Today in AgBioView: May 19, 2003
* GP Caught with Pants Down: Despicable, Deceitful and Outrageous says
* Genetic Ignorance Isn't Bliss
* Forum on Food Opens with Plea to Feed World
* Senator Bond to World Ag Forum: Biotech Crops 'Scientifically Sound'
* (GM) Food Fight
* Washington's Patience Ending - EU Biotech Moratorium
* GM Food Ban Would be 'IIlegal'
* Who's Listening?
* European Commission: GMO Co-existence Round Table--Report
* India: Andhra Pradesh Farmers Cotton on to Bt Seeds Despite Bad Reports
* India to Institutionalise GM Crops
* Precaution Is for Europeans
Greenpeace Despicable, Deceitful and Outrageous Says Trader Joe's CEO
'Green Is Good: A conversation with John Passacantando, executive director
of Greenpeace USA'
- Marc Gunther FORTUNE March 17, 2003; Excerpt:
Q: Is Greenpeace antibusiness?
A: Not in the least. What is a corporation but a way of organizing power?
That power can be deployed to many ends. There's no reason that profit has
to come at the expense of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water
Q: Should big corporations fear Greenpeace?
A: Sure. The public, through organizations like Greenpeace, can damage
your brand and put pressure on your customers. We will ultimately cost you
money the way you are costing us our health.
Q: Talk about some of the companies you've been working with.
A: We put a lot of pressure on Trader Joe's, the grocery store chain, to
stop carrying genetically modified foods. When they came around, we sent
people to help them figure out how to make the transition. We've worked
with Coca-Cola and McDonald's on creating CFC-free refrigeration. Nobody
wants to destroy a company. We're trying to stop destructive behavior.
Then, the following Letter to the Editor appeared in the May 12, 2003
issue of Fortune:
In "Green is Good" Greenpeace executive director John Passacantando stated
that Trader Joe’s was an example of his group’s working with companies to
make them more ecologically sound. While it is true that Greenpeace "put
a lot of pressure" on us, the reasons we determined to remake our
private-label products without genetically engineered ingredients were
totally due to our survey of customers who responded that they preferred
us to do so.
It is absolutely untrue that Greenpeace worked with us to do anything. We
rejected their offers to guide us through the conversion of our products
because we view their "ends justify any means" approach as despicable.
Frankly, we know our customers and products a lot better than they do. To
now find Greenpeace telling the public that they are working with us or
helped us in any way is deceitful and outrageous.
- Dan Bane, Chairman and CEO, Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, Calif.
Genetic Ignorance Isn't Bliss
- Simon Smith, BetterHumans.com, May 19, 2003
'Poor public knowledge about genetics shows how scientific illiteracy
hinders human progress'
Eggplant sizzled on the barbecue while broccoli boiled, a yam baked and we
munched on salad. It was a beautiful spring day -- sunshine, warm breezes
in tree blossoms, cat playing in the garden -- and I had dropped by my
friend Mike's place for dinner.
While preparing this bounty of vegetables, Mike asked about my position on
genetically modified foods. Relaxation seemed a distant memory as my
stomach tightened in preparation for battle.
I explained that all scientific evidence shows that modified foods are as
safe as nonmodified foods. I said that while there are valid concerns --
allergies, for example, and cross-pollination with nonmodified species --
they are addressable, and genetic modification can have tremendous
benefits for both the environment and developing nations.
It's at this point that heated debates usually ensue. When I asked Mike
about his position, however, he was refreshingly candid. "I don't know
enough to comment," he said. Studies suggest that he's not alone. Many
surveys reveal a shocking lack of public knowledge about genetics.
(Although, to be fair, Mike is a healthcare professional who is very
knowledgeable about genetics, just not
confident in his knowledge about genetically modified foods.) Mike's
refusal to comment, however, does put him in the minority. Despite their
lack of knowledge, most people will rage against genetically modified
foods and -- even more dangerous -- direct policy against them. It's time
to implement a new policy of our own: If people can't answer basic
questions about genetics and genetic modification, they should be barred
from debate and ignored by government.
Half a century behind
It's been more than 50 years since Watson and Crick cracked the structure
of DNA. Because of their profound discovery, we could start talking
seriously about such things as genetic engineering, genetic testing and
Perhaps DNA's structure and function is hard to grasp for those without a
science background. But the concept of an alterable unit of inheritance --
rewritable software that codes for the structure of biological organisms
-- is surely not.
Yet despite DNA's tangible importance to everyone on Earth -- it has a
large influence over the way we look, act and develop diseases -- there is
a surprising lack of public knowledge about genetics. In 1996, a US
National Science Foundation poll found that only 21% of people could say
what DNA is. This February, a Harris poll found that just
60% of people could correctly answer the question, "What is DNA?" It's a
nice improvement, but still worrisome. It means that 40% of people now
still don't know what DNA is -- despite the proliferation of genetically
modified foods, our increasing ability to test for genetic predispositions
to diseases and growing use of DNA for biometric identification.
Such ignorance might be benign if it didn't lead directly to harmful
policy. For five years, the European Union has had a moratorium on
genetically modified foods. The moratorium has hurt food-exporting farmers
and has been linked directly to Zambia's recent rejection of genetically
modified food aid for its starving population. And the moratorium is so
ill-founded that it is now under attack as a trade barrier by countries
such as Canada and the US. Such countries have a good case.
Last week, for example, the UK Royal Society -- the UK national academy of
science -- concluded that genetically modified foods are as safe as
nonmodified foods. And the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee has
concluded that genetically modified foods have a long record of safety,
having been in development for 30 years and to date shown no evidence of
harm. But people persist in believing that modified foods are somehow
dangerous. And the reason is, quite simply, ignorance.
The fifth Eurobarometer poll on biotechnology and life sciences, published
this March, provides a frightening example. When presented with the
statement, "Ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, while genetically
modified tomatoes do," more than 60% of respondents agreed. And presented
with the statement, "By eating a genetically modified fruit, a person's
genes could also become modified," about half of respondents agreed.
Genomic medicine delayed
And ignorance doesn't only impact genetically modified foods. Genetic
testing and genetic therapies are poised to change medicine, yet neither
patients nor doctors know much about them. A study just released by the
University of Michigan, for example, found that US adults appear to know
less about genetic testing now than in 1990. In a 1990 survey, 58% of
respondents correctly answered at least three out of five so-called
"accuracy-index" questions -- addressing such issues as whether genetic
testing can detect tendencies to develop types of cancer and depression.
In 2000, only 24% of respondents scored that high.
Sylvia Metcalfe of the University of Melbourne found similar lack of
knowledge among general practitioners. Reporting in the March-April 2002
issue of the journal Genetics in Medicine, she and colleagues say that
most general practitioners consider their genetic knowledge "extremely
poor." Using focus groups, interviews and surveys, Metcalfe and colleagues
found that general practitioners felt their patients were more
knowledgeable about genetic tests than them -- which, judging by the
University of Michigan study, isn't very knowledgeable. Partly because of
this, more than 60% of surveyed doctors said they had never or almost
never ordered genetic tests. And when they did, they often felt unprepared
to interpret the results.
I don't want to sound all high-and-mighty. Hey, I didn't do all that well
in high-school science, and I was even worse at math. Unlike most people,
it's my job to stay current with and learn about science and technology,
and I accept that many people simply don't have the time or the interest.
And hell, if people actively want to remain ignorant about genetics and
other scientific topics, that's their prerogative.
After all, I have little working knowledge of many things. I don't know
much about cars, for example, for which I could likely at most check the
oil and add windshield fluid. But for this reason I don't go around
telling mechanics how to fix engines. I don't debate them about whether
modified engines are safer than off-the-assembly-line engines. And I don't
try to steer government policy on automobile safety.
Likewise, people ignorant about genetics shouldn't tell farmers and
biotechnologists what to do, debate genetic modification or steer policy.
Like my friend Mike, let them instead admirably admit to a lack of
sufficient knowledge, and seek out that knowledge if they're interested.
Until then, we can amicably switch topics and share a meal on a beautiful
spring day. And maybe I'll relax, lay down my fact file and not mention
that most of the food we're eating has already been genetically modified.
--- Simon Smith is the founder and editor-in-chief of Betterhumans. You
can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See links to many points in this article at
Forum on Food Opens with Plea to Feed World
- Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 18/2003, stltoday.com
Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug opened the third World Agricultural Forum
with an impassioned plea for finding ways to feed 10 billion people on the
planet at the same time sometime during the 21st century.
Some experts say the current population of 6 billion people will hit 10
billion by midcentury, others say by the end of the century, said Borlaug,
winner in 1970 of the Nobel Peace Prize as father of the "green
revolution" that boosted crop yields in such Third World countries as
India and Pakistan.
An outspoken advocate of the biotechnology revolution in food production,
Borlaug told more than 300 forum participants that it would take a
combination of solutions to reduce hunger and prevent starvation with
those population projections. He was among several speakers from
throughout the world who opened the three-day congress at the Hyatt
Regency St. Louis at Union Station downtown.
The forum, created in the late 1990s by St. Louis business boosters as a
way to put St. Louis on the map in agricultural thinking, attracted
officials from many countries, agribusinesses, consulting firms and
academia, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations such as
It also drew throngs of police standing guard and about 300 protesters
across the street from the hotel. The security buildup was led by local
law enforcement officials who feared demonstrations and disruptions that
have occurred at meetings elsewhere of more well-known trade groups, such
as the World Trade Organization. Despite the heavy police presence, there
were no arrests at Sunday's demonstration.
The forum bills itself as a neutral venue for the exchange of ideas about
trends and developments in global agriculture. Critics of biotechnology
were represented through organizations such as the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy, a pro-consumer advocacy group, said forum
President Leonard Guarraia.
With a budget of $600,000, the forum is funded by the Danforth and Kellogg
foundations and corporate and other private and foundation sources,
Guarraia said. Speakers were not paid honorariums, but the forum covered
their travel and lodging expenses, he said.
Guarraia said the gathering was a conscious effort by the Regional Chamber
& Growth Association and local agriculture-related businesses to raise St.
Louis' stature internationally. Jaesoo Kim, agriculture counselor for the
South Korean Embassy, said he attended so he could tell his government
"where the major issues of agriculture will go."
Joe Rosario, an aide to the agriculture minister of the Canadian province
of Alberta, said he was here because "the top people in agriculture are
here. I want to hear how they intend to alleviate poverty and hunger. And
I want to hear about trade negotiations."
Next year, the forum will host a conference here on Western Hemispheric
agriculture, followed by the fourth congress in 2005. On Sunday, across
the street from the forum site, chanting protesters took aim at
genetically altered crops and other agricultural technology that they say
are threatening - not improving - the world's food supply.
Demonstrators poured most of their vitriol on a St. Louis agribusiness
giant - Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur - accusing the company of messing with
Mother Nature. Many marchers railed against the company's production of
genetically altered seeds and of chemicals designed to maximize farmers'
yields on everything from corn to cow's milk.
A Holstein cow with floppy pink ears named John Peck carried a sign saying
"That's it - I quit." "I'm a mad cow!" said Peck, a member of Family Farm
Defenders and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin's
agriculture school. "I'm tired of putting chemicals into my body!"
Peck carried a big syringe that he said was supposed to represent Posilac,
a synthetic hormone made by Monsanto that stimulates bovine milk
production. Posilac can cause bladder infections, which some farmers treat
with antibiotics that Peck fears can end up in milk on store shelves.
When asked in an interview what he would tell protesters who object to
genetically modified grains, Borlaug, 89, was blunt: "These people have
never been hungry. They live in a beautiful utopia. These people are
telling the world that they want the poor people of the world who are
living in misery, who have no potable water to drink, who have terrible
lives, that they should stay that way. Is that the environment we want
people to live in? The protesters are poorly informed."
The forum's focus was on cooperating for the future and dismantling
barriers to agricultural trade, which is regarded by many as a way to
boost the income of farmers in the long run.
David Raisbeck, vice chairman of Cargill Inc., a global grain and
agricultural products company, said, "The major problem limiting
agriculture's role in the global economy is that agricultural trade
barriers on average are 10 times higher than industrial trade barriers,
and many agricultural barriers are prohibitively restrictive."
He said that in poor countries, people may spend up to 70 percent of their
income on food just to stay alive. In the United States, the average is
less than 10 percent. More trade in agricultural goods can reduce costs
while boosting farmers' incomes, Raisbeck said. Subsistence farming also
hurts the environment, he added.
"The pressures of hunger and poverty often result in agricultural
practices in low-income countries that harm the environment in two ways:
by exhausting the soil's productivity rather than replenishing it; and by
forcing agriculture to expand to new lands rather than use the most highly
productive land better," he said.
One roundtable focused on winners and losers of the North American Free
Trade Agreement, the pact that lowered barriers among the United States,
Mexico and Canada. "In Mexico, in the rural areas, our experience with
NAFTA has been negative, especially for producers of grains and oilseeds,"
said Eladio Ramirez Lopez, national director of the 3.5 million farmers of
the National Farmers Confederation speaking through a translator.
Richard E. Bell, president and chief executive of Riceland Foods Inc., had
a contrary view. "It's one of the most significant developments in the
last 25 years," he said, adding that Mexico is now the No. 1 market for
U.S. rice, cotton and sorghum.
Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, agreed that Mexican
farmers were the biggest losers in the trade agreement because they were
"in competition with highly subsidized U.S. corn." He said the losers
tended to be politically weak and disorganized.
Correcting problems with NAFTA is difficult, said William A. Kerr of the
Estry Centre for Law and Economics in International Trade in Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan. "There is no mechanism to move the system forward," he said.
Bond to World Ag Forum: Biotech Crops 'Scientifically Sound'
- Jim Suhr, AP, May 19, 2003 02:55 PM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Genetically modified foods -- championed by the United
States but shunned by many European leaders as perhaps unsafe -- are a
scientifically sound approach to feeding the world's hungry, Sen. Kit Bond
told a global agricultural gathering Monday.
Speaking in a city that agricultural and biotech giant Monsanto Co. calls
home, Bond, R-Mo., lauded biotech crops as more nutritious and less
vulnerable to pests and diseases. Such upsides, he said, make their
broader use a no-brainer, particularly in food-starved developing
"I am convinced that genetically modified foods meet the higher test for
safety and efficacy than any other foods on the market,'' Bond said midway
through the three-day World Agricultural Forum, which has billed itself as
neutral on the technology.
A few hundred demonstrators, chanting anti-biotech slogans, marched Sunday
past police safeguarding the Union Station and its Hyatt Regency hotel,
where scientists, agriculture experts, educators and farmers from more
than 20 countries have gathered.
The protesters, whose numbers outside Union Station dwindled to just a
handful by mid-Monday, have argued that genetically modified seeds and
foods are harmful to consumers and the environment -- claims that Monsanto
After Bond's comments, James Bolger -- the former New Zealand prime
minister now heading the WAF's advisory board, told the gathering that
while critics may dispute Bond's views on genetically modified crops, "I'm
sure we can pick some points'' he said the lawmaker offered "with
While Georg Duerrstein thought Bond sounded as if he was on Monsanto's
board -- the lawmaker has no affiliation with the company -- the German
attending the forum believes genetically modified crops can sweep the
world within years.
His caveat, at least in Germany: such products must be labeled as
genetically modified. "The German position is very simple: Consumers would
like to know what they're getting to eat,'' said Duerrstein, owner of an
agriculture-related business. Genetically modified foods, he said, "makes
so much sense,'' if they can be produced cheaply.
Calling for political "shackles'' to be removed from the technology, Bond
said he anticipates President Bush may raise the issue of genetically
modified foods during next month's summit of world leaders of the Group of
Eight in the French Alpine town of Evian.
Biotech crops are a growing proportion of American agriculture. The
Agriculture Department estimates 38 percent of the corn planted this year
will be genetically engineered and 80 percent of soybeans will be a
U.S. farmers like biotech crops because they require fewer chemicals for
killing insects and weeds. One variety, Monsanto's Roundup Ready, allows
corn farmers to spray and kill weeds with the company's best-selling
Roundup herbicide without killing the plant.
While American consumers generally seem to accept biotech foods, Europeans
doubt their safety. A European Union moratorium on U.S. biotech imports
has been in place for four years, costing the United States $300 million
annually in corn exports.
But just last week, the United States filed a complaint with the World
Trade Organization, arguing that Europeans are ignoring scientific studies
showing that genetically modified foods do no harm.
The case means the United States and other countries that signed the
complaint -- Argentina, Canada and Egypt -- have 60 days to work with the
Europeans to find a solution. But U.S. Trade Representative Robert
Zoellick said that if the moratorium isn't lifted, the United States will
ask the WTO form a panel to consider the complaint and resolve it.
The European Union never officially declared that it was blocking
genetically modified products. Countries simply stopped accepting
applications from exporters wanting to sell them. They were under pressure
from European consumers who worry biotech food is unsafe and should be
(GM) Food Fight
- Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 18, 2003
Irrational fear and crass protectionism - not sound science - caused the
European Union to ban the import of most genetically modified crops from
the United States.
The Bush administration is right on target in filing suit with the World
Trade Organization to have the ban lifted. In fact, it's long overdue.
The move is important to St. Louis, home of Monsanto, the Danforth Plant
Sciences Center, the Missouri Botanical Garden and Washington University.
Those institutions put St. Louis at the forefront of new developments
which could the improve world agriculture, bringing more and better food
to the world's people while causing less long-term harm to the
But it won't happen as long as the luddites of Europe stand stubbornly in
the way. For five years, Europe has refused to approve the import of
genetically modified crops. That, despite the fact that European leaders
know that such food is safe. Research on the GM plants and derived
products so far... "has not shown any new risks to human health or the
environment," the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research
reported in 2001. "Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the
greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than
conventional plants and foods.
The crops available today withstand herbicides and reduce the need for
pesticides. The result is more abundant crops, requiring less land for
agriculture and fewer harmful pesticides sprayed about. The technology
also holds the promise of making food more nutritious.
GM food landed in the 1990s in Europe, where people have a greater concern
with food purity and less trust in government assurances. It was the
perfect atmosphere for the spread of baseless fears ranging from food
poisoning to allergic reactions and the spawning of superweeds. Such fears
were convenient for the over-protected, highly-subsidized European farm
sector. One-third of the U.S. corn crop and three-quarters of American
soybeans are genetically modified. A ban on GM products is a ban on
Worse, the European ban is causing poor countries to reject GM crops for
fear of losing European markets. Starving Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique
last year rejected American food aid rather than risk the wrath of Europe.
All this has stalled investment in a very promising industry. Poor
countries especially need the increased, sustainable food production that
GM crops promise.
The Greens of Europe want to operate on the "precautionary principal" -
banning GM food even if there's no evidence that it's harmful. Instead,
producers would have to prove the food is safe. Perhaps America should
apply that principle to French wine and German cheese. After all, wine
makes you drunk and cheese makes you fat.
Both the Clinton and Bush administrations dragged their feet on
challenging the ban, not wanting to aggravate diplomatic and trade
relations already strained over U.S. steel tariffs and American tax breaks
for exporters. The Europeans now say they'll impose $4 billion in tariffs
on U.S. goods if America doesn't remove the tax breaks by the end of the
year, in accord with a WTO ruling.
Europe just fired the first shot. If we're going to have a nasty trade
fight anyway, let's have it over GM foods.
Washington's Patience at an End as it Pushes for the EU to Lift the
- Letters to the Editor, Financial Times (London) May 19, 2003
From Mr Rockwell A. Schnabel.
Sir, Since US trade representative Robert Zoellick and agriculture
secretary Ann M. Veneman announced on May 13 that the US, Argentina,
Canada and Egypt, with support of nine other countries, have requested
World Trade Organisation consultations with the European Union over its
five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotechnology products, my
European friends and colleagues have expressed numerous theories on the
timing and motivations for the move. These have ranged from the
retaliatory (a counterbalance to the EU's case on foreign sales
corporations), to the conspiratorial (the European Commission asked us to
do it), to the outrageous (we are trying to destroy the WTO).
However, as scientists have long observed, the simplest explanation for an
event is usually the correct one. In this case, the US is taking this
action because the EU is violating basic WTO obligations to base its
decisions on science. Just as the EU brings cases to the WTO when it
determines that there are violations of key rules, the US government and
other countries will employ multilateral rules to the same end. This is
why the international community created the WTO and why we support it.
The US did not reach this decision quickly or lightly. The last EU biotech
approval occurred in 1998. Certain EU member states have refused to allow
the process to continue, with no meaningful repercussions from the
Commission as the enforcer of community rules. The US waited patiently for
years for the EU to lift the moratorium. Meanwhile new and improved
biotech crop varieties have been evaluated, approved, and planted in the
US and other countries as scientists continued the development of new
applications that could benefit developing countries. During this time,
the EU's moratorium not only disrupted trade, but dissuaded developing
countries from testing new crop varieties out of concern that their
exports to Europe would be banned.
Scientists around the world, including the French Academy of Sciences and
the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, agree that the biotech foods
now on the market pose no human health risks. Americans, Europeans and
many others have been consuming biotech products for years with not a
single reported adverse health consequence. What farmers and environmental
observers in the US and many other countries are reporting are increased
crop yields, lower pesticide use, improved soil conservation and less
After years of patience, the US finally feels that the cost of waiting has
become too high. Despite the US decision on this one case, however, I want
to emphasise that we remain committed to successful management of our
vast, and overwhelmingly positive, economic relationship with the EU. We
will work hard to ensure that our transatlantic economic agenda continues
to move forward. We will, in particular, continue to work with the EU to
achieve success in the WTO's Doha development agenda negotiations, and we
welcome indications from the EU that it remains similarly committed to
collaboration on this important endeavour.
Rockwell A. Schnabel, US Representative to the EU, United States Mission
to the European Union, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
Cures On the Cob
- MARGOT ROOSEVELT, Time, May 26, 2003
'Plants spiked with extra genes are being harvested for drugs. Could the
wrong ones land in our food?'
The scraggly cornstalks sprouting from pots in Andy Hiatt's laboratory
don't look particularly unusual. But woven into their DNA is a tiny strip
of mankind: a human gene that codes for an antibody to a sexually
transmitted disease - genital herpes - that afflicts some 60 million
Americans. When the corn plants mature and produce kernels, Hiatt's
company, Epicyte Pharmaceutical of San Diego, hopes to turn them into a
topical gel for herpes.
And that's just for starters. Epicyte is one of a host of biotech
companies that have seized on the information in the map of the human
genome - a map that was officially declared complete last month - to
create all manner of plant-based pharmaceuticals. Researchers have
launched more than 300 trials of genetically engineered crops to produce
everything from fruit-based hepatitis vaccines to AIDS drugs grown in
tobacco leaves. They call this biopharming.
Critics - and there are many - have another name for it. They call it
Pharmageddon. Environmentalists are worried that the unnaturally combined
genes, when loosed upon the ecosphere, will spread like genetic kudzu.
Consumer advocates, who have never warmed to today's genetically modified
foods, fear that plant-grown drugs and industrial chemicals will end up on
their dinner tables. Hoping to head off a public revolt, the Federal
Government is putting the finishing touches on new regulations aimed at
reassuring the grocery industry that human-based crops will not
contaminate the food supply.
But the proposed rules are not satisfying the critics or slowing the
biopharmers. Open-air trials of pharmaceutical crops have taken place in
14 states, from Hawaii to Maryland. A Texas firm is selling a corn-bred
enzyme that stimulates insulin production in diabetics. Clinical trials
have begun for experimental crop-grown drugs to treat cystic fibrosis,
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and hepatitis B. "Molecular farming represents the
pharmaceutical industry's best opportunity to strike a serious blow
against such global diseases as AIDS, Alzheimer's and cancer," says
Francois Arcand, president of the Conference on Plant-Made
Pharmaceuticals, held in Quebec City earlier this year.
What's driving this effort to morph fields into drug factories? In a word:
cost. In the past decade, the DNA revolution has spawned a generation of
drugs made from human antibodies, the proteins that white blood cells use
to defend the body against disease. Today such "biologics" are cultivated
in huge fermentation vats, often by painstakingly planting cloned human
cells in such unlikely breeding sites as the ovary cells of Chinese
hamsters. Building one of these sophisticated biofactories can take as
long as seven years and cost up to $600 million.
Achieving the same results through biopharming - splicing antibodies into
the genetic fabric of plants, growing them in fields and extracting and
purifying them - could cut costs by half. "If you don't have to spend half
a billion, then more products can advance to the marketplace," says
Arizona State University researcher Charles Arntzen. The opportunities, he
points out, are not limited to human drugs. Arntzen foresees rich markets
for plant-grown vaccines to protect fish and poultry against diseases now
being treated - and in many cases overtreated - with conventional
So far, more than two-thirds of plant-based medicines are being tested in
corn - a plant whose genetics is well understood. But the perils of using
food crops became clear last December when the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) ordered the incineration of 500,000 bushels of soybeans
in Aurora, Neb. The soybeans, from a plant used in everything from baby
food and margarine to ice cream, were inadvertently mixed in a silo with
corn that was genetically engineered by a Texas firm, ProdiGene Inc., to
produce a vaccine against pig diarrhea. "Drugs have side effects," says
Jean Halloran of the Consumers Union. "They should not turn up in our
The pig-diarrhea incident rattled the industry. Some major players, among
them Dow and Monsanto, are steering clear of the Farm Belt, preferring to
grow their pharmacorn in isolated areas of Arizona, California and
Washington State. Even so, the USDA - under pressure from Midwestern
politicians who dream of biopharm Silicon Valleys in Iowa - has stopped
short of restricting biopharming in major corn-growing states. Its new
rules would step up inspections of biopharms and expand the buffer zone
between genetically modified corn and food crops to a mile. But opponents
say that's not wide enough to prevent cross-pollination, and a coalition
of 11 environmental groups is filing suit against the Agriculture
Department. They want to ban the use of food crops for pharmaceutical uses
and restrict the plants to greenhouses. If such measures were enforced,
argues Jonathan McIntyre, chief scientist for Monsanto Protein
Technologies, "it would set back the industry 12 to 20 years."
At Epicyte's spotless laboratory, Hiatt is taking no chances. Tiny tobacco
leaves injected with herpes-antibody genes fill the incubators - a backup,
he says, in case corn is outlawed. And the company is branching out,
developing plant-grown antibodies to fight respiratory syncytial virus,
treat Alzheimer's, battle weaponized Ebola and even attack sperm - a kind
of biopharm birth control.
By the end of the decade, biopharmaceuticals are projected to grow into a
$20 billion industry. But how many of the new drugs will be manufactured
in living plant-factories remains uncertain. "There has been an emotional
response to the technology," says Hiatt. "But if we can bring down the
cost of treating these diseases, the drawbacks compared with the benefits
will be minuscule."
GM Food Ban Would be 'IIlegal'
- BBC, May 19, 2003 bbc.co.uk
The UK Government is sponsoring a review of GM science. The government
says it may be forced to allow farmers to grow genetically-modified (GM)
crops in Britain even if the public does not want them. The environment
minister Michael Meacher told the BBC a ban on GM crops would be illegal
unless there is scientific proof that they harm people or the environment.
The latest polls show only 14% of people in Britain approve of GM food.
But Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today that public opposition
alone would not influence the government's decision.
"We have to act in accordance with the law," he said on Monday. "The law
at the present moment is set down in a EU directive and the key and sole
criteria for taking action with regard to GM crops is: Are they a harm or
risk to the environment?"
'No evidence' Later this year the government will decide whether to
license commercial GM crops. Scientists investigating the effects of GM
crops on the government's behalf have yet to find they cause harm.
Two weeks ago, the Royal Society said there was no evidence eating GM
foods was any different from eating naturally produced food. A senior
member of the society said the public had been frightened by
"unsubstantiated claims". A widespread public consultation on the issue is
due to begin in two weeks.
Crops attacked. On Sunday, protesters cut down a GM crop in Fife. The
rapeseed crop was the second in a week in Scotland to be attacked. A
spokeswoman for the protesters said: "It expresses people's serious fears
for the safety of public health, for consumers' right to choose GM-free
food and their fears of a long-term environmental catastrophe."
Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth said Mr Meacher's comments
showed the government would ignore the public "if it felt like it".
- The Guardian (UK), May 19, 2003 guardian.co.uk
Will public opinion on genetically modified crops make any difference to
the government? Donald MacLeod reports
Where do scientists stand on the debate over genetically modified crops?
Today environment minister Michael Meacher came close to suggesting the
answer is "it doesn't matter".
There has been considerable activity among academics in the run-up to the
public debate due to be launched next month to consider views and the
results of field trials. But Mr Meacher said licences for growing GM crops
in the UK might have to be approved despite public opposition because of
European Union legislation.
"We have to act in accordance with the law," Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's
Farming Today programme. "And the law at the present moment is set down in
the EU directive, and the key and sole criteria for taking action in
regard to GM crops is: are they a harm, a risk to health or the
The environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth said his comments
undermined the credibility of the public debate. Spokesman Peter Riley
said: "Next month, the government is launching its public debate on GM
crops. But if it is to have any credibility, ministers must guarantee
beforehand that if the public say they don't want GM crops, the government
will not give them the commercial go-ahead. Without that guarantee, there
seems little point in debating the issue.
"The problem is that this government is so pro-GM that they are not
recognising scientific uncertainty when it hits them in the face," he
added. Although trials have not come up with evidence that the crops are
harmful, opinion polls suggest that fewer than 15% support GM food.
Scientific opinion appears much more favourable to the new technology to
judge from submissions to the national GM review promoted by the
government. But they are by no means unanimous. The review's website,
www.sciencedebate.org.uk, carries evidence ranging from "Transgenic cotton
a winner in India" by Professor Chris Leaver, head of plant science at
Oxford, to "Chronicle of an ecological disaster foretold" by Dr Mae-Wan
Ho, of Hong Kong University, and Professor Joe Cummins, of the University
of Western Ontario.
Scientists seem much less worried about the safety of "frankenfoods" - the
Royal Society (in effect Britain's academy of science) has told the
government there is no evidence they are less safe than conventional foods
- but there is debate about the environmental impact. Dr Ho and Professor
Cummins, for instance, argue that a sterile gene engineered into a crop
could be transferred to other crops or wild relatives. "This could
severely compromise the agronomic performance of conventional crops and
cause wild relatives to go extinct". They say that this process could also
produce genetic instabilities, "leading to catastrophic breakdown". They
conclude: "We simply have no data to assure us that this has not happened
or cannot happen".
One of the most interesting contributions is from Professor RJ Berry, of
University College London, who sees the main problem as the risk to
biodiversity, both by the possibility of targeted pest and weed control,
and by the indirect effects on organisms higher in the food chain (such as
seed-eating or insectivorous birds). "This risk has certainly been
over-emphasised in the context of GM because the whole trend in modern
farming has been to minimise the occurrence of unwanted (weeds or
'volunteers'), thus creating as near approximations to monoculture as
possible. There has been a cataclysmic decline in many farmland specialist
bird species as a consequence. But this has nothing to do with GM, despite
irresponsible scare stories of the dangers.........There is no intrinsic
reason why GM will necessarily be more malign to biodiversity than current
farming practices, but continued monitoring is clearly going to be
important," he writes.
Professor Berry diagnoses one of the key problems in the attitudes of
scientists themselves. "In reality, the most problematic issues are those
at the borders of science, where science meets society. Natural scientists
have had a bad habit in the past of leaving such 'fringe' issues to social
scientists. Most natural scientists are still have not convinced of the
need to contribute more fully to such topics."
He recalls chairing a committee investigating the overuse of pesticides
and toxic chemicals in farming. "It took two years hard work to convince
the natural scientists involved that there was more to their work than
merely producing hard data and an even more difficult task to persuade the
social scientists that the sole function of natural science was not simply
to produce data for their use," he says, adding: "These barriers must be
broken down if there is to be a trust in 'science' and a sensible debate
about GM and its possibilities - particularly in the developing world."
GMO Co-existence Round Table - Report with Conclusions & Recommendations
The European Commission organised on 24 April a major international Round
Table on the subject of "co-existence" - of conventional, organic and gm
agriculture. Some 300 persons were present. The report on this website
including all the speakers' presentations is now available at
Conclusions and Recommendations are as follows:
1. The question was asked: "How new is co-existence in farming?" Broad
experience was available in agriculture, especially from handling identity
preserved crops. We should not try to re-invent the wheel - we should
explore this available agricultural experience. From current operating
practice and monitoring programmes a lot of data are available, e.g. from
production of seeds or speciality products.
2. Agriculture is an open, biological process. Therefore zero tolerance is
3. A broad spectrum of ways and measures available to achieve co-existence
had been discussed (e.g. measures in seed production), including isolation
distances, buffer zones, pollen barriers, control of volunteers, crop
rotation, planting arrangements for differing flowering periods,
monitoring during cultivation, harvest, storage, transport and processing.
4. Stewardship programmes and guidelines for good agricultural practice
should be developed on a crop by crop basis, taking into account the
biological characteristics of the crops and the different agricultural
5. Gene flow studies should not focus only on pollen flow. Gene flow could
occur via seeds, roots, crop residues etc. There are different points of
entry of GMOs into the organic farming system. Gene flow from GM plants is
not different from gene flow from conventional varieties. There are old
records available on gene flow, from long before recombinant DNA
technology had been invented.
6. Different studies have shown that co-existence is manageable under
specific circumstances. The Danish study came to the conclusion that under
conditions of a limited GMO share and a 1% threshold, co-existence can be
ensured for most crops in Denmark like beet, maize, potatoes, barley,
wheat, oats, triticale, rye, lupin, broad beans, peas. Oilseed rape,
herbage (notably grasses and clovers) and seed production of certain crops
would need further evaluation. The Spanish experience has demonstrated
useful technical solutions for Bt-corn: to plant the 20% refuge corn
recommended around the GM corn. The French studies came to the conclusion
that concerning feasibility and costs it is important to perform a
preliminary diagnosis of the particular farm situation, to establish
efficient co-ordination between the neighbours, and to provide guidance.
7. It has been shown by the SCIMAC (UK Supply Chain Initiative on Modified
Agricultural Crops) and the Spanish case that guidelines on ensuring
co-existence are manageable on farm. It has demonstrated that the
guidelines have been accepted by the farmers.
8. A key aspect is communication, e.g. between producer and consumer,
neighbour and neighbour. There is a strong need for management support
9. There is a high degree of diversification in agriculture, based on
location-specific differences in natural conditions, production patterns,
farm structures, field sizes etc. Therefore, guidelines should have a high
degree of flexibility.
10. We should make use of the experience available outside Europe. On the
other hand, as speakers stressed, extrapolation to European conditions is
limited. As the discussion has shown, we can also learn from mistakes made
overseas, e.g. from the StarLink and ProdiGene cases.
11. Various knowledge gaps were identified and presented, specifically for
maize and oilseed rape. For both crops it was shown that better models for
gene flow are needed.
12. The gene flow models and guidelines for good agricultural practice
have to be validated. The data available are mainly based on research
models and expert opinions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: we
need validation by field experience, including large scale field releases.
Unfortunately there is little room for such research in the current EC
13. Various means to reduce gene flow were presented. Best practice to
design GM plants could ease life for applicants, risk assessors, and
regulators. In some cases (e.g. molecular farming) it might be recommended
or even mandatory to make use of apomixis, cytoplasmic male sterility or
chloroplast transformation. New science for reducing gene flow has been
discussed recently at the 7th International Biosafety Symposium in China
(an overview is published in the latest issue of Environmental Biosafety
1. Stewardship programmes should take into account the interests of both
GM and non-GM farmers.
2. Thresholds as key parameters for co-existence should be established for
all different kinds of agricultural production.
3. Follow up Round Tables should focus on the parts of the feed/food chain
not been covered by today's Round Table, including cost aspects.
4. Guidelines to be developed should be flexible, taking into account the
diversity of agricultural production systems and leaving room for
scientific and technical progress.
5. The scientific community should be encouraged to fill the knowledge
gaps which have been identified. A close partnership between national
research programmes on aspects of co-existence and EU-funded programmes
should be established under the leadership of the EU. Framework Programme
6 should provide the basis for EU-wide pilot projects to validate models
and guidelines, including long term studies (e.g. as necessary for oilseed
rape seed bank studies). Building up mechanistic, probabilistic, and
predictive models of gene flow should be supported.
6. A step by step managed introduction of GM plants, linked with biosafety
research, monitoring and validation should provide the necessary basis for
7. The development of "good practice" for designing GM plants, including
means to reduce gene flow, which is not addressed in FP6, should be
8. Future considerations should be more strategic, taking into account
which new traits are already in the pipeline.
The question of co-existence in connection with part B releases was
raised; current EU regulation apparently envisages zero tolerance for gene
flow from research trials, which could further inhibit such research in
Europe. There might be a need for further consideration of this point.
In his closing remarks, the Chairman, Professor Joachim Schiemann of
Germany's Federal Biological Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry,
Braunschweig, noted that such Round Tables on research results provided an
encouragement to the scientific community in collecting, assessing and
expanding the scientific evidence relating to co-existence. The
participants of the Round Table had been asked to provide the factual
basis for political decisions - a basis consisting of science, technology
and agricultural practice. The aim had been to focus on research results,
technical achievements, and practical experience.
Such broad knowledge was needed, and needed especially in Europe. If we
wanted to have knowledge/science-based decisions, the scientific community
had the duty to build up the factual basis for such decisions. In the
morning discussion one colleague had expressed his feeling that he was
misused as a scientist, in discussing topics like thresholds, co-existence
etc. In contrast, the Chairman felt that he was now being used in a
positive sense, to be involved in the first step of a two-step process:
(i) to build up the knowledge base, and (ii) to make knowledge-based
Co-existence would affect the entire feed and food chain. As the
Commission stated, the discussion at the Round Table had focused on a part
of the chain only: from seed to silo. The other parts of the chain (from
silo to feed/food) should be the subject of subsequent Round Tables.
During a long and efficient day with excellent reports and fruitful
discussions, the Round Table had been able to set the factual basis for
future political decisions for a part of the feed and food chain: from
seed to silo. Important conclusions had been drawn, and helpful
suggestions had been made. The Round Table should be considered as a
starting point, not an end point, of a fruitful discussion on
co-existence. For November 2003, the first European Conference on
co-existence had been announced by Denmark*.
The Chairman thanked the Commission, the speakers, and the participants of
the Round Table; observing that a major aspect of the co-existence debate
was to learn from each other. * 1st European Conference on the
Co-existence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic
Crops, GMCC-03, will take place on 13-14 November 2003 in Helsingør,
India: Andhra Pradesh Farmers Cotton on to Bt Seeds Despite Bad Reports
(expected acreage under Bt cotton to exceed 1,00,000)
- Economic Times. May 15, 2003; pg 16
Bacillus thuriengenesis (Bt) is in high demand in Andhra Pradesh despite
reports that its performance was not satisfactory in 2002. Farmers have
booked the seed for the coming season with orders sufficient to plant an
area exceeding 60,000 acres in Andhra Pradesh. In 2002 the orders placed
could be met by planting in 8,300 acres. Bt is resistant to bollworm pest
attack and has approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of
the Ministry of Environment, Government of India. Survey conducted by
Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity and other such
organisations showed that Bt had failed in ensuring higher yields,
reduction in usage of pesticides and being economically beneficial to
However, farmers in Andhra Pradesh still seem willing to test the seed
despite its high pricing. Some of the farmers said that they were
satisfied with the performance of the seeds and expected the land under Bt
cotton to be more than 1,00,000 acres.
India to Institutionalise GM Crops
- Financial Express (India), May 18, 2003
India has decided to set up an institutional framework for promoting
researches and applications of transgenic crops.
This institutional framework would channelise the expected assistance from
the United States meant for promoting transgenic crops in the country.
Institutions like the department of biotechnology (DBT), Indian Council of
Agricultural Research (ICAR), National Centre for Plant Genome Research
(NCPGR) and Indo-US Science and Technology Forum will jointly work for
setting up this proposed institutional framework.
The DBT secretary, Dr Manju Sharma expressed her happiness after the
conclusion of three-day Indo-US Agricultural Biotechnology Conference in
Delhi on Saturday and said "all efforts of concerned organisations should
be converged in setting up of the institutional framework."
The three day conference was jointly organised by the DBT, ICAR, NCPGR,
Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP-II) of the US, Indo-US
Science & Technology Forum and the USAID. This seminar was a part of the
recent US attempts to rope in developing countries for promoting
transgenic technology in agriculture.
Presenting an overview of the US approach, the USAID’s biotechnology
adviser, Dr Bhavani Pathak said that that the American interest is
embedded within the larger goals of agricultural productivity, food
security and nutrition in the developing countries.
Under the ABSP-I, the US has been rendering support for technology and
policy development in different countries and core support to the CGIAR
system particularly for the development of ‘Golden Rice’. The ABSP-I has
also supported collaborative research projects and individual research
projects like that for rinderpest and heartwater vaccines for Africa. In
India the ABSP has been assisting in the development of beta carotene
‘Golden Mustard Seeds’. He said that the ABSP-II is a part of the
collaborative agricultural biotechnology (CABIO) initiative.
Other areas of CABIO activities are for supporting research innovations,
public and private sector infrastructure, capacity building, scientific
training, programme for biosafety systems and safeguarding intellectual
property rights. He also made it clear that the US does not intend to
pressurise any country in
developing a particular biosafety and IPR system.
Prof Vernon E Gracen of the department of plant breeding, Cornell
University, US, however stressed the importance of undertaking detailed
study in functional genomics before embarking on development of transgenic
crops. He said such a detailed study can help to ensure the health and
environmental safety of genetically modified crops. He suggested that
after the successful sequencing of rice genome, the scientists should
concentrate on the study of functional genomics of rice.
Participating in the discussions the director of Indian Agricultural
Research Institute (IARI), Dr S Nagarajan expressed a different view. He
said that malnutrition problems cannot be solved by GM crops alone.
Cultivation of traditional varieties of millets, pulses and horticulture
crops should be encouraged. IARI is a part of the ICAR system in the
Precaution Is for Europeans
- The New York Times, May 18, 2003
HERE'S another example of how the United States has decided that Europe is
stuck in the past. Bush administration officials are exasperated with
Europe's belief in the precautionary principle, a better-safe-than-sorry
approach to regulating everything from corn flakes to chemical plants.
As outlined in a treaty of the European Union, governments should regulate
industries when they pose risks to public health and the environment --
even before all the data about the threat has been collected.
In keeping with this precautionary approach, Europe has prohibited
bioengineered crops and American beef treated with growth hormones, and is
now crafting legislation that will require chemical companies to spend
billions of dollars on safety tests of their products.
But what looks like a question of safety to the Europeans often seems more
like protectionism to the United States. The Bush administration believes
the precautionary principle is an unjustified constraint on business and
does not even recognize the existence of the doctrine.
"We consider it to be a mythical concept, perhaps like a unicorn," said
John D. Graham, the administrator at the Office of Management and Budget
in charge of vetting new regulations, in a recent speech to European Union
The United States was once a leader in precautionary legislation. The
Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, both enacted in the 1970's with
bipartisan support, explicitly allow regulators to act in the face of
uncertain findings. But in the Reagan era, precautionary regulation was
seen as an enemy of the free market.
It was not just a Republican aversion. Though the Clinton administration
was far more active in adopting health and environmental regulations, it
battled Europe over the bans on genetically engineered foods and
hormone-treated beef. But the Bush administration has actively challenged
the very premise on which the European actions are based.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Graham said that rather than believing in a
single precautionary principle, the administration acts when it determines
that the economic and health benefits outweigh the costs. Before
implementing a rule, the administration calculates the evidence of harm,
the relative risk to a population and whether the effect on the population
justifies taking regulatory measures. Mr. Graham cited the government's
tightening of limits on diesel fuel emissions as an example of how his
agency can act preventively when the numbers add up.
"In the Bush administration, the focus is on smarter regulation, defined
as applying science, engineering and economics, to proposed rules," said
Mr. Graham, who became known for his cost-benefit theories after founding
the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Mr. Graham said that when he started
in 2001, his office challenged dozens of rules proposed by federal
agencies, but these days his office has not needed to send any rules back,
as agencies have learned what is acceptable.
Critics argue that Mr. Graham's cost-benefit analyses often lead to the
delay or watering down of health and environmental regulations.
"It is a cloak in many respects for limiting regulation without having to
be openly antienvironmental or antiworker or anticonsumer," said Gary D.
Bass, the director of OMB Watch, a government watchdog group.
For instance, President Bush withdrew from the international agreement on
reducing carbon emissions in order to limit global warming, arguing that
more data was needed before taking action.
In another split, Europe recently required industry to run extensive
health and environmental tests on the 30,000 most common chemicals. Nearly
all of these chemicals have been around for decades, but European
officials say little data is available on the vast majority of the
chemicals, and that the potential benefits more than justify the cost to
The Bush administration is up in arms over the proposal. The American
Chemistry Council, the industry's main trade group, contends that the
European Union wants to "eliminate all risks from daily life" and "replace
science with speculation." The United States has a voluntary program in
which companies disclose information on 2,200 of their most common
chemicals. Mr. Graham says this is equally precautionary and a better use
of limited resources.
Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago who is writing
a book on the precautionary principle, believes that strict adherence to
the principle can be counterproductive -- like curbs on biotechnology,
which, he says, could help feed the developing world.
At the same time, he argues that it is unreasonable for governments to
demand absolute certainty before they act. "It's nutty to require
conclusive evidence when the risk, if it comes to fruition, is extremely
serious," Mr. Sunstein said.
This was the logic, Mr. Sunstein notes, of President Bush's pre-emptive
strike on Iraq. President Bush argued that the risk of weapons of mass
destruction was great enough to warrant an attack, without absolute proof
that Iraq was hiding such weapons.
That's the precautionary principle, American-style.