Today in AgBioView: February 11, 2003
* Seeds of Change: 'Economist' magazine Predictions for 2003
* The Secret of Life - 'Time' magazine Special Issue on DNA
* Prince is Told His GM Views Are 'Criminal'
* Consumers in Europe Resist Gene-Altered Foods
* ........ Response from Sheila Anderson
* WTO case on GMOs in Europe
* Re: Trade Barrier or European Culture? - Livermore and McGregor Opine
* Biotech Superstition
* GM Crops In India Produced Greater Yields, Reduced Pesticide Use
* Seeds of Domination
* Canada Regulates Plant Breeding, Mutagenesis
* Biodiversity, Biotech and the Traditional Knowledge
* Writing a Press Release?
* PR 2003: Biotech, NGOs, Science, Government, Networks...
* BioVision - The World Life Sciences Forum
* Biovision.nxt: Tomorrow's BioLeaders Meeting
* Organic Farmers and Activists Honored at Int'l Conf
* Global Governance of Biotechnology
* Methyl Bromide and Alternative Agriculture
Seeds of Change
- The World In 2003 (Science and technology); The Economist.
The world's first crop of genetically modified rice will sprout in the
paddy fields of China in 2003. Local farmers will smile: not only will the
rice allow them to cut back on pesticides and fertilizers, it will also
produce more grain. For poor countries, new strains of genetically
modified crops herald the second agricultural revolution. Africans will
especially happy: varieties of rice wheat and maize are being developed to
grow in arid environments.
Over 150 m acres of transgenic crops will be grown in 2003, most of it
soya, corn and cotton. And the market will grow: $2.9 billion-worth of the
seed will be sold in 2003, rising to $3.8 billion in 2006, GM wheat could
Farmers in the United States, sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia are all
happy planting these crops. So is Argentina. And although the Brazilian
government currently bans GM soya, its farmers cheerfully plant it anyway:
about a third of their crop in 2003 will be transgenic.
That will leave Europe out on a limb over the next few years. It currently
bans commercial cultivation of any crop whose genes have been changed in
laboratories rather than by nature. Europe is even edgy about importing
But change will come. Governments will retreat from the prejudice in the
face of a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the absolute
safety of these crops. Farmers and (honest) environmentalist will realize
that the savings on pesticides of crops genetically programmed to resist
disease will help the soil. Consumers might also turn: as more such food
is available elsewhere in the world, Europeans will find in increasingly
expensive to eat GM-free crops.
And even the most vociferous critics of the technology will find that they
end up hurting farmers in developing countries. The politically correct
are about to be incorrect.
The Secret of Life
- Nancy Gibbs, Time Cover Story, February 17, 2003
Cracking the DNA code has changed how we live, heal, eat and imagine the
Any 4-year-old who likes ladybugs and lightning bolts can tell you that
life is wildly beautiful as far as the eye can see. But it took the
geniuses of our time to reveal how beautifully ordered life is deep down
where we can't see it at all - in the molecular workshop where we become
who we are.
James Watson and Francis Crick did not discover the existence of DNA; they
discovered its structure, which means they unveiled its power as well as
its beauty. If you could uncoil a strip of DNA, it would reach 6 ft. in
length, a code book written in words of four chemical letters: A, T, G and
C. Fold it back up, and it shrinks to trillionths of an inch, small enough
to fit in any one of our 100 trillion cells, carrying the recipe for how
to make a human being from scratch. The ingredients are the same for
everything that lives; we are cousins to sequoias, and slugs - one life,
"The molecule is so beautiful," Watson once observed in a chat with TIME.
"Its glory was reflected on Francis and me," and the two scientists have
spent their lives since then trying to live up to its standards. They
marveled that something so vital could be so simple and such a surprise.
When they toasted their discovery in a pub one February night 50 years
ago, Watson and Crick had no idea that not only biology but also the drugs
we take and the machines we build, the food we eat and the choices we face
when we decide to have a baby would be changed forever by what they had
Now, at the golden anniversary, we celebrate how much we have learned
since then, including how little we know. For years scientists thought we
human beings must have about 100,000 genes stitched onto our 23 pairs of
chromosomes, only to discover that the number is less than a third of
that. Like a vaccine against pride, the sublime achievement of the human
intellect reveals that we have only twice as many genes as a roundworm,
about three times as many as a fruit fly, only six times as many as
bakers' yeast. Some of those genes trace back to a time when we were fish;
more than 200 come directly from bacteria.
Our DNA provides a history book of where we come from and how we evolved.
It is a family Bible that connects us all; every human being on the planet
is 99.9% the same.
Other Articles in this week's Time:
* DNA: Fifty years ago, Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the
structure of DNA. The revolution they started is just now accelerating
* Flashback: The pair who unraveled the double helix did much of the work
in a few wild weeks
* "You Have To Be Obsessive": James Watson, author of The Double Helix,
talks with TIME's Michael Lemonick about his career as scientist, teacher
* Francis Crick: Beyond the Double Helix
* Mystery Woman: The Dark Lady of DNA
* The Future: Where is genetic science taking us? A TIME panel foresees a
Prince is Told His GM Views Are 'Criminal'
- Roger Highfield, The Telegraph, Feb 11, 2003 (Via Agnet)
Prof James Watson, one of the Cambridge team which launched the
biotechnology revolution, was cited as saying the "irrational
superstitions" of the Prince of Wales should not influence the public in
the debate over GM foods because it would be a crime, claims. The story
says that the Prince will be a notable absentee when Prof Watson addresses
a dinner in April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of
the double helix structure of DNA.
Although Prof Watson has asked for David and Victoria Beckham to be guests
of honour at the London dinner, the Prince does not appear on the
invitation list. The reason may be Prof Watson's forthcoming book, DNA:
The Secret of Life. This criticises the Prince and says opposition to GM
"is largely a socio-political movement whose arguments, though couched in
the language of science, are typically unscientific". The Prince has
voiced his concerns about how GM crops are unnatural, notably in his Reith
lectures in 2000.
But Prof Watson points out: "Virtually no human being, save the very few
remaining genuine hunter-gatherers, eats a strictly "natural diet." Prince
Charles famously declared in 1998 that "this kind of genetic modification
takes mankind into realms that belong to God". Prof Watson says our
ancestors "have in fact been fiddling in these realms for eons". The
Prince had committed the "naturalistic fallacy" by assuming that what is
natural is good.
"It is nothing less than an absurdity to deprive ourselves of the benefits
of GM foods by demonising them; and, with the need for them so great in
the developing world, it is nothing less than a crime to be governed by
the irrational suppositions of Prince Charles and others.
"As our society delays in sanctimonious ignorance, we would do well to
remember how much is at stake; the health of hungry people and the
preservation of our most precious legacy, the environment."
Consumers in Europe Resist Gene-Altered Foods
- Lizette Alvarez, NY Times, February 10, 2003
Totnes, England, Feb. 7 - At the Happy Apple greengrocer in this
Elizabethan town in England's West Country, the roasted vegetable pasty is
labeled, clearly and proudly, as GM-free. So is the hommity pie and a
scattering of other products crammed onto shelves.
In fact, all across Britain and most of the rest of Europe, shoppers would
be hard pressed to find any genetically modified, or GM, products on
grocery store shelves, and that is precisely how most people want it.
Tinkering with the genetic makeup of crops to make them faster-growing and
more resilient, something done routinely in the United States with seldom
a pang of consumer concern, is seen here as heretical, or at the very
In some countries, including France and Austria, there is an unofficial
moratorium on the sale of genetically modified foods. Such foods simply
cannot be found there. "It's not the natural order of things, that's all,"
Heather Baddeley, who was picking up lettuce and avocados at the Happy
Apple, said about GM foods. "It's a kind of corruption, not the right
thing to do, you know?"
Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, does not
agree. He recently called Europe's stance on genetically modified food
"Luddite" and "immoral," saying that Europeans' fears about GM foods had
persuaded some famine-ridden countries in Africa to reject genetically
altered grains. Some Europeans believed that Mr. Zoellick was in effect
blaming Europe for starvation in Africa.
David Byrne, the European Union's health and consumer protection
commissioner, said: "The U.S. government, including Republican leaders in
Congress, accuse Europe of using the issue of genetically modified food as
a way of keeping out American exports." "What Bob Zoellick said over the
last few weeks has been unhelpful, clearly. It was unfair. It was wrong."
The European Union finances nongovernmental organizations, but it is those
groups themselves, not the European trading bloc, that have moved in some
cases to steer Africans clear of genetically altered grains, Mr. Byrne
insisted. "The E.U.'s position on genetically modified food," he added,
"is that it is as safe as conventional food."
That may be the official line at European Union headquarters in Brussels.
But public sentiment in much of Europe, successfully stoked by
environmental groups, is now so fiercely opposed to genetically altered
food that in Austria, for example, politicians have won elections by
vowing to keep "Frankenfood" at bay.
Many supermarket chains across France, Britain, Italy and Austria, among
others, yanked all genetically modified products from their shelves three
years ago and are in no hurry to restock them. Most recently, hundreds of
Europe's most respected chefs banded together to form a group called
Euro-Toques to battle the biotechnology lobby.
American companies like Monsanto stand to make enormous profits if Europe
allows the importing of more genetically modified foods. A decision by the
European Parliament on stricter labeling of genetically modified foods
could be made as early as summer, and European officials hope that may
make the food more acceptable, by clarifying exactly how it is made. But
there is concern in the United States that the labeling will only alarm
European consumers more.
The proposed rules would trace genetically altered substances in corn,
tomatoes, feed and oils and make it clear to consumers which products
contained at least 0.9 percent of a genetically modified substance. The
products concerned include highly refined corn oil, soybean oil and
glucose syrup produced from cornstarch.
In France and Italy, Europe's two food meccas, public revulsion at GM food
runs especially deep. "U.S. culture is different from European culture,"
said Lorenzo Consoli, a Greenpeace expert on genetic engineering. "Here,
there is a very strong feeling that links culture and food. And here there
is much more the idea that science is not church or a religion. It is not
enough anymore for European consumers to have somebody with a white coat,
a professional, say it's O.K."
A string of food scandals, including the outbreak of mad cow disease in
1996, severely undermined people's faith in the safety of their food and
their confidence in scientists and public officials, many of whom asserted
that consumers faced no health risk at the time.
Other scandals - H.I.V.-tainted blood in France, the spread of mad cow
disease from Britain to other European nations, and dioxin-infested
chickens in Belgium - only added to the mistrust. Although there is no
compelling evidence so far that genetically altered food is harmful,
anti-GM activists say it is unknown whether the food is harmful in the
long term. The uncertainty is precisely what worries Europeans.
Europeans also tend to be more environmentally sensitive than Americans,
and environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth carry
much greater sway. One widespread fear is that genetically altered crops
will pollinate and infest neighboring crops, affecting ecosystems in
unpredictable, and perhaps irreversible, ways. Environmental groups have
turned that concern into a successful campaign against genetically
Europeans also care more than Americans about how food tastes, as opposed
to how long it can sit on a shelf. "For some member states it's nearly
synonymous with sovereignty," said Mr. Byrne, referring to the quality of
food. The fight against genetically modified food is being led by
organization like Greenpeace, which is rooting for a legal confrontation
over the issue in the World Trade Organization.
Pia Ahrenkild Hansen, the spokeswoman for the European Union environmental
commissioner, said the industry had done a poor job of marketing the
advantages of genetically modified foods in Europe. "The industry has been
incredibly bad about demonstrating what's the benefit," Ms. Hansen said.
"Why it would make food production more sustainable. Why it would require
less resources. Those arguments are not known by the consumers. People
say, 'Why should we buy it?' "
In this speck of a town in the county of Devon, it is almost impossible to
find any supporters of genetically modified foods. Three weeks ago, the
county council's executive board endorsed a decision to bar its schools
and hospitals from using any genetically altered food.
Angry citizens held marches, set up booths and attended meetings on the
issue. Residents were especially incensed when Britain began a set of
trials of genetically modified foods on farms, one of which is near here.
One district councilor, Anne Ward, is petitioning the South Ham district
here to declare itself a "GM-free zone." Ms. Baddeley, and many other
shoppers at the Happy Apple, would favor that without a second thought,
Response: Unpublished Letter Sent to NY Times
- from Sheila M. Anderson, Virginia Gardens, Florida
Lizette Alvarez wrote the attached article. Too bad she left out more
important facts than she included, and missed some critical points. In so
doing, she misinformed, even if with good intentions, and a poetic
There are indeed certain distinctions between GM foods, and foods grown
conventionally or organically. But, probably ALL FOODS are genetically
modified. And, everyone, in England, in Europe, throughout the world eats
food everyday that is modified all the time, as the wind blows and insects
carry pollen from flower to flower and even peasants in the poorest
countries graft and change plants. When someone in France makes a cheese
or someone in Germany makes beer, they are producing "dreaded"
deliberately genetically modified food. So, those labels described in
romantic terms by Lizette Alvarez really are misleading. What is real? The
answer appears to be in quality control.
1. Most scientific literature on the subject suggests cultivation of
food, farming, began when the genes of three types of wild grasses
spontaneously modified, and wheat was the result. From wheat came farming.
And, from farming of wheat came flour, and the history of society evolved
as men were able to produce needed food without the perils and
uncertainties of hunting.
Today, when we eat bread, whether French, Italian, Cuban, rye, wheat,
white bread, we are eating generations of genetically modified grasses.
When we eat meat, and the animals from which it comes have eaten grasses
or grains, we are consuming genetically modified food. When we drink milk
or coffee or tea, or there is fluoride in our water, we are swallowing
genetically modified beverages. Did you know bananas cannot reproduce
themselves, the result of selective breeding - which is another way of
saying genetically modification. And, did you also know bananas are at
risk of disappearing, the result of viruses which seem to be unstoppable,
unless genetic modification is able to create a sustainable defense?
Corn or maize is another type of wild grass, originally appearing so
different than today's domesticated varieties, most people would not
recognize the first generation from the ears eaten today. As are potatoes
and tomatoes and watermelons which have changed over centuries, either
through random means or deliberately by man, but until now without much
insight into specifics. And then there are roses, in so many splendid
varieties of color, all of which are the result of genetic modifications.
Those "yellow" chickens are fed marigolds to produce the color - through
Virtually every crop grown, all over the world, has evolved over time
through hybridization of one form or another, and so everyone consumes
genetically modified food, even when crops are grown through conventional
or organic methods.
2. What's different today? Well, insects and mold and bacteria and viruses
are found in food, as well as allergens, and other forms of dangers. Most
of us know not to trust wild mushrooms, because they may be poisonous.
Many people are allergic, dangerously so, to peanuts. I cannot tolerate
any kind of crab, even though equally rich lobster is no problem. We are
at risk when we consume food, even as we cannot live without it. And,
mitigating or totally eliminating risk in food really is what the current
science is about; and much more.
Advances in genetics are enabling scientific means of removing dangers,
creating more uniformity in quality, even adding nutrients - such as the
precursor for Vitamin A found in daffodils, which may be spliced into
rice, as one way of addressing blindness in India and other developing
nations where malnutrition is an epidemic, and poverty threatens peace and
sanctity of government. In gourmet restaurants, edible flowers may be
served on a decorative plate, and when eaten, as do fruits and vegetables,
add nutrients to our systems. So, if Lizette Alvarez wants to write
romantically about food, daffodils are a wonderful source of inspiration.
3. Why are some consumers in Europe and the UK so upset at the notion of
food that's genetically modified? In major part, poor media coverage.
Professional protestors and misled do-gooders, looking for a cause, have
raised red flags, without much editorial wisdom applied to the stories
then published. Just as Lizette Alvarez omitted salient points about the
true characteristics of all food, so have others left out, or did not
bother to find out, the facts about the people who are making wild claims,
or distinguishing those who are playing for attention.
4. Solution? Editors and their reporters should ask "why" more often, find
out the motivation behind the protests, and write the whole story. Follow
the money and ask "who" is being paid to object, and "where" is payment
originating. What Ms. Alvarez reported has been said, a thousand times
during the last four years. She has not added any new insights, and she
left out the most important point. At the Happy Apple green grocer in
Elizabethan England, shoppers indeed are hard pressed to find safer,
healthier, less expensive food to eat.
5. Should agribusinesses do a better job of describing what they are
doing? Yes! Absolutely. Yet there is this - they are not in the business
of generating hyperbole, or politically astute sound-bites, or
entertaining the masses. They are focused upon scientific investigation,
not public relations. And, reporters have an obligation to know with whom
they are speaking, and to listen, learn, and then report. And, editors
should recognize the real stories, as opposed to the manufactured ones.
The Times is one of the leaders of the world in responsible journalism,
yet reading this story, I find it superficial and pointless.
Omitted, but the most important information of all, is about careful
controls in scientific methods so that when a crop is modified, it is
possible to know how the food is changed. From traditional methods, there
may be thousands of changes without anyone really knowing then what they
are eating. Is a virus transferred in hybrids? Probably often, yet none
one has been able to tell. Now, with the advances coming from research, it
is possible to tell what's changed, and to make sure the changes are safe,
and are precisely as intended.
Isn't that the real story? And isn't part of the story, if you want to
attract readers, about how consumers in the UK and EU are missing safer,
healthier, less expensive foods? And, what about the ways in which the US
is leading the world in acceptance and leadership in research for economic
Is everything perfect? It would be naive to think that, but I'll take
deliberately genetically modified edibles every time over something that's
been modified all along, for thousands of years, without really knowing
what's inherent in the changes.
6. Then there's the economics. Less environmental damage to forests,
soils, and water when farming is more efficient and more crops are
produced per acre. There also are more skilled jobs - in biology, and
botany, and chemistry, and pharmaceuticals, and nutrition, etc. And, new
materials, new fuels, new medicines are possible through crops - creating
new products, leading to new industrial growth. Making the US less
dependent on foreign oil by itself would be strategically important. So is
helping impoverished nations find ways to feed their starving populations.
Is it solely for altruistic reasons? No. It's enlightened self interest,
for the ability of rogue politicians to make war is far less likely when
huge populations are well fed and able to survive with fewer children and
succeed with more return on industrious activities..
In a dozen ways, the future of the world may be changed dramatically - for
good - through modern explorations of life at the frontiers of science.
Not only in outer space alone, but right here on earth. Using the earth,
and discoveries of life, to solve problems and enhance our daily lives!
Perhaps Lizette Alvarez would find interesting some of the efforts in
England being made by The Royal Society to study, understand, and explain
"today's" genetically modified foods - before the next article is written.
http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/ Or, she may find insights of value in the
publications written by Professor Maarten Chrispeels at the University of
California at San Diego, and Dr. Chrispeels is a European by birth. Go to
http://www.sdcma.org and select "Publications" Dr. Chrispeels has a slide
showing how original corn looked, as compared to today's five different
types. One picture indeed is worth a thousand words, and upon seeing the
differences, it is clear genetic modification has been at work, all
along!.For discussions about the science and political manipulations, she
can subscribe to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively Ms. Alvarez' opening might be corrected to read "Too bad,
at the Happy Apple green grocer in this Elizabethan town of England's west
country, the Roasted Vegetable Pasty is labeled, clearly, but not
necessarily accurately, as G.M.-free. So is the Hommity Pie and a
scattering of other products crammed onto shelves."
WTO case on GMOs in Europe
- Charles M. Rader, email@example.com
I'd like to weigh in on the subject of whether it is a good idea for the
United States to bring a case before the World Trade Organization,
charging that the EU rules about GMOs constitute an unfair trade barrier.
Those claiming that we should not bring such a case say that to bring the
case would (a) be successful in obtaining a WTO ruling in the US' favor,
but (b) the Europeans would still exclude or disadvantage GMOs so trade in
GMOs would not actually increase, and (c) Europe would perhaps retaliate
against some unfair US trade practices.
All these claims are probably correct. But there is another consideration.
Europeans have gotten their information about GMO safety from a
combination of deceptive propaganda and sensationalistic media. An attempt
by the biotech industry to tell its side of the story was unsuccessful,
indeed counterproductive. How can the industry side of the story get to
the European population? Obviously only from its own media! How can such
information be forced into the European media?
Assume that the US brings a case to the WTO. The US will claim that the
approved GMOs it grows are safe. The US will present some evidence on
behalf of its case. This claim, along with at least some of the evidence,
will be reported in the media (undoubtedly along with others' claims to
the contrary). It will be virtually impossible for European journalists to
report that the case has been brought without presenting at least part of
the American case.
It has been widely predicted that the US would win such a case. When that
happens, it will need to be reported in the European media. No doubt some
of the reporting will be of the type which portrays the WTO as the
handmaiden of the US, or of multinational corporations of dubious ethics.
Still, it will be virtually impossible for European journalists to avoid
reporting that an international body has decided that the GMOs currently
available are safe. There have, of course, been many organizations which
have reached that conclusion, but their statements have been either not
reported, buried inconspicuously, or at best run only once and then
forgotten. By contrast, a WTO ruling in the US' favor would be a story
''with legs'', appearing day after day for weeks, or months. At least some
Europeans who have so far ignored the issue would be forced to ask
themselves ''Why did the EU lose this case?''. At least some of those
would be forced to conclude that the EU lost for valid reasons.
Up to now, I can think of only two news story that has seriously forced
the European community to confront the injustice of the anti-GMO
propagandists. The first was the ''golden rice'' story. The second was the
recent and tragic rejection of food relief by African nations. In both
cases the anti-GMO zealots were perceived as going to far, discredited
themselves. Bringing a case before the WTO will give them a third
opportunity to expose their own zealotry.
Finally, European retaliation would take the form of bringing claims to
the WTO about unfair US trade practices, e.g. steel tariffs. It is in the
nature of unfair trade practices that they harm the home country as well
as the target country. If Europe retaliates and wins, so do we.
Re: Trade Barrier or European Culture?
- Bob MacGregor"
>> Greg Conko said: "Thus, once (if?) the moratorium ends, and new variety
>> begin again, those new GE foods will be put to a genuine market and
>> For now, European trade laws forbid such a test from being conducted."
I am skeptical about that actually occurring. First, the EU might take the
same approach with GE foods that it did with hormone-treated meat, ie
ignore the WTO ruling. However, even if the EU governments came in line
after a WTO ruling against the moratorium, this still doesn't mean the
products will show up on store shelves. As long as the intermediaries--
the food sellers-- perceive that GE foods are undesirable, they will
strive to supply only what they think is demanded. Put another way, while
some consumers say they will reject GE foods, hardly any will reject the
alternative choices. So what is the logical strategy for the grocery store
chains and food processors?
Indeed, it is conceivable that a domino effect could flow back into North
American supply channels (as has already happened to a small degree)
leading to a rush to exclude these improved products from exportable
goods-- which is cheaper to do, set up totally separate handling channels
or just stop buying all GE varieties? It still could go either way. The
general consumer populace needs to become comfortable with-- accomodated
to-- these products so they will have confidence in them; as long as they
are either denied the choice to consume them or don't realize they are
consuming them, they will never develop that degree of comfort.
Trade or Culture?
- Martin Livermore
I don't want to get drawn into a long debate about what lies behind the EU
moratorium, but I just want to make a few points in response to Greg
Conko's last contribution.
First let me say that I have a lot of sympathy with Greg's views, and with
the frustration of the US government and farmers. As far as messages to
the rest of the world are concerned, he may well be right. And as for
standing up for principles, few would argue with that.
Where I continue to differ is in considering the effects of a WTO case to
be very largely negative when looked at in a broader context. Consider the
- The gatekeepers for commercial acceptance of GM ingredients in Europe
are the major retailers. They aim at all costs to minimise risks to their
business, which is why they stampeded away from transgenic ingredients
when RR soya became a high profile, negative news item. They will only
reintroduce them when they judge the reaction would not harm their
business, or they gave them some competitive advantage, or they and all
their competitors effectively had no choice. The negative effect of a WTO
case would reduce their likelihood of so doing.
- In a similar vein, no amount of further EU approvals would guarantee
effective access of these events to European retail shelves. In that
sense, this is a cultural rather than trade issue: retailers have
demonstrated their willingness to source produce worldwide and are not
trying to protect European farmers. New approvals are necessary but not
sufficient to get these events on the market.
- However, further approvals would allow US farmers the flexibility of
growing a greater range of transgenic crop varieties, because their import
for animal feed would be legalised. There are now five new dossiers in the
system for approval for import and marketing (not for European
cultivation) and it will be very difficult for even the most anti-GM
Member States to block these approvals once the new regulations are in
force later this year.
I think that Greg and I are going to have to agree to differ on this one,
but it would be interesting to hear other views from either side of the
- Editorial, Boston Metro West Daily News, February 8, 2003
There is Iraq to worry about, and so it is that the United States is not
going to press its case against the European Union for a policy that is
based on superstition and protectionism, that clearly contradicts rules
the European Union swore it would uphold and that has quite likely cost
the lives of starving Africans.
The policy is to ban the importation of genetically modified food from the
United States. There are fanatics who say, oh, my goodness, if you are
doing things with plant genes, you must be doing something dangerous. In
fact, farmers have been doing things with plant genes through the ages, if
far more clumsily than today. Now there are new techniques to produce
these genetically modified foods, which Americans have been eating for
years without so much as a stomachache as a consequence.
And, by the way, there are plentiful safeguards in place to guard against
Many Europeans, however, buy into the scare nonsense, and of course, it
suits the European Union fine to shield European farmers from competition
while simultaneously costing American farmers hundreds of millions of
Meanwhile, the European Union continues to disregard the rules of the
World Trade Organization and to shrug its shoulders about famine-plagued
African nations that refused to accept genetically modified American corn.
The concern in Africa was that some of the American corn might mix with
some African corn and that the Europeans would then refuse to import the
America had intended to take its case to the World Trade Organization, but
the Bush administration is backing off for the moment. The reported reason
is that moving ahead on the food issue would make it more difficult to
bring Europe aboard in the effort to persuade Iraq's Saddam Hussein to
disarm or face war. The postponement -- if that is all it is -- is perhaps
understandable. It is not understandable that Europeans, who pretend to
great sophistication and moral sensitivity, could behave so shamefully.
Genetically Modified Crops In India Produced Greater Yields, Reduced
Pesticide Use, New Study Finds
- University of California - Berkeley (Sent by Andrew Apel)
Berkeley - Cotton crops in India that were genetically modified to resist
insects produced dramatically increased yields and significantly reduced
pesticide use compared with non-bioengineered crops, according to the
results of farm trials reported by researchers at the University of
California, Berkeley, and the University of Bonn in Germany.
The study, published Friday, Feb. 7, in the journal Science, holds
particular promise for small-scale, low-income farmers in developing
nations, said the researchers. These farmers, especially those in tropical
regions, regularly risk large, pest-related crop losses because they
cannot afford to use the pesticides available to larger farms.
"Many critics have questioned whether genetically modified crops would be
economically and environmentally beneficial to farmers in developing
countries," said David Zilberman, UC Berkeley professor of agricultural
and resource economics and co-author of the study. "Our research indicates
that transgenic crops should be a viable option. This is the first paper
to show such a substantial increase in yield for bioengineered crops."
The researchers reported the results of field trials conducted on 157
farms in three major cotton-producing states in India during the
seven-month cotton season that began in June 2001. The field trials were
initiated by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), which has been
studying Bt hybrids in India since 1997.
The farm sites contained three adjacent plots that measured 646 square
meters each. One plot was planted with cotton bioengineered with a gene
from the insecticidal bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the second
with the same hybrid of cotton but without the Bt gene, and the third with
a cotton hybrid traditionally grown in the local area.
The Bt cotton, produced by the Monsanto Company and Mahyco, is resistant
to the three species of bollworm that plague crops in India. Prior studies
in India show that crop damage from bollworm attacks averaged 50 to 60
In the study, the researchers found that average yields for Bt cotton were
a remarkable 80 percent greater than their non-Bt counterparts, and 87
percent greater than the local cotton hybrids. In addition, the Bt cotton
crops were sprayed against bollworms three times less often than both the
non-Bt and local cotton crops.
For the sucking insects - such as aphids, jassids and whitefly - that Bt
does not protect against, there were no significant differences in
pesticide applications among the three types of crops.
"We are reporting on cotton, but the results are easily transferable to
food crops since the type of pest damage they would sustain would be the
same," said Matin Qaim, assistant professor of agricultural and
development economics at the University of Bonn's Center for Development
Research and the study's lead author. "With populations in developing
countries growing exponentially, and available farmland stagnating, there
is an urgent need to find ways to increase crop yields on the land that is
While transgenic crops have been shown to reduce the use of certain
chemical pesticides, they have not been known to substantially increase
crop yields in the countries where they have been grown. For example, the
yield gains of insect-resistant cotton crops in the United States and
China average less than 10 percent. Bioengineered corn and soybeans have
even less impressive gains, and in some cases, the yield effects are
Why the difference in India? The answer seems to be that the region
suffers from a significantly higher pressure of crop-destroying pests, and
that there has not been a widespread adoption of chemical pesticides in
India to control crop damage. Transgenic crops would likely have greater
potential to increase yields in such regions, said the authors.
"The large scale applications of genetically modified crops in the United
States or China are not truly representative of what would happen if the
crops were grown in the small farm sectors of poor countries in tropical
and subtropical climates," said Qaim, who conducted the research while he
was a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley's Department of Agricultural &
Resource Economics, which is within the College of Natural Resources. "The
results we see in India are much more representative of what would happen
if transgenic crops were used in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia."
The temperature and humidity of tropical regions produce ripe conditions
for insects that munch on crops. Absent the regular use of pesticides,
crops in those regions are defenseless against pests.
Qaim said the reason China has not seen significant yield gains in its
transgenic crops is that the country has long had a well-developed
infrastructure to support pesticide use for its farmers. Since pesticide
sprays are widely used for non-transgenic crops, the loss of yield is not
But for the majority of developing nations, the high cost of pesticides
makes them too risky an investment for small, non-commercial farmers, the
authors argued. In addition, chemical pesticides are much more harmful to
farmers' health and the environment, and require a significant amount of
technical knowledge to be used properly, they said.
"Many of the rural poor in developing countries are undereducated," said
Qaim. "If they had effective pesticides, they would still have to know
that the proper time to spray would be when the bollworms are in a certain
larval stage, a window of opportunity that lasts a mere two to three
"Understanding how to use pesticides properly is difficult, but replacing
the type of seed used is easy and thus more desirable," Zilberman added.
"The bottom line is, biotechnology has the potential to positively impact
the lives of small, poor farmers in developing nations. It would be a
shame if anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) fears kept important
technology away from those who stand to benefit the most from it."
Seeds of Domination
- Karen Charman, In These Times, February10, 2003 (via checkbiotech.org)
Don't want GMOs in your food? It may already be too late.
Americans have been eating genetically engineered foods every day for
several years, though many remain unaware of that basic fact.
Consequently, the question of whether our food should be manipulated with
genes from foreign species may already be moot.
Walter Fehr is an agronomist and director of the Office of Biotechnology
at Iowa State University. He says genetically engineered varieties of
staple crops like corn and soybeans have contaminated seed stocks all the
way to the "breeder seed," the purest version of a crop variety. If
breeder seed contains material from genetically modified organisms, or
GMOs, all the seeds and plants that descend from that stock will contain
GMOs as well. According to Fehr, transgenic contamination of breeder and
other seed stocks "happens routinely."
That shocks Theresa Podoll, executive director of the Northern Plains
Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS), an organization that represents
350 organic farmers throughout the Upper Midwest and Canada. Podoll is
intimately familiar with the problems GMOs are causing organic farmers,
but she is astounded to hear somebody within the biotech establishment
admit that transgenic contamination goes all the way to breeder seed.
Podoll points out that the nation's agricultural universities, the
so-called land-grant institutions, are charged with safeguarding the
public seed stocks. "If research with transgenic crops at land-grant
facilities makes contamination of the seed stocks a forgone conclusion,
why are they doing transgenic research?" she asks. "To gamble all our
crops' genetic resources to do research on a questionable technology that
is in its infancy is unconscionable."
Full Story at http://inthesetimes.com/comments.php?id=53_0_1_0_C
Canada's Testing Rules Hinder Plant Breeders
- Michael Raine, The Western Producer, Feb 6, 2003 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
Canada's definition of new plant traits is hurting the country's plant
breeding industry, say researchers.
Canadian regulations require that most plants developed through
mutagenesis and traditional breeding techniques that contain traits
"substantially different" than their parents, be tested for environmental
stability and food safety.
Mutagenesis is a plant breeding process in which seeds of a crop are
blasted with chemicals or radiation in the hopes that mutations will
create valuable new genes. In other major exporting regions, such as the
United States and the European Union, such tests are necessary only if the
new traits are developed through the genetic modification process of
adding genes from one organism into or onto another.
Gordon Rowland, who develops flax varieties at the University of
Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said smaller crops like flax are most deeply
affected by the regulations because standard gene splicing techniques are
not widely used in lesser grown crops. "It creates an innovation barrier
for plant genetics in Canada," he said. "Right now I'm not doing any
mutation breeding as a result of these regulations and I'm not alone."
Whether a new variety is "substantially different" enough to be put
through the environmental stability and food safety tests is examined on a
case-by-case basis. "It adds cost and time," Rowland said. " We need to be
able to respond with new consumer desirable traits for the marketplace to
keep farmers competitive, but also for disease or pest resistance. It
doesn't take much of a change in a plant to get it caught under the CFIA's
(Canadian Food Inpection Agency) net." Fees for testing range from a few
hundred dollars to $2,000. The major costs are the test plots and the
seasons it takes to operate them.
In 1994, the Canadian government established rules for testing new plant
varieties that have new traits or traits that the Plant Biosafety Office
says are "not substantially equivalent to plants of the same species in
Canada." These new varieties are called plants with novel traits, or PNTs.
Customers of Canadian grains have been confused about the Canadian
definition of PNTs, likening it to the GM definition used by the U.S., EU,
Japan and others. But Phil MacDonald, speaking for CFIA, defended Canada's
definition as the leading edge. "The GMO definition is not going to be
defensible in the long run," he said. "In very short order Roundup Ready
canola will able to be produced using site-directed mutagenesis. One
variety is a GMO and one is not because of the breeding technique? I don't
think so. It is the impact on the environment that is important."
MacDonald admitted the PNT definition has been an issue for plant
breeders, but said CFIA's focus is on environmental safety and food
safety. "We aren't going to step backward just because we are in the lead.
Scientifically, our method is the best one and other countries will reach
the same conclusions eventually."
Patty Rosher of the Canadian Wheat Board said the board would like to see
"a regulatory system that is appropriate." In the past, the board has
called on the CFIA to standardize its PNT regulations with the rest of the
world and use the GMO standards.
"When a PNT is approved, it goes on the CFIA website. To a consumer
country, they don't see the difference of a PNT and GMO. They see the
labelling. Customers ask us and we have to reassure them. Being out of
sync does cause us some issues," she said. "Radiant is a conventionally
bred winter wheat that is resistant to wheat streak mosaic virus and it is
being hung up right now in PNT testing."
Rob Graff of Agriculture Canada's research centre in Lethbridge bred
Radiant. He said the variety was sent back to him to prove it isn't a PNT.
"I don't think it is and right now I'm preparing a package to send back to
them that I hope will prove that. But these things take up time. "Plant
breeders in Canada are pretty much unanimous that Canada should have a
definition that is similar to the rest of the world."
Regardless of its PNT status, Radiant lacks adequate rust resistance so
its release has been delayed while new versions are tested. MacDonald said
the CFIA is planning to release new regulations in the next month, which
breeders hope will more clearly define PNT.
Conference on Biodiversity, Biotechnology and the Protection of
- Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri; April 4-6,
Objective: To gather leading biological scientists, social scientists,
legal scholars and other academics, national and international
governmental officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations
and indigenous communities, as well as representatives from private law
practice and the private business sector, to discuss: 1) the protection of
biodiversity; 2) the protection and regulation of agricultural and plant
biotechnology; and 3) the international intellectual property implications
of both of the foregoing, particularly as they relate to the protection of
traditional medicinal and agricultural knowledge and the development of
intellectual property and related legal mechanisms of interest and
relevance to the developing world.
Writing a Press Release
Full document at
>> What should a press release contain?
>> Distributing a press release
>> Following up your press release
A press release is a short summary of a piece of news, which you can use
to publicise the key elements of your story to journalists. Its most
important feature is that it needs to be topical - it should make clear
what's new. You can also use press releases as part of a marketing
strategy to publicise a forthcoming event.
PR 2003: Biotech, NGOs, Science, Government, Networks...
- Ross S. Irvine
Here are a few PR thoughts to consider: 1. Biotechnology: Today's training
ground for tomorrow's PR 2. Local government: the major PR frontier 3.
Email: the toughest S.O.B. on the block 4. Words and concepts matter 5.
Expose the NGO enigma 6. Embrace science 7. The twin powers for activist
PR: networks and empowerment. Read about them in - PR 2003: 7 thoughts for
'Public relations is war. It's about winners and losers. Winners gain
public, media, and regulatory acceptance and support for their products,
services, and organizations. Losers see their products, services, and
organizations sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, pilloried by the
media, and trampled by excessive regulation.'
BioVision - The World Life Sciences Forum
April 6-11, 2003, Lyon, France http://www.biovision.org
BioVision: a platform for constructive exchange - As the analysis of
recent decades clearly illustrates, Science and Technology are making
exponential progress in all fields. This is particularly true of two
areas: Information and Life Sciences, recognised as the keys to economic
development and substantial changes in our lifestyle throughout the XXIst
Health-related and food processing industries, like all sectors with an
environmental component, are finding themselves increasingly influenced,
and indeed transformed, by the progress made in Life Sciences.
There is a need for objective reflections on progress and clear
prioritisation wherever technical advances impinge on people's lives.
Nowhere is this need more urgent than in the Life Sciences where the
blistering pace of technical change and industrial development are
outrunning Society's ability to embrace them.
This is why a working group, set up on the initiative of former Prime
Minister Raymond Barre and the AcadÈmie des Sciences, had decided to
create this essential World Forum designed to chart ? and regularly
discuss ? the progress of Life Sciences and its techniques faced with the
challenges of the future, without evading the associated risks.
The extensive participation of experts from Science, Industry,
International Institutions, Policy and Regulatory Bodies, together with
representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations, the Media, and other
gatekeepers of Public Opinion maintain the reputation of BioVision for
detachment and balance, and facilitate constructive exchanges between
Opinion-Leaders and Decision-Makers from all backgrounds.
Biovision.nxt: Tomorrow's BioLeaders Meeting
During the World Life Sciences Forum, BioVision will organise with Science
BioVision.Nxt convening 100 of the most promising PhDs and MBAs from all
Universities worldwide. After two dedicated days, this select contingent
will fully participate in BioVision, thus bringing the active contribution
to the debate Tomorrow's BioLeaders.
This select group, will be invited to spend a full week in Europe,
entirely dedicated to Life Sciences. Starting April 6 afternoon, the PhDs
will attend a special series of sessions focusing on new research
directions, career opportunities in Life Sciences interdisciplinarship,
bioethics and all critical issues in line with the founding principle of
the World Life Sciences Forum, i.e. putting together Science, Society and
On Tuesday April 8, the PhDs will be given the opportunity of attending
the Nobel Day, a unique event organised on the occasion of the 50th
anniversary of the first publication by Crick and Watson of DNA structure.
Prof. Watson himself will deliver a keynote speech on this occasion,
accompanied by 11 other Nobel Prize Laureates.
In the afternoon, this select group will attend the so-called "Orientation
Session", where the Chairmen of the World Life Sciences Forum along with
leading NGOs and opinion leaders from the fields of Healthcare, Agrifood
and Environment will discuss and prioritise the key issues that the Civil
Society would like to see properly addressed throughout BioVision 2003.
The full integration of NGOs into the World Life Sciences Forum debates is
an essential component of the successful re-establishment of a dialogue
between experts and the general public.
Following these two dedicated days, the young PhDs will become integral
participants in the rest of Biovision, thus being given the opportunity of
interacting with decision-makers and opinion-leaders, at the highest
BioVision.Nxt is the starting point of a unique network of Tomorrow's
BioLeaders. The development of the initiative within the framework of the
World Life Sciences Forum will not only give the young generation a
recurrent and regular access to key leaders involved in the development of
Life Sciences: it will also "force" these leaders shaping tomorrow to
listen and take into consideration the essential expectations of the
generation that will make it happen, still bearing in mind at all time the
three key interdependent questions:
* What Science can do, What Society is prepared to accept, What Industry
can ethically produce.*
Organic Farmers and Activists Honored at Int'l Environmental Farming
- From: firstname.lastname@example.org
What a scam! Maybe the title should be 'Industrial organic agriculture
family honors Indian fraud, and themselves.' It's not international -
moreover the people who were honored are the same people putting out the
press release! Anyway thought you all might like to read this.
Global Governance of Biotechnology
- Prof. Calestous Juma, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
This seminar examines the implications of the introduction of
biotechnology products into the global economy. It focuses on the
interactions between technological innovation and institutional
adjustment, with emphasis on global institutional arrangements. While
biotechnology is seen by some as an important source of economic
productivity, others point to the potential risks that genetic
modification poses to human health and the environment.
Divergent perceptions on these issues and lack of trust in regulatory
institutions in some countries have resulted in major policy debates
worldwide. The seminar examines these issues, using case studies from
contemporary debates on the subject, and reviews the policy options
identified to address the challenges. It locates the policy discourse on
biotechnology in the broader framework of the relationship between
science, technology, and globalization
Background: The recent decision by Zambia to reject genetically modified
(GM) food aid from the United States on ground of safety has generated
considerable public interest in the role of biotechnology products in the
global economy. Since their advent in the 1970s, techniques for splicing
and recombining genes have provided the basis for biotechnology's promise
to transform economic systems in unprecedented ways. Advocates of
biotechnology have argued for approaches that support its rapid
deployment, while critics have opposed its use, citing moral, health,
environmental and socio-economic concerns.
These concerns have led to restrictions on international trade in
genetically modified organisms and threaten trade relations between
nations. Governments around the world are reexamining their policies on
human health, environment and economy in light of advances in molecular
biology. These developments have also inspired considerable interest in
policy research on the global governance of biotechnology.
Methyl Bromide and Alternative Agriculture
- Thomas R. DeGregori,
Recently there have been a number of articles on the decision by the U.S.
Government to seek to delay the implementation of the ban on the use of
methyl bromide as a fumigant and pesticide in agriculture. For example the
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS) has put out a story with
the title - WHAT OZONE LAYER? U.S. WANTS TO USE MORE METHYL BROMIDE
(February 7, 2003), alarming excerpts from which are given at end of this
Not being trained as a biologist, chemist or in any other relevant
scientific discipline, I, as an economist cannot comment on either the
toxicity of methyl bromide or its threats to the environment. However it
is worthy of note, that a decade ago, the use of methyl bromide was one of
the chemicals used in an IPM approach to "alternative agriculture." Other
cases in the report also used "chemicals" or sludge with heavy metals.
In one of the Case Studies (No 7 - Florida Fresh-Market Vegetable
Production: Integrated Pest Management) in the widely touted report on NRC
Alternative Agriculture, we find the following on page 341: "Except in
parts of interior Florida, most vegetable crops are grown using raised
beds covered with plastic mulch sheeting."
At the time, the plastic was burned after the crop was harvested but
later, the practice of recycling it began. Continue with the quote picking
up after comments on the benefits of mulching with plastic: "The use of
chemicals, however is an important part of this system. Most of the plants
are fumigated each year with chloropicrin and methyl bromide just before
the plastic is laid down."
Source - Alternative Agriculture by the Committee on the Role of
Alternative Farming Methods in Modern Production Agriculture, Board on
Agriculture, National Research Council. Washington, D.C. : National
Academy Press, 1989. (An electronic book is accessible via World Wide
Web-Boulder, Colo.: NetLibrary, 1999.)
The Board on Agriculture had Charles M. Benbrook as Executive Director and
his name is so listed in the book though he was not on the committee that
wrote the report. I was told by a member of the committee of their
dissatisfaction at the way the report was released and publicized. They
were doing a report on Role of Alternative Farming Methods in Modern
Production Agriculture in the sense that there was a variety of ways to
carry on modern agriculture and not as many were claiming as an
alternative to modern agriculture which many wished to have us abandon.
Excerpts from the PANUPS press release: "Take Action: Contact U.S.
legislators to stop a dangerous methyl bromide amendment to a bill
currently being considered by the U.S. Congress. ... methyl bromide, a
potent ozone-depleting pesticide that is slated to be phased out in 2005
under an international treaty. ... Methyl bromide is a toxic gas that has
been used since the 1960's to sterilize soils, fumigate grain-milling
operations and treat exports and imports to kill invasive pests. A potent
nerve toxin, methyl bromide kills weeds, insects, nematodes and all manner
of other pests, allowing farmers and nursery owners to work on fields that
are a biological clean slate. It is also extremely toxic to humans,
causing many acute poisonings and chronic illnesses for those who live and
work in areas where methyl bromide