Today in AgBioView: March 4, 2003
* GM Crops Way of the Future: Australian Ag Minister
* Labeling of GM Food - EU Stance: Response from Dr. Kristensen
* Response from Readers: Miller, McGregor and Couger
* EU Ban on GM Foods To Stay At Least to October
* Germany to Loosen Rules on Genetically-Modified Products
* EU Heading for Fierce Debate on Genetic Contamination in Agriculture
* Innovations in Biotech - Public Perceptions and Cultural Attitudes
* Managing Agricultural Risks in Biopharming: The Role of Injunctions
* The Issue of Biotechnology: Ghana to Assess the Benefits and Risks
* Feeding Africa
* Organic Foods Higher In Cancer-fighting Chemicals
* Transgenic Organisms--Time for Conceptual Diversification?
GM Crops Way of the Future: Australian Ag Minister
- Shane Wright, The Age (Australia), March 4, 2003;
Genetically-modified crops were the future of farming in Australia and
would be accepted by the public, Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said.
In his most vocal public defence of GM crops, Mr Truss said Australia
would be left behind by other countries if it failed to adopt
genetically-modified crops and products.
It follows the decision by the NSW government this week to back a
three-year moratorium on GM crops, in line with bans proposed by both
South Australia and Tasmania. Mr Truss said while the states had the
constitutional right to ban GM crops, if all did so it would effectivity
ban the technology from the nation. This would have long-term impacts that
could price Australian farmers out of many world markets.
"I think we should not deny ourselves to the best available technology
Australian farmers are going to need to ensure that we're not left behind,
otherwise we'll cease to be competitive," he told reporters. "I think that
will have implications for our country, there's no doubt at all that
farmers in other parts of the world are choosing to grow GM crops because
it is to their economic advantage. "They have higher yields, they have
lower costs and they are therefore attracted to producing GM crops."
Likening the fear of GM crops to the concerns held three decades ago about
plant hybridisation, Mr Truss said the public would come to appreciate the
benefits of transgenic food. "Twenty or 30 years ago people thought when
hybridisation came along that it would turn us all in to 12 foot giants or
something or other, and might have all sort of adverse implications," he
"No one talks about it (now) or has any concerns at all about
hybridisation. "I think in time the same will happen with GM crops. "I
think that in time the public will be accepting and it will be the face of
agriculture in the future."
Mr Truss said farmers were already growing crops and raising livestock
that had been heavily genetically-modified over the years. "All of our
livestock that we use commercially in this country is essentially bred
from stock that looked very, very little like what we're using today, and
that's true of the plants sector," he said.
Labeling of GM Food - EU Stance
- Additional Response from Dr. Anders Buch Kristensen
1. Comments to Greg ConKo
Since a residue of an enzyme is not adventitious, it has to be authorised
and labelled even if the content is below 0.5 percent. Greg ConKo argues
that the reason for labelling foods produced from GMOs is "is the
possibility of unanticipated negative effects", and have the opinion, that
as "such would also be the case with foods produced from bioengineered
enzymes", such food should also be labelled.
This opinion is reflected in a declaration from the Council and the
Commission attached to the common position, which states that a regulation
for GM micro organisms not present in the final food or feed will be
considered. Such GM micro organisms were not included in the two
regulations because it is less urgent and the matter is still under
consideration is Codex Alimentarius. As far as I know GM yeast for beer
and wine or "rennet" produced in contained use of GM micro organisms are
not used commercially in EU.
2. Comments to Henry Miller
I have noted that a man from USA disagrees with the government and
parliaments of 14 EU member states, their scientific food safety agencies,
the EU Commission and the EU Parliament in what should be the regulation
for GMOs in the EU.
3. Comments to John Cross
I have no difficulties to grasp (however I have very little respects for
such kind of arguments) that the decisions of the EU Commission, Council
and Parliament is politics. For the substance of your questions, see my
answers to Greg Conko. One further reason for not finding beer, wine or
cheese labelled as GM is because the new regulation is not entered into
Anders Buch Kristensen PhD., Minister Counsellor, (Denmark Representation
Comments on Earlier Response From Anders Buch Kristensen
- Bob MacGregor
So which is it? Is chymosin-processed cheese in the EU not labelled
because it is exempt, because chymosin is undetectable in the final
product, or because it (chymosin residue) constitutes too low a percentage
of the final product to pass the labelling threshold? The same applies to
GMO-yeast in alcoholic beverages. We seem to be getting conflicting
stories here; does anybody have an authoritative answer?
From: James Miller
Regarding the recent debate over the proposed importation restrictions
(labelling) of US GM product into the EU, it is worthwhile considering
that one of the reasons that the EU may be cautious about GM might be
because of the EU constituent's moral and ethical concerns about gene
technology in planta.
If this is the case then whether or not GM food is safe to eat (and there
is no evidence to suggest that it isn't) is beside the point. The question
is whether people have the right to choose what they eat and if this is
based on moral and ethical grounds then debate about the EU's request for
labelling should also be considered on these grounds.
On EU Labeling and French Reluctance of GM
- Gordon Couger (A farmer from Oklahoma)
Let them label any thing they like. Import those to the US and let it all
be distributed in the stores and then test them for GM content. And when
we find them, we can sue their ass off. Between the proud trading of US
litigation and the increasing shortage of actual GM-free food, it should
drive the cost of their food through the roof. With all the crap they are
getting in their feed we should be able to find something in almost any of
their cargo if we look hard enough.
Do as we did in the Ag Engineering shop when a professor got to be too
much trouble. Build the device exactly to the drawing he sent you. I have
yet to see one that could be assembled if it was much had more than two
parts. Give the exactly what they want. Not the compromise they expect.
Then let them stew in it.
If , then hey don't want GM food let them find food where they can.
Uncertain markets and uncertain supplies will cause them no end of food
problems. Use their own trick on their food imported in out country that
they use on theirs. Turn down ship loads of meat for dioxin contamination,
salmonella, E. coli and such. If you look hard enough you can find them in
any load. Just make sure it takes long enough the cargo goes bad.
At the rate the Germans and French are going there will not need to be any
official action against their products. I talked to a friend that sell
insulation made in the USA by a French company and he is very worried that
home builders will refuse to buy his products at any price if this goes
on. A friend of mine was working a world wide amateur radio contest and
the French station were calling CQ for hours without receiving a response
while those all around them were making contacts fast and furious.
We have not forgotten that the French are a thorn in our side at every
turn and the are a substantial number of Americans will not buy French
products for some time. If it get bad enough it will spill over to Crystal
auto company because of their ties with Mercedes Benz. So far they are
being treated like bad bows that have wet their pants in class but that
can change quickly. The finical crash in Turkey when the parents narrowly
turned down allowing or troops in their country cause their stock market
to drop 30% in one day and interstat rates skyrocket.
In 1966 when Charles Degaulle wanted the US to remove all our troops form
French soils president Lyndon Johnson asked what about the 60,000 buried
there did he want us to take them as well? Not another word was said.
Let them go their ways and do their thing. I will even contribute money to
making the EU and UK 100% organic. In good conscious I can't do that in
the third world where my biggest competition as a cotton grower comes
from. Those people need all the help they can get.
But the further behind the EU & UK get in modern farming parties the more
money I make in the mean time the more I improve my soil and the more we
get for selling to them the techno for when they realize he error in their
The longer that they follow the fools errand of organic farming the longer
it will take to bring the land back to modern production if they haven
lost all their soil. Wasting your own time an money is one thing but
exporting you lunacy to the third world and promoting it as a viable
method of agriculture is just a step above lying to he government of
Africa about the safety of GM foods and threading them with not accepting
imports from them if they took GM aid.
The first time some one decides that the ends justify the means, honesty,
ethics, truth and the basic respect for life follows shortly. Those who
advised the Zimbabwe should be stripped down to a pair of pants and dumped
in a refuge camp in Zimbabwe and left to find their own way out.
Let them have their marking an irascibility and then try to buy the stuff.
Price will prevail. The greens make lots of noise but they don't spend
lots of money. We could seriously hurt their markets by having an
independent label check for E. coli, Salmonella, clamptobacteria and
mycotoxions on all classes of foods. The backlash might not be good for
any of us but it should be better for us than them.
There comes a time in the game of live that you quit cutting 5's in the
domino game an start turning them and take the risk. The greens are not
the only risk averse players in the game. We act like male offspring of
female mice raised on 100% soybeans as well
EU Ban on GM Foods To Stay At Least to October
- Reuters, March 4, 2003
Brussels - The European Union's unofficial ban on most genetically
modified (GM) foods will remain at least until October, EU officials said
A new regulatory committee, which will decide whether GM organisms can be
used in the EU, would not meet until October at the earliest, EU
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom told environment ministers in
Brussels, according to her spokeswoman. At a closed meeting, a majority of
EU environment ministers reiterated they opposed allowing GM organisms
onto their markets until another layer of regulations was in place,
As this "traceability and labelling" legislation, aimed at ensuring GM
products can be withdrawn if environmental or health problems arise, is
unlikely to be ready before October, EU markets will remain closed until
then at the earliest. "No one has talked about a 'moratorium'," Italian
Environment Minister Altero Matteoli told reporters. But he said Italy and
the other GM-sceptic EU countries would not allow new GMs to be used in
the bloc "until the regulations are there".
The United States, which treats GM crops much the same as traditional
crops, is furious with the EU for refusing to allow any new GM products
since 1998 when a sufficient number of EU states said they would block
them pending tougher regulations. Washington has said the de facto ban
breaks World Trade Organisation rules, but it has so far held back from
challenging the EU at the Geneva-based trade body.
The main new set of regulations, on testing GM organisms for safety, came
into force late last year, but the GM-sceptics said the product-labelling
rules were also essential. EU countries which support the ban, including
France, Germany and current EU president Greece, say they are responding
to concerns of European consumers whose trust in food safety took a heavy
knock during the 1990s' mad cow disease scare.
On Wednesday, the EU Commission will publish guidelines on keeping GM
crops separate from conventional or organic ones. Environmental groups are
pushing for mandatory rules on this, which could delay the lifting of the
EU ban even further.
Germany to Loosen Rules on Genetically-Modified Products
- DW-World.DE, March 04, 2003
In a major policy shift, the German government says it plans to open its
markets to genetically-modified products and will support the lifting of
the Europe-wide ban on GM food imports.
German Consumer Protection and Agricultural Minister, Renate Kunast,
announced on Sunday in Berlin that the government would implement a new
law this year on gene technology that would pave the way for the import of
genetically-modified (GM) products into the German market.
The minister said that the government would give the go-ahead for the new
regulations in the cabinet in May, so that agricultural products such as
maize and seeds that have been genetically engineered could once again be
imported into Germany after a freeze lasting several years.
With the decision, the government has given in to long-standing demands of
industry and business to open up the markets for green biotechnology.
According to BIOCOM AG, a publishing company specialising in the life
sciences sector, there are some 600 biotech companies in Germany, heavily
involved in biotechnological research.
EU regulations still fuzzy. Kunast made it clear that the new German law
would only be implemented once EU regulations on the import and labeling
of GM foods came into effect. Kunast indicated that the German government
would then support the lifting of the EU-wide ban on the import of GM
plants that has been in place since June 1999 -- a move that the European
Commission has been urging member states for months to take.
Before that can happen, the European Parliament first has to approve of
tough GMO (genetically modified organisms) labeling laws in food and
animal feed passed by EU agricultural ministers last November. But the new
EU legislation has still not cleared up the confusion about how exactly
foods that include genetically modified organisms should be handled.
The regulations would force the labeling of foods that are derived from GM
crops but do not contain any measurable GM protein or DNA. This would
include glucose syrup produced from GM maize or soybean and rape oil from
The proposed laws would allow some food that contains detectable GM
ingredients to go unlabelled. Any food with less than 0.9 percent of
detectable GM components would not require a GM label. Another new feature
of the proposed law is that animal feed produced from GM crops would also
require labeling. So too will animal feed containing GM-derived
ingredients such as flavorings or vitamin additives.
The new regulations also lay down that production and processing of the
products must be transparent and documented comprehensively. Minister
Kunast also wants tough German regulations in place for a worst-case
scenario such as genetically modified seeds spreading uncontrollably.
"Thanks to labeling, the consumers can in future choose between buying GM
food or not," she said.
"No obvious advantages": Critic
But not everybody is happy with Kunast's decision. Mr. Wolfschmidt of
Foodwatch, a watchdog organization in Germany that stresses food safety to
protect consumers, told DW-WORLD he sees no reason for the German
government to make such an announcement now. "From the point of view of
the consumer, it brings absolutely no kind of advantage for anyone at
present," he said.
Kunast said that even today GM products were used in certain production
processes, without the knowledge of the consumers. "That would come to an
end in the future," she said. Wolfschmidt says that the minister's
statement gives a wrong signal. "She's legitimizing what we don't know for
sure to be true," he said. He said that there are such a variety of
components involved in products such as biscuits and other baked products
that it was difficult to prove whether some contained traces of GM food.
Wolfschmidt also said that the new law would only flood the German market
with surplus products that weren't really needed. "The biotechnology lobby
only wants to pursue its interests and hopes that the consumers will
eventually give up their resistance to GM products," he said.
Economic argument beginning to weigh with the Germans. Indeed ordinary
Germans, with their famed eco-consciousness, worries about the ethical
implications of genetically engineered organisms, and strict regulations
governing genetic research, have been among the most resistant to new
However that may be changing as Germany's politicians are waking up to the
enormous economic potential of biotechnology. In 1997, German politicians
backed the biotechnology patent law approved by the European Parliament.
On Sunday, Kunast too emphasized that genetically modified products had
become a "world-wide reality". She said that globally genetically
engineered plants were being planted on some 60 million hectares of land,
with the U.S. alone accounting for more than half of that amount.
"In the face of such facts, we are not going to have a yes-no debate," she
added. The German government, she said, was for freedom of choice and for
coexistence between conventional, ecological and genetically modified
plants. The European Commission has repeated in the past that the EU
member states are in danger of losing out in the international
biotechnology race with their resistance to GM products. Besides, the
U.S., countries such as China, India and Argentina are seen as edging past
several European countries to pick up a bigger slice of a globally growing
Transatlantic trade spat spurs Germans to act?
Wolfschmidt of Foodwatch suspects that the reason the government suddenly
seems to be rushing its decision on GM production is to lay to rest the
"transatlantic spat" over GM food.
Indeed the U.S. and the EU are locked in a trade battle over GM food for
the past four years ever since the EU banned imports of GM foods. Last
month, in the strongest indication that things might be coming to a head,
the Bush administration's top trade official, Robert Zoellick threatened
to file a case against the EU at the WTO and said he had lost his patience
with the four-year feud about the safety of American biotechnology food.
He called the European position, "immoral" for leading to starvation in
the developing world.
The European Union for its part released a statement that it had approved
18 genetically modified products and that while it was "aware of U.S.
frustration", officials warned against any action at the WTO.
EU Heading for Fierce Debate on Genetic Contamination in Agriculture
- EurActiv.com, March 4, 2003 (via agbios.com)
The Environment Council is due to discuss the issue of co-existence of
genetically modified, conventional and organic crops during its meeting on
4 March 2003. NGOs have called on the Commission to reconsider its stance
ahead of the 5 March adoption of a Communication in this regard.
Internationally, the European Commission has been under increasing
pressure, particularly from the United States, to lift the de facto
moratorium on the authorisation of GM foods which has been in effect since
1998. The US has threatened on several occasions to launch a case against
the EU in the World Trade Organisation (see also EurActiv, 7 February
Issues: A number of EU Member States, including Germany, France, Austria,
Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg, have refused to withdraw the moratorium.
One of the main concerns raised by these countries has been the protection
of conventional and organic farms against GM contamination. Many feel that
in order to prevent a potential genetic mass contamination throughout the
EU, prior to the commercial release of GM crops, protective measures need
to be put in place to preserve organic and conventional agriculture.
On 3 March 2003, a group of environmental NGOs (Greenpeace, Friends of the
Earth Europe and the European Environmental Bureau) accused the Commission
of not addressing properly the issue of genetic contamination in
agriculture. They reached this conclusion after reading the initial draft
of the Communication from Mr. Fischler to the Commission on the
co-existence of genetically modified (GM), conventional and organic crops.
Positions: The environmental lobby coalition advocates 'hard' legislation
at EU level in order to avoid genetic contamination becoming a 'fait
accompli', thus depriving European consumers of their right to choose.
Based on numbers cited by the NGOs, 70 per cent of EU consumers would
prefer to eat GM-free food.
The lobby group fears the current draft does not guarantee adequately the
European farmers' right to grow conventional and organic crops, without
incurring additional costs due to the cultivation of GMOs. This could
result in higher prices for many consumers that do not want to eat GM
NGOs feel that the aim of completing legislation on co-existence is to
help establish who is responsible for avoiding genetic contamination in
Europe. They argue that the current language in the draft stating that
"the burden of applying measures to deal with co-existence should fall on
the economic operators (farmers, seed suppliers, etc.) who intend to gain
a benefit from the specific cultivation model they have chosen", is
unacceptable. Following this logic, they argue, conventional and organic
farmers would end up paying to avoid contamination by GM crops.
Moreover, in their view, the text should focus not only on the economic
aspects of genetic contamination, but also on its health and environmental
Innovations in Biotechnology - Public Perceptions and Cultural Attitudes.
An American's Viewpoint
- Drew L. Kershen, Global Jurist Topics (2003): Vol. 3: No.1, Article 1.
Abstract: Using historical analogies to China and its suppression of the
Treasure Fleets of the 15th century and to the adoption of the ""Progress
of Science"" clause of the United States Constitution in 1789, this
article explores the cultural attitudes of risk-amplifiers and
risk-minimizers about agricultural biotechnology in Europe and the United
The article explores these attitudes regarding the nature of agricultural
biotechnology, the precautionary approach and precautionary principle, and
food labels. The article ends by discussing the domestic and international
risks that Europe is taking by its political opposition to agricultural
biotechnology. More particularly, the article contrasts these European
risks with the technological stances toward agricultural biotechnology in
the United States, China, and India.
Managing Agricultural Risks in Biopharming: The Role of Injunctions
- John T. Walsh and Thomas P. Redick, ABA Agricultural Management
Committee Newsletter, v.7, #1 (Jan. 2003), American Bar Association
Network, www.abanet.org (via Drew Kershen)
With research laboratories turning out a wide variety of new seeds, some
of which must be grown separate from other crops, commercial agriculture
in the United States has entered an era of segregated production.
In drafting contracts to be used with growers, seed companies can remind
the grower about stewardship obligations, and help growers avoid
commingling problems with those specialized varieties of crops requiring
segregated production. This article will also tell the "tale of two seeds"
(the Aventis Liberty Link soybean and its corporate sister, Starlink Corn,
also produced by Aventis), which were each driven from the market by
lawyers armed with lawsuits. We will suggest an increasing role for
contractual networks enforcing industry standards to avoid commingling,
with the threat of injunctions for non-compliance compelling better
compliance with those standards (rather than waiting for administrative
and possible criminal enforcement action, as is now occurring with
This article will also discuss the recent commingling of corn intended for
pharmaceutical production with soybeans bound for food or feed ˝ and some
ideas for preventing similar problems from recurring. While this most
recent "near miss"ţ incident with soybeans did not trigger a massive
recall like that caused by Starlink, it certainly sends a message to the
biotech industry that it cannot afford any "weak links" in the contracts
and industry standards that protect the marketplace from commingling of
Read full article at:
The Issue of Biotechnology: Ghana to Assess the Benefits and Risks
- Isabella Gyau Orhin, Public Agenda, March 3, 2003
Accra - The Minister for Environment and Science, Prof. Dominic Fobih has
said Ghanaians need to engage in discussions on development issues driven
by science and technology. He said it is important for Ghanaians to
recognize the potential of science and technology as critical tools for
socio-economic development and the need to understand the benefits and
risks of specific technologies such as Biotechnology.
Biotechnology is defined as "any technique that makes use of organisms (or
parts thereof) to make or modify products to improve plants or animals or
to develop micro-organisms for specific purposes." Prof. Fobih said this
in a speech read on his behalf at a National Roundtable discussion on
Biotechnology under the theme "Environmental Degradation-Biotechnology to
"I am aware of the potential of Biotechnology as a tool for cleaner
environment," the Minister said adding "biotechnology processes and
products can be deployed in biomediation and microbial treatments of
polluted water and soils, industrial and domestic wastes as well as the
development of diagnostics to enhance environmental monitoring, assessment
Although the biotechnology has its positive sides, it has its negative
sides as well. Rights activists worldwide have been fighting against
biotechnology being used to produce genetically modified food. Seeds from
such plants though give higher yields are unable to germinate again and
farmers always have to go back to special shops and countries to buy them
at a high price. There are also fears that genetically modified food may
lead to health hazards over a long period of time. Research is not
conclusive on this. Many European countries are helping their farmers to
grow organic food while consumers will not have anything to do with
genetically modified food.
However, Americans are not as worried as Europeans about their food
choices and opposition to GM foods are not as strong as in Europe although
many of them will opt for organic grown foods. Perhaps it is against this
background that the Minister said "The goal of government of Ghana is to
ensure the safety of Ghanaians and our environment," adding, "it appears I
am highlighting only on the benefits of biotechnology but then it is
through the appreciation of these benefits that will stimulate a thorough
investigation of the technology to identify potential risks and challenges
associated with its deployment."
He said the Ministry of Environment and Science is exploiting
opportunities to enhance the development of technical capability for the
safe and environmentally sound management of Biotechnology applications in
Ghana. Ghana ratified a protocol on Biosafety known as the Cartagena
Protocol last December. Development Biosafety is also defined as the
development of policies and procedures adopted to ensure the
environmentally safe application of modern biotechnology. This protocol
also seeks to assist parties develop and implement environmentally sound
management of Biotechnology at both the international and local levels.
"I am happy to announce that the ratification of the protocol paved the
way for Ghana to join the global community in the implementation of the
protocol for sound environmental management. Ghana is currently among some
100 countries participating in a United nations Environment Programme
(UNDP) project in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility
(GEF). The project is to assist countries develop their National Biosafety
policy frameworks and build local capacity in the sound management of
The Director of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research Prof. E.
Owusu Bennoah said Biotechnology should be developed and deployed to solve
critical national problems such as environmental degradation. "We feel
science must be brought to the doorstep of Ghanaians," he said adding, "It
is pertinent to harness the human capital which abounds in our research
institutions and universities for our common good."
He said Ghanaian scientists have been in the forefront in the use of
tissue culture for crop improvement while researchers have developed
protocols for crops such as cassava, plantain, pawpaw and pineapple.
Research on the use of sterile insect technique to control the population
of tsetse flies in the Northern Region is also on going. "The successful
applications of this technique should control sleeping sickness in both
animals and humans, improve health, increase human productivity and reduce
poverty," Prof. Bennoah noted. He said Ghanaian scientists have acquired
considerable expertise in the application of radiation processing to
reduce post harvest loss, improve food safety and also for sterilization
of medical products.
"As to whether all these would benefit the country only time will tell,"
an environmentalist at the programme said.
- Denis J Murphy, Biotechnology Unit, University of Glamorgan, UK
The solutions to Africa's food problems (and those in other regions) will
come from a broad strategy of improved crop breeding PLUS better crop
management and outreach services. GM crops may have their place in future
improvement programs, especially if the much touted salt tolerance traits
and the like ever make it in the real world. However, in the meantime we
should focus on real-world solutions to already pressing problems that use
currently available technology.
Maybe we can also step back for a minute from all the doom and gloom about
African agriculture and celebrate a few modest but significant successes.
To quote from a heartening recent paper by Eleni Z. Gabre-Madhin and
"Using primary data from a survey of expert opinion, this paper identifies
key successes emerging in African agriculture. Among these, major
commodity-specific successes identified include breakthroughs in maize
breeding across Africa, sustained gains in cassava breeding and successful
combat of its disease and pests, control of the rinderpest livestock
disease, booming horticultural and flower exports in East and Southern
Africa and increased cotton production and exports in West Africa. Using a
dynamic analytical framework, the paper attempts to identify key
ingredients that appear necessary for building on these individual cases
and expanding them into broad-based agricultural growth."
A pdf version of their paper is on
http://www.ifpri.org/divs/mssd/dp/papers/mssdp53.pdf and is well worth
reading if you care about agriculture and Africa. (Thanks to IFPRI and
info@SciDev.net for notification about the article.)
Organically Grown Foods Higher In Cancer-fighting Chemicals Than
Conventionally Grown Foods
- Allison Byrum, Eurekalert, March 3, 2003
Fruits and veggies grown organically show significantly higher levels of
cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, according to
a new study of corn, strawberries and marionberries.
The research suggests that pesticides and herbicides actually thwart the
production of phenolics -- chemicals that act as a plant's natural defense
and also happen to be good for our health. Fertilizers, however, seem to
boost the levels of anti-cancer compounds. The findings appear in the
Feb. 26 print edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a
peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's
largest scientific society. The article was initially published Jan. 25 on
the journal's Web site.
Flavonoids are phenolic compounds that have potent antioxidant activity.
Many are produced in plants in response to environmental stressors, such
as insects or competing plants. "If an aphid is nibbling on a leaf, the
plant produces phenolics to defend itself," says Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., a
food scientist at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of
"Bitter or harsh phenolics guard the plant against these pests." The need
for these natural safeguards decreases with the use of herbicides and
pesticides in conventional agriculture. This decrease is reflected in the
total amount of antioxidants the plants produce. "This helps explain why
the level of antioxidants is so much higher in organically grown food,"
Mitchell says. "By synthetically protecting the produce from these pests,
we decrease their need to produce antioxidants. It suggests that maybe we
are doing something to our food inadvertently."
Mitchell measured antioxidants found in corn, strawberries and a type of
blackberry called a marionberry. "We started with these three due to plant
availability," Mitchell explains, "but we intend to widen our search to
include tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and a variety of other vegetables. We
expect these results to be transferable to most produce." The
investigation compared the total antioxidants found in foods grown
organically (using no herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers) to foods
grown sustainably (in this study fertilizers but no herbicides or
pesticides were used) and conventionally (using synthetic chemicals to
protect the plants and increase yield.
The results showed a significant increase in antioxidants in organic and
sustainably grown foods versus conventionally grown foods. The levels of
antioxidants in sustainably grown corn were 58.5 percent higher than
conventionally grown corn. Organically and sustainably grown marionberries
had approximately 50 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown
berries. Sustainably and organically grown strawberries showed about 19
percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown strawberries.
Antioxidant levels were highest overall in sustainably grown produce,
which indicates that a combination of organic and conventional practices
yields the highest levels of antioxidants. "This may reflect the balance
between adequate nutrition in the form of fertilizers and external pest
pressures because of the lack of pesticides and herbicides," Mitchell
"Originally, the question was just really intriguing to me," says
Mitchell, whose research grew naturally from a personal interest in
organic foods. "I found that the higher level of antioxidants is enough to
have a significant impact on health and nutrition, and it's definitely
changed the way I think about my food."
Transgenic Organisms--Time for Conceptual Diversification?
- Kaare M. Nielsen, Nature Biotechnology, March 2003, Vol. 21 No. 3
pp227-228. www.nature.com; Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of
Recent advances in genetic engineering have made it possible to effect
previously unattainable genetic changes in most organisms subjected to
breeding 1. The altered organisms into which hereditary (that is, genetic)
material from another organism has been introduced are referred to as
transgenic or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 2. Wide use of these
process-based terms has resulted in little appreciation for the sources,
extent, and novelty of the genetic modifications made in GMOs.
Not surprisingly, indiscriminate scientific, public, and regulatory
scrutiny based on misleading conceptual assumptions have developed into
negative perceptions of GMOs, particularly among European citizens 3, 4.
I hypothesize that the failure to establish, from the onset, explicit
terminology to categorize the various applications of gene technology in
breeding have contributed to this skepticism and to rejection of the
technology by many consumers.
The current practice of process-based categorization of GMOs is
biologically imprecise and does not accurately reflect the nature of the
introduced genotypic changes. As the terms enforce focus on the process,
rather than the product, of the technology, they obstruct the potential to
subdivide and conceptually expand the categories of products derived
through gene technology˝based breeding (see below). We propose the
adoption of alternative categories that would shift focus to a
product-based perception of gene technology, allowing conscious
differentiation in the perception of GMOs based on the sources of the
genetic changes introduced.
The extent to which transgenic organisms differ from traditionally bred
organisms underlies much of the controversy surrounding the use of GMOs 5.
In seeking a scientifically sound resolution, the key factor is a clear,
accurate understanding of the context of the specific genetic changes
introduced. Generally, the release and use of GMOs with simple nucleotide
changes are likely to generate few ecological concerns beyond those faced
by the organisms' traditionally bred counterparts.
However, species-foreign genes, synthetic genes, and other genetic changes
have been introduced into GMOs, and some deviate substantially
(genetically, biochemically, and physiologically as well as in ethical,
regulatory, and public perceptions) from what classical, selection-based
breeding has achieved 6, 7. These organisms have genetic compositions that
do not reflect evolutionary processes occurring under natural conditions
Consider, for instance, the genome of a representative transgenic variety
of corn carrying the gene encoding Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Bt),
which contains functional recombinations and synthetic modifications of
DNA fragments from four different bacterial species (from the genuses
Agrobacterium, Streptomyces, Bacillus, and Escherichia), additional
prokaryotic mobile elements (bacterial plasmid), and regulatory sequences
from a virus (cauliflower mosaic virus) and a rice plant 11.
The known natural mechanisms generating genetic variability in higher
eukaryotes cannot combine, functionally enhance, and propagate DNA
sequences derived from several unrelated organisms within the time scale
achieved by genetic engineering. Therefore, genotypes achieved by genetic
engineering can be conceptually different from those arising naturally or
from classical selective breeding, thus warranting further classification.
The genetic distance between the engineered organism and the source of the
new genetic variation would be a functional criterion for assessing the
novelty of the introduced genetic changes. A more precise and explicit
nomenclature based on the genetic distance associated with the introduced
genetic modifications is illustrated in Table 1.
The five categories of GMOs suggested are defined by their biological
relevance, reflecting the level of genetic relatedness between the donor
and the recipient organisms, and thereby indicate the broad potential for
the engineered trait to evolve spontaneously12. The focus of most current
engineering has been on adding or altering phenotypic traits conferred by
single genes, often with little understanding of the biochemical and
cellular interactions of the gene product within the new genetic
background 13-15. The proposed divisions implicitly consider the
biochemical networks through their evolutionary distance from the
introduced trait. The categorizations address many of the ethical,
religious, and public concerns raised, by allowing a conscious and
conceptual diversification of current and future developments in gene
technology assisted breeding.
At the center of many objections to GMOs is concern about the introduction
of genetic material from distantly related organisms, such as the
insertion of animal DNA into crop plants. To meet such concerns, relevant
product categorization, for instance 'famigenic' or 'linegenic' (Table 1),
would clarify that the engineered organisms contain recombined genetic
material limited to the same taxonomic family or higher-order phylogenetic
The proposed categories (and further-refined taxonomy-based nomenclature)
will help to maintain the cultural values, perception, and traditional
identity of products derived from GMOs 16--for instance, rendering
molecular breeding efforts undertaken within the organism (intragenic)
easily distinguishable from those relying on the introduction of
evolutionarily distant (transgenic) or novel, synthetic genetic changes
(xenogenic). The latter modifications are currently less palatable from
biological, ethical, and religious perspectives. I contend that such a
scheme to extend existing consumer familiarity with conventional products
to the genetically modified counterpart, by limiting the novelty of the
perceived changes, may ultimately lead to increased public acceptance 17,
Current approaches to gene technology˝ assisted breeding have been called
'brute-force' in their use of distantly related genes with little
consideration for the multiple evolutionary changes that have occurred in
the biochemical networks separating species 19. It is expected that an
improved understanding of genetic structure, including positional effects,
regulation, and interconnectedness of biochemical networks 20, 21, will
allow many commercially desired traits to be obtained through precise
genetic modifications within the organisms' own genomes rather than
through reliance on genetic variation evolved in unrelated species.
Similarly, regulatory sequences are likely to be identified within the
target genome that will allow precise expression of the desired trait. The
generation of a more precise classification system thus provides an
incentive for genetic engineers to explicitly consider and justify their
choices of genetic resources.
In conclusion, the proposed terms permit a more precise communication of
the sources of genetic variability used in gene technology based breeding.
Openly considering and acknowledging the sources of the genetic material
introduced may prove necessary to define further research directions,
maintain product identity, and increase consumer familiarity through
categorization, and thus improve the response to engineered organisms and
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Kaare M. Nielsen is an associate professor, Department of Pharmacy,
Faculty of Medicine, University of Troms», N9037 Troms», Norway, and the
Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology, N9037 Troms», Norway e-mail: