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Date:

June 11, 2003

Subject:

50 Years of DNA, Historical Perspective, Catholic Magazine, GM crops can red

 

Today in AgBioView: June 12, 2003:

* 50 Years of DNA: Foreword
* Looking at GM Crops from a Historical Perspective
* Letters by Catholics to the Editor of U.S. Catholic Magazine
* Re: Ge environmental impacts study
* Monbiot on glyphosate
* `Farmers will decide future of GM crops'
* Regulating biotechnology as though gene function mattered
* Top ethics body says GM is 'moral imperative'
* West and Central African IITA biotechnology report
* GM crops can reduce poverty in the developing world, reports claim
* GM crops 'good for developing countries'
* India's poor to get nutritional boost
* GM crops worth $US78m a year in UK

50 Years of DNA: Foreword

- Tony Blair, MP. The Prime Minister; In "50 Years of DNA", Publisher:
Business Weekly (with Wellcome Trust), May 2003. p5.
http://www.businessweekly.co.uk

I am enoromously proud of Britain's global reputation for science and
medical achievements. Many of the most important discoveries to help
explain our world and to shape it for the better have made in this
country.

No single recent advance is like to have as big an impact on our lives as
the discovery of the structre of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson in
Cambridge 50 years ago. Their work, togehter with that of Maurice Wilkins
and Rosalind Franklin in London, laid the foundations for modern
bioscience at which our country and our scientists continue to excel.

It's their momentous research which now being carried on by a new
generation of brilliant scientists in the UK and, in particular, in
Cambridge and at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The mapping of the
human genome in November 2000, in which the Sanger Institute played such a
pivotal role, builds on Crick and Watson's discovery to openthe way to a
healthier world for future generations.

I am delighted, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of
the structure of DNA, that the UK remains a world-leader in this exciting
and vital scientific field. And I salute the scientists at the Sanger
Institute and across the world whose dedication to reserach is proving
such a force for good.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Looking at GM Crops from a Historical Perspective

- Channapatna S. Prakash and Gregory Conko

In "50 Years of DNA", Publisher: Business Weekly (with Wellcome Trust),
April 2003. p60-62.

http://www.businessweekly.co.uk

From the dawn of civilization, mankind has been modifying plants at the
genetic level to suit its needs, and the fates of human society and
agricultural crops have been inextricably linked and mutually
interdependent ever since. Agriculture allowed humans to abandon
hunter-gatherer behavior, in turn spawning broader economic and cultural
development. And the suitability of certain plant species for food or
fiber—which provided the proximate cause for their eventual
domestication—let those organisms survive and thrive far beyond their
original ranges.

Our ancestors chose a few once-wild plants and gradually modified them
simply by selecting those with the largest, tastiest, or most robust
offspring for propagation. In that way, organisms have been altered so
greatly over the millennia that traits present in existing populations of
cultivated rice, wheat, maize, soya, potatoes, tomatoes and many others,
have very little in common with their ancestors. Wild tomatoes and
potatoes contain very potent toxins, for example. But today’s cultivated
varieties have been modified to produce healthy and nutritious food.

Breeding safe and useful crops from wild plants was a remarkable feat,
given how poorly those first plant breeders understood the dynamics of
selection and heritability. It was not until the 19th Century that plant
genetic modification became anything other than a hit or miss affair.
Gregor Mendel’s discovery of the principles of inheritance in the 1860s
gave rise to a revolution in crop hybridization, perhaps best
characterized by the life of horticulturalist Luther Burbank (1849-1926).
Burbank developed over 800 new varieties of fruits, vegetables, flowers,
and trees—some so unique that he was eventually awarded patents on 16 of
his plants.

Yet, despite the predictive capacity that arose from Mendelian principles,
actual understanding of the source of plant characteristics was still
quite limited until the turn of the 20th Century. Verification of Mendel’s
principles initiated a wave of new genetic discoveries clarifying how
nucleic acids within plant cells controlled the generation of specific
traits. From that point forward, hybridization could truly be considered
more a science than an art.

Early experiments in maize hybridization by G.H. Shull in the 1900s
established the modern genetics foundation for a revolution in food and
fiber production. Shull’s scientifically guided maize breeding helped lay
the groundwork for the Green Revolution some half a century later, and
initiated yield growth from fewer than 30 bushels per acre in the 1920s to
more than 130 bushels per acre in the late 1990s. Such productivity gains
helped North American and European farmers grow more food at a lower cost,
without having to encroach upon forests and other wildlands to feed an
ever-growing population. Crop improvement has thus been one of the most
important environmental success stories in history.

Modern genetics has been so powerful an influence on food production that,
in a recent survey, members of the North American Agricultural Journalists
professional society ranked crop hybridization, recombinant DNA genetic
modification, discovery of DNA’s double helix structure, and the Green
Revolution as the four most important developments in agriculture during
the past 50 years.

The productivity gains derived from scientifically bred, high yielding
crop varieties allowed the world’s farmers to double output during the
last 50 years, on roughly the same amount of land, at a time when global
population rose more than 80 percent. Without genetics and other
scientific developments in agriculture, we would today be farming on every
square inch of arable land to produce the same amount of food, destroying
hundreds of millions of hectares of pristine wilderness in the process.

How Natural Are Our Crops?

All crops are unnatural. Not only are they vastly different from their
wild ancestors, but most also had their origin and domestication far from
where they are now grown. For instance, the United States is the world’s
leading producer of maize and soya, yet these crops are native to Mexico
and China, respectively. Wheat, grown throughout western Europe, was
domesticated in Mesopotamia. The world’s largest traded commodity, coffee,
had a humble origin in Ethiopia. But now, most coffee is produced in Latin
America and Asia. Florida oranges have their roots in India, while
sugarcane arose in Papua New Guinea. Food crops that today are so integral
to the culture or diet in the Old World, such as the potato in Europe,
chili pepper in India, cassava in Africa, and sweet potato in Japan, were
introduced from South America. For that matter, every crop in North
America other than the blueberry, Jerusalem artichoke, sunflower, and
squash are borrowed from somewhere else.

Other crops, domesticated long ago, have more recently been improved for
human use. Rapeseed, grown in Asia for centuries, naturally contains two
dangerous chemicals that make it more amenable for use as a lubricant than
a cooking oil. But in the 1960s, Canadian scientists used conventional
breeding techniques to eliminate the genes responsible for producing those
toxic and smelly chemicals. They named their creation canola (short for
Canadian oil), a popular but completely new crop now grown widely in North
America and Europe.

In the most fundamental sense, all plant and animal breeding involves, and
always has involved, this kind of intentional genetic modification—adding
useful new genes and shedding old deleterious ones. And though critics of
today’s most advanced breeding method, recombinant DNA, believe it is
somehow unique, there have always been Cassandras to claim that the latest
technology was unnatural, different from its predecessors, and inherently
dangerous. As early as 1906, Luther Burbank noted that, “We have recently
advanced our knowledge of genetics to the point where we can manipulate
life in a way never intended by nature. We must proceed with the utmost
caution in the application of this new found knowledge,” a cautionary note
one might just as easily hear today regarding recombinant DNA—modern
genetic modification.

But just as Burbank was wrong to claim that there was some special danger
in the knowledge that permitted broader sexual crosses, so are today’s
skeptics wrong to believe that modern genetic modification poses some
inherently greater risk. It is not genetic modification per se that
generates risk. Recombinant DNA (rDNA) modified, conventionally modified,
and unmodified plants could all prove to be invasive, harm biodiversity,
or be harmful to eat. Rather, risk arises from the characteristics of
individual organisms, as well as how and where they are used. Thus, an
understanding of the historical context of genetic modification in
agriculture may help us to better appreciate the potential role of rDNA
technology, and quell public anxieties about its use.

Even though it is guided by human hands, hybridization may seem perfectly
natural when it simply assimilates desirable traits from several varieties
of the same species into elite cultivars. But when desired characteristics
are unavailable in cultivated plants, hybridization can be used to borrow
liberally from wild and sometimes quite distant relatives. Domesticated
tomato plants are commonly bred with wild tomatoes of a different species
to introduce improved resistance to pathogens, nematodes, and fungi.
Successive generations then have to be carefully back-crossed into the
commercial cultivars to eliminate any unwanted traits accidentally
transferred from the wild varieties, such as glyco-alkaloid toxins common
in the wild species.

When crop and wild varieties do not readily mate, various tricks can be
employed to produce so-called “wide crosses” between two plants that are
otherwise sexually incompatible. Still, the embryos created by wide
crosses usually die prior to maturation, so they must be “rescued” and
cultured in a laboratory. Even then, the rescued embryos typically produce
sterile offspring. They can only be made fertile again by using mutagenic
chemicals that cause the plants to produce a duplicate set of chromosomes.
The plant triticale, an artificial hybrid of wheat and rye, is one such
example of a wide-cross hybrid made possible solely by the existence of
embryo rescue and chromosome doubling techniques. Triticale is now grown
on over three million acres worldwide, and dozens of other wide-cross
hybrids are also common.

Finally, when a desired trait cannot be found within the existing gene
pool, breeders can create new variants by intentionally mutating plants
with x-ray or gamma radiation, with mutagenic chemicals, or simply by
culturing clumps of cells in a Petri dish. A relatively new mutant wheat
variety has been produced with chemical mutation to be resistant to the
BASF herbicide ClearField. Mutation breeding has been in common use since
the 1950s, and more than 2,250 known mutant varieties have been bred in at
least 50 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom,
and the United States.

It is important to note that these sophisticated and unnatural breeding
techniques are considered “conventional,” and go almost totally
un-regulated. Yet, despite the massive genetic changes and potential for
harm, consumers and anti-technology activists are largely unaware of their
existence and evince no concern.

Along Come Modern GM Crops

As we have seen, all modern crops are a product of various genetic
meddling. Recombinant DNA methods can therefore be seen as an extension of
the continuum of techniques used to modify organisms over the millennia.
The biggest difference is that modern GM crops involve a precise transfer
of one or two known genes into plant DNA—a surgical alteration of the
crop’s genome compared to the sledgehammer approaches of traditional
hybridization or mutagenesis. Furthermore, unlike varieties developed from
more conventional breeding, modern GM crops are rigorously tested and
subject to intense regulatory scrutiny prior to commercialization.

There has been widespread acceptance and support for rDNA modification
from the scientific community, plant breeders, and farmers. Accumulated
experience and knowledge of decades of crop improvement combined with
expert judgment, science-based reasoning, and empirical research has
generated confidence that modern GM crops will pose no new or heightened
risks that can not be identified and mitigated, and that any unforeseen
hazard are likely to be negligible and manageable.

Many growers have embraced modern GM technology because it makes farming
more efficient, protects or increases yields, and reduces their reliance
on chemicals that, other things being equal, they would prefer not to use.
Crops enhanced with rDNA technology are now grown on nearly 58 million
hectares in 16 countries. More importantly, more than three-quarters of
the 5.5 million growers who benefited from GM crops were resource-poor
farmers in the developing world.

High Anxiety?

Ingredients produced from modern genetic modification are found in
thousands of food products consumed worldwide. Yet, even though no
legitimate evidence of harm to human health or the environment from these
foods is known or expected, there is an intense debate questioning the
value and safety of GM organisms.

Although it may seem reasonable for consumers to express a concern that
they “don’t know what they’re eating with GM foods,” it must be repeated
that consumers never had that information with conventionally modified
crops either. Indeed, while no assurance of perfect safety can be made,
breeders know far more about the genetic makeup, product characteristics,
and safety of every modern GM crop than those of any conventional variety
ever marketed. Breeders know what exactly what new genetic material has
been introduced. They can identify where the transferred genes have been
inserted into the new plant. They can test to ensure that transferred
genes are working properly and that the nutritional elements of the food
have been unchanged. None of these safety assurances can be made with
conventional breeding techniques.

Consider, for example, how conventional plant breeders would develop a
disease-resistant tomato. Sexual reproduction introduces chromosome
fragments from a wild relative to transfer a gene for disease resistance
into cultivated varieties. In the process, hundreds of unknown and
unwanted genes are also introduced, with the risk that some of them could
encode toxins or allergens. Yet regulators never routinely test
conventionally bred plant varieties for food safety or environmental risk
factors, and they are subject to practically no government oversight.

We have always lived with food risks. But modern genetic technology makes
it increasingly easier to reduce those risks.

What about the Environment?

All of us have to eat to live, and organized food production is the most
ecologically demanding endeavor we have pursued. Agricultural expansion
over the millennia has destroyed millions of acres of forestland around
the world. Alien plant species have been introduced into non-native
environments to provide food, feed, fiber, and timber, and as a result
have disrupted local fauna and flora. Certain aspects of modern farming
have had a negative impact on biodiversity and on air, soil, and water
quality. But do modern GM crops really pose even greater environmental
risks, as critics claim?

The risk of cross pollination from crops to wild relatives has always
existed, and such “gene flow” occurs whenever crops grow in close
proximity to sexually compatible wild relatives. Yet breeders have
continuously introduced genes for disease and pest resistance through
conventional breeding into all of our crops. Traits, such as stress
tolerance and herbicide resistance, have also been introduced in some
crops with conventional techniques, and the growth habits of every crop
have been altered. Thus, not only is gene modification a common
phenomenon, but so are many of the specific kinds of changes made with
rDNA techniques.

Naturally, with both conventional and rDNA-enhanced breeding, we must be
vigilant to ensure that newly introduced plants do not become invasive and
that weeds do not become noxious as a result of genetic modification.
Although modern genetic modification expands the range of new traits that
can be added to crop plants, it also ensures that more will be known about
those traits and that the behavior of the modified plants will be, in many
ways, easier to predict. That greater knowledge, combined with historical
experience with conventional genetic modification, provides considerable
assurance that such risks will be minimal and manageable.

It should also be comforting to recognize that no major weed or
invasiveness problems have developed since the advent of modern plant
breeding, because domesticated plants are typically poorly fit for
survival in the wild. Indeed, concerns about GM crops running amok, or
errant genes flowing into wild species--sometimes characterized as "gene
pollution"--pale in comparison to the genuine risk posed by introducing
totally unmodified "exotic" plants into new ecosystems. Notable examples
of the latter include water hyacinth in Lake Victoria, cord-grass in
China, cattail in Nigeria, and kudzu in North America.

This is, of course, not to say that no harm could ever come from the
introduction of modern GM or conventionally modified crop varieties. Some
traits, if transferred from crops to wild relatives, could increase the
reproductive fitness of weeds and cause them to become invasive or to
erode the genetic diversity of native flora. But the magnitude of that
risk has solely to do with the traits involved, the plants into which they
are transferred, and the environment into which they are introduced.
Consequently, breeders, farmers, and regulators are aware of the
possibility that certain traits introduced into any new crop varieties, or
new varieties introduced into different ecosystems, could pose genuine
problems, and these practices are carefully scrutinized. Again, though,
this risk occurs regardless of the breeding method used to introduce those
traits into the crop.

Finally, one must also recognize the potential positive impact of rDNA
modified crops on the environment. Already, commercialized GM crops have
reduced agricultural expansion and promoted ecosystem preservation;
improved air, soil, and water quality as a consequence of reduced tillage,
chemical spraying, and fuel use; and enhanced biodiversity because of
lower insecticide use.

Studies have shown that the eight most common modern GM crops grown in the
United States alone increased crop yields by nearly 2 billion kg, provided
a net value of US$1.5 billion and reduced pesticide use by 20 million kg.
A 2002 Council for Agricultural Science and Technology report also found
that rDNA-modified crops promote the adoption of conservation tillage
practices, resulting in many other important environmental benefits: 37
million tons of topsoil preserved; 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas
emissions from farm machinery; 70 percent reduction in herbicide run-off;
90 percent decrease in soil erosion; and from 15 to 26 liters of fuel
saved per acre.

Conclusion: Societal anxiety over the new genetic modification is, in some
ways understandable. It is fueled by a variety of causes, including
unfamiliarity, lack of reliable information about regulatory safeguards, a
steady stream of negative opinion in the news media, opposition by
activist groups, growing mistrust of industry, and a general lack of
awareness of how our food production system has evolved.

Humans and crops will always be mutually dependent upon one another’s
survival, and the guided evolution of crops will continue but increasingly
will be more precise and more safe. An appreciation of the history of
agricultural development however may provide us with a useful roadmap for
devising appropriate strategies to informing the public and making
rational societal responses to crop improvement.

==

C. S. Prakash is a professor of plant biotechnology at Tuskegee
University, Alabama (USA) and president of AgBioWorld Foundation based in
Auburn, Alabama. (http://www.agbioworld.org). Gregory Conko is Director of
Food Safety Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington,
DC (USA) and vice president of the AgBioWorld Foundation

***************

'50 Years of DNA' -- The Inside Track on Book of Life

Business Weekly; May 6, 2003

Nobel Prize winners Dr Francis Crick and Sir John Sulston have joined
other world-leading scientists and Prime Minister Tony Blair to help
Business Weekly commemorate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the
structure of DNA.

They have contributed to '50 Years of DNA' a Business Weekly book which
charts the story of DNA right up to the completion of the human genome
map. In the publication, produced in association with The Wellcome Trust,
Dr Crick talks about the happy mix of blunders and brilliance which led to
his and James Watson‚s discovery of the double helix in 1953.

'50 Years of DNA' is available at £6.99. Also available from
http://www.amazon.co.uk

To order a copy, call: 01223 264864.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Letters by Catholics to the Editor of U.S. Catholic Magazine In response
to its article found at

http://www.uscatholic.org/2003/01/mn0301.htm

Claretian Publications
U.S. Catholic
June 1, 2003
P. 9

Dear sir,

I am not a reader of your magazine US catholic, but a friend of mine
knowing that I am both a catholic (as a matter of belonging) and a plant
biotechnologist (this is my job) alerted me about your editorial 'Heed the
hungry' - by K. Clark in the January issue.

As a catholic I know that we are called to hope against all the hopes ,
but the fact that more and more catholic organisations are willing to
accept pagan-based attitudes in the way the look at nature is not really
pleasing. I have countless articles from catholic magazines full of
misinformation and Clark's article is no exception. I tried to expose some
of the shortfalls.

I come to the crucial point and I cite directly from the editorial a
sentence:

The South African Bishops' Conference has called for a regional moratorium
on test plantings of GM crops. In a recent letter, they wrote: "The
long-term health effects of consuming [GM] food have not been assessed. .
. . Moreover, the damage to the environment would be largely irreversible.
Once released, genetically engineered organisms become part of our
ecosystem. "

Claiming that damage to the environment would be largely irreversible
sounds a very frightening statement, but forgets a crucial factor.
Cultivated plants are not natural (in the sense that they are a product of
human labour and ingenuity). They cannot survive without the help of man
who year after year harvests the seed, sows it, waters the plant and gives
them fertilizers, protects it from pests of various sorts: bacteria,
fungi, virus, insects, mammals, and even plants.

Yes, even plants, wild plants such as weeds can be more than a nuisance:
they can be deadly for the cultivated plant because they withdraw
nutrients, water, sun and C02 to the point that the cultivated plants is
not even able to set seed. Every farmer, every gardener knows it has to
control weeds. Weeds are resistant, survive hard conditions such as
drought or cold more than cultivated plants. Nobody sows weeds in the
ground, but they keep germinating year after year in the fields. Indeed,
if cultivated plants were behaving as wild plants, there wouldn't be any
need (or trouble) in cultivating them. But this means that no cultivated
plant can damage the environment more that agriculture can do it. A
cultivated field without human intervention turns into a wild field, not
the reverse!!

Agriculture IS damaging to the environment and it is therefore important
to keep yields high to avoid using too much land for it. With around 200
million hectares cultivated so far with transgenic plants, I know of no
damage to the environment more than the conventional counterpart, but with
huge savings (less pesticides, less fuel used, less toxic herbicides...see
for instance http://www.ncfap.org/40CaseStudies.htm)

Moreover, there is ample scientific consensus on the safety of GM food:
see for instance petitions at http://www.AgBioword.org vs
http://www.psrast.org. While the first one is signed by many world expert
in the field of molecular Biology, plant breeding and toxicology (relevant
fields) and almost 20 Nobel prize (more than 3000 altogether), the second
does show only 1/10th of signatures with very few qualified individuals in
the above mentioned fields, none being an authority in the field, to my
knowledge. Most of these scientists are not scientists (e.g. students) or
they are scientists in fields irrelevant to the expertise required
(geologist, pediatrics, computer scientists...etc). See the last signature
list available http://www.psrast.org/w1sign.htm

I now come to the consequence of this:

"The Africans are worried about the safety of the GM corn and the possible
contamination of their existing corn strains through unsupervised planting
and hybridization from pollen drift. Such widespread genetic pollution has
allegedly already occurred in the genetic heartland of corn, southern
Mexico. "

The so called 'genetic contamination' mentioned in the editorial, even
though possible, has not been demonstrated. The evidence proposed for this
(the nature paper by Quist and Chapela) has been rejected by the journal
itself because it was flawed. Even if it were true, it would be no trouble
for the reasons expressed above: no cultivated plant is a weed and
therefore if you do not care about it, it will die out. Being obsessed by
the genetic purity is not a trait peculiar to the catholic church, but by
a somewhat different world view. Africans may be worried about possible
contamination of local strains, but because they are afraid of loosing
rich market.

The fact that Zambian Jesuits would accept the US corn if milled is the
demonstration that they do not bother about possible health effects (these
should not be affected by milling) but only about possible environmental
and economical effects. Caring more about a few local varieties (for which
US corn is not a threat, because local varieties are lost not because of
genetic contamination, but because farmers do not plant low yielding
varieties any longer) or lost export market to Europe does not seem to me
a sensible strategy when human lives are not at stake

Last but not least "The Americans want the desperately poor to accept a
product some corporations in the U.S. are desperate to get rid of:
genetically modified corn. GM food is outlawed in the European Union and
Japan and would likely prove a hard sale in the U.S. if labeling laws
allowed consumers to find out about the Frankenfoods they were putting in
their mouths. "

First of all, this is the very same food you are eating everyday and it is
more healthy (in the case of corn) because of a reduced mycotoxin content:
the fact that the european corn borer is not entering the corn plant
because of the Bt modification allows less fungal contamination and
mycotoxin production. Second, if you have a better alternative to provide,
please do it, otherwise do not suggest, as you do in the editorial, that
Africans should eat something you do not even know whether it exists
(according to my information there is no ample supply of GM free corn in
the region or available on the international markets).

If these people refuse the US corn and then dont find an alternative, they
will experience hunger and death. Third, GM corn and soy are consumed by
us and our herds daily in the EU. We are major importers of corn and soy
and we process part of these commodities into food. They are not outlawed.
What it is forbidden in some countries ( but not Spain and a few others)
is the cultivation. But this is again because of fantasy-based threats to
the environment or economic competition. A catholic farmer organisation
leader has plainly admitted in fron of me that they use the fear of GMOs
to help the survival (they simply eliminate the competition).

As the catholic world in Italy fell in love with Marxism about 30 years
ago, now the environmental creed seems to be the fashion. But neither one,
nor the other have much to share with the living Christ, present and
active in his Church. As the Marxism, also the environmentalism will
eventually die out. How many will however be dead by then? I urge you to
carefully check the scientific soundness of your statements, because it
can have bad consequences for many. Abandoning reason will not cause an
increase in faith, but rather the reverse.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Piero Morandini, PhD
Department of Biology prof in Plant Biotechnology at the University of
Milan

==================

January 17, 2003

Editor U.S. Catholic 205 West Monroe Street Chicago, IL 60606

Dear Editor:

In the January 2003 issue of U.S. Catholic, Mr. Kevin Clarke wrote an
editorial about US food aid and transgenic maize. Since 1997, I have
concentrated my research, speaking, and teaching on the law and policy of
agricultural biotechnology. I am a practicing Catholic and beneficiary of
Catholic education for thirteen of my 20 years of formal education. Mr.
Clarke's editorial was incorrect on facts and misinformed on policy.

The US food aid offered to Zambia is the same food that has been approved
by governmental regulatory agencies in Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan,
Mexico, South Africa, the United States and many other nations. Mr.
Clarke's statement that the food is outlawed outside Zambia is factually
incorrect.

Southern Africa is in a devastating food crisis. Food supplies of maize
locally are basically not available and the supplies that are available
reflect the short supply by demanding very high prices. When people are
poor, it is not sensible or ethical to suggest to them that they buy even
higher priced food. Mr. Clarke s implications of available maize are
factually incorrect.

Food available in other nations blessed with surplus maize, such as the
United States, ethically should be shared to alleviate famine. Sharing
surplus grain through the World Food Program - whose implementing partner
in Zambia is Catholic Relief Services - was precisely what the United
States attempted to do for hungry Zambians until the Zambian government
rejected the maize on bogus science and fears induced by organizations
such as Food First. The Zambian government rejected the grain, not the
starving Zambians who are desperately eating grass and poisonous roots to
survive. The Zambian government rejected the maize for nshima, the staple
food (a maize porridge) eaten by southern Zambians, not the southern
Zambians.

While Mr. Clarke cited a policy statement from the South African Bishop s
Conference, Mr. Clarke did not mention that the Pontifical Academy for
Life and the Pontifical Academy for Science have both endorsed
agricultural biotechnology as ethically imperative to feed the poor of the
world. He failed to identify the New Zealand Bishop s Conference and
Filipino bishops Jesus Varela and Teodoro Bacani as supporters of
agricultural biotechnology. Similarly, Archibishop Renato Martino (until
recently the Vatican representative to the United Nations) has urged the
Zambian government to permit the people to eat US maize.

Even more egregious, Mr. Clarke does not inform his readers that the
Zambia Catholic Episcopal Conference has condemned the Zambian government
for feeding the people with words while failing to address the famine.
Rather Mr. Clarke took his cue from Food First, an activist organization
so bitterly opposed to agricultural biotechnology that they prefer the
politics of starvation to the ethics of compassion found in Matthew 25:
31-46 (The Last Judgment) and Luke 16: 19-31 (The Rich Man and Lazarus).
Sincerely yours,

Drew L. Kershen Earl Sneed
Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law

=====================

At a time when millions face the threat of starvation in Africa, the
article appearing in your last issue, 'Heed the Hungry ' by Kevin Clarke,
is so full of wrong information and bias it merits a response.

I will begin with claim that GM food is outlawed in the European Union and
Japan. Flat wrong, and the bottom line is that Japan is major importer of
GM corn from the US, while both Japan and the European Union are major
importers of GM soybeans from the US.

Kevin Clarke continues by saying that GM foods would likely prove a hard
sale in the U.S. if labeling laws allowed consumers to find out about the
Frankenfoods they were putting in their mouths. Fortunately, consumers in
the United States are protected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
which clearly insists US consumers must be allowed to find out what they
are putting in their mouths. It just so happens that genetic modification
is a process it is not a product. Sometimes this process will change our
food in which case the FDA does require labeling, and the rest of the time
it does not change the food, which is the case with the current GM maize
on the market.

GM foods are thoroughly tested for safety before they are approved for
marketing. Furthermore, corn from the US has been delivered to Africa for
years it is just now that it has become an issue. Corn is not native to
Africa there are no native species to contaminate. On the US side,
planting of GM corn is maintaining the economic viability of rural
communities, leading to huge reductions in the use of pesticides, and
fostering the use of ecologically friendly framing techniques. The message
has gotten through to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which agrees
that GM foods have a role to play in solving world hunger.

Why then is it that 'The Africans are worried about the safety of the GM
corn when they have no need to be?'. They are worried because various
groups like US Catholic and people like Kevin Clark do not bother to
verify their facts and shamelessly spread falsehoods. The same can be said
about other Catholic groups, such as the South African Bishop s conference
and the Jesuits in Zambia. As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed and
distressed at the uninformed and misguided actions of my fellow Catholics.

LIVES ARE AT STAKE!!!! It is at times like this when the need is
particularly great for US Catholic and Kevin Clarke verify their
information before spreading it as if it were Gospel.

Wayne Parrott,
PhD Professor,
Department of Crop & Soil Sciences and Center for Applied Genetic
Technology
The University of Georgia

====================

Dear Mr. Clarke:

The article 'Heed the hungry' is an embarrassment to the U.S. Catholic
and, in the context of a Catholic publication, amounts to a betrayal of
the Church. Furthermore, it is so riddled with falsehoods that it would be
an embarrassment for any publication whatsoever.

I am used to hearing mealy-mouthed justifications for starving the hungry
from activist groups like Food First, which gladly countenance mob
violence and starvation to advance an anti-corporate agenda, but to hear a
fellow Catholic take a political position that contributes to starvation
is beyond belief. What you are saying boils down to this: we in the US
should not give Africans the chance to eat the same food that we eat,
because of African sovereignty. Is it legitimate for a sovereign to starve
his own people? Should a father give his son a stone when he asks for
bread? (Matthew 7:9)

This fallacious political argument in favor of perpetuating hunger
receives no support from the falsehoods you parade as facts. GM food is
not outlawed in the European Union or Japan. As a matter of fact, they are
major customers of the US and purchase substantial quantities of GM corn
and soybeans. US corporations are not desperate to get rid of the bounty
provided by GM crops; the US is the world s leading exporter of grain,
much of which is GM. To call such crops Frankenfoods is merely vacuous
disparagement. Presumably, you are unimpressed by simple facts, such as
that billions have consumed GM corn and soybeans since 1996 without so
much as a rash or a sniffle. During that period, how many have died for
lack of food? How can you possibly advocate compounding that death toll
over pointless doubts about foods that have been proven safe, and actually
beneficial for farmers and the environment?

USAID never could have responded to the crisis in Africa by buying up and
distributing regional surpluses. There simply isn t enough there, and
scarcity has driven the price so high that it is not only beyond the means
of the starving, it is vastly more expensive than what is available on
international markets. And on international markets, only the US produces
enough corn most of it commingled with GM varieties to make up for Africa
s shortfall. There is, literally, no other option. And there is neither
money nor time enough to reconfigure all of US agriculture into an
identity-preserved system to both satisfy your political predilections and
avert starvation in Africa.

It is really quite brazen to suggest that Africans should starve rather
than be invaded by 'American corporations hungry to open new markets.'
What on God's green Earth makes you think that Africa is a market to
salivate over? They're starving because they can't afford to buy food!
What kind of market is that?

Finally, I would remind you that the Pontifical Academy approves of using
genetic engineering in agriculture, so long as it serves the needs of
mankind. Why would you willfully overlook the simple fact that GM crops
are approved by the foremost scholars of the Church?

Lending your voice to those such as Food First, who abet starvation, is
shameful; and titling your article 'Heed the hungry' is perverse.

- Andrew Apel* agbionews@earthlink.net

*The opinions above are not expressed in my capacity as editor of
AgBiotech Reporter, but as a Catholic.

==================

Dear Editor,

I read the on-line version of the editorial 'Heed the hungry' written by
Kevin Clarke and published by you this month. As a Catholic, and also as a
scientist, I was really upset by the reading.

My first question was 'How is it possible for a man that is trying to
follow the truth, to write such things? and secondly Why? ' I believed it
would be near to impossible for a Catholic, but also for a man, to justify
hunger, but Clarke was able to do it.

He wants to convince us that for Zambians it is better to die, and
preserve their export market, rather than eating the dangerous GM corn,
but. What have they to export? Really not corn. FAO told us they have a
long tradition as a net corn importer
(http://apps.fao.org/cgi-bin/nph-db.pl?subset=agriculture), and so what
other export commodities could be endangered by GM maize? Can maize
hybridise with cotton?

But coming back to the Zambians preference to death. this statement is
false for a simple reason:

Even if the Government has declared to reject the GM food, Zambia citizens
have decided instead to test its dangerousness by themselves stealing it
from the stores, despite the soldiers. A S. Thomas syndrome?

Some other consideration has to be done to try a clarification on how
things are really going on GMOs and Zambia:

1. Talking about the EU position on GMOs, the facts belie Clarke s words.
First, there are 14 GM events already approved in EU (www.agbios.com - GM
Database). Second, in November 21, the EU Parliament asked also for the
stop of the de facto moratorium
(http://www3.europarl.eu.int/omk/omnsapir.so/calendar?APP=PDF&TYPE=PV2&FILE=
p0021121IT.pdf&LANGUE=EN (46)).

2. For what about 'genetic pollution' by GM maize in Africa, probably
Clarke forgot, even if he cited it, that maize IS NOT a typical African
crop, it comes from America. Why Clarke, as the crusader of the 'common
agriculture heritage ' do not recommend to stop also the cultivation of
maize in Africa to preserve the local agricultural tradition? (and why not
to stop also potatoes in Europe and soybeans in America?).

Clarke seems to forgot that - AGRICULTURE is the man invention that has
broken the natural equilibrium in the ecosystem more than 10,000 years
ago. Is THAT 'damage reversible?' Could he explain to us what GMOs add to
THAT 'damage ?' To this I would remember that the EU Commission in 2000
has published a report of a 15-years study on GMOs that state they behave
as all the other cultivated plants, both from a toxicological and
environmental point of view
(http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/quality-of-life/gmo/). On the other
hand an US report demonstrate that in 2001 the GM crops have reduced, only
in the US, the pesticide use of 21.000 tons (from NCFAP,
http://www.ncfap.org/40CaseStudies.htm). It seems to be a great goal, even
in respect to THAT damage we have discussed before, for these
'Frankenfoods' (as Clarke, as a Food First fan, likes to call them).

In the text there is also a reference to the Nature paper about Oaxaca,
Mexico. In his rushy job Clarke forgot to mention that Nature published a
rebuttal of that paper. Just another oversight?

A couple of months ago I talked with a Zambian scientist about their
situation, he caustically said: as always happens, it depends on who has
to eat. . Probably Clarke has no problem in finding his daily bread and
feels himself free to justify that some brothers could have.

Sincerely yours,

Davide Ederle Biotechnologist,
Secretary of Scientific Committee for Plant Biotechnology, Lombardy Region
(Italy)
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feed the hungry; Letter to the Editor

By Andrew S. Natsios

As head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I would
like to respond to the January Margin Notes, "Heed the hungry" by Kevin
Clarke. I am deeply concerned about Clarke's misinformation and the
inflammatory nature of his piece. Neither is in the spirit of corporal
works of mercy.

U.S. food aid is not, and should not be, a route to promoting
biotechnology. But neither should anti-biotechnology interest hijack the
tragic situation of the famine in southern Africa.

First, Clarke accuses the United States of dumping bioengineered corn on
Africa because no one else wants it. This is patently untrue. U.S. corn
supplies were so tight, due to reduced production resulting from drought,
that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which procures grain for food
aid, had to obtain a special humanitarian waiver to buy corn for food aid.

Secondly, Clarke suggests that bioengineered corn in food aid will take
over African agriculture and place African farmers at the mercy of
multinational corporations. Corn grown in the U.S. and sent as U.S. food
aid is neither well adapted to grow under African conditions nor an
acceptable food of southern Africans except in times of hardship. In
eastern and southern Africa, where people prefer white corn, yellow corn
has the stigma of being "famine food."

The U.S. government has provided the best food we grow, that which we
ourselves eat. We have respected the decision of Zambia's president to
refuse our food aid, and we are still providing what alternative
commodities we can.

Finally, last year the Vatican's own Pontifical Academy of Sciences
concluded, "There is nothing intrinsic about genetic modification that
would cause food products to be unsafe."

In the long run, biotechnology may be one of the tools that helps African
nations develop their own indigenous agricultural and food systems such
that famine is just a distant memory. In the meantime, there is no
possible justification for making biotechnology an obstacle in feeding the
hungry--something which our nation, blessed with great abundance, is
called to do.

Andrew S. Natsios, Administrator
U.S. Agency for International Development
Washington, D. C.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 14:58:27 -0300
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Ge environmental impacts study

The note below appeared on Agnet June 11. I was wondering if anyone knew
whether the study would be looking at the movement of crop plant genes
other than just the RR transgenes into soil microorganisms as a point of
comparison with (or baseline measure for) transgene movement. After all,
if genes escape, then ANY plant might be leaking genes, not just
transgenes. Also, if they were looking at Bt genes, I would be curious how
the researchers would go about differentiating between "escaped" Bt
transgenes and naturally-occuring Bt in the soil. What was the original
source of Roundup resistance genes, and might this also occur naturally in
the soil as well? Finally, even if the researchers can and do detect
translocation of crop transgenes, how will they tell if these are having
an environmental effect (adverse or otherwise), much less quantify the
impact? I look forward to hearing some clarification from someone in the
know about this study.

BOB
-------------

ONTARIO PROF TO STUDY EFFECT OF GM CROPS ON FARM SOIL AND INSECTS

June 11, 2003
The Edmonton Journal
A12 Tom Spears

OTTAWA - Canada is, according to this story, investing nearly $600,000 to
learn whether genetically modified crops -- already approved and grown for
years on thousands of Canadian farms -- are damaging farm soils. The story
says that the big question is whether GM crops are passing their genes to
the natural underground microbes which make soil productive by breaking
down dead plants and helping live plants absorb vital nutrients. This has
never been tested, even though genetically modified corn, soybeans, canola
and other crops have been approved for commercial growing across Canada.
In 2000, GM crops were planted on about 40 million hectares of land in
Canada, the U.S. and Argentina, and their use has grown since then.
Clarence Swanton, a University of Guelph professor of plant agriculture,
was quoted as writing in a summary of his project that, "If the use of GM
crops continues to grow in Canada, it is imperative that we understand the
environmental consequences."

A letter from the Ontario Soybean Growers was quoted as saying, "We would
like to ascertain that we are not compromising the long-term
sustainability of our soils or causing genetic alteration of beneficial
soil organisms." The story explains that at Guelph, Swanton will focus on
two Roundup Ready crops -- corn and soybeans with an added gene making
them resistant to Roundup, a common weed killer. Farmers can plant Roundup
Ready corn, spray Roundup herbicide, and kill everything in the field
except the corn. But bacteria, viruses and other microbes are adept at
picking up genes from other organisms they meet, from humans and animals
to other bacteria. Swanton's proposal says some scientists are afraid
inserted genes might pass into the soil microbes, with unknown results.
"However, no scientific evidence exists to either support or refute this
claim." The funding comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council, Canada's federal science funding body. Documents
outlining the project came to light through an access to information
request by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 12:19:46 -0400
From: "Charles M. Rader"
Subject: Monbiot on glyphosate

George Monbiot's column revives the story that glyphosate is linked to
non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In fact, he mutates this claim slightly, now saying
that it increases the risk of NHL.

Perhaps someone should send Mr. Monbiot a nice letter something like this:

Dear George,

I was surprised to see you mention, in your column, a supposed connection
between glyphosate and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This ``link'' is widely
publicized by the anti-GMO community. I was interested enough to look up
the paper, written by Hardell and Eriksson . I read the paper about a year
ago. It's not convenient for me to look it up again, but I made some notes
at the time. The authors collected questionnaires from 404 NHL victims and
741 from a control group without the disease. They asked to which
agricultural chemicals they had been exposed. In all, eight responders
mentioned glyphosate, four of the patients and four from the control
group.

I'm guessing that you don't have training in statistics (and if you do, I
apologize for patronizing), but I find that sometimes it's easy to
understand data like this when the context is changed. Imagine that the
questionnaire had asked not about herbicides but about newspaper
columnists.

``The authors collected questionnaires from NHL victims and from a control
group without the disease. They asked which newspaper columnists they read
frequently. Four of the 404 NHL patients mentioned George Monbiot, and in
the control group four of the 741 mentioned him.''

Would you take that as meaningful evidence that reading your columns
causes NHL? Of course not.

Of course Hardell and Eriksson recognized that this was statistically
meaningless and they said so in their paper. For certain other herbicides
and fungicides, they did find a correlation with NHL and they said so.

I'm providing you a web link to the abstract of the paper in question:

http://www.mindfully.org/Pesticide/Non-Hodgkin-Lymphoma-Pesticides.htm

Notice that the abstract doesn't even mention glyphosate.

George, I've made myself well informed about the controversy surrounding
genetically modified food. I think that the NHL `link' with glyphosate is
just `spin' meant to discredit genetically modified soybeans. It is sadly
typical. I would go so far as to say that ANYTHING you hear about
genetically modified food, whether pro or con, is likely to be deceptive
propaganda! If you come upon other stories about genetically modified
food, feel free to pick my brains.

Charles M. Rader
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://www.blonnet.com/2003/06/10/stories/2003061000381100.htm

`Farmers will decide future of GM crops'

Hindu Business Line
June 9 , 2003

THE International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that farmers across the
world would decide the future of genetically-modified crops. Addressing a
press conference here on Monday, the Secretary General of the ISF, Dr
Bernard le Buanec, said farmers across the world, after seeing the
benefits of transgenic crops were in favour of the technology and were
demanding introduction of genetically-modified crops.

"Farmers are not against GM crops, they are demanding it...whether it is
in Brazil, where they have six million hectares of GM soyabean despite
being banned or in Europe... Biotechnology and genetic modification is a
tool to improve plant varieties and it is being accepted," Dr Le Buanec
said.

He called upon the media and anti-GM activists not to make "a mountain of
the issue." "GM is not a technology that could solve the problems of the
world. It is not a tool that will solve the world...if the farmer finds it
good and not endangering the environment, he will favour," he said.

According to Mr Le Buanec the "mad cow disease" scare in Europe and the
episode of contaminated blood in France had "aggravated opposition to GM
crops."

Dr Christopher Ahrens, President, ISF, said though there were initial
outcries of Bt cotton in the US, the situation had changed now with nearly
80 per cent of the produce being the GM crop. Mr Ahrens said India had
immense potential to emerge as a major seed producer. The base was being
set up for India to play a major role in the world market, by enacting a
legislation for plant variety protection and quality testing seed
laboratories accredited to the International Seed Testing Agency, he said.

Mr Deepak Mullick, Managing Director, Advanta India, and member of Indian
Seeds Federation, said advance booking for Bt cotton seeds in the country
this year had gone up by nearly 10 times. Bt cotton was being planted this
year in one lakh acres, nearly 10 times more than last year, Mr Mullick
said adding, "We cannot say the technology is not good. It is for the
farmer to decide"

Mr Mullick said Indian seed exports would grow ten- fold to touch $200
million by 2005 from the current level of $20 million. Two more testing
laboratories would be accredited to the international agency, besides the
one already functioning in the city, he said.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 10:54:21 -0500
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: Regulating biotechnology as though gene function mattered

American Institute of Biological Sciences
BioScience
May 1, 2003
Vol. 53; Pg. 453
Regulating biotechnology as though gene function mattered; Viewpoint.
Steven H. Strauss

Although nearly every aspect of agriculture with genetically engineered
crops seems to generate some kind of controversy, scientists agree on one
score: The diversity of genes, the phenotypes they give rise to, and the
biology of crops make generic statements of risk or benefit--even generic
approaches to risk assessment--useless. It all depends. This complexity
has prompted most regulatory schemes to consider genetically engineered
crops case by case.

But this practice--evaluation on a crop-by-crop, trait-by-trait
basis--imposes serious costs on society. It lends credibility to the idea
that all genetically engineered products are more dangerous than
conventionally bred crops. (If they are not more dangerous, many people
reason, why would governments choose to intensively regulate all of them?)
Moreover, the requirements for data on safety are much the same for
familiar types of genes as for those transgenes that are truly novel. The
consequent high costs may effectively preclude the development of many
small-market, genetically engineered crops that could, cumulatively, have
enormous social benefit.

In this issue of BioScience, Jim Hancock suggests a sensible way to
improve the process of assigning risk, and thus implicitly to improve
regulatory schemes--namely, place the emphasis on the transgenic trait,
the crop host, and the presence of wild relatives (Hancock 2003). He also
proposes that large classes of transgenic crops, depending on their gene
and crop biology, be exempted from requirements for most kinds of
environmental studies. Although no categorical system will be perfect in
the face of the extraordinary variation inherent to genetics and
agriculture, Hancock makes some important recommendations for ways to move
forward. Several of his conclusions are worthy of repetition as well as
scrutiny.

New compartments are needed

There is no such thing as sustainability, at least in the sense of
stability, when it comes to breeding. The world keeps changing, society's
food and fiber needs keep changing, pests and climates keep changing, and
thus breeders keep their jobs. If the kinds of costly requirements that
are in place for genetically engineered crops were to be imposed on the
inherently incremental process of breeding--if each field experiment were
tightly regulated and each new variety required years of testing and
government approval--there would be no breeding. Most scientists would
agree that such regulations would not serve society's needs well at all.
But genetic engineering, by making it possible to transfer genes across
vast taxonomic boundaries, enables the production of new products and thus
new risks. The question facing society is what kinds of new compartments
can be constructed to allow the breeding process to accelerate in the
light of genomics knowledge and genetic engineering, while avoiding or
restricting those applications with high risks because of their ecological
or toxicological novelty. Hancock in effect proposes subcompartments of
genetically engineered crops to facilitate regulatory consideration. His
proposal follows the "product not process paradigm that the ecological and
genetic science communities have long insisted on (NRC 2002), but rather
than considering every new transgene--crop combination independently,
Hancock sorts them into biologically rational groups.

Let "domestication genomics" go forth

Hancock suggests that some kinds of genes in some kinds of crops need to
be highly restricted or even forbidden. But he also recognizes that large
classes of genes have a high level of environmental safety. He states that
"genes with detrimental effects will be selected against in the natural
environment and will not spread. Many of the traits associated with crop
domestication fall into this category... Examples of transgenes that fit
into the detrimental category are male sterility, altered fiber quality,
changes in lignin biosynthesis, and altered fruit ripening and storage
characteristics." He argues that such traits will not spread significantly
because of their deleterious effects, and thus will have little
environmental impact on wild plant populations. He also points out that
there are some cases where wild populations of native plants are very
small and thus could be subject to swamping, and that these might require
special protections. However, in most cases domestication traits present a
large frontier that genomics empowered genetic engineering (Strauss 2003)
could move along with little or no regulatory oversight. These traits have
also been the subject of modification by breeding in many crops and so are
familiar in their phenotypic effects.

Breeders deserve respect

Breeders continuously induce the _expression of rare mutations through
inbreeding. They also reassort genes and chromosomes brought together by
hybridizations among diverse, and ecologically and toxicologically
distinct, populations and species. Yet breeding's record is one of
socially acceptable levels of environmental and food safety. Hancock
states that "in spite of many substantial advances in breeding for
resistance to pests, drought, cold, and salinity, studies have not yet
shown that the native fitness of the wild species was noticeably changed
through hybridization with the crop progenitor." This is probably why
there have been no calls to impose significant regulations on plant
breeding.

By selecting integrated phenotypes and drawing on alleles from hundreds of
populations and often from many species, breeders are tapping into
variation in untold numbers of metabolic and developmental pathways. In
contrast, genetic engineers often try to modify one or a few genes toward
some laboratory version of a sought-after trait such as drought
resistance. And because the regulatory genes that tend to be of most
interest to genetic engineers for modifying physiology are deleterious
unless regulated precisely, the record to date is largely one of impaired,
rather than improved, plant performance (e.g., Chen and Murata 2002). This
suggests that genetic engineers will have to work extremely hard if they
are to move agronomic traits further than breeders, now empowered by
candidate gene and marker-aided selection, are able to do. This should
both humble genetic engineers and inspire a relaxation of government
regulations when genetic engineering methods are used to modify native or
homologous genes and pathw ays.

Natural selection also deserves respect

Hancock states that "transgenes that change the environmental tolerance of
a species or alter its patterns of growth and development could result in
dramatic adaptive shifts and have a major impact on fitness. For example,
juvenility in trees might be reduced by over-_expression of a regulatory
gene such as LEAFY,...allowing for earlier reproduction and possibly
greater overall reproductive success because of more frequent flowering."
Sounds scary, but this kind of thinking assumes there is some dearth of
diversity for these traits in the wild. In fact, virtually all wild
species house large amounts of genetic diversity in stress tolerance and
developmental traits. With respect to flowering, there are few aspects of
development more important to the fitness of a plant than the decision to
reproduce. This decision is therefore subject to an extraordinarily
complex web of internal and environmental regulatory networks (Levy and
Dean 1998). As tree breeders know, there is plenty of genetic diversity in
time to fl owering, should natural selection see fit to change it.
However, they also know that dramatic changes in time of flowering, such
as those that LEAFY might impose, would create a tree unable to grow
rapidly and thus unable to compete successfully for light, which means it
would die after a short time. It is hard to beat natural selection unless
you have a real functional novelty to offer. And even then, to have a
large impact on a species and its associated organisms, the novelty must
spread widely--which means that it must continue providing a selective
advantage when it becomes common (i.e.. it is not likely to be rendered
useless by evolutionary, behavioral, or climatic changes). This is
unlikely to be the case with any of the engineered pest resistance genes
in commercial use today.

Scale matters

Hancock argues that the details of gene flow are largely irrelevant to
risk considerations, because genes will eventually get out. He states that
"the factors limiting gene flow between compatible relatives can be
largely ignored, as transgenes will eventually escape into the natural
environment if there is a compatible relative near the transgenic
crop,...unless the transgenic crop produces no viable gametes or has a
system incorporated that prevents embryo viability." However, it is
logical to expect that the scale of introduction is an important
determinant of the probability of spread, and this seems to be the case
for invasive exotic species. Species inserted into novel environments
multiple times appear to have a higher chance of successful establishment
(Sakai et al. 2001). We can also predict with high confidence that the
genetic confinement systems Hancock refers to will not provide absolute
containment. Are systems that provide 95 percent confinement adequate?
What about 99.999 percent? Most scientists would agree that systems that
highly restrict gene flow would make the risks of most transgenic crops
far more biologically acceptable; however, how much gene flow is tolerable
will depend on the function of the dispersed genes, the characteristics of
the recipient environments, and the time span under consideration. Very
modest amounts of gene flow restriction might be adequate for
modifications to native or closely homologous genes, or where
domestication traits are produced. The rate of gene flow does matter, but
the difficulty is in deciding how little is little enough. Unfortunately,
for some novel genes, estimating "negligibility" is anything but a little
task.

References cited

Chen THH, Murata N. 2002. Enhancement of tolerance of abiotic stress by
metabolic engineering of betaines and other compatible solutes. Current
Opinion in Plant Biology 5:250-257.

Hancock JF. 2003. A framework for assessing the risk of transgenic crops.
BioScience 53:512-519.

Levy YY, Dean C. 1998. The transition to flowering. Plant Cell 10:
1973--1989.

[NRC] National Research Council. 2002. Environmental Effects of Transgenic
Plants: The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation. Washington (DC): National
Academy Press.

Sakai AK, et al. 2001. The population biology of invasive species. Annual
Review of Ecology and Systematics 32:303-332.

Strauss SH. 2003. Genomics, genetic engineering, and domestication of
crops. Science 300:61-62.

Steven H. Strauss (e-mail: Steve.Strausss@orst.edu) is a professor of
molecular and cellular biology and of genetics in the Department of Forest
Science at Oregon State University, Corva