Today in AgBioView: March 10, 2003
* A Challenge to the World's Scientists - Kofi Annan
* Southeast Asia Positive Toward Biotech Crops
* Brazil Faces Dilemma of 'Illegal' GM Soya
* Who Patented My Gene?
* American Medical Association Decries 'Lies' vs Biotech
* GM Crops Could Boost World Economy - Aussie Bureau
* Banned Pesticides Poisoning Millions..?
* Misinformation on Biotech Threatens Africa's Hungry
* Modified Food-Aid Fears Slammed
* 'Fury Over Spin on GM Crops' - Response to The Observer
* The Journal of Obvious Results
* AgBioForum - New Issue
* Biting the "Billion-Dollar Bug" Back
* Biochemistry and Mol Biology for the Development of Africa
* Who Labeled My Cheese? More Readers Debate Kristensen on EU Labeling
A Challenge to the World's Scientists
- Kofi Annan, Science, Vol. 299, No. 5612, p. 1485. Mar 7, 2003
Science has contributed immensely to human progress and to the development
of modern society. The application of scientific knowledge continues to
furnish powerful means for solving many of the challenges facing humanity,
from food security to diseases such as AIDS, from pollution to the
proliferation of weapons. Recent advances in information technology,
genetics, and biotechnology hold extraordinary prospects for individual
well-being and that of humankind as a whole.
At the same time, the way in which scientific endeavors are pursued around
the world is marked by clear inequalities. Developing countries, for
example, generally spend much less than 1 percent of their gross domestic
product on scientific research, whereas rich countries devote between 2
and 3 percent. The number of scientists in proportion to population in the
developing countries is 10 to 30 times smaller than in developed
countries. Ninety-five percent of the new science in the world is created
in the countries comprising only one-fifth of the world's population. And
much of that science--in the realm of health, for example--neglects the
problems that afflict most of the world's people.
This unbalanced distribution of scientific activity generates serious
problems not only for the scientific community in the developing
countries, but for development itself. It accelerates the disparity
between advanced and developing countries, creating social and economic
difficulties at both national and international levels. The idea of two
worlds of science is anathema to the scientific spirit. It will require
the commitment of scientists and scientific institutions throughout the
world to change that portrait to bring the benefits of science to all.
But no bridge that science might build across the gaps between rich and
poor is strong enough to withstand the force of violence and war. If
science is to reach its full potential and draw on the great minds from
every country, we must do more to end and prevent conflict. Scientists
themselves have a key role to play here, too. The Pugwash Conference
movement, launched by the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955, brought
Russian and Western scientists together for more than 40 years to develop
common understandings of the dangers of nuclear war and ways of reducing
them, and in recent years has constructed a strong dialogue between North
and South on the problems of development. "Lab-to-lab" cooperation also
helped to lay the groundwork for cooperative nuclear disarmament and arms
control between Russia and the United States after the Cold War.
Peacemaking and peacebuilding should never be the exclusive preserve of
diplomats and politicians.
There are deep similarities between the ethos of science and the project
of international organization. Both are constructs of reason, as
expressed, for example, in international agreements addressing global
problems. Both are engaged in a struggle against forces of unreason that
have, at times, used scientists and their research for destructive
purposes. We share the experimental method; the United Nations, after all,
is an experiment in human cooperation. And both strive to give expression
to universal truths; for the United Nations, these include the dignity and
worth of the human person and the understanding that even though the world
is divided by many particulars, we are united as a single human community.
The scientific community's basic concern for human welfare makes it an
indispensable partner of the United Nations. With your help, the world can
achieve the "blue revolution" it so urgently needs to deal with current
and emerging water crises. Your research can enable Africa to move toward
a "green revolution" that will boost agricultural productivity. Your
solidarity can help developing countries build up their capacity to
participate effectively in negotiations of international treaties and
agreements involving science. And your advocacy can help bring about a
breakthrough in access to scientific knowledge; for example, through the
Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative, under which scientific
journals are provided to thousands of developing-country institutions,
free of charge or at a steep discount.
The agenda is broad and the needs immense, but together we are equal to
these challenges. The United Nations system and I personally very much
look forward to working with scientists throughout the world to support
your work and spread its blessings even further, even deeper, in the years
Kofi Annan is Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Southeast Asia Positive Toward Biotech Crops
- University of Illinois Press Release, March 10, 2003 (Forwarded by
Urbana - While well-fed countries engage in conversations about whether or
not biotechnology should be used to prevent pests and boost the world's
food production, developing countries in Southeast Asia express optimism
toward the technology in hopes of saving their starving populations,
according to a University of Illinois social scientist.
"In southeast Asia, key stakeholders believe that the benefits of
biotechnology outweigh the risks," said Napoleon Juanillo, social
scientist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental
Sciences at U of I. "They have many more mouths to feed than we do in the
United States, so they are focused more on feeding the hungry than
engaging in discourse about the moral and ethical dimensions. Although
moral and ethical concerns are expressed, for the most part, that is an
elite discourse and one they do not have time to engage in."
Juanillo recently completed a collaborative survey in five Southeast Asian
countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. With
help from approximately 250 university scientists in those countries, he
surveyed urban consumers, businessmen, Extension workers, farmer leaders,
religious leaders, journalists, policy makers and scientists about their
opinions and perceptions on biotechnology.
"Those who participated in the survey are the key stakeholders of these
countries," said Juanillo. "But, they are also rational people who are
looking realistically at their starving population and seeing the benefits
of biotechnology as a way to feed the masses. Anything new and promising
is welcome news to them. They seem to be saying, 'Our people are starving
and you're telling me to consider the risks?' It's an elite discourse."
By way of comparison, as of July 2002, the United States had a population
of a little over 280 million. Indonesia is about three times the size of
Texas and has a population of over 231 million. The total population of
the five Southeast Asian countries Juanillo surveyed is estimated at 481
million people. "The message to Illinois farmers is that Southeast Asia is
a big market for corn and soybean and there is not much opposition to
biotech products in those countries," said Juanillo.
Currently, Vietnam experiments heavily with biotech products. Indonesia
grows bitotech cotton. The Philippines recently approved field testing of
biotech corn, while the Malaysian government is pushing for more
experimentation and Thailand is just beginning experimentation. "Although
fear of the unknown typically drives up concern, the people of southeast
Asia are hopeful of anything new that will help their country," said
Juanillo. "They welcome any technology that will bring more prosperity to
their country. Developing countries are always behind and they look at
biotechnology as a potential tool to help them catch up.
Juanillo said that there is a misconception that these Southeast Asian
countries are just growing rice. "They're a tropical explosion. And, if
biotechnology can help them to develop more varieties of mangoes or
papayas, that's a good thing to them. Anything that can help them produce
better crops, they're in favor of."
Brazil Faces Dilemma of 'Illegal' GM Soya
- Luisa Massarani, Scidev.net, March 10, 2003
Rio De Janeiro - Brazil's new government has decided to maintain a ban on
the sale of food produced from genetically modified (GM) crops in the
country. But it has also promised to find a way of permitting the disposal
of transgenic soya that has been grown illegally in the south of the
country, which will be harvested later this month.
Both decisions were taken by President Luiz In·cio 'Lula' da Silva last
week after a meeting with representatives from six federal ministries. "We
are facing an important social and economic problem involving thousands of
small farmers and millions of tons of soya, a proportion of which is
transgenic," AndrČ Singer, the president's spokesman, said after the
"Because of this, and given the economic and social problems already
created, the government is seeking a legally acceptable solution that
allows the disposal of this harvest," he added.
Government representatives are reluctant to sell the harvested soya on the
national market, and are considering exporting it to countries in which
there is little opposition to GM foods from consumers, such as the United
States, Argentina and Canada. Rubens Onofre Nodari, a researcher from the
Federal University of Santa Catarina, suggests that exporting the crop
would be less controversial than trying to sell it nationally. But he also
warns that this could create a credibility problem in the future. "Will
[foreign] clients believe that the next harvest is not transgenic?" he
The Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, has accused the previous
federal government of indirectly encouraging the growing of GM soya,
saying it lacked a clear policy on GM crops, and failed to adequately
Ironically, however, the Brazilian region in which the most GM crops have
been grown is Rio Grande do Sul, whose previous governor, OlĖvio Dutra, is
a member of the Workers Party led by President Lula. Dutra has promised
to keep Rio Grande do Sul 'GM free'. But in practice it is thought that
about 80 per cent of this year's harvest in the region is transgenic.
Government representatives refuse to comment on the apparent
According to Silva, the farmers who grew the soya have acted illegally,
since growing such crops is only permitted for research purposes, on a
small scale, and with special authorisation. A key concern now facing the
government is how to persuade the farmers to change their behaviour.
Adriano Campolina, policy director of the non-governmental organisation
ActionAid, welcomed the government's decision of maintain the ban on GM
crops, and suggested reducing the market price of GM soya, to encourage
farmers not to grow it.
A government working group has now been set up by Lula with
representatives of all relevant ministries, many of whose ministers have
different and conflicting views on the issue. The group has been asked to
agree on a position for the government by the end of March.
Who Patented My Gene?
- Bob MacGregor
Not having a legal background, it is perhaps understandable that a lot of
the debate around the patent issue is a muddle to me. However, I fail to
understand how the discovery and/or description of an existing gene should
put a researcher in the position of patenting the gene itself.
If that gene is used in a unique way, say, by transplanting it into
another organism or, even by using reverse transcription to turn it off,
then I can see how the resulting organism might be patentable as a new
invention. The only case of gene patenting that I can see as new use or
invention would be where a gene is synthesized and is either totally new
to the world or differs appreciably from a naturally-occurring
I am a supporter of patents on new inventions, but I find it distasteful
to think that I may well carry any number of genes that some company owns
the rights to for the next 20 years. If I breed, will I be violating the
patent? Will my children be confiscated, or will a simple fine be enough
to make amends for the patent violation? Will the lawyers' fees and court
costs bankrupt me?
AMA Decries 'Lies' vs Biotech
- he Philippine Star, March 9, 2003
The American Medical Association (AMA) has accused opponents of
biotechnology and genetically modified food and plant products of
capitalizing on public ignorance in the latter's campaign to discredit the
The AMA is on a direct collision course with the British Medical
Association (BMA) in the global debate on biotechnology and GMOs. The BMA
has warned of possible risks from the use of these products.
In a position paper, the AMA said "opponents of GM food understand that
diminished understanding and lack of knowledge is the key to obstructing
The group lamented the results of a survey in Europe "which showed that
many European consumers believe that eating GM foods would alter their own
genes, while almost a half of the respondents believed that conventional
breeding techniques are as effective as transgenic (biotechnology)
techniques." The gene-altering myth is similar to propaganda used in the
Philippines by opponents of biotechnology. Farmers were reportedly told by
anti-GMO groups that ingesting biotech food products could cause
homosexuality and mental retardation.
The US doctors' group blamed the mishandling of the mad cow disease issue
on the negative public view on biotechnology in Europe. "The intensive
negative media coverage of the disease and a resulting lack of trust in
regulatory procedures have focused attention on the safety of GM foods,"
the AMA said. "The current public mistrust of science, expert opinion and
agriculture that exists in the UK cannot be underestimated," the AMA
The BMA position on biotechnology has been adopted by Europe-based
pressure group Greenpeace in its fight against the domestic propagation of
GM plants in the Philippines. Local Greenpeace campaigners have warned the
country that the use of the technology "will lead to millions of dead
bodies and sick children, cancer clusters and deformities".
Greenpeace recently stepped up its campaign in the Philippines following
the governmentĮs approval for the domestic propagation of the
high-yielding pest-resistant Bt corn variety. The local scientific
community, however, has adopted a position similar to the AMA. Scientists
led by experts from the University of the Philippines in Los Banos have
called on the Arroyo government to adopt biotechnology as the anchor of
the country's program for food security and sufficiency.
The position of the Filipino scientific community supporting agricultural
biotechnology was backed by the Philippine Maize Federation, Inc., the
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Business Council of
the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
GM Crops Could Boost World Economy - Australia ABARE
- Reuters, March 7, 2003
Sydney - Global adoption of genetically modified (GM) agricultural
production would boost gross domestic product world-wide through
significant productivity gains, a study by an Australian government
commodities unit shows. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and
Resource Economics (ABARE) said in a study distributed at its Outlook 2003
conference this week that full global adoption of GM crops would boost
aggregate income for all regions, measured by gross domestic product, by
an estimated $316 billion a year by 2015.
If the European Union did not adopt GM technology and banned imports of GM
products but the technology was adopted everywhere else, global welfare
would increase by the lesser amount of US$273 billion, ABARE said. If the
EU and poorer developing countries did not adopt GM technologies and the
European Union instituted a ban on imports, but GM technology was adopted
everywhere else, global welfare would rise by US$240 billion, ABARE said.
The largest percentage GDP increases were expected to occur in developing
countries, ranging between 1.2 and 3.1 percent for low income regions and
between 0.8 and 2.4 percent for middle income regions, it said.
Comparable increases in high income countries were estimated to be less
than 0.2 percent, it said.
Cost For EU GDP. The strongest impact from EU restrictions against GM
products would be on the European Union itself, with the GDP of Western
Europe estimated to decline by 0.16 percent if it banned production and
imports of GM products, ABARE said.
Low and middle income regions would be the major beneficiaries of full
adoption of GM products because of reduced prices for agricultural
products in countries where food was a large part of total expenditure,
ABARE said. Developing countries were also assumed to achieve
productivity gains above the world average in agriculture, it said. "Gene
modification technologies show considerable potential to raise
agricultural productivity for a given area of land," the government agency
World population was forecast to grow to 9.3 billion by 2050 from 6.1
billion in 2000, with all of the increase forecast to occur in developing
countries, it said. "The issue of food security is again becoming a topic
of concern," it said.
Australia presently produces GM crops of cotton and carnations. An
official decision is near on whether a commercial release of GM canola
will go ahead in 2003. The ABARE study quotes U.S. data that the global
area under transgenic crops has risen dramatically to 58.7 million
hectares (145 million acres) in 2002 from 1.7 million hectares (4.201
million acres) in 1996. The United States grows 66 percent of the world
total, Argentina 23 percent, Canada six percent and China four percent.
Banned Pesticides Poisoning Millions..?
- Letter sent to the Independent (UK) (not yet published) Dear Sir/Madam
Your article "Banned Pesticides Poisoning Millions" (27 February) was
timely, alerting us to global (WHO) estimates of 500,000 insecticide
poisonings per annum, resulting in over 5000 deaths.
Cheap, less safe and sadly often ineffective pesticides are used widely in
the Developing World in ways that would appall us in food-secure,
comfortably-off developed countries. Driven by high pest and consequent
disease pressures, poor farmers (if they can afford to) must overdose
their crops with such pesticides - up to 28 sprayings per season for
cotton, for example. Women and children, in particular, spray crops by
hand, often without any precautions.
Of course, if farmers cannot afford even these noxious pesticides, crops
fail and they may then overdose themselves. This is the romantic notion of
traditional "Mother Nature knows best" subsistence agriculture peddled by
many Western NGOs and environmental pressure groups. But it need not be
like this. In China and India, modern pest-resistant GM crops are now
being grown by over 3 million farmers (each often owning less than 1-2
hectares). Consequently, pesticide use has declined four-fold. Accidental
poisonings (and suicides) are also decreasing rapidly. Farmer
profitability, crop yield and quality are all increasing.
A recent peer-reviewed study by Reading University showed that, in 2000
alone, GM soybean, cotton, maize and oilseed rape crops reduced global
(non-EU) pesticide use by 22.3 million kg of formulated product. If only
50% of EU maize, oilseed rape, cotton and sugarbeet crops were genetically
enhanced, pesticide use here would also decline by 14.5 million kg (4.4
million kg active ingredient) and 7.5 million fewer hectares would be
sprayed, saving 20.5 million litres of diesel, resulting in 73,000 tonnes
LESS carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
So GM crops can even help the UK deliver its "renewable energy/lower CO2
emissions" policy released last week. Surely this is a win-win-win
situation for farmers, consumers and the environment?
How much longer must UK and EU farmers and citizens be denied the benefits
of modern, post-agrichemical agriculture?
Professor T. Michael A Wilson, Chief Executive, Horticulture Research
Misinformation on Biotechnology Threatens Africa's Hungry
- Charles W. Corey, Washington File, March 6, 2003,
Washington -- "Misinformation about the so-called dangers posed by
biotechnology is threatening lives in Africa," and the European Union is
"partly to blame for the situation," charged U.S. Senator Charles E.
In a March 5 speech to the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute
(CELI), Grassley said, "By refusing to adopt scientifically-based laws
regarding biotechnology, the EU has fed the myth that biotech crops are
somehow dangerous. Ironically," he added, "the European Union itself has
approved some biotech crops as safe. At the same time, the European Union
has refused to end its moratorium on biotech authorizations, a situation
that has led other countries to assume that biotech products are somehow
Grassley, who raises genetically modified corn and soybeans on a farm he
owns in his home (Midwestern) state of Iowa, said "the European Union's
lack of science-based biotech laws is unacceptable," and threatens the
health of millions of Africans. "I am particularly troubled by reports
that some EU member states have warned that their relations with poorer
countries -- including those in Africa -- could be harmed if those
countries accept U.S. biotech food aid," he told his audience.
"Any such threats," he termed "unacceptable." Food aid, he stressed,
"should not be used as a bargaining chip."
Grassley, who chairs the Committee on Finance in the U.S. Senate, said the
world is at a "turning point" with regard to agricultural biotechnology.
"On one hand, we can embrace biotechnology and use it to fight hunger in
Africa and other parts of the world. On the other hand, the world can
reject biotechnology and the promises it holds for African farmers,
African consumers, and others throughout the world.
"To me, the answer is clear," he said, "just as agricultural biotechnology
benefits those of us in the United States, it can benefit millions of
people in Africa."
Grassley called the situation in Africa a "tragedy," with some 13 million
people in southern Africa facing starvation within the past year. "The
United States, as one of the richest and most productive agriculture
nations on earth, rightly offered food aid to stop innocent people from
suffering. However, some African countries rejected U.S. donations of corn
due to a misplaced fear of biotechnology," he said.
Zambia refuses any shipments of U.S. food aid that consists of biotech
products even though its population is on the brink of starvation, he
said, adding that Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique will only accept U.S.
shipments if the corn is milled prior to being distributed.
Grassley said it is "shameful...that the leaders of some southern African
countries -- who are apparently well-fed -- would rather see their
populations go hungry than eat the same food we consume daily in the
"Scaremongers have propagated misinformation regarding biotechnology," he
While rumors have spread in Africa that biotech foods can cause allergies,
lead to deformities, and result in other health and environmental
calamities, Grassley emphatically told his audience, "Nothing could be
further from the truth! "If these products were unhealthy, we wouldn't
consume them in the United States. If they harmed the environment, we
wouldn't be growing them in Iowa," his home state. In short, Grassley
said, "misinformation about the so-called dangers posed by biotechnology
is threatening lives in Africa."
Following Grassley's remarks, Tim Hauser, deputy under secretary of
commerce for international trade also addressed the group, saying a new
global framework for trade is urgently needed. "Instead of
single-mindedly seeking preferential access for our exporters, we also
need to take into consideration serving the interests of the poor by
expanding trade and the economic opportunities that it creates. We need to
raise living standards throughout the world," he said.
Trade, Grassley proclaimed, provides the mechanism to do this. "Trade is
an essential precondition to continued increases in the standard of
living. It increases wages, job creation, access to food, medicines and
consumer goods, and encourages nations to accept economic and social
freedoms." In theory, he said, the United States and EU have the
opportunity to lead the world toward this reality. But in practice, he
lamented, recent differences with the EU over genetically modified
organisms -- including biotech corn -- have raised questions about whether
EU domestic concerns will help us in this endeavor of moving the world
towards peace and prosperity."
Hauser reminded everyone that the impact of this view of genetically
modified organisms extends far beyond the U.S. and EU borders. "The EU
policies towards biotech are now impacting some of the poorest countries
and those in greatest need of food aid -- nations such as Zambia --"
which, as Grassley noted, are rejecting food aid because of the EU's
stance on GMOs.
Hauser called this behavior "particularly alarming" at a time there are so
many food crises facing the world in 2003. Citing Central Intelligence
Agency estimates, Hauser said, the 2003 demand for global food aid will
reach a minimum of 12 million metric tons. Food aid supplies will only
reach eight million tons, he said, leaving a shortage of four million
metric tons -- which is equal to the food aid needs for all of Africa.
"In human terms, this means that as many as 14 million people in Africa
could face starvation," he told the panel.
To illustrate how dire the situation is in Zambia, Hauser related how,
when more than two million Zambians face starvation because their
government banned the consumption of genetically modified food aid, 6,000
Zambian villagers recently overpowered an armed policeman and looted the
GMO food aid stored at a warehouse in one of that country's worst impacted
Hauser also cited a case where a Zambian woman was forced to sell two of
her children to get enough food to feed her family. Expanding out from
Africa, Hauser said EU GMO food policies have the potential to be felt
elsewhere around the world in countries such as Afghanistan and North
Korea. Hauser reminded everyone that the United States is the World Food
Programme's largest donor, contributing $900 million or 52% of the WFP's
2002 funding, and more than 63% of that program's funding in 2001.
"Thus, we are appalled, that countries in desperate need of our food are
not accepting it in part because of actions on the part of our EU
partners. Food aid is not reaching at-risk populations because of
political calculations on the GMO issue, and this needs to be rectified."
Hauser called on the EU to "speak out" regarding the scientific assessment
it has completed regarding the safety of approved biotech food. "The EU
must also act to help dispel the fear that accepting food aid will
jeopardize later Africa agricultural exports into European markets," he
In closing, Hauser said the United States "remains dedicated to trying to
get desperately needed food to the (African) region."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
Modified Food-Aid Fears Slammed
- Tamar Kahn Business Day (Johannesburg), March 6, 2003 (Sent by Andrew
A delegation of African scientists who attended a European Union (EU)
conference on agriculture in the developing world has come out in support
of the US complaint that EU policies put pressure on African governments
to reject food aid containing genetically modified organisms.
Last year Zambia turned down the offer of genetically modified maize from
the US, saying the safety of the food had not been proven. It also
declined the offer of a milled version free from seeds that farmers could
The scientists complained that humanitarian groups such as Oxfam,
Christian Aid and Save The Children, backed by EU funds, had frightened
African governments into rejecting food aid. They said the groups had also
alarmed starving populations. "Some groups have told people that
genetically modified products are dangerous and could cause cancer," said
the executive director of industry body Africabio, Prof Jocelyn Webster.
Webster and Prof James Ochanda, head of biochemistry at the University of
Kenya, led the African delegation.
The scientific delegation said that genetically modified crops boosted
yields and could make Africa less dependent on foreign food aid. The
scientists also criticised Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save the Children for
lobbying the UK government over developing countries' plans to grow
genetically modified crops.
The European visit, which included meetings with the Vatican and the Food
and Agriculture Organisation, was also intended to persuade officials that
European anxieties over genetically modified food were directly affecting
agricultural production in Africa. Webster said developing countries were
hampered in their efforts to use biotechnology to engineer improved crops
because modified produce was not acceptable to European markets.
UK: Response to The Observer's 'Fury Over Spin on GM Crops'
>> Mark Townsend, The Observer, March 9, 2003
Original article text begins with '>' while the response appears in
(The only fury has been from NGOs)
>> Protesters claim review is meaningless
(Some are deliberately missing the point as the debate is not going too
well for them)
A furious row has broken out between scientists and the Government over
claims that Ministers have already decided to introduce genetically
modified crops into Britain's countryside within the next 12 months.
(Biotech industry absolved in first line from this 100% incorrect
>> Scientists and advisors close to the study into whether GM crops should
>be commercialised in the UK have told The Observer of increasing fears
>that Ministers have embarked on a sophisticated campaign of manipulation
>designed to railroad Britons into accepting GM products.
(Some railroad when GM crops were all set for commercialization approval
in 1997) or (study is about effect of herbicide tolerant GM crops on
biodiversity in the UK countryside)
>> Such is the mounting level of concern that this week the Consumers'
>Association will launch a ferocious attack on the Government's Food
>Standards Agency (FSA), accusing it of ignoring the health fears of its
(CA wrote to FSA last week about this, even though CA's own most recent
study found 39% of people would choose GM if it used less chemicals to
>> It is precisely such disquiet that prompted Ministers to launch a
>public debate and scientific review of GM crops last summer. But seven
>months later, officials remain furious over the Government's reluctance
>to explain how the debate will actually influence the final decision.
(Officials in DEFRA have consistently reflected their minister's view that
the GM debate is not a referendum) Malcolm Bruce, chairman of the
committee organising the debate, has become so exasperated he will write
to the pro-GM Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett in the next fortnight
demanding an answer. If he's really so exasperated, why wait two weeks to
write And by the way, It's not Malcolm Bruce who chairs the AEBC but
Professor Malcolm Grant, but then this is The Observer, stablemate of The
>> For many others, her reticence is increasingly obvious. 'What is the
>point in proceeding if decisions are already made?' said Clare Devereux,
>spokesman for lobby group Five Year Freeze and member of the debate's
>steering board. Same argument, different context - ah, so this is where
>this story has come from) Her anger is fuelled by news that completion of
>the farm-scale crop trials - designed to discover whether GM crops affect
>the environment - has also been delayed, ensuring their potentially
>controversial findings cannot be discussed in the debate.
(Recognition what the FSEs are all about, but spoilt by red-herring about
results timing. Debate timetable has just been extended - by Mrs Beckett
no less - to include them specifically. See
>> Concern also continues to escalate over the Government's GM science
>review. Its panel of experts have met only twice since last October, amid
>accusations it has sidestepped topics such as potential health effects.
(Wrong. See http://www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/meetings/default.htm#Past )
>> One member of the review, Dr Andrew Stirling, of the science policy
>research unit at the University of Sussex, said: 'I am concerned that a
>number of uncertainties and unknowns like potential cross-pollination are
>in danger of being neglected. It's not a very balanced format.'
(But cross-pollination was the main issue discussed on a science panel
meeting on 27 January. Perhaps Dr Stirling (a voting member of Greenpeace
UK and the Green Alliance according to his list of Science Review Panel
interests - will be reassured after reading the meeting's transcript at
>> Of the 25 experts involved in the process, at least a third are known
>to have strong pro-GM views. These include consultants to Lord
>Sainsbury's biotech investment company Diatech Ltd, employees of Monsanto
>and Syngenta, and those who have attacked organic food - the nemesis of
>the GM lobby - as poisonous.
(So two thirds - a majority - either are neutral or hold strong anti-GM
views. Seems fair. See Science Panel Review Membership at
>> Al though an unnamed Minister has warned that a decision on GM has
>already been taken, (although he didn't warn that on 9 July 2002) this
>was denied by a spokesman for the Department for Food Environment and
>Rural Affairs. 'There will not be any growing of [GM] crops in this
>country until the results of the farm-scale trials have been considered,'
(The only correct quote in the whole story)
The Journal of Obvious Results
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Health Facts and Fears, March 7, 2003
A new journal is needed. It should be titled The Journal of Obvious
Results -- and Unwarranted and Spectacular Conclusions. The readers of
ACSH's webpages have by now seen headlines that read "Organically grown
foods higher in cancer-fighting chemicals than conventionally grown
foods." Like souls in a Hollywood hell, forced to sit through a bad movie
for eternity, we will undoubtedly be having this "finding" thrust at us ad
infinitum, as we are in the case of this latest article meant to prove the
superiority of "organic" food.
The press releases about the article tell us that the its "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." So far, so good!
In the press release, we are told: "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
What is strange is that the article implies that any naturally-produced
plant chemicals must be _good thing_ -- and the more the better. The
authors would never make such a sweeping -- and unwarranted -- assumption
about manmade chemicals, of courses, so why make it about plant chemicals?
We have thus been provided with an article that would be perfect for an
issue of The Journal of Obvious Results -- and Unwarranted and Spectacular
Conclusions. What the article says is that plants in agriculture (or
elsewhere) areattacked by a variety of insects and microorganisms
(bacteria, fungi, and viruses) as well as rats, birds, and other
creatures. Since plants can't run from predators, their main line of
defense is to respond by producing toxins to ward them off.
Obvious result number one is the confirmation that the less agricultural
plants are protected from predators, the more they produce toxins. This is
not only obvious and already very well known but is clearly stated in the
press release and the article (I downloaded it and read it) -- but it's
not stated as clearly as it could be. The chemicals are not referred to as
"toxins" by the writers but as "phenolics" and "antioxidants." The article
itself refers to "secondary plant metabolites" and "secondary phenolic
metabolites" that "play an important role in plant defense mechanisms."
Fine, but imagine how quickly these same chemicals would be clearly
labeled as "toxins" if they were created by some high-tech process. It
reminds me of the anti-biotech propaganda that refers to the protein in Bt
corn as "toxic" when it is put there through biotech and then refers to
the same protein as harmless when it is in live, "natural" Bt
If these chemicals are so good for us when produced the "natural" way and
if plants make more of them when threatened, an obvious policy move would
be to release additional insects and other plant predators into "organic"
agricultural fields to get even more "nutritious" food. Why hasn't someone
thought of that before?
Well-Known Facts about Plants and Chemicals
For some time now, Bruce Ames and others have been arguing that the vast
majority of the toxins we ingest are the natural products of plants
themselves, a conclusion shared by two different National Academy of
Science panel reports. One man's meat is another man's poison, and one
organism's deadly toxin is another's nutritious protein. No one would deny
that in the enormous range of plant toxins, some are beneficial to humans
while others could well be harmful and even carcinogenic. In fact, a
number of the naturally produced plant chemicals, including secondary
plant metabolites, have been shown to be carcinogenic. If one goes back to
Ames' 1983 article in Science (vol. 221, no. 4617:1256-64), "Dietary
Carcinogens and Anticarcinogens," one finds that plants produce both
carcinogens and anticarcinogens, and it is the balance between the two
that determines whether a food is anti-carcinogenic.
Our proposed journal, The Journal of Obvious Results -- and Unwarranted
and Spectacular Conclusions, should have a special section called "The
Stacked Deck" for articles biased in the way that the organic study under
examination was. There was no stated attempt to test for secondary
metabolites except those that were considered beneficial. Even though it
was clearly indicated that insect infestation was the likely cause of
higher "phenolic" production, there was no stated attempt to test for the
fungus or other microorganisms that the insects may have carried or the
toxins that these organism produce. Nor was there any statement of
bioavailability -- simply the announcement that it was in the plant.
I have no quarrel with the authors doing such research or the journal
publishing their results, but both could have been more responsible in how
they did it. The article and the press release should have clearly stated
that this was at best only a partial finding and that a fuller account
would require detailing the production of carcinogenic compounds
(including those produced by the insect infestation) and the
bioavailability of each type, not just anti-carcinogens. Some estimation
of the costs and benefits to consumers, given the likely price of the
plants in the marketplace, would also help. The authors call for "further
studies" (and, to their credit, note that mundane factors such as
fertilizer use can affect the nutrient and protein content of plants), but
they limit their call for new research to a proposedlook at "total
Surprising Conclusions, to Say the Least
The conclusions being touted about the research -- particularly that
plants creating more chemicals create health benefits for human consumers
-- clearly win classification as "Unwarranted and Spectacular
Conclusions," particularly when the opposite conclusion is a very real
possibility, if tests were done for it. It would be interesting to learn
why the editors of a reputable journal and the peer reviewers did not
request some kind of brief statement indicating that only limited
conclusions could be drawn from the article.
We will no doubt be seeing this article's conclusions show up as
non-sequiturs at the end of many articles in the future. The "organic"
folk will not let you forget them.
Thomas R. DeGregori is a member of the ACSH Board of Directors and the
author of two recently published books, The Environment, Our Natural
Resources, and Modern Technology (Ames: Iowa State Press, A Blackwell
Scientific Publisher) and Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and
the Environment (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute).
The latest issue of AgBioForum is now available online at
http://www.agbioforum.org/. Below is the table of contents for the issue.
1. Product Differentiation Alternatives: Identity Preservation,
Segregation, and Traceability
- Stuart Smyth and Peter W.B. Phillips
2. The Payoffs to Transgenic Field Crops: An Assessment of the Evidence
- Michele C. Marra, Philip G. Pardey, and Julian M. Alston
3. Consumer Attitudes Towards Genetic Modification, Functional Foods, and
Microorganisms: A Choice Modeling Experiment for Beer -- Michael Burton
and Dale Pearse
4. Unacknowledged Health Benefits of Genetically Modified Food: Salmon and
Heart Disease Deaths
- Randall Lutter and Katherine Tucker
5. Production and Marketing Characteristics of Adopters and Nonadopters of
Transgenic Cotton Varieties in California - Marianne McGarry Wolf, John
Gelke, Michelle Lindo, Philip Doub, and Brian Lohse
- Best regards, Glenn Rice, Technical Editor of AgBioForum
Re: Scientist's Songs Help Biology Students
- Toby Horn (email@example.com)
Also, check out Art Siebens' biology songs at:
Dr Siebens teaches AP Biology at Wilson SHS in Washington DC.
Biting the "Billion-Dollar Bug" Back
- Dean Kleckne, Agweb.com. March 6, 2003
The timing was impeccable - The very week we were celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the discovery of DNA, we also learned of a major advance in
agricultural biotechnology. On February 25, the Environmental Protection
Agency granted commercial approval to a new kind of genetically modified
crop that will fight rootworm, the corn farmer's most destructive pest.
Rootworm is sometimes called the "billion-dollar bug," because that's how
much damage it does to American farmers each year, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. That's $800 million from lost yield, and
another $200 million from pesticide expenses.
Some corn farmers concerned about this pest--which is to say, just about
all of us--now will have the option of purchasing this seed this year.
Because of the limited seed available with this new trait, this technology
will only have a limited impact for the 2003 growing season, however some
experts believe this genetically modified crop may eventually be used on
as many as 15 million of America's 80 million corn acres.
There are several varieties of corn rootworm, but all share in common the
nasty habit of chewing on the roots of corn plants. They do this as
larvae, and their feeding makes it difficult or impossible for the crops
to absorb the water and nutrients they need to grow. Plants with stubby
roots also don't stand up well; high winds knock them down with ease.
In years past, farmers have sprayed their fields to combat these harmful
creatures. Yet new generations of rootworm have developed resistances to
insecticides, finding new ways to elude these tools.
Another traditional strategy also has its problems. Because rootworm eggs
overwinter in the soil and hatch in the spring, farmers have rotated their
crops so that the bugs have nothing to eat. Adult rootworm beetles in some
regions have wised up to this practice, however. They're laying eggs in
soybean fields, apparently sensing they'll be corn fields when their eggs
hatch. In other places, the eggs apparently stay in the ground for two
winters before they hatch.
These bugs don't have big brains - they're simply adapting to their
environments they way any dumb creature would do. Yet sometimes it sure
seems like they're outsmarting us.
Biotechnology now will address this problem. The rootworm repellant seed
is a variety of Bt corn. That means it pulls a natural toxin from a common
soil microbe, Bacillus thuringiensis, and inserts it into the corn plant.
The toxin is completely harmless to humans, but it offers a new solution -
a new tool - to combat this devastating yield-robbing pest.
Corn farmers already have plenty of experience with another kind of Bt
corn, which targets the European corn borer--another terrible pest. In
fact, about one-third of all the corn grown in the United States is now
genetically modified. These farmers understand the benefits that new
biotech solutions can provide. That rate is bound to rise as word spreads
about the rootworm resistant seed. Farmers who choose to plant it will
have to abide by a careful planting regimen that ensures the larvae don't
become immune to the Bt toxin. With producers practicing good stewardship,
we will have an amazingly effective new weapon to use against the
Consumers certainly will appreciate the news that biotechnology allows
these rootworm resistant seeds - and other products still in the pipeline
- to make better use of our resources while protecting the environment.
"Corn rootworm is the pest that requires the single largest use of
conventional pesticides in the United States," said Stephen L. Johnson, a
top EPA official, in the New York Times. "From an environmental and human
health perspective, this product replaces some very significant
problematic, or potentially problematic, chemicals."
Food-safety advocates are delighted at the news. "This is a blockbuster,"
said Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in
the Washington Post. "It's the first product to come down the line in a
while that really could cut insecticide use and help the environment."
Psst. I've got a hot market tip: It's time to short sell the
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for the Development of Africa
- Yaounde, Cameroon; November 25 - 28, 2003
Host: Federation of African Societies for Biochemistry and Molecular
Bio-industries are weakly represented in African countries, perhaps with
exception of South Africa. It is hoped that the experience of
international participants will serve as a stimulus to the Africans to
explore how to convert their ideas into marketable products. Besides these
practical aspects, the programme will make room for themes such as gene
expressions, function and regulation protein/enzyme structure, metabolism
etc. Emerging trends and techniques are also included.
Young scientists and recent PhD holders may apply for a limited number of
"The Federation of African Societies of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
(FASBMB) aims to bring together African biochemists/molecular biologists
through their national associations.
During the founding of the Federation in 1996 in Nairobi, Professor
Makawiti, in his welcome speech said, "this conference comes at a time
when resources for scientific research are becoming extremely scarce,
personnel training and equipment for institutional research capacity
building prohibitively expensive". Therefore, the task for the Federation
must be to move to find solutions to the problem of diminishing research
and training resources."
Minister Counsellor Anders Buch Kristensen -- Chymosin and EU regulations
- Brad Mitchell and Drew Kershen
Europe bans recombinant bovine somatropin (rBST) for several articulated
reasons including health and animal welfare claims about rBST that the
United States FDA rejected. Ignoring these health and animal welfare
claims for a moment, rBST is a processing aid that assists cows to produce
To use Minister Counsellor Anders Buch Kristensen's words, "It is the same
chemical substance (i.e. the milk), and in no case, a gene modified
product itself." As a processing aid, Europe, under its GMO regulations,
should treat rBST like chymosin in light of the Minister's statements.
Hence, milk, including milk produced using rBST as a processing aid, would
not need to be labeled. Europe should treat it like it treats chymosin.
Building on the Minister's words, let us add another group of products.
Processed soybean oil and processed corn oil are identical chemical
substances regardless of whether the initial soybean or corn was from a
transgenic plant or a non-transgenic plant. No scientific means exists to
distinguish these processed oils based on their original source ingredient
because (again to use the Minister's words) the chemical substances are
identical in every regard. Yet the European regulations require labels for
processed soybean oil and prodcessed corn oil as GMOs if the original
soybean or corn was transgenic. In light of the Minister's articulated
explanation, the EU regulations should not make the distinction that the
EU regulations do make.
- Brad Mitchell, Department of Forests & Agriculture,
- Drew L. Kershen,Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of
Oklahoma College of Law
Re: Who Labeled My Cheese? (or not)
- Bob MacGregor"
In reading Kristensen's response, every answer raises more questions. Is
it true that GM chymosin is 100% identical to rennet chymosin? Is it true
that the enzyme is somehow 100% removed from the cheese product before
sale? If this is true, and a reason not to label, then why label corn
syrup, corn starch, soy oil, etc., none of which have detectable levels of
GM proteins that may have been present in their sources?
Kristensen says: "Chymosin 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
How is it that GM chymosin isn't considered a gene modified product? Does
this mean that, as long as the Bt in maize is identical to the bacterial
Bt, the maize isn't a gene modified product?
The only one of the reasons Kristensen gives for not labelling cheese that
I understand clearly is that the regulation isn't yet in force!
Who Labeled My Cheese? (Roush vs. Kristensen: EU Labeling)
- Rick Roush
RE: Response to Anders Buch Kristensen on Labeling EU Cheese
Let me just try a few word substitutes in the reply from Anders Buch
The original read:
>> "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
With word substitutes and deletions for brevity:
"Canola oil .... is traditionally produced from mutated and selected
canola plants, but can be produced by a GM canola plant.
It is the same chemical substance, and in no case, a gene modified product
Can someone explain to me again why canola oil (or for that matter, cotton
seed oil) would require a label in the EU but cheese does not?
Anders Buch Kristensen Responded
1. If you cannot see the difference, sorry for you
2. See my earlier answer/ the declaration from the Council and Commission
attached to the decision on GMO food feed: there is a case for continuing
with regulation for products like GM micro organisms and enzymes not
present in the final products.
Rick Wrote back:
Dear Anders: Thanks for your reply. I have read your replies carefully,
and understand the distinction that you are trying to draw. You are a
brave soul for trying to defend this position on AgBioView.
Still, the distinction seems to many if not the vast majority of us (both
scientists and farmers) in North America (and Australia, where I lived
until last week) to be little more than legal word play that provides an
exception for food products that have been on the market for years and
haven't attracted a lot of public attention. Indeed, the first people to
raise this issue in discussions with me were Canadian canola growers in
Saskatoon, who complained that they were being penalised but British
cheeses weren't. GM organisms and enzymes are also not present in food
oils. If I understood the Australian labelling rules correctly, the
distinction is not accepted there, and about 70% of British cheeses would
have to be labelled if imported to Australia.
In a very real sense, it is not me that you should be sorry for, but the
EU. The distinction makes no biological or ethical sense (there are no
health risks, and both are equally rejected by the most ardent anti-GM
activists as unnatural). Therefore, the rules invite ridicule and the
suspicion of trade protectionism that you tried to reject in your earlier
message. It's a bold position, but fools no one with its arbitrariness.
Good you understand that there are different products with different
relation to GM. The line have to be drawn somewhere. The European
Commission, the government of the 15 member states and the European
Parliament have decided the scope for the present regulation and perhaps
this will be changed later.
But wether you (or I) accept or understand this drawing of the line is not
very important. You claim that the rules have been made in order to favour
EU produce. This is based on the assumption that cheese, wine and beer
generally in EU are made with Chymosin or yeast having any relation to GM.
This is not true, since the benefit would be negligible and the products
could not be sold.
For the majority of the policy makers the aim of the new regulation is to
give the consumers a choice, hoping that after some time GM products will
be generally accepted.
- Kind regards, Anders Buch Kristensen