Today in AgBioView: February 20, 2003
* France: Ministers Back Gene-crop Advisers
* UN's Annan Urges "Green Revolution" In Africa
* How to Feed the World
* Bio-food Research Increasingly Concentrated
* Presidential Candidate Leading Opponent of Biotech
* Let Them Eat GM
* United States to Drop GM Complaint Against EU?
* ......Not Really!
* Putting The EU In Its Place: Why Filing Case With WTO Is Crucial
* Can GM Traded on the Intl Markets Without Causing Conflict?
* Assessing the Socioeconomic Impact of Biotechnology on The Poor
* Organic Farmers 'Should Be Compensated for GM Harm'
* Gene Flow Might Turn Wimps Into Superweeds
* Poor Farmers Warned Against Internet Transgenic Crop Deals
* Symposium: Transposition, Recombination and Application to Plants
* Plant Biotechnology and Biodiversity
* Seeds of Concern: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants
* iGreens - Freemarket Environmentalists
* GM Food Please!
France: Ministers Back Gene-crop Advisers
- Declan Butler, Nature 421, 775 (2003); February 20, 2003
Paris - French government ministers have sprung to the defence of
scientists who claim to have been harassed and threatened with violence
after they authored a controversial report for the Academy of Sciences on
In a joint statement issued earlier this month, Claudie Haigner», junior
minister for research and technology, and Luc Ferry, minister for youth,
national education and research, condemned the attacks "without reserve".
They said that the methods of intimidation - at which they expressed
"astonishment and sadness" - were unacceptable and were an attempt to
stifle open debate on the issue of transgenic crops.
The report was submitted to the science ministry last December. It called
for "reasoned and careful" introduction of transgenic crops, on a
case-by-case basis, as well as an increase in research into the crops that
is commensurate with their agricultural and industrial importance.
These conclusions drew criticism from opponents of transgenic crops, who
challenged the report's independence. Critics accuse the authors of being
active proponents of transgenic technologies. But the ministerial report
says that such claims are an attempt to discredit the report's
conclusions, and demonstrate "a confession of ignorance or weakness" in
the arguments of those who made the threats.
Writing in French newspaper Le Monde earlier this year, academy president
Etienne-Emile Beaulieu called on the government to defend "the honour of
scientists attacked in their mission of delivering independent and
educated information to society".
Roland Douce, director of the Institute of Structural Biology in Grenoble
and the report's main author, has been a principal target for the threats.
He told Nature that such was the ferocity of the critical reaction that he
would now think twice before giving public advice in the future.
UN's Annan Urges "Green Revolution" In Africa
- David Brough, Reuters, Feb 19, 2003
Rome - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the international
community on Wednesday to help Africa stage an agricultural revolution to
drag the continent out of poverty.
He also said new farming techniques were needed to counter the devastating
impact of HIV/AIDS on farm workers and on food production in Africa. Annan
told a U.N. conference the only way to achieve a goal of halving hunger
and poverty by 2015 was to reach out to rural communities where
three-quarters of the world's poorest people live.
"The target of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty...
will require us to work towards a green revolution in Africa's
agricultural sector, so that Africa may move towards the self-sufficiency
that we have seen achieved elsewhere," Annan said in a keynote speech.
A so-called "green revolution" using innovative farm technologies boosted
food supplies in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, reducing poverty levels.
Annan did not give details of how a green revolution would be achieved and
he did not specifically mention the controversial question of
genetically-modified crops. Some African countries facing food shortages,
including Zambia, are so wary of gene-altered crops that they have refused
such food aid or have insisted that it be milled to prevent planting.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation declined comment on Annan's
remarks. FAO said on Tuesday that biotechnology research is failing to
help the poor and needs to focus on boosting food supplies and quality.
Rodney Cooke, a senior official with the U.N. International Fund for
Agricultural Development (IFAD), told Reuters that a "green revolution" in
Africa could mean increased use of chemical fertilisers and high-yielding
crop varieties that can survive in harsh terrains that are subject to
Cooke, a biochemist with expertise in farming systems and foods, said
biotechnology could help boost food production in Africa in the longer
term, by reducing reliance on costly chemicals that the poorest farmers
cannot afford, as long as the varieties used had received regulatory
approval. "The challenge in Africa is to achieve increased agricultural
productivity in harsh or risk-prone environments," he said, referring to
the need for crop varieties that can cope with less rainfall, poorer soils
and a high level of pest attacks. "That is a very considerable challenge
to plant breeders."
How to Feed the World
- The Christian Science Monitor, Feb 20, 2003 (via Katie Thrasher)
After more than 20 years of weeding his rice paddies by hand, Takao Furuno
of Japan of wondered if organic farming was worth the trouble. Then
something changed his life.
The wild fowl, floating in his fields, inspired him to try an old Japanese
technique of raising ducklings alongside the rice. The results surprised
him. The birds ate the weeds and pests he'd worked so hard to eliminate.
And their droppings nourished the rice, raising yields. Mr. Furuno, author
of "The Power of Duck," has since started rotating crops and has added
fish to flooded fields. His system is spreading to other Asian producers.
Furuno's ways are a prime example, observers say, of what could be the
future of agriculture. But it's only one of several visions. At the other
extreme, in hungry Kenya researcher Florence Wambugu is using
biotechnology to create sweet potatoes that resist pests.
The genetically manipulated sweet potatoes boast twice the yield and
retain more of the nutrition than their conventional cousins. By taking
this route, other observers say, feeding the world will require that fewer
of the earth's forests be hewn for farming.
Ever since the world embarked on its biggest population boom three
centuries ago, international agriculture has accomplished an amazing feat.
It has managed not only to keep up with but to exceed the demographic
increase. The result: A greater share of people eat better than at any
time in history and, although hunger persists, its grip on the world is
Now, agriculture faces one final demographic spurt - a nearly 50 percent
increase in the world's population before it levels off at around 9
billion people in 2050. And doubts are creeping in about whether the
industry has the wherewithal to work its magic one more time.
"We feed ourselves largely on those earlier gains, which we call the Green
Revolution," writes Richard Manning, author of "Food's Frontier: The Next
Green Revolution." "Now we are in need of another such leap, but we lack
the technology to effect it."
"We have to come to terms with our life-styles," adds Fred Kirschenmann,
director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State
University in Ames. "We have to bring our species in balance with the rest
of the species. I'm not very sanguine about that because if you look at
the technologies that we've developed in the past, they always have had
some ecological fallout."
Starting in the 1700s, Europe fed its burgeoning population by expanding
agricultural production, especially in its colonies. That was acceptable
when the world retained many of its forests. Now that land under
cultivation represents nearly a third of the earth's land surface, further
expansion looks environmentally suspect. So does today's conventional
But alternatives have their own problems. Organic agriculture can't
produce enough food to feed today's world. And biotechnology is running
into widespread skepticism.
If it weren't for the environmental questions, such doubts about future
food production might seem laughable. After all, the record of the past 40
years looks stellar. Average cereal yields have more than doubled,
according to a University of Essex study. The world's farmers produce 25
percent more food per person, even though population totals have nearly
doubled. And the price of food has fallen 40 percent (adjusted for
inflation), which has alleviated hunger and caused some observers to
forecast that the world could conquer malnutrition in this century.
The problem with this record lies with its effects outside agriculture.
The fertilizers and pesticides of conventional (or high-input) agriculture
foul drinking water, increase insects' resistance to pesticides, and choke
irrigated soils with salt. Nearly 4 million acres of irrigated land are
lost each year to this salinization, costing some $ 11 billion in reduced
productivity annually, according to a satellite mapping project by the
World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank based in
Washington, D.C. The same report found that more than 40 percent of the
world's agricultural land exhibits moderately degraded soils.
High-input agriculture not only fouls resources, it uses them up,
especially water. Already, irrigation takes 70 percent of the fresh water
the world uses each year. Unless it can be made more sustainable,
irrigation will lead to increasing competition between farmers and urban
Even if conventional farming could solve these environmental dilemmas, it
no longer packs much of a productivity punch. Between 1950 and 1960, US
farmers saw their average grain yields soar 45 percent. By 1990, a
decade's worth of increase boosted yields only 10 percent, writes Mr.
The question for policymakers is where to turn now. If the world
encourages farmers to put more land into production, the loss of forests
and other natural habitat will hurt the environment. At one extreme, to
convert a land mass equal to the US (including Alaska) would rival the
effects of global warming in its impact on the environment, scientists at
the University of California at Santa Barbara warned two years ago.
