Today in AgBioView: February 24, 2003
* A WTO Case Against The EU Is Counter-productive
* Allergy to Prawns, Nuts may be Engineered Out
* Grasp the Nettle
* House Ag Chief Goodlatte Presses EU to Drop Moratorium
* Grow GE Crops, Says Organic Farmer
* Ripe For Discussion - A Minister Turns On GM Food
* My Debate with Percy Schmeiser
* Veneman Says Regulation Key to Public Confidence
* More on Liability of Organic 'Contamination': Kershen and Redick
* Bridging the Technology Divide:Meeting at ICRISAT
* Preuss Addresses UN on Modified Foods for the Developing World
* How Safe is Our Food?
* Benbrook's Comments to the Zambian Delegates
* ..... Alex Avery's Response
A WTO Case Against The EU Is Counter-productive
- Richard Braun , AgBioView, Feb 24, 2003;
Any number of surveys show that a substantial majority of Europeans are
sceptical about GM food, although they accept GM drugs, vaccines and
diagnostics. I have been involved in this debate in Switzerland and other
European countries for many years, both through academic and industrial
My message has always been the same: when sensibly tested and applied, GM
crops offer large benefits over conventional crops. So where does the
Europeans' scepticism come from?
1. Lack of obvious consumer benefit. All commercially produced GM foods at
the present time offer benefits only to the farmer (even the environmental
2. Platform for environmentalists and Greens. These groupings need issues
and have found one in the anti-biotech-movement. They have been able to
attract supporters through scare tactics. The Social democrats have in
many countries joined in the fight against GMOs so as not to loose voters
to the Greens.
3. GM is seen as unnatural. Most people don't understand the basics of
molecular biology and don't see that traditional breeding, done for
thousands of years, is also based on breaking and joining DNA molecules.
Naturalness, including organic farming, has become a quasi religion with
intense emotional values. There is far more organic farming in Northern
Europe than in North America.
4. Farm land is seen as a bit of Nature. In Europe there is little land
that could be farmed and is not, whilst there are huge tracts of virtually
untouched land in North America. So in Europe birds, butterflies and wild
roses on and around farm land are seen as a bit of Nature which people
5. There have been major food scares in Europe. With BSE in cattle, dioxin
in cooking oil etc. the public has not the same level of trust in food
safety agencies as in North America.
6. GM crops are seen to increase the power of multinationals. GM crops and
seeds are perceived as a way multinational corporations use to increase
their control over small scale farms. Monsanto and others are considered
7. GM crops may disadvantage less developed countries. Anti-biotech groups
have been successful in bringing across the message that natural resources
are stolen from poor countries by the rich ones and that seed companies
are selling their products there with exorbitant profits.
Anti-Americanism is likely to be a factor in the equation too, but a minor
one. Many people are familiar with the fact that several multinational
companies in the agribusiness are based in Europe (Syngenta, Aventis
etc.). While farmers in Europe enjoy some appreciation as 'landscape
gardeners', the subsidies they receive are heavily criticized in wide
circles ? outside the farming community of course.
A WTO case against the EU on account of the discrimination of GM food
products is pointless, in fact counter-productive, I believe.
We should jointly convince a majority of Europeans of the environmental,
medical and other benefits of GM crops. We need to produce more solid data
on this, communicate them well and above all, develop more products with
obvious consumer benefits.
Given time, the anti-biotech lobby will lose its credibility.
Allergy to Prawns, Nuts may be Engineered Out
- Maryke Steffens, ABC Science Online (Australia) , Feb 24, 2003
'Allergies to shellfish may be a thing of the past, if genetic engineers
get their way'
Allergic reactions to shellfish and peanuts may be countered by
genetically-engineering the allergens out, scientists have said. Progress
is being made in reducing the power of known allergens in foods such as
prawns and peanuts, scientists told reporters at the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver last week.
Little is known about what makes a particular food protein allergenic,
although usually such proteins are resistant to heat and digestion by
enzymes in the digestive tract. Any food is made up of thousands of
different proteins, but only a few will cause an allergic reaction. This
is known as the food's allergenicity.
Dr Sam Lehrer of Tulane University in New Orleans, USA, presented details
of new techniques being developed to reduce allergic reactions to food. It
began as an effort to understand the potential risks of allergens in
genetically modified (GM) foods.
Allergenicity to GM foods has been identified as a potential health
concern, as new foods may contain novel proteins that cause reactions in
some people. Given the increasing number of GM foods on the market, the
need to study the properties of food molecules responsible for
allergenicity is essential, Lehrer said. Several groups are developing
systems for predicting allergenicity by creating animal models of food
allergy. Although most animals do not have food allergy quite like humans,
by measuring the presence of antibodies known as IgE in animals, the
models can predict potential allergenicity to proteins that humans have
not previously encountered.
The knowledge gained from this research is also being applied to efforts
to reduce the allergenicity of known irritants via genetic engineering,
said Lehrer. Techniques include post-transcriptional silencing, in which
the levels of protein transcribed in a particular food is reduced;
splicing disulfide bonds, which alters the structure of allergens; and
altering the amino acid sequence in the particular protein.
The most important factor in this method is to identify the sites where
the allergenic protein binds to IgE antibodies in the body and causes an
allergic reaction in the first place. Lehrer's lab has been investigating
the allergic properties of prawn (or shrimp) and has successfully altered
the IgE binding sites on the allergenic protein by altering the amino acid
sequence. This alteration reduces the IgE-binding ability of the protein,
but not its function. The protein targeted - tropomysin - is a muscle
protein, and accounts for 80 to 85% of the allergenicity encountered by
humans from eating prawns.
Lehrer admitted he didn't know what the allergen-free prawn might taste
like, but he hoped that it would be "just as delicious as the real thing".
Although allergen-free prawns and peanuts are probably still years away,
Lehrer said he hoped that the research would provide insights into
allergenicity and help reduce potential allergic reactions to known and
novel allergens in the future.
Grasp the Nettle
- John O'Farrell, The Guardian (UK), Feb 22, 2003
This is the year that the government is supposed to make a decision on
whether to allow commercial growing of genetically modified crops. The
farm trials began three years ago and they had hoped that they'd get away
without having to decide one way or the other because there wouldn't be
any farms left by now. The immediate problem is remembering exactly which
fields the farmers planted the GM crops in. "Was it that one?" "Er, might
have been, or it could have been that one, I dunno, us farmers have had a
lot on our minds, you know."
This month's conference on GM crops did not cause quite the stir that had
been hoped. One appalled environmentalist spoke from the platform about
the terrible threat to one of our best known native species. "Unless
action is taken soon," she implored, "we will see the deliberate
extinction of the stinging nettle!" There was an awkward silence as
delegates contemplated such a scenario. "Imagine the stinging nettle
completely disappearing from our gardens and footpaths!"
"Erm, yeah, well I think I could probably live with that," said someone at
the back. "Me too," echoed a couple in the row in front and a murmur went
round the hall as delegates imagined their kids falling into a bed of the
GM-modified "tickling nettle".
The geneticists promise us that GM plants offer a brave new world in which
you could park your car underneath a sycamore tree without the windscreen
getting all sticky. One day it will be possible to eat a three-bean salad
and then lay a carpet with confidence. All sorts of adjustments can be
made to everyday plants: there'll be a mould that is the same colour as
the non-slip bath mat; an end to the trauma of that one unopenable
pistachio nut; and a new minty-fresh garlic redesigned so the skin doesn't
get all stuck in the garlic crusher. One inspired scientist has even
managed to put a cannabis gene into a cocoa plant so that you can get
stoned and cure the munchies at the same time.
But many opponents of GM food are wary of the Hitlerian concept of genetic
super-species, even if this time round we are talking about broccoli. Can
the Americans really be trusted to meddle in the incredibly complex
genetic make-up of plants without adding tomato ketchup to everything? The
balance of the natural world is very fragile, with many animals and plants
depending on one another for their propagation and survival. For example,
the lily has evolved so that its pollen can only be dispersed by people
with clean white shirts brushing against them at drinks parties.
History has shown that every change we make to the ecosystem will have a
knock-on effect that we did not foresee. For instance, we are rapidly
losing the natural habitat of that special moss that only grows on the
bumpers of Triumph Heralds.
Mankind has of course been interfering in nature since prehistoric farmers
first learned to apply for subsidies. Without selective breeding and the
development of new species, the world would be a very different place.
There'd only be one sort of lettuce and husbands would no longer come back
from the supermarket in fear that they'd got the wrong one. David Blunkett
would have a guide wolf for the blind. It would sit patiently at his feet
during Home Office questions, while the opposition took great care to
agree with every single point the minister made.
But interfering directly with the genetic make-up of crops is very
different indeed because of the scientific process involved. What the
geneticists do is - well, it's hard to explain exactly, but um, there's
this DNA stuff and then, er, chromosomes and well, I think they take out
all the genes and then they mix up the GM with the DNA or something. Well
anyway, I don't like the sound of it.
One thing that we can all understand is that increased food production
won't automatically feed the starving millions. The promise that GM crops
will bring an end to malnutrition is a bogus one. We already have enough
food to feed everyone in the world; increasing food production with GM
crops might boost profits and surpluses, but it won't make any difference
to the way that food and, more importantly, power is distributed.
Meanwhile, we are being hurriedly led down a rather treacherous path
through a field of GM triffids and this time I'm not sure I trust the
bloke with the Ordnance Survey map who claims he knows where he's going.
Two things are certain with GM crops: first, there are bound to be
disastrous ecological side-effects that no one ever foresaw and, second,
they'll never modify Brussels sprouts enough for kids to try one on
And in the meantime, the food companies will keep assuring us that eating
GM vegetables has no dangerous side-effects. Yeah, right, so how come the
Jolly Green Giant ended up looking like that, then?
Goodlatte Presses EU to Drop Moratorium On Importation of Genetically
- News from the (US) House Agriculture Committee,
http://agriculture.house.gov (Sent by Julia Moore)
'House Agriculture Chairman Presses EU To Drop GMO Moratorium In Meeting
With Lamy. Meets in Brussels with EU Trade Commissioner'
Washington, D.C: - In a meeting this week with European Union (EU) Trade
Commissioner Pascal Lamy, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob
Goodlatte pressed the EU to drop their moratorium on the importation of
genetically enhanced foods. He cautioned though, that the moratorium
should not be replaced with new regulations on traceability and labeling,
which Goodlatte says are unworkable, costly and do not improve food
safety. Goodlatte and Lamy met at the European Parliament in Brussels,
The European Union has had a moratorium on agricultural biotechnology for
over four years. This moratorium may have influenced some developing
countries, many in southern Africa which is presently in the throws of a
severe famine, to reject much needed U.S. food aid because the shipments
contained corn produced with biotechnology. These corn products are the
same products that Americans have been using for years.
"The politicizing of agricultural biotechnology must end, so that we can
return to providing food aid to the hungry as soon as possible," Goodlatte
said. "The EU's policy is not based on sound science, and it is harmful
not only to American agriculture but to those people throughout the world
who are in the grip of starvation." Goodlatte joined the Speaker of the
House along with several other members of Congress last month in writing a
letter to President Bush in support of the U.S. government taking a case
against the EU to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to protest the
restrictions against importation of products produced through
biotechnology. Goodlatte also met recently with EU Agriculture
Commissioner, Franz Fischler, and raised similar concerns.
"Agricultual biotechnology can raise crop productivity, increase
resistance to pests and disease, develop tolerance to adverse weather
conditions, improve the nutritional value and taste of some foods, and
enhance the durability of products during harvesting or shipping,"
Goodlatte said. "We must continue this dialogue with the European Union so
that this potential can be realized throughout the world. America's
farmers and ranchers produce the safest most bountiful food supply on the
globe. They seek only to share this bounty with those who need it most,
while at the same time having fair access to all markets. I am committed
to continuing to work towards making that goal a reality."
Goodlatte was in Brussels as part of a Congressional delegation in Europe
over the President's Day recess.
Grow GE crops, Says Organic Farmer
- Seth Robson, Christchurch Press (NZ), Feb 24, 2003 (via agbios.com and
Organic farmers should consider growing genetically engineered (GE) crops,
says a Rangiora farmer marketing his land as a possible site for
commercial GE. Sheep and beef farmer Richard Allison, who does not use
agricultural chemicals or drenches, recently listed his 201ha property on
an international database of farms available to grow GE crops.
The database is part of the website, http://molecularfarming.com , which
allows farmers to market their properties to the world's leading
biotechnology companies. Companies that might be interested in leasing
sites listed in the database include Prodigene, Large Scale Biology,
Agracetus, IDEC Pharmaceuticals, Planet Biotechnology, CropTech, Epicyte,
and Greentec, the website claims.
Mr Allison, who has his own website, agtrade. co.nz, said New Zealand
farmers used far too many chemicals on their land and that GE could be a
way to reduce this. "It costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of work
to drench stock and the end buyer is eating chemicals," he said.
Mr Allison and his family ate a leg of lamb grown on his property for
dinner last night. "I am much happier feeding my family that. When I go
to the supermarket, God knows what I am buying."
Mr Allison said life was not easy for organic farmers. "If they were open
minded and wanted the best for their industry, they shouldn't close their
minds to people trying to do things to reduce toxins and chemicals being
added to what we eat."
Irish farmer Brian Marshall, who started molecularfarming. com, said he
expected molecular farming, for medical and industrial use, to take off in
New Zealand once the GE moratorium expires in October. Mr Marshall, who
also farms without the aid of chemicals, said organic farmers could become
some of the most skilful molecular farmers.
"If you are growing a medical protein, you don't want it contaminated by
weed killers, insecticides, and fertilisers that are not natural." Biogro
New Zealand chief executive Seager Mason said the organic farmers
certified by his organisation were open-minded about GE, but they were not
interested in the GE crops developed so far. "What we are saying no to
are the current crops that are there, which are just ones that you spray
more chemicals on," he said.
Molecularfarming. com has a link to the Life Sciences Network, which
lobbies on behalf of New Zealand's biotechnology industry. Crop and Food
Research Lincoln spokesman Howard Bezar, who did not know of the Rangiora
property, said the database was a good way for farmers to get in touch
with biotechnology companies. Mr Bezar said Crop and Food recently met
Central Plains Water, which has proposed a massive irrigation scheme west
of Christchurch, to discuss the benefits that could arise from molecular
farming in Canterbury.
Molecular farming would bring in at least 20 per cent more income than
conventional produce grown on irrigated land. In some cases the profits
for farmers could double. Mr Bezar said not all molecular farming
involved GE. Sometimes it involved special management of a crop to harvest
a valuable chemical. New Zealand crop farmers should be looking at ways
to take advantage of new molecular farming markets and new technology.
"There are premiums out there, particularly if we can get uniquely Kiwi
technology that we own and control," Mr Bezar said.
Ripe For Discussion - A Minister Turns On GM Food
- The Economist (UK), February 22, 2003
'Labour's environment minister has broken ranks on GM food'
Mutant species behaving in uncontrollable ways, wrecking a delicate
balance. That is how the green lobby sees genetically modified (GM) crops.
But roughly the same description applies to the situation developing
inside the government, where the environment minister, Michael Meacher,
has torn up the official line on the issue. In a new interview in the
Ecologist, a green magazine, he casts strong doubt on the safety of GM
foods, and describes GM as "not necessary".
That contrasts sharply with the government's cautious "wait-and-see"
position, and in particular Tony Blair's broadly pro-science stance. Last
year the prime minister said there was "no serious evidence of health
risks" in GM food.
It is not the first bit of unauthorised greenery by the idiosyncratic Mr
Meacher, who enjoys a precarious governmental position as a semi-tolerated
environmental dissident. In August, Mr Blair's office even left him out of
the official delegation to a big jamboree on green development in
Johannesburg. It backed down only when environmental groups said they
would pay his air fare there themselves. Mr Meacher described himself then
as a "lone voice in the wilderness" for the green cause in Whitehall.
But the new wobble comes as the government is deciding whether to lift the
current moratorium on GM food in Britain and allow its commercialisation.
Since the furore over "Frankenstein" foods erupted in 1998, the
authorities have commissioned several large studies to assess the
scientific and economic evidence, as well as popular opinion, for or
against a change in policy.
One big question is biodiversity; the effect of GM crops on butterflies,
weeds and bugs. Three years ago, the government authorised more than 180
field trials across the country to compare the effects of one particular
type of genetic modification - herbicide-resistance - in sugar beet, maize
and oilseed rape. After £5m-worth of experiments, the results are due for
publication by the Royal Society in July. A separate science review,
drawing on international evidence about broader questions such as the
impact on the environment and food safety, will deliver a final report in
the early autumn.
A third investigation is an economic assessment of the costs and benefits
to domestic farmers, food processors, retailers and consumers, as well as
to developing countries, of Britain's adopting or rejecting GM; the
Cabinet Office, which is responsible for this work, is scheduled to
release its findings in June.
One useful bit of evidence that this could include is a paper published
this week by Mike May, of Broom's Barn Research Station in Suffolk, about
gene technology in the sugar beet industry. Herbicide-resistant GM sugar
beet could, he says, save British farmers £23m a year, mostly through
reduced use of agrochemicals. That would, on paper at any rate, both boost
profits and help the environment.
What effect such evidence may have on the population's scepticism is
another question. The government has also launched the pompously named GM
Public Debate, charged with stimulating discussion beyond the narrow
circle of activists and experts. This is scheduled to launch a series of
local and national meetings in May, culminating in a report in September.
Many of the questions which arise from these public sessions will be fed
back to the other inquiries for answers.
The debate is in fact a low-budget affair, and it will have its work cut
out to raise much interest. Studies by Corr Willbourn, a market research
firm, show that GM lags behind more pressing public concerns such as war
with Iraq or football. For all the acres of newsprint devoted to GM at the
height of the frenzy, Corr Willbourn found that most of the people
surveyed confessed both to knowing very little about the issue, and also
to doubting that the government would take much notice of outsiders'
But those dealing with the issue say that public attitudes have matured
somewhat from the initial polemics, and that the pile of new evidence will
get a fair hearing in the coming months. John Pidgeon, director of Broom's
Barn Research Station, speaks of an "outbreak of common sense". That would
be worth cultivating - not least inside the greener nooks of the
My Debate with Percy Schmeiser
- Ben Chapman
Hello folks, I was on Vermont Public Radio with Percy last week on a
call-in show for an hour, if your interested you can listen to it at:
The debate was pretty lively, Percy focused on the perceived impossibility
of coexistence and got very emotional at times (yelled at me a few times)
Percy had some classic statements such as:
-Keith Downey is not credible as he is paid by Monsanto, all the samples
for the trial came through Monsanto and Monsanto even pays for his
-The university of Guelph and the federal government supports biotech over
conventional and organic, puts 99% of all research money into promoting
Biotech and 1% into safety and environmental testing
-The Canola Council of Canada is not credible, farmers have lost faith in
their studies/statements as all of their funding comes from Monsanto
-A neighbour admitted to Percy that he had spilled a bunch of rr canola
seeds said and that he estimated contamination of 2000 acres
- He got into the safety end a bit saying that there has been no science
done on the risks involved in consumption of GE and 2 peer-reviewed papers
saying that they were dangerous
He didn't threaten to sue me this time though, which was good. I countered
with some references and focused on stating that it is a tool that can be
useful for some farmers and is not a magic bullet, and that I am an
independent researcher (a caller said that I was representing industry)
A bit of an ambush on the callers as well, there weren't too many
questions, a lot of statements and they all started with "I agree with
what Mr. Schmeiser is saying..."
I may be able to get a transcript if anyone is interested.
Veneman Says Regulation Key to Public Confidence
- from www.agbiotechnet.com, February 21, 2003
US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says effective regulation is critical
to the success of biotechnology and to the trust consumers have in the
technology. "As scientists push back the frontiers of biotechnology,
government regulators are greeted with enormous challenges," she told the
79th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. "Failure to regulate effectively
could undermine consumer confidence, cost farmers valuable markets -- both
domestic and export -- and delay the enormous public and private benefits
that can be reaped from applying biotechnology to food and nonfood uses."
Veneman announced that she has formed an interagency team and directed the
group to thoroughly review current regulations pertaining to all aspects
of biotechnology, particularly those that may be required for new
pharmaceutical and industrial crops.
A top priority of the group is to strengthen coordination with FDA and EPA
to ensure there are no gaps in the regulatory infrastructure. Veneman also
said later this year she is convening an international science and
technology conference to bring agriculture, environment and science
ministers together from around the world to discuss and showcase
agriculture-related technologies. The conference will be held June 22-25
in Sacramento, Calif.
Veneman sees biotech as a core technology for the future: "We are already
seeing the benefits of crop biotechnology, and researchers are making
incredible inroads into new uses for biotech crops and animals," she told
Veneman also commented on the issue of the moratorium on GM crop approvals
in Europe, and her work with the US Trade Representative. "As far as the
European Union is concerned, we continue to work very closely with USTR to
address the issues of biotechnology and their refusal to begin again the
approval process. We have been going through this for over four years now
as a government, I mean, we've been here two years. We've worked very hard
on it in the time we've been here. And we frankly feel that our patience
is growing very thin on this issue. So I have had many discussions with
Ambassador Zoellick. We are both of the position that we need to take very
strong action, and we are working in the interagency process to determine
what action that will be and what the timing will be."
More Responses to Alex Avery: 'Contamination' of Organics with GM
>>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
From Prof. Drew Kershen:
I have written a law review article entitled "Legal Liability Issues in
Agricultural Biotechnology," available at
http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org in WordPerfect and PDF formats.
Although this article was published in November 2002, the article
addresses many of the liability issues that Mr. Brown raises in the
Guardian newspaper article. I believe that I give a thorough and fair
discussion of the issues relating to tort liability in agricultural
biotechnology. This article will also soon be in print in the British law
journal ENVIRONMENTAL LIABILITY (Dec. 2002). I expect publication of the
Dec. 2002 issue within the next few weeks.
I have also written an article on legal liabiity with an additional focus
on intellectual property liability issues for the Crop Science Society of
America journal -- CROP SCIENCE. I do not expect this journal article to
be published until sometime this summer. However, I am willing to send a
manuscript copy to anyone who requests a copy.
I have also written a book chapter on legal liability relating to tort
liability that includes discussion of the legal liability risks for
failing to use agricultural biotechnology. This chapter is in a book that
Henry Miller and Greg Conko are editing with publication later this year.
Finally, in 2000, I wrote an article entitled "The Risks of Going Non-GMO"
53 OKLAHOMA L. REV. 631-652 (2000). This print article can also be found
at http://www.talksoy.com/pdfs/TheRisksOfGoingNon-GMO.pdf which is the
part of the website of the National Soy Board. I delivered a talk based on
the printed article ot the National Soy Board and NSB requested permission
to post the full article. This article discusses the legal liability risks
that food companies and food processors are taking if these companies
refuse to use transgenic crops.
For a contrast on liability issues, listserv readers may want to read M.
Lee & R. Burrell, Liability for Escape of GM Seeds: Pursuing the 'Victim'?
65 MODERN L. REV. 517-537 (July 2002). I have a different viewpoint from
that articulated by Professors Lee and Burrell but the legal analysis of
the likelihood of liabilitiy under common law tort is quite similar.
Professors Lee and Burrell want to find a way to impose legal liability; I
argue that addtional legal liability is not a wise policy.
From Attorney Thomas Redick
Alex Avery suggested that when organic growers plant a "zero tolerance"
bed, they should sleep in that bed, and maintain their own identity
preservation systems that ensure GMO free or something similar. Since the
federal organic rule in the US is a process-based standard that should
allow some incidental pollen drift to occur without voiding the organic
Unfortunately for organic growers, the genetic testing activists have set
their own "zero tolerance" standard in their media campaign to expose
alleged fraud of nonGMO or organic purveyors of food products (e.g.
grocers in the U.K. for starters). To impose liability on biotech crops
via statute, as British politicians are suggesting the law should do,
would be both punitive toward biotech crops and unnecessary, given the
common law of nuisance and trespass.
In the US, at least, the common law of nuisance is working as intended,
giving local control over land use, not an arbitrary statutory dictate
imposed from on high. Local judges presented with the facts will decide
whether the organic farmers are entitled to the protection that nuisance
law provides against unreasonable neighboring uses. As a result, it is not
necessarily true that organic farmers would have no liability remedy in
any circumstance whatsoever. In the first case in the United States to
consider whether a neighboring grower could sue for nuisance (unreasonable
use) or trespass (actual entry causing harm -- from pollen drift), the
judge in "In re Starlink" denied a motion to dismiss nuisance and trespass
claims in July, 2002.
In re Starlink Corn Products Liability Litigation, 212 F. Supp. 2d 828
(July 11, 2002)This is a precedent that can be applied, and legal analysts
should careful not to prejudge whether any future set of facts would
permit an organic grower to recover for the unreasonable use of biotech
crops. This is an exceptionally complex and localized legal issue that is
not subject to generalities. In fact, I presume there are at least a few
organic corn growers who are in the class of grower plaintiffs collecting
on the $110 Million Starlink settlement that is pending before the
If so, those organic growers are collecting on a nuisance claim because
of the "zero tolerance" standard that the US regulatory agencies set for
the recall of Starlink corn. ¨?This standard was not self-imposed by
contract, so it differs significantly from the standards prevailing in
nonGMO/organic commerce. As a result, organic buyers might find it
difficult to persuade a court that the pollen drift from a biotech crop
other than Starlink is a "nuisance" or "trespass".
The question is whether a organic grower can cite the Starlink precedent
would require me to invent an elaborate legal hypothetical and locate
jurisdiction-specific case law. Nuisance law is a morass that defies
generalization. I can only state that there could be claims that could be
made, which might be able to get past a motion to dismiss (as the
non-Starlink growers did in the Starlink case), and present defense
counsel with the prospect of a costly trial.
The Starlink case sets the precedent that plaintiffs lawyers will try to
hurdle with various claims arising from organic, non-GMO or export-bound
crops. My bet is with the export-bound crops claiming nuisance, because
they involve huge economic losses, and the biotech companies have been
placed on notice of the need for segregation of unapproved-in-EU biotech
crops by growers associations.
- Tom Redick; email@example.com;
Redick, Thomas P. & Christina G. Bernstein, Nuisance Law and the
Prevention of ?"Genetic Pollution:?" Declining a Dinner Date with
Damocles, 30 Envtl. L. Rep. 10,328 (2000)
More from Prof. Kershen :
Since August 2002, I have written almost one hundred mansucript pages on
this topic, although not all that research has yet been published. I also
wrote an article in 2000 that addresses legal liabiity for failure to use
I agree with Tom that nuisance provides a common law remedy, though I
argue that organic growers will generally lose under a nuisance standard
(and other tort liability theories). I argue that StarLink is unique
because it was not approved for food use and, hence, liability for
StarLink says nothing about legal liability for fully-approved in the U.S.
transgenic crops. I also discuss the issue that Tom has thoroughly
discussed in several articles which is: what about legal liability for
fully-approved in the U.S. transgenic crops, but not approved in export
markets (i.e. Europe primarily)? I have a different angle (perspective) on
this than Tom, but Tom and I are in basic agreement about the legal
analysis and the legal implications.
The only reason Meacher wants a special liability statute for transgenic
crops -- i.e. zero tolerance with absolute liability for any and all real
and imagined damages -- is because he knows that no product can withstand
that level of imposed legal liability. That is not legal liability -- that
is a prohibition in the guise of legal liability.
Bridging the Technology Divide: Agri-science Alliances and the New
Architecture of Innovation
- An International Colloquium for the CGIAR and its partners; March 17-20,
2003 at ICRISAT, India
Innovations and impacts from research in the life sciences, and from
biotechnology in particular, are increasingly dependent on new types of
relationships, teams and alliances within the research community as well
as between science, business and society. In Europe and the USA, for
example, the boundaries between public and private sectors are becoming
increasingly blurred as both private companies and national governments
recognize the economic importance of knowledge creation and the need for
greater collaboration in its production and use.
This new architecture of innovation has emerged in the developed world for
a number of interrelated reasons: advances in the biosciences are having
substantial economic and social impacts; genomics projects require
collaborative efforts in order to meet both intellectual and financial
resource needs; increasing investment and profit in biosciences has led to
a strengthening of intellectual property regimes; national governments are
increasingly interested in commercialization as a means of diffusing
technologies; the changing role of the state and the increasing importance
of the market; the growing understanding of the importance and role of new
knowledge and innovation in economic development; increasing focus on
innovation policy and the associated need to encourage greater
connectivity between scientific, entrepreneurial and civil society
organizations in national innovation systems.
These same opportunities and challenges are increasingly relevant to
developing countries, especially as they participate in international fora
and agreements. There is little doubt that biotechnology has the potential
to make a significant contribution to poverty reduction. Yet, while new
technologies hold promise to reach and benefit the poor, it takes far more
than technology interventions to have a sustained impact on poverty.
Fostering agricultural biotechnology in this context requires clear
definition of the roles and opportunities for both the international
community and national institutions. New trends in innovation are
potentially as unsettling as they may be productive,so the community must
give careful consideration to the ways in which it approaches this task.
Transfer of technology and an appreciation of their own "home-grown"
innovations, are very important concepts for developing countries to
incorporate into their operating modes to maximize benefit for society.
The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) can
play an important role through fostering synergies, by being a dynamic
partner, working through open and critical self-analysis while securing
collective agreement amongst its partners.
For the CGIAR questions of effective partnerships dominate our discussions
with regard to relationships with NGOs, the private sector and advanced
research institutes. How can public research institutes around the world
ensure access to propriety technologies and processes? How will the
community maximize the public goods nature of innovations jointly owned
with the private sector? How can we negotiate new partnerships that ensure
all stakeholders, especially the poorest of the poor, stand to gain? How
is consensus on research priorities reached among stakeholders? And, how
does the community engage in national and international policy debates
targeting biotechnology for pro-poor development?
These questions are part of the wider issue concerning how to integrate
the CGIAR?s work and agenda with that of others working across the science
to development continuum. All of these questions point to the strategic
value that knowledge will play in enabling innovation in these new,
dynamic and complex relationships.
Preuss Addresses United Nations on Modified Foods for the Developing World
- ASPB News, Jan/Feb 2003; Vol. 30, No.1, www.aspb.org
On November 6, ASPB Committee on Public Affairs member Daphne Preuss of
the University of Chicago presented a talk to the United Nations on
genetically modified foods for developing countries.
Her talk was part of a seminar series hosted by UN Secretary-General Kofi
Annan and organized by Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of
Sciences. Jennifer Thomson of South Africa was the other scientist
speaking at this Secretary-General's Lecture Series program. Following is
Daphne's presentation to the United Nations:
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the broad introduction of a new
type of agricultural technology-the development of food varieties often
described as "genetically modified." Today I will describe the science
behind this technology, the potential benefits and risks, and the
challenges for policymakers who wish to ensure developing countries have
access to the technology.
My research at the University of Chicago focuses on understanding
inheritance in plants. We work on pollination and on DNA transmission, all
in a rapidly growing weed that is useful for genetic studies. Some of our
discoveries were licensed last year to a small biotechnology company that
currently has nine employees; I serve as an adviser to this company.
The recently released World Health Organization report shows that,
worldwide, malnutrition is the leading cause of death. Currently, over
170 million children are underweight (27 percent of those under age 5),
and in developing countries, 3 million children die each year from
malnutrition. Other food-related disorders also topped the list; the
prevalence of obesity as a leading cause of death accentuates the
disparities in food distribution that we face today. Worldwide, food
production must increase by as much as 25 percent over the next decade to
keep pace with population growth; in developing countries, larger
increases will be required to avoid added reliance on imports.
Over the past decades, vast tracts of uncultivated land have been
converted into production; even so, less than 11 percent of the world's
surface is well suited to agriculture. As the population increases, there
will not be enough land available to meet food requirements; finding ways
to enable plants to grow on compromised soils is the most effective means
available for meeting these growing demands.
All organisms have tremendous genetic diversity within their populations;
humans learned long ago to use selective breeding to capture this
diversity and to enhance desirable traits. We're all familiar with the
extraordinary changes that took place in the domestication of animals;
perhaps less familiar is the similar selection process that led to the
domestication of all of our major crops. Just 10,000 years ago, the plant
known as maize looked very different; called "teosinte," it produced only
a very few seeds, each encased in a tough shell and scattered onto the
soil. Changes in only five genes, discovered by people living in Central
and South America, led to the development of maize as we now know it.
Similar changes occurred in all our major food crops. Selective breeding
identified a mixture of three grass genomes, leading to wheat; breeding
also reduced the toxicity of natural potatoes. These changes were slow
initially, but with the advent of modern genetics 100 years ago, their
pace accelerated. Considered merely an extension of "conventional"
breeding, crops were altered by making random mutations, creating hybrids,
culturing tissues, and fusing embryos. In the past decade, a new
technology-molecular biology-has been applied, sparking concerns where few
had been previously raised.
One concern is that conventional methods primarily combine genes from
plants, typically of the same species, whereas recombinant DNA methods can
employ a gene derived from any organism. While this may sound particularly
unnatural, the results of the genome sequencing projects have shown us
that all organisms have many genes in common-in fact, approximately half
of the genes in a plant genome are also found in the human genome. It is
not at all clear if there is an added risk associated with introducing a
gene from a non-plant species-after all, many plants we eat were once
toxic and half of all natural chemicals are carcinogens; consequently,
genes derived from a plant are not always harmless.
Even with the capability to move genes between species, many of the
changes made by genetic engineering are much more subtle, as was
demonstrated in the discovery of genes that allow plants to grow on salty
soil. Salt contamination eliminates large quantities of land from
production, yet traditional breeding has made little progress in
increasing the tolerance of plants to salt. Increasing the levels of a
naturally occurring salt "pump" within plant cells allows them to grow in
lethal salt concentrations. In other cases of genetic engineering, it is
desirable to decrease the levels of a natural gene, removing a product
that is ordinarily in the plant. Such changes would appear to pose little
concern from a safety standpoint.
It is also useful to enable a plant to perform a chemical step that may
have been eliminated by the centuries of selective breeding. For example,
some plants can convert vegetable oil to castor oil by the modification of
a particular carbon, yet many of our crops have lost this ability. Moving
the relevant gene into a target plant makes it possible to perform a
precise chemical reaction. Using plants as chemical factories is a very
promising application, potentially increasing supplies with minimal
creation of toxic pollutants. There are many other applications of GM
technologies; these examples illustrate the enormous potential of this
technology for the production of a wide range of beneficial products.
As with any technology, there are inherent risks to developing GM food.
Genes that are helpful or harmful could be added, and tests need to be in
place to determine the consequences. We must ask if the gene harms humans,
animals, or insects and if the gene is harmful to the environment. While
fairly simple methods can be used to quantify most of these risks, the
question of allergenicity is more difficult, given the relatively low
probability of allergic responses in a population. In all cases, these
risks are not novel; they are often higher when foods are developed using
techniques that fall under the scope of conventional breeding. Such
breeding techniques randomly scramble two genomes, mixing at least 25,000
genes. In many cases, one or both of the genomes has been treated to
generate mutations, and in subsequent generations, the desirable change is
followed, while the presence of other changes is not tracked. The
hybridization of two species, a process considered "natural" by many, is
fraught with even more uncertainty. In contrast, the addition of a gene
with GM technology is less dramatic. More importantly, it is possible to
have defined knowledge of the alteration that was made. Consequently,
because it is possible to perform defined tests, GM foods are likely to be
even safer than conventional varieties.
When faced with a new development, how do we best consider the risks? One
method is to compare the new technology with current practices. For
example, here in the United States, the introduction of the biological
pesticide "Bt" into cotton significantly reduced chemical pesticide
spraying. These chemicals are harmful to animals and humans, while the
biological pesticide is far more specific. Similar comparisons should be
made when new GM foods are introduced-we need to take into account the
current practices and their associated risks.
As GM food technology has developed, it has come under fire from several
quarters. The concerns raised have prompted the development of new
products that alleviate many of those concerns. The enormous flexibility
of GM technology and the fairly rapid time to move new developments to the
marketplace make this technology ideal for responding to demands and
concerns expressed by consumers. As this technology goes forward, it is
important to balance the concerns of many parties and to develop the
technology in a manner that supports a sustainable environment. Attention
to regulatory burdens and intellectual property laws is needed in order to
ensure that developing countries have ready access to food. At the same
time, it is important for industrialized countries to develop incentives
that ensure advances that will increase food availability.
You can see and hear Daphne's presentation by downloading it at
http://www.un.org/webcast, which is also linked from the ASPB home page at
How Safe is Our Food?
- Ruth Rosen ,The San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 2003
You Probably Know someone who buys only local, organically grown produce.
She also prepares food with meticulous care -- washing her hands,
scrubbing fruits and vegetables, cooking at the proper temperature, and
never, ever, letting a dirty cutting board contaminate food. In other
words, she's come to believe that food safety is her responsibility.
But what about our government? Haven't we been told that the United States
has the safest food supply in the world? Don't be so sure. Read Marion
Nestle's new book, "Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism"
(University of California, 2003) and those last 10 pounds may just melt
Nestle, professor and chairwoman of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York
University, is the author of "Food Politics," (University of California,
2002) which exposed how the food industry, by influencing government
officials, scientists and nutrition professionals, affects what and how
much Americans eat.
Now she explores why our food supply is far less safe than it ought to be.
But isn't it in the interest of the food industry to avoid bad publicity
and expensive recalls? Of course. But food companies, like other
corporations, often seek short-term profits and put the interest of
stockholders before public health.
The food industry also uses its financial power to fight proposed
governmental regulations. Companies resist restrictions on antibiotics in
animal feed; they also refuse labels that would identify which foods
contain genetically modified ingredients.
Governmental oversight, moreover, is shared by too many federal and state
agencies. As a result, many food products fall between the cracks of weak
regulations and infrequent inspections. To ensure safer food, Nestle
wants the federal government to create a single food agency that is
responsible for the safety -- and security -- of our entire food supply.
"Food safety is a matter of politics," Nestle says. "We've got producers,
processors, distributors and preparers all blaming each other for food
safety problems. We need a single food agency in Washington -- independent
and accountable -- to make sure that food is produced safely, from farm to
Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, she notes, already have such a
centralized system and have reduced food-borne illnesses by testing at
every stage of production. Our government, by contrast, takes a "wait and
see" attitude. We plant genetically modified corn and then deal with
unexpected consequences. We conduct haphazard inspections, wait for
complaints of contaminated meat or poultry, and then issue public alerts
to return toxic food to the supermarket. Nestle wants our government to
adopt a "look before you leap" policy, which means testing foods --
including genetically modified agricultural products -- before they are
released for public consumption.
Her discussion of genetically modified (GM) foods is worth the price of
the book. Though not opposed to genetically modified foods, she calls for
full disclosure so that consumers can make informed choices. She also
doubts that producing genetically modified foods is the best way to
address world hunger. She understands why we find "simple approaches to
such problems -- like genetically engineering vitamins into rice --
preferable to the messy business of political action to address world
poverty." But it's wiser, she suggests, to address the economic inequities
that produce such hunger in the first place.
So what can we consumers do? Nestle urges us to use our political power to
demand that public health concerns, rather than the food industry's
financial clout, determine governmental policy. She closes her book with
this thoughtful reminder: "Food safety -- and food security -- are
indicators of the integrity of our democratic institutions. They are worth
our political commitment."
Comments to the Zambian Delegates
- Dr. Charles Benbrook, Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center,
Sept. 13, 2002
Dear Distinguished Delegates from Zambia:
I am looking forward very much to a chance to visit with you via the phone
on Friday afternoon. I apologize for not being able to get to Washington,
D.C. to meet in person. I would have liked to do that very much, but it is
a long way from North Idaho to the East Coast.
I am hopeful that your fact finding mission will convince you of a few key
points, which should inform and guide your actions in the future as you
deal with your country's unfolding food security challenges. First, there
is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public
and private donors. To a large extent, this "crisis" has been manufactured
(might I say, "engineered") by those looking for a new source of traction
in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology.
To use the needs of Zambians to score "political points" on behalf of
biotechnology strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless. Second, if
and when GMO corn is planted in Zambia, some degree of gene flow will
occur to native varieties. There is universal agreement on this point now
in the global scientific community. The more GMO corn planted, the more
diverse its geographic spread, the faster and more complete the movement
of transgenes will be into Zambian land races, i.e., your native corn
varieties. Biotech advocates will argue that this is a good thing -- that
Zambia is getting the benefit of "advanced" traits without having to pay
for them. You should reject this silly notion.
The movement of biotech traits into your varieties will almost certainly
not be of practical benefit, since levels of expression and the
consistency of expression will be inadequate to provide farmers with a
meaningful level of insect control. Indeed, it is more likely that gene
flow will create some unexpected, and under certain circumstances
damaging, physiological growth problems, or perhaps impairment of natural
plant defense mechanisms.
Third, the flow of genes into Zambian corn varieties will almost certainly
be detectable. Once it becomes known that GMO corn is growing in Zambia,
European and Japanese buyers will insist upon a system to certify that
Zambian corn was not produced from GMO seeds. Putting such a system in
place, while possible, will prove costly, and indeed even the United
States has not been able to do so, except for the organic market sector.
Fourth, when the companies advanced Bt corn through the regulatory process
in the U.S. and Europe in the early 1990s, it was known and understood
that 98% plus of the corn would be processed or fed to animals. If
regulatory authorities had felt that a sizable portion of the populations
of people consuming this corn would eat it directly (largely unprocessed)
and that moreover, the corn might make up as much as half or two-thirds of
daily caloric intake, they would NEVER have approved it based on the human
safety data presented at the time.
Anyone who claims that U.S. and European regulatory reviews "prove" safety
in the context of food aid to Africa is either ignorant of the factual
basis of U.S. and European regulatory reviews, or is willing to make some
rather major assumptions. In the final analysis, Bt corn might prove to be
just as safe to humans when eaten directly and making up a large percent
of the diet, but today, no one can point to a solid set of scientific
studies that support this conclusion. Put simply, these questions have not
arisen before and have not been the subject of any research, to the best
of my knowledge. Perhaps other experts or the U.S. State Department will
be able to provide you with such studies.
Fifth, people in Africa who are suffering acute or chronic malnutrition
may react to consumption of Bt corn, especially when minimally cooked and
processed and present as a major share of their diet, in different ways
than the average American or European has reacted to it, given how it has
been incorporated in the food supply in North America and Europe. It is
known that Bt corn may have adverse impacts on the stomach lining and that
some potential food safety/allergenicity impacts are a function of gut
bacteria and the overall health status of the GI tract. It is unlikely
that any company or institution has carried out any research to determine
whether these differences could translate into risks in Africa among the
very hungry, risks that are both qualitatively and quantitatively distinct
from those that might be expected in North America and Europe.
And sixth, the agronomic benefits of today's Bt corn varieties in the
United States have been marginal, given that the target pest, the European
corn borer (ECB) is an episodic pest in most corn growing regions and does
not do much damage in most years. My research has shown that the premium
price paid by farmers since 1996 for Bt corn seed varieties has been a
poor investment averaged out across the whole nation. Where ECB levels
have been high and consistent, Bt corn has clearly paid for itself. But on
about two-thirds of planted acres each year, it clearly reduces per acre
profits. The information and technology exists in the U.S. to target Bt
corn to high-risk acres, but this approach is not compatible with
biotechnology and seed company marketing and financial plans/objectives,
and for this reason, this approach is the "road not taken."
As Zambia looks to the tools of biotechnology to improve the productivity
of your farming sector, it will be important for Zambians to define the
needs and the ways that this technology can be used in order for Zambia to
be, and remain the beneficiary of progress made.
I am sure your hosts in Washington will provide you copies of various
reports that substantiate the above points. You will also find much
information on our website, Ag BioTech InfoNet,
Thank you for the chance to share these views.
- Dr. Charles Benbrook
From Alex Avery:
Comments on Benbrook's letter to Zambian Delegation from the Center for
Global Food Issues:
In the past, we at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues
have had many disagreements with Dr. Benbrook. While these disagreements
may have been strongly felt on both sides, a professional decorum has
always been maintained on both sides. However, the letter that Dr.
Benbrook apparently sent last Fall to the Zambian delegation on so-called
"GMO" foods moves beyond professional disagreement into morally
reprehensible misrepresentation. It is shockingly tragic and leaves Dr.
Benbrook with the blood of starvation victims on his hands.
Dr. Benbrook claims that the humanitarian "crisis" in Southern Africa has
been "engineered by those looking for a new source of traction in the
evolving debate over [ag biotech]", and, further, that there "is no
shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public and
private donors." Yet in the same letter, Benbrook acknowledges that the
"system to certify that [corn] was not produced from GMO seeds" is
"costly, and indeed even the United States has not been able to do so."
Thus, I ask Dr. Benbrook: Where is the abundance of non-GMO corn that
could be offered to Zambians? Dr. Benbrook is well aware that a
long-standing US law requires food aid to be given in the form of US-held
commodity stocks. Even in the U.S. -- by far the largest single food aid
donor in the world, with ~60% of food aid donated thus far in this
humanitarian crisis -- there simply isn't near enough "organic" corn
available to meet Zambia's needs. Dr. Benbrook offers a false hope to the
Zambians, one that he knows cannot be fulfilled to his standards.
Dr. Benbrook asserts, without any evidence whatsoever, that "movement of
transgenes" into "Zambian land races" is likely to "create some
unexpected, and under certain circumstances damaging, physiological growth
problems, or perhaps impairment of natural plant defense mechanisms." Dr.
Benbrook's blatant fearmongering -- to call it "informed speculation"
would be charitable -- is clearly designed to scare the Zambian
delegation. Such fearmongering in a time of hunger crisis is morally
Finally, Dr. Benbrook asserts -- again without any supporting
documentation -- that regulatory authorities "would NEVER have approved"
biotech corn if the authorities "felt that a sizeable portion of the
populations of people consuming [it] would eat it directly. . . [or if]
the corn might make up as much as half or two-thirds of daily caloric
There is no evidence whatsoever that responsible regulators would have
rejected any biotech crop based on the type of speculation engaged in by
Dr. Benbrook. In fact, US regulators are responsible for ensuring the
safety of all consumers -- including those in the US whose diet IS
comprised of a high proportion of corn. There are many populations in the
United States whose diets are comprised of a high proportion of
minimally-processed corn, especially African American, Hispanic and Native
American populations in the South and Southwest. Dr. Benbrook has zero
evidence of any risks posed by biotech corn or other approved biotech
crops. Again, this is blatant fearmongering on the part of Dr. Benbrook.
When all are more or less well fed, society can "afford" some level of
unsubstantiated speculation of the type now part-and-parcel to the
anti-biotech activists community, of which Dr. Benbrook is a leader. In
times of real human misery and need, such as that occuring in Zambia and
Southern Africa, this sort of unsubstantiated speculation is not only fear
mongering, it is death mongering.
Dr. Benbrook owes the starving citizens of Zambia a profound apology. The
citizens that recently liberated 230 tons of US corn from locked
warehouses owe Dr. Benbrook their contempt. For those that have already
died, humanity owes them a vow to keep political agendas out of crisis
policy and responses.
- Alex Avery, The Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues