Today in AgBioView: June 20, 2003:
* Listen to Sound Science on Agricultural Technology
* Who