Organic farming, with its emphasis on natural and renewable inputs, shows
promise in reducing some of agriculture's environmental problems. And it's
growing quickly. Certified organic crop land for corn, soybeans, and other
major crops has more than quadrupled since 1992, according to the US
Department of Agriculture (USDA). And organic poultry and dairy farming
have grown even faster. But even so, organic farming represents a tiny
share of agriculture. In the US, for example, it takes up far less than 1
percent of the nation's farmland. And in Europe, where organic has gained
a stronger foothold, only Sweden boasts double digits (11 percent).
Unfortunately, organic agriculture alone can't feed today's world, mush
less the nearly 3 billion extra people expected by 2050. The limiting
factor: It requires nitrogen-rich manure instead of man-made fertilizer.
At most, according to Vaclav Smil, a Canadian geographer and author of
"Feeding the World: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century," farming
without synthetic fertilizer could feed 2 billion to 3 billion people.
"It's nuts," says Dennis Avery, director of global food issues for the
Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank based in Indianapolis. If the
US, for example, wanted to go totally organic, it would have to increase
its cattle herd ninefold and convert almost the entire US land mass to
pastureland to create enough manure, he calculates. "We'd have room for
cities and roads and manure production, but we wouldn't have the space for
crops or Yellowstone National Park."
That leaves biotechnology, which Mr. Avery favors, but which has run into
political opposition, especially in Europe, Japan, and parts of Africa.
Currently, the US is considering going to the World Trade Organization
over European Union moratoriums on biotech crops. The resolutions of such
disputes could determine if and how quickly the technology spreads. Last
year, biotech crop acreage rose 12 percent worldwide.
Perhaps these debates over farming techniques cloud the larger issue of
mind set. Will agriculture stay industrially focused, or will it move to a
more environmentally sensitive model, where biology rather than chemistry
becomes the first line of action? Such a move wouldn't rule out the use of
biotechnology or more conventional solutions. It would hold them in
Consider the South's long fight against cotton pests. Dr. Lewis and other
government scientists are working on biological means of controlling these
natural enemies. For example, cotton plants send out SOS signals when
attacked by caterpillars, which attract a tiny wasp that feeds on the
caterpillar. By enhancing the signaling and engineering plants to switch
their insect resistance on and off, cotton could protect itself without
letting the insect build up resistance to its defenses, he says.
But the boll weevil is an imported pest. So in the late 1980s,
Southeastern states began using new monitoring technology and
old-fashioned chemicals to zap the weevils. Using a chemical pesticide
proved controversial, Lewis says, but the results are hard to argue with.
Georgia's cotton crop has recovered to levels not seen since 1915. More
important, the weevil's disappearance has allowed farmers to cut back on
other pesticide use.
"It's not products; it's understanding the process," Lewis says. "The
value is not whether it's synthetic but whether it will work and be
Bio-food Research Increasingly Concentrated -- Study
- Reuters News Service, Feb 20, 2003
Washington - The high costs and uncertain pay-off from genetically altered
crops are major factors behind the increasing concentration of research
into a handful of firms, a study of the industry said Thursday.
Four firms account for 57 percent of research and development of
genetically modified (GM) crops, said the report by Bio Economic Research
Associates, a consulting firm. Agrochemical firms headed its list of 180
firms, universities and government agencies active in agricultural
biotechnology. Development of a GM plant variety can take six to 12 years
at a cost ranging from $50 million to $300 million, Bio-ERA said. Even
then, "companies must face risks of market acceptance."
"In any case, research and development activity in this sector is likely
to remain highly concentrated," the report said. Monsanto Co., Du
Pont/Pioneer, Bayer/Aventis and Dow were the four leading firms in
bio-crop research and development, Bio-ERA said in its report,
"Agricultural Biotechnology at the Crossroads."
While the industry was poised to release "a dizzying array of genetic
innovations in the years ahead," it faced consumer skepticism of its
products and suggestions within the food industry to limit the regions
where some GM crops are grown or to create separate systems for handling
the novel crops.
Biotech firms "must first stengthen their capabilities to work effectively
with the many stakeholders whose interests are affected by their
bioengineered products," Bio-ERA said. "We believe this kind of advocacy,
or social marketing, will become a core competency of successful
companies." The report was released in Washington and a conference in
Presidential Candidate Leading Opponent of Biotech
- Consumer Freedom, Feb 18, 2003 http://www.consumerfreedom.com
Biotech's most prominent foe in Congress, Dennis Kucinich (D-Greenpeace),
filed papers today to form a presidential exploratory committee. Before
coming to Congress, Kucinich served briefly as Mayor of Cleveland -- a
tenure even he called "absolute chaos."
Kucinch labeled city cops "bullies, bigots and crybabies," and blasted the
city council as "a bunch of lunatics." The local press described him as
"brutal," "vain," a "yappy little demagog," and "an obnoxious little
Kucinich now calls himself "a dynamic, visionary leader of the Progressive
Caucus of the congressional Democrats who combines a powerful activism
with a [ http://www.house.gov/kucinich/info/aboutdjk.htm ]spiritual sense
of the essential interconnectedness of all living things." Is this a guy
you'd want as commander-in-chief?
In each of the last four years, Kucinich has proposed
that would cripple the U.S. market for genetically enhanced food.
Generally, Kucinich proffers the usual criticism that agricultural
biotechnology's long-term effects are unknown. But in unguarded moments,
Kucinich reveals his true motives.
On the streets of Seattle during the raucous World Trade Organization
protests three years ago, Kucinich threatened to "pass up the issue of
labeling" of genetically enhanced foods and "go right for the ban." The
next year, Kucinich accused geneticists and corporate executives of
"arrogantly assuming godlike powers to bring forth a second genesis" and
"combining genetic material from plants, animals and humans in some weird
commercial potion and then marketing it for all to consume."
It seems possible that Kucinich has been consuming "a weird commercial
potion" of one kind or anther. That's as good an explanation as any for
this Luddite's ravings. But we can safely rule out genetically enhanced
foods, since all Americans, not just Kucinich, have been eating them
safely for years.
United States to Drop GM Complaint Against EU
- Agence France Presse, February 20, 2003
Washington is dropping plans to take the European Union to the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) over its refusal to accept genetically modified (GM)
crops, an official at the US embassy in London signalled Thursday.
The United States has threatened a complaint to the WTO, claiming that
"Luddite" Europeans had broken the organisation's free trade rules with a
1998 decision not to allow in new GM seeds or crops. Only US soya, which
was approved prior to 1998, is allowed to be sold in the EU. The row
threatened to be the latest in a series of fractious transatlantic trade
But the US embassy's minister counsellor for agricultural affairs Peter
Kurz told the BBC that a decision had been taken not to proceed with the
complaint to the WTO.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme, Kurz said the
decision "was made at a high level of government. I suppose the idea was
we don't need further trade irritants. "If there is some way of working
this one out then so much the better. If not, then maybe the decision will
have to be reconsidered."
Kurz said the United States still believed Europe should accept its crops,
and did not believe food products should be labelled so that consumers can
see whether or not they contain GM material. This does not mean we're
still not very concerned about the moratorium on approval of new US GM
crops or that we are not very concerned about the position on labelling
and traceability," he said.
"We believe that foods should not unnecessarily be labelled when there is
no substantial difference between two foods according to the way they are
Kurz rejected suggestions that the dropping of the case was part of US
efforts to build bridges with countries whose support Washington needs in
an looming war against Iraq. I wouldn't dream of speculating about any
connection between this issue and any ... broader urgent issue in the
world today," he said. "I happen to think that this decision is probably
made on the merits of the issue itself."
Important -Note from Prakash: I just checked with a top official at the
U.S. Trade Representative's office in Washington DC and asked whether this
report is correct. He answered 'NO'.
So, it appears that United States may still pursue legal action against EU
at WTO on the issue bioengineered food trade )
Putting The EU In Its Place: Why Filing A GMO Case With The WTO Is Crucial
- Sara J. Fitzgerald, Heritage Foundation Reports, Executive Memorandum,
Jan 31, 2003 (Sent by Andrew Apel)
Since 1998, with minor exceptions, no agricultural biotech products have
been approved by the European Union. This moratorium hinders world trade,
harming consumers, farmers, and the environment. The Bush Administration
should file a dispute with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the
EU moratorium on genetically modified organisms (referred to as GMO, GM,
or biotechnology) to prevent further harm and to halt the spread of
Biotechnology is based on the same science as traditional plant breeding,
which has been used for millennia to genetically develop (or eliminate)
specific traits. Biotechnology is simply a faster and more precise
technique used for the same purpose. Desirable traits could include
increased yield, higher quality produce, reduced water consumption, and
less dependence on fertilizer. Biotech Is Safe. The available evidence
indicates that biotechnology is fundamentally safe. Professor Perry
Adkisson, summarizing the findings of the April 2000 report from U.S.
National Academy of Sciences, has observed that there is "no strict
distinction between the health and environmental risks posed by plants
modified through modern genetic engineering techniques and those modified
by conventional breeding practices."
In August 2002, the European Commission acknowledged that, "For the EU,
there is no reason to believe that GM food is inherently unsafe to human
health."Without a scientific basis, the EU's action or lack thereof is
protectionist. According to Article 2.2 of the WTO's Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Agreement, regulations must be "based on scientific
The EU is hiding behind the "precautionary principle"that does not require
scientific proof in order to ban a product; regulators need only to claim
that the product has not been proven harmless. However, the EU's August
2002 acknowledgement should rule out use of the precautionary principle.
The U.S. Trade Representative's 2002 Foreign Trade Barriers report
concluded that "biotechnology continues to be more of a political than a
scientific issue in Europe and prospects for improvement remain dim.‚
Impact on American Agriculture. According to James Stamps, an economist at
the U.S. International Trade Commission, "The United States is the world's
largest producer of biotechnology crops. More than 88 million acres of
U.S. farmland were planted with biotechnology crops in 2001, accounting
for 68 percent of total 2001 global acreage planted in biotechnology
crops."(Argentina ranks as the second largest producer of biotech crops,
followed by Canada and China.) Because the European Union is the fourth
largest market for U.S. agricultural products, the damage to U.S.
agriculture that could be wrought by the EU moratorium is readily
However, the effects of the EU moratorium extend well beyond U.S.- EU
trade. Because of their international reach, several American companies
that support biotech and use biotech crops in their products have found it
necessary to use only products that have been approved by the EU.
EU-Perpetuated Myths. Additionally, several impoverished African nations
have refused U.S. food aid on the basis that such aid could affect their
exports to the EU. Rumors around Africa about the risks of GMO range from
HIV to deformity. According to The Washington Times, "Zambian President
Levy Mwanawasa has rejected corn from the United States because he
believes it poses health risks to his people."The EU perspective, even
though flawed, has spread to many countries.
Sadly, those countries that could benefit most from biotechnology are
impeded by EU-perpetuated myths. For example, in Africa, up to 80 percent
of some crops are lost to drought. Biotechnology offers the prospect of
crops that are more resilient, require less water, and give higher yields.
Undermining More Efficient Use of Resources. Such advantages also permit
more efficient use of resources, reducing the need for pesticides and
fertilizer and thereby protecting the environment. Yet some biotech
products have been under EU review for over six years. The EU moratorium
has delayed the adoption of new technologies that could assist farmers in
countries throughout the world.
The moratorium is a global issue that affects farmers and consumers
worldwide. EU intransigence is blocking technology that could make farming
cheaper (thus lowering costs for consumers) and more environmentally
Conclusion. The Bush Administration should act immediately on two fronts.
First, the Administration should promptly file a case in the WTO against
the EU moratorium. The EU's stance is not based on science, and it has led
many countries to believe that biotechnology is unsafe.
Second, the Administration should simultaneously launch an international
education campaign on biotechnology -- specifically targeting Europe and
Africa -- to stop the spread of biotech myths and begin to reverse the
damage that has already been done. For the sake of farmers and consumers
around the world, as well as trade liberalization and the environment, the
Bush Administration must challenge the EU moratorium now.
Sara J. Fitzgerald is a Trade Policy Analyst in the Center for
International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation (Washington
Can GM Foods Successfully be Traded on the International Markets Without
- Phillips, P. W., International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
2003 (via http://www.eldis.org/)
The adoption of biotechnology and the introduction of GM foods into the
international marketplace has exacerbated an already difficult area of
trade policy. As biotechnology increases productive capacity in various
products, it also increases the need to trade. But diverging national
regulations are increasingly impeding trade in these products creating
market distortions. A number of national and international efforts are
underway to manage these pressures, but prospects for early resolution are
This brief is number 1 in the volume žBiotechnology and Genetic Resource
Policies (Briefs 1-6)Ó. The briefs present syntheses and synopses of
research conducted by a team from IFPRIŪs Environment and Production
Technology Division and several collaborators. The team focuses on issues
related to intellectual property rights, genetic resource management and
conservation, biodiversity, and biotechnology.
Full doc at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/rag/br1001.pdf
Assessing the Socioeconomic Impact of Biotechnology on The Poor
- Falck-Zepeda, J.; Cohen, J.; Meinzen-Dick, R.; Komen, J.; International
Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) , 2002; Full paper at
http://www.isnar.cgiar.org/publications/briefing/bp54.htm. Comments here
from http://www.eldis.org/ .
This paper, using a sustainable livelihoods framework, analyses various
approaches and discusses case studies regarding the socioeconomic impact
of biotechnology on the poor in developing countries. This is done with a
view to developing a project to quantify and qualify the actual or
potential impact of agricultural biotechnology on the livelihood of rural
farmers in developing countries, to improve the institutional capacity in
developing countries to conduct this kind of research, and to generate
first-hand information from selected study sites.
It first examines the evidence to date and identifies some conceptual
challenges regarding the impact of biotechnology on livelihoods as
* The limited experience in and availability of data for this type of
* Finding the right balance between ex ante and ex post approaches to
* The difficulty of partitioning overall economic impact at the household
or individual level
* The institutional and regulatory context for the delivery and farm-level
adoption of products from biotechnology
Unique charactersitics of biotechnology were identifed to inform the
development of the project as follows:
* Market structure and market power. Biotechnology products are primarily
researched, developed, and marketed by the private sector
* Closely related to market power are the distributional implications
involved in biotechnology
* Environmental and regulatory issues
* Acceptance by consumers
The following objectives for the study were identified:
* Measure the economic gains within a market
* Assess the contribution of the gains to peopleŪs livelihoods
* Analyze household-level impacts using a broader societal framework
Organic Farmers 'Should Be Compensated for GM Harm'
- Paul Brown, The Guardian (UK), Feb 20, 2003 (via checkbiotech.org)
Organic and conventional farmers should have the right to compensation if
their crops are damaged or made unsellable by cross pollination from
neighbouring GM fields, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said
At present farmers who grow genetically modified crops have no liability
if they damage a neighbour's livelihood. Mr Meacher said this could not
continue, and the Government was considering changing the law. The
European Commission was drafting legislation to make farmers and GM seed
companies liable if they damaged biodiversity or human health, but this
did not cover the possibility that GM crops might affect the economic
interests of non-GM farmers, he said.
Speaking at a conference organised by Genewatch UK, which explored whether
commercial GM crops should be introduced into Britain, he said the absence
of a legal right of redress had to be addressed before production began. A
committee was considering what domestic legislation might be needed. "We
need to consider how best to protect the interests of all farmers,
including organic farmers," he said. "Our approach to GM must be
compatible with the Government's ambitions for the expansion of organic
farming: to increase the UK's market share of organic produce sold in the
UK from 30% to 70%. We need to consider the terms upon which GM and non-GM
production might co-exist. This might include establishing separation
distances to limit cross-pollination."
Mr Meacher conceded that the Government's plans for public debate on GM
crops were behind schedule. He accepted that "the public generally lack
trust in the Government, and fear that the debate may be no more than a PR
exercise". He also accepted that the public wanted to explore why GM was
necessary, why it was potentially useful, and why it should be avoided.
Question from Alex Avery:
Question for the legal beagles out there: How the organic farmers can sue
for so-called "genetic contamination," which is essentially based on a
zero-tolerance standard for DNA "contamination" -- a standard that is far,
far below 1% -- when in all other areas and for the entire history of
codified organic standards, there has NEVER been a zero tolerance standard
for any contamination. For pesticides under the USDA and older US organic
certification body standards, the tolerance has been 5% of EPA tolerance
levels (not to be confused with reference doses, which are far smaller
than EPA tolerance levels)? I think in Europe it has historically been 1%,
but maybe 5% (anyone know?)
Therefore, how come for stuff that we have much LOWER detection
capabilities (ie. prohibited, non-organic pesticides), the standard is
1-5%, and now for so-called "genetic contamination" the standard is
essentially zero? Organic is a process, not a content-based standard, so
how can they sue somebody because of trivial content issues, when the
process integrity remains intact?
It seems to me that the defence against this lawsuit would be quite easy:
simply force the organic industry to apply its own historical precedents
of process standard, not content, as long as the content isn't grossly
Does anyone else have a legal opinion here?
- Alex Avery, Hudson Institute, Center for Global Food Issues
>> Please find below a link to the Organic Agricultural Protection Fund
>they are leading
>> the suit against Monsanto and Bayer in Canada.
Lomborg's Legal Defense Fund?
- Gordon Couger"
Where do I send my contribution to Lomborg's legal defense fund? Can he
bring the suit in the USA since it is the Scientific American. That would
normally be a bad move but not that it is owned by Germans in might not be
so bad. Particularly if we can do it quickly.
If the suit could in west Texas it world be nice. There is one county that
only a few hundred population and they make their living from oil and
cattle. That should be as fair a jury as Lomborg got. I am serious about
supporting his legal fight. If he chooses to make one.
Gene Flow Might Turn Wimps Into Superweeds
- Norris Muth, Nature 421, p785 - 786; Feb 0, 2003
Sir - Your News story "Transgenic crop trial's gene flow turns weeds into
wimps" (Nature 421, 462; 2003) highlights the suggestion that gene flow
between transgenic crops and potential weeds can act to lessen the
latter's negative effects on important crop plants.
The researchers, Neal Stewart and colleagues, seem to reach this
conclusion on the basis of short-term results consisting of a decreased
negative effect of initial hybrid weeds on wheat yield when compared to
the effects of non-hybrid weeds. Stewart et al. apparently attribute this
to the reduction of fitness of other-wise well-adapted weeds through the
inheritance of genes with high genetic load (that is, deleterious
mutations) from the transgenic crop plant.
But the observation that initial hybrids are less aggressive and
apparently unable to benefit immediately from such inheritance is not of
much importance to agriculturalists. What is important is the evolutionary
potential for transgenic crop genes to be shifted and shuffled around in a
way that may eventually result in a novel modified gene complex.
Just as Clark Kent was able to change into Superman - as your News story
put it - such a novel complex, initially born an inferior weakling, may
very well have a chance of becoming a 'superweed'.
- Norris Muth, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ of TN,
Knoxville, TN 37996-1610, USA
Poor Farmers Warned Against Internet Transgenic Crop Deals
- Rex Dalton, Nature 421, p 776; Feb 2003
From a farmhouse in Northern Ireland, a married couple is using the
Internet to tempt farmers in developing nations into planting crops that
are genetically engineered to produce commercially useful molecules.
Environmentalists and scientists have expressed concern at the couple's
attempts to get poor farmers from Asia to Africa to agree to make
thousands of hectares available to biotechnology companies.
Critics of the plan say that it could cause an ecological disaster if
local plants or crops became contaminated with transgenic strains, as
developing countries often have no governmental resources for monitoring
the spread of transgenes. They fear that farmers could be held responsible
in the event of any such outbreak.
Brian and Diane Marshall, who live on an 80-hectare farm in
Newtowncunningham near Londonderry, have used suggestions of huge monetary
returns to encourage farmers from around the world to sign up to their
year-old website, http://www.molecularfarming.com. They hope to broker
contracts between the farmers and biotech firms seeking new regions to
grow biopharmaceutical crops such as genetically engineered maize and
tobacco. They are also seeking land in developed nations, but
environmentalists are less concerned about countries that already have
strict regulations for monitoring transgenic organisms.
The couple, who are also seeking to collaborate with universities, insist
that they have no financial arrangement with any major pharmaceutical or
The Edmonds Institute, an environmental organization based near Seattle,
Washington, issued an alert about the enterprise last week. "I'm concerned
about the ecosystems where these crops may be introduced," says Beth
Burrows, the institute's director. She fears that "small farmers in
out-of-the-way places" will be held responsible if something goes wrong.
Brian Marshall retorts that the crops will not be grown for food and that
potential biopharmaceutical crops will be selected to minimize the
possibility of ecological damage.
But some academic scientists who are engaged in research on pharmaceutical
crops are steering clear of Marshall's enterprise, fearing that the
initiative could damage their research and development efforts.
"We wouldn't do anything with him," says Charles Arntzen, a plant
geneticist at Arizona State University in Tempe with whom Marshall had
attempted to forge a collaboration. Arntzen's research involves
genetically engineering plants to produce human vaccines. "This is
dangerous stuff to poor people in poor countries. And it would be
political death for getting research money in the future," Arntzen says.
Marshall also sought out the biotech company ProdiGene, based in College
Station, Texas, as a potential collaborator. ProdiGene was fined
US$250,000 by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) last December after
its biopharmaceutical maize in Nebraska and Iowa contaminated other field
crops. Anthony Laos, ProdiGene's chief executive, says that the company is
not currently collaborating with Marshall, but adds: "That's not to say we
wouldn't in the future."
Environmentalists in developing nations are shocked by the Marshalls'
plan. Devinder Sharma, a plant geneticist and chair of the Forum for
Biotechnology and Food Security in New Delhi, India, calls it "part of the
global design to translocate dirty industry to the Third World". "We
cannot allow this," Sharma continues. "Let us not put the poor farmer in
another trap that will land him in serious trouble."
Brian Marshall has no formal scientific training; Diane Marshall is a
business professor at the North West Institute of Further and Higher
Education in Londonderry. They launched their venture after changes to
European regulations reduced their income from their sheep and cattle
"We are full-time farmers fed up with being squeezed out of traditional
farming income," Brian says. But Norman Ellstrand, a plant geneticist at
the University of California, Riverside, sees the Marshalls' plan as "a
frightening possibility" for the developing world's farmers.
Symposium on Transposition, Recombination and Application to Plants
- Ames, Iowa; June 5-8, 2003; 5th Annual Plant Sciences Institute
The meeting will combine the biology of plant transposons and the
potential applications of transposons and other recombination mechanisms;
including advanced transposon tagging systems, and potential uses of
transposon-mediated recombination reactions for modifying plant genomes.
Both DNA- and RNA-elements will be dealt with at the meeting, although
more time will be devoted to DNA elements. The symposium will cover the
following areas: Transposon biology: interactions between native elements
and their hosts; How transposons have shaped plant genomes; Regulation of
transposition; Transposition mechanisms; Transposon tagging; and
Applications of transposon-mediated recombination for plant genome
More information at http://www.bb.iastate.edu/~gfst/phomepg.html or write
to or call 515-294-7978.
Plant Biotechnology and Biodiversity
- Kumar, U. and Sharma, A.K.: pp 374; BP-185019, 2001, $48.50
Books & Periodicals Agency; U.S. Fax : +1-801-881 6189 ; Email:
Seeds of Concern: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants
- D A Murray, CABI Publishing, January 2003; 158 Pages, ISBN: 0 85199 725
2 ; $35.00
This book makes a significant contribution to the debate about the
applications and implications of gene technology from the perspective of a
plant biologist. It is written in an accessible way and therefore will be
appropriate for non-specialists and the more general reader, as well as
students and others in plant breeding and biotechnology. The author is a
well-known Australian botanist, who has written or edited several previous
books on both academic and popular topics in plant science. In this book
he addresses questions such as:
* How are genetically modified plants produced * Which breeding goals are
worthwhile? * Can the escape of transferred genes be controlled? * Who is
monitoring the unexpected effects of gene transfer? * Will GM plants ever
be acceptable to organic growers?
http://www.cabi-publishing.org/Bookshop E-mail: email@example.com
iGreens - Freemarket Environmentalists (iGreens list)
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GM Food Please!
I've recently started coming across "GM free zone" or "No GM products
here" and similar silly signs in food stores, restaurants, and even
hospital cafeterias. This mildly annoys me, since I'm perfectly happy to
eat food produced from genetically modified crops.
I've started writing to such establishments to let them know that not
everyone has a mindless objection to every capitalist invention and the
response has occasionally been gratifying. Many small businessmen are fed
up with pandering to their rich "environmentalist" customers whims. It's
one thing to source your chickens from a free-range farm, but trying to
ensure your ketchup is made from GM free soya is a meaningless ritual.
Often they are quite cheered to hear from someone with a more sensible
view. Readers who agree, please do the same and feel free to use this
text. Let iGreens know what sort of response you get.
- Jim Thornton, 28 May 2001
"Dear ---- , I notice that you do not stock genetically modified (GM)
food in your restaurant/shop, presumably because you believe that some
customers object to it. Maybe they do, but many other people who care
about the environment prefer GM food.
GM crops require less chemical pesticides and produce higher yields.
Reduced pesticides are good for wildlife, and using less land means more
can be returned to a wild state. Cheaper food helps feed the many hungry
people in the world. GM food is subject to stringent safety checks and no
adverse effects on humans or the wider environment have ever been
Of course you are entitled to niche market yourself to your rich customers
in any way you wish. I just wanted you to know that many sensible people
think this particular concern is misplaced.
Best wishes, ---- "