Today in AgBioView: June 4, 2003
* Biotech is Benign
* EU Lawmakers Ratify UN Protocol on Trade In GMOs
* The Simple Facts of Biotech
* Action Against Famine, Especially In Africa - A G8 Action Plan
* Canada Backs African Centre on 'Agricultural Biosciences'
* UK: The Man in the Street Gets His Forum on GM Food
* See High-Quality Science of GM Crop Research at First Hand
* GM Food Safer Than Organic
* Attitudes Toward Biotech Products Can Be Changed
* Better Barley Today Makes for Better Beer Tomorrow
* Curbing the 'GM-Free' Zones?
* Advice to Scientists on the Current British GM Debate
* Illicit GM Cotton in India
* Playing the "Natural" Card
* Playing with with Plants can be Hazardous - Poisonous Euphorbia
* Applying Biotechnology to a Small-Farmer Crop - Cassava
Biotech is Benign
'Europe's continued blocking of GM imports is illegal, unjustified and
founded on ignorance'
- William Farish, June 4, 2003, The Guardian (UK);--- 'William S Farish is
US ambassador to the UK '
Plenty of pundits have had a go at America's decision to join several
other major food-producing nations in asking the EU to end its moratorium
on approving agricultural biotechnology products. Several have even
accused the US of recklessly starting a "trade war". But almost no one has
taken the time to assess the merits of the arguments or the strength of
the US case.
The fact is that the overwhelming preponderance of legal and scientific
evidence supports the US decision to challenge the EU over its stance on
Over the course of the past five years, the EU has consistently violated
World Trade Organisation rules that require measures regulating imports to
be based on sufficient scientific evidence, and mandate that regulatory
approval procedures be operated without undue delay.
EU member states have blocked regulatory approval of new agricultural
biotechnology products since 1998, and have done so without presenting any
scientific evidence demonstrating a danger to human health, as required by
the WTO. The US and others, in bringing this case to the WTO, are simply
seeking to ensure that the EU applies a scientific, rules-based review and
approval process for agricultural biotechnology products.
Simply put, the EU moratorium has no scientific basis. Bioengineered foods
currently on the market have been shown to be as safe as conventional
varieties. As noted by the French Academy of Sciences, more than 300
million Americans have been eating bioengineered corn and soya beans for
years. No adverse consequences have ever been reported. The Royal Society
and even the EU itself acknowledge that biotech foods on the market pose
no threat to human health.
Many leading scientific organisations and institutions in the UK
acknowledge the benefits that bioengineered crops could bring to the
environment and the world's food supply. However, as in any debate
concerning the wider use of a new technology in society, there are those
who disagree. But the prominent arguments used against the commercial
development of bioengineered crops in the UK often cite undocumented
anecdotal evidence or play on unfounded fears.
The record should be set straight. This is why the British government's
decision to launch a public dialogue at several regional venues is to be
applauded. Providing a structured forum that allows the arguments to be
presented - both pro and con - should help address many of the
public-interest concerns related to this issue.
The EU moratorium has ramifications far beyond Europe. The EU's refusal to
meet its WTO obligations is slowing down the adoption of a beneficial
technology, and developing countries have already suffered negative
In the autumn of 2002, some famine-stricken southern African countries
balked at US food aid because of ill-informed health and environmental
concerns, as well as fears that the countries' exports to Europe would be
jeopardised by "contamination" of local crops. Those who stand to benefit
most from agricultural biotechnology - the poor and undernourished in
developing countries - do not have time on their side.
The spillover effects of the EU moratorium threaten to negate the benefits
of biotechnology, which can help stimulate agricultural productivity and
raise living standards in developed and developing countries alike.
Farmers worldwide have recognised the economic, agricultural and
environmental benefits of biotech crops. These plants yield more from the
land and can thrive in poor soil. Up to 80% of some crops in Africa are
presently lost to drought. Biotech drought-resistant crops can help
produce food in developing countries struggling to feed their populations.
Increased use of agricultural biotechnology can also yield substantial
environmental benefits. Farmers utilising biotech crops can reduce soil
erosion and pesticide use. Biotech crops create more hospitable
environments for wildlife, including streams and rivers spared from
chemical pesticides. Farmers who are able to increase crop yields on
existing land will be less tempted to encroach on tropical rainforests and
other fragile natural habitats.
Those who claim that the US is trying to force biotech foods on consumers
have got the argument backwards. It is the EU's unilateral, illegal and
unjustified actions, taken without any scientific, health or environmental
basis, which constrain choice and opportunity worldwide. The US and others
want EU regulations that maximise consumer choice while at the same time
protecting consumer health and safety.
A recent Guardian leader said that "getting GM food into Europe does not
mean people will buy it". Well, that may end up being the case, but we
think it's a decision the EU should let the people of Europe make for
EU Lawmakers Ratify UN Protocol On Trade In GMOs
- DOW JONES NEWSWIRES, June 4, 2003
STRASBOURG, France (AP)--The European Union Parliament ratified a
three-year-old U.N. biosafety protocol regulating international trade in
genetically modified food Wednesday. The move opens the way for E.U.
governments to give the U.N. accord, negotiated three years ago in
Montreal, Canada, legal effect throughout the 15-nation bloc later this
month. To date, only Denmark, Austria, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands
have ratified the U.N. agreement. Other nations first wanted the protocol
to have the blessing of the E.U.
E.U. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom praised the assembly's
decision. She said it "confirms that determination of the E.U. to fully
implement the biosafety protocol." The protocol seeks to protect
biological diversity from the potential risks posed by modern
technologies. It lets countries ban imports of a genetically modified
product if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence the product
is safe and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically
altered commodities such as corn or cotton.
The U.S., a major producer of biotech crops, did not sign the protocol,
saying it was opposed to labeling. It had also fought import bans. The
U.N. protocol is expected to come into force in the autumn. Fifty nations
have to ratify the agreement which was signed by 103 countries in 2000 in
Montreal, Canada. Only 49 have so far done so.
Jonas Sjoestedt, a Swedish Left member of the E.U. assembly, said the
protocol's endorsement by the European Parliament will help the E.U.
counter critics that Europe does not want to deal with genetically altered
crops. "The new rules make clear that trade in GMO's, which are products
of a recently developed technology and may carry dangers to human health
or the environment, must be based on the precautionary principle,"
That principle lets developing nations balance public health against
economic benefits and let's them ban food containing GMO's from entering
their country. "This legislation should help the E.U. to counter recent
accusations by the U.S administration that the E.U. is to blame for the
African rejection of GM food aid last year," Sjoestedt said.
"By agreeing these strict new rules, the E.U. is helping to empower
importing countries to choose whether they will accept GM imports.
From Prakash: This is absurd. How can agreeing to "these strict new rules"
invoking regulations that are unscientific, burdensome, impractical and
discrimantory "empower importing countries"? It is forcing the luddite
mentality down the throat of developing countries, and would only
"empower" them to avoid agricultural biotechnology as if it were a weapon
grade plutonium in food.
The Simple Facts of Biotech
- Dean Kleckner, agweb.com, June 4, 2003
"Mathematics is the only science where one never knows what one is talking
about nor whether what is said is true," quipped the philosopher Bertrand
Russell some years ago.
That's certainly the feeling I had way back when my teachers were trying
to instruct me in trigonometry. Small wonder I decided to become a farmer
instead of a mathematician.
These days, however, I'm experiencing a sense of deja vu as I listen to
Europeans talk about biotechnology--except that this time, they're the
ones who are confused, not me. So many of them don't seem to know what
they're talking about and they wouldn't understand the truth if it were
spelled out for them in an elementary-school textbook.
That's why Lord Henry Plumb is such a breath of fresh air. Lord Plumb is a
former President of the British Farmer's Union, a dairy farmer and a long
time friend of mine. But also, as a former president of the European
Parliament, he's a major figure in European and world politics. Last week,
he applauded the decision by the United States and a dozen other countries
to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the European
Union's unfair moratorium on approving new biotech foods.
"Politicians and consumers should be made aware of the evidence confirming
the safety of biotechnology," he said. "The anti-biotech campaigners must
not be allowed to reiterate unsupported arguments and rekindle consumer
Plumb once chaired the European Parliament's committee overseeing
relations with developing nations. Agricultural biotechnology is crucial
to them, he said: "New technology can help these countries overcome
environmental challenges, including drought and salinity, and fight the
diseases and pests such as viruses and worms which destroy their crops."
The developed world has much to gain as well. "Farmers and consumers in
Britain and Europe can benefit from reductions in crop pests, a diminution
of the need for chemical use and enhanced nutritional value from food,"
said Plumb. "Biotechnology can protect wheat--one of Europe's major
crops--against viruses, funguses, and toxins that can destroy harvests and
make wheat unfit for food."
Plumb also confronted the accusation European consumers and farmers are
hurt by the WTO complaint: "It is the European ban on genetically modified
foods which is keeping advanced products out of the hands of farmers and
consumers--and that is denying the essential freedom of consumer choice."
These are all excellent points, made by a man with enormous credibility to
speak about them. They come on the heels of another important set of
remarks, delivered by President Bush in a recent commencement address.
"We can also greatly reduce the long-term problem of hunger in Africa by
applying the latest developments of science," said Bush at the Coast Guard
Academy. "By widening the use of new high-yield bio-crops and unleashing
the power of markets, we can dramatically increase agricultural
productivity and feed more people across the continent."
The president continued: "Our partners in Europe are impeding this effort.
They have blocked all new bio-crops because of unfounded, unscientific
fears. This has caused many African nations to avoid investing in
biotechnologies, for fear their products will be shut out of European
markets. European governments should join--not hinder--the great cause of
ending hunger in Africa."
The facts are simple. Biotechnology is a miraculous tool that can help us
feed a growing world and protect the environment. It has remarkable
potential in developing countries, which often have trouble nourishing
their people and face constant pressure to convert wilderness into
farmland. And it is perfectly safe, as a great number of scientific
studies have proven.
As Mickey Kantor, U.S. trade representative under President Clinton,
recently said: "It is a technology that can have a positive affect on
I don't think it can be put in terms any simpler than that. So when will
the Europeans quit acting like this is as complicated as solving the
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Action Against Famine, Especially In Africa - A G8 Action Plan
'Famine Action Plan Encourages Developing Countries To Use Biotech Crops'
We recognise that food security is a global concern. Millions of people
world-wide are at risk of starvation, of which over 40 million are in
Africa. This situation derives not only from climatic conditions and
natural disasters but from more structural causes, such as chronic
poverty, lack of an enabling environment and appropriate support for
agriculture, HIV/AIDS prevalence, an increasing number of conflicts, poor
governance and economic management and trade related issues.
These factors are likely to cause recurrent food crises and increase
long-term food insecurity, notably in Africa. While taking immediate
action to avert the present peril of humanitarian crises, we recognise the
strong need for longer term solutions to food insecurity, and are
committed to working in partnership with developing countries to address
To address these issues, we are working with the Secretary-General of the
United Nations and relevant international bodies to prevent and mitigate
famine. G8 action to address famine in Africa will take place within the
framework of the G8 Africa Action Plan, in support of the New Partnership
for Africa's Development.
Famine is a preventable tragedy that requires the right policy tools to
respond to short-term emergency food aid needs flexibly and quickly, and
mitigate the effects of foreseen crises. It can be prevented in the
long-term by vulnerable countries adopting economic and governance
policies and institutional reforms that help to prevent the conditions
that lead to famine including a special focus on investment in
We are committed to contributing actively to solutions in each of these
areas. In order to improve significantly the capacity both of the
countries affected and of the international community to anticipate and
prevent famine, we will:
1. Meet emergency food assistance needs
1.1 We are determined to tackle urgent food shortages, through immediate
measures. Remaining shortfalls in Africa are currently estimated by the
World Food Programme in the range of 1.2 million metric tonnes. We will
improve the efficiency, timeliness and responsiveness of our own
contributions of food aid, cash and items other than food, and encourage
and facilitate contributions by other traditional and non-traditional
donors to meet emergency needs. We will work with governments, UN
agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil society and other parts of
the international community to provide the specific mix of assistance and
types of programs best suited to actual needs.
1.2 Since Kananaskis, we have delivered US$ 3.3 billion of emergency
assistance to address these humanitarian needs world-wide, including US$
1.7 billion for Sub-Saharan Africa.
We will address new needs when they are confirmed with appropriate aid
2. Improve assessment capacities, warning systems and prevention
2.1 We will support the strengthening of national, regional and
international capacity for developing accurate needs assessments as well
as better shared analysis and understanding of vulnerability and its links
to food insecurity. This should include appropriate use of common
benchmarks and pre-famine indicators that combine production with food
access and utilisation/nutrition indicators. 2.2 We will support the
review and improvement of early warning and crop forecast systems as well
as contingency planning at the national and regional level, in order to
increase emergency preparedness and response. National decision makers
will need to act on information provided in a timely manner and commit
sufficient resources to fund and staff such systems.
3. Increase aid effectiveness
3.1 We commit ourselves to more flexible and efficient approaches to the
use of aid in specific food crisis situations. Aid must be more responsive
to the needs of recipients, avoid distortions to local production and not
undermine local markets. We will utilise both food assistance and cash to
avoid or mitigate the impact of famine, taking into account the
availability of food locally, ability of vulnerable populations to pay for
food, and other relevant local market conditions.
3.2 Contributions should include as necessary non-food items (such as
seeds, tools, vaccines, medicines, school supplies, tents) and help ensure
that emergency non-food needs (such as water and sanitation) are
3.3 Alternative tools may be used when food is available, such as cash
assistance to specially vulnerable populations and "cash for work"
3.4 We will actively participate in discussions in relevant fora and
institutions that address food aid modalities, and promote flexible,
sustainable, efficient and responsive aid approaches while avoiding
distortions to local markets. This includes working to bring new donors
and new approaches to bear on addressing famine.
4. Longer term initiatives to address food insecurity
4.1 We will support integrated approaches and programmes to identify and
tackle the root causes of hunger and malnutrition.
4.2 Food security, rural and agricultural development must be adequately
addressed in the context of national development and poverty planning as
well as in multilateral and bilateral donor response strategies. To this
end, we deem it necessary to increase productive investment in rural and
agricultural development to achieve lasting food security. We undertake to
work towards reversing the decline of official development assistance to
agriculture and increasing trade opportunities for developing countries.
4.3 We are ready to support efforts by developing country governments to
pursue these aims, including through support of sound agricultural
policies at the national and regional levels, of development of farmers'
organisations, of productive investment in agricultural infrastructure and
inputs, promotion of food crops and of competitiveness of export crops. We
will encourage improved scientific resources and adaptation of new and
improved agricultural technologies including tried and tested
biotechnology for use in developing countries.
4.4 Since Kananaskis, we have committed US$ 3.2 billion to long term
agricultural and food security assistance, including US$ 1.4 billion for
4.5 We are particularly determined to intensify the fight against
HIV/AIDS, given the immense impact of this disease particularly in African
countries, especially on food production and other aspects of food
security. Food and related emergency aid distribution should also
prioritise the nutritional needs of those infected and the needs of
vulnerable groups most affected by the pandemic. Preserving familial and
social structures, or compensating for their disruption, is key to
ensuring food security.
4.6 Good governance is vital for lasting progress on poverty reduction and
food security as well as economic growth. We will support efforts by
developing countries to establish sound political and economic governance
frameworks. Building on the work of the G8 Contact Group on famine, we
will work actively to take this Action Plan forward in all relevant
Canada Backs African Centre on 'Agricultural Biosciences'
- David Dickson, SciDev.Net, 30 May 2003
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced this week (26 May) that
his government is to give Can$30 million towards setting up an African
centre of excellence in "biosciences for agriculture".
According to Chrétien, the new centre "will serve as a focal point for
African scientists to develop the capacity to conduct, drive and fund
advanced biosciences research programmes in priority development areas".
The new grant is part of a set of initiatives with a combined value of
Can$60 million, each concerned with either agriculture or youth, that are
being financed out of the Canada Fund for Africa.
This Can$500 million fund was set up last year to support the
implementation of an "action plan" for Africa that was agreed by leaders
of the G8 industrialised countries when they met in Kananaskis, Alberta,
last June. The fund is also intended to support the New Partnership for
Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an initiative spearheaded by six African
countries that seeks to achieve sustainable growth and development on the
continent. NEPAD will again be discussed by the G8 leaders when they hold
this year's meeting in Evian, France, which opens on Sunday (1 June).
"As a principal architect of the G8 Africa Action Plan, Canada is fully
committed to working with African nations that value democracy and good
governance in priority areas, including health and education, trade and
investment and peace and security," said Chrétien in announcing the new
initiatives. "Today's funding will contribute to healthy and safe futures
for young people in Africa, and the development of agriculture on the
No details have been provided on where the new centre of excellence is
likely to be based. However the principle of using such centres to build
scientific capacity in Africa was endorsed at a NEPAD workshop held in
Pretoria, South Africa, in February (see 'Roadmap' proposed for science in
Chrétien also announced that the Canada Fund for Africa will provide
Can$12 million to support the work of a Canadian coalition on HIV/AIDS on
the social impact of the disease, including its consequences for labour,
children's education, and family structures.
Canada has already has committed Can$40 million for research on
agricultural productivity in Africa in conjunction with the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). As a result, all of
the consultative group's 16 agricultural research centres are increasing
their Africa-specific research, focusing on the needs of small-scale
farmers and women producers. © SciDev.Net 2003
UK: The Man in the Street Gets His Forum on GM Food - But Decides to Stay
in The Street
'Government's 10-day public roadshow opens with a whimper'
- Ian Sample, The Guardian, June 4, 2003
At last the time has come. The government's chance to try something never
before witnessed in this country, a project that radically departs from
run-of-the-mill democratic procedure. A debate that will reach out to
ordinary people up and down the country, engaging those from housing
estates to country estates on the subject of genetically modified crops.
Well, that's the idea, anyway. The first of the public debates on whether
or not Britain should push ahead with GM crops began at the NEC in
Birmingham yesterday with a resounding whimper. Yesterday's was just the
first of several such public consultations, billed as GM Nation?, to be
held across the country over the next 10 days.
The government is describing it as "a national discussion like no other"
and "a unique experiment to find out what ordinary people think". The only
blemish on such noble intentions was the absence yesterday of ordinary
people. Finding the room was easy, thanks to a token protest of three
quiet anti-GM campaigners from Friends of the Earth who unfurled their
banner for a television crew before rolling it up again until the next one
Inside there was a little more bustle, created mostly by other members of
non-governmental organisations. They are anxious to air their views. "If
we give the go-ahead to GM crops, they will contaminate everything. What
are we going to do then? We don't know what it will do," said Lisa
Mountain, a member of the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth. "I
don't trust it at all."
Like most people who have turned up, Jackie Banks from Birmingham is also
terribly concerned about GM crops. But Ms Banks is not here primarily to
talk about GM. "I just thought I might meet a lot of people who are
concerned about things the government is trying to do," she said. Her main
beef is the fluoridation of water in Birmingham.
While those inside the room are eager to get the meeting under way - it is
scheduled to start at the helpful time for local working people of 3pm -
awareness of the debate outside the building is a little more fuzzy. Just
outside the sprawl of the NEC, Nick Skeens, a writer, said he had never
heard of the national debate. "I have to confess to complete and utter
ignorance of it," he said.
Ignorance of the debate is unsurprising. Not a penny has been spent on
advertising, bar the setting up of a website. Nor has the NEC mentioned it
on their events list. Such mentions are reserved for more popular events
such as Retail 2003 and PestEx, the annual exhibition and trade fair for
the pest control industry.
Back inside, the debate has started. After a quick run through the basic
issues, we have to study a few questions and debate them with the four or
five others on our table. Do we think GM foods cause health problems? Can
we cope with any GM problems? It rapidly becomes obvious we don't know, so
people start talking about how they came to find out about the debate and
how they got here instead.
After 25 minutes of chatting, a handful of tables were asked to report
back on the issues that arose from their debate. The first table is
worried GM crops are killing butterflies in America and might do the same
here. The facilitator on another table begins a rant about Monsanto's lack
of scruples. Another table comes clean. All the comments are recorded and,
along with questionnaires filled in at the end of the debate, will be
condensed into one final report presented to the government and used to
inform a series of crucial decisions to be taken later this year.
By November the pressure will be on the government to make its mind up
whether to allow the cultivation, import or sale of 18 separate GM crops
that are awaiting approval in Brussels. The decision to hold a public
debate on genetically modified crops in the first place was largely forced
on the government. In 2001, the Biotechnology Commission, an independent
advisory body, published a report called Crops on Trial. In it, they said
that public views on GM technology had become polarised.
The one thing most people agreed upon was that the public simply didn't
know enough about GM. To remedy the situation, they recommended, and the
government agreed to, a national debate so that issues from all sides
could be aired.
After today's meeting at the NEC, the GM roadshow will head off on a
10-day tour of the UK, taking in Swansea, Taunton, Belfast, Glasgow and
finally Harrogate. Alongside, local councils are supposed to be organising
their own debates in town halls. By yesterday, only 20 such meetings had
It is not an ideal time for a debate on GM crops, said Sir Robert May,
president of the Royal Society. "The problem right now is we don't have
crops oriented to the consumer, the public doesn't get benefits," he said.
"But we can't postpone the debate until the second generation of crops are
available, because if we do that, we will throw down the sink our
contribution ... to the next generation."
But all sides are urging people to show up and make sure their views are
heard. "If people don't get involved, the government are going to say,
well, the people aren't interested, so we'll just go ahead with GM," said
Clare Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth.
The question as to whether the government will pay attention to the
outcome of the debate remains to be seen. The final report will be sent to
Margaret Beckett , the environment secretary, at the end of September. "If
the government doesn't listen, the whole thing will have been a complete
waste of time and money and will only enforce the view that the government
don't care what the people think," said Ms Oxborrow.
First, a more pressing challenge has to be met: engaging with those
elusive "ordinary people". Outside, Ollie Ralfe, a cameraman, was also
bemused to hear about the debate. "I didn't know there was anything going
on at all," he said
See High-Quality Science of Genetically Modified Crop Research at First
- Paul Rylott, Letter to the Editor, Financial Times; Jun 4, 2003
Sir, Dr Tim Jenkins (Letters, May 30) claims that the biotechnology
industries have failed to provide the data that genetically modified crops
are safe. He supports his comments by quoting selectively from last week's
Royal Society report, choosing to ignore its report of May 8 where it
studied all available data and concluded that GM food products are safe!
Dr Jenkins' labelling of the farm scale evaluations as "half-hearted" is
an astonishing assessment of a £6m, 260-site, three-year study, which Prof
Chris Pollock (chair of the independent scientific steering committee for
the FSEs) recently said was by far the biggest, most comprehensive
environmental investigation ever and would provide a new, unique benchmark
for all future environmental studies.
Two decades of pre-commercial research and six years of commercial growing
predicted and have now answered Dr Jenkins' question as to "why we need
GM". GM meets society's demands for "low input" production, offers farmers
agronomic benefits, including targeted pesticide use, input reductions and
yield increases, all of which lead to significant and tangible benefits to
It is little wonder that 6m farmers in 16 countries, including 4.5m
resource-poor farmers in the developing world, chose to grow 58.7m
hectares of GM crops in 2002. Dozens of UK environmental and agronomic
studies indicate that UK farmers and the UK environment will benefit
equally if and when UK approval occurs.
The extensive health and environmental safety research, which may take
anything up to 10 years to complete, is hardly evidence of "poor science"
but a potentially invaluable option for safe and sustainable agriculture.
If Dr Jenkins would like to see quite how rigorous, comprehensive and
high-quality the science of GM crop research is, I invite him to visit an
industry research facility in the UK to witness this at first hand.
Paul Rylott, Acting Chairman, Agriculture Biotechnology Council, London
GM Food Safer Than Organic
- Jason Lott, The Weekly Times (Victoria, Australia May 14 2003)
The US General Accounting Office has concluded that the health risks
associated with genetically modified foods are equivalent to those posed
by organic crops.
This comes as bad news for the organic food lobby, whose very legitimacy
hinges on the necessary failure of GM technology.
Take tomatine, for example, an endogenous toxin found in both organic and
GM tomato plants, but one which is only strictly regulated thanks to
extensive testing procedures in the latter.
Consumers who prefer organic tomatoes may be putting themselves in greater
danger by exposing themselves to unknown tomatine levels in their diet,
and should thus rationally forgo their local organic grocer in search of a
GM-friendly tomato stand.
Organic vegetables also pose a higher risk of carrying deadly E. coli 0157
bacteria.Since GM crops do not depend as heavily on natural fertilisers,
they are less likely to harbour E. coli 0157 and are, arguably, safer to
consume. Organic crops may also be exposed to as much or more pesticides.
GM crops, however, have been engineered to resist pests by producing
natural toxins harmful only to targeted insects.Others have been designed
to grow in harsher environments, where the usual suspects of pests cannot
thrive. Such techniques have discounted the use of pesticides and
diminished the impact of industrial-scale farming on the surrounding
Yet, despite this evidence, GM food remains an object of scepticism, while
organic crops continue to be touted as the healthier choice by leftist
Luddites and Greenpeace activists.What likely matters most to the organic
propaganda machine is not heightening consumer safety or maintaining
environmental integrity, but increasing a profit margin.
What we need now, more than ever, is clear, balanced public debate on GM
food before it is too late.
Jason Lott, Marshall Scholar, Oxford University, England
Attitudes Toward Biotech Products Can Be Changed
- Associated Press, June 4, 2003
A North Dakota State University study shows that people would pay more
money for foods that do not include genetically modified ingredients,
though consumers were more receptive to biotech products after receiving
information about them.
Most of the 112 students who participated in the study said they were not
well-informed about biotech crops, said NDSU agricultural economics
professor Cheryl Wachenheim, one of four researchers on the project.
"Once we provided them with biased information, whether that biotechnology
was good for the environment or bad for the environment, consumers in
general thought they were a lot more informed," Wachenheim said. "Which is
Farmers who plant genetically engineered varieties argue that their crops
help reduce the amount of herbicides used in their fields, saving them
money and better protecting the environment. Biotech critics say
widespread use of genetically altered crops could have unintended effects
on the environment. "We're not trying to create any controversy,"
Wachenheim said. "We're trying to figure out relevant questions for
Genetically modified crops have been available commercially since 1996.
The NDSU study focused on crops that are of local interest, particularly
wheat and sugar beats, Wachenheim said. Participants were asked to bid on
two different packages of chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins and
potato chips. The nutrition fact labels for each product were identical,
expect for an indication when the products did not contain genetically
modified ingredients. "In a big effect, it would be like building a
grocery store and offering your products for sale," Wachenheim said. "In
general, people paid a premium for nongenetically modified products."
There were two rounds of bidding. After the first round, half of the
participants were provided with what was considered positive information
about biotechnology, and half were given what was considered negative
data. Both the positive and negative notes increased bids for products
that were presumed to have genetically modified ingredients.
"That shocked us. That means that ... promotional strategies in either
camp, to either advocate, or say something against biotechnology, are
going to be effective," Wachenheim said. "People are going to feel more
informed. That's very good news for marketers and interest groups."
Christine Bruhn, a University of California, Davis researcher, said
college students are not reflective of the general population. But the
study emphasizes the need to inform people about biotechnology, she said.
"It clearly reinforces what we've known, that people are more accepting to
a new thing when they hear what it encompasses," Bruhn said. "It points to
the need for education and communication. A majority of people don't
recognize there are genetically modified products that are in the store."
About 1,000 new food products are introduced in the United States each
year, said Tom Zinnen, biotechnology specialist at the University of
Wisconsin. Less than 10 percent of those products stay on the market, he
said. "That's going to be the same for gene-spliced foods," Zinnen said.
"The chances of survival for any new product is pretty low even if it has
nothing remarkably new about it."
No other food products have been tested and regulated as much as biotech
products, said Shannon Troughton, spokeswoman for Monsanto Co., the
biotechnology and agricultural giant. "What we have found as an industry
is that the more information consumers have, the more positive they feel
about the technology," Troughton said.
Experimental auctions like the NDSU study are good for showing how people
make decisions, but it is difficult to duplicate a real-life situation,
Zinnen said. "Everyone is familiar with Monopoly. It's an interesting
game with play money," he said. "But remember, the best auction is where
people pay with real money."
Better Barley Today Makes for Better Beer Tomorrow
- Brenna Doheny, Daily Barometer, Oregon State University, June 4, 2003
'Oregon State professor combines traditional breeding methods and genomic
research to make better barley'
Barley, beer and human civilization have a long mutual history. Humans
began cultivating barley in the early days of civilization in the Fertile
Crescent, and began using barley to make beer soon after.
OSU crop and soil science professor Patrick Hayes is combining traditional
breeding techniques and new genetic research tools to improve barley to
meet the demands of modern society. Hayes is the coordinator of a
collaborative research project known as the North American Barley Genome
With only seven pairs of chromosomes, barley is a relatively simple model
to work with, Hayes said, as compared with wheat, which has 21 chromosomal
pairs, or humans, with 23 pairs. Surprisingly enough, the barley genome is
bigger than the human genome, meaning there is more DNA in barley than in
people, Hayes said.
By mapping the barley genome to find the genes responsible for important
characteristics such as malting quality, disease resistance and tolerance
to stressful conditions, plants bearing the desired genes can be selected.
Better quality barley can be created by breeding the plants with the
In the U.S. today, an average of 400 million bushels of barley are
cultivated each year, but over half is used as livestock feed and is
therefore not very valuable. As Dr. Hayes explained, barley is marketed at
about $100 per ton, with an average annual yield of 2 tons per acre. "The
only way you can make money is to have lots of acres or do something to
add value to that barley," Hayes said.
He added that throughout history, the best way to make barley more
valuable has been to convert it into malt for making beer, which can
increase the marketable value of barley by 30 percent. Hayes' department
is conducting research to determine the genes responsible for malting
quality. "If you know where they are and what they express, you can
determine what to do to increase malting quality," Hayes said.
Hayes' research has found that the genes responsible for malting quality
can be separated from the genes responsible for row numbers. While
bulk of his barley research centers on genetics, Hayes is quick to point
out that the barley plants used for consumption are not actually products
of genetic engineering. The U.S. malting and brewing industry does not
approve of genetically modified barley plants being used for beer, so for
now, the genetic engineering of barley is only being used as a research
A major difficulty Hayes has experienced in his research is lack of
funding. He receives some support from farmers and the brewing industry,
and has received grants for several projects. To supplement this funding,
he also sells t-shirts and other merchandise touting the benefits of
barley out of his department and at Whitesides Wine and Beer in downtown
For more information, visit Hayes' project website at
'The Attack on Plant Biotechnology - Gregory Conko and C.S. Prakash'
Now on our Website
Curbing the 'GM-Free' Zones?
- Comments From Mark Cantley
Thank you for this information on GM-Free Crops Zones. I have encountered
similar items previously, and have written to a couple of authorities
making the following points, and raising the following questions:
1) There is growing scientific evidence of the environmental benefits from
GM crops (e.g. see the paper by Phipps and Park: Journal of Animal andFeed
Sciences, 11,2002, 1-18: Environmental benefits of genetically modified
crops: Global and European perspectives on their ability to reduce
pesticide use R.H. Phipps and J.R. Park, Centre for Dairy Research,
Department of Agriculture, The University of Reading, Reading RG6 6A1,UK);
similar evidence is accumulating from other countries where widespread
cultivation of gm crops is taking place (e.g. China, USA); there is no
significant scientifically validated evidence of environmental damage;
2) There is no evidence of any damage to human health arising from the
consumption of GM foods; there is evidence of a higher level of fungal
infestation and resulting levels of mycotoxins in non-GM maize;
3) The EU has published in 2001 its report, "A Review of Results:
EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms",
summarising some 15 years of research, involving 80 projects, over 400
laboratories, and expenditure of some EUR 70 million. The report is
available on line at
<http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/quality-of-life/gmo/>; or full text,
on request to me at the European
In the accompanying press release, 9 October 2001, it was stated:
"Research on the GM plants and derived products so far developed and
marketed, following usual risk assessment procedures, has not shown any
new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual
uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more
precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them
even safer than conventional plants and foods; and if there are unforeseen
environmental effects - none have appeared as yet - these should be
rapidly detected by our monitoring requirements. On the other hand, the
benefits of these plants and products for human health and the environment
become increasingly clear."
4) Similar conclusions regarding the absence of harm result from
continuous monitoring of biotech safety research and reports on commercial
applications around the world, over the past 25 years, including some 7
years consumption of GM foods by over 200 million Americans, in what might
be reckoned the most litigious society in the world.
5) Any GM foods in the EU to-day have been authorised for placing on the
market following stringent risk assessment regarding possible impacts on
human health and the environment.
6) Given the above, we would be interested to hear from the local
a) Their legal basis for denying to children under their care (in schools)
food products demonstrating environmental benefits, and possibly higher
safety, than those produced by more traditional and imprecise techniques;
b) any scientifically substantiated evidence which would contradict the
points (1) to (4) cited above.
We would also be interested to hear from any supplier who believes that he
has suffered discriminatory treatment regarding refusal of products by
local authorities for reasons unrelated to safety for human health or the
protection of the environment.
I look forward to hearing from you - or others.
>>Real Food News May 2003 ; GM-free success spreads
>>Dorset County Council joined the growing list of local authorities
expressing concern about the commercialisation of GM (see 24 April 2003),
pledging to keep services such as school meals free of GM, and calling on
the South West Regional Assembly to adopt a position on GM. Warwickshire
County Council then passed a stronger GM-free motion with no opposition
(see 20 May 2003) to keep the county free of GM crops and GM food.
Advice to Scientists on the Current British GM Debate
- From Sheila Anderson (Real Estate Publisher from Florida)
The corporations in England, in many cases, operate on a self-serving
caste system. Executives believe they are superior to everyone else, and
consumers are not recognized as part of the food chain. Those
short-sighted, self-serving, rather immature and arrogant affectations
can't be changed, at least not in time to save them from corporate
melt-down, but there are things everyone else can do. Here are a few
suggestions: You all may have others:
1. Populate this moving debate with anyone who can be rounded up. Go to as
many as possible, as ordinary people, and simply participate with
courtesy. Get names and addresses of people, for follow up. The most
important thing is to be nice, because that will sell more of the science
than being smart. The scientific community should go!
2. Statements, conversations, follow up should be on simple terms.
Scientific explanations are not needed. Clearing up confusion is.
3. Create context, stress the basics only. Repeat the obvious - that all
food is organic, and everything we have eaten all along has been modified
4. I disagree with Lord May that there are no benefits yet. Of course
there are. It's possible to know how food grows and to be precise in
changing traits. Draw a reference to changing traits in people - how many
people dye their hair, or wear deodorants, etc. How many people garden,
and enjoy the variety of colors in hybrid flowers. The new insights into
plants are better because it makes everyone smarter about food safety.
It's also better to have less impact on the environment. And, it's
certainly better to have research on adding vitamins and other nutrients
to food, as well as removing allergins and toxins. And, it's better to
figure out how to feed starving people in Africa and Asia before more
terrorists are recruited, out of desparation. That research into crops
that will grow in desserts, etc. is part of what we need for peace.
5. Keep discussion topics to everyday concerns of consumers. Do they know
how much bacteria there is in "organic" farming methods, or how to remove
allergens to peanuts? How about bringing back the taste in tomatoes? Those
also are benefits.
6. To be more technical is to miss the opportunities to sell the advances
as "normal" "improved food".
7. Make the point that anyone who has visited the US during the last five
years, at least, probably was eating GM foods and they are still "alive
and kicking" in England. Look at the Prime Minister, and all the
diplomats. They look healthy, and are certainly well fed. Look at all the
corporate people - who are thriving. They are eating these foods!
8. Paint the protestors as "paid special interests", and it may help to
9. Use the Council on Biotechnology Information photo pages to be made
available to people, might just create some interest. They are so
attractive, people might want to keep them. They would be wonderful to use
as follow-up, if y'all can get the names and addresses of everyone who
attends one of these meetings. Getting that follow-up list should be the
primary reason for being there, and then use it! Those people will speak
to others, and using a device like those photo pages - distributed one
every six weeks or so, will go a long way in educating these people, and
anyone else with whom they speak. So, take advantage of their presence at
these meetings to find out how to reach them afterwards, and make them
into a marketing list.
10. DON'T ARGUE WITH ANYONE. Be interested in what they think, and say,
and offer to follow up with them - send them something you've seen -
"sorry I didn't think to bring it along today" - so you can get back to
When people are not sure of something, they express themselves in negative
terms. And, of course the press is going to play on that. But, you have an
opportunity to give these people positive things to say, after this
exercise. And, it's an opportunity. Once they've spoken and gotten their
fears, frustrations, etc. out of their systems, they may show an interest
in what else there is to say. And, follow-up marketing will give them more
to talk about - to their friends, associates, neighbors. So, use these
meetings to find out who they are, and where to reach them later. Some of
them will be converted into advocates for GM out of this experience if you
play it right.
It can't get much worse, so think about ways to make it better. EVERYONE
who is getting this email communication, if they are in the UK, must do
their part. Because it's the way to turn around this debate. Ignore it,
don't go, don't follow up, be better than these consumers (who afterall
control the decisions at the grocer), and the country will shut down.
Don't let it!
Illicit GM Cotton in India
- Gordon Couger
I wonder how much cotton seed has gone home from grad students here in
going to school here in the US. In their place I sure would be tempted to
send it home to start my own cotton seed business.
Breeding cotton is not a high tech operation. Hand hybridizing US verities
with Indian varieties take a lot of hard working people with scissors,
paper bags, small brushes and drawing for Eli Whitney's first hand cotton
India's farmers may not be well educated but they are intelligent hard
working people that can take advantage of situations that present
themselves as well as farmers in any other country. Goverment bans aren't
standing in the way of GM beans in Brazil and I doubt they will stand in
the way of GM cotton in the rest of the world. Particularly were there are
no remedies for theft of intellectual property.
Maybe would should clean out our planters and get in touch with an Indian
Playing the "Natural" Card
- Jon Entine, Ethical Corporation Magazine June 2, 2003
In Bernard Malamud's The Natural, the fictional Roy Hobbs, a baseball
player born with rare and wondrous gifts, is robbed of his prime playing
years by a youthful indiscretion. But he perseveres, re-enters the game at
an age when most players are considering retirement and becomes an instant
hero. It's a seductive message in part because it plays on the notion of
"natural" - a belief that there is an uncorrupted state that, if restored
and honoured, can transform failure into success and evil into good.
Heavens to Jean Jacques Rousseau! This Eden has an odd grip on the New Age
strain of corporate social responsibility, and it's not a good thing. One
hot movement known as "natural capitalism" mixes conventional
accountability standards with gloppy, Rousseauian romantic rhetoric. Its
acolytes, who have started a consulting service known as The Natural Step,
attack corporate evildoers for "systematically substituting certain
persistent and unnatural compounds with ones that are normally abundant or
break down more easily in nature."
It's certainly welcome to encourage oversight of natural resources, but a
blanket insinuation that nature's products are always benign or better
than "unnatural compounds" is pure hokum. For example, many organic
products supporters maintain that "natural" fruits and foods are healthier
than conventionally grown products. "It doesn't matter what's true, it
matters what consumers think," said Chuck Marcy, CEO of Horizon Organic
Dairy at an industry forum this past January. Consumers buy organic
"because they think it's healthier, safer or more nutritious".
As Horizon well knows, there is no scientific evidence to support this
marketing fiction, as hundreds of independent evaluations by such groups
as the Organic Farming Research Foundation and Consumer Reports have
demonstrated. Zealots also ignore the reality that nature can be far
deadlier than man - the natural bacteria in manure used as fertiliser in
organic produce has led to far more deaths and sicknesses (think Odwalla)
than "unnatural" chemical fertilisers.
Marketing products as "natural" with all that this Edenistic word suggests
has long since become mainstream, which means it's lost any normative
value it might once have had. That makes it all the more unseemly to see
the buzzword being used by companies that have been seen as corporate
responsibility good guys. Often the biggest exploiters peddle commodity
products like ice cream, toothpaste and cosmetics at outrageous prices by
attaching the "natural" label. For example, The Body Shop promotes its
beauty notions as "natural" and "inspired by nature". In fact, its
artificially coloured and chemically scented cosmetics and
petrochemical-derived preservatives are the antithesis of natural. On the
other hand, the base ingredients of its lotions are often natural - water
and cheap almond oil.
While The Body Shop directly misrepresents the naturalness of its
products, Johnson & Johnson, makers of sucralose, an artificial sweetener
sold as Splenda, benefits from sleight-of-hand marketing. J&J banks on the
fact that as a well-regarded health care company, anything it markets will
be received as healthy. Its advertising tag line deftly brags, "It's made
from sugar so its tastes like sugar." Splenda recently launched a series
of TV ads that play on the misconceptions about its wholesomeness. "What
are little girls made of?" asks one 30 second spot. "Splenda and spice and
everything nice." On its website it claims that, "As a table sweetener, it
combines the ingredient form of SPLENDA(r) Brand Sweetener with other
natural food ingredients."
Yet despite its origins as sugar, sucralose is no more natural or safer
than any other artificial sweetener. After all, petrochemicals are made
from naturally produced oil, but that certainly doesn't make them the
environmentally preferred energy option. In the case of Splenda, both the
synthetic process to make it and the end product are straight from the
Equally disturbing, J&J has encouraged perceived misconceptions about
Splenda's naturalness to percolate among natural devotees, the fast
growing sector in the food industry. "We had the Net buzz and chat-room
stuff going," says Anne Rewey, Splenda marketing director for McNeil,
J&J's Pennsylvania-based chemical division that developed the product. A
surf of the Internet underscores the success of J&J's viral marketing
campaign. "I went to the dietician at the local clinic today from the
diabetic education department," posted "Jdlar" on a diabetes Web
discussion group. "And, in her opinion, she said something along the lines
that Splenda is more natural than the chemicals like aspartame. She said
it's made from an extract from sugar." Alternative health and natural
product discussion groups are filled with such nonsense.
Splenda's unwarranted reputation as a natural product understandably riles
rivals. "Look at the chemical structure of the compounds," notes Ted
Ziemann, president of the Health & Food Technologies division of Cargill,
the Minnesota-based commodities giant that is beginning to market its own
Such clever marketing has taken in some consumer groups that have attacked
other artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin (Sweet 'N Low),
acesulfame-k (Sunette, Sweet One) and aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) for
being chemicals, although they have been extensively tested and found
safe. The public misconception about Splenda's naturalness has helped
propel it past Equal to capture 30 percent of the lucrative tabletop
None of this is meant to imply that there is anything unsafe about
Splenda. Although it hasn't been tested as extensively as its rivals,
results so far indicate that - like its competitors - it's safe.
So what is the lesson here? Many businesses including those purporting to
be socially responsible have learned that hyping fears of chemicals and
using shifty advertising can pay off. This "natural" nonsense has become
an amazingly potent hot-button way to court ageing baby boomer consumers
and their families. It's also fraudulent. Demagoguing science, even when
done in the velvet glove way of a Johnson & Johnson, will certainly sell
your product, but at the long term cost to society, which constantly
wrestles with junk science and consumer hysteria.
Malamud's baseball classic is an intoxicating tale of myth and magic.
Invoking the "natural" may be great grist for novels and jabbering about
sustainability but it's no way to run a business, especially one aspiring
to corporate responsibility.
Playing with with Plants can be Hazardous - Poisonous Euphorbia
- C. Kameshwar Rao, email@example.com
See below the page on Euphorbia tirucalli from my medicinal plant website
It is grossly incorrect to say that indigenous medicine, mostly based on
plants, has no side effects. I have discussed this in my book and also on
my website. Most of the times we are reasonably safe from toxic components
of even edible plants, due to dosage criteria and of course hormesis.
Indian systems use several food plants as medicine. There is a vast grey
area of the undesirable effects of our traditonal food and medicine and
the surprise is that we have survived the risks popping up from every nook
and corner of our diet and environment. Medicine and medicinal plants
should be used only when needed. Playing with with plants can be
Euphorbia tirucalli L., Euphorbiaceae, is a native Africa, but is
naturalised in the drier parts of Bengal, Deccan, south India and is
largely cultivated as a hedge plant. The plants attain the proportion of a
small tree, the trunk reaching a girth of about six inches.
The species is easily recognised from its repeatedly branched, green,
rather succulent, cylindrical pencil like stems (see the photograph). The
plants are usually leaf less, but for a few small leaves at the tips of
the branches (see photograph), but these leaves fall off soon. This is
called the Îcactoid habitâ, due to which the species is often confused
with the cacti. A small prick releases milky latex, which is absent in the
cacti. See Euphorbia antiquorum, which is a similar species.
The latex is a vesicant, rubifacient, purgative, counter irritant, applied
on warts, in rheumatism, neuralgia, toothache, cough, asthma and earache.
The latex induces ulceration of the gastro-intestinal mucous membrane. It
is dangerous to the eyes as it produces severe corneal inflammation.
The latex is a fish and rat poison. Euphorbon and euphorone were isolated
from the latex. The latex contains over 75 per cent of resin and about 15
per cent of rubber. The latex contains taraxasterol, tirucallol and
euphol, the terpene alcohols. The fresh latex contains isoeuphorol, which
is on drying is replaced by a ketone. The stem contains hentriacontane,
hentriacontanol, b -sitosterol, taraxerol, 3,3â-di-o -methylellagic acid,
ellagic acid and a glucoside that produces, on hydrolysis, kaempferol and
Alcoholic extracts of the aerial parts are anti-protozoal against
Entamoeba hystolytica. Alcoholic and aqueous extracts of the stem reduce
adenocaarcinoma and sarcoma considerably.
>>Plant Sap Associated with Childhood Cancer - A possible link has been
established between the sap
>> of the African milkbush and endemic Burkitt's lymphoma (eBL), the most
>common form of
Adding Value to Cassava: Applying Biotechnology to a Small-Farmer Crop
- CIAT, Cali, March 8-14, 2004
Alfredo A. C. Alves, CIAT-Cassava Biotechnology Network, Cali-Colombia;