Today in AgBioView: February, 2003:
* Comments on BBC's Seeds of Trouble
* Major Study Casts New Light on Risks of GM Farming
* Commission Warns Governments on Modified Crops
* A Convenient Hysteria
* Europeans and GM Food
* Developing Nations Need Biotechnology for Sust Ag
* Can Beggars Be Choosers?
* NGOs Very Transparent
* Drought-resistant GM Crops: A Promising Future
* Another Money Making Scare Campaign for ETC nee RAFI
* Lomborg Should be Applauded for Posing Awkward Questions
* Comments to Roger Morton and Meredith Lloyd-Evans
* Scientists Blame Media and Fraud for Fall in Public Trust
* Media Fellowships: 'The Genetic Revolution and Society'
* CS: A Great Political Administrator
* Mycotoxin Levels in GM and Organic Foods
Comments on BBC's Seeds of Trouble
- Michael Wilson, AgBioView, Feb 3, 2003 http://www.agbioworld.org/
(Prof. T Michael A Wilson FRSE is the Chief Executive of Horticulture
Research International in UK: email@example.com )
Naively, I suppose, I tuned in to BBC Radio 4ís "Seeds of Trouble" (8 pm)
on Tuesday 7 January 2003 in the vain hope that I might hear some balanced
and informed reporting of the real issues or facts surrounding the
development of GM crops and modern biotechnology to enhance global food
security, and improve the environment and human health. But even the title
presaged what is, by now, the predictable UK media and BBC journalistic
bias that has completely contaminated any so-called rational "debate' in
this country for so many years.
Sadly, this programme turned out to be just another typical piece of
blatant anti-American, anti-big business, anti-science, anti-GM propaganda
from the controllers and unscientific chattering classes of the BBC. It
sought only to sensationalise, scare-monger and propagate further
unfounded conspiracy theories to misinform the public ñ as if they have
not had enough of this overt and subliminal brainwashing by the media and
their allies for the past 5 or more years. Yet again the programme
attacked, or at best ignored, vast amounts of sound science and
evidence-based facts in order to promote the economic self-interest of
pro-organic/anti-GM lobby groups who now seem to control PC thinking in
What the programme omitted to tell its listeners was significant. The data
contained in the Chapella and Quist paper (Chapellaís stories occupied
almost 50% of the air-time) were so flawed that, in an unprecedented move,
Nature were compelled to issue a statement admitting that they should not
have published it (something that 2 out of 3 referees in fact recommended
in the first place - but the political headline opportunities and media
sensationalism of the work had probably proved irresistible to the Editor!
With hindsight, this was so!). In short, in no way did the data support
the authorís conclusions. As someone on the programme said, "flawed data
can be ignored'. Yes, it can. But sadly not when it is guaranteed to be
eagerly adopted and widely promulgated as "published truth', in order to
serve the agendas of well-organised, anti-GM activist organisations. Such
flawed but sensational data, or "junk science' are essential to feed the
activist misinformation campaigns and scare-mongering propaganda. In the
past, media-hyped "junk science' from victimised icons such as Puzstai,
Ewan, Ho and their ilk have provided ample fodder to assist the agendas of
the major pressure/activists groups.
It was also interesting to note that the evangelical BBC "journalist' did
not question the source of the $150,000 (or more) used by the two Oregon
ladies to promote Ballot Measure 27 to force unnecessary labeling of food
with substantially equivalent GM ingredients. There is no scientific or
medical evidence to require such labels; but it is important for the
unaccountable single-issue pressure groups to demand labelling in order to
exploit the culture of fear they have so cleverly created in the publicís
consciousness. Thereby, they hope to complete their task of
stigmatization and bring about the economic demise of GM foods without any
shred of evidence of harm ñ and much evidence of safety and benefit. More
so than most conventionally bred crops and foods ñ including organically
Another "amusing', but clever mis-quote was the sum Greenpeace has spent
on fighting the global evils of GM ñ "tens of thousands of dollars'! Tens
to hundreds of millions of dollars more like! The anti-GM campaign, with
all its scope for stunts and scare-mongering, is a highly profitable big
business for Greenpeace, and their competitors in the activist industry.
The whackier the message or stunt, the greater the media coverage to
generate more membership dollars, to generate more stunts and fear and
media coverage, and so on, and onÖ..a fun and unaccountable business to be
The programme was exceptional in its tone and content, even by the
prejudiced anti-GM standards of the BBC. Chapellaís over-dramatized
"innocent' victim story of an alleged conspiracy to threaten and silence
him was a masterpiece of indulgence and creative journalistic hype.
No mention whatsoever was made of the 5.5 million farmers, worldwide, (3.5
million of them resource-poor farmers in the developing world) who have
freely and eagerly (sometimes illegally) demanded and adopted
biotechnology in the form of GM seeds. All the facts, evidence and
practical experience of farmers over nearly a decade of commercial GM
cropping were studiously ignored. Inconveniently, they confirm that
increased yields and/or quality of GM products as well as reduced labour,
energy and lower pesticide inputs (by tens of millions of kilogrammes per
annum) ocur. GM crops can dramatically improve the environment and
safeguard biodiversity by producing more food on fewer, already cultivated
acres - thus reducing pressures to extend land-use by "taming' wilderness
(i.e. destroying habitats and biodiversity). GM crops can also improve
soil structure and soil quality by requiring less tillage, which causes
less compaction. They also reduce the range and amount of older, more
toxic herbicides used, or the use of organically-approved
flame-sterilisation of fields to destroy weed seeds (and everything else).
Verdict ñ yet another predictable reinforcement by the BBC of its
prejudiced opinions against GM technology which conveniently avoids all
sound scientific facts. The programme was completely silent on the vast
body of evidence that confirm GM crops and modern biotechnology can bring
benefits to make agriculture more sustainable than the haphazard and
pragmatic practices of past centuries.
How refreshing it would be if, just for once, the BBC could raise its
journalistic standards, acknowledge its public responsibility to inform,
and focus on facts and truth, by producing a straightforward report on
this issue. For once, could it resist the temptation to set up the usual
theatrical confrontation between scientists and activists as a so-called
Battles of sound bites, and hysterical sensational propaganda claims get
us nowhere. While this formula may well entertain, it has done huge harm
to the worldís perception of the status of science and the pursuit of
knowledge and evidence-based regulation in the UK (and Europe). In fact
the BBCís recipe seems to be aimed solely at confusing and scaring the
vast majority of the UK public unnecessarily over the real options for
future sustainable food security and health for everyone.
Major Study Casts New Light on Risks of GM Farming
- Life Sciences Network (NA), February 4, 2003 (Via Agnet)
An extensive review of 250 scientific publications which address issues of
the impacts of GM crops has concluded that many of the concerns which
feature prominently in media coverage do not stand up to careful scrutiny.
The review, which has been published in the January edition of The Plant
Journal, was co-authored by New Zealand scientists Tony Conner and Travis
Glare with a Dutch colleague Jan-Peter Nap.
The authors have produced a very detailed analysis of the outcomes of 250
published research papers which studied a wide range of environmental
impacts, weediness, horizontal gene flow, ecological, biodiversity and
other concerns about gene technology. "This study will make a major
contribution to the policy development process in New Zealand and other
parts of the world ", the Chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr
William Rolleston said today. "It very clearly highlights the need to
compare GM advances with the alternatives which are available through
traditional breeding methods."
"The authors conclude that GM agriculture, in conjunction with
conventional agricultural practices such as integrated pest management
techniques, can contribute to a cost-effective, sustainable, productive
and sufficiently safe form of agriculture." "As the world population
continues to grow and the pressure on good farming land from urban sprawl
increases we must continue to find more efficient and sustainable forms of
agricultural production, especially in developing countries."
"The authors are of the view that bans on GM crops could limit options for
farmers and end up being imprudent rather that precautionary. That is a
very salutary message for New Zealand and Europe." Major conclusions of
the review are: * GM crops are no more likely than traditional crops to
lead to super pests and diseases * GM crops are no more likely to become
weeds outside farming situations than other cultivars. * GM crops are no
more invasive, persistent or likely to become weeds than conventional
counterparts. * GM crops are no more likely to transfer transgenes, or any
other gene, than other crop cultivars.
* Horizontal gene transfer can occur at exceptionally low frequencies and
therefore deserves less attention than it gets but potential for
development of resistance to useful antibiotics should be avoided. *
Generally no undesirable effects have been found on insect predators from
GM crops modified for insect resistance compared with traditional crops. *
It's too early to draw conclusions about secondary ecological impacts. The
examples of secondary effects which have been discovered to date have not
disclosed problems at an ecosystem level.
* The use of GM crops has led to huge reductions in pesticides which is
likely to have a positive impact on agrobiodiversity. * GM crops are no
more likely than any other change in agriculture to affect biodiversity
negatively. * When measuring impacts of GM crops the appropriate point of
reference is a comparison with other plants which have been modified using
traditional breeding methods. * The risk of not using GM crops should also
be part of the risk assessment.
"The Life Sciences Network urges all those people who are active in the
debate about gene technology to read the full paper. A summary can be
found on the LSN's website," concluded Dr Rolleston.
A full copy of the paper is available on line at:
http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/static/plantgm.asp A summary of the
paper is available from the LSN website at
Commission Warns Governments on Modified Crops
- Tobias Buck, Financial Times (UK) Feb 3, 2003 http://news.ft.com
Brussels - The European Commission is warning European Union governments
to end their foot-dragging over approval of new genetically modified (GM)
crops, in an attempt to stave off the growing threat of a US challenge at
the World Trade Organisation.
But David Byrne, EU commissioner for health and consumer safety, also
fired a warning shot in the direction of the US administration, claiming a
WTO case would harden consumers' hostility towards GM products. Washington
and Brussels have been at odds over this issue ever since the EU
introduced a de facto moratorium on the approval of new GM crops more than
four years ago.
While European governments say their stance reflects the deeply felt
concerns of a population made anxious by a string of recent food scares,
the US accuses the EU of using such concerns as a pretext for blatant
protectionism. In an interview, Mr Byrne made clear his own frustration
with the position of some member states. "Member states have been unduly
timid about this [lifting the moratorium]." He urged governments to do
more to persuad consumers that GM products were safe. "I am not convinced
that this work is being done with the kind of force that is needed," he
said. "We have various prestigious scientific institutions that have said
GM foods do not cause any harm to consumers. There is no evidence that
this food is any more unsafe than conventional foods."
However, Mr Byrne also reserved criticism for the US administration, which
over the past weeks appears to have moved closer towards launching formal
proceedings against the EU at the WTO in Geneva. The case is widely seen
as one of the most contentious to confront the WTO's dispute settlement
mechanism so far, and could have serious repercussions for the current
Doha round of world trade talks.
"I find it surprising that this is happening at the very point in the
process at which everything is falling into place," Mr Byrne said in a
reference to a proposed EU regulation on the "traceability and labelling"
of GM products. The regulation - expected to be adopted by the European
parliament before summer - is seen in Brussels as the final obstacle to
lifting the moratorium. The US has criticised the proposals as too strict.
The commissioner also warned a WTO action would harden European consumers'
hostility towards GM products. "I think it will be counter-productive. It
is going to cause animosity among consumers if the US is seen to bring
these foods into the EU by mandatory means. Consumers will react against
the companies that sell such products."
A Convenient Hysteria
- The Times-Picayune, February 03, 2003
The European Union's ban on genetically modified food from the United
States is based on hysteria and protectionism rather than any scientific
evidence that the food is harmful.
The ban, in place since 1998, also flies in the face of World Trade
Organization rules, and the Bush administration would be justified in
bringing an international trade case against the European Union. The EU
placed the moratorium on genetically modified food imports in response to
pressure from consumer groups. But doing so also benefited European
agriculture by keeping American farm products out.
The ban has cost American farmers $300 million, and the economic damage
could escalate if other parts of the world get caught up in Europe's
That's not a remote threat. Last August, two famine-stricken African
nations, Zambia and Zimbabwe, refused U.S. food aid. They were afraid
that, because of the possibility that genetically modified seed from the
United States would intermingle with their crops, the European Union would
ban their food exports. The fear of European economic reprisals outweighed
the fear of starvation.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, blasted the European position,
calling it Luddite and immoral. "I see something extremely disturbing: the
European anti-scientific view spreading to other parts of the world -- not
letting Africans eat food you and I eat, and instead letting people
starve," Mr. Zoellick said. The European Union's response is that it did
not block aid to those countries. But that's disingenuous. If EU policies
made it impossible for African nations to accept U.S. help, that's just as
effective as an outright effort to block the aid.
EU officials have tried to turn the tables, saying that it's immoral for
the United States to use Africa's hunger problem to advance genetically
modified food. But this isn't some public relations gambit. It's a real
situation, a real crisis, caused by the EU's intransigence. Mr. Zoellick
has indicated that the Bush administration is leaning toward bringing a
case against the EU, and House Republicans are urging the president to do
A letter from House Speaker Dennis Hastert calls the ban "a non-tariff
barrier based on politics and protectionism, not science." That's exactly
what it is. European concerns about genetically modified foods are not
supported by evidence. American agriculture has used biotechnology to make
crops more resistant to disease and insects since the 1970s. Two-thirds of
U.S. soybeans and a third of U.S. corn production are genetically
Americans eat this food every day, and so do Europeans who visit this
country. British newspapers have called it "Frankenfood," but the use of
biotechnology to improve crops is not a science fiction nightmare. It's
the logical extension of what human beings have done with plants since
they gave up hunting and gathering to till the earth.
If European consumers regard genetically modified food as poison, they
don't have to buy it or eat it. But keeping it out with trade barriers is
not playing by the rules.
Europeans and GM Food
- Martin Livermore, MartinLivermore@aol.com; AgBioView,
First, a point of information: Greg Conko, in his analysis of Zambia's
rejection of unsegregated maize as food aid, says that "...corn-fed
livestock which don't have to be labelled currently...will have to be
labelled under the pending EU rule". This is incorrect. Although anything
is possible in a European Parliament vote, the labelling of animal
products was rejected in the first plenary vote, and will not be put
forward in the revised regulations for the second reading. This brings me
on to my main point: the European "rejection" of GM crops is not a trade
issue, but instead a much more complex cultural/political one. Of course,
there are trade issues now mixed up in this, and Zambia's position (which
I personally think verges on the obscene, given the situation) certainly
has an element of this. But to think that filing a formal complaint with
the WTO over the EU's behaviour would be a useful step is a dangerous
Whatever the outcome (and don't get me wrong, I think there is a strong
case), it will make not a scrap of difference to the commercial realities
and only serve to confirm to a sceptical public that US business interests
are intent on forcing their produce into the market. At best, this would
be a Pyrrhic victory for American farmers. What is more, the reality is
that the EU already imports millions of tonnes of unsegregated soya
annually, a significant proportion of which is from the USA. This is the
only commercially viable way of feeding European livestock, particularly
since we've stopped feeding them their dead cousins.
This level of imports will continue. The only things effectively blocked
at the moment are commercial growing in the EU and significant use in
human food. These things will be allowed, over a period of time, as the
climate of public opinion changes. Don't risk hardening anti-GM opinion
for a point of principle.
Developing Nations Need Biotechnology for Sustainable Agriculture,
- Betterhumans, Feb 1, 2003
A two-day conference organized by the European Union to address the impact
of biotechnology on agriculture in developing nations has heard that the
technology can help solve food shortages and crop problems. "Some 40,000
people die every day worldwide from hunger-related causes," said Ismail
Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria
"The demands for food to meet the expanding global population are growing
faster than the ability of food producers to meet those demands."
Serageldin stressed the need to increase food production while reducing
poverty and protecting the environment.
Florence Wambugu of A Harvest Biotech Foundation International reinforced
this position, saying that slash and burn farming and inefficient
irrigation ultimately hurt people in developing nations. "Poverty is the
worst polluter and destroyer of biodiversity," she said. Wambugu said that
Africans spend up to 60% of GDP on food while Europeans spend about 25%.
Using technology, she said, would help reduce food prices. A [
] report by Cordis notes that biotechnology can create plants that are
more drought resistant, pest resistant and salt tolerant, as well as
faster growing and easier to transport. All of this will reduce
agricultural costs and in turn bring down food costs.
Wambugu said that fears about genetically modified foods are due to
misinformation, and said that spending on biotech information campaigns
are key to dissipating fear and improving dialogue. She also criticized
the European Union's stance on genetically modified foods, which is
preventing farmers in developing countries from adopting the technology
needed to bring costs down and keep them competitive.
The conference, Towards Sustainable Agriculture for Developing Countries:
Options from Life Sciences and Biotechnologies,
from Thursday to Friday.
Can Beggars Be Choosers?
- Fackson Banda, Director, PANOS Southern Africa. (Via Biolines,
Full report available on
What is clear from the debate [GM food aid in Zambia] so far, though, is
the absence of the voices of the most affected people in rural areas.
Bishop Peter Ndhlovu, the head of the Bible Gospel Church in Africa who
has visited hunger-stricken villages, says: "The food crisis in rural
Zambia is more grave than can be imagined from an urban perspective.' This
echoes many concerns that the debate has been so urban-centred and
elite-based that it has largely ignored the concerns and urgent needs of
the rural poor. The emphasis on scientific evidence as a basis for
policy-making has rendered the ëpublic debateí elitist. Those who are not
schooled in science have largely been on the sidelines, apart from some
vocal civil society organisations.
While there is obviously a desire to learn more about the ëscienceí of
GMOs, there is increasingly a political-economic movement that seeks to
highlight the issue of unequal power relations between rich and poor
nations as well as the role of multinational corporations in perpetuating
research and development that may seek to ëscientificallyí justify GM
food. It is also clear that there is a general lack of information about
GMOs, especially among rural populations, including small-scale farmers.
There are signs that the government has actively marginalised the voices
of those who would support GMOs. This trend is also evident in the largely
one-sided way the media have covered the issue in Zambia, favouring those
opposed to introducing GM technology into the country.
NGOs Very Transparent
- The Star Online (Malaysia) February 01, 2003 http://thestar.com.my
Melbourne: Most Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and grant
recipients maintain high standards of transparency in relation to foreign
funding, a report by a leading Australian think tank has found. But the
report also found that several foreign grant recipients such as the Third
World Network, Consumers Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia
have "extremely low levels of transparency. "
The report by the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)
executive director Dr Mike Nahan says that NGOs such as the Malaysian AIDS
Council, Malaysian AIDS Foundation, the International Centre for Living
Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), Wetlands International Asia
Pacific, Asian-Pacific Resources and Research for Women, International
Council on Management of Population Programmes and Malaysian universities
have "very high levels of transparency ". According to the Nahan report,
the Consumers Association of Penang and Third World Network together
combined received at least US$1.415mil (RM5.377mil) from US philanthropic
foundations from 1998-2001.
Dr Nahan, who spent four years in Malaysia as a development economist in
the late 1970s, said that during 1998-2001, some 30 Malaysian
organisations received grants from US-based foundations worth in total
US$4.9mil (RM18.62mil). He told Bernama that he did not see anything wrong
with foreign funding as long as it was transparent and the organisations
Dr Nahan said that the US government had strict laws relating to
disclosure, which ensured that it was reasonably easy, though
time-consuming, to chase down funding sources. Even so, Dr Nahan said that
his report did not lay claim to have found every cent coming out of the
United States, but it did provide a useful set of data to analyse. The
bulk of US foundation funding to Malaysian organisations was directed at
what Dr Nahan classified as political causes. "Of the causes funded,
environmentalism and population control accounted for almost half of all
funding, " he said.
Another interesting finding of the research was that about 38% of total US
funding went to purposes, which the Nahan report described as
anti-development, in that they were funding campaigns against the building
of dams or the creation of a biotechnology industry. Dr Nahan said that
the IPA research was part of a larger ongoing project to map out the
activities of civil society in the Asia-Pacific region. "As an NGO and
member of civil society ourselves, I believe that it is essential that
civil society focus on improving its own transparency and accountability
in its own sector if it is to realise its true potential, " he said.
When contacted Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) vice-president and
Third World Network legal adviser Mohideen Abdul Kader said investigations
would be carried out to determine the status, orientation and motive of
IPA. He said the organisation could be linked to the biotech industry,
which CAP, Third World Network and SAM had strongly criticised for the
various negativities linked to genetic engineering. "It could be trying to
divert our criticism by tarnishing our reputation instead of meeting our
argument as well as criticism,'' he said. Mohideen said that another
Australian-based group had made similar allegations.
Drought-resistant GM Crops: A Promising Future
- Alessandro Pellegrineschi, Scidev.net; Full Story and link at
Alessandro Pellegrineschi explores the scientific prospects for developing
crops that are resistant to drought, and says that sceptics of GM
technology must be won over to prevent future tragedies.
The recent catastrophic crop failure in southern Africa due to drought has
brought on famine conditions of epic proportions. It also raises the
question: what could genetic modification (GM) technology offer to poor
farmers working marginal lands vulnerable to drought, including many of
those in sub-Saharan Africa?
Several international agricultural research organisations have already
devoted considerable effort to improving drought tolerance in the staple
cereals that feed most of the worldís poor. Plant breeders and farmers are
well aware that some plants cope with drought conditions much better than
others; GM technology makes it possible to transfer genes conferring this
drought tolerance to, and among, important food crops.
Yet the introduction of such crops, which have the potential to
significantly enhance food production in drought-stricken parts of the
world, has become the target of attacks by environmentalist groups. The
result may be to prevent whole communities from gaining access to a
technological development that could - literally - make the difference
between life and death.
New technology on the horizon. One example of a promising new use of GM
technology, which is sadly facing an uncertain future, is a technique for
increasing drought tolerance being investigated at the International Maize
and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico.
Wheat plants that have been genetically modified to withstand drought are
now being tested in biosafety greenhouses at CIMMYT. Most of the plants
produced have shown high tolerance to extreme low-water conditions.
This research project illustrates how recent advances in both molecular
genetics and genetic engineering can be applied to enhance drought
tolerance in plants. Progress has been slow and difficult, however, due to
Lomborg Should be Applauded for Posing Awkward Questions
- Mark Cantley, 29 Jan 2003
Your editorial of 20 January makes a reasonable effort to be balanced. But
having read Lomborg's book - with pleasure and admiration - and having
read many of the related reviews and articles, I would be harsher on his
The reviews of The Skeptical Environmentalist in Nature, Science and
Scientific American reflected little credit for Lomborg on the part of the
scientific community. They come across as small-minded and drafted from a
perspective of envy and irritation, rather than balanced judgement. The
fact is that Lomborg - without pretending to be an expert in the wide
fields of expertise addressed in his book - asks sharp questions, makes
clear his sources, and reaches some disquieting conclusions.
In a word, his approach is Socratic: asking apparently simple questions,
which progressively demonstrate the nakedness of many fashionable
arguments - arguments which in our media-infested world have acquired
unmerited influence on public policy.
Having worked in biotechnology for some 25 years, I would have no
difficulty in citing examples. Posing, and effectively publicising, such
questions and the weakneses of the conventional answers is an important
public duty, one that I'm happy to applaud. As for the reactions of the
'emperors' whose nakedness is thus exposed - well, you remember what
happened to Socrates. But it is he whom we remember and celebrate today.
Not his judges.
Another Money Making Scare Campaign for ETC nee RAFI
- From: "Tom DeGregori"
N.Y. Times news story: Another money making scare campaign for ETC nee
The GRAY GOO perplex: Another money making scare campaign for ETC nee RAFI
or Small is no longer beautiful.
The more areas of modern science and technology that the Luddites attack -
the postmodernists attack all of it - the more the rst of us have to join
to together to defend the gains that have been made possible by scientific
and technological progress, gains in which the critics have been major
Thomas R. DeGregori
selections from (click-on and read it all)
Nanotechnology's Sidelines, One More Warning - Barnaby J. Feder New York
Times February 3, 2003 From
... The latest effort by ETC - which pronounces its name "et cetera" - is
an 80-page illustrated manifesto called "The Big Down," its most elaborate
effort yet to generate alarm among the global network of social, labor and
environmental groups. ... "The Big Down" warns of the risks of allowing
big business to pursue and promote technologies whose health and
environmental consequences may not be fully understood. The rhetoric is
hardly dispassionate. "Today," it warns, "mighty Goliath (industrial
corporations) has learned his lesson and is exploiting the power of small
to become mightier still, while little David (society) cannot even see his
opponent." That might all seem like ignorable fringe-group ranting if ETC
and its executive director, Pat Roy Mooney, did not already have a
reputation for successfully stirring things up. ... Mr. Mooney began
distributing the report 10 days ago in Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the World
Social Forum, a gathering held annually to coincide with the far more
well-heeled World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. It is also posted
on ETC's Web site (www.etcgroup.org).
England. Its annual budget is roughly $525,000, most of it raised from
donors, like the Rockefeller Foundation, that have long been involved with
the needs of developing countries. ...
But Mr. Mooney has trouble setting aside his fears that the new technology
will go awry. He is not particularly worried about tiny robots creating
copies of themselves until they crowd out human life - the "gray goo"
catastrophe posited by some scientists and popularized in Michael
Crichton's recent novel, "Prey." .... .
Putting Mr. Mooney most at odds with the nanotechnology community is his
call for a moratorium on research and commercialization until
international agreements have been reached on ways to assess and monitor
nanotechnology's risks. Mr. Roco and others say that such problems are
already being addressed and that a research moratorium would impede
scientists' understanding of nanoparticles - natural and artificial - that
already exist, while delaying the potential health and environmental
benefits of new nanoproducts and systems.
Also check out the following posted today (February 3, 2003) on
One question - who ever heard of ETC/RAFI engaging in dialogue rather than
in non-negotiable demands? TRD
Watchdogs Say Stop Nanotech, Start Worldwide Dialogue By Candace Stuart
Comments to Roger Morton and Meredith Lloyd-Evan
- Drew Kershen
Roger Morton commented on ISIS (Mae-Wan Ho) being concerned about "GM
Dust." Roger's comment made me recall that Greenpeace (I think) in
Australia has filed a statement in opposition to the Gene Regulator
approving the commercial release of transgenic canola. One basis -- dust
storms from the fields that could cover most of Australia spreading the
canola pollen amongst the dust. The combination of dust and pollen just
goes to show you that those "male" canola plants are, in fact, dirty
little sex maniacs!! Does Australia have sex offender laws? Maybe that
would speed trangenic canola approval -- the canola will promise to
register as a sex offender!!
Meredith Lloyd-Evans kindly posted his correspondence to New Scientist
about Lord Melchett's letter regarding organic standards in the EU. Let me
make several points of legal interpretation:
** What Lord Melchett quoted is correct but his legal interpretation may
be (note the tentative nature of my verb) inaccurate. Yes, the organic
movement keeps claiming that cross-pollination destroys organic
certification. But the EU regulatory langauge only talks about "use" of
prohibited substances. The language no where says that any
cross-pollination destroys organic certification. Organic standards are
process standards. So long as the grower follows the process (i.e. organic
procedures) it is not at all clear that certification would be lost
because of cross-pollination with transgenic crops.
** Hence, I would argue that Lord Melchett is arguing for an
interpretation that is doubtful at best. In fact, I think his legal
interpretation is incorrect. Why? Because the organic standards sets forth
a very long list of "prohibited substances" -- e.g. synthetical chemicals
or the requirement that only organiclly produced seeds be sued. Yet nobody
I know, including those in the organic movement, are arguing that traces
of synthetic chemicals from spray drift or pollen from non-organic crops
into organic seed crops destroys the organic certification.
If Lord Melchett is correct about cross-pollination with transgenic crops
causes loss of organic certification, his argument also means the same for
spray drift of synthetic chemicals and cross-pollination from non-organic
crops. But the consequence would be that many, many organic growers and
their products would fail to meet organic standards. I suspect that Lord
Melchett changes "legal interpretation" when he looks at every other
prohibited substance, except for transgenic crops. In my opinion, Lord
Melchett has adopted a conveniently inconsistent legal interpretation of
the EU regulation.
** Quite similar issues exist in the United States. However, the USDA has
made it explicit in comments to the US-National Organic Program (US-NOP)
that cross-pollination does not destroy organic certification. USDA has
done so for the very reasons I have stated in the preceding paragraph. In
other words, the USDA has explicitly rejected the conveniently
inconsistent legal interpretation that Lord Melchett advocates.
Of course, the explicit USDA statement has not hindered, in the least, the
organic movement falsely claiming that cross-pollination will destroy
organic certification. Entire law review articles have been written in the
United States (and maybe Europe too but I do not know the European
literature sufficient well) based on that misinformation.
** My comments relate to governmental organic standards such as US-NOP and
EU organic regulations. Private organic certifiers may have stricter
standards. But stricter private standards raise a completely different set
of legal issues. For example, should a private organization be able to
impose liability on neighbors simply because the private organization
wants to impose stricter standards than that imposed by legal regulations?
Almost assuredly the answer is "No."
For those interested in these issues, I has an article published in Nov.
2002 on the website of the National Center for Agricultural Law, Research,
and Information (NCALRI) at < www.nationalaglawcenter.org >. NCALRI is
headquarted at the Univ. of
Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, AR. My article is entitled "Legal
Liability Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology." After you get to the URL
of NCALRI, click on Center publications; look for Liabilitiy in
Biotechnology. This article will shortly be published in print in a
British-based publication ENVIRONMENTAL LIABILITY. I returned the proof
pages to the British journal about three weeks ago. If anyone on this list
is interested in legal liability issues concerning agbiotech, I humbly
commend my article to you.
"Charles M. Rader" wrote:
>> In Agbioview 1/29, Sydney Young sent the following article
>> Ricin Solution Is On The Way
>> Pheonix -- Arcadia Biosciences, founded in 2002 -- cut ---
>>The deactivation of the genes responsible for ricin production is
>>accomplished by using a non-transgenic method known as "directed
What is "directed mutation''? Do the opponents of other biotechnology
consider it an acceptable technology?
Response from Prakash: There are a handful of methods by which one can
mutate a specific gene and I am not sure the type employed by Arcadia.
Generally, it involves replacement of the 'undesired' gene by a 'desired'
gene sequence by a standard gene insertion methods but also more
experimental approaches such as 'Chimeraplasty'. One could also "silence"
the expression of undesired genes through the use of classical 'anti-sense
mRNA' DNA sequence or through more recently discovered gene silencing.
Scientists Blame Media and Fraud for Fall in Public Trust
- Charles Arthur, Independent (UK), January 31, 2003
Concern over diminishing public trust in scientists' pronouncements has
prompted Britain's premier scientific organisation to seek a more reliable
way of telling people about breakthroughs in research.
The Royal Society is establishing a group to analyse the coverage of a
number of issues and the public reactions to them, in an attempt to
minimise the "harm" it says can occur from "inaccurate and misleading
communication of the results of scientific research, particularly when
they have implications for human health".
Among other issues, the group will examine the furore that erupted over
research into genetically modified potatoes by Professor Arpad Pusztai. In
1998 he told a television programme that GM food could poison rats and
It will also look at the effect on public confidence of the false claims
made by a scientist at Bell Laboratories to have made single-molecule
transistors; studies by scientists in Mexico showing genes from GM crops
had crossed into traditional corn plants, which were published in Nature
magazine in November 2001; and claims that the MMR vaccine could be linked
to autism in children.
The announcement follows the results of a survey published on Wednesday by
the University of East Anglia, which found the British public was more
likely to trust environmental or consumer groups than government advice on
scientific issues. People had less trust for scientists viewed as employed
by government than for independent ones.
But the Royal Society's main concern is the increasing emphasis placed by
the media on scientific announcements that have not been cross-checked by
independent scientists in the field before publication - the process known
as peer review.
"The suspicion we have is that most people don't know what 'peer review'
means," said Bob Ward, who will co- ordinate the steering group. "Most
would probably think it involves asking the House of Lords." In fact, peer
review is the standard method used to ensure that scientific work
described in papers has been rigorous. Fraud can still slip through the
net despite it, but makes up a tiny proportion of the millions of
scientific papers published every year.
Of the three cases cited, however, only Professor Pusztai's work was not
peer-reviewed. When it was, the reviewers refused it for publication,
citing numerous flaws in its methods - notably that the rats in the
experiment had not been fed GM potatoes, but normal ones spiked with a
toxin that GM potatoes might have made.
The Bell Laboratories work was withdrawn after publication when it was
found to be faked, while the Nature paper remains problematic, with some
green pressure groups insisting that it was withdrawn only because
commercial interests exerted pressure on one of the reviewers. Nature
denies the claim. The MMR studies are still the subject of intense debate,
despite investigations by the Department of Health showing no link between
MMR and autism.
The Science in Society committee noted: "Whether it is exaggerated fears
over the safety of vaccines or false hopes of 'miracle cures' for cancer,
inaccurate and misleading accounts, particularly when publicised through
the mass media, can have serious adverse consequences for the public."
But the rapid expansion of scientific publications has led to more chances
for incorrect or insufficiently reviewed work to be published, especially
on the Net through online journals or on scientists' own websites. The
group aims to finish its study by September and report before the end of
the year. The 13 members are scientists, publishers, journalists and
representatives of the public.
Media Fellowships: 'The Genetic Revolution: Society, the Individual and
- UCLA, Los Angles. Feb 3, 2003
In conjunction with the Council for the Advancement and Support of
Education (CASE), UCLA will host a fellowship program to inform
journalists about leading experts' positions on the sweeping medical and
societal changes brought by the genetics field to society and individuals.
The UCLA-CASE Fellowship Program will take place May 12 - 16. The program
will enable journalists to explore issues related to the establishment of
the UCLA Center for Society, the Individual and Genetics. Journalists will
meet with scientists who are informing and mediating the debate between
society's needs and those of individuals trying to make sense of the
information overload resulting from the genetic revolution.
The dawn of the 21st century has witnessed the sequencing of the human
genome and other organisms, producing a billion-dollar enterprise. The
post-genomics era is giving rise to genetic engineering for disease
prevention, new insights into aging, development of genetically modified
foods and the controversial possibility of human cloning. "The
implications of this genetics revolution are profound," McCabe said. "Now
that we have completed the 'Manhattan Project' of biology ò the sequencing
of the human genome ò it is important to consider the impact of this
technology on society and its members."
Journalists can help shape the study of genetics through discussion and
debate of topics such as: The Storefront Genome - What are the
implications of direct-to-consumer
marketing of genomic sequencing? Informed Decision-Making for Genetic
Testing - What should you know before getting tested? Genetically
Modified Foods - If we are what we eat, do genetically modified foods
pose a health risk?
The deadline to apply for a UCLA-CASE Fellowship is Feb. 14. More Info at
http://infoshare.mednet.ucla.edu/uclacase1.htm Contact Roxanne Moster, at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 794-2264.
CS: A Great Political Administrator
- K.S. Subramanian, HIndu (India), Jan 30, 2002;
Excerpts here - Full story at
Bharat Ratna C. Subramaniam - C.S. as he was popularly known (...no
relation to me!.......CS Prakash) - lived a full and meaningful life. His
life span of 90 years was a veritable microcosm of India's own political
and developmental history during the 20th century, particularly from the
- CS is rightly hailed as the father of India's Green Revolution. From its
precarious ship-to-mouth existence, India was upgraded to a level of food
self-sufficiency. This was made possible by an objective assessment of the
technological options; detailed and meticulous planning; strong and
persuasive advocacy; assiduously clearing the intellectual and ideological
cobwebs; winning the support of his Cabinet colleagues through detailed
documentation and personalised lobbying; and motivating an army of
scientists, a host of administrators and millions of farmers.
It was a Herculean task and a Himalayan achievement. With warts and all,
this was one of the great success stories in planning and implementing a
massive public programme, indeed a piece of social engineering.
Minister-bureaucracy relationship can make or mar the performance of a
Ministry. CS was one of the few political leaders in India who could
optimise the efficiency and effectiveness of this relationship. He made it
clear to his officials that they were not employed to tell him what he
wanted to hear. Fair and objective analysis, and fearless and considered
counsel was their responsibility and right. The prerogative to decide was
his and also was the concomitant responsibility.
A regimen of appropriate support price to farmers was an important element
in the architecture of agriculture policy put in place by CS. 1972 found a
bumper wheat harvest and a surplus of about six million tonnes of wheat.
There was a chorus of disapproval from the Planning Commission, Ministry
of Finance and Reserve Bank against the procurement of surplus wheat. They
painted a gruesome picture of a resultant inflation. As Minster of
Planning, CS stood firmly for procurement at the pre-determined support
Any other action would be a betrayal of a solemn covenant with the
farmers, a cruel blow to the incentive for increased agricultural
production and a shortsighted trifling with the base of food security. He
was able to carry his view through and ensure the procurement.
Interestingly, enough a bad drought visited the country next year and the
buffer stock came as a boon.
In an era of considerable amateurism among many Ministers in the country,
the professionalism, sense of purpose, financial responsibility and
personal rectitude which animated CS' career stand out as a beacon light.
(The writer is a former Manager, Asian Development Bank)
Mycotoxins Levels in GM and Organic Foods
- Izelle Theunissen, Science in Africa. Dec 2002 (shortened) (Via
Mention the words 'food safety' and you're guaranteed to stir up some
emotions around organic ("organic is natural and good") and GM foods
('Frankenstein foods'). But people are less knowledgeable about mycotoxins
and this can shed a different light on the food safety debate. Mycotoxins
are naturally produced food-borne metabolites of fungi that are natural
contaminants of agricultural crops. Their toxic effects in animals have
been known for a long time, and therefore health authorities worldwide
have regulated mycotoxin levels in human food and animal feed. One such
example is the mycotoxin aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), which is produced by the
fungus Aspergillus flavus that grows on peanuts before or after harvesting
and under poor storage conditions. In 1993 the International Agency for
Research on Cancer (IARC) classified AFB1 as a carcinogen, a substance
that can cause cancer in humans. The tolerance levels of aflatoxins in
human foodstuffs are regulated internationally and in SA by Government
Notice No. R 313 of 16 Feb 1990.
Another prime example is patulin. This is a toxic secondary metabolite
that is produced by fungi, most important of which is Penicillium
expansum. This fungus is a well-known post-harvest pathogen that causes
'blue mould rot' or 'soft' rot' in apples. Patulin has been shown to
possess mutagenic properties (can cause damage to the genetic material of
cells), to have adverse effects on developing rat foetuses, and to cause
immunotoxic, neurotoxic and gastro-intestinal effects in rodents.
Recommended specifications are that patulin levels should not exceed 50
parts per billion in products intended for human consumption (UK
Committees of Toxicity, 1992). This begs the big question: what role do
these and other mycotoxins play in organic and GM foods?
Mycotoxins and organic foods. Organic agriculture is generally defined as
cultivation of crops without the use of fungicides or pesticides, implying
that such produce are 'naturally good and healthy'. This has resulted in
an increasing demand for organic foods in developed countries and these
foods cost more to produce commercially than 'conventional' crops. Rural
communities in developing countries who depend on subsistence farming have
always made use of organic farming methods, but without using the variety
of 'natural compounds' and/or biocontrol agents to try and control fungal
infection and insect manifestations as is done in commercial organic
crops. But either way, the fact remains that organic foods grown without
the use of insecticides and fungicides may be expected to be infested by
insects and fungi to a larger extent than conventionally grown foods.
Infestation by insects can lead to fungal infections that produce
mycotoxins and therefore the food is contaminated with higher levels of
mycotoxins. Research by the Medical Research Council's PROMEC Unit
indicates that patulin levels in apple juice made from conventionally
grown apples ranged from 250-4000µg/l. But in organically produced apple
cider, a study done by other researchers has found levels of up to 45
Mycotoxins and GM foods. One example of a GM food is transgenic maize
(Bt-maize). These hybrids are genetically modified to resist certain
insect pests, for example maize stalk borers. These stalk borers cause
damage to maize ears or kernels and this damage is often associated with
Fusarium ear rot. The fungus Fusarium verticillioides is one of the most
prevalent seed-borne fungi associated with maize intended for human and
animal consumption throughout the world. The fumonisins, a family of
food-borne carcinogenic mycotoxins, were first isolated in 1988 from
cultures of F. verticillioides at the PROMEC Unit. Fumonisin B1 (FB1) was
shown to cause equineleuko-encephalomalacia, pulmonary oedema syndrome in
pigs, and primary hepatocellular carcinoma in rats. In addition, detailed
mycological analyses in Transkei during six seasons over the period
1976-1989 revealed a statistically highly significant correlation between
the incidence of F. verticillioides in maize and the Oesophageal cancer
The Bt-maize strains, which are resistant to insects such as maize stalk
borers, have been shown to significantly reduce the levels of insect
damage on maize crops with significantly lower fumonisin concentrations
compared to their non-Bt counterparts. Another plus is that the maize
yields of the Bt-strains are larger than their non-Bt counterparts. So
despite the current discussions surrounding GM foods, it appears that
Bt-maize hybrids could play a major role in lowering fumonisin levels in
maize products, which should ultimately enhance the quality and safety of
maize for animal and human consumption, particularly in an African
For more information about mycotoxins in food, contact Prof. Walter
Marasas (tel.: (021) 938-0244 or e-mail: email@example.com