Today in AgBioView: March 5, 2003
* Attempts to Ban GM Crops 'Stupid' - Truss
* Australia: Playing to Fear on GM Agriculture
* EU Commission Warns European Biotech Sector In Danger
* EU's Lamy Says Europe Would Win WTO Challenge Over GM
* US Admn Attacked for Failing to File WTO Case Against EU
* Brussels Takes Hands-off Stance on Modified Crops
* Response on Labeling EU Cheese
* Consider Relaxing GM Regulations Says Scientist
* Who Owns That Gene? AgBiotech and Intellectual Property
* U.S. Patent System Is Working Well
* Agency 'Ignoring its Advisers' over Bt Maize
* Expert Advice for Healthy Eating
* Find Out What's in Your Food!
* Speaking Out About "Mute Scientists"
* Biotechnology Industry Organization: Food and Agriculture
* Seeds: The Delivery System for Plant Biotechnology
* Biotech Nantes 2003 - France
* Scientist's Songs Help Biology Students
Attempts to Ban GM Crops 'Stupid' - Truss
- March 5, 2003, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News
Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss says attempts to ban new
genetically modified crops are "stupid", and has criticised the states for
a turnaround in policy. Mr Truss was reacting to moves in four states to
ban the commercial release of genetically modified crops, or place a
moratorium on further trials.
The Gene Technology Regulator is expected to make a decision on the
commercial release of genetically modified canola in three months. Mr
Truss says the states appear to have changed their mind about genetically
"It seems strange that not very long ago the states were fighting amongst
themselves to attract biotechnology investment," Mr Truss said. "Now the
most exciting area of biotechnology investment they're proposing to place
bans within their state. "Now you can't be a smart state, you can't seek
to attract biotechnology investment, and then ban the use of the
Meanwhile, the umbrella body for biotechnology companies says grain
growers will be left behind if governments prevent the introduction of new
genetically modified crops. Avcare Biotechnology Committee spokesman Leo
Hyde says proposals for moratoriums on genetically modified technology
will not achieve anything and that all the questions have already been
"The moratorium idea has very little value," Mr Hyde said. "We've answered
or tried to answer most of the questions that the public have asked us,
particularly about gene flow and out-crossing in particular, and we fail
to see what a moratorium, what other questions we're going to answer if
there is a three or a five-year moratorium."
Playing to Fear on GM Agriculture
- The Australian, March 5, 2003 (sent by David Tribe)
Those who thought the NSW election campaign couldn't sink any lower than a
brawl about the relative merits of pies and sausage-rolls were jolted out
of their complacency on Monday, when the state Government and Opposition
started the bidding in a "paranoia auction" on GM agriculture. Premier Bob
Carr announced he would slap a three-year ban on all GM food crops in NSW.
But according to Opposition Leader John Brogden, Carr was only filching
Coalition policy. A Coalition government would make the fatwah on GM
Both suggestions reek of populism and an attempt to bribe the green vote.
Genetically modified agriculture is already delivering on its potential to
increase farm yields and slash the use of pesticides. Even more important,
it will one day produce crops that can withstand drought. Having just been
through the worst drought in a century, is this really the moment to
retard this technology?
Whatever happened to the Bob Carr who led the way in supporting other
applications of the genetic science revolution, including in stem-cell
research and forensics? So far, only cotton farmers have been able to take
advantage of improved GM crops in Australia, but the Federal Gene
Technology Regulator is about to rule on licences for GM canola, which has
proved a huge success in Canada. If the seeds, and the protocols for
growing them, are approved, farmers and consumers in NSW will be denied
the benefits. Can Carr and Brogden seriously claim to know something the
federal regulator does not?
While the benefits have already been enormous, so far not a single victim
of GM agriculture has been identified. The export possibilities for
Australian farmers are exciting. For those who call themselves
environmentalists and humanitarians to continue blocking progress in an
area that will reduce the need for land-clearing, and help feed the
starving millions, is a bad joke. But for mainstream politicians to follow
them in search of votes is worse.
EU Commission Warns European Biotech Sector In Danger
- AP via Dow Jones Newswires, March 5, 2003 (sent by Julia Moore)
BRUSSELS (AP)--The future of Europe's biotechnology sector is at risk
unless European Union governments devote more resources and effort in
overcoming regulatory hurdles and public fears, the E.U. Commission said
Wednesday. In its first progress report since adopting a strategy to
promote life sciences and biotechnology last year, the Commission said
diverging policies across the E.U. could "seriously hamper" efforts to
promote the industry as a source of jobs and growth in the 21st century.
A recent commission survey of private biotech companies found that 61% had
canceled research projects on genetically modified organisms over the last
four years. The number of notifications for GMO field trials dropped 76%
between 1998 and 2001. "Now that legitimate consumer and environmental
concerns have been tackled by strict E.U. legislation, it is time to
reverse this downward trend," said E.U. Research Commissioner Philippe
Busquin. "If we do not react, we will be dependent on technology developed
elsewhere in the world within the next 10 years."
Fellow Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, responsible for high-tech industries,
said the collapse in investor confidence has left many small biotech
enterprises unable to get funding to take commercial advantage of research
findings. He called for concerted public and private action to improve the
investment climate. One major roadblock cited by the report was the
failure of nine of the 15 E.U. countries to transpose E.U. legislation on
biotechnology patents into national law, more than two years after the
The commission could decide this month to refer the countries - Germany,
Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and
Sweden - to the European Court of Justice. Opposition to the legislation
concerns the patentability of biological material, including human genes.
But the commission argues the package contains precise safeguards for the
"dignity and integrity of the person," thus preventing anyone from
patenting processes for cloning human beings or modifying their genetic
identity, for example.
The commission said last year that it expects the global biotechnology
market, not counting agriculture, could amount to more than EUR2 trillion
by 2010. Yet while Europe has more dedicated biotechnology companies
(1,570) than the U.S. (1,273), those in Europe are relatively small, newer
and undercapitalized. The U.S. biotechnology industry employs 162,000
people, compared with 61,000 in Europe, and has far more products in the
pipeline, E.U. figures show. Also Wednesday, the commission discussed
questions related to the coexistence of fields growing genetically
modified , conventional and organic crops, with a view to proposing
guidelines later this year.
Although no recommendations will be made until after a public round-table
April 24, the commission did rule out suggestions that some member states
could declare themselves GMO-free to protect conventional farmers from the
risk of economic losses due to accidental cross-contamination. "The
protection of economic interests alone cannot be invoked as a legally
valid justification for imposing such strong limitations on fundamental
liberties," the commission statement said. E.U. officials expect the
5-year-old moratorium on authorizing new biotech products to end as early
as this autumn - if concurrent legislation requiring traceability and
labeling of such products clears the European Parliament.
EU's Lamy Says Europe Would Win WTO Challenge Over GM Foods
Washington, March 4 (AFP) - The European Union would win a US legal
challenge to its policy on genetically modified foods in the World Trade
Organization, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said on Tuesday.
"We would win a case like this," Lamy told reporters after two days of
meetings with US lawmakers and administration officials, including US
Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. "We don't have a problem," Lamy
said. "The WTO provisions provide for the necessary margin maneuver and
because our legislation has been tailored so that it is proportional,
transparent (and the) scientific advice on which we found our decisions is
available to anybody."
A group of EU countries including France has placed a moratorium on
approving these imports, effectively halting the trade. The United States
contends that the ban, applied since 1999, harms its exports of maize,
cotton and soya.
In January, Zoellick threatened to challenge the EU in the WTO, but the
decision to file a case with the Geneva based trade body must be approved
by a host of US cabinet agencies and has been delayed for an indeterminate
period of time. US lawmakers from agricultural exporting states want the
Bush administration to move swiftly on the matter to pressure the EU to
move swiftly to lift the ban.
Administration Attacked for Failing to File WTO Case Against EU Over
- Martin Crutsinger, Charleston Gazette, March 5, 2003
Washington (AP) -- Two key senators on trade issues attacked the Bush
administration on Wednesday for its failure to bring a case against
Europe's ban on imports of genetically modified food, saying the decision
was costing American farmers millions of dollars in lost sales of corn,
soybeans and other crops.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Max
Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the committee, told U.S. Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick that they could not understand the
administration's delay in bringing a case before the World Trade
Organization given the adverse economic consequences to American farmers.
Saying he was "profoundly disappointed'' in the delay, Grassley said the
EU's four-year moratorium on imports of genetically modified food was
costing U.S. farmers $300 million annually in lost sales and hurting
companies that had spent the money to develop the genetically modified
crops, which have been used extensively in the United States to grow more
disease resistant corn, soybeans and other crops.
"EU policies also create a chilling effect on the approval and sale of
biotech products around the world, especially in developing countries that
fear that if they start using biotech crops, they'll lose the ability to
sell in the European market,'' Grassley said.
He said the decision of countries in Africa not to use genetically
modified seed that has been proven to boost crop yields dramatically was
contributing to the starvation of tens of thousands of people on that
continent, a fact that he said "doesn't seem to matter to anyone in
While Zoellick in January called the EU ban "immoral'' for the same reason
that it was influencing African countries to the detriment of their
citizens, the administration has delayed for weeks a Cabinet-level meeting
where Zoellick had expected to receive the go-ahead for filing a case.
Baucus told Zoellick it was apparent that the administration had put off
filing a WTO case because it did not want the issue to harm its effort to
build a coalition to invade Iraq and he pressed Zoellick to say why a case
had not been brought.
"I hear a lot of words and I don't hear any action,'' Baucus told
Zoellick. Zoellick told Baucus he was trying to build a coalition of other
countries that would support the U.S. case and said he hoped to take the
issue to the WTO "soon.'' He refused Baucus' efforts to pin him down on
whether that meant weeks or months. The strong comments by Grassley and
Baucus came a day after EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy visited with
members of both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means
Committee, the two panels with jurisdiction on trade issues.
Brussels Takes Hands-off Stance on Modified Crops
- Financial Times (London), March 5, 2003 (via Katie Thrasher)
The European Commission wants European Union member states to issue new
rules protecting conventional and organic farming from farmers using
genetically modified crops.
The proposal, contained in a paper due to be released today, is expected
to run into opposition from environmentalists and some member states - led
by Italy - which are deeply critical of GM technology. Both groups would
rather see the issue dealt with at a European level and have called for a
tough regime to win maximum protection for non-GM farmers. Such
legislation would be highly controversial, however, and could take years
to enter into force.
The Commission's hands-off approach is likely to be welcomed by US trade
officials, who have recently voiced concerns that the question of
"co-existence" (between GM and non-GM farming) could be used to delay
further the lifting of Europe's de facto moratorium on the approval of new
The US has already complained that the EU has "shifted the goalposts" for
approval of GM crops, with countries calling for conditions before any
authorisations are granted. The Commission paper acknowledges that "there
are growing concerns that any perceived or actual problems relating to
co-existence could make member states more hesitant to grant new
authorisations for GMOs (genetically manipulated organisms) in
However EU member states have so far been wary of making an explicit link
between the moratorium and co-existence. The US has repeatedly threatened
to take the EU's delay in authorising the import of GM products to the
World Trade Organisation, claiming the EU violates trade rules, but last
month it decided to hold back for now.
The European Commission has itself made clear its exasperation with member
states. Yesterday Margot Wallstrom, environment commissioner, complained
that only Denmark and Sweden had met a deadline to put general GMO
guidelines into law - even though the "moratorium group" of countries had
said the measure was necessary for authorisations to begin again.
Response to McGregor on Labeling EU Cheese
- Anders Buch Kristensen Minister Counsellor
(From Denmark to EU)
Bob MacGregor asked "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?"
Chamosin or rennet, whish is used as an enzyme in cheese making without
staying in the cheese, is traditionally produced from the stomach of
veals, but can be produced of a GM microorganism in contained use. It is
the same chemical substance, and in no case, a gene modified product
So even if Chamosin produced of a GM microorganism was used in
cheese-making the cheese would not have to be labelled under the new
regulation, which furthermore is not entered into force. So there are
three reasons, that you do not find GMO labels on EU cheese.
From: Drew Kershen
>> Minister Counsellor Anders Buch Kristensen, Ph.D. wrote "As far as I
>know GM yeast for beer and wine or "rennet" produced in contained use of
>GM mincro-organisms are not used commercially in EU."
I quote from a 12-page report published in April 2002 by a European
organization. "Products of modern biotechnology on the shelves" ABE, Issue
Paper # 2, Public Attitudes to Agricultural Biotechnology (April 2002)
It may come as a surprise to some that there was a product of modern
biotechnology on supermarket shelves in the UK, clearly labelled, not
subject to criticism and out-selling its direct equivalent produced with
"conventional "technology. Its benefit was modest: by modifying a single
gene, tomatoes were bred which could achieve the high solids content of
fully ripe fruit without softening; this gave higher yields and hence
cheaper tomato purČe. The cans were clearly labelled to show the content
were derived from GM fruit. This should remind us that modern
biotechnology can be used to make food products with high consumer
It may also be surprising to learn that enzymes produced by genetically
modified micro-organisms were in use even before then, and still are
widely used in food production. In particular, an enzyme called chymosin
is used for the majority of hard cheese production in Europe. This
replaces the natural chymosin in rennet, extracted from the stomachs of
calves and traditionally used in cheese-making. Another common food
processing enzyme normally derived from a genetically modified
micro-organism is amylase. This is widely used in the production of
sweeteners and maltodextrins from starch.
Clearly, there is a place for modern biotechnology in the food chain."
ABE is an organization whose full name is Agricultural Biotechnology in
Consider Relaxing GM Regulations Says Scientist
- Media Release March 5, 2003 (via Agnet)
It's time for New Zealand to consider relaxing GM regulations says
prominent visiting American scientist Professor Indra Vasil.
Professor Vasil was addressing the biannual meeting of commercial tissue
culture managers and scientists in his role as International President of
the Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology Association. Professor Vasil
first visited New Zealand in 1974 to work with pioneer GM scientists Dr
Bill Sutton and Dr Roger Giles. He was also asked to advise the Government
about biotechnology research at that time. "I was convinced that, as an
agricultural country, government should support plant cell and molecular
biology," he said.
"Now after nearly 30 years, because of our considerable experience and the
vast amount of information gathered about the safety of transgenic crops
over the past decade, it is time for our regulatory agencies to consider
whether some of or all of the current regulatory requirements can be
gradually relaxed and ultimately suspended," he said.
"Except in some rare instances where there is some likelihood of risk to
human health or the environment such as the development of antibiotic
resistance or gene flow to closely related species, the risks can be met
adequately with currently available and emerging technologies. Dr Mary
Christey, the President of the New Zealand branch of the Plant Tissue
Culture and Biotechnology Association said that Professor Vasil and other
scientists reported some exciting developments on the horizon at their
Leigh, Northland meeting. "Some of these use GM technology, others non-GM
technologies such as marker assisted breeding and tissue culture."
Professor Vasil spoke of his exciting new GM wheat which produces higher
levels of gluten and was recently been field tested in Arizona where it
showed a substantial increase in protein content and an increase in bread
volume. Some important advances in genetic marker technology have been
made said Dr Christey.
Queensland scientist, Dr Mike Smith spoke of using genetic markers to
improve propagation of tropical crops which are important for some Pacific
nations. British researcher Dr Penny Sparrow also announced new genetic
marker technology for identifying which plants which may be more suitable
for breeding purposes.
The whole concept of what we eat when we bite into an apple was challenged
by New Zealand scientist Dr Jai-Long Yao . Dr Yao discovered that the
flesh of an apple originates from the sepals, or leaf scales of the flower
rather than the ovary as previously thought. "This type of new knowledge
is critical for our understanding of pollination in crops," said Dr
Who Owns That Gene? AgBiotech and Intellectual Property
Good ideas are ephemeral things. A novel invention can help humanity and
help inventors turn a profit --if they maintain their rights to it. If
they don't, those profits may never be realized. Humanity may benefit from
those inventions anyway, but, it's also possible that without those
rights, the invention will founder because no one will have the incentive
to invest in and fully develop the idea. The ownership of ideas and
inventions --aka intellectual property --makes the biotechnology world go
More than two decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Diamond v.
Chakrabarty that a genetically modified organism could be patented. The
Court decided Chakrabarty's oil-eating bacteria was a novel invention and
granted the patent. Since then, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has
interpreted that ruling and other court cases to permit the patenting of
genes and gene fragments.
But with the clear legal guidance of the Chakrabarty case, the medical and
agricultural biotech industry was born. At the same time, it initiated a
race to claim patent rights on genes, and genetically modified animals and
plants. That's one reason the sequencing of the human genome turned into
such a raucous race: public sector scientists didn't want private
companies to obtain exclusive rights and then require others to pay
licensing fees which might hinder efforts.
The U.S. patent system is by definition a social contract that involves
balancing two competing public values. In return for the social benefits
of innovation and public disclosure of the invention, an inventor receives
a limited monopoly, and, with it, the right to prevent others from using
the invention without first obtaining a license to do so. With the
assurance of limited competition, patent owners can attract substantial
private capital and invest in the R&D, marketing, and regulatory approvals
needed to bring the invention to market.
The biotechnology industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in
the development and commercialization of drugs, diagnostic devices,
research tools, and genetically modified crops and animals, resulting in
products that today garner $27.6 billion in annual revenues.
But some people are concerned that biotechnology patents may have the net
effect of hindering research and innovation, rather than encouraging it.
Once a company owns a gene or genetic sequence, other researchers can't
conduct research using that gene without permission and paying a royalty;
otherwise, the researcher runs the risk of facing a patent infringement
lawsuit. Krimsky points out that patents on genes have indeed caused some
distress over pursuing avenues of research. That happened in the medical
field when a private company discovered two genes for breast cancer, BRCA
1 and BRCA 2. According to Krimsky, "Researchers working on breast cancer
genes were told they would have to pay to work on them."
Biotech patenting activity isn't solely the purview of industry. Stiles
notes that universities and colleges have also become active in patenting
genes and research tools. Many universities employ technology transfer
offices to patent intellectual property arising from any scientific
research conducted by university faculty and staff.
"One of the things that strikes me is the shift that has occurred in
publicly-funded research," Stiles says. "Everybody in the publicly-funded
land grant colleges has started patenting research and research tools.
And, that is changing the nature of these research institutions. They are
becoming business entities like any other business entity. Fifty years
ago, these land grant universities would be giving away the IP
[intellectual property]. Now, they are patenting it." Historically, as
part of their mission, land grant colleges were required to do research in
the public domain.
A number of universities are using the ability to obtain patents as a
portion of faculty evaluations, and Stiles wonders whether researchers are
free to pursue research no matter where it takes them in such an
environment. Others question whether patenting genes and modified plants
might restrict the ability of developing countries to use current
biotechnology tools to develop enhanced crops suitable to particular
environments. Because the markets for such premium products are very
limited in developing nations, there is little economic incentive for
private companies to develop GM varieties specific for those markets. As a
result, GM varieties appropriate for developing nations will likely be
developed by public research institutions. However, the ownership of many
key genes and genetic tools are in the hands of private corporations,
creating potential legal or cost barriers for public researchers.
An example is the development of the famed "Golden Rice", created to
improve nutrition in developing nations where rice is a staple. Philip
Pardey, a professor of science and technology policy at the University of
Minnesota and formerly of the International Food Policy Research
Institute, says the public developers of Golden Rice had to negotiate
licenses for some 70 patents associated with it.
But "the bottom line is that these markets are a lot more complicated than
people think," Pardey says. Part of the complication is that there is a
lot of misinformation about patents floating about that misleads even the
For instance, many people think that a U.S. patent gives you international
protection, says Pardey. It doesn't. It only means that a U.S. patent
holder has the right to stop the import of goods produced by the
unauthorized use of that patent. In other words, a U.S. patent can't
prevent the use of the technology in other parts of the world. In
biotechnology, many patents are for processes that could be stolen and
used in labs anywhere --a situation that would be extremely hard to
detect, Pardey says. Most companies don't even try, he says, because "it's
The limited protection a U.S. patent offers in a global market is the
reason that the U.S. and other countries, with the backing of industry,
have been working so hard to harmonize patent law in every country in the
world. But whether a uniform global patent regime would promote research
and technology or hinder it in developing nations remains a contentious
Even so, some academic researchers believe patent rights can be harmonized
with humanitarian purposes. By patenting their inventions, academic
researchers can protect their right to control the use of the invention,
including permitting humanitarian purposes, says Roger Beachy, director of
the non-profit Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO. Beachy and
the center have been working on licensing agreements for their products
that will allow for free humanitarian uses, but still allow companies to
retain IP rights.
"As we hold discussions with these companies they see [humanitarian use]
is not interfering with what they are doing," says Beachy. Many academic
scientists, including Beachy, previously developed new GM plants only to
see all rights, including the rights to include royalties, go to private
corporations that helped support the research --with no exclusions for
Beachy argues that there is no real conflict between the profit motive and
humanitarian uses of biotechnology. A patented genetic modification for,
say, drought resistant soybeans may also be useful for another legume
that's important to subsistence farmers in poor countries. To that end,
Beachy has been working on licenses that keep those options open.
"There's a lot of merit to having humanitarian licenses," agrees John
Dodds, of Dodds & Associates an IP law firm in Washington, DC. "One way to
deal with it is to license a product to a poor farm country with the
royalty as zero."
It's these poorest farmers who may need GM crops the most. In the U.S., a
disease resistant crop plant can help reduce the amount of pesticides a
farmer may use --and so improve profitability of a crop. But the same GM
plant in a developing nation --where the pesticides are not available or
affordable --may make the difference between whether a crop reaches
harvest or not.
"With subsistence farmers," said Dodds, "if they had access, maybe they
wouldn't be subsistence farmers any more." And, in that case, Dodds points
out, they could afford the licensing fees, which would be good for
business in general.
Stiles believes a better licensing scheme may also address concerns about
patents inhibiting academic research.
"In the end, it's possible that we don't have a patent problem at all,"
Stiles says. "Instead, we may have a problem with the contractual issues
of transferring technology."
Stiles believes most of the issues surrounding IP, once understood, will
be worked out either through contracting or changes from the patent
office. Ag biotech, like any new technology and industry, is simply
suffering growing pains.
Debate: Is There a Solution to the Current Controversy Surrounding IP in
'U.S. Patent System Is Working Well'
- Lila Feisee, Director, Gov Relations & IP for the Biotech Industry
"This question presupposes that there is a problem with the current patent
system," says BIO's Lila Feisee. "I'm not convinced there is a problem
with the patent system itself. We, at BIO, believe that the biotechnology
industry is on its way to becoming a tremendously successful industry
because of the patent system in the United States."
Feisee notes that the current U.S. patent system allows inventors to
patent a very broad swath of inventions. The Supreme Court decision in
Diamond v. Chakrabarty allowed for the patenting of living organisms.
Recently, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that decision in J.E.M. AG Supply
v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. ruling that Pioneer Hi-Bred could
enforce its patents on biotech seed. "As a result of those decisions we
don't have to defend our ability to obtain patents."
Those patents, Feisee says, are critical to the biotech industry because
the industry is heavily regulated by the FDA, USDA, and EPA. As a result,
there is a very long time between getting a patent --which represents the
discovery phase --and entering the market with a product --which
In general, the industry relies very heavily on patent protection --more
so than other industries --because we are regulated," Feisee says. "This
type of work requires a significant amount of investment of capital to get
a product to market and the industry needs to have the patent protection
during the lag time between discovery and a marketable product."
Feisee notes that there was a time when the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office was using a very lax standard for granting patents on genetic
material, but those standards have become more rigorous. In addition, she
notes that anyone can challenge a patent if the invention doesn't meet
legal standards either through the courts or the Patent Office or both.
In answer to concerns that biotech patenting has slowed the pace of
research in academia and halted technology transfer to developing nations,
Feisee points out that most of those issues can be addressed via
contractual negotiations rather than wholesale change in the patent
system. "I would say 99 percent of the time companies can find
contractual ways to allow academic research and humanitarian uses of their
technology, " Feisee said. "When they can't, that too can spur
Feisee notes that if the work is important enough, researchers will find a
way to work around intellectual property constraints that may even result
in a better product or process. Society then benefits not only from having
the first invention, but from having the improved invention. "Basically,
I just don't think you change a system that works so well because of one
or two bad apples," Feisee says. "No system is perfect, but this one works
Patents Stymie Innovation and Exacerbate Inequities
- Hope Shand, Research Director, ETC Group
The way Hope Shand sees it, the current U.S. patenting system fails not
only people in developing countries, who can't afford to buy seeds and
other products that result from protected intellectual property [IP], but
the businesses that seek those patents as well.
"It's a very interesting area right now because things are changing very
quickly. Even corporations are becoming disenchanted with the intellectual
property model," Shand says. "The reason why this is happening is because
IP is becoming politically contentious and the costs of obtaining and
litigating a patent are huge."
Shand says she has heard that start-up biotechnology companies are
budgeting as much for patent litigation as for research. "In 2000, U.S.
companies spent $4 billion on patents and patent litigation," Shand notes.
"That's approximately one-third of what all developing nations spent on
agricultural research --both private and public."
In the meantime, Shand points out that many companies are looking for
technological means to avoid dealing with IP issues. "IP is becoming too
expensive, politically unpredictable, and technically unreliable and
that's why industry is seeking alternatives to patents," Shand says. "They
are developing ?new enclosures' --other forms of monopoly control
mechanisms to protect their investments.
"The best known example is the ?terminator' technology which results in
the biological control of germplasm. Seeds harvested from ?terminator'
crops will not germinate if re-planted the following season. "The
technology aims to prevent farmers from saving seed from their harvest,
thus forcing them to return to the commercial seed market every year."
Terminator technology is something Shand calls an appropriation
technology. It is more powerful than a patent because there's not
expiration date on the technology. The seeds that farmers purchase are
only available for a single use. Shands says these types of technologies
will supplement or replace IP in the seed industry."
The fact that industry is looking for ways to control their technology
without patents indicates the patent system may not be serving business
needs, but Shand says the much greater problem is that instead of
promoting innovation, patents are stifling research, limiting competition
and thwarting new discoveries.
"The patenting of biological products and processes is infringing on the
rights of poor people and their rights to seed and drugs," Shand said.
"Civil society organizations have long asserted that exclusive monopoly
patents are jeopardizing world food security, undermining conservation and
use of biological diversity and increasing the economic insecurity of
farming communities in the developing world."
One of the problems Shand identifies is the overly-broad patents being
granted in the life sciences. She says that exclusive monopoly patents are
giving a handful of companies the right to determine who gets access to
proprietary products, and at what price. Shands notes Monsanto has claimed
a European patent for all genetically engineered soybeans regardless of
how they are transformed.
"We think there should be better ways to promote innovation than patents,"
Agency 'Ignoring its Advisers' over Bt Maize
- Jonathan Knight, Nature 422, 5 (2003); March 6, 2003
San Francisco - A strain of maize that is genetically modified to fight
rootworm --a major crop pest --has won approval from the US Environmental
Protection Agency. But scientists who were consulted before the 25
February decision say that the agency ignored their advice and is doing
too little to ensure that insects don't develop resistance to the
insecticide produced by the plant.
Last October, a scientific review board recommended that the strain should
only be grown if farmers plant an equal area of non-transgenic maize next
to it. Such a stipulation would have undermined the commercial viability
of the strain, however, and the EPA has rejected it, saying that a 20%
"refuge" of non-transgenic maize will suffice.
The decision has drawn immediate fire from members of the review board.
"They are putting the issue of sustainability on the back burner," argues
Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
The new Bt maize --developed by Monsanto of St Louis, Missouri, to express
an insect toxin gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis --differs
from existing varieties in several ways. The Bt maize that is already
widely planted in the United States targets the European corn borer, a
moth whose larvae eat stalks and leaves, but is useless against the corn
rootworm, a beetle that costs farmers US$1 billion a year in pesticide
The various strains of Bt bacteria collectively produce some 40 classes of
insect toxin, and the new variety of maize incorporates one that attacks
only the corn rootworm and its close relatives. But it also produces much
less toxin than existing Bt crops --increasing the prospect that insect
populations will have time to develop resistance to the toxin. To mitigate
this risk, refuges of non-Bt varieties are planted so that susceptible
insects can multiply. These then mate with resistant insects and dilute
out the resistance genes in the next generation.
But this strategy only works if the transgenic plants produce enough toxin
to ensure that only a very small number of insects (which might spawn
resistant offspring) survive, say Gould and other critics of the EPA
decision. If the crop produces too little Bt toxin, the survivors will
include a large number of partially resistant insects who are likely to
find each other and enrich the gene pool for resistance, they say.
Whereas established Bt maize varieties produce high doses of toxin, the
new variety kills only about half the rootworm larvae, according to data
provided by Monsanto to the EPA. This is enough to help farmers, Monsanto
claims, because it is just as effective as pesticide treatments and has
the advantages of saving time and doing less damage to the environment.
But with such a low mortality rate, resistance is certain to arise, the
strain's critics say --the only question is when. Farmers can delay
resistance by planting larger refuges. So Gould and ten other members of a
scientific review board that looked at Monsanto's application urged the
EPA to require a refuge size of at least 50% of the total area planted
In its ruling, however, the EPA sided with three dissenting review-board
members, and sanctioned the 20% refuge size that Monsanto had requested.
EPA spokesman David Deegan says that the agency's own calculations suggest
that even if the new variety were planted all over the United States, it
would take between 7 and 16 years for resistance to become a problem.
Monsanto expects its anti-rootworm corn to cover no more than 5 million
acres --6% of US cornfields --by 2005.
"The registration is just for three years, and I don't think resistance is
going to emerge in three years," argues Richard Hellmich, one of the
board's dissenters and an entomologist with the Agricultural Research
Service, the research arm of the US Department of Agriculture, in Ames,
Iowa. Hellmich's group is one of several that will be monitoring rootworm
in Bt fields for signs of resistance during this time. Refuge requirements
can be changed later if necessary, he adds.
But by then it may be too late, warns Margaret Mellon, who directs the
Food and Environment programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an
advocacy group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is hard to get
farmers to plant less of something if they like it, she argues, and once a
resistant population of insects arises, it can be very hard to eliminate.
"We need to protect Bt as a valuable resource and not use it up," she
Expert Advice for Healthy Eating
- Joseph Spence, Agricultural Research, USDA/ARS. March 2003.
In recent years, the news media have done a great job of providing the
latest information on advances in nutrition. Unfortunately, some of that
information can be confusing or may become quickly outdated, leaving us
unsettled about how to make informed decisions regarding what we eat.
So how can we decide what eating habits are healthy? The federal
government provides timely, relevant, and reliable nutrition advice. It's
in Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The
current edition, dated 2000, is available for viewing on the World Wide
Web at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.
The information in Dietary Guidelines is based on a careful and thorough
review of nutrition research reported in journals and other scientific
literature. The brief, science-based statements and recommendations in the
Dietary Guidelines provide the best available nutrition information
pertaining to Americans age 2 or older.
The guidelines are written by members of an advisory committee of
scientists who are mostly from outside the federal government. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture, through its chief research agency?the
Agricultural Research Service?and the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services jointly share responsibility for issuing the Dietary Guidelines
every 5 years. They alternate taking the lead role in this assignment.
Find Out What's in Your Food!
- 'USDA's Nutritive Value of Foods, Home and Garden Bulletin 72 (HG-72)'
Published in 2002, HG-72 contains data on over 1,274 foods expressed in
terms of common household units. The 19 nutrients in the table are water;
calories; protein; total fat; saturated, monounsaturated, and
polyunsaturated fatty acids; cholesterol; total dietary fiber; calcium;
iron; potassium; sodium; vitamin A in IU and RE units; thiamin;
riboflavin; niacin; and ascorbic acid. This edition was developed using
data from Release 13 of the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard
Download at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/HG72/hg72.html
Speaking Out About "Mute Scientists": Selection of Response from Readers
From: Klaus Ammann: Dear Elizabeth, Thanks so much for this article,
which I will distribute on Debate, a listserv which tries to encourage
scientists to become more outspoken --in my case about transgenic crops:
It is the clash between modernism and postmodernism that leads to these
situations where everything goes and everything is possible --even
straightforward antiscience views by modern Luddites (etymology: Ned Ludd
+ suffix -ite: a member of a group of early nineteenth-century English
workmen engaged in attempting to prevent the use of labor-saving machinery
by destroying it).
According to such people it is big bad science --with its neutral "it"
language --that is responsible for just about all negative aspects in
modern life. They only believe in "we" language, where everything is
relative. A sinister picture, but unfortunately one that is becoming more
and more true. It's this creepy attitude --all this anti-science stuff
silently taking over our lives from the intellectual backyards --which
makes me really crazy.
Here are links for some really telling cartoons describing the situation,
including one about all those mute scientists who are either naive enough
not to see the signs of a new kind of anti-fact McCarthyism or just plain
http://www.bio-scope.org/attach/debates/RiskCartoons.htm (2.4 KB)
http://www.bio-scope.org/attach/debates/RiskCartoons.pdf (1.5 MB)
http://www.bio-scope.org/attach/debates/RiskCartoons.ppt (15 MB)
I suggest participating in the Debate listserv, which also deals with
Science and the Public Trust. E-mail me if you wish to be subscribed to
this listserv, which I moderate and which has some two thousand addresses,
from Greenpeace to Monsanto. For past contributions, go to:
From Allan Felsot: Dr. Whelan - I just finished reading your editorial
published Feb. 27, 2003 in the Washington Times. I have been the subject
of ad hominem attacks in the Pacific Northwest for my skeptical views, so
naturally I wholeheartedly agree with your perspective. However, your
choice of entomologists on the list of "naÔve" scientists is unfortunate.
In 1985 I wrote a review article on the contributions of insect
toxicologists (who were mostly trained as entomologists) to the evolution
of environmental toxicology. Some of today's foremost toxicologists got
their start in entomology departments (for example, John Casida). Indeed,
some of the most skeptical toxicologists publishing today are associated
with or have Ph.D.s in entomology.
Personally, I have chosen to investigate and write from a skeptical
perspective on a variety of contemporary issues ranging from arsenic to
dioxins, acrylamide to biotechnology, and all aspects of pesticide
technology and its relationship to human health and the environment (see
http://aenews.wsu.edu). Entomology is a highly integrated discipline
within biology and always included an appreciation of the importance of
chemistry. Beyond entomology, many scientists in the broad field of
"agricultural sciences" are responsible for the early contribution that
evolved into a chemodynamic understanding of environmental contaminants.
While it is a shame that skeptical scientists tend to be mute, I think the
reason has more to do with intense interest in their disciplinary
endeavors (myopic as it may be) and the myriad problems in keeping an
academic research program going than with lack of outrage. A second
problem is that many academics are not connected to a specific community
of people who are affected by the negative publicity about a chemical
- Allan S. Felsot, Professor & Extension Specialist,
Entomology/Environmental Toxicology, Washington State University
>> The case of the mute scientists; Washington Times, Feb27, 2003
Biotechnology Industry Organization: Food and Agriculture
BIO's web page has some very useful resources such as documents
highlighting the benefits of bioengineered crops ('Fields of Benefits'),
Benefits of Biotech Canoloa, Corn, Soy and Cotton, 'Food and Agriculture
Time Line' (Multimedia Presentation ), Consumer and Environmental
Benefits; and Safety and Regulation.
There are also fact sheets on plant-derived Plant-made Pharmaceuticals
and Transgenic Animals. Visit http://www.bio.org/foodag/ and follow the
Seeds: The Delivery System for Plant Biotechnology
Striking advances in classical genetics and plant molecular biology have
opened the way for dramatic modification of crop plants for agricultural
and consumer benefit. Crop protection from diseases, insects and weeds is
being delivered through genetically modified seeds. Modification of seed
and fruit qualities is creating improved products and enhancing crop
value. The ability to transfer genes among species reinforces the
importance of preserving all plant germplasm, the majority of which is
stored as seeds.
The term "biotechnology" is not limited to genetic engineering. Many types
of "biological technology" must be integrated in order to deliver a
high-value seed product to market. For most crops, the seed is the
delivery system through which advances in plant genetics and biotechnology
are transferred into agricultural production. To function effectively as a
genetic delivery system, seeds require not only superior breeding, but
also high physiological quality and vigor to establish a crop in the field
under diverse environmental conditions.
Increased demands on seed quality create new opportunities for enhancing
seed performance, such as conditioning, priming, pelleting, coating,
beneficial microorganisms, crop protection chemicals and planting
technology. The increasing value of seeds as a multi-purpose delivery
system for agricultural technology is reflected in the recent
consolidations and capital investments in the life sciences and seed
industries. The biology and the economics of agricultural biotechnology
converge at the seed.
The Seed Biotechnology Center is a focal point for interaction between the
seed industry and the research and educational resources of the University
of California, Davis. It coordinates research to address problems of
interest to the seed industry and provides continuing education in seed
biology and technology. Its mission to mobilize the research, educational
and outreach resources of the University of California, in partnership
with the seed and plant biotechnology industries, to facilitate discovery
and commercialization of new germplasm and seed technologies for
agricultural and consumer benefit. Visit http://sbc.ucdavis.edu
Biotech Nantes 2003
- Nantes, France; September 25-26, 2003
The annual 7th European Biotech Crossroads gives the scientific and
economic Biotech community in Europe the opportunity to gather around
highly valuable seminars, to exchange and network at the business
partnering convention and exhibition. The venue of international experts
acknowledges the Crossroads as one of the major Biotech event in the
* Workshops on trends in the biotechnology industry with the participation
of current leading experts. * A permanent exhibition bringing together the
major actors of European research, big pharmaceutical companies, start up
and SME's, main research institutes and organizations, specialized
laboratories in the entire biotechnology field. * Round tables with
bio-entrepreneurs, business developers, investors, lawyers, associations,
lobbies and institutions.
* A business convention for research laboratories, start up and SME's,
industrial groups, investors and venture capitalists in the biotech
field.. *A permanent exhibition giving the opportunity to meet the main
financial organizations in Europe, venture capitalists, business a ngels,
bio-incubators and life science parks and technopoles, economic
development agencies, etc.?
Scientist's Songs Help Biology Students
- Saori Kan, Daily Yomiuri (Japan), March 5, 2003
Tatsuo Motokawa, a biology professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology,
has been singing songs he composed during his lectures to explain key
issues of biology for more than 20 years.
The researcher, 54, penned the bestseller "Zo no Jikan, Nezumi no Jikan
(The Time of an Elephant and the Time of a Mouse)," which introduced the
concept of physiological time as determined by the sizes of creatures, and
recently published a biology study book with three CDs featuring 70 of his
songs for high school students and those preparing for university entrance
The book, "Utau Seibutsugaku" (Biology by Singing), also includes the
lyrics to several amusing songs, including: "Tane o Maku Menderu (Seeding
Mendel)" about Gregor Mendel, the 19th-century monk who discovered the
principles of inheritance, "Idenshi Warutsu (Gene Waltz)" and "Koso Koso
Waga Inochi--Rappu (Enzymes, My Life!--rap song)," which explains the
function of enzymes.
Motokawa, who sang in choirs at primary, middle and high school, and at
university, performs the songs during his lectures to help his students
grasp the key issues and vocabulary of biology, while tackling the more
complex issues in a conventional fashion.
"Most students seem to hate rote learning, but I think memorizing
information enriches them mentally or intellectually. I just wanted to
help them enjoy learning facts by heart," said Motokawa, whose songs have
been carried in the journals of international and domestic academic
societies. He said, "In the field of biology, there are so many things to
learn by heart, which highlights the diversity of life."
Motokawa, whose father was a medical researcher, was born in Sendai. He
majored in biology at Tokyo University, as he "wanted to explore 'useless'
fields for their own sake." The field of biology has come to the fore with
the recent popularity of biotechnology, but at the time Motokawa entered
university, it was considered less practical than engineering, legal
studies and economics.
After he became a university lecturer, he was shocked when a famous
scholar told him: "You should devote yourself to your own studies. Don't
worry about scientific education, it's a job for retirees."
However, the nation is now facing an educational crisis and academic
standards are declining. "In the time of gene therapy and production of
genetically modified plants, biology isn't just literature any more. My
book is also an attempt to familiarize ordinary people with scientific
issues," Motokawa said.