Today in AgBioView: March 31, 2003
* Press Before Paper--When Media and Science Collide
* Old News In New Bottles: Old News Repackaged
* Insects Thrive on GM 'Pest-killing' Crops
* European Agbiotech Crisis?
* Italy Employs Further GMO Delay Tactics
* More On GM Foods and Reckless Reporting
* Mimicking Nature to Eat Well
* Genetic Engineering and Food Production: Where are We Now?
* Democrats Criticize U.S. Trade Rep. Over WTO Cases
* No Increased Risk for Animals Consuming GM Crops, Says Professor
* Environmental Biosafety Research
* Kenyan Ndiritu to Head ISNAR
* World Seed Congress 2003
* Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Harvard Executive Program
* Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals
* Regulation of GMOs in the EU
Press Before Paper--When Media and Science Collide
- C. Neal Stewart Jr., Nature Biotechnology, April 2003 Vol 21 No.4 pp 353
- 354; www.nature.com. Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the
Since the UK Royal Society (London) published the first issue of the
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 16651, scientific
journals have been the traditional means by which researchers publicly
release their data. In recent years, however, media coverage of science
before publication and the phenomenon of science by press release have
become increasingly common mechanisms for the public dissemination of
scientific information. I argue here that media coverage of scientific
discoveries in the absence of corroboration in a peer-reviewed scientific
paper not only compromises scientific discourse, but also acts
perniciously on the public perception of science.
In no area of biology is the phenomenon of media release of science more
evident and more damaging than in biotechnology. Several examples
immediately come to mind where press-before-paper incidents have had
deleterious and far-reaching consequences.
In 1998, Arpad Pusztai, a scientist at the Rowett Research Institute
(Aberdeen, UK), disclosed in a television interview (aired in the United
Kingdom) experiments in which genetically modified (GM) potatoes
expressing a lectin gene "caused toxicity to rats" that ingested them in a
feeding study. This prompted a stampede of media scare stories concerning
the dangers of toxin-laden GM products, despite the fact that no
independent corroboration of Pusztai's results was provided (indeed, the
story was made even more juicy by the dismissal of Pusztai by the
institute). A year after the debacle, the results of Pusztai's research
were finally published in a peer-reviewed paper in the Lancet 2. This
paper demonstrated that the findings announced on the television, along
with all the extrapolations, were flawed. But the damage was already
done--doubts had been planted in people's minds. The incident marked a new
low for the (already shaky) public image of agricultural biotechnology in
More recently, the Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) issued a press
release concerning a study completed in 2001 that was in review for
publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The study focused on the
consequences of gene flow from transgenic sunflower to wild sunflower. The
press release coincided with a presentation by Allison Snow at the 2002
Ecological Society of America annual conference 3. With mass starvation in
Africa as a backdrop, newspapers and magazines seized on the story, some
warning of impending ecological disaster if GM crop plantings continue
apace. To say the least, this placed African governmental acceptance of GM
food shipments on a precarious footing. After hasty diplomatic efforts by
the World Health Organization (Geneva) and the United States, most African
countries did finally accept US transgenic food as aid, but it is unknown
how many people starved to death while the press chewed on fodder from the
Ohio State University press release. The scientific paper is yet to be
Both of these examples highlight the problem of media sensationalization
and hyperbole resulting from the premature release of scientific findings.
But in some cases absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever is required
to launch frenzied media coverage of an area of research. Clonaid, a
company associated with the Raelian religious cult, announced the birth of
"the first cloned baby" on December 26, and a second on January 3.
Although the Clonaid CEO and Raelian bishop Brigitte Boisselier was giving
around-the-clock interviews, there was, simultaneously, a total absence of
any scientific evidence that any such babies existed and that they were
clones. A freelance journalist, Michael Guillen, and a team of independent
scientists were to have cooperated with Clonaid and the putative parents
of the putative clones in DNA tests that would have proven or disproved
the Clonaid clone claims. Yet, these results are still not forthcoming,
and Clonaid has stonewalled. Guillen has since suggested that Clonaid is
guilty of "an elaborate hoax".
There are at least three reasons why scientific findings should never be
covered by the popular media before their publication in a peer-reviewed
paper. The first reason is that peer review is an essential first step in
testing the rigor of scientific findings before wider publication and
dissemination to the community--it is an essential quality control
mechanism to ensure that claims are supported by data, that adequate and
proper experimental controls have been carried out, and that a
satisfactory description of the methods has been presented to allow
independent reproduction by other scientists (see "Peer review under the
It is only after peer-reviewed publication that scientific information can
enter the second tier of validation--open scrutiny by the scientific
community and ultimately, independent replication. The day a paper has
passed peer review and is accepted for publication is the first time its
content becomes part of the scientific canon. Of course, scientists often
discuss findings and disseminate them locally via the grapevine (e.g., as
a result of posters or talks at meetings or informal discussions with
colleagues), but these information exchanges should not be viewed with the
same significance or impact as publication of a formal paper in a
peer-reviewed journal. None of these outlets holds a candle to a
peer-reviewed publication in a journal for validation. It is the duty of
both scientists and the media to recognize this.
The second reason why the media should be wary of findings released
outside of traditional journals is that there is no easy route for
rebuttal: in many of the cases outlined above, non-peer-reviewed
scientific information released by the media heightened fears among the
public and hastened knee-jerk political decisions. As the media was the
route for publication, there was no route for rebuttal. Building sound
information and media credibility on press releases is like building a
skyscraper on mud. The peer-reviewed publication is the primary foundation
that all secondary information, including the information published in the
popular media, should be built upon. Unlike skyscrapers, the foundation
can be subsequently altered.
When a paper on gene flow in Mexican corn was published in Nature 4, the
press covered it extensively. Subsequently, the original paper was
severely criticized on the basis of faulty science 5, 6. Science is a
self-correcting process, and the press also covered the process, as well
as the final retraction by the editor of Nature 7. Although peer review
clearly failed initially in this instance, the catastrophic consequences
for public perception that would have resulted if the finding had been
published the other way around (press before paper) are easy to envisage.
There would have been no way for scientists to respond to equivocal data,
because there would have been no data for scientists to respond to.
The third reason that peer-reviewed papers should be the primary source of
scientific information is that the majority of journalists and editors in
the media do not have the necessary expertise or credentials to assess the
significance and validity of scientific findings conveyed to them in a
release or in an interview. Judgment about the importance and validity of
any particular scientific finding is often difficult for scientists and
specially trained editors of scientific journals. How then can
journalists, editors, and TV producers discern what is important and
valid? The fact that trivial findings are often touted as breakthroughs in
the popular media is a reflection of the media's ignorance of the practice
of science (which generally proceeds not in breakthroughs but in small
steps). Moreover, the media and public often see scientific publication as
an end point. But as we see above, it is really the beginning of
validation and of scientific discourse.
To avoid more head-on collisions between science and the media, clear
guidelines of paper before press should be adopted and adhered to by
editors of the news media. At a recent Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology conference 8, Richard Knox of National Public Radio
conceded, "We do overreport science and report it before it is ready to be
reported sometimes." It is time for the media to report science after
findings enter the canon of scientific knowledge: only after they are
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
References 1. http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/royalsoc/ 2. Ewen, S.W.B., &
Pusztai, A. Lancet 354, 1353-1355 (1999). 3. Annual Conference of the
Ecological Society of America, August 4-9, 2002, Tucson, AZ. 4. Quist, D.,
& Chapela, I.H. Nature 414, 541-543 (2001). 5. Metz, M., & Fütterer, J.
Nature 416, 600-601 (2002). 6. Kaplinsky, N., Braun, D., Lisch, D., Hay,
A., Hake, S. & Freeling, M. Nature 416, 601 (2002). 7. Editor. Nature
416, 600 (2002). 8. Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
Biotechnology, The Media, and Society, November 21, 2002, Harvard
University, Cambridge, MA.
C. Neal Stewart, Jr. is Racheff Chair of Excellence and Professor,
University of Tennessee, Department of Plant Sciences and Landscape
Systems, Knoxville, TN 37996 e-mail: email@example.com
Old News In New Bottles: Old News Repackaged
- Thonas R. DeGregori, AgBioView, March 31, 2003; www.agbioworld.org
The news item from The Independent below ("Insects Thrive on GM
'Pest-killing' Crops") has been presented as yet startling new evidence of
the dangers of biotechnology. The news is neither new nor is it evidence
against biotechnology. Quite the contrary, developing resistance to toxins
is as old as agricultural protection be it "natural" or synthetic. As I
argue below, the important difference between earlier agriculture and
modern scientific agronomy is the ability to recognize problems earlier
and to develop means of overcoming them.
My Comments and Quotes from My Book:
The following comments on the earlier touting of the Diamondback moth
resistance is taken directly from my book manuscript -The Origins of the
Organic - which I expect to go into production shortly:
"In fact, resistance to live Bt spray by the Diamondback moths emerged in
the field as early as 1989 (Palumbi 2001) and was documented in scholarly
literature in 1994 prior to the first release of Bt crops (Griffitts et
al. 2001). At that time, the Bt "resistant strains of at least 11 insect
species" were "documented in the laboratory" while only "Bt-resistant
variants of the diamondback moth" were "identified in the field"
(Griffitts et al. 2001). "Some populations of diamondback moths, a
devastating pest of cabbage and related crops, are no longer bothered by
sprays of Bt bacteria used by organic farmers" (Stokstad 2001). In other
words, the use of the live Bacillus has the same potential of creating
resistant strains as does the use of the toxin engineered into the plant,
though obviously the more extensive use of the Bt toxin in any form will
likely accelerate the development of this resistance.
"Please note that the only resistant strains mentioned in the articles
that were found in the fields, were those involving "organic" agriculture.
The current studies were also laboratory studies.
"Three articles in Science that called attention to the resistance by the
Diamondback moth to Bt, reveal a critical difference between the use of
science in agriculture and those who would favor some other method. Modern
agronomy provides a variety of strategies for agriculturalists to employ,
in addition to Bt, such chemical pesticides and refuges to maintain a
population of insects that do not develop a resistance to the Bt toxin.
The articles demonstrate that modern biotechnology provides the ability to
identify and monitor "resistance allele frequencies in field populations,"
so that farmers will have a "direct test of whether the high-dose/refuge
strategy is succeeding." This "may allow enough time for the strategy to
be adjusted to reverse the increase" if the existing strategy "starts to
fail" (Gahan et al. 2001, see also Ferre and Van Rie, 2002). The articles
indicated that insects were evolving defensive mechanisms which presented
a challenge to create new strategies to combat them.
"Those who read the online environmentalist postings on the articles in
Science would have never surmised that the authors of one of the articles
were defining ways of facilitating the long-term use and expected benefits
of Bt engineered crops. This is clear in the following concluding
reference on "the opportunity to make informed modifications to a strategy
that could sustain the use of Bt transgenics and prolong their
environmental benefits of reducing dependency on conventional
insecticides" (Gahan et al. 2001).
"Those who oppose all uses of biotechnology in agriculture, deeming it to
be inherently evil, lack any realistic options to counter the growth of
resistance to live Bt spray. Biotechnology and agronomy, like all
scientific inquiry, are processes of inquiry (the scientific method) and
problem solving. They are in search of the best solutions to problems, not
the ultimate solutions. In some cases, such as that of live Bt spray and
the T gene in Barley, the solution works for a long time. In others, the
time frame is much shorter. The critical difference between science and
the presumed alternatives, is that science has a way of moving forward to
find solutions and even to anticipate a need for them. The way in which
opponents of Bt corn have been characterizing its threat to "organic"
farmers using live Bt spray, one might surmise that the "organic" farmers
could continue using it in perpetuity were it not for the intrusion of the
bioengineered Bt serpent into their Edenic preserve."
1. Ferre, Juan and Jeroen Van Rie. 2002. Biochemistry and Genetics of
Insect Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis, Annual Review of Entomology
2. Gahan, Linda J.; Fred Gould; and David G. Heckel. 2001. Identification
of a Gene Associated with Bt Resistance in Heliothis virescens, Science
293(5531):857-860, 3 August.
3. Griffitts, Joel S.; Johanna L. Whitacre; Daniel E. Stevens; and Raffi
V. Aroian. 2001. Bt Toxin Resistance from Loss of a Putative
Carbohydrate-Modifying Enzyme, Science 293(5531):860-864, 3 August.
4. Palumbi, Stephen R. 2001. Humans as the World's Greatest Evolutionary
Force, Science 293(5536):1786-1790, 7 September.
5. Stokstad, Erik. 2001. Entomology: First Light on Genetic Roots of Bt
Resistance, Science 293(5531):778, 3 August.
Insects Thrive on GM 'Pest-killing' Crops
- Geoffrey Lean, Independent (UK), March 30, 2003
Genetically modified crops specially engineered to kill pests in fact
nourish them, startling new research has revealed.
The research - which has taken even the most ardent opponents of GM crops
by surprise - radically undermines one of the key benefits claimed for
them. And it suggests that they may be an even greater threat to organic
farming than has been envisaged. It strikes at the heart of one of the
main lines of current genetic engineering in agriculture: breeding crops
that come equipped with their own pesticide.
Biotech companies have added genes from a naturally occurring poison,
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is widely used as a pesticide by
organic farmers. The engineered crops have spread fast. The amount of land
planted with them worldwide grew more than 25-fold - from four million
acres in 1996 to well over 100 million acres (44.2m hectares) in 2000 -
and the global market is expected to be worth $25bn (£16bn) by 2010.
Drawbacks have already emerged, with pests becoming resistant to the
toxin. Environmentalists say that resistance develops all the faster
because the insects are constantly exposed to it in the plants, rather
than being subject to occasional spraying.
But the new research - by scientists at Imperial College London and the
Universidad Simon Rodrigues in Caracas, Venezuela - adds an alarming new
twist, suggesting that pests can actually use the poison as a food and
that the crops, rather than automatically controlling them, can actually
help them to thrive. They fed resistant larvae of the diamondback moth -
an increasingly troublesome pest in the southern US and in the tropics -
on normal cabbage leaves and ones that had been treated with a Bt toxin.
The larvae eating the treated leaves grew much faster and bigger - with a
56 per cent higher growth rate.
They found that the larvae "are able to digest and utilise" the toxin and
may be using it as a "supplementary food", adding that the presence of the
poison "could have modified the nutritional balance in plants" for them.
And they conclude: "Bt transgenic crops could therefore have unanticipated
nutritionally favourable effects, increasing the fitness of resistant
Pete Riley, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said last night:
"This is just another example of the unexpected harmful effects of GM
crops. "If Friends of the Earth had come up with the suggestion that crops
engineered to kill pests could make them bigger and healthier instead, we
would have been laughed out of court. "It destroys the industry's entire
case that insect-resistant GM crops can have anything to do with
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said it showed that GM
crops posed an even "worse threat to organic farming than had previously
been imagined". Breeding resistance to the Bt insecticide sometimes used
by organic farmers was bad enough, but problems would become even greater
if pests treated it as "a high-protein diet".
European Agbiotech Crisis?
- Trevor M. Fenning & Jonathan Gershenzon. Nature Biotechnology, April
2003 Vol 21 No 4 p 360 www.nature.com. Reproduced in AgBioView with the
permission of the editor
To the editor: The ongoing political controversy surrounding plant
biotechnology in Europe is having serious negative consequences not only
for the industry, but also for the conduct of plant biology. Modern plant
biology involves the routine creation of genetically altered lines that
are grown up for scientific evaluation. The impact of many genes on plant
phenotype can only be evaluated under field conditions that are difficult
to duplicate in the laboratory. However, the lack of political support for
agricultural biotechnology in Europe has strongly discouraged such
studies, as opposed to merely inhibiting the development of new products.
Here, we present an analysis of publicly available data that documents
this disturbing trend (Table 1).
The dramatic fall in the number of applications for field trials since
1997 might be attributed to a decline in commercial interest in plant
biotechnology. However, inspection of a subset of these data for trees
only, yields a different conclusion. Approximately 80% of the applications
for the release of genetically modified (GM) trees do not involve a
commercial organization, and all seem remote from any deployment. Thus,
the decline in applications for field trials appears to reflect a real
impact on the conduct of research to evaluate biotic and abiotic
environmental effects on trees. The negative effects of this trend on
woody plant biology in Europe will continue to be felt for many years to
The chilly political climate for plant biotechnology has often been blamed
for the loss of commercial interest in plants, and the declining
confidence of scientists in this discipline. To this list must also be
added circumscription of the actual scientific enterprise.
Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Ökologie, Plant Biochemistry and
Molecular Biology Department, Beutenberg Campus, Winzerlaer Str. 10
D-07745 Jena, Germany e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Italy Employs Further GMO Delay Tactics
- Anna Meldolesi, Nature Biotechnology, April 2003 Vol 21 No 4 p 346;
www.nature.com. Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor
The final hurdle before the moratorium on approvals of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe is lifted is supposed to be the
approval later this year of new rules governing their labeling and
tracing. However, on February 20 agriculture ministers from several member
countries, led by Italy, added yet another obstacle by demanding that new
rules be established for the coexistence of organic and GM agriculture
before GMO approvals can resume.
The European Commission (EC) is already formulating a strategy to manage
coexistence, suggesting that Italy is simply using the issue of GM
thresholds for organic products as another delaying tactic. Moreover,
Italy is set to hold the EU presidency from July to December and will
therefore set the EU agenda at the time when the latest pieces of GM
legislation are expected to be approved. Unfortunately, the way it is
managing its own GMO issues casts doubts on its intention to resolve the
problems concerning GMOs in Europe. Italy's agriculture minister is a
fierce opponent of agbiotech and the country has not yet implemented into
national law the EU directive on the release of GMOs into the environment
(2001/18), the deadline for which was October 17, 2002. The government is
dragging its heels by forming a panel to establish rules for open field
trials of GMOs--an issue that is already clarified in 2001/18.
The latest episode in the saga began on November 15, 2002, when the
agriculture ministry halted GMO field trials conducted by research
institutes, even those already funded and authorized. On December 7, a
dozen of Italy's leading scientists protested in the main national
newspaper, asking the government for clarification. A few days later, the
president of the National Committee for Biosafety and Biotechnology,
Leonardo Santi, set up a panel to establish guidelines for research
involving GMOs. "The government's aim was to come to an agreement with the
ag minister Gianni Alemanno and let trials resume. The panel was set up to
answer that purpose," says Santi.
However, agbiotech researchers such as Roberto Defez of the National
Research Council say the result could be counter-productive. "We wanted to
overcome the deadlock with respect to the research institutes depending on
the ag ministry," says Defez, "but now we have a panel writing the rules
for all field trials, even those conducted by universities and
companies--those trials are beyond the jurisdiction of the ag minister."
Alemanno has appointed half the panel members, who tried to set out a
universal protocol--an impossibility because releases have to be evaluated
case by case depending on the species involved and the type of genetic
modification. They also tried to apply the HACCP (hazard analysis critical
control points) system, an approach used in food processing to control
microbial and chemical contamination and never attempted with agbiotech
research. The resulting draft is an odd text, repeating what has already
been established in 2001/18 but with further restrictions that will be
tricky to apply.
The Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi and other ministers have officially
expressed their support for agbiotech research in the past, but the
government has not yet opposed the agriculture minister's
decisions--resulting in deadlock.
For almost three years, Italy has banned GM flour and starch that are sold
everywhere else in Europe, and Alemanno recently opposed the government's
attempt to reopen the issue, despite a lawsuit underway at the European
Court of Justice. Sergio Dompé, president of the association of Italian
biotech industries, says that when Italy takes up the EU presidency, "I
can imagine two alternative scenarios: the Italian government can carry to
Brussels the weight of its internal problems about GMOs slowing down the
process toward the moratorium ending or, conversely, it can use the
opportunities offered by the international stage to accelerate the process
of solving its problems at home."
More on GM Foods and Reckless Reporting; The Gambia Independent
- Chris Preston"
Tawanda, I too was surprised by the tone of this article and the obvious
failure to check the facts. I also saw the mention to rats, but thought it
more likely to be a reference from a report from The Soil Association of
the UK (an organic lobby group). This report titled "Seeds of Doubt"
contains the following quotation from an American organic farmer Roger
Lansink: "A student placed two bales of maize in a rodent infested barn.
One was Roundup Ready and the other was conventional. Apparently the
rodents would not touch the Roundup Ready crop".
This quotation intrigues me on a number of levels. We have an unnamed
student involved (in evidence, this only counts as hearsay). I suggest the
"student" is their to provide some sort of credibility to the statement,
this it the observation was part of an experiment. I am curious as to
whether this statement had a life before the Soil Association published
it. It has certainly grown some legs afterward and now is stated as fact
rather than "apparently".
Perhaps some of our agbioview readers can shed some more light on this
unusual "rural myth"? While on the subject of the Seeds of Doubt report, a
leading organic activist here in Australia expressed great surprise when I
said I struggled to take this report seriously. He stated I was the only
scientist he had ever heard of who had criticised the report.
Perhaps, I am the only one wasting my time to read it? However, the quote
about rats made it all worthwhile. -- Keep up the good work.
Mimicking Nature to Eat Well
- Dennis Avery, Center for Global Food Issues, March 28, 2003
Environmentalists have long contended that sustainable farming must give
up "unstable" monoculture crops and mimic natural eco-systems more
closely. They offer the ultra-diverse plant life of tropical forests as
the ecological model for agriculture.
Prince Charles of England, who is an organic entrepreneur, says farmers
must work "with the grain of nature," and follow the "genius of nature's
designs rigorously tested and refined over the years."
Dr. Michael Altieri of the University of California/Berkeley claims that
monocultures are ecologically unstable. He says they "provide optimal
conditions for unhampered growth of weeds, insects, and diseases because
many ecological niches are not filled by other organisms."
But why use tropical biodiversity as a model? Evolutionist Charles Darwin
praised the huge kelp beds of the southern Atlantic, a natural
monoculture. Darwin said, "The number of living creatures of all Orders
whose existence intimately depends on the kelp is wonderful." Another
virtual species monopoly, blue grama grass, used to cover thousands of
square miles of the central United States, supporting a rich web of
wildlife ranging from huge bison and mammoths to prairie dogs, birds, and
Dr. David Wood, a plant resource expert who has worked in India, Kenya,
and the West Indies, says Mother Nature offers other plant growth models
that had more to do with the evolution of today's farming than tropical
forests, including natural grasslands and the flood plains of river
He says the common belief that cereals arose as weeds on the fringes of
human campsites is not valid. As recently as a century ago, wild rice
dominated the riverbanks in what is now Bangladesh. African wild rice was
historically harvested on a massive scale across Africa from southern
Sudan to the Atlantic Ocean. Dr. Wood says these "mono-dominant" stands of
plant species led to wet rice cultivation, the single most important
cropping system in the developing world.
Perhaps the strongest evidence of the natural mono-dominant pattern is
wheat. Dr. Wood says that plant explorers have found wheat throughout the
Near East in "massive stands covering many square kilometers, with up to
300 plants per square meter." Sorghum can be found in mono-dominant stands
on the extensive tall-grass savannas of Sudan and Chad.
Dr. Wood says that "environmentally buffeted" areas such as flood-prone
river valleys, salt marshes, fire-prone prairies, and regions with highly
seasonal rainfall usually have few species. Cereal grasses have grown wild
there for millennia, defying Altieri's claim that monocultures are
Man simply extended the area of natural mono-dominant ecosystems to
support more people on less land. Instead of waiting for floods to
fertilize crops, modern farmers mimic nature by adding industrial
fertilizer to the soil; instead of waiting for huge prairie fires to renew
cereal stands, they plow.
None of the world's wild mono-dominant regions ever contained the
biodiversity of tropical forests. But tropical forests shouldn't be farmed
except as a last resort. To do so represents an environmental tragedy. In
a tropical forest farm, the traditional slash-and-burn shifting
cultivation disturbs more wildlife species per person fed than anywhere
else on earth.
Besides being ecologically unsuited to farming, tropical forests suffer
high temperatures and moisture levels that rob their soils of nutrients
and structure--and then assault crops with hordes of insects and fungi.
While the multitude of inter-planted crops on a traditional slash-and-burn
tropical farm may well be the best way to grow food in harsh tropical
conditions, this still represents the least successful farming model on
Tropical inter-planting is also ecologically alien to the lands where most
of humanity lives. Why would eco-activists reject the ecological insights
of the cereal farmers who created sustained human success throughout Asia
(rice), the Near East (wheat), Europe (wheat), and most of the Americas
(corn and later wheat)? Their agricultural systems clearly mimic naturally
evolved stands of mono-dominant plants. The current eco-activist advice to
abandon monocultures violates virtually every ecological precept.
Are the eco-activists simply rejecting any farming system productive
enough to support large numbers of humans?
Genetic Engineering and Food Production: Where are We Now?
- Douglas Powell, Commentary from the Food Safety Network, March 30, 2003;
By most accounts, the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) crops
into the North American and global marketplace has been a commercial and
environmental success story. Although initial, inflated promises of custom
crops providing an infinite range of nutritional, functional and agronomic
benefits have yet to be realized, the first wave of GE crops, exhibiting
traits such as pest or herbicide resistance, have increasingly been
adopted by farmers in their efforts to solve farm production challenges in
an efficient and environmentally sustainable manner.
Adoption rates have increased steadily since 1996, with global acreage of
GE crops estimated at 145 million acres in 2002, a 15 million acre or 12
per cent increase over 2001 levels. The U.S., Argentina, Canada and China
continue to be the leading growers of GE crops, with many developing
countries now beginning to adopt them as well in the effort to address
agricultural production challenges.
Wherever they are grown, such crops are subject to regulatory oversight to
ensure that they do not pose new or increased risks to the environment or
to the people or animals that consume them. Farmers who choose such crops
are in some cases required to follow specified management practices that
address potential risks such as the onset of resistance.
Early evidence indicates that the vigilance with which the new technology
has been introduced has yielded the desired results. A recent review of
research conducted to date on such crops concludes that they do not
provide unique ecological risks and may contribute to ecological benefits
such as increased biodiversity. Reviewers estimate that the use of GE
soybean, canola, cotton and corn has reduced pesticide use by
approximately 22.3 million kg of formulated product, providing significant
benefits in terms of environmental and human health safety as well as
increased protection for non-target organisms.
Reduced natural toxin levels in some GE crops provide an added measure of
safety, and increased production efficiencies (whether through increased
yield or reduced production costs) make better use of the existing
agricultural landbase and help to keep real food costs low. Foods produced
from GE crops to date are nutritionally identical to their conventionally
produced counterparts, and the widespread consumption of such foods has
not resulted in any indication of deleterious effects resulting from the
new production method. And although some markets continue to pay lip
service to rejecting foods produced through GE techniques, the farmers who
choose to grow them report no shortage of potential markets for their
In short, all measurable parameters reveal an additional, useful
technology that continues to be implemented successfully, with sufficient
measures in place to minimize potential risks. And yet, public suspicion,
based on the assumption that what is natural? is inherently good and that
which is engineered? is inherently evil, remains.
Exploiting that assumption to forward their own ends, groups opposed to
the adoption of GE crops have toiled to incite public revolt against the
application of the technology. Building on scant evidence, they've created
a rich and complex mythos of collusion and conspiracy, rife with the
villains, heroes and black-and-white analyses that make for compelling
melodrama. The arguments are emotionally appealing if scientifically
To the critics, biotech developers are shamelessly exploitative corporate
overlords who would readily sacrifice all of humankind and the environment
to line their own pockets. Government regulators are willing
co-conspirators who serve industry not people, and provide rubber-stamp?
approvals to all that's set before them, regardless of the potential risk.
The honest brokers that step forward to criticize the existing order are
ruthlessly silenced. Farmers are willing dupes of the industry,
manipulated into growing GE crops that are actually far inferior to their
conventional counterparts, costing more, returning less and creating
environmental havoc. And the people that consume such foods may be fine
now, but it's only a matter of time until some kind of horrific effects
that cannot now be anticipated set in.
Or so the story goes. Despite the fact that there is no concrete evidence
to support any of these allegations, they remain the basis of the
organized opposition to GE crop production; despite the fact that biotech
developers who marketed unsuccessful or harmful crops would quickly lose
their businesses, their credibility and their corporate shirts; despite
the fact that government regulators have nothing to gain and everything to
lose by approving products that would result in safety or environmental
disaster, and that whistle-blowers may be motivated by a variety of
factors, including the opportunity for a moment in the spotlight.; and
despite the fact that farmers, whose margins are wafer-thin at the best of
times, can't afford to take chances, so generally test out new
technologies carefully, adopting them on a larger scale only when their
superiority can be clearly demonstrated.
Agriculture is not a natural activity: it never has been. The progressive
application of science to food production has resulted in more and better
food, produced by fewer workers, with a reduced environmental footprint,
and available to more people. The use of current genetic engineering
techniques to improve the ability of food crops to withstand production
challenges may be the most recent development, but it is unlikely to be
Genetic engineering of food has been caught in a political firefight since
its initial commercialization phase, with proponents and opponents equally
guilty of sacrificing rationality to rhetoric as they vie for the support
of a public that takes the availability of super-sized? quantities of
safe, low cost food absolutely for granted. Like any new food production
technology, the key is to apply new tools judiciously, in areas where they
provide benefit, while instituting strict measures to minimize the risk.
All indicators suggest that, in the case of genetic engineering, that
challenge has been met; so far.
Douglas Powell is an associate professor and scientific director of the
Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph
Democrats Criticize U.S. Trade Rep. Over WTO Cases
- Doug Palmer (Reuters) March 28,2003
Following the United States' big loss on steel tariffs at the World Trade
Organization this week, Democrats in Congress criticized U.S. Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick on Friday for failing to attack foreign
restrictions on U.S. exports.
Rep. Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, told Reuters the Bush
administration's decision to bring just five new cases to the WTO since
taking office 26 months ago showed an indifference to ensuring that U.S.
producers face fair and equitable terms of trade. "I think as a matter of
trade policy, (filing cases at the WTO) is not a very high priority" for
the administration, said Levin, the top Democrat on the House of
Representatives ways and means trade subcommittee. "I think it's a
Democrats said Zoellick has been too reluctant to bring cases against
foreign anti-dumping duties on U.S. chemical, metal and farm products that
appear to violate WTO rules. "The U.S. hasn't challenged anything ...
That's what's so amazing," a House Democratic aide said. "I think a lot of
the cases we would win."
A U.S. trade official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, countered that
the administration was "looking closely at a number" of possible
anti-dumping cases. However, he said it is far easier for foreign
countries to challenge U.S. anti-dumping practices because the U.S. system
is exceptionally transparent whereas many foreign governments conduct
their anti-dumping procedures "in kind of a black box" that makes it tough
to work out if they are legal or not. "We will move aggressively ... when
we have a strong basis," to bring a case, the trade official said.
Genetically Modified Crops. Both Democrats and Republicans are frustrated
that the Bush administration has not brought a case against EU policies
that block imports of U.S. genetically modified crops.
But even after House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, on
Wednesday called on the White House to immediately launch a case, it
remained unclear when or if Zoellick's office would take that action. The
Clinton administration took 18 cases to the WTO in its last two years in
office, and close to 60 cases from the creation of the world trade body in
January 1995 to former President Bill Clinton's last day in office on Jan.
No Increased Risk for Animals Consuming GM Crops, Says Professor
- BusinessWorld 28 March 2003
There does not appear to be any increased risk to animals consuming
genetically modified (GM) crops or to humans consuming the products of
animals fed on rations containing GM feeds.
This was the conclusion made by David E. Beever, professor of the Center
for Dairy Research of the University in Reading, United Kingdom at the
CropLife Asia conference, with the theme "More people, less land:
Technology's role in sustainable agriculture in Asia," in Bangkok,
Thailand. Mr. Beever said a review of literature on the processes of
digestion in livestock confirmed that the gut (digestive system) has
considerable capacity to digest (the DNA and RNA) genes in feeds/foods.
In particular, he noted the recent study of R. Einspainer and colleagues
(published in European Food Research and Technology, 212-2001) which fed
both Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and non-Bt maize as grain to chicken or
as silage to cattle. After a comprehensive analysis, the blood and
tissues as well as eggs of chicken and milk from cows were unable to
detect any Bt gene fragments. This indicates no significant uptake of
transgenic DNA and subsequent incorporation into animal tissues.
A number of studies have also been conducted to examine the safety and
efficacy of such feeds for farm livestock. There has been no substantiated
reports of any animal health problems. In terms of animal performance,
the feeding of GM crops has not been shown to have any negative effects of
feed intake, whole tract digestibility or animal productivity in studies
with chickens, pigs, sheep, beef cattle and dairy cows.
Mr. Beever, however, noted issues on the safety and efficacy of GM crops
for feeding livestock need to be kept under constant review and a
concerted system of evaluation needs to be agreed among countries wishing
to use the new technology.
Environmental Biosafety Research
The Second issue of EBR is now available on-line at
Environmental Biosafety Research (EBR) is an international journal, whose
aim is to publish top quality research and review articles in areas
pertinent to GMO biosafety. The scope of EBR covers a wide range of
fields: plant/animal ecology, plant/animal pathology, weed science,
microbiology, entomology, food safety, agronomy, economics, etc. EBR is
the official journal of a recently established learned society, the
International Society for Biosafety Research.
Table of Contents: Vol. 2 No. 1 (January-March 2003)
- Editorial: Transgene containment by molecular means - is it possible
and cost effective?
- Crop-to-wild gene flow, introgression and possible fitness effects of
- Using environmental bonds to regulate the risks of GM crops: problems
- Report on the 7th International Symposium on the Biosafety of
Genetically Modified Organisms held in Beijing
- Introduction: Towards the safe use of modern biotechnology
- Possible implication of the release of transgenic crops in centers of
origin or diversity.
- Why Regulate and How?
- Field releases of genetically modified micro-organisms
- New science for enhanced biosafety
- Research and regulation on biosafety of GMOs in China
- Consequences of Gene Flow
- Transgenic Insects for Pest Management Programs: Status and Prospects
A Harvest Chair to head ISNAR
The Board of Trustees of the International Service for National
Agricultural Research (ISNAR) www.isnar.cgiar.org has announced the
appointment of Dr. Cyrus Ndiritu as ISNAR?s Director General Designate.
In a congratulatory message following the announcement, the Chief
Executive Director of A Harvest Biotech Foundation International,
http://www.ahbfi.org Dr. Florence Wambugu, said: "The A Harvest family is
proud of your appointment. Given the increased focus on getting Africa out
of the mire of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, there is no doubt that
your experience and expertise will continue to be in high demand".
Dr. Ndiritu, a Kenyan national, joins ISNAR with a long experience of
national and sub-regional agricultural research institutions in Africa,
and of having served in central international positions in the CGIAR. For
11 years (1989-2000) he was Director of the Kenya Agricultural Research
Institute (KARI), one of the most renowned research institutions in the
World Seed Congress 2003
- Bangalore, India; June 7-13, 2003
This congress will once again render the opportunity to all the members of
the seed world to interact, and also give us the opportunity to discuss
those issues of primary importance to the seed industry, in particular,
the development of biotechnology and its consequences, the access to
genetic resources, the protection of intellectual property, the
phytosanitary regulations and many other important topics.
Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Executive Program
Harvard University , November 30, 2003 - December 12, 2003
While science, technology and innovation are increasingly recognized as
important factors in the economic transformation of developing countries,
their prominence in development policy is generally understated. The
Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) program at Harvard
University?s John F. Kennedy School of Government provides high-level
leaders from government, academia, industry and civil society with a
unique opportunity to learn from each others? experiences and strengthen
their ability to integrate science and technology into national
development policy. The program is designed for high-level
Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals
The mission that we have taken on hand is to make a difference in the
lives of the 650 Million Indians who depend on Agriculture directly or
indirectly for their livelihood. Most of us are from agriculture, allied
agriculture, engineering and management backgrounds and what we are trying
to do is putting together a commercially viable not for profit
organisation which will achieve the massive task of addressing the problem
of poor net incomes in the rural areas as compared to the urban areas.
This network already has more than 6000 members and is probably the
largest professional network connected with rural development in the
Regulation of GMOs in the EU
- Martin Mieschendahl
Questions and answers on the regulation of GMOs in the EU
Answer from Chris Somerville of Carnegie Institution at Stanford
"It should have said -17 degree centigrade."
>> Error In the Second Article of March 27 AgBioView - Kim Nill
>> Dear Dr. Prakash: Within the below article entitled "Planting A Seed",
>> states (Mendel Biotechnology) "produced a strain of Arabidopsis that
>> tolerated 17°C of frost". Should it perhaps have instead said "17°F"??