
approve biotech products even in the face of overwhelming scientific
evidence of their safety. They cite the Precautionary Principle as their
justification. Again, not content to impose the Precautionary Principle
within the borders of Europe, the EU is working aggressively to insert the
Precautionary Principle into the WTO, Codex, and anywhere else an
opportunity arises. The Precautionary Principle has no role in
science-based decision making; it substitutes politics for science,
further undermining the credibility of the regulatory system.
The challenges of regulating biotechnology are difficult enough when the
rules are followed. Rapid developments will make it hard for regulatory
systems to keep up with the technology. For example, detection of trace
amounts of unapproved traits becomes increasingly likely as more field
trials are conducted. The tendency for regulators will be to say that
there should be no tolerance for unapproved traits, but scientifically, a
no tolerance level may be neither justified nor practical.
These issues become more complex as the technology advances. The
production of pharmaceuticals in plants creates a different set of
challenges than the Bt and herbicide tolerant products that have been on
the market for years. Pharmaceutical plants need to be regulated
differently than the first generation of products. We should not let
uncertainty about each new product that comes along prevent the operation
of an effective regulatory system for everything else.
Respect for the rules-based system that we have all agreed to is the only
way to ensure biotechnology is not overwhelmed and eventually suffocated
by irrational fears. The countries in this hemisphere have a particular
interest in working together to preserve a rules system with sound science
at its base. As our economies become more integrated, issues that impact
one of us will increasingly impact all of us.
Already, the United States, Argentina and Canada have the three most
biotechnology-reliant agricultural sectors in the world, and others in the
hemisphere are quickly catching up.
We can not go backwards. We should not go backwards. We should work
together to help the rest of the world catch up with us.
Thank you. (end text)
Vandana: Deepening Democracy
- Sarah Ruth van Gelder, YES! Magazine, December 13, 2002
Full Article at http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=14743
Vandana Shiva is a physicist and an organic farmer, an instigator of
India's historic "tree-huggers" movement, and a renowned author. She
speaks internationally on the perils of globalization, while mobilizing
fellow citizens to reclaim their rights to life itself.
* Sarah Ruth van Gelder: Tell me about the Earth Democracy movement. Where
did that notion come from, and what form is the movement taking?
- Vandana Shiva: The notion comes from a very ancient category in Indian
thought. Just like Chief Seattle talked about being in the web of life, in
India we talk about vasudhaiva kutumbkam, which means the earth family.
Indian cosmology has never separated the human from the non-human - we are
When the issue of the patenting of life emerged, for example, there were
two levels of response from those opposing this practice in India. The one
level was resistance: "This is immoral. Life is not an invention. Life
cannot be a monopoly. You cannot sell us the seeds you stole from us, and
you cannot charge us royalties for the product of nature's intelligence
and centuries of human innovation."
The second level was the reclaiming of democracy: people claimed the right
to look after their biodiversity and use it sustainably. This came out of
discussions among the movements we've been building at the grassroots.
Our system of food security is being destroyed in the name of economic
growth and economic liberalization, and people don't have enough food to
eat. Our farmers are being ravished by seed companies, being pushed into
debt, and committing suicide. This system is going to cost lives even in
the US, where people don't know how they'll pay for their health or
The way out of this violent cycle is to deepen democracy - to bring
decisions that directly affect people's lives as close as possible to
where people are and to where they can take responsibility. If a river is
flowing through some communities, those communities should have the power
and the responsibility to decide how the water is used and whether it is
to be polluted. The state has no business giving to Coca-Cola the
groundwater of a valley in Kerala, resulting in rich farmland going
totally dry. Communities need to take back sovereignty and delegate
trusteeship to the state only as appropriate.
What we have now is a regime of absolute rights in the hands of
corporations with zero responsibility for the environmental and social
devastation and the political instabilities they are creating. If we want
to reactivate and rejuvenate democracy, we have to bring back the economic
Corporate Social Responsibility: Lots of It About
- The Economist, Dec 12, 2002
Full article at
This issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR)óhow responsible
companies should be to those other than their own shareholdersóis arousing
heated debate, and not just in America. In Europe and Asia, the battle is
often said to be between Anglo-Saxon shareholder capitalism, which says
that companies should pursue exclusively the interests of their
shareholders, and stakeholder capitalism, which acknowledges that
companies are also responsible to their workers and local
communitiesóoften by having representatives from both on their boards.
The debate has also become entangled with that about globalisation. One of
the main charges that the anti-globalisation brigade hurls at
multinationals is that they behave irresponsibly all round the world. They
exploit third-world workers, trash the environment and challenge
democratically elected governments.
In all these tussles, the left demands that more rules be applied to
companies, to make them more responsible. The right fires back that
governments already subcontract far too much of their social policy to
companies, using them as vehicles to limit working hours (in France), to
promote racial harmony (in America) and to clean up the environment (just
about everywhere on the planet).
Since Anglo-Saxon companies have tended to be reasonably responsible in
the past, without any government bullying, there must a good a priori case
for leaving them alone. The case is strengthened by the fact that
companies are most effective as social vol