Today in AgBioView: March 26, 2003
* US Speaker Call for Action Against EU Moratorium
* Australian Farmers Decide to Back GM Crops
* Statement by African Scientists on GM Food Aid and Famine
* The Prince, the Professor, and the Pea (GM Pea, that is)
* The Guardian's Love-Hate for AgBioWorld!
* Key GM Crop Experiment 'Lacks Statistical Power'
* Brochure on Indian Bt Cotton
* Empowering Science
* DNA and Reductionist Science
* Critic of Biotech Corn Fears UC Won't Give Him Tenure
* No GM Foods Please!
* Food Fights; Letter to the Editor
* America's Motive for Food Donations Questioned by Europeans?
* Looking Closer and Understanding Biotechnology
* Strong Buy - Deutsche Bank Change of Mind
* OECD's Biotechnology Update
* Error In the March 22 AGBIOVIEW: "Killing Plants That Cure"
Speaker Hastert Repeats Call for Action Against EU Moratorium on GMOs
- Roger Bernard http://www.agweb.com March 26, 2003
Trade barriers put in place by countries or trading partners like the
European Union (EU) relative to biotech crops must be addressed by the WTO
in the next round of talks on agriculture, according to House Speaker
Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
In testimony before a House Ag Committee hearing today on artificial
barriers to U.S. ag trade and food aid, Hastert noted, "Over the last few
years, we have seen country after country implementing protectionist,
discriminatory trade policies under the cloak of food safety -- each one
brought on by emotion, culture, or their own poor history with food safety
And, the EU is not the only offender, as Hastert pointed out such limits
on trade have also taken the form of "taxation of goods that include
agricultural products, such as the tax on soft drinks that contain high
fructose corn syrup in Mexico." "One particular issue I would like to
focus on today is the use of non-tariff barriers to limit the trade and
use of genetically-modified products," Hastert said.
Why would the Speaker of the House seek to address this situation? He
noted the following: "As the Representative of the 14th District in
Illinois, my district currently covers portions of eight counties,
including four of the top 25 corn-producing counties, and three of the top
50 soybean-producing counties in the nation. The State of Illinois is the
second-largest producing state of both corn and soybeans in the country.
Forty percent of this production currently goes to exports, valued at
approximately $2.7 billion per year."
Pointing out that 34% of all corn acres and 75% of all soybean acres are
genetically modified, Hastert said this merely continues the trend that
has been around since the "dawn of time" -- "farmers have been modifying
plants to improve yields and create new varieties resistant to pests and
"Almost all of today's commercial crops are now distant cousins from the
plants that first appeared in this country," Hastert said. "Biotechnology
is merely the next stage of development in this age-old process." "As this
Committee is well aware, the European Union has had an indefensible
moratorium on genetically-modified products in place for over four years
with no end in sight," Hastert observed. "This is a non-tariff barrier
based simply on prejudice and misinformation, not sound science. In fact,
their own scientists agree that genetically modified foods are safe."
He also noted that China's rules on GMO crop imports have been delayed,
but "such a labeling program would certainly result in higher food costs
for consumers and higher production costs for farmers." "Labeling
genetically modified products would only mislead consumers and create an
atmosphere of fear," Hastert charged. "It's important for the public to
know that the U.S. government has safely regulated biotechnology since its
inception over 30 years ago. And with the rapid evolution of plant
biotechnology in the early 1980s, additional regulation was added. Ask any
American farmer about government regulation and not one will tell you that
they are under-regulated."
At least one if not more federal agencies are involved in the regulation
of biotech crops, Hastert observed, adding it can "take up to 10 years to
bring a biotech variety to market." And the resulting work by the
regulatory agencies is open for review by the public.
"Still, regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, bans on
genetically modified products continue to persist and multiply," Hastert
said. "The worldwide impact has been staggering."
Specifically, Hastert said that the EU's ban has cost U.S. corn producers
$300 million in corn exports annually, and there have been rejections of
U.S. food aid because the shipments had biotech corn. "This based solely
on the fear that EU countries will not accept their food exports if
genetically modified seeds spread to domestic crops," he added.
"Clearly, the long-term impact of these prohibitive policies could be
disastrous for U.S. farmers in terms of competitiveness and the ability to
provide food for the world's population," Hastert reasoned. "Addressing
world hunger is particularly critical when approximately 800 million
people are malnourished in the developing world, and another 100 million
go hungry each day. Biotechnology is the answer to this pressing problem.
Farmers can produce better yields through drought-tolerant varieties,
which are rich in nutrients and more resistant to insects and weeds, while
those in need reap the benefits."
"It is my opinion that official WTO action is the only course that would
send a clear and convincing message to the world that discriminatory
policies on biotechnology, which are not based on sound science, are
illegal," Hastert stated.
"It is my opinion that the U.S. Government should immediately take a case
to the WTO regarding the current EU moratorium," Hastert concluded. "After
all, the price of inaction is one we can no longer afford to pay."
Australian Farmers Decide to Back GM Crops
- The West Australian March 26, 2003 http://www.thewest.com.au/ (sent by
Canberra - Australia's peak farm lobby today backed genetically modified
crops as a new report found they could boost the paypackets of grain
producers by $135 million a year. The National Farmers' Federation said
Australia should allow GM crops while attacking state governments which
have backed moratoriums on the new technology.
But the federation immediately was immediately attacked by anti-GM farmers
who said the organisation was out of step with everyday farmers.
Australia's GM watchdog is due to rule on the release of genetically
altered canola within the next fortnight. If approved, it would be the
first GM food crop grown in Australia - only two other genetically altered
crops, cotton and carnations, are grown domestically.
After months of discussion, the NFF issued a positions paper on
biotechnology and gene technology strongly in favour of their use.
Federation vice-president Wayne Cornish said farmers had the right to use
a range of farming systems, and that included genetically altered crops.
"Farmers should retain the opportunity to adopt the method of production
best suited to their business needs, be that GM, conventional, organic or
any combination of these methods," he said in a statement.
In its position paper, the federation said the release of GM cotton had
already led to substantial environmental benefits such as the reduction in
chemical use. New GM crops would help farmers survive global warming and
adopt to other climactic changes. It said there were other forms of GM
research which would be denied to Australian farmers if a ban on the
technology was adopted.
"Australian farmers stand to gain significantly from the application of
biotechnology in areas such as the control of feral species, the
minimisation of pollution and the treatment of waste water and effluent
and in the remediation of land affected by salinity or soil
acidification," the paper said.
The federation's position was backed with a University of Melbourne study
which found substantial gains from GM canola. The study's author, canola
agronomist Rob Norton, said it was clear there were substantial economic
and environmental benefits from GM canola. Dr Norton said farmers would
cut their use of the chemical triazine by 640 tonnes a year, improve their
conservation farming techniques and boost yields through the new
technology. It would also provide a boost to wheat crops, which are
traditionally grown the following year in canola fields.
"There are good gains for farmers with GM crops, and it has substantial
benefits for the environment," he told AAP.
But anti-GM farmer Julie Newman said Dr Norton's report was flawed, as it
failed to take into account the costs farmers would face by having to
segregate GM from traditional crops. She said it was also disappointing
the NFF had so strongly backed GM crops at a time when many farmers were
expressing concern about the technology. "This is the NFF executive trying
to tell farmers what to think, rather than asking what farmers want," she
Statement by African Scientists on the Question of GM Food Aid and Famine
in Southern Africa
The severe famine facing Southern African countries has brought to the
forefront, the issue of Genetically Modified (GM) food. In the last few
weeks, various conflicting statements have been made in the African and
international media regarding GM food aid to the continent. The African
scientists' position in this important debate has not featured.
African scientists from various countries have come together to clarify
the matter from a scientific perspective. We endeavors to provide
leadership and direction on this critical issue threatening the lives of
13 million people and over 300,000 facing near-death due to the various
governments' decision to refuse food aid because it is GM.
We believe the affected governments may not have consulted the local
African scientists or the people most facing hunger and starvation. These
governments' decisions appear to have been influenced by the anti-GM lobby
groups to advance their agenda. People are dying from hunger, brought
about by indecision, caused by misinformation from anti-GM groups, NOT GM
In view of this African scientists' state categorically as follows:
(a) That GM foods are tested and certified by government regulatory
agencies in USA and other countries and found to be safe against
allergies, toxins and any other harmful elements to human, animals and the
environment before being commercialized.
(b) To date, there is no scientific evidence or data to show that GM foods
are unsafe to human beings, animals or the environment.
(c) There is ample data and information from several credible
international organizations which confirm the safety of GM foods; these
include the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO), the OECD and many national regulatory committees.
(d) GM foods have been eaten by millions of people in the US, Canada,
China, Latin America over several years and there has been no documented
evidence of any harm to human beings, animals or the environment.
(e) To date, there are over 100 million acres of GM crops (James, 2001)
being grown globally and the acreage is increasing due to farmers and
consumer acceptance and demand.
The rejection of GM food by some African countries is therefore not based
on scientific data evidence of harm to human beings, animals or the
environment. As African scientists, we therefore consider it unethical and
inhuman to play politics with the lives of people under the pretext that
the food aid is unsafe because it is GM food.
African scientists stand for the proper introduction of GM crops based on
international protocols. We stand for responsible deployment of GM crops
in Africa under the Global International Bio-safety Protocol and National
Bio-safety Regulations and Guidelines.
The Prince, the Professor, and the Pea (GM Pea, that is)
- Philip Hunter, The Scientist, March 24, 2003.
The intensifying UK debate over genetically modified crops has rekindled a
feud between Prince Charles, heir to the throne, and leading evolutionary
biologist Richard Dawkins, as the government prepares to decide if GM
crops should be commercialized.
The prince, a strong advocate of organic farming, which is practiced at
many of his country estates, is continuing his long-running campaign
against GM crops on the basis that they threaten nature's delicate
balance. In his speeches, the prince insists that policymakers must listen
"to common sense emanating from our hearts, if we are to attain
Dawkins, author of the seminal book The Selfish Gene, and Charles Simonyi,
Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University,
counsels that the message of the heart can be misleading. "I don't want to
appear an apologist for GM foods," Dawkins says. "I'm just anti mystical
claptrap of the Prince Charles' variety."
The prince's office declined to comment on Dawkins' continuing campaign to
demystify GM crops in the scientist's capacity as a promoter of the
public's understanding of science. But the prince's office in St. James
Palace referred to recent articles and lectures, in which the prince does
not completely reject rational science but argues: "We need to restore the
balance between the heartfelt reason of instinctive wisdom and the
rational insights of scientific analysis."
The prince shows signs of attracting some allies within the government.
The UK government's environmental minister, Michael Meacher, declared on
Feb. 18 that biotechnology was not necessary to feed the hungry: "We do
not believe what is good for Monsanto is good for the world."
The Guardian's Love-Hate for AgBioWorld!
The Guardian (London) today (March 26, 2003) has run a story by Andy
Rowell "The Alliance of Science: 'Independent' Groups Share Pro-GM Common
And says... "One surprise is that the past few years has seen the
emergence of industry-funded lobby groups, thinktanks, websites and
libertarians, many of which are linked and are all pro-GM."
While mentioning AgBioView, it goes on ".. This coalition includes the
US-based AgBioWorld Foundation, run by CS Prakash. At the same time,
http://www.agbioworld.org is the internet's most prolific pro-GM
I say Thanks! We have learnt the value of networking from different NGOs,
but at least we don't all live at the same address! Just look at the
1. Five Year Freeze Campaign
2. The Food Commission
3. Genetics Forum; and
Have you wondered what the address of their offices is? The answer is 94
White Lion Street, London N1 9PF according to all their web sites!
Key GM Crop Experiment 'Lacks Statistical Power'
- David Concar, New Scientist, March 26, 2003
After four turbulent years, the largest experiment on genetically modified
crops in the world is all but over, with the fieldwork done and research
However, the scientists may get little chance of a breather. Opponents of
Britain's farm-scale trials have chosen the lull before the first findings
are published in a few month's time to mount the most detailed attack on
the science yet.
The trials were set up to address fears that the broad-spectrum herbicides
used with many GM varieties would harm farmland wildlife. But a 47-page
dossier of arguments and allegations, seen in advance by New Scientist,
claims the multimillion-pound experiment cannot succeed in delivering a
The trials are likely to play a key role in determining whether - and on
what basis - the British government sanctions commercial growing later in
2003. For now, the findings remain strictly under wraps. But based on the
trials' methods and first-year pilot observations, which are already in
print, campaigners claim the prospects for a clear verdict are bleak.
"That the trials look set to produce uncertain results is not a reflection
on the scientists involved," says Pete Riley, whose team at Friends of the
Earth compiled the report. "Rather it highlights the inherent problems of
embarking on politically motivated science."
Field furore. Opposition to the trials is not new. From the start
activists periodically ripped up trial crops while others claimed farmers
were biasing the outcome by treating GM fields with less herbicide than
would be used commercially - a charge the trial scientists rejected. Now,
with the endgame in sight, campaigners are keen to shift the focus onto
what even some neutral experts see as the experiment's potential Achilles'
heel: its statistical power.
The trials involved farmers growing both conventional and GM varieties of
sugar beet, maize or oilseed rape (canola) in neighbouring fields. There
were up to 25 sites per crop per season, which researchers would regularly
visit to count weeds, beetles and other biodiversity "indicators". The
goal was to discover if the GM fields held significantly less, or more,
wildlife than those with conventional crops. But what counts as "less" or
For weeds and insects, the scientists designed the trials to be sensitive
enough to have an 80 per cent chance of detecting 1.5-fold differences
between conventional and GM fields. However, the report claims this
sensitivity target is unlikely to be met for every species because of
"noise" in the data.
Based on the trials' own pilot observations, the report claims that levels
of some key indicator organisms, including beetles and broad-leaved weeds,
are likely to vary from field to field by far more than the 50 per cent
margin that the trial allows for. If so, that could make detecting a 50
per cent difference between GM and non-GM fields impossible even if the
difference is there.
The report also takes issue with the 1.5-fold target difference itself,
arguing that it is set too high. Previous research on the impact of
herbicides on grey partridges found that much smaller differences in weed
numbers - as slight as 13 per cent - were ecologically significant.
Les Firbank, who has coordinated the trials from the Institute of
Terrestrial Ecology in Cumbria in north-west England, rejects the
criticisms. "They're speculating on whether the experiment has been
capable of delivering the stated power. That won't be answered until the
data are published," he says.
Firbank says that the sensitivity target was never intended to be met for
every species. "The interpretation comes not from looking at each species
in isolation but from combining results from different species and looking
Peter Green, president of Britain's Royal Statistical Society, says that
while many of the report's points about statistical power are valid, such
problems are not unique to these trials and there are well-established
ways of handling them. "The danger with an issue that is so highly charged
politically," he says, "is that some people will seek black and white
answers when they are not attainable."
Brochure on Indian Bt Cotton
The documented experiences of Bt cotton farmers in India are synthesized
in a brochure produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop
Biotechnology of the International Service for the Acquisition of
An updated version is available online at http://www.isaaa.org/kc.
- WBR Rolleston Bioscience, February 2003 Vol. 12, No 5
Full article at
New Zealand is in a perfect situation to ride the biotechnology wave. We
are unique among developed countries in having an agriculture-dominated
economy. We are world leaders in aspects of agriculture which has been
built on 150 years of observation in the paddock and an emphasis on
biology in our research and science sectors. We can use these observations
to add value to our journey through genomics to proteomics and
bioinformatics to create knowledge for the benefit of medicine,
agriculture, industry and the environment.
It is often argued that industry sponsorship of science is leading to the
corruption and undermining of the scientific process. The explosion in
biological knowledge based on the genome is not only of benefit to
industry but if managed well science itself stands to benefit enormously
from its interaction with industry through increased capability and
academic freedom. But to capture these benefits we have to examine how we
market our science. Whether we like it or not the progress of science
depends on the flow of money be it from government, society or business.
Thus our ability to do science has always been based on our ability to
attract money, that is, our ability to market ourselves. We will attract
interest and money if we are seen as a country which is not obstructive to
progress and which has a reputation for excellence. Excellence in people,
capability and infrastructure.
DNA and Reductionist Science
- Thomas R. DeGregori http://www.healthfactsandfears.com/ March 25, 2003
Not everyone is celebrating this year's fiftieth anniversary Watson and
Crick's achievement: the deciphering of the double helix structure of DNA.
To some, the molecular biology of DNA is a symbol of the much-despised,
modern, Western, reductionist science that is blamed for every conceivable
ill from imperialism and male domination of women to environmental
Break It Down, Build It Up. In spite of the vast array of benefits that
the world has derived from science (and technology), its critics denounce
it by a number of pejoratives, such as "logophallocentric," that have
little meaning except to the critics. Instead of science, we are offered
post-modernist nostrums about the equivalence of various forms of inquiry
such as holism, deep ecology, or "local knowledge." No "privileged" status
is to be given to science and the scientific method.
Modern science is admittedly reductionist in many ways. The inquiry into
cell structure that went on for three centuries, climaxing with the double
helix discovery, was reductionist, analyzing ever-smaller units and using
chemistry or physics to understand life processes. This does not mean
however, that there was ever a prevailing view that all life should be
understood entirely by physics or chemistry. Studying organisms at the
molecular level has never precluded studying them at higher levels and
integrating those higher levels into a truly holistic understanding -- but
so-called holistic theories that are not founded on a base of reductionist
facts are illusions and evaporate on any close examination. However
aesthetically satisfying and politically correct such "holistic" theories
may be, they simply lack the problem-solving capability that is the legacy
of modern science and technology.
History of Achievement. "Reductionist" science and technology have played
a critical role in advancing the life sciences and laying the basis for
the discovery of the structure of DNA:
--In the seventeenth century, the microscope allowed Hooke and van
Leeuwenhoek to discover cubicles or cells in animal and plant bodies.
--In the latter half of the nineteenth century, chemists such as Johann
Friedrich Miescher were laying the foundation for the creation of
molecular biology. Physicists played an important role in founding
--Albrecht Kossel analyzed the cell nucleus and discovered the purines,
adenine (A) and guanine (G), and the pyrimidines, cytosine (C) and thymine
(T), in DNA.
--William Henry Perkin's accidental discovery of the aniline dye color,
mauve, in 1856 "changed the world," as one biographer put it, by creating
a stain for slides in microscopes.
--In a period from about 1878 to 1906, twenty of the microorganisms that
were long the scourge of humankind were identified, and powerful drugs to
combat them were developed over the next several decades.
--In 1928, Frederick Griffith published an article on his work with
bacteria in which he presented the first indication that nucleic acid
carried the information for inheritance, or the "transforming factor," as
he called it. Following in his footsteps, others confirmed the role of
nucleic acid in the inheritance of traits in bacteria, and then the
crucial role of A, G, C, and T combinations.
--The x-ray-diffraction experiments of Franklin and Wilkins provided the
final crucial step in paving the way for Watson and Crick.
The history of discovery leading up to Watson and Crick's double helix
revelation is one of gradual, piecemeal contributions to knowledge, and an
ever-broader group of scientists will continue to contribute to progress
-- by adding bit-by-bit to the discovery process, not by abandoning it for
some illusory, unscientific "holism." The structure of life and its
functioning as understood by modern molecular biologists is far more
complex, intricate, and detailed than ever imagined by "holistic" critics
of "reductionist science."
In addition to their theoretical beauty, reductionist understandings are
of practical value, leading to the creation of pharmaceuticals and
improved foodstuffs, doubling life expectancies and making us healthier.
Indeed, one of the primary reasons that medicine is becoming ever more
effective is that it is becoming ever more specific in its targets; toxic
or other adverse side effects are less likely as medicine becomes less
"holistic." For instance, pharmaceuticals are being designed to use the
body's peptide "zip codes" to seek out cancerous cells in a process called
"molecular targeting," enabling us to interfere with cancer cells'
reproduction without disrupting normal cells.
A Note on "Eurocentrism". Criticism of modern science as "reductionist"
often carries with it a belief in the victimization by science of women,
the underprivileged, and ecosystems. Meera Nanda has suggested the
opposite may be closer to the truth: awareness of DNA can be liberating.
Nanda suggests it would be "interesting" to see the reaction of
"untouchables" in India to the "knowledge that DNA material...has the same
composition in all living beings, be it Brahmin or bacterium."
"Reductionist science" is a powerful argument against racial prejudice and
bigotry of all kinds. Racial and gender prejudice are traditions of long
standing in most cultures; the "local knowledge" touted by the
postmodernists is not a cure for that prejudice but the basis of its
perpetuation. Perhaps the theme song of this fiftieth-anniversary
celebration should be (with apologies to the late Bob Marley): "one
DNA...let's get together and be all right!"
The centuries of inquiry leading up to the double helix in some sense fits
the postmodernist stereotyping of "Western" science, since it was largely
carried out by white, northern-European and North American males. But
today, a tour of the world's great research labs, including those in the
United States, reveals that the old "Eurocentric" cohort is a shrinking
one in most of them. For a short time, Europe's technological advantage
gave it the edge in scientific discovery, but science and its benefits now
belong to the world as a whole, regardless of what the postmodernists say.
The Complexity of the Reductionist View. We live in a complex world, and
however reductionist a theory may appear to be, it must generate and
explain complexity and diversity to gain acceptance. Specificity and
reductionism in science have been achieved precisely because researchers
are aware of layers and layers of complexity and seek to understand it by
gathering ever more detailed data. Little evidence is required for grand
and often simplistic "holistic" theories -- and few useful predictions or
discoveries come from them -- though their advocates insist on using them
to describe the world. Few ideas in modern thought are more "reductionist"
-- in the sense of absurdly oversimplifying things -- than the
oft-repeated assertion that modern science is mere reductionism and thus
fails to explain the world.
Thomas R. DeGregori ( http:www.uh.edu/~trdegreg ), Ph.D., is a professor
of economics at the University of Houston. Material for this article comes
in part from his books Bountiful Harvest; The Environment, Our Natural
Resources, and Modern Technology; and the forthcoming Origins of the
Critic of Biotech Corn Fears UC Won't Give Him Tenure
- Tom Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 2003
In a flap that raises new questions about corporate ties to universities,
some academics are wondering whether the junior UC Berkeley professor who
has become a leading biotech industry critic can get a fair hearing in a
tenure review that has already gone twice as long as usual.
The squabble, which offers a rare peek at the secretive tenure process,
revolves around Ignacio Chapela, who in 1998 led a fight against a
controversial research partnership between the biotech firm Novartis and
Berkeley's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Chapela, a critic of
biotech agriculture, also co-wrote a journal article in 2001 in which he
reported finding gene fragments from bioengineered corn in the genomes of
native Mexican maize.
The startling finding suggested that bioengineered crops could contaminate
regular crops and might reduce biodiversity. The journal later backed away
from the study after pro-biotech scientists criticized Chapela's methods.
Now Chapela's allies off and on campus say Berkeley Professor Jasper Rine,
who sits on a nine-member tenure review committee, has such close ties to
Novartis and to the biotech industry that he can't be trusted to give the
junior professor a fair hearing. "What we're talking about is a conflict
of interest as naked as it gets," said David Noble, a science historian at
York University in Toronto.
Noble made his allegations about Rine in a recent letter to Berkeley
Chancellor Robert Berdahl, a copy of which was sent to The Chronicle.
Noble, a longtime critic of research partnerships between universities and
corporations, noted that Rine co-founded a biotech company called Acacia
Biosciences in 1995. Citing published press releases, Noble says Acacia
licensed one of Rine's patented biotech inventions to the crop protection
division of Novartis.
After initially agreeing to meet a Chronicle reporter to answer conflict
charges, Rine stayed away after UC Berkeley officials told him that tenure
decisions, which involve personnel matters, must be made in confidence to
protect the integrity of the process.
"Jasper has absolutely nothing to hide," said UC Berkeley spokesman George
Strait, who answered questions about Rine's alleged conflicts and the
status of Chapela's