Today in AgBioView: February 14, 2003
* U.S. Continues to Seek Changes in EU Biotech Policy
* US Angry with France, Targets French Wine and Mineral Water
* Up With Animals, Down With Humans
* MNC Suspends Work on GMO in India
* Food Prices Could Rise Under New GM Rules
* DNA Bar Codes For Food?
* Use of Methyl Bromide Fumigant
* Messenger is Genetically Engineered Harpin!
* New publications from ISNAR's Biotechnology Service
* Horizontal Gene Transfer Confirmed?
* Statement from the European Group on Life Sciences
* The Changing Norms of The Life Sciences
* Ministerial Conference and Expo on Ag Science and Technology
* Who Genetically Modified My Cheese?
* Caution in China over GM Crops
* Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths
* A Group Sows Seeds of Revolt Against Genetically Altered Foods
U.S. Continues to Seek Changes in EU Biotech Policy
- Berta Gomez, Washington File, US Dept of State, Feb 13, 2003
http://usinfo.state.gov/ (Sent by Andrew Apel)
European Union (EU) trade policies that shut out imports of foods derived
from biotechnology are in clear violation of World Trade Organization
(WTO) rules and are influencing policies in other countries, including in
famine-stricken Africa, with "devastating consequences," Assistant U.S.
Trade Representative Christopher Padilla says.
Speaking at a February 13 forum on biotech food and the possibility of a
U.S. challenge to EU policies in the WTO, Padilla said the United States
is increasingly frustrated with the four-year-old EU moratorium on new
approvals for biotech food imports, describing it as "completely
irrational" and based on "politics, not science."
The Bush administration has thus far refrained from filing a formal WTO
complaint, but Padilla made clear that the European biotech food import
moratorium remains high on the U.S. trade agenda. "I don't think anyone
should assume that this issue has gone away -- or will go away," he said
during the forum sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food and
The value of U.S.-European agricultural trade was $6,400 million in 2001,
making the EU the fourth largest single market for U.S. farm products,
according to the Pew Initiative. There are 18 biotech food products
approved for import by the EU, but a de facto moratorium on further
approvals has been in place since June 1999, with 13 more applications
pending. Farm groups estimate that the moratorium on new approvals has
cost U.S. agriculture $300 million in annual sales.
EU policies are also affecting policy decisions in countries that seek to
preserve their own access to European markets, Padilla said. He pointed in
particular to African countries that face severe food shortages but
hesitate to accept U.S. food aid that may contain biotech products for
fear that their own food exports will later be judged unacceptable for EU
consumption. Hungry Zambians, he added, recently broke into locked storage
facilities containing U.S.-donated food that their own government would
not distribute because of the GM issue.
"This is now a matter of life and death," Padilla said. Key members of
Congress are urging the Bush administration to move forward with a formal
WTO case. At a separate event the same day, Senator Max Baucus of Montana
said he had no doubt the United States would prevail in a WTO challenge to
EU barriers to biotech food. He pressed the Bush administration to take
such action arguing that so far it has given "too much weight to foreign
Other U.S. trade and agriculture experts who joined Padilla on the panel
emphatically agreed that the EU was violating WTO rules and that
scientific research -- including that conducted by European institutions
and scientists -- shows that biotech foods are as safe as their
conventional counterparts. Panelists disagreed, however, on the wisdom of
bringing a WTO challenge against the EU.
Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute and a
former U.S. trade official during the Reagan administration, said that a
WTO case to force European acceptance of biotech foods "is the surest way
to guarantee a European boycott ... and a hardening of irrational European
fears and positions." He argued that "creative diplomacy" to disseminate
information on the safety and quality of biotech foods would be far more
effective over the long term, and that a WTO challenge would only
exacerbate current U.S.-EU tensions over Iraq and other foreign policy
He also said that most of the anti-biotech campaign in developing
countries was being fomented by "irresponsible" non-governmental groups
and activists, who would continue spreading misinformation even after a
successful U.S. challenge in the WTO.
Julia Moore of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars agreed
with Prestowitz that a WTO action by the United States against the EU
moratorium would stiffen European consumer resistance to new technologies.
She said that European health officials had only recently begun to win
back consumer confidence following widespread concern over "mad cow"
disease in Great Britain and elsewhere. European consumers currently
consume biotech food imports approved before the moratorium and will
likely accept products approved under a labeling and traceability scheme
now under development by EU officials, she said.
"History shows that when given a clearly labeled choice, Europe's
customers will make purchases based on other factors beside GM content,"
For his part, Padilla expressed skepticism over a labeling regime that
would place a biotechnology label on U.S.-produced vegetable oil that
contains "not a trace" of biotech DNA but would not require a similar
label for French cheese or wine produced with genetically modified
enzymes. Traceability requirements that demand extensive record-keeping of
all products that go into highly refined food exports would also prove
onerous, especially to developing country producers, he said.
Padilla also charged that the EU's policy runs directly contrary to its
own commitment to basing policy decisions on sound science and that "a
small blocking minority" is responsible for keeping the moratorium in
place for four years. "At the end of the day," he said, "we're only asking
them to follow their own laws and procedures."
US Congress, Angry with France, Targets French Wine and Mineral Water
- Agence France-Presse February 13, 2003
Furious with France over its opposition to military action against Iraq
and its embargo on genetically modified food, US House Speaker Dennis
Hastert Wednesday raised the specter of sanctions on French wine and
Hastert's spokesman, John Feeherey, said the powerful speaker was running
the thought by his Republican colleagues to get a fix on whether such a
move were feasible. "The speaker is exploring whether the US should
require bright orange labels" on French wine bottles warning their
contents may have been treated with powdered beef blood to alter the
But he said "nothing has been done" yet, adding it was still in the
talking stage. The use of powdered beef blood has been banned in the
European Union since 1998 because of the danger of mad cow disease. Joe
Rollo, spokesman for the Wine Institute which represents California wine
growers, said it was "very unlikely the US Congress will pass such
"Of course we are against this," he added. "There is no reason to
discourage Americans from drinking wines...It could have a negative impact
on wine consumption in the US."
Up With Animals, Down With Humans
- Deroy Murdock, National Post, http://www.nationalpost.com/
It's a shame European functionaries don't care as much about Africans as
they do about pigs. British hog farmers are baffled by new regulations
imposed by Eurocrats in Brussels. They require them to give toys to pigs
to keep them smiling while they roll in the mud and otherwise fatten
themselves up before slaughter.
The European Commission expects EU farmers to provide pigs with
"environmental enrichment" and "manipulable material" on which they can
chew, rather than nibble on each other. These guidelines will become
British law this month. Violators will face up to three months in jail and
maximum fines of £1,000.
"We mean footballs and basketballs," suggests one British official.
"Different colour ones will do.... the important thing is to see pigs
happy in their environment, and they like to forage with their noses."
These rules stem from the EC's Directive 2001/93 concerning, among other
things, "Permanent access to materials for rooting and playing." This
follows the EC's Sept. 30, 1997, adoption of a Scientific Committee report
called The Welfare of Intensively Kept Pigs. The authors of this
control-freak classic calculated the precise space requirements "for a pig
to be able to lie down in lateral recumbency." They conclude that
"continuous noise in pig houses should be kept low, and continuous noise
levels as loud as 85 dBA should be avoided." They also assert that
"maintaining an individual distance" among pigs reduces the "chance of
While Eurocrats spend countless hours assuring that swine stay amused in
tranquil, romantic settings, they are lazier than Frenchmen in August when
it comes to letting Africans feed themselves. That's not fair. Their
behaviour actually has exacerbated hunger in Africa.
The EU bans imports of genetically modified grain, including
American-grown GM corn. It fears such "Frankenfoods," even though you
likely will consume GM products in your breakfast cereal, lunch-time
sandwich or after-dinner cake -- and live to talk about it.
African leaders have followed these European worrywarts. While their
constituents become wafer-thin, they spurn American food donations.
According to the United Nations, some 14.4-million southern Africans soon
could succumb to drought-induced starvation. Nonetheless, Zambian
President Levy Mwanawasa curled up his lip at gifts of GM grain. "We would
rather starve than get something toxic," he declared. This year, some
three million Zambians may grant his wish, even as Mwanawasa reportedly
lets 16.5-million tons of foreign, possibly GM grain contributions sit
Others, such as Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe -- for whom French
President Jacques Chirac plans to roll out the brie wheels at a Feb. 21-22
Franco-African summit -- have banned GM corn imports to prevent it from
cross-pollinating with local crops. Their understandable concern is that
some GM seeds could mix with theirs and prevent them from eventually
exporting grain to increasingly skittish Europeans.
Ugandans, meanwhile, eat 500 pounds of bananas per capita annually.
However, an airborne fungus threatens this staple. While a bio-engineered
solution is at hand, Ugandans must follow strict and costly scientific
protocols to prove the safety of such GM bananas to potential European
customs inspectors. "The Europeans have the luxury to delay," W.K.
Tushemereirwe, Uganda's director of banana research, said in The Wall
Street Journal last Dec. 26. "They have enough to eat. But we Africans
"I see something extremely disturbing," U.S. Trade Representative Robert
Zoellick told reporters last month. "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."
In a new low in this up-with-animals/down-with-humans ideology, consider
Ingrid Newkirk's Feb. 3 letter to Yasser Arafat. The president of People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote the Palestinian strongman to
complain about a Jan. 26 bombing in which an explosives-bearing donkey
blew up, killing only itself. Newkirk faxed Arafat to "request that you
appeal to all those who listen to you to leave the animals out of this
conflict." Asked if she would persuade Arafat to prevent his followers
from detonating people, Newkirk told The Washington Post: "It's not my
business to inject myself into human wars."
All this, and it's only February.
Deroy Murdock is a Senior Fellow with the Atlas Economic Research
Foundation in Fairfax, Va.
MNC Suspends Work on GMO in India
- The Press Trust of India, Asia Pulse, Feb 13, 2003
Nunhems Seeds, the Indian subsidiary of Netherlands-based vegetable seed
company, Nunza B V, has suspended work on genetically modified organisms
in India apprehending that the Centre may not approve commercial
cultivation of such crops.
"We have suspended research work on GMO in India at present after the
decision on GM mustard was deferred by the Genetic Engineering Approval
Committee (GEAC)," Arvind Kapur, Managing Director, Nunhems Seeds, told
There is no point in wasting money on research if there is no surety that
the GMO developed will be given the go-ahead for commercial cultivation by
the government, Kapur said. "However, if GM mustard gets approval we will
think about other food articles as well," he added. Earlier speaking
during a meet on Corporate Governance
Organised here by the Netherlands Embassy Kapur said the rich countries
can afford to choose between the GMO and Non-GMO because they have plenty
but in several countries in Asia and Africa food is not plenty and there
GMO can play an important role.
"Anyhow we are fiddling with genes when we produce hybrids and as far as
GMO is concerned we have to study what benefits and side effects it has,"
Kapur said adding 100 per cent safety of anything can not be guaranteed.
Last year GEAC had approved genetically modified Bt cotton for commercial
cultivation in the country but when it met last it had taken the view that
since mustard was an important food crop in India, it will take a "hard
look" at the issue and deferred the decision.
Food Prices Could Rise Under New GM Rules - EU Lobby
- Reuters News Service, Feb 14, 2003
Brussels -- Europe's food industry lobby said on Friday that food will
become more expensive if new EU rules on labeling genetically-modified
(GM) goods are adopted, increasing resistance to a law also criticized by
The President of the EU's food and drink industry lobby group (CIAA), Jean
Martin, said current draft legislation on the labeling and traceability of
GM food would create extra costs for companies in non-GM goods.
"There's a risk (of prices rising) if Europe insists on having GM-free
goods," the Frenchman told reporters. The European Commission hopes the
proposal will end a four-year ban on new GM food which the United States
has threatened to challenge in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Martin also wants the moratorium lifted and supports consumer choice on
the controversial issue. But he said labeling should be based on whether
genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) can be detected in the final food
product instead of catch-all labeling rules. Under the proposals which EU
farm ministers provisionally agreed in November 2002, all food and feed
containing 0.9 percent of authorized GMOs would be labeled.
They set the labeling threshold for the accidental presence of authorized
GMOs in food at 0.5 percent. The European Parliament is expected to debate
this proposal in the first half of 2003, with final adoption hoped for the
end of the year. Martin said the planned procedure for checking the
presence of GMOs in food will be cumbersome and expensive. This is because
it is based on documents stating there are no GMOs present at every stage
of the supply chain rather than a laboratory test.
"We're not against traceability, we're against basing labeling on a paper
trail," said Martin, adding that the system is open to fraud.
Environmental organization Greenpeace rejects all these concerns and says
the new system will be cheaper.
"Once the European traceability system is put in place, costs will
decrease as the scattered supermarket controls will be harmonized," said
Greenpeace EU Policy Director for Genetic Engineering, Lorenzo Consoli.
U.S. companies have also said the new system will be cumbersome and
expensive and could create a barrier to trade even if the European market
for GM goods is opened.
DNA Bar Codes For Food?
- Foodnavigator.com, Feb 14, 2003
The British government is considering forcing biotech companies to use DNA
bar-coding to identify genetically modified organisms, reports the New
This week the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in
Cambridge was granted a patent on a DNA bar-coding technique. The
technology would make it easier for regulators to trace GM food or detect
crops that have been contaminated by GM strains. It could also have wider
uses. Banknotes or designer clothes made from bar-coded cotton would be
harder to counterfeit.
A spokesman for Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (DEFRA) claims that it is too early to commit to any one method,
but told the New Scientist that such technology would be "actively
encouraged". A recent European Union directive gives governments the power
to make it compulsory.
"We have been talking about techniques for encoding unique identifiers in
the context of GMOs for some time," said Howard Dalton, DEFRA's chief
scientific adviser. "Any development which would help in the process of
detecting and identifying GMOs would be welcomed."
The idea is to add the same unique sequence to all GM organisms,
regardless of how else they are modified. That means a single, simple DNA
test could identify any product as GM if it contains intact DNA. Since
such a sequence would not code for any protein, it would not affect a
plant's properties. Most creatures' genomes are already littered with vast
stretches of non-coding DNA.
DNA bar codes could also provide detailed information about a product.
NIAB's patent describes how a series of sequences that contain compressed
information - such as which company made the GM organisms and what
modifications it has - could be added. "Simpler techniques for access to
that information will help us ensure effective traceability and labelling
through the food supply chain. This will ensure consumer choice and
increase confidence," added Dalton.
"Detecting GM products is difficult at present, because you have to know
what you are looking for," said Derek Matthews, a molecular biologist at
NIAB. "For example, you need to know the short sequences that flank any
added piece of DNA, or the sequence of added genes or of the DNA regions
that control their activity."
But biotech companies are often reluctant to reveal such information
because of fears that other companies may copy their technology. For
instance, Gro-Ingunn Hemre at the National Institute of Nutrition and
Seafood Research in Bergen, Norway, has been trying for nearly three years
to get data and material from a number of biotech companies for a research
project, without success, writes the journal.
The recent EU directive also requires biotech companies to supply detailed
information on every GM product, including how to identify it, before
approval. But companies are still reluctant to cooperate. "It's very, very
difficult to get stuff out of them, even though they are legally obliged,"
According to the article, Matthews believes that most companies would
prefer genetic bar codes, since this would allow them to label their
products without giving away any secrets. The Agricultural Biotechnology
Council, which represents the British industry, has given the idea a
Use of Methyl Bromide Fumigant
- Jim Bair
I read with interest your comments about a biotech replacement for methyl
bromide, and wanted to clarify the use of methyl bromide fumigant in US
agriculture. In addition to representing the interests of US grain
millers, I am also vice chairman of the Crop Protection Coalition which is
working to save methyl bromide until suitable alternatives are found. USDA
has spent $146 million researching alternatives over the last several
years with no success.
Despite your reference to its use on plants, it is not used to fumigate
any crops in the field. The primary use is to kill nematodes in soil PRIOR
to planting fruit and vegetable crops. Also to sterilize the soil prior
planting tree seedlings in nurseries.
Other uses include fumigating flour mills and food processing facilities -
the building only, not grain or finished products. It is also used for
preshipment and quarantine of imported fruits (this time of year all the
grapes and many other fruits consumed in the US are imported from Chile
and are fumigated with methyl bromide at the port of entry.) Imported
coffee, spices and cocoa are fumigated with methyl bromide.
Exports of US dried fruits and nuts are, too. Plants growing in the field
are NEVER fumigated with methyl bromide.
-- Regards. Jim Bair, Vice President, North American Millers' Association;
ph 202.484.2200, ext. 107; www.namamillers.org
Messenger is Genetically Engineered Harpin!
- Allan Felsot
Concerning the recent postings about the harpin protein, its possible
replacement for methyl bromide, and the seemingly one-handed applause by
certain environmental advocates, I suggest that interested readers take a
look at EPA's technical document for a real nice irony
Here is some information extracted from the first paragraph of the
>> "Harpin is commercially produced in Escherichia coli by transfer of a
>DNA fragment encoding harpin protein from E. amylovora to the cell
>production strain, E. coli K-12. The harpin producing strain is
>considered a debilitated strain of E. coli, which cannot grow in the
>human digestive tract, or survive in the environment. E. coli K-12 cells
>are killed and lysed at the end of the fermentation process. Harpin
>protein and other cell constituents are then extracted for formulation
>into an end-use product, MESSENGERĘ."
So the irony is that this naturally occurring defense mechanism will
likely not pass muster for use by the certified organic agriculture
farmers. After all, if the mode of commercial production is not
'transgenetic engineering', then I don't know what is. Will this be a case
of cutting off one's nose to spite his face?
I'm not sure why there is all this hype about harpin replacing methyl
bromide. The purpose of the two pesticides is completely different. As a
matter of fact, harpin (Messenger) is being positioned now more as a
growth regulator (stimulator?) than as a general fungicide.
The case of methyl bromide is sad in itself and an example of failure to
review policy in the presence of new data. Perhaps there are relevant
toxicological issues to have banned it, but saving the world from ozone
depletion seems absurd considering that the greatest mass of emissions is
due to oceanic phytoplankton production.
Furthermore, the atmospheric environmental chemistry of methyl bromide is
distinct from the 'freons', and it is not clear that it survives long
enough in the troposphere to make that much of a difference in the
stratosphere. It is prone to oxidative degradation by hydroxyl radical,
and the ocean and soil are now considered important sinks.
When ozone was first earmarked for phaseout, little was know about its
atmospheric environmental chemistry, but that has changed (although
questions remain). (A reasonable overview, although becoming dated was
published: Honaganahalli, P. S. and J. N. Seiber. 1997. Health and
environmental concerns over the use of fumigants in agriculture: the case
of methyl bromide. Pp. 1-13 in "Fumigants, Enviromental Fate, Exposure,
and Analysis. Seiber, J. N. et al. (Ed.). American Chemical Society
Symposium Series 652. ACS, Washington, D.C.). The USDA has funded gobs of
research to limit methyl bromide emissions under commercial production,
and the techniques are pretty effective.
Another pertinent irony is that vascular plants can also synthesize methyl
bromide (for example, Gan, J., S. R. Yates, J. Sims, and H. D. Ohr. 1998.
Production of methyl bromide by terrestrial higher plants. Geophyscial
Research Letters 25:3595-3598.) Perhaps genetic engineering can be used to
transfer the biosynthetic pathway to crop plants, and somehow have the
molecule excreted in the roots. I think the weed scientist's might call it
a case of genetically engineered allelopathy.
- Allan S. Felsot, Professor & Extension Specialist,
Entomology/Environmental Toxicology, Washington State University
New publications from ISNAR's Biotechnology Service
The following reprints and reports are available from the International
Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR):
- Explaining restricted approval and availability of GM crops in
developing countries, by Joel I. Cohen and Robert Paarlberg. AgBiotechNet
Vol.4, October 2002.
- Regulating genetically-modified seeds in emerging economies, by Patricia
L. Traynor and John Komen. Journal of New Seeds Vol.4 No.1/2, 2002.
- Managing proprietary technology in agricultural research, by John Komen,
Joel I. Cohen, Cesar Falconi and Silvia Salazar. Chapter 11 in Economic
and Social Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology, edited by R.E. Evenson,
V. Santaniello and D. Zilberman. Wallingford: CAB International. 2002.
- Biotechnology and sustainable livelihoods - Findings and recommendations
of an international consultation, by JosČ Falck Zepeda, Joel Cohen, Ruth
Meinzen-Dick and John Komen. ISNAR Briefing Paper No.54, September 2002.
The Hague: International Service for National Agricultural Research.
To order your personal copy, contact: ISNAR-Biotech@cgiar.org
Horizontal Gene Transfer Confirmed?
- Klaus Ammann, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear friends, this is just to make sure that you are aware of the latest
edited contribution in www.bio-scope.org, which refers to the recent
scientific deveolopment on the debate on horizontal gene transfer.
First published in Nature
http://www.nature.com/nsu/nsu_pf/020923/020923-11.html Article dated 27
Sept. 2002, Science Update
PNAS: Genome fragment of Wolbachia endosymbiont transferred to X
chromosome of host insect. Natsuko Kondo, Naruo Nikoh, Nobuyuki Ijichi,
Masakazu Shimada, and Takema Fukatsu 14280-14285 PNAS October 29 2002
vol.99 no.22, published on line before print Oct. 22 2002
The summary: Abstract: First evidence of horizontal gene transfer?
Japanese researches may have found substantial evidence of horizontal gene
transfer from bacteria to eucaryotes. In an article published in the PNAS
science journal in October 2002, they reported the finding of Wolbachia
specific DNA sequences - a beetle parasitic bacterium - in the adzuki bean
beetle. The researchers aim was to kill the bacteria by treating the
beetle with different antibiotics. Against their previous assumption,
bacterial specific DNA was still found after several rounds of antibiotic
treatments. This lead them to speculate, that the chosen DNA sequence is
not only present in the bacteria, but may even be present in the beetle's
Further research confirms this assumption. Against the background of the
increasing use of transgenic plants for human consumption, these findings
may raise new questions about the biosafety of transgenic plants. Mychal
Syvane from the California University said that "people raising alarms
will seize upon this and say this ! illustrates the danger", but on the
other hand, these results could just "say this is a natural phenomenon."
Jonathan Eisen from the Wolbachia genome project does not rate this
findings as a "smoking gun". Transfer probably has occurred, says Eisen,
but the evidence is circumstantial. Up to know, it is neither clear
whether the bacterial genes in the beetle are active, nor could be said
something about the time frame where the transfer might have happened.
There is no evidence for any horizontal gene transfer from genetically
modified crops with a truncated antibiotic resistance gene to be derived
from these highly interesting findings. But it demonstrates, that
horizontal transfer from bacteria to beetles seems to be possible. Whether
those resistance genes are still active and from where they come and when
they have been introduced (during the last generations or the last million
years of this beetle, is still unknown.
See also Text in Neue Z½rcher Zeitung:
Where consequences for tropical medicine are discussed.
See also Debates on the topic (www.bio-scope.org, go to Berne Debates and
see the dates) Debate 2002'0717 a: University of Newcastle report
summaries: no significant horizontal transgene transfer detected in human
guts Debate 2002'0722 b: Horizontal gene transfer, some reactions to
Debate 2002'0717 a
Statement from the European Group on Life Sciences
In connection with 'Sustainable Agriculture for Developing Countries
Options' from Life Sciences and Biotechnology; Brussels, Jan 31, 2003
(Forwarded by Prof. Derek Burke Cambridge, UK; email@example.com)
Ensuring food security is a prerequisite for a stable society. As
populations double in developing countries over the coming generation, and
as living standards improve, the demands made on agricultural systems will
be unprecedented. Since useable land areas per person are actually
decreasing, continual improvement of biological efficiency will be one of
the important solutions to meet the challenges that are ahead of us. The
discovery, spread and use of improved, sustainable, affordable and
environmentally friendly technologies are therefore an essential part of
building the future.
Europe has a duty to contribute to these developments by sharing its
wealth of experience, resources and knowledge. The conference highlighted
many examples of how new knowledge in the life sciences can contribute to
resolving old problems - knowledge often generated by scientists in and
from developing countries. Crop and livestock productivity can be
enhanced, pesticide use can be reduced, disease losses can be lessened,
and traditional farming systems can be made more productive.
While most of these developments are welcomed for the benefits they bring
to farmers and consumers, some are not without controversy and, in
particular, GMOs. To ensure that benefits from the life sciences spread
to populations in greatest need, all stakeholders should help clarify
controversial areas and meet legitimate concerns. And so:
* The EGLS respects the positions of those who challenge scientific
developments. Their scepticism is an important part of the proving
process, in so far as it may bring to the surface the right scientific
* The EGLS sympathises with the right of individual countries and regions
in development to make their own judgement on whether to accept or
encourage particular technologies.
* There is persuasive cumulative evidence that present GM food is not more
injurious to human health than traditional food, and that the potential
danger of uncontrolled releases of GMOs is less extensive than postulated
by some. The EGLS recommends that a thorough, independent and
authoritative review of this evidence in the specific context of
developing countries be commissioned and published, with due reference to
the international regulatory framework in place.
* A number of cases were described where research on genetic modifications
of crops led to real benefits even though some applications are restricted
(either by refusal of funding, or by administrative constraints). The EGLS
recommends that the EU, in its research and development policy, should not
impose unjustified constraints on the generation of new and potentially
* Believing that knowledge is and should be a shared and freely available
good, and that it is the most important ingredient in progressive,
sustainable and productive agriculture, the EGLS calls for strengthened
commitment by the EU to support scientific partnerships with developing
countries at national, regional and global levels.
* Such a partnership should foster a flexible approach to intellectual
property and should emphasise scientific training as the main pillar of
future equitable developments.
The Changing Norms of The Life Sciences
- Peter Shorett, Paul Rabinow & Paul R. Billings, Nature Biotechnology.
Feb 2003 Vol.1 No. 2 pp123-125; firstname.lastname@example.org. www.nature.com.
Reproduced with permission. Excerpts Below.......
New institutional relationships, sources of funding, collaborations, and
career paths are arising in the rapidly evolving field of life sciences.
Concerns about eventual product development resulting from scientific work
are increasing in importance, whereas open publication of data is not. We
contend that current practices in the life sciences do not conform to a
Mertonian analysis of scientific value. Moreover, we propose that active
investigation of the process of evolution of the life sciences should be a
priority and concern to its scientific practitioners and the publics who
fund, purchase, or are affected by its products.
A clash of cultures. The past 20 years have witnessed a marked realignment
of the institutions in which biological research is conducted. Although
the boundary between pure and applied has never been as distinct as many
scientists and bioethicists claim, the development of biotechnology served
as an important benchmark in bringing 'public' scientific discovery and
'private' product development into more overt and explicit contact. Both
critics and advocates of these changes agree that something important has
taken place. The venture capital market, the growth of biotechnology
startups, and the convergence of university and industry in areas of
scientific labor and technology transfer have built a robust
infrastructure linking the laboratory directly to commercial outlets.
Indeed, contemporary experimentation in the life sciences, whether
conducted in university, industry, or medical settings, is thoroughly
dependent on a diverse array of sophisticated and expensive tools sold by
The critical distinction is no longer between the production of knowledge
and the development of commodities, but between different modes of
organizing research that in all cases require massive capital outlays to
function. There is a new milieu, a new ecology of market and research, one
in which a seemingly inescapable mutual interdependence exists. The
interdependence, however, is a dynamic one; it requires fresh
self-reflection by those who are directly involved as well as those who
consider themselves exempt from its influences.
These transformations in molecular biology and biochemistry raise
important questions about what it means in practical terms to lead a life
of science. The new norms that structure the life sciences - from
aggressive marketing to the pursuit of proprietary interests - will
fundamentally shape how science and society interact in the coming
decades. Although many observers have noted the ethical implications of
the changing modes of scientific production, few have examined their
impact on science as a vocation and a way of life. Greater
self-examination by scientists and biotechnologists could yield important
insights into the future practices of science. Proper scientific
governance will require that members of the life science community take a
more active position in public debates surrounding these changes.
Conclusions. At the turn of the millennium, life science's application in
the marketplace has produced neither the revolution in medicine that its
optimists hoped for, nor all of the bioethical crises its critics feared.
But debates over such issues as human cloning, artificial reproductive
technologies, and genetic engineering (applied to plants, animals, and
humans) indicate an increasingly contested terrain. The marketing of
biomedical knowledge has raised moral apprehension and regulatory demands.
The 'lay public' is no longer simply acquiescing to the opinions of
experts and is more actively voicing its concerns and articulating agendas
so as to shape, or at least inflect, how science is practiced, understood
in the broadest terms. This active role of the citizenry is itself a
product of the new formation of science and commerce, as citizens exert
pressure as investors (e.g., mutual funds) and consumers (in response to
direct marketing) upon both public and private scientific direction.
A new framing of the biosciences is arising from the combination of
dialogue and conflict among scientists, government agencies, and social
groups over the proper scope of public oversight and the vital directions
for future research and development. Such a development has the potential
to benefit all parties concerned and to become an important determinant of
the future of the life sciences.
Ministerial Conference and Expo on Ag Science and Technology
- Sacramento, California June 23-25, 2003
In support of the U.S. commitment to strengthen global food security,
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman is hosting an international
Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology
from June 23-25, 2003 in Sacramento, California. Ministers will be
invited from over 180 nations. The U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) and Department of State are jointly sponsoring the
event with USDA.
Who Genetically Modified My Cheese?
- Todd Seavey, ACSH, http://healthfactsandfears.com , Feb13, 2003
As I write this, we're told to expect a possible attack from Al Qaeda and
a possible war against Iraq in the next few days (naturally, I'll be in
New York City and Washington, D.C.). The past few weeks saw scares
involving ricin, bubonic plague, and anthrax, though such things happen so
regularly these days, it's easy to forget about them.
The federal government suggested buying duct tape, since it can be useful
for sealing windows in the event of a chemical attack (actually, duct tape
is useful for all sorts of things: in Canada, thousands of feet of duct
tape went into the making of an anti-grizzly-bear suit of armor
constructed by an inventor/outdoorsman -- duct tape is often the key to
Adding to the mood of uncertainty is the ongoing debate between some
European nations and the U.S. over whether we should even be planning a
war against Iraq (a debate that panelists at the Smith Family Foundation,
with perfect timing, will thrash out tonight at 6:30 in the CUNY Grad
Center at 34th and 5th in Manhattan). It's a time, therefore, when subtler
issues of science and public policy can easily be overlooked, including
other matters on which Europe and the U.S. are at odds, such as whether to
use genetically-modified foods.
Heated Rhetoric Aside
Last month, scientists on both sides of the genetically-modified organisms
(GMOs) debate called for calm in the battle, saying the issues involved
are not apocalyptic, all-or-nothing ones -- the end of science vs. the end
of nature -- but more nuanced disputes over the amount of testing to
require for new organisms and how best to weigh the risks, if any, from
the unplanned spread of new genes. Since science suggests no more reason
to fear new, modified organisms than old, conventionally crossbred
organisms, there's reason to hope that in a calmer, saner debate, biotech
Even David Byrne, the European Union's health and consumer protection
commissioner, says biotech is safe. "The E.U.'s position on genetically
modified food," he said recently, "is that it is as safe as conventional
food." It is Europe's growing array of "non-governmental" (yet
government-funded) environmental organizations that are fighting to
prevent the de-regulation of biotech foods in Europe. U.S. trade
representative Robert Zoellick calls the NGOs' view of GMOs "Luddite,"
reports the New York Times, but the same Times article quotes a typical
British consumer saying GMOs are "not the natural order of things...It's a
kind of corruption, not the right thing to do." As long as the NGOs keep
ordinary European citizens spooked, the EU will probably be infertile
ground for GMOs -- but one would think that there are far scarier forces
at work in the world today than GMOs.
Good (Bland) Cheese News from New Zealand
People tend to say no to things that are strange and new. That's why I'm
delighted by some extremely boring, non-threatening biotech news out of
New Zealand. Scientists there announced that they have
genetically-modified (and cloned!) cows that produce cheese from their
teats instead of ordinary milk (or at least produce milk that can be more
readily turned into cheese). This, it strikes me, may be how biotech will
eventually triumph: by doing things in such boring little increments that
no one notices. Making better cheese is not as glamorous as suddenly
making all children immune to disease or giving dogs 100 IQs, but on the
other hand cheese is not the sort of thing that starts riots and brings
condemnations from bishops. In fact, founding conservative writer Edmund
Burke, back in the eighteenth century, pointed to the cows of England as
the perfect symbol of calm and conservatism.
That this quiet, relatively bland triumph for biotech occurred in New
Zealand right now is made all the more appropriate by the fact that
audiences around the world associate that country's rolling green hills
with the agrarian, resolutely low-tech villages depicted in the _Lord of
the Rings_ movies, which were filmed there (this week also brings news of
the series' second Best Picture nomination from the Academy, by the way).
Rolling green hills, hobbits...and now genetically-modified cows, gently
mooing and making cheese. How mad the frenzied anti-biotech protesters of
Europe and the U.S. (setting labs on fire and shouting their "Frankenfood"
slogans) must look from sleepy New Zealand.
I hate to have to discuss psychological tactics at all, since I am sure
biotech wins on the scientific merits, but the truth is that Greenpeace
and the other tentacles of the antiglob are opposing biotech more on
psychological than on scientific grounds, and the more familiar and less
creepy biotech seems, the less we'll have to worry about the antiglob
guiding public policy. People who aren't frightened out of their wits tend
to make more rational decisions.
In the meantime, unfortunately, even amid threats of terrorism and war,
there are some people who find time to worry about biotech and other
products of science. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, I was in a Manhattan
liquor store (see my previous column, " Reasons to Drink") and overheard a
clerk assuring one of her customers (who may well have been drinking to
relieve tension over terrorism and war) that the vodka she was selling him
was "all natural" and made from potatoes -- as if vodka were normally made
from strychnine, or as if the sorts of chemical preservatives one commonly
finds in food have an effect on the body more drastic than vodka -- vodka,
for crying out loud!
All kidding aside, let me promise readers that I will not in fact cope
with current global crises by drinking. But if one were looking to forget
one's troubles right now, aren't there more important -- and certainly
more dangerous -- troubles to worry about than designer cows and biotech
Caution in China over GM Crops
- Chen Niu, Science, Vol 299, No.5609, Feb 14, 2003, p. 1013.
In their News Focus article "China takes a bumpy road from the lab to the
field" (20 Dec., p. 2317), Y. Ding and J. Mervis report on the Chinese
government's restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops and the
concerns raised by researchers and agbiotechnology companies about these
restrictions. China's cautious regulations are based on the biosafety of
GM crops, but some observers see the new policy as aimed at banning
foreign investments and protecting local research-based industries.
I agree that the tighter rules make it more difficult for foreign
investment in GM crops in China, but I do not think the restrictions are
being used to ban foreign investments and protect Chinese industry. The
fact is that, with proper documentation and application procedures,
foreign investments are still being supported, as in the case of the
Beijing-Yale center. Also, the Chinese government has put some
domestically developed GM crops on a waiting list instead of giving them
With so many countries reluctant to accept GM food, such as in Europe
("Europe prepares for arrival of GM foods," News of the Week, P. Weis, 13
Dec., p. 2109), it is quite understandable that China is being cautious
about staple GM crops. Agricultural products are among China's major
export items. Furthermore, grains produced from GM crops that are
currently used as animal feed in other countries might be consumed by
humans in China.
More importantly, unlike farmers in developed countries, Chinese farmers
usually work on small pieces of land and are less educated about GM crops.
Overseeing farmers to make sure they plant the correct GM seeds and meet
technical specifications will be difficult. These factors may cause the
same problems as Monsanto's Bt cotton in India (1).
Chinese farmers rely heavily on the returns from their very small lands.
They could easily lose faith in GM crops if any problems occur, and this
could hinder future applications of biotechnology.
However, the rapid increases in research budgets show China's positive
attitude toward using transgenic crops. With more evidence of the safety
of GM crops, surely China will lift some of the rules and welcome foreign
investments more enthusiastically. Chinese farmers cannot afford to lose
advanced agbiotechnology in the 21st century.
- Chen Niu, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, China. E-mail:
>> China Takes a Bumpy Road From the Lab to the Field; Ding Yimin and
>> Science 2002 298: 2317-2319.
Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths
- Ronald Bailey, Prima Publishing, ISBN 0-7615-3660-4; 448 pages;
Hardcover; Amazon.com price $17.47
'How the Environmental Movement Uses False Science to Scare Us to Death'.
Includes essays by Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug and other noted
scientists and scholars
The modern environmental movement began with the publication of three
seminal works, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Paul Ehrlich's The
Population Bomb, and the Club of Rome's The Limits to Growth. These books'
dismal visions of a poisoned, over-populated, resource-depleted world
spiraling down toward environmental collapse are today's conventional
wisdom. And every year we hear about new "conclusive" reports from special
interest groups claiming that our atmosphere's temperatures are soaring,
our air and water are more polluted, our cities are more crowded, and our
global food supply is more precarious than ever before. However, according
to a number of leading scientists from around the world, members of the
environmental movement are guilty of twisting - sometimes manufacturing -
the facts in an effort to frighten people into joining their cause.
In this eye-opening book, some of the most respected researchers in the
country explode the myths behind much of the doom and gloom of today's
environmental movement. You will discover how the hysteria about global
warming, overpopulation, mass extinctions, imminent famines,
biotechnology, energy shortages, and more are grounded not in reason but
in false science and a fear of progress. When placed beside the
overwhelming facts, some of the most pervasive eco-myths crumble,
Myth: Antarctica is melting due to global warming - threatening to raise
Fact: Antarctica has been cooling - and its glaciers thickening 0 for the
past 30 years
Myth: The global population is growing faster than our ability to produce
Fact: Global fertility rates are falling dramatically, and with advanced
technology, farmers are producing more food using fewer resources than
Myth: Solar- and wind-powered generators are a renewable, efficient, and
less intrusive alternative to gas-, oil-, and coal-burning generators
Fact: Global fossil fuel supplies are in no near-term danger of being
depleted, and a single 555-megawatt natural gas power plant produces more
electricity than 13,000 windmills
Myth: Modern pesticides and fertilizers are increasing the rates of
cancer in humans
Fact: No study has ever shown that anyone has developed cancer from the
legal application of pesticides, and environmental pollution accounts for
at most 2 percent of all cancer cases versus 30 percent caused by tobacco
use And many more
Ultimately, this book shows that uniting much of the environmental
movement is an agenda that is not so much anti-pollution as it is
anti-human. Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths lays out the true state of
the planet, which, as you'll discover, is more healthy, vibrant, and clean
than ideologically motivated environmentalists want you to believe.
Praise for Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths
"Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths challenges the tired orthodoxies of
ideological environmentalism. It's refreshing to read that there is no
environmental 'cancer epidemic,' that climatologist John Christy says
there is no imminent global warming catastrophe, and that Nobel Peace
Prize winner Norman Borlaug predicts that we will be able to feed 10
billion people using less land. If market forces are unleashed, even
drinking water can last forever. I just wish the environmentalists would
read Bailey's book." - John Stossel, ABC News 20/20
"Facts are stubborn things, and Ronald Bailey has once again assembled the
best environmental fact-checkers in the business to explode the common
misconceptions and distortions about the real state of our planet." -
Steven Hayward, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute, and
author of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators
"A stunning riposte to the eco-alarmists. Beyond debunking
environmentalist scare mongering, Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths is
the clearest explanation in print of the promise that eco-friendly
technology offers to the human race. A must read for anyone who wants to
know how we can build a healthy world environment for our children and
grandchildren." - Denis Dutton, editor of Arts & Letters Daily on the Web
and professor, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
AgBioView Blast from the Past........
'A Group Sows Seeds of Revolt Against Genetically Altered Foods'
- Lucette Langnado, The Wall Street Journal; Oct 13, 1999 (Forwarded by
Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. -- It was, by all appearances, a typical
Top officials from several multinational enterprises jetted in last week
from six continents to a secluded camp in the Adirondack Mountains. For
six days, they strolled along babbling brooks, huddled before roaring
fires and mapped out how to crack the hard-to-penetrate American market.
But these were no CEOs. At the Blue Mountain Center in upstate New York,
the 22 participants from 12 countries descended on this sylvan setting to
plot the first all-out assault on the U.S. biotech-food industry.
Several of the activists, attorneys and scientists on hand helped
orchestrate previous campaigns against food made from genetically modified
crops in continental Europe, the U.K. and elsewhere. Benny Haerlin, for
one, is the international coordinator for Greenpeace in Berlin. He is
credited with directing a campaign in western Europe that left major
companies scared and scrambling to yank baby food, and other genetically
engineered groceries, from store shelves last year.
With public opposition galvanized abroad, the group met to set its sights
on the U.S. High on its agenda: gearing public sentiment against
genetically modified organisms (GMO) and picking corporate targets.
The U.S. food industry has been tense about this. Half the nation's
soybean crop and a third of its corn crop contain transplanted genes.
Those crops, in turn, are used in countless food products: the syrup for
Coke, McDonald's hamburger buns, Heinz ketchup and General Mills' Betty
Crocker cake mixes, to name a few.
While some U.S. food companies have recently begun switching ingredients,
a backlash of the magnitude seen in Europe hasn't materialized here. One
reason: there is little evidence now that genetically modified crops are
While opponents concede that any real risks to people are unknown, they
argue that the biotech industry is treating people as "guinea pigs" by
failing to conduct long-term studies first. Some say it's possible
genetically modified foods could trigger deadly, if rare, allergies. They
also think genetically altered crops raise environmental concerns and cite
the Monarch butterfly, whose larvae have died when exposed to pollen from
genetically altered plants.
In Europe, just the possibility of health or environmental threats -- a
spark fanned by Greenpeace, among other environmental and leftist groups
-- has forced food makers, supermarkets and restaurants to go non-GMO.
Companies such as Novartis AG say that, while fears are so far largely
unfounded, biotech agriculture already has many proven benefits. Among
them are "a major reduction in pesticide use, a major reduction in soil
erosion, a major reduction in water pollution and a major increase in
yield," says Steve Briggs, director of Novartis Discovery Agricultural
Institute in San Diego, a research arm of Novartis. Of the detractors, he
adds, "They distort the truth."
Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co. likewise say they are committed to biotech
foods, but are willing to discuss concerns raised by opponents. Chad
Holliday, chairman and chief executive of DuPont, delivered a speech in
September at the Chief Executives' Club of Boston extolling the virtues of
biotechnology. Citing the potential to solve world health problems and
increase agricultural productivity, he said, "I have great passion and
excitement for biotechnology."
The Blue Mountain retreat was organized by a group of American activists
who felt the moment was ripe for a U.S. campaign. Activists from all over
the globe -- India, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Australia, Europe and the
Philippines -- flew in for the unpublicized meeting.
Pat Mooney, a Canadian who runs the Rural Advancement Foundation
International and is legally blind, brought his 10-year-old stepdaughter,
Kelsey. Mr. Mooney is credited with coining the phrase "terminator" to
describe an experimental gene technology that Monsanto would access
through its pending acquisition of a Mississippi cottonseed company. The
technique creates seeds that are sterile.
At one point, he demonstrated the ability to foment opposition. "Is
'terminator' good or bad?" he asked Kelsey Thursday night, in front of the
"Bad," the child replied, after a pause.
"Is Monsanto good or bad?" Mr. Mooney asked.
"Bad," she replied, without missing a beat. Mr. Mooney smiled.
It's not at all a given that the ferocity of Europe's biotech-food
sentiment will spread here, but resistance may have begun to take root. A
couple of months ago, under pressure from Greenpeace, Novartis's
U.S.-based Gerber division said it would eliminate genetically modified
ingredients from its baby food. H.J. Heinz Co. is taking similar steps.
Last Tuesday, bowing to public pressure, Monsanto announced it wouldn't
market the controversial seed.
Tuesday at Rockefeller Center in New York City, the Blue Mountain
activists have scheduled a press conference to present a global front
against biotech foods. Next step: U.S. activists will reach out to
public-health associations, women's groups and college-student
organizations. Already, they say, the movement is stirring up interest on
university campuses across the country.
An international network -- with regular communications and Internet
strategy sessions -- was formally created at Blue Mountain to link
activists as they take on multinational corporations. When the World Trade
Organization meets in Seattle next month, there will be an antibiotech
"teach-in" to influence trade officials and the public.
And, following the big tobacco company lawsuits, there is discussion of
slapping biotech-food companies with "massive litigation from people
suffering from genetic pollution of crops," says Andrew Kimbrell, a public
interest attorney who runs the International Center for Technology
Assessment, in Washington. His group last year sued the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration in federal district court in Washington to demand that
foods containing genetically altered ingredients be labeled as such.
Fund raising is a priority for the U.S. groups. Chris Desser, the
coordinator of the Funders Working Group on Biotechnology, San Francisco,
says she has reached out to the Ford, Rockefeller and other mainstream
foundations. Funding for last week's retreat came from the HKH Foundation,
which endows the Blue Mountain mansion, and from Britain's JMG Foundation,
which has financed groups opposed to biotech food in the U.K. and France.
Lounging on pillow-strewn sofas and sipping red wine from plastic cups,
the Blue Mountain activists discussed their next corporate targets.
Monsanto has already been "clobbered," declared Mr. Mooney. Marty Teitel,
executive director of the Council for Responsible Genetics, Cambridge,
Mass., said he's discontinuing his column, "MonsantoWatch," which appears
in his group's newsletter. Next up, he says: a column called
"NovartisWatch" or maybe just "CorporateWatch."
In India, said Vandana Shiva, protests are already aimed at U.S. companies
and "the biotech crops they want to dump." She is a physicist and founder
of the anti-GMO Research Institute for Science, Technology and Ecology, in
New Delhi. And she compares the Indian demonstrations, in which fields of
cotton have been set afire, to Mahatma Gandhi's efforts to end British
"The problems of the entire world have been created in the U.S.," she
says, "so we have to bring these issues back home."