Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 14, 2003


Organic Produce and Pesticides, GE Facts, Kenya's Food Insecurity


Today in AgBioView: April 15, 2003:

* Can Organic Produce Reduce Children’s Pesticide Levels?
* Question on Percentages
* Know the facts about genetic engineering
* GMOs, the next step?
* Saitoti decries Kenya’s food insecurity


Can Organic Produce Reduce Children’s Pesticide Levels?

Center for Global Food Issues
Dennis Avery
April 14, 2003

Can giving your kids organic fruits and vegetables lower their cancer
risks? A recent, widely reported study from the University of Washington
says parents could lower the level of organophosphate pesticides in their
children’s bodies by five-sixths if they fed the kids organic-only fruits
and vegetables.

Unfortunately, the study report misleads parents. Feeding kids organic
produce cannot make any significant difference in their exposure to
pesticide dangers.

Dr. David Klurfeld, a nutritionist at Wayne State University in Detroit,
said, “I’m not saying there is no possible health hazard. But I would not
change any of my or my family’s eating habits based on this study.”

In the first place, the Food and Drug Administration knows that “the dose
makes the poison.” Even table salt is toxic at high enough doses. The FDA
sets the allowed limits for pesticide residues at least a hundred times
lower than the level that might trigger a physical impact in a laboratory
rat, and if there’s any question a thousand times lower.

Moreover, the FDA is convinced that pesticides help make fruits and
vegetables more attractive, more widely available--and substantially
cheaper. This greatly encourages fruit and vegetable consumption,
especially in large families and poor families. That’s vital, because the
one-fourth of our population that eats the most produce has half the
nonsmoking cancer risk of the one-fourth that eats the least. No matter
how the produce was grown. Fruit and vegetable consumption also lowers our
risks of heart disease and brain dysfunction. For obvious reasons, the FDA
thinks that protecting our fruits and vegetables with pesticides is
important to the nation’s health.

The second reason for Dr. Klurfeld’s skepticism is that government
regulators don’t think organophosphates represent a real danger in our
food or water. Malathion is the most heavily encountered organophospate
pesticide--and the Environmental Protection Agency says the dietary risks
and drinking water risks from malathion are “low” and “not of concern.”
The EPA worries about worker exposure to concentrated malathion, and
toddlers playing on malathion-sprayed lawns. That’s hardly a ringing call
for organic-only produce production.

(Moreover, the University of Washington did not test the kids’ urine for
any of the organic pesticides, such as broadly-toxic copper compounds, or
the “likely human carginogen,” pyrethrum.)

The biggest reason to discount the new University of Washington study,
however, comes from Dr. Bruce Ames of the University of
California/Berkeley (who was honored with the National Science Medal by
President Clinton). Dr. Ames says we get 100,000 times as much cancer
exposure from natural pesticides in our foods as from the residues of
synthetic pesticides. Fruits and vegetables are particularly high in
natural pesticides, because bugs love to eat them--and the plants can’t
run away.

Caffeic acid, which causes tumors in rats at high doses, is found
naturally in coffee, apples, plums, pears, lettuce, potatoes and celery.
Limonene, found in oranges and mangoes, is also a rodent carcinogen. So is
safrole, found in many spices. Mushrooms (even organic ones) contain
carcinogenic hydrazines.

Caffeic acid is the natural carcinogen we’re exposed to most heavily. On
average, we ingest nearly 6 tenths of a percent (0.6%) per day of the
caffeic acid that triggers danger for a lab rat. (It comes mostly from
vegetables and coffee.) In contrast, we’re exposed to about one millionth
of the carcinogenic rat dose for the organochloride pesticide lindane. Dr.
Ames’ tests show our natural risk from caffeic acid is 600,000 times
higher than our risk from lindane--yet there is no evidence of cancer
dangers linked to coffee drinking! Meanwhile, eating apples and potatoes
full of caffeic acid demonstrably lowers our cancer risks.

No wonder that Cynthia Curl, lead author of the University of Washington
study, said, “People want to know: what does this really mean in terms of
the safety of my kid? But we don’t know. Nobody does.”

If you still prefer to spend the extra money on organic produce, go ahead.
Just remember that we’d need pasture for another billion cattle to replace
the nitrogen that conventional farmers take from the air and organic
farmers get from cow manure. An all-organic America would mean we would
clear all of our forests for manure production to sustain our current food

Subject: A question for the forum
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2003 11:25:42 -0700
From: "Robert Wager"

I would like to know what are the percentage crops planted of each type of
herbicide resistance. I would also like to how much glyphosate resistance,
glufosinate ammonium, oxynil and sulfonylurea resistant crops each
represents. Does anyone know where I might find such information.

Robert Wager
malaspina University College


Know the facts about genetic engineering

Star Tribune
By Alan Titchenal & Joannie Dobbs
Monday, April 14, 2003

Fear of the unknown is a logical human survival trait. To many people, new
advances in agricultural biotechnology, especially genetic engineering,
generate this fear of the unknown.

It is not a new fear. In 1906, horticulturist Luther Burbank said: "We
have recently advanced our knowledge of genetics to the point where we can
manipulate life in a way never intended by nature. We must proceed with
the utmost caution in the application of this newfound knowledge."

Was he referring to actually changing the genetic makeup of edible plants?
Absolutely. However, the selective breeding practices used by Burbank take
time, and it is not always possible to develop new plants with the
specific beneficial traits desired.

Through advances in molecular biology, however, we are now able to make
rather precise changes in genes to alter very specific traits of plants in
a relatively short period of time. This process is called genetic
engineering, genetic modification, genetic enhancement or bioengineering.

Question: How does genetic engineering work?

Answer: Bioengineering first involves identifying the segment of DNA that
contains the code (gene) for a desirable trait. That DNA segment is then
inserted into the DNA of a plant to give it a desired trait. Since a gene
has been transferred from one organism to another, the altered organism is
said to be transgenic.

Q: What happens when genetically modified food is eaten?

A: Since DNA is a code for the formation of protein in a cell, changes in
DNA will produce a structurally modified protein. In other words, the 20
amino acids that make up protein will be put together in a different order
than previously found in that plant.

When a person eats any source of protein, the protein is broken down into
amino acids that pass into the blood and are taken up by cells that use
the amino acids for a variety of functions. The process is the same for
all types of foods.

Q: Are we protected from the possibility of allergic responses to the new
proteins found in bioengineered foods?

A: Before a bioengineered food can be marketed, it must be thoroughly
evaluated by three government organizations. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture must be convinced that the plant is safe to grow; the
Environmental Protection Agency evaluates potential environmental impacts;
and the Food and Drug Administration determines risks related to eating
modified foods.

For an in-depth and balanced review of this topic, see "Use of
Biotechnology in Agriculture -- Benefits and Risks," by Dr. Ania
Wieczorek, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, available
online at www.ctahr.hawaii.edu.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. are
nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal
Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services and prepares the
nutritional analyses marked with an asterisk in this section.


GMOs, the next step?

April 15, 2003

15/04/03 - Last week the European Commission threatened 12 EU member
states with court action if they continue to ignore new EU legislation
regulating the release of GMOs into the environment. A new survey released
this week backs up the Commission's fears revealing that the number of
field trials with genetically modified plants has fallen by about 80 per
cent since 1998 in the European Community.

Not totally surprising, the currently valid EU-wide moratorium on
cultivating GM plants was the principle culprit for the significant fall
in GM crop cultivation. In addition, the Survey
(http://www.jrc.es/gmoreview.pdf), led by Fraunhofer Institute for Systems
and Innovation Research ISI, Karlsruhe, highlights the fact that the EU is
lagging behind on a global scale with figures revealing that the actual
area used for growing genetically modified plants world-wide increased to
almost 60 million hectares in 2002.

The reasons for the restraint in Europe are varied. In addition to the
moratorium, which was agreed by the EU Council of Environment Ministers in
1999, acceptance of genetically modified products by European consumers is
still extremely low. Consumer suspicion has led to considerable market
uncertainties for producers. Only the biggest can afford to fight the GM
corner with the survey showing that it is primarily multinational,
financially strong companies that are active in this area, conducting 65
per cent of all field trials. By contrast, small or medium-sized companies
have a meagre 6 per cent share of the market, are more cautious and try to
position themselves mainly in niche markets. The remaining releases are
conducted by public research bodies, universities or other institutions.

The survey confirms the fact that, as a result of the moratorium, there is
a vast back log of GM possibles in the European pipeline. But the
Commission hopes that thanks to the new EU Directive passed in October
last year, and so far ignored by the majority of EU states, there will be
a surge in field tests.

And what of the future? Fraunhofer ISI predicts that producers will at
first concentrate on herbicide-tolerant plants and on strengthening
resistance to insects and diseases. Plants with health-promoting
substances or allergy-reduced plants for human food consumption are
probably not to be expected until the next decade.

The report mentioned in the previous article is available at:


Title: Review of GMOs Under Research and Development and in the Pipeline
in Europe
Format: 127 page PDF document

Saitoti decries Kenya’s food insecurity

East African Standard
By Clarice Jerono
April 15, 2003

Kenya is food insecure and there is need to meet the demand by venturing
into genetically modified (GM) food, Education Science and Technology
Minister, Prof George Saitoti has said.

The need to embrace GM food is important owing to the rise in poverty
levels and unemployment, he said.

In a speech read on his behalf by this PS, Prof Karega Mutahi during the
official opening of the National Bio-safety Framework at a Nairobi hotel,
Saitoti said there was need to sensitise communities and farmers on the
use of GM products. “Falling foreign earnings from export of primary
agricultural products has culminated into unfavourable balance of payments
and low per capita income”.

Saitoti said bio-technology had a big role to play in alleviating hunger,
poverty and disease. He observed also that rapid urbanisation will
necessitate the need for commercialisation of agriculture and increase the
demand for processed food.

He said myths and suspicions surrounding GM crops should be addressed with
utmost urgency and called for collaboration of the private sector with
other stakeholders with the aim of advancing agricultural bio-technology
skills and manpower.

He, however, warned of the risks involved in the emerging technology
advancement and called for legislation and regulatory mechanisms to
mitigate against inherent risks.