Today in AgBioView -January 7, 2003
* GM, Not Organic, Is Industry's Future
* Hormesis - Paradoxical Effect of Toxins at Low Concentrations
* Apel Response to Dr. Bernal from Andrew Apel
* Muir Response to GE Grass
* Morton Again: Cummins and Obfuscation
* Roush Wants to Know More About "A Seed Europe"
* Anti-GM Reports Are Just Scaremongering
* GM Potato 'Could Improve Child Health'
* Save the Seeds
* Biotech Potentials for the 21st Century
* Nature and the Mexican Maize Transgene Flow
* Planting Hope
* Puzzling Industry Response to Prodigene Fiasco
* The Future of Pharming: Can It Be Done Safely
* Genetic Eng and the Intrinsic Value and Integrity of Animals and Plants
* Heed the Hungry
* Of Genes In Beans and More
GM, Not Organic, Is Industry's Future
- The Scotsman (UK), January 6, 2003 (Courtesy: Katie Thrasher)
Kenneth Clark, former Tory Chancellor, believes a nation can survive
anything except loss of self confidence. Defeat in battle, losing a war,
hyper inflation of its currency or massive natural disasters can all be
overcome by a nation confident of its abilities but it takes little to
disconcert one filled with self-doubt .
It is difficult to pinpoint when the tide of our national self-confidence
turned and began to ebb away but for many it was 22 January 1972 when we
forsook Churchill's open seas in favour of the sclerotic, bureaucratic
labyrinth of the European Economic Community.
Big systems die hard and decay can be well advanced before anything shows
on the surface. Even then it may not be recognised for what it is because
often it is most visible in areas of little importance. When rapping is
accepted as music rather than an indication that stronger therapy is
needed, then confidence in our cultural judgement has reached a serious
low. When we no longer have the confidence to regard an unmade bed as a
sign of slovenliness rather than a work of art it is probably terminal.
But however important popular music and modern art might be to their
aficionados they have little impact on most people. It is when the erosion
of self confidence causes us to doubt the scientific rationale which
underlies our society that serious, lasting harm ensues. It is then that
we lose confidence in our ability to deal with the future and begin to
pretend that it is the past repackaged.
The evolutionary tree of our technology has both failed and successful
branches. Successful ones such as the wheel extend far back into our past
and can be confidently projected into our future. They undergo changes in
materials of construction and methods of manufacture but they are not
superseded. Failures die and survive only in museums.
It is on just such a dead branch that our lack of self confidence has
persuaded us hangs the future answer to our energy requirements: the
windmill. But the reason the windmill was abandoned in favour of water
power is as true today as it was then - wind is an unreliable energy
source and all the new materials and methods of construction do not alter
that. Windmills did not evolve because they do not work.
The evolution of energy technology was closely matched by the evolutionary
change which has been the predominant characteristic of agriculture since
its earliest days. By selection and rejection, by crossing and
hybridisation, we have adapted nature to our needs. Failures ended up as
rare breeds and botanical curiosities and no longer feature in
But now our nerve has failed us and instead of welcoming the next logical
step in the process of adaptation - genetic modification - we have chosen
instead to promote the superseded methods and 19th century productivity
levels of organic farming; ostensibly to save the planet but really
because we have run out of bottle.
To conceal it from ourselves we call this loss of nerve by many different
names. It masquerades as prudence or as concern for the environment, it
appears in the guise of sustainability or the Precautionary Principle
which permits no changes whose outcomes are not completely known but it
paralyses our present and will blight our future.
I believe our future energy requirements can only be met by nuclear
generation and our food requirements by genetically modified crops and
livestock; no other rational course offers itself. It probably does not
matter much if we in Scotland follow failed branches, we are already
moribund and our inability to face the future will serve only to hasten
the inevitable but it is hard to imagine that the UK, a nation which was
once pre eminent in every sphere, will so tamely become a living museum.
The great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes believed that a man
"should share the action and passion of his time at peril of being judged
not to have lived." I do not think he meant by that a journey down memory
- Anthony Trewavas (email@example.com), AgBioView, January 7, 2003.
If you haven't yet heard of 'hormesis' you probably soon will. A
revolution is taking place in toxicology which will eventually change
perspectives radically about the hazards or otherwise of pesticide traces
in food. The revolution will not take place quietly so be prepared for
What is hormesis? Basically hormesis is the paradoxical effect of toxins
at low concentrations. The paradox is that although most chemicals are
toxic at high concentrations (or dose) the majority are likely beneficial
at low concentrations (or dose). The common regulatory assumption is that
if a chemical is toxic at high dose it continues to be toxic but with
diminishing toxicity as the dose is lowered. In contrast hormesis
indicates that many chemicals have the opposite effect at low doses to
those at high. If for example a chemical is carcinogenic at high dose it
likely lowers cancer rates below controls at low doses A little bit of
poison does you good!
Some familiar examples of hormesis. We all know of examples that come in
the hormetic category. A tablet of aspirin a day is recommended to improve
the circulation; 50 tablets a day will not improve the circulation 50
fold, but likely see its complete cessation. Similarly for most
pharmaceuticals. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A is 1-3 mg/day;
teratogenic effects appear at 9-10mg/day. Fluoride at 1 part per million
in drinking water strengthens both teeth against decay and bones; 100 ppm
is definitely poisonous. Insulin is essential to control blood sugar but
too much can easily kill. Copper is essential for plant growth but rapidly
becomes toxic as the concentration in the soil increases.
What is a hormetic dose response curve? These are described as U shaped or
J shaped. For U shaped curves, a dysfunctional process such as cancer rate
is recorded against dose and the effect of the chemical at low
concentrations is to reduce dysfunction below controls. Only at higher
concentrations (or dose) does the curve turn around and assume the normal
toxic or carcinogenic pattern mimicking a U shape. Similarly for J shaped
Hormetic dose responses contradict current models of toxicity used by the
EPA. But EPA regulations were based on a model of cancer developed in the
70's which assumed that cancer was a monotonically induced disease (a
single mutations was sufficient) and that the mechanism of induced cancer
was the same as background cancer induction. Both are now known to be
Some less familiar examples of hormesis.
1. Radon. It has often been assumed that there is no safe dose for
exposure to radioactivity. Consequently those that live in houses
constructed from granite which emit higher levels of the radioactive gas
radon are recommended to open windows, create drafts, or more radically to
move away to reduce potentially higher lung cancer rates. However data
gathered world-wide shows that those who live in granite houses have
significantly lower rates of lung cancer (even in smokers) than those who
do not. It has been suggested that the alpha particles emitted by radon
actually destroy pre-neoplastic loci which would normally lead to
2. Factory effluent. Appropriately diluted it greatly increases the growth
of algae (Calabrese and Baldwin 2002). Furthermore the effects of a
variety of supposedly toxic metals (such as cadmium, mercury) were shown
to promote the growth of marine algae in studies published by Stebbings in
1982 but again only at low concentrations (see references in Stebbing,
ARD. Mutation Research 403, 249-258 (1998)). With higher concentrations
the normal toxic effects emerged.
3. Antibiotics.These are used at low concentrations by many farmers to
promote poultry and cattle growth. They are of course toxic at high
4. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other toxins. Calabrese and
Baldwin (2001,2002) surveyed many journals of toxicology and found 4000
papers that dealt with dose response data to various synthetic chemicals.
Of these at least 300 showed hormetic dose response patterns and these
included a variety of pesticides. Calabrese and Baldwin comment that most
of these published 4000 dose response data did not examine the effects of
low concentrations because regulations only requires establishment of the
maximum tolerated dose (MTD).
The hormetic dose response pattern is the most likely pattern for the
great majority of known chemicals. The EPA extrapolates in linear fashion
from the MTD to a supposed safe but still toxic dose; that is where only
one in a million cases of cancer would occur. However hormetic dose
responses indicate the extrapolation is incorrect. Low doses of cadmium,
dioxin, caffeic acid, phenobarbital or anthracenes for example actually
reduce cancer rates below untreated controls at low concentrations.
Arsenic has been used to treat cancer. Organochlorines at low doses
increase insect growth rates. A diluted solution of strychnine was
frequently used in the 19th century as a pick-me-up. Herbicides such as
phosfon D at low doses can promote plant growth. Low doses of mutagens
reduce mutation rates below untreated controls probably by potentiating
DNA repair mechanisms.
What is the mechanism of hormesis? It is unlikely that there is just one
mechanism. However low levels of chemical stress are thought to potentiate
the immune system and increase rates of DNA repair and increase
antioxidant defences. All can be expected to reduce cancer rates. Perhaps
a good analogy are the effects of sunshine, i.e. UV stress. At low
concentrations sunshine beneficially induces the formation of vitamin D.
At higher levels protective melanin formation ensures that potentially
higher and future UV stress can be tolerated. However recommendations are
always to keep initial UV exposure short (low dose) to allow protection to
properly develop. Thereafter much longer periods of UV stress can be
However exposure to larger doses of UV without protection causes oxidative
damage to the skin, overwhelms protective mechanisms and potentially
initiates skin cancer. This sequence is a fair analogy to the response to
many chemicals. Hormetic protective mechanisms were probably essential
for hunter-gatherers who ate a very varied diet containing many
potentially toxic chemicals in fruit and vegetables. The large number of
natural pesticides in fruit and vegetables may exert the known protective
effects against cancer that result from a diet high in fruit and
1. There are safe doses for many chemicals. This directly contradicts EPA
statements and campaigns against pesticides over many years (e.g. Rachel
Carson and followers)
2. The effects of low concentrations of toxins such as pesticides can be
directly beneficial decreasing cancer and or increasing growth.
3. If pesticide traces in food have any effect at all it is likely to be
beneficial not toxic. Those who opt for organic food in a supposed effort
to improve health are probably exposed to higher health risks as a
consequence. A little bit of dirt or poison can do a great deal of good.
For those who wish to read more, many preprints of articles on hormesis
are to be found in http://www.belleonline.com. There are two recent
summaries in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences (2002), volume 23, 331-337
and (2001), volume 22, 285-291 both by E. Calabrese and L. Baldwin. These
will give a lead to previous literature.
- Anthony Trewavas FRS, University of Edinburgh, UK
Response to Dr. Bernal from Andrew Apel
- From: Andrew Apel
Dear Dr. Bernal and all:
There are many good reasons for comparing the 27 metric ton/ha output in
Iowa to the 0.2 metric ton/ha output of Oaxaca. Dr. Bernal pointed out
some of the reasons for the differing outputs, but failed to note how the
difference is salient.
For all the vaunted "native wisdom" of Mexican maize growers, their
"native landraces," the "biodiversity" of their crops and the "acclimation
of these precious cultivars to varied microclimates," the fact is, maize
isn't a weed. It's an artificial plant and its sole purpose is to feed
people. It would disappear if it were given no attention by humans.
Given the 138:1 Iowa:Oaxaca ratio, it's apparent that whatever Iowa has,
it's superior to the native-natural-ancestral-biodiverse Oaxaca stuff by
such a massive multiple that whatever you say, the "museum of Maize" in
Mexico does an obviously lousy job of feeding people.
Iowa does not use "biodiverse landraces." We gave that up decades ago in
favor of high-producing hybrids. Iowa does not rely on "organic" farming
methods. We found out decades ago that there are better methods that
produce more per acre. Iowa has crops genetically engineered to resist its
native insect pests... Mexico rejects the technology.
One can complain about energy differentials, subsidies, variable soil
fertility, rainfall and any number of other things, but the fact is, on a
per-acre basis, an Iowan can feed 138 times as many people as a Oaxacan.
Maize only exists for the purpose of feeding humans, and it doesn't take a
big logical leap from there to determine that in terms of feeding humans,
Iowa is a success, while Oaxaca is a failure.
Not too long ago, it made sense to argue that "native Mexican landraces"
needed to be preserved because of their "biodiversity" and the "possible
benefits" that might lie undiscovered in their germplasm. Seeds from these
various landraces are held by CIMMYT at great expense, and are about to
become obsolete and worthless.
Yes, that's true. Obsolete and worthless. The more advanced the knowledge
of gene function and transfection becomes, the more pointless
"biodiversity" and seed banks become. Seed banks and biodiversity are only
important if your only available technology is conventional breeding. With
more advanced knowledge and techniques, antique germplasm becomes
increasingly irrelevant. If you need a trait (such as resistance to the
European Corn Borer), you engineer it in--as with the YieldGard gene.
Ten years from now, the expense for seed banks will be deemed pointless,
their contents will be fed to cows and pigs and people will relent from
making bizarre claims in favor of biodiversity, such as that 3 bu/a is an
acceptable yield in Mexico. Mexico, and Mexicans, deserve better.
>> From: "Julio S. Bernal"
>> Re: AGBIOVIEW: Comparing Iowa to Oaxaca;
>> Normally, I do not respond to any of the messages that I receive from
>> Agbioview, but I simply could not resist in this case because it is a
>> highly simplified and disinformative piece of biased information.....
From: "William Muir"
Re: Mr. Ridenhower's Letter to the Editor and GE Grass
I had to respond to Mr. Ridenhower's Letter to the Editor. I suppose some
would call me an environmentalist and I did contribute to the recent
National Academy of Science NRC report on "Animal Biotechnology, Science
Based Concerns". The report emphasized the need to scientifically assess
the propensity of a GE organism to escape and spread into the wild as a
basis for environmental concern. If a GE organism will spread on its own
into ecosystems, species displacements may occur along with other
While the report does not make recommendations, our research on risk
assessment (Muir, WM and R.D. Howard 2002. Environmental Risk Assessment
of Transgenic Fish With Implications for Other Diploid Organisms.
Transgenic Research 11:101-114) suggests that only those GE organisms that
cannot spread naturally should be release, i.e. natural selection will
eliminate the threat. Maize and soybeans are so poorly adapted to the
environment that even BT maize and soybeans cannot spread, and hence do
not present any real risk of harm due to spread. In contrast, grass is
well adapted and adding the genes suggested would further increase
adaptability into not only parched regions where it may not exist now, but
into farm field.
Yes, a drought resistant grass with Roundup resistance would be an
outstanding lawn grass, but I fail to see how it could reduce
hydro-carbons spewed into the air by 2-cycle lawn mower engines. Normally
grass goes dormant in times of protracted drought and hence does not need
to be mowed. If the GE grass moves into cultivated fields of GE soybeans
which are also Roundup resistant, a super weed results.
Now the farmer has to resort to less environmentally friendly herbicides
to control it, or crank up the tractor to cultivate the fields the old
fashion way, neither of which are environmentally friendly. The market for
Roundup resistant GE soybeans would also be lost because it is only
advantage if the weeds are killed by Roundup. No Mr. Ridenhower, such a GE
grass would result in the worst of both worlds for the farmer and the
environment, but city folks could look out at their nice green lawns, but
what real value does that have compared to agriculture or the environment?
>> For A Care-free Lawn
>> - St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Letters To The Editor), December 28, 2002
>> While Europe and the Third World debate genetically modified food,
>> Monsanto has a huge untapped market for a new GMO product right here in
>> America. Give us a drought-resistant, Roundup-tolerant lawn grass that
>> will only grow 3 inches tall - a grass that seldom requires mowing.
- Bill Muir, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics, Department of Animal Sciences,
From: "Roger Morton"
Re: Cummins and obfuscation
Prof Cummins wrote:
>> I will try to reply even though you...
This is a major case of the pot calling the kettle black. I asked for you
to backup your assertion that: "The CaMV promoter **in the chromosome** is
a hotspot for genetic recombination " and you can't. You then go on to
"deal with what you want".
>> The main point I wish to reiterate is that I believe that it is wrong to
>> assume that the CaMV integrated into the chromosomal DNA ( and
>> frequently with its DNA sequence "tuned" and flanked by synthetic genes)
>> is equivalent to the CaMV promoter contained in the virus and not
>> naturally integrated into the chromosome. It is wrong to assume that
>> the fact that the virus exists is sufficient evidence of the safety of
>> the integrated gene.
Yes it is wrong to assume this. However, there is truck loads of safety
tests done on plants with this CaMV promoter integrated into the
chromosome and you can not offer one example where there is any problem
with this promoter. You offer all sorts of wild theories about virus
promoters being dangerous because they have homology to HIV viruses and
the like. It makes good copy when you want to scare the general public.
But it does not wash in the world of science. You can not address my point
number 3 on virus-like promoters in transposable elements. If having a
promoter with homology to a virus is so bad then we should all be dead
from transposable elements.
>> You pretend that I have claimed that there are no other hot spots
>rather than CaMV and
>> that appears to be a crude effort to make yourself look authoritative
>rather than just bitchy.
So what is the danger of a recombination hotspot then?? If you concede
there are millions of them out there then one more is not a worry right?
>> Highly active exchange between the integrated virus promoter and viral
>> sequences have been reported ie(Wintermantel, W.M. and Schoelz, J.E.
>> (1996). Isolation of recombinant viruses between cauliflower mosaic
>> virus and a viral gene in transgenic plants under conditions of moderate
>> selection pressure. Virology 223, 156-164.)
I have not read this paper but I note the term "under moderate selection
pressure" in the title. This suggests to me that you don't get it
happening unless you select for it. Would this be correct? If you can only
see it when you select for it in a lab then of what relevance is it to GM
A Seed Europe?
- Rick Roush
>>Re: "A Seed Europe Attacks" "High-Yield Hogwash: 'Corporates' Against
Who are "A Seed Europe"? Is anything known other than that they are "an
Amsterdam-based anti-globalization group"? - Thanks. Rick
Anti-GM Reports Are Just Scaremongering
- Hywel Trewyn, Daily Post (Liverpool), December 31, 2002
A North Wales farmer who defied the Welsh Assembly by growing genetically
modified crops remained unrepentant yesterday - despite a new Government
report revealing possible dangers.
The study details evidence of contamination between engineered oilseed
rape and non-GM plants during a six-year Government research programme.
The results immediately prompted fears herbicide-resistant super-weeds
could be created after researchers found wild turnip was affected by the
transfer of genes when planted next to oilseed rape. Farmer John Cottle
planted genetically modified maize at his farm in Sealand, Flintshire, for
two years. Plans to plant a third crop were turned down last year after
the UK environment and food department Defra chose 35 sites in England
Friends of the Earth Cymru claimed the Welsh Assembly's strong stance
against GM crops was instrumental in the decision by Defra.But last night
Mr Cottle, whose maize crops were ripped up by protesters, played down the
new evidence. "It doesn't surprise me at all. Interbreeding occurs
normally. There's no surprise there. There's nothing new really," he said.
"Any farmers' crop interbreeds but not with weeds in hedgerows. A crop
like rape would compete with similar crops like mustard. "That happens
anyway if GM crops are there or not. "If GM crops are grown, there will be
a separation distance between the crop and other crops."
Mr Cottle last night remained convinced GM crops were good for the
environment.He added: "There are big advantages for the farmer and for the
environment from using GM crops. There needs to be less tillage and
cultivation. By ploughing, you are killing insects and releasing carbon
dioxide into the air."
However environmental group Friends of the Earth warned the latest results
highlighted the potential threat of "super weeds" in the countryside. The
Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) which has been at the forefront of the fight
to keep Wales a GM-free zone said it was "appalled" by the Government's
confirmation that cross-contamination occurred.
Spokesman Alan Morris said: "This bears out our deepest fears on t he
subject and proves our point that insufficient laboratory testing has
taken place before the Government allowed commercial-scale testing of GM
Friends of the Earth spokesman Peter Riley added: "Contamination of crops
and seeds is inevitable once commercial growing begins." Last November a
coalition of farmers and environmentalists launched a campaign aimed at
keeping Wales GM-free. The Farmers' Union of Wales, Friends of the Earth
Cymru, GM Free Cymru and the National Federation of Women's Institutes in
Wales urged the Assembly to act within six months to ensure Wales remains
a GM-free zone.
GM Potato 'Could Improve Child Health'
- BBC News, January 1, 2003 (Via Agnet)
A protein-rich genetically modified potato could help combat malnutrition
in India, scientists say. Its developers say the "protato" could help
tackle nutrition problems amongst the country's poorest children.
They say it could play an important part in the Indian government's 15
year health improvement plan to provide clean water, better food and
vaccines. The GM potato has been developed by scientists at the Jawaharlal
Nehru University in New Delhi, New Scientist magazine reports. A gene
called AmA1 was added to ordinary potatoes giving them a third more
protein than normal, including substantial amounts of the essential amino
acids lysine and methionine.
A lack of these can affect children. For example, too little lysine can
affect brain development. AmA1 comes from the amaranth plant which grows
in South America. The plant can be bought in some western health food
stores. The potato is in the final stages of testing, and it has been
submitted for official approval. No pesticide It is not the first
protein-rich GM product to be developed. Lysine-enriched strains of maize
have already been produced. Bread and wheat flour can also be enriched
naturally by adding peanut flour.
It is hoped that the GM potato's nutritional benefits will help it win
approval in India, where environmentalists have been concerned about a
decision to allow production of a GM cotton. Govindarajan Padmanaban, a
biochemist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, outlined
details of the potato to a meeting of the Royal Society in London last
year. He said: "The potato doesn't contain a pesticide gene," says
Padmanaban. "It's a gene that improves nutrition, and it's from another
plant that is already eaten. Moreover, it's not a known allergen." Dr
Padmanaban said he hoped Western-based environmental groups and charities
would not criticise the potato as they did a "golden rice" developed by
AstraZeneca's to make more vitamin A. "The requirements of developing
countries are very different from those of rich countries. I think it
would be morally indefensible to oppose it." Cheap
But campaigners say the potato should only be approved if passes safety
and environmental tests and if the extra protein is digestible. Siddharth
Deva, Oxfam's policy adviser for south Asia, called for independent
assessments of the effect of GM crops, such as the potato. He said: "We
want to ensure that introductions of GM crops don't have harmful
implications." Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based sustainable
development group opposed to the patenting of plants. But it says the GM
potato is a better use of the technology than creating
weedkiller-resistant crops. She said: "If you're going to use GM at all,
use it for this.
"India's problem is that we're vegetarian, so pulses and legumes are the
main protein source, but they're in short supply and expensive. The potato
is good because it's cheap." Pete Riley, GM spokesman for Friends of the
Earth, told BBC News Online: "Any GM food that's put on the market, in
India or any other country, needs to have gone through the proper safety
checks. "We need to have a system in place that makes sure that even a
crop which on paper might bring long-term benefits is not going to have
any unforeseen consequences."
Save the Seeds
- Don Kennedy, The Washington Post, January 3, 2003
Among all the scientific disciplines, one arguably has the greatest
potential for providing human benefit on a global scale. Hundreds of
millions of people in urban and rural areas in the poorest countries
suffer from chronic hunger. Meanwhile, the world's great monocultures of
staple grains -- rice, wheat and corn -- are at risk from novel pathogens,
arising from sudden genetic alteration or from delivery by an
The only line of defense depends on plant breeding, empowered by the new
science of genomic analysis, which allows us to know far more about plant
biology than ever before. But successful plant breeding requires the right
resources accumulated over decades of painstaking effort -- and this
resource is in danger of being lost.
The tools are the collections of crop genetic diversity, stored in the
seed banks and crop diversity collections maintained by international
centers and more than 150 nations. These collections hold samples of
thousands upon thousands of crop varieties and their ancestors. Using the
material in the collections -- a task now made easier by modern methods --
holds the prospect of fighting new plant diseases, dealing with drought
and other consequences of climate change, and protecting us against the
consequences of possible malevolent assaults on the crops that feed most
of the world.
The problem is that these storehouses of diversity are being allowed to
depreciate. Serious underfunding prevents adequate curation. In many
banks, living seeds are waiting to be duplicated while the cooling systems
that protect them break down because there is no money to repair them. New
work to capture and preserve the results of breeding experiments fails for
lack of support. Data collected by the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization demonstrate that in the years between 1996 and 2000, 66 of
the 100 nations studied saw the size of their collections shrink, while
gene bank budgets either decreased or remained constant in 60 of the
countries over the same period. And funding for the vitally important
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which maintains
important international seed banks, has decreased dramatically. So, for
that and other reasons, has the rate at which they are gaining access to
important new genetic resources.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, adopted in Rome last
year, represents a legal commitment by governments to conserve and use
their crop diversity in the interest of food security. The United States
signed the treaty on Nov. 1. Nevertheless, the disconnect remains between
the long-term requirement for crop diversity conservation and the
short-term nature of most funding for such conservation.
Fortunately, there is a movement toward improvement. The Global
Conservation Trust, which was established to strengthen and expand public
and private resources in agricultural research, has made a good start on
establishing an endowment to protect this global public good. The United
Nations Foundation, other private donors and a number of European and
Latin American nations have already made contributions to a fund targeted
initially at $260 million. The United States has made a major commitment
to support the trust.
In our effort to feed people, we have created a vulnerable enterprise: Its
weakness emerges in our inadequate knowledge of how to help small farmers
in the poorest countries and -- on the other hand -- in the liability of
the monocultures of our major cereal grains. Both depend on our capacity
to keep their genetic armaments in good shape. That will take serious
support, and unless we get behind the Global Conservation Trust, the
support may not be there.
The writer is editor in chief of Science magazine, president emeritus of
Stanford University and a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug
Biotech Potentials for the 21st Century
- N. Clark, Futures 32 (2002) (From Cropbiotech.net)
"Governments must establish new initiatives, capabilities and institutions
that can have a profound effect on legitimacy at a much more fundamental
level. Only when this is done will biotechnology in Third World countries
have the role and status it deserves." This was reiterated in a paper
entitled "Biotechnology and development: threats and promises for the 21st
century," written by N. Clark, K. Stokes, and J. Mugabe of the Wolfson
Centre, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, University of
Strathclyde in Glasgow, United Kingdom. The authors clarified the "complex
issues of risk perception and management in connection with biotechnology
and Third World development."
The authors summarized the main threats and promises associated with
biotechnology. Immense gains in food security, environmental protection,
agriculture, health and industrial production were the benefits mentioned.
However, threats are the alterations in life processes that are done, and
the probable impacts that are still unknown. Moreover, the advent of third
generation biotechnology has also raised ethical issues that are deeply
felt by people and organizations at all levels.
The article was written as a contribution to the current policy debate
about the status of biotechnology for international development. Unless
these are resolved, the UK researchers surmise, its economic potential is
certain to be compromised, particularly for developing countries.
Clark, Stokes, and Mugabe believe that "traditional approaches to risk are
flawed from both a scientific and an ethical standpoint." Therefore, the
authors suggest that decision-making "should not rest solely upon narrow
instruments of decision-making as conventionally understood."
Email N. Clark for inquiries about the paper at firstname.lastname@example.org. The
full paper is published in Futures 32 (2002).
Nature and the Mexican Maize Transgene Flow
- Klaus Ammann, email@example.com
After a considerable pause (actually since 2002'0829) I will start Debate
to all of you ! Blue is the colour of hope....
And for those who need something to laugh for the (past and coming)
festivities, have a look at the story about the Euro bill made out of
transgenic cotton paper:
http://www.botanischergarten.ch/debate/The-Times-Henderson.pdf it is
actually the discovery of Oliver Rautenberg and Gaby Sachse from Biolinx
in Frankfurt, our partners in www.bio-scope.org
additional documents: http://www.botanischergarten.ch/debate/Euro1.pdf
And finally something which makes me less laugh, although somehow
But now to the more serious stuff:
The Mexican transgene flow case continues to simmer on low temperature on
and on. It will do so until those people who really NEED it will see a
publication of a clear cut case of transgene flow in Mexico in a peer
reviewed journal (I do not envy the peer reviewers ...) A typical case of
such (wishful?) thinking is the latest text in Nature, written by Peter
Aldhous, Nature's chief News and Features editor.
Peter Aldhous has written numerous pieces in Nature on genetics see as
So, if you take the time to read those lines suggested above, you will see
that the author tries to give a view with a healthy distance about what
happens in the field of genetics, giving equal weight to the pros and
But this seems to me not the case in his latest piece about the Mexican
gene flow debate:
Here are my reasons why I think that the view is not so balanced this
1. I have personally and as a reader not seen a single person or an author
who critizises the Quist-Chapela paper implying that the transgene flow
postulated in this publication could never happen. On the contrary, all
the oral and written critical statements ended by saying that there is a
certain (or high) probability that this could be the case. Aldhous
indirectly implies with his too short wording that all critics had
fundamental (and thus unscientific) reasons to believe that such gene flow
2. The list of critical texts is incomplete, here as an addition in my
eyes the best of all the rebuttals. The detailed analysis is available
online as a letter in the Electronic J of Biotechnology, submitted
Wednesday 14, August, 2002:
Nature refused to publish this excellent text because it did not meet
their rather artificial word limit; but they could have published the data
analysis separately as an electronic appendix, what they actually decided
to do in the case of Quist-Chapela. This rather unconvincing rejection and
now the omission of the citation demonstrates bias.
3. It is amazing to read that Nature waits for the publication in a peer
reviewed journal of the findings of the Mexican NIE (National Institute of
Environment) when it has rejected itself the submission of the same
institute as to be too flawed. (One should not mix up this NIE submission
with the official one still to come from the Mexican government).
4. It seems to be an endemic belief of british journalists, that all
opinions coming from the industry must be strongly biased and not at all
based on science. It amazes me to see Nature deviating so obviously from
the path of scientific argumentation, shown so clearly in this article:
Just read the sequence about the murky guys of a "public relation firm
retained by the GM giant Monsanto" - as if it would be a crime that
Monsanto stands up against flawed science published in Nature... Although
correctly cited, the scientific facts and arguments are not explained with
a single phrase, but all other aspects, such as cultural, political ones,
are debated at length (and curiously enough, not documented in many
5. Last but not least there is no word about the present day gene flow
from modern maize traits towards teosinte or landraces of maize, which is
well documented and debated in recent symposia, here just one citation:
can find this paper within the following forum proceedings volume:
Proceedings of a Forum Gene Flow Among Maize Landraces, Improved Maize
Varieties, and Teosinte: Implications for Transgenic Maize Published on
I am just citing the last two paragraphs of the executive summary, which
is a good piece of unbiased comment on the future presence of transgenic
maize in Mexico: It calls clearly for more research about the impact and
states also clearly that there are - up to now - no negative effects known
with the present day gene flow, although it still considers the impact as
a risk to be studied.
"Field testing of transgenic maize in Mexico must be considered a special
case and one of great importance. The critical questions for transgenic
maize are not so much at the experimental stage, where conditions can be
controlled, but at the stage of deciding to permit commercial release,
when there can be no containment. Therefore, careful analysis of the
consequences of deregulation is recommended. Educating the public to
understand what is occurring with the introduction of transgenic material
would be an important step in clarifying the decision-making process
regarding deregulation. It is recommended that research on gene flow and
the analysis of biological risks derived from the use and release of
transgenic plants be a coordinated, multiinstitutional task. What is
necessary is teamwork involving the participation of biotechnologists,
ecologists, plant breeders, and other scientists who conduct research from
- Rob Wherry, Forbes, January 20, 2003
Charles Arntzen is trying to produce vaccines you can eat. If he succeeds,
disease prevention could spread to the poorest corners of Africa.
Charles Arntzen was walking through Bangkok's floating market 13 years
ago, hemmed in by hundreds of farmers in traditional blue garb selling
their harvest of fruits, flowers and vegetables from wooden sampans along
the Klong canals. He happened upon a mother feeding her infant a banana.
Arntzen, a plant biologist, was researching global use of plant-based
medicines. As he watched, it occurred to him: Wouldn't it be great if that
banana could shield the child from disease?
A seemingly simple concept--vaccines incorporated in food--followed
Arntzen home. Most vaccines are injected, but oral ones can work, like the
Sabin polio vaccine introduced 42 years ago. Taking this a step further,
Arntzen contemplated the possibility that plants could be engineered to
produce proteins that would cause the body to produce protective
antibodies. That would spare poor nations the cost of acquiring,
refrigerating and transporting vials of vaccine. It would spare kids a
needle in the arm.
Arntzen, now a professor of plant biology at Arizona State and director of
the Arizona Biodesign Institute inTempe, is in the vanguard of the
movement toward edible vaccines. He has concluded three early-stage
clinical trials using potatoes bearing vaccines against hepatitis B, E.
coli and the Norwalk virus, the intestinal scourge currently plaguing
cruise ships. It appears that vaccine-laden food can trigger the
production of antibodies, the body's virus fighters, but he has yet to
prove they do so at a rate comparable to that of an injection. If all goes
well, Arntzen thinks a Food & Drug Administration-approved product will be
available in five years.
"We're trying to create a new paradigm. These vaccines could save millions
of lives," says Arntzen. Unicef estimates 30 million infants go without
basic immunizations every year. Three million of those children die from
preventable diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and measles.
Full Story at
Puzzling Industry Response to Prodigene Fiasco
Jeffrey L. Fox, Nature Biotechnology, January 2003 Vol. 21 No.1 pp3-4;
In December, officials from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA;
Washington, DC), working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA;
Rockville, MD), imposed a $250,000 fine against ProdiGene (College Park,
TX) for violations of the Plant Protection Act. Meanwhile, the US
Biotechnology Industry Organization (Washington, DC) caved in to intense
political pressure and revised a previous statement calling for
outcrossing biopharmaceutical crops not to be planted in the US corn belt.
These awkward developments come at a delicate moment for companies working
to develop plants that produce pharmaceutical or industrial products. Food
producers are calling for stronger regulations that will keep
pharmaceutical crops not meant for human consumption entirely separate
from the food supply.
Federal officials are penalizing ProdiGene for two similar incidents
involving its test plots of GM corn being raised under contract by local
growers, one farm in Nebraska and another in Iowa. In the Nebraska case,
officials realized that some 500,000 bushels of harvested soybeans were
contaminated with small amounts of GM corn, which had been grown during
2001 on the same plot, because the farmer did not weed "volunteer" plants
from the field in which the soy was grown. In Iowa, federal officials
required a local producer to destroy some 155 acres of corn because it
could have been cross-pollinated by ProdiGene's engineered corn being
raised in a nearby field.
Without admitting to those violations, ProdiGene agreed to post a $1
million bond and also to reimburse the USDA for the costs, which could be
several million dollars, involved in disposing of the contaminated crops.
"We have learned some valuable lessons," says Anthony Laos, the company's
president and chief executive officer. "We expect the enhanced compliance
program we are developing in close cooperation with USDA to set the
benchmark for regulating the entire industry."
"We have to ensure enforcement of biotech regulations in order to maintain
confidence in the systems and the new technologies," says USDA Secretary
Ann Veneman. "And so, when companies don't adhere to those rules, we will
take action as we did ... with...ProdiGene. We are continuing to work very
closely with FDA to ensure regulatory requirements are clear and that
monitoring of licensees that are issued is effective and efficient.... We
also don't want to stifle growth, but we have to have strong and credible
Shortly before the US midterm elections BIO and several member companies
announced support for strong regulatory oversight for biopharming and
agreed to voluntary safeguards intended to keep such bioengineered plants
apart from the food supply. BIO emphasized that, in this early phase of
the development of biopharming, member companies would be better off by
voluntarily refraining from growing test plots of, for instance,
engineered corn plants in the corn belt.
However, relentless political heat, particularly from Senator Charles
Grassley (R-IA), led BIO to retreat from this position by early December.
In a letter to Sen. Grassley, BIO president Carl Feldbaum agreed that its
"position statement...requires revision in order to more accurately and
clearly express our views on stewardship of plants that produce
pharmaceutical and industrial products." In backing away from its earlier
call to limit growth of experimental crops in "major areas of production
of that crop's food/feed counterparts," BIO now is saying that it will
"encourage and invite alternative approaches...that would deliver at least
equivalent assurances for the integrity of the food supply and export
"Iowa producers have a strong, scientific case for being involved in this
new agricultural opportunity," says Sen. Grassley, who envisions
biotechnology becoming a multimillion dollar industry in his state. "It's
good to see that BIO has realized that they are putting unscientific
restraints on Iowa and many other states."
However, while Sen. Grassley and other politicians are pressuring the
biotechnology industry to stay active locally, many food producers are
sounding a different message about biopharming. For example, officials of
the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA; Washington, DC) are urging USDA
to mandate the use of "non-food crops" in biopharming R&D efforts.
Similarly, John R. Cady, CEO and president of the National Food Processors
Association (Washington, DC), referring to the ProdiGene episode, calls it
"nothing short of alarming to know that at the earliest stages of the
development of crops for plant-made pharmaceuticals, the most basic
preventive measures were not faithfully observed. This apparent violation
of rules...very nearly placed the integrity of the food supply in
Last November the GMA and representatives from member companies met with
Secretary Veneman and other USDA officials. Participants discussed using
non-food crops and several other options for strengthening USDA
regulations such as dedicating fields for growing of experimental biopharm
plants only, specifying periods during which such fields lie fallow, and
marking experimental crops.
"In our meeting with Secretary Veneman and her staff, GMA expressed its
concerns about the possible adulteration of the US food supply and the
need for strong bio-pharmaceutical regulations," says Manly Molpus, CEO
and president of the GMA. "While GMA and its member companies are
supportive of biotechnology's current and future benefits, we must have
stronger regulations that will keep pharmaceutical crops not meant for
human consumption entirely separate from the US food supply."
Some activist groups are calling for still stronger actions. For instance,
the Genetic Engineering FoodAlert (Washington, DC), a coalition of health,
consumer, and environmental groups, announced in November plans to
petition the USDA for an "immediate halt to all biopharms." Its members
also are criticizing federal officials for "not revealing pertinent
information on the contamination incidents" involving ProdiGene's
experimental plots in Iowa and Nebraska.
"We warned the USDA earlier this year this was going to happen," says
Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth (Washington, DC), a member of the
coalition. "If the USDA continues to allow biopharm food crops to be
planted, someone is going to get prescription drugs or industrial
chemicals in their corn flakes."
The Future of Pharming: Can It Be Done Safely
- Center for Science in the Public Interest http://www.cspinet.org (Sent
On December 17, CSPI hosted a panel discussion on pharming at the National
Press Club, bringing together scientists, industry representatives, and
policy advocates to discuss the benefits, risks, and regulatory issues
surrounding genetically engineered crops that produce pharmaceutical or
industrial chemicals. A transcript of The Future of Pharming: Can It Be
Done Safely can be viewed here:
Genetic Engineering and the Intrinsic Value and Integrity of Animals and
-- Proceedings of a Workshop at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, UK.
18-21 September 2002; Editors: David Heaf & Johannes Wirz Publisher:
Ifgene - International Forum for Genetic Engineering, Publication date:
December 2002 ISBN: 0-9541035-1-3 Format: A4; 116 pages; 35 illustrations
Includes transcripts of all discussions. Summary and full details of how
to order are at:
Enquiries: David Heaf Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel/Fax: +44
(0)1766 523181 Ifgene UK Hafan Cae Llwyd Llanystumdwy LL52 0SG UK
Heed the Hungry
- Kevin Clarke, U.S. Catholic Vol 68, Issue 1, January 1, 2003
Forcing genetically modified food on unwilling people makes us corporal
dorks of mercy. HIV, hunger, and drought are proving a lethal triumvirate
throughout southern Africa. The climate has turned cruel, crops are
failing, and many African subsistence farmers are too sick to work. The
U.N. estimates that more than 14 million people may be confronting
starvation in the coming months.
Under such dire circumstances, it's hard to understand why some African
nations are resisting the in-the-nick-oftime appearance of food aid from
the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development is
offering mega-tons of corn to Africa's hungry. Trouble is the Africans
aren't sure if the U.S. largesse arrives as a white knight or a white
The Americans want the desperately poor to accept a product some
corporations in the U.S. are desperate to get rid of: genetically modified
corn. GM food is outlawed in the European Union and Japan and would likely
prove a hard sale in the U.S. if labeling laws allowed consumers to find
out about the Frankenfoods they were putting in their mouths.
The Africans are worried about the safety of the GM corn and the possible
contamination of their existing corn strains through unsupervised planting
and hybridization from pollen drift. Such widespread genetic pollution has
allegedly already occurred in the genetic heartland of corn, southern
"There is much evidence for cynicism about American intentions" when it
comes to emergency food relief, says Raj Patel, a senior analyst for Food
First. Such efforts in the past have had the long-term effect of
diminishing Africa's ability to feed itself. It's fair to wonder who
really is the beneficiary of these shiploads of GM food aid: hungry
Africans or American corporations hungry to open new markets. Africans are
right to question an aid program that promises to turn the continent into
a vast lab experiment or "accidentally" introduce a commodity that would
have been rejected otherwise.
The South African Bishops' Conference has called for a regional moratorium
on test plantings of GM crops. In a recent letter, they wrote: "The
long-term health effects of consuming [GM] food have not been assessed
.... Moreover, the damage to the environment would be largely
irreversible. Once released, genetically engineered organisms become part
of our ecosystem."
Some countries, including Zimbabwe and Malawi, have only reluctantly
accepted milled GM corn after a great deal of pressure from U.S.
officials. The food aid has been rejected outright by officials in Zambia,
despite the fact that as many as 2.5 million Zambians are facing a hunger
My grandmother emigrated from a little island nation near Great Britain
that knew a lot about great hungers. "Beggars can't be choosers" was an
expression she often deployed, a turnof-phrase that best characterizes the
churlish response of the U.S. state department to Zambia's anti-GM stance.
But in this era we don't have to treat the Zambians like beggars, and we
do have a choice when it comes to establishing an effective relief program
that will feed the hungry while respecting the long-term interests and
sovereignty of the nations we say we want to help. Rather than clearing
out-at tax payer expense-warehouses full of GM corn that U.S. exporters
can't sell in the developed world, USAID could have responded to this
crisisand still can-by buying up and distributing regional surpluses in
Africa, says Patel. That approach would have brought relief to the hungry,
supported theregional economy, and protected the health of southern
Africa's people and ecosystem without all the unseemly diplomatic touting
for a hitech model of food production that the rest of the world simply
has no desire to accept as its own.
"Our mortality and our weakness of judgment together warn us not to take
irreversible actions ... during our brief stay on this earth," Pope John
Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew write in the Common
Declaration on Environmental Ethics. "We have not been entrusted with
unlimited power over creation, we are only stewards of the common
We are stewards of a common agricultural heritage that is being put at
risk in the name of the poor and the hungry in Africa. Surely they already
have enough burdens without being asked to carry that additional
responsibility on behalf of the likes of Monsanto and Archer Daniels
Of Genes In Beans and More
- The Economic Times (India), January 1, 2003
Year 2002 will go down in history as the year when India opened its doors
to the controversial genetically modified organisms - GMOs - in
agriculture. Given the intricacies of granting approval, tracking
compliance, educating the farmers and guarding against pollution of our
biodiversity, it was clear by the end of the year that GMOs would call for
full-time attention in the future. Even before the formal approval for
Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) cotton came in April, there was debate and
dissent in the air when the government discovered illegal cultivation of
GM cotton in Gujarat. Amidst rumours that a section of the government and
the industry had deliberately let out the seeds as well as information
about its cultivation, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gave its
green signal for the commercialisation of the country's first transgenic
crop, BT cotton.
By this time, the distinctly different stance adopted by the two
ministries - environment and biotech - became obvious to close observers.
While the first moved slowly with the precautionary principle, the second
was eager to play promoter. Mahyco, the authorised agent of seed MNC
Monsanto, was hence not quite prepared for the stringent norms attached
when the go-ahead was given for three GM cotton hybrids. Among others, an
80:20 ratio for BT:non-BT with the onus of ensuring compliance resting on
state governments and local governing bodies, was easier said than done.
In the days that followed, a severe drought made it evident that whether
or not BT cotton could resist bollworm, it certainly could not beat the
vagaries of nature!
As questions cropped up over the wisdom of transporting technology on the
strength of reports from other nations, doubts resurfaced on the
'inadequacy' of tests carried out in India. Here again, conflicting
reports came in. If DBT claimed that several states had met with success,
those like Karnataka said Bt was a failed experiment. Not surprisingly,
this cast a shadow on the next application for commercialisation of GM
mustard by ProAgro Seed. After eight years of research and government
mandated tests, ProAgro was left in the lurch with the government
deferring its decision.
Without going into the details, all GM technology raises the same issues -
on health, environment safety, agricultural practices and so on. As of now
the MoEF says there are no pending applications, but DBT claims GM potato
is next on the list. Followed by GM maize. Perhaps it would be wiser to
have an independent regulator for agri-biotech. If nothing else it would
speed up the process which is slow but no where near steady.