Today in AgBioView: April 21, 2003
* African Countries Query EU's Move on GM Foods
* Anti-GM Bias and Poor Standard of Reporting
* Rapid Advances in Enabling Biotechs: Implications for Biotech, Ag & Food
* Biotech Timeline: A History of Plant Biotechnology
* Need for GM Foods
* Ag Tech and Innovations: Meeting Local Needs in a Globalised World?
* International Society for Food, Agriculture & Environment
* Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate
* Biotech Can Help to Reverse Food Crises
* Mistrust of GM Foods - Lack of Faith in Regulatory Process
* DNA Trouble - Anti-GM Retoric in 'Science, Seeds and Cyborgs'
* Daniels' Choice Words for French
* GM Food: The Risk Assessment of Immune Hypersensitivity Reactions Covers
More Than Allergenicity
African Countries Query EU's Move on GM Foods
- Susan Mabonga, Biosafety News (Kenya), No. 38, February/March 2003
African countries are beginning to count the costs of the European Union's
moratorium on genetically modified food. Recently, 10 representatives of
developing countries gathered in Belgium, the EU administrative seat, to
state their case at a conference organised by the union. They gave their
views on the opportunities and challenges of plant biotechnology in their
They called on the EU to help set up high-standard technology transfer and
building programmes for the developing countries. They also urged the EU
member States to ensure legislation on GMOs takes into consideration
farmers in developing countries and does not become a trade barrier that
would impede the adoption of biotech crops in such countries.
"We are here to tell our part of the story. In Europe biotechnology seems
to be more on ideology than about rational choice. For us biotech is an
important means of fighting hunger and malnutrition," said Prof. James
Ochanda, co-ordinator of the biotechnology laboratory at the University of
Nairobi and the new Executive Director of the African Biotechnology
"We do not want to be a pawn in the transatlantic trade squabble. We have
our own voice and want to make our own decisions on how to manage the new
technology," Prof. Ochanda said. The delegation called on the European
governments to reflect on the growing demand for biotechnology crops in
the developing countries and how that technology could offer their farmers
another important tool to increase domestic production.
It was pointed out that the EU legislation had strongly influenced the
choices that developing countries made. "Europe seems to be inward-looking
when producing biotech legislation. But any rules made in Brussels will
affect the small-scale farmers in Africa or India," said Simon Barber,
director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit, EuropaBio.
Plant biotechnology has not been developed only for the rich countries.
Europe has immensely advanced research in plant biotechnology to improve
yields for the benefit of small-scale farmers in the poor countries.
Addressing Members of the European Parliament and representatives of other
EU institutions, Dr. Florence Wambugu, the chief executive officer of
Harvest Biotech Foundation International, said the EU moratorium on GMOs
is having serious consequences in Africa through the loss of collaborative
and research links, potential loss in trade (exports to EU) and diminished
funding of biotech research.
Reject. Dr. Wambugu argued that there are also consequences for the EU as
reflected in decreased economic and political influence in Africa (this
influence is being shifted to the US and China), loss of scientific
leadership to the US, delocalising EU biotech companies to the US (and the
resulting job losses) and a heavy moral responsibility when countries like
Zambia decide to reject GM technology and products. She expressed the hope
that GM technology would open up opportunities for insect pest and disease
control, reduced tillage and weed control for food fortification and the
potential of producing plants that are drought-tolerant and capable of
growing well in harsh environments.
"An important feature of GM technology is its user-friendliness; it is
packaged in a convenient form (seed). Also, with a pest-resistant GM
plant, farmers will not be handling and inhaling health-endangering
pesticides," said Dr. Wambugu. She said most development projects fail
because they do not fit in with local practices such as the sharing
vegetative cuttings and seeds among farmers. This practice tends to spread
plant diseases, but not if the plants from which the cuttings are taken
Dr Wambugu said despite all the challenges, controversies and
uncertainties surrounding biotechnology, the role of life science
companies in making these technologies and products available globally
continues to grow because of the successes. Most products have shown
excellent performance with a demonstrated impact even on small farms in
Africa. Current figures show that one-quarter of the global biotech
acreage is in the developing countries by resource-poor farmers, who make
up three-quarters of the almost 6 million farmers who grew GM crops in
Improve. The biotech crops they are growing significantly improve the
quality of life of these farming families. "We can attend to other things
instead of having to spend all of our time in our fields," said T.J.
Buthelezi, a cotton farmer from the Makhatini Flats of South Africa."ur
standard of living is very much improved and from the increased profits we
have money to send our children to school." According to the ISAAA
(International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications)
in 2002, Chinese farmers growing Bt cotton increased their incomes by an
additional $500 per hectare, or $750 million nationally. Similar gains are
recorded from South Africa, where half of farmers are women.
Other issues of concern that arose at the meeting include issues of
affordability, IP protection and enabling Government policies such as
biosafety and environmental protection. An issue of concern is that
biotechnology could give a few big companies a monopoly and control of the
seed market. Dr. Wambugu said the solution to the above issues includes
the development of a comprehensive strategy involving suitable local
partners with expertise and implementation capacity. This approach could
bring about genuine benefit sharing, as it would allow the transfer of
genes into local varieties preferred by local communities.
In particular, local small-scale farmers are able to see the benefit
directly. Involvement of local scientists is also important to build
capacity and in assessing the environmental impacts of GM crops introduced
by life science technologies. Companies need a strong IP incentive to
develop new products, but seeds and technologies must be made available to
farmers in the developing countries.
So far, several companies have shown a willingness to do this and to
participate in various partnership initiatives. For instance, the
Rockefeller Foundation-facilitated African Agricultural Technology
Foundation (AATF) has provided ways for North/South partnerships to open
up the African market in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner. Dr.
Wambugu stressed that such efforts must be encouraged. In particular,
there should be support for them in the less developed regions of the
world where the needs are acute, she added.
Anti-GM Bias and Poor Standard of Reporting
- Michael Wilson, Yet Unpublished letter, Sent to the Editor of The Daily
Dear Sir/Madam: I would like to think that your story "Pests that grew
faster eating GM cabbage" (1 April 2003) was yet another "April fool".
Unfortunately, that can only be said of the level of understanding, and of
the familiar anti-GM bias and poor standard of reporting of the actual
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins are proteins and as such are a
potential foodstuff for any animal, fungus, or other organism that can
digest them. Each Bt toxin is highly selective, killing larvae of only one
or a few related insect species, usually by destroying their gut walls
after being eaten along with the leaf. They are harmless to humans and all
other non-target organisms. Whether dusted from airplanes onto crops as
crystals of pure Bt toxin (with the dead bacteria that made them), or
produced at much lower concentrations inside the cells of new generation
Bt transgenic (GM) plants, their target pest and mode of killing remain
Both conventional (non-GM) and organic farming frequently use Bt dusting
to control major crop pests. Eventually though, as with all bio-control
systems (e.g. antibiotics), the pest will develop resistance to the toxin,
as had happened with the diamondback moth larvae used in the reported
study. To these particular larvae, Bt toxin, all leaf proteins, powered
milk and probably even Marmite or peanut butter (!), would be equally
nutritious. And it doesn’t matter if the farmer spreads it, sprays it,
spoon feeds it, or presents it as part of a GM crop (although much less Bt
is present in this case) - all are just sources of protein for the insect
to eat, digest and therefore grow.
The real issues here are: (i) preventing, or at least delaying, insect
resistance to Bt toxin arising in the first place, by judicious use and
better agronomic practices; (ii) having alternative new chemicals,
biocontrol agents or toxins ready when Bt efficacy is finally lost; and
(iii) less prejudicial reporting of a scientific study in which no GM
crops (Bt cabbage) were used either to create and select the Bt-resistant
moth larvae in the first place, or later to overfeed them to achieve 56%
faster growth. Interestingly, it was all done in the laboratory with
(organically approved) Bt leaf dusting of non-GM cabbage!
The real question this paper raises is how realistic "treatment" with 10
microg/ml Cry1Ac (Bt toxin) is compared with the concentrations expressed
in GM Bt plants or after Bt spraying?
- Prof. Michael Wilson, Chief Executive, Horticulture Research
International, Wellesbourne, UK
Rapid Advances in Enabling Biotechnologies: Implications for Biotech,
Agriculture and Food
- Bio-Era Teleconference, Tuesday, April 22, 2003 –11:00 am EDT
Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-era) www.bio-era.net, a research and
advisory firm offering insight into the future of living systems and the
global bio economy, will host a teleconference, Tuesday, April 22 at
11:00am EDT to explore the commercial, regulatory, and strategic
implications of ongoing advances in enabling biotechnologies for gene
discovery, transformation, and crop development as they affect
stakeholders in biotech – as well as the agriculture and food systems.
There is no fee to participate. Participation is limited; to learn more
and apply to participate please visit
Technical capability on some fronts has advanced at a rate even faster
than Moore's Law. However, regulation, lack of platform standardization,
ROI questions, and thorny intellectual property conflicts, may dampen the
impact of these stunning technological advances on the rate and cost of
agricultural research and development.
Questions to be addressed during the teleconference include:- What are the
new and enabling biotechnologies that matter most? How are they affecting
the pace of change? How might these technologies shift the competitive
playing field and open up new opportunities for smaller players? What are
the non-technological constraints to progress? What are the implications
for other stakeholders?
The call is the second in a series of interactive conference calls for
bio-era clients and invited guests, which followed the release of
bio-era’s research report "Agricultural Biotechnology at the Crossroads:
The Changing Structure of the Industry." To download the report, an audio
recording or transcript of the first call in the series “Breaking the
Logjam: Speeding Acceptance for New Agricultural Biotechnologies – Can
Stakeholder Interests Align?” Please visit
Biotech Timeline: A History of Plant Biotechnology
- Ben Roberts, firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a sophomore at Beaver High School in Utah. I will be attending the
National History Day in Washington D.C. with a ten minute peformance I
have developed. The History Day theme this year is "Rights and
Responsibilites" and the title of my performance is "A History of Plant
Biotechnology." I wondered if you could direct me to an appropriate source
to help answer concerns I have not been able to answer with the many hours
of research I have done.
First -- it is easy to develop a timeline of plant biotechnology's
development up through the seventies. (Realize I am looking at the "major"
turning points, such as Watson and Crick's discovery of the double helix
nature of DNA and Cohen and Boyer's moving a gene from one organism to
another.) After that point it has been difficult for me to pinpoint
pivotal moments. What would you see as pivotal moments in the historical
timeline from the eighties up to the present time?
I also like to ask anyone associated with biotechnology their viewpoint on
the idea of Rights and Responsibilities as associated with that historical
Thank you for your time, Ben Roberts
Dear Ben: It was good to hear from you. I am impressed that as a
sophomore you have taken on this
challenging project and you write so well!
I hope AgBioView readers would respond to you as well.
Regarding timelines, you should visit
http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?id=2157 as they have a good timeline
of pivotal moments in plant biotech. USDA website (http://www.usda.gov)
also has a good time line of key events in plant biotech but I cannot
locate the specific URL.
A broader biotechnology timline is at :
Also look at this very comprehensive and multimedia presentation of
timeline at http://www.bio.org/er/timeline2.asp
In my opinion following are the pivotal moments (dates are from my
1982 - First transgenic plants developed
1985 - First Field testing
1986 - Gene gun developed
1986 - EPA approves Field release
1989 - First application to FDA for commercialization (Flavr Savr)
1989- China Starts growing GM crops (tobacco)
1991 - USDA Develops Regulatory guideline
1995 - First commercialization of GM crop in North America
1997 - British supermarkets sell GM tomato paste
1998 - Puzstai Announces his Rat study
1999 - Lacy publishes his Monarch buttefly story
2000 - Biotech crops are planted over 100 million acres
2000 - Golden Rice is developed
2000 - Biosafety protocol drafted in Montreal
2000 - AgBioWorld is launched (Sorry, couldn't resist the plug!)
2001 - Nature publishes a paper on transgene flow to Mexican corn
2002 - Zambia Refuses Food aid from US citing GM corn is 'poison'
I am sure other AgBioView readers would further add to this.
Need for GM Foods
- Chris Lamb , This is York (UK), April 16, 2003
Regarding your article "Wish you were here without GM foods" (April 9) we
need to double crop production by 2050 to feed nine billion people a more
varied diet and on present trends a net global food deficit is projected
for as early as 2020. There is little additional land with the right soil
and climate for major grain production and prime land is being lost to
Yield gains from conventional breeding are not keeping pace and for some
crops the well of readily accessible useful genetic variation is drying
up. Therefore increased productivity will require new farming and breeding
technologies. Genetically modified food (GM) is one of the sharpest new
tools available and there is some urgency because 17 years is a short
window for scientific advance and technological application.
Beyond global food security GM can play a major role in developing new
crop varieties requiring less chemical input and to grow food with
improved nutritional and health-promoting qualities.
Professor Chris Lamb, Director, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park,
Colney, Norwich, UK
Agricultural Technologies and Innovations: Meeting Local Needs in a
- Brussels, Belgium, June 5, 2003; Carolyn Gill at email@example.com
For this year’s annual conference, CropLife International has teamed up
with EuropaBio, the European Association for Bio Industries, to focus on
the use of agricultural technology throughout the world.
In Europe, the debate on the use of biotechnology in agriculture
continues. It is impacting on agricultural markets and the lives of rural
communities in both developed and developing countries. The use of
agricultural technology has become more than a technical issue of profit,
efficiency and environment, it is now an issue of social morality and, for
This year’s conference will seek to put the use of agricultural technology
into a global context exploring both the technical and societal aspects.
Sessions will tackle issues such as:
* Global and future perspective on the use of technology in agriculture
* Showcasing the use of agricultural biotechnology in the field by
profiling case studies
* Agricultural, industrial and biosafety considerations for the global
* Environment, access, trade and business implications of agricultural
International Society for Food, Agriculture & Environment
The International Society for Food, Agriculture & Environment (ISFAE)
includes scientific, professional and technical communities (including
Farmers and Industries), with contacts all over the world.
The aim of the ISFAE is to bring together scientific and technical or
professionals, to stimulate, facilitate and coordinate research and
development on an international scale. The ISFAE will facilitate the
cooperation between scientists or/and professionals, promotes knowledge
transfer on a global scale by means of publications of journals,
newsletters, proceedings and/or books.
The International Society for Food, Agriculture and Environmental Science
is considered as a global network of co-operation. The creation within
ISFAE of several sections according to the various areas corresponding to
the different subjects related to Food, Agriculture and Environmental
science and technologies, human health and animal science.
Global Food, Agriculture and Environmental Network: The International
Society for Food, Agriculture & Environmental Science (ISFAE) is a network
of scientists, professional and technical seeking for know-how, news,
information and cooperation. Publiishes 'Journal of Food, Agriculture and
Environment' - Available to all ISFAE members
- Contact :firstname.lastname@example.org; World Food RD Ltd. / ISFAE, Secretariat,
Meri-Rastilantie 3 C, FIN-00980 Helsinki, Finland
Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate
- A New Book by Thomas DeGregori, Iowa State University Press
'Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate' takes an historical look at
two contrasting streams of ideas. The first view comprise the flow of
ideas in chemistry and biology that have created the conditions for modern
medicine, modern food production and the biotechnological revolution. The
second view is the "vitalist" reaction to the rise of modern science and
the resulting rejection of modern agriculture.
Contemporary proponents of "organic" agriculture and the anti-genetically
modified food movement believe that "pure" food confers some special kind
of virtue both on those who produce it and those who consume it. They fail
to acknowledge that organic chemistry, genetics, and molecular biology
have been as essential to twentieth century advances in agriculture such
as plant breeding, and are instrumental to ensuring that there is enough
food for everyone.
The Origins of the Organic- Begins with an exploration of the factors
involved in our modern fear of technology, a fear which forms the
foundation for anti-technology beliefs and practices. - Argues that
vitalism is at the core of an array of contemporary anti-science and
anti-technology movements. - Helps readers fully understand the ferocity
with which certain beliefs about homeopathic medicine and the "organic"
are held against all evidence to the contrary. - Explains the history of
nitrogen in life and in agriculture, countering myths of scarce resources
and beliefs about the sufficiency of organic nitrogen to feed the world's
population. - Purports that technology creates resources, debunking the
idea that resources are natural, fixed and finite. - Updates and clarifies
issues discussed in the author's previous works: A Theory of Technology
(1985), Agriculture and Modern Technology (2001) and The Environment, Our
Natural Resources and Modern Technology (2002).
We need to better understand the forces of scientific and technological
change if we are to control the negative elements of these forces,
continue to advance the development of science and technology, and
facilitate fuller participation in the benefits of our advancing
capability to further the human endeavor. The Origins of the Organic will
provide a basis for this understanding.
ISBN - 0-813-80513-9; Regular price: $54.99; SALE PRICE: $49.49; Iowa
State Press w 2121 State Avenue w Ames, IA 50014-8300 Phone: (515)
292-0140 w Fax: (515) 292-3348 w Order: 1-800-862-6657
Biotech Can Help to Reverse Food Crises
- Susan Mabonga, Biosafety News (Kenya), No. 34 July/August 2002
African governments need to come up with a lasting solution to the food
crisis facing the continent.
They cannot continue to depend on food aid, for it is not a lasting
solution to the food insecurity threatening millions of people across the
It is saddening to note that in Africa, hunger and malnutrition are common
and according to the World Health Organisation there are an estimated 25
to 30 million malnourished children, with an estimated 54 per cent of
child mortality blamed on malnutrition
As many as one third of the children in sub Saharan Africa are said to be
stunted because of poor diet, while every day thousands of people die from
hunger. A further tragedy is that millions of people are forced to live
below their full potential because they lack the energy and good health to
function at their best.
Recent predictions indicate that by the year 2050 there will be
approximately 9 billion people in the world an increase of 50 percent over
the present day, a fact that calls for urgent measures to increase food
production. Most of this increase will occur in the cities of developing
countries, primarily in Africa and Asia. Experts believe that if the
present economic development continues, this population increase will
require doubling of food production.
Only a fraction of the food that all these people will need can be
produced in the breadbaskets of the world. Most of this food has to be
grown locally. The problem of feeding all the people is worsened by the
uneven distribution of croplands, for example, China has quarter of the
human population but only 7 percent of the world's farmland.
The above scenario calls for African governments to ensure that access to
existing technologies on agriculture are made a high priority. According
to Dr.Channaptna Prakash, the director of the Center for Plant
Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University (USA), Biotechnology is one
of the new technologies that could play a significant role in improving
crop production. During his recent visit to Nairobi, Kenya, Dr Prakash who
oversees research on food crops of importance to developing countries met
with Kenya scientists.
Dr Prakash told the scientists that modern biotechnology could offer many
benefits for agriculture in Africa. "Biotechnology is a user friendly
technology that fits with the cultural practices of Africa and is easier
to transfer than methods that require elaborate techniques or machines,"
said Prakash. Although no clear evidence of harm to people‚s health or the
environment has been shown from the use of Biotechnology there is intense
debate questioning the value and safety of GM crops. Southern African
countries which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique recently
refused shipment of genetically modified corn donated by the United
States, expressing fear that it could be harmful.
They were concerned that bio-engineered grain could be toxic and
contaminate cornfields. However, due to starvation facing millions of
people they had to accept the food aid. The World Food Programme revealed
that last year it fed 52 million people with genetically modified grains
without any reports of harmful effects. Dr Prakash says that societal
anxiety over genetically modified (GM) food is understandable, adding that
it is fueled by a variety of causes, including consumer unfamiliarity,
lack of reliable information on the current safeguards in place, a steady
stream of negative opinion in the news media, opposition by activists,
growing mistrust of industry and a lack of awareness of how our food
production system has evolved.
Some analysts blame public anxiety on the scientific community saying they
have neither adequately addressed public concerns about GM foods nor
effectively communicated the value of biotechnology. Scientists could
allay public concerns about biotechnology by creating an awareness of
agricultural history, which may help alleviate consumer unease about GM
foods. It may also educate scientists about the relevance of the societal
context to their research.
"Societal acceptance is pivotal to the continued development and
application of biotechnology in food and agriculture," said Dr Prakash.
Experts agree that risks from GM crops should be monitored and measured,
but concerns about these risks must also be balanced against the enormous
benefits from this technology and weighed against alternative options.
According to Dr Prakash most risk issues related to current GM crops are
not unique when placed in the context of how agriculture was developed
through crop domestication over many millennia and how modern crop
varieties have been bred in the past century.
Thus the issue is not whether to modify the genetics of crop plants as we
embarked on that road thousands of years ago when plants were first
domesticated. "Instead of simply judging the vehicle through which we make
genetic changes we need to weigh the potential consequences that such
modifications hold for the society and the environment", says Dr
Prakash.(CSP: This quote is from Steve Tanskely of Cornell appearing in my
Plant Physiology commentary that Susan mistakenly attributes to me)
The scientist said it was ironical that new foods from exotic crops are
easily assimilated into peoples diets without questions.He pointed out
that many so-called functional foods, health foods, and nutraceuticals
have been entering the mainstream America diet lately, with little or no
regulation or testing. “We do not question the long-term health
implications of these food supplements, even though they involve
relatively large changes in our food intake," he said. In contrast, the GM
foods currently on the market have been tested extensively and judged to
be substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts, with just
one or two additional proteins present in minimal amounts (introduced into
a background of thousands of proteins) making it unlikely for new
allergens to be introduced into the food supply from GM plants.
The fact remains that modern biotechnology cannot eliminate poverty and
hunger because the problems are rooted in the socio-political realm. It is
a clear fact that people need jobs to purchase food and with economic
demand, food production would pick up. There is also need to devise a
system that permits the distribution of that food in an equitable way for
the world indeed produces enough food to eliminate hunger.
African governments must also make individual efforts to ensure food
security is achieved in their countries for agriculture is the most
important economic activity in the continent yet crop production is the
lowest in the world.
Genetic Engineering: Mistrust of Genetically Modified Foods
- Biotech Week, via NewsRx.com April 23, 2003
According to a law professor, mistrust of genetically modified foods is
due more to people's lack of faith in the federal regulatory process than
to their fear of the crops themselves.
Gregory N. Mandel, assistant professor at Albany Law School in Albany, New
York, calls on private industry, activist organizations, and
representatives of the public to jointly develop guidelines for improving
the regulation of genetically engineered products.
Most people lack the ability to assess the quality of competing scientific
claims, so they turn to stories about problems with genetic engineering
for their views on the topic, he believes. "This is not surprising,"
Mandel says. "Scholars have determined that the manner in which people
construct reality is based strongly on stories they have heard."
And what they hear about genetic engineering centers on two incidents:
StarLink Corn and monarch butterflies, Mandel asserts.
Genetically modified StarLink corn was approved in the U.S. as animal feed
but not for humans, because of fears that it contained proteins that might
produce allergic reactions in some people. Some StarLink corn got into the
human food supply, however, leading to a recall of more than 300 food
products. This happened, Mandel says, because the U.S. agricultural system
is not equipped to segregate human food crops from animal crops. "The
bottom line was that anyone familiar with the U.S. agricultural system
would have recognized that contamination was inevitable, but the StarLink
corn nevertheless had been approved," he says.
In the case of the monarch butterflies, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency concluded that corn fields planted with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis,
a bacterium that causes insects that feed on it to die) crops - one
quarter of the nation's 73 million acres of corn - would not significantly
harm the insects. That was because there were few milkweed plants near the
cornfields and the amount of Bt pollen that might land on milkweed was
below levels toxic to butterflies. Milkweed is the monarch butterfly
larva's favorite food. University studies, however, showed that the Bt
pollen would be enough to kill some monarch butterfly larvae. It seems
that the EPA had considered the impact of Bt on the butterflies themselves
but not on their larvae - the caterpillars.
Mandel points out that regulatory errors are a central feature of many
stories about genetically modified products. For that reason, he argues,
both private industry and activists for human health and the environment
should be able to agree on the need to come up with guidelines for better
regulation of the crops. "This proposal offers all stakeholders potential
benefits," he says. "For activists it would mean working to protect their
chief areas of concern: human health and the environment. For industry,
regulatory advances could help streamline the regulatory process, reduce
the risk of future problems, and increase public trust in the regulatory
An effort to write effective regulations for genetically modified crops
will only succeed, Mandel warns, if a third group - the public - is also
represented on the panel by trustworthy people without interest in either
the private industry or activist camps.
He proposes this "confidence building measure" as a first significant step
toward creating trust in the regulatory system for genetically modified
foods. "Public confidence in the regulatory system is critical to the
success of the biotechnology industry," he states.
Mandel has written a paper outlining his views titled "Building Confidence
through Teamwork on Regulatory Proposals." He also presented his proposal
in December 2003 at Arizona State University's Genetically Modifed Foods
- Johnjoe McFadden, The Guardian, April 19, 2003
'Finn Bowring's anti-GM rhetoric in Science, Seeds and Cyborgs fails to
convince Johnjoe McFadden'
"Science, Seeds and Cyborgs by Finn Bowring; 320pp, Verso, £19"
Fifty years ago this month, James Watson and Francis Crick unveiled a
double helical structure fashioned from sticks and wire that would change
the world. With the completion of the human genome project also due this
spring, 2003 is the year of DNA. News attracts hype so we are daily
subjected to preposterous tales of genetic tests that will predict the day
we die or gene injections that will convert our couch-potato children into
perfectly toned athletes. It is not surprising then that the year's
DNA-fest should be peppered with a dash of scepticism such as Finn
Bowring's Science, Seeds and Cyborgs.
Bowring begins with an attack on reductionism in molecular biology. This
is a worthy aim as the overreaching claims of many geneticists and
sociobiologists need reining in. Yet he wheels out the variability of
"single gene disorders" (like cystic fibrosis) to undermine molecular
biology's supposedly central claim of a simple relationship between genes
and disease. The problem is that modern genetics doesn't make such a
claim. Much of the post-genome action is about unravelling the gene-gene
and gene-environment interconnections that are responsible for this
variability. By erecting and demolishing a straw man, Bowring misses the
opportunity of providing a timely attack on the real dangers of genetic
Bowring is on safer ground when he attacks biotechnology corporations and
the capitalist system. Nobody likes the Big Bad Corporate Wolf, and few
would dispute that biotechnology's principal motive is profit. But that
doesn't explain why poor Brazilian farmers are smuggling and planting GM
seeds. Whereas authors like Mark L Winston (Travellers in the Genetically
Modified Zone) talk to farmers and biotechnologists, Bowring's analysis
seems entirely desk-bound and doesn't shift from his ideologically based
But it is on health, safety or ethical issues that he goes very badly
adrift. Instead of a rigorous examination we get a mixed bag of truths,
half-truths and inaccuracies. For example, Bowring claims: "According to
Ho and her colleagues there is persuasive evidence to suggest the rapid
growth in genetic engineering has played a significant role in
accelerating the emergence of drug- and antibiotic-resistant infectious
disease." Drug resistance is a very serious problem. If genetic
engineering is to blame, we need to know and do something about it. But
citing the views of anti-GM activists is no substitute for hard facts. Two
decades of research have not revealed a scrap of evidence to support this
But, to Bowring, all health interventions are dismissed as profiteering.
Sickness is mere "ordinary suffering" (a truly chilling phrase) that has
been redefined as illness so pharmaceutical companies can make profits.
Even Alzheimer's is redefined as "communication impediments and behaviours
which challenge our abilities to comprehend".
To underpin his anti-science rhetoric Bowring attempts to build an ethical
system based on an illusory natural order and the slippery concept of
human dignity. But he lacks the intellectual rigour of authors such as
Fukuyama (Our Posthuman Future), and (unlike Fukuyama) fails to come up
with any clear policy proposals. He resurrects the metaphysical "telos"
(form or purpose of life) to argue that biotechnology, in contrast to
traditional farming practices, lacks respect for an animal's telos (though
why ending up roasted on a spit should be part of anyone's telos is not
explained). Surrogacy is condemned on the profiteering "babies for sale"
ticket, yet though he condemns gene therapy as an insult to the autonomy
of the human foetus, he ducks taking a similar stand on the more
politically sensitive issue of abortion.
Science and the left needn't follow different paths. Marx and Engels were
both enthusiastic followers of scientific advances. But the new eco-left
seems intent on following Lysenko's example of rewriting science to fit
their ideology. As DNA enters its second half-century, society urgently
needs to consider the implications of gene technology. Sadly, Science,
Seeds and Cyborgs will contribute little to that debate.
Johnjoe McFadden is professor of molecular genetics at the University of
Surrey and author of Quantum Evolution (HarperCollins)
Daniels' Choice Words for French
- John Berlau, Insight, April 18, 2003 http://www.insightmag.com/
Mitch Daniels, President George W. Bush's outspoken budget director and
rumored candidate in 2004 for governor of Indiana, bashed France and other
European countries for their "willful self-denial of new technologies" in
a speech Thursday night at the 10th anniversary of the Progress and
Freedom Foundation, a Washington technology think tank. Speaking of the
European Union's rejection of genetically modified grains, he cracked, "We
created underarm deodorant, and the French turned that down too."
To howls of laughter from the audience at Washingon's Renaissance
Mayflower Hotel, Daniels added that an American entrepreneur can dream up
a new business, start it up, have it fail, and then start over in a
shorter time "than it takes to get a [business] license in most European
GM Food: The Risk Assessment of Immune Hypersensitivity Reactions Covers
More Than Allergenicity
- Alexander G. Haslberger, Food, Agriculture & Environment Vol.1(1):
42-45. 2003; www.world.food.net
Institute for Microbiology and Genetics, University of Vienna, Austria,
Department of food safety, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland;
Abstract: Allergenicity of genetically modified food ( GM food ) has
become a public concern and international expert panels e.g. WHO/ FAO have
depicted decision trees for a rigorous assessment and testing for GM
foods, especially where no history of safe use is available. The way to
use patient sera for the assessment of allergenicity is still under
discussion in cases of proteins where stability and protein sequences may
not be conclusive or for potential new allergies. The risk assessment of
immune hypersensitivity reactions induced potentially by GM food needs
also to consider effects on other type of immune responses e.g. activation
of specific immune cell populations. The role of antigen presenting cells
of the gut is now understood to direct immune responses resulting in
humoral, cellular or IgE predominant characteristics. For GM
microorganisms potential effects on the immune system need to be assessed.
No specific international regulatory systems for GM foods safety or GMO
environmental safety are currently in place. In the field of environmental
safety the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety may enter into force soon and
Codex Alimentarius principles on human health risk analysis are expected
to be adopted in 2003. The premise of these Codex principles dictates a
premarket assessment, performed on a case-by-case basis and including an
evaluation of both direct effects (from the inserted gene) and unintended
effects (that may arise as a consequence of insertion of the new gene).
The safety assessment of GM foods investigates:
(a) direct health effects (toxicity)
(b) tendency to provoke allergic reactions (allergenicity) (c) specific
components thought to have nutritional or toxic properties
(d) the stability of the inserted gene
(e) nutritional effects associated with the specific genetic modification
(f) any unintended effects which could result from the gene insertion1.
When new foods are developed by natural methods, some of the existing
characteristics of foods can be altered unintentionally, either in a
positive or a negative way. New plants developed through traditional
breeding techniques may not be evaluated rigorously using risk assessment
techniques2. In contrast to traditionally developed foods which are not
generally tested for allergenicity before market introduction, protocols
for testing detrimental immune responses, especially the allergenic
potential of GM foods have been established by international expert
The Role of the Gut Immune System and Hypersensitivity Responses
Food allergies and other food sensitivities are individualistic adverse
reactions to foods because they affect only a few people in the
population. Within the different types of reactions involved in adverse
reactions to foods non-immunological intolerances (such as reactions to
increased contents of histamins or intolerances against lactose) and
reactions involving components of the immune system need to be
differentiated3. In hypersensitivity reactions involving elements of the
immune-system it became evident that these reactions are mainly caused by
a lack of the induction of a tolerance against components of the foods in
specific individuals. While research has delivered a very good
understanding for the structural specificities of the protein food
components which are often the cause for allergenic reactions, basic
mechanisms underlying the reactions are at the focus of present research:
Genetic and environmental factors are believed to influence antigen
presenting cells, especially dendritic cells and T cell subsets which,
using different sets of immune mediators, differentially regulate both,
the synthesis of Immunoglobulin E which is the basis for humoral,
immediate (or real, Type I) allergic hypersensitivity reactions and
cellular reactions involving sensitized or self reactive T cells (delayed
type, hypersensitivity reactions).
Antigen presenting cells belong to the gut associated lymphoid tissue
(GALT). Immature dendritic cells reside in the epithelia also of the gut
and have the potential to sense foreign antigens. Following recognition
and uptake of Ag, mature dendritic cells provide signals which polarize
Th0 cells into Th1 or Th2 cells, the basis for humoral or cellular
immune-responses as well as decisions for the production of enhanced IgE4.
Systemic immune responses to soluble oral antigens are most likely induced
by gut-conditioned dendritic cells that function both to initiate the
gut-oriented response and to impart the characteristic features that
discriminate it from responses induced parenterally5. Also the
differential stimulation of cytokines effecting immune responses and
activation of the immune system was shown in intestinal epithelial immune
cells using non-pathogenic E. coli and Lactobacilli6.
Specific microbes in the gut microflora and sporadic infections are so
thought to be important in allergy prevention. The gastrointestinal
microflora promotes potentially antiallergenic processes such as TH1-type
immunity, suppression of TH2-induced allergic inflammation, induction of
oral tolerance and IgA production. The gut microflora might therefore be a
major postnatal counterregulator of the universal TH2-skewed immune system
in fetuses and neonates7. Because of its role to serve as a barrier to
pathogenic bacteria and to enable an immune surveillance of the antigenic
environment the local mucosal immunity of the gut is of a central
importance for health. Antigens, primarily associated with intestinal
microbes and dietary antigens, can stimulate production of IgA in the
intestine resulting in local protective immunity. Because of its role for
a stimulation and regulation of immune responses the gut has become a
favourite system for developments and techniques to interfere with
modified or functional foods or vaccines including DNA vaccines 8,9,10.
GM Food and Hypersensitivity
Molecular biology and biochemistry have significantly increased the
knowledge of the nature of allergens. However, only limited information
about specific properties of food allergens is presently available. The
majority of known plant food allergens belong to seed storage proteins,
protease and amylase-inhibitors, profilins or pathogenesis-related (PR)
proteins. Less variety is found among allergenic proteins derived from
animal sources. For allergic reactions it became clear that plant food
allergens belong almost exclusively to one of two structurally related
protein superfamilies, which share remarkable stability to processes such
as heating (being stable to temperatures between 75-95ºC, compared with
45- 50ºC for most proteins), and the extremes of pH and the proteolytic
processing environment found in the digestive tract.
These proteins mainly come from foods or food groups often referred to as
“The Big Eight” which account for more than 90-percent of all Type I
allergic reactions worldwide. These Big Eight are; milk, eggs, fish,
crustacean shellfish, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts and wheat 11. In
response to pathogens, plants synthesize and accumulate a variety of
proteins which are part of a plants defence system. As plant protection
against bacteria, fungi, viruses and insects is a major challenge to
agriculture world-wide, over-expression of such proteins in transgenic
plants has been applied to increase the defense potential. Some of these
proteins which are considered for use in the production of GMOs to
increase the resistance to microbial and insectal attack include proteins
with allergenic potential e.g. chitinases providing protection against
fungal attack or insecticidal proteins including protease inhibitors12 .
Risk Assessment of Allergenicity
An assessment of the potential allergenicity of GM foods typically follows
the generally well known decision-tree process which depends from the
source of the genes transferred as outlined by international expert panels
3, 13, 14, 15. The most difficult assessment occurs when genes are
obtained from sources with no history of allergenicity, such as viruses,
bacteria or non food plants. The likelyhood that the proteins derived from
such sources of DNA will be allergens is not very high, since most
proteins in nature are not allergens. The key features of the
allergenicity assessment for such foods than again involves a comparison
of the amino acid sequence of the introduced protein with the amino acid
sequences of known allergens and the digestive stability of the introduced
While the combination of these two criteria provides reasonable assurance
that the introduced protein has limited allergenic potential, the ideal
approaches to the application of these two criteria have been debated, and
the desirability of adding other criteria for the allergenicity assessment
of such products and additional testing has been advocated 14. The
development of additional criteria and additional tests to use in the
assessment of the allergenicity of GM foods would be advantageous in cases
where the gene is obtained from sources with no history of allergenicity.
The level of expression of the introduced protein and the functional
category of the introduced protein could be used as additional criteria.
In addition, the development of suitable animal models for the prediction
of the allergenic potential of the introduced proteins is anticipated in
the future. While several animal models appear to be promising , none has
been sufficiently validated for its routine use in the assessment of the
allergenicity of GM foods. It must also be realised that the absence of
sequence similarity with allergenic protein-epitopes and a missing
stability against digestion does not necessarily prove for a missing
allergenicity as examples are known which contradict to the general rules:
Highly homologous sequences with allergens in case of allergen-isoforms
have been shown without any allergenicity.
Furthermore, proteins with a low stability have been shown to exhibit a
significant potency to induce allergenicity or to sensitize for allergic
reactions17-19. The use of patients sera for the testing of allergenicity
is therefore recommended20 .There is also some discussion if the generally
agreed system is sensitive enough to detect upcoming new allergies in
time. It is likely that the first manifestations of a new allergy will
occur in pre-existing adult allergic individuals and could occur as a
consequence of cross-reactivity. A screening programme may be desirable to
predict such cross-reactivities by employing patients sera, however, the
number of sera that would need to be screened may need to be much larger
than that hitherto recommended in international documents 21.
Risk Assessment of Cell Mediated Reactions and Microbial Impact on the
Although the well characterised interactions which lead to allergic
immediate hypersensitivities may comprise the fare most important food
derived hypersensitivity problems, the role of other type of responses,
and their relevance for food hypersensitivity in general and for the
safety assessment for foods from GM organisms specifically remain more
unclear. Adverse food reactions are discussed and also need to be taken in
mind in the assessment of GM-foods22. Such reactions could comprise
delayed type hypersensitivity reactions which have been characterised to
develop slowly, reaching a peak at approximately 48 hours and then slowly
subsiding over 72-96 hours. They are known to involve cell mediated
responses without important IgE involvement. Also reactions to cow milk,
soy proteins, eggs etc known in infants and children, Celiac disease and
Crohns disease show missing tolerance and mislead activation of T cells23.
Potential immune-stimulatory or immune-modulatory effects of GM
microorganisms (GMMs) used as or in foods are a specific area of a risk
assessment which evaluates immune responses to GM organisms. GMMs may
establish themselves within the GI tract and exert influences on the
immune system via interactions with the gut immune system. Even non-viable
microorganisms are known to retain functional properties (i.e. cell
adhesion, binding of chemicals, immunomodulating activities), which can
have direct or indirect effects on both microflora- and host associated
functions24. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) has important
interactions with the immune system and it is well established that
microbial stimuli are the main antigenic forces in the development and
maintenance of GALT and acquired immunity24. Stimulation of antigen
presenting, dendritic cells influencing immune type responses was shown
for bacterial cell walls before25 Potential safety relevant consequences
from rare, but possible uptake of recombinant DNA from GM food by cells of
the immune system remain to be investigated 26-28.
In general, it seems that the present discussion on GM food safety,
especially in the field of hypersensitivity reactions does not so much
point towards a significantly increased safety problem of GM foods
compared with conventional foods, but it reflects increased regulatory
demands as well as perceived needs for a higher safety level. Conventional
foods often have not been subject of hypersensitivity assessment. Public
awareness as well as genuine scientific considerations in the field of GM
foods has resulted in general guidelines being elaborated for
allergenicity assessment of such foods. These internationally agreed
guidelines are specifically important for foods which are traded globally.
Standards established for the assessment of GM foods may then turn out to
be a paragon for the testing of conventional foods. The detailed analysis
of immune mechanisms involved in the stimulation of different type of
immune responses has revealed complex ways and some of these ways are
still poorly understood, such as pathways resulting in cell mediated
hypersensitivity reactions to food.
An improved investigation of activation pathways including antigen
presenting- and T cells will not only contribute to a better understanding
of these reactions but may also result in improved testing methods for
allergenicity, where the possibilities for testing, especially of whole
foods, in animal models are still limited.
1 Codex, 2001. Consideration of proposed draft general principles for the
risk analysis of foods derived from modern methods of biotechnology.
http://www.who.int/fsf/ GMfood/bt01_05e.pdf 2 WHO, 2002. 20 Questions on
GM Foods. http:// www.who.int/ fsf/ GMfood/q&a.pdf
3 IFT. 2001. Food Allergies and other Food sensitivities, expert panel on
food safety and nutrition: Institute of food technologists.
http://www.ift.org/publications/sss/allergens.pdf 4 Lambrecht B.N. 2001.
Allergen uptake and presentation by dendritic cells : Curr Opin Allergy
Clin Immunol 1:51-59 5 Alpan O., Rudomen G., Matzinger P. 2001. The role
of dendritic cells, B cells, and M cells in gut-oriented immune responses.
J. Immunol 166:4843-4852
6 Haller D., Bode C., Hammes W.P., Pfeifer A.M., Schiffrin E.J., Blum S.
2000. Non-pathogenic bacteria elicit a difcytokine response by intestinal
epithelial cell/leucocyte co-cultures. Gut 47:79-87
7 Kalliomaki M., Salminen S., Arvilommi H., Kero P., Koskinen P., 9 Bouvet
JP., Decroix N., Pamonsinlapatham P. 2002. Stimulation of local antibody
production: parenteral or mucosal vaccination? Trends Immunol. 23:209-213.
10 Howard K.A., Alpar H.O. 2002. The development of polyplex-based DNA
vaccines. J. Drug Target.10:143-151 11Institute of food research, 2002.
Food allergy.http://www.ifr.bbsrc. ac.uk/Diet/Immunology.html
12 Bindslev-Jensen C., Ebner C., Madsen C., Mäkinen-Kiljunen S., Peltre
G., Poulsen L.K., van Ree R., Viets S. 2000. Genetically modified foods
and allergenicity., preliminary Position Paper. European Academy for
Allergology and Clinical.Immunology,
http://www.ig-food.org/seiten/position2k.htm 13 Metcalfe, D.D., Astwood,
J.D., Townsend, R., Sampson,H.A., Taylor, S.L., and Fuchs, R.L. 1996.
Assessment of the allergenic potential of food derived from genetically
engineered crop plants. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 36: 165-186 14 WHO/FAO
2000. Second Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from
Biotechnology, Safety aspects of genetically modified foods of plant
15 WHO/FAO 2001. Expert Consultation on Allergenicity of Foods Derived
from Biotechnology, http://www.who.int/fsf/
Documents/Biotech_Consult_Jan2001/ report20 16 IFT 2000. Expert Report on
Biotechnology and Foods:Human Food safety Evaluation of rDNA
Biotechnology- derived Foods, Food technology 54: 15-23 http://
www.ift.org/publications/ docs hop/ft_shop/09-00/
09_00_pdfs/09-00-bio-safety.pdf 17 Ferreira F., Hirtenlehner K., Jilek A.,
Godnik-Cvar J., Breiteneder H., Grimm R., Hoffmann-Sommergruber K.,
Scheiner O., Kraft D., Breitenbach M., Rheinerger H. J., Ebner C. 1996.
Dissection of immunoglobulin E and T lymphocyte reactivity of isoforms of
the major birch pollen allergen Bet v 1: potential use of hypoallergenic
isoforms for immunotherapy. J. Exp.Med.183: 599-609.
18 Heiss S., Fischer S., Muller W D., Weber B., Hirschwehr R., Spitzauer
S., Kraft D., Valenta R. 1996. Identification of a 60d cross-reactive
allergen in pollen and plant-derived food. J. Allergy Clin . Immunol.
19 Vrtala S., Fischer S., Grote M., Vangelista L., Pastore A., Sperr W R
., Valent P., Reichelt R., Kraft D., Valenta R . 1999. Molecular,
immunological, and structural characterization of Phl p 6, a major
allergen and P-particle-associated protein from Timothy grass (Phleum
pratense) pollen. J. Immunol.163:5489- 5496. 20 Valenta R.2002. p. comm.
21 Warner J. 2002. p. comm.
22 Baldwin J.L. 1997. Pharmacologic food reactions. In: Metcalfe DD,
Sampson HA, Simon RA. Food Allergy: Adverse reactions to foods and food
additives 2nd ed. Blackwell science, p. 419- 429.
23 Janeway C.A.2001.Immunobiology, New York : Garland; Edinburgh :
Churchill Livingstone, Edition 5th ed., Biology Publications.
http://www.bmb.leeds.ac.uk/ illingworth/icu3/ lecture/09/
24 WHO/FAO expert consultation, 2001.Safety assessment of foods derived
from genetically modified microorganisms. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO expert
consultation. http://www.who.int/fsf/ Documents/GMMConsult_Final_.pdf
25 Haslberger A.G., Kohl G., Felnerova D., Mayr U.B., Fuerst- Ladani S.,
Lubitz W. 2000. Activation,stimulation and uptake of bacterial ghosts in
antigen presenting cells. J. Biotechnol. 83: 57-66
26 Schubbert, R., Renz, D., Schmidt, B. and Dorfler, W.1997. Foreign (M13)
DNA ingested by mice reaches peripheral leukocytes, spleen and liver via
the intestinal wall mucosa and can be Isolauri E. 2001. Probiotics in
primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo- controlled
trial. Lancet 357:1076- 1079
8 Johnson I.T.,2001. New food components and gastrointestinal health. Proc
Nutr Soc.6:481-488. Review.
45 Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol.1(1), January 2003 covalently
linked to mouse DNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA
27 Hohlweg, U. and Doerfler, W. 2001. On the fate of plant or other
foreign genes upon the uptake of food or after intramuscular injection in
mice. Molecular Genetics and Genomics 265: 225–233.
28 Einspanier, R., Klotz, A., Kraft, J., Aulrich, K., Poser, R.,Schwägele,
F., Jahreis, G., Flachowsky, G. 2001. The fate of forage plant DNA in farm
animals: a collaborative case-study investigating cattle and chicken fed
recombinant plant material.European Food Research and Technology 212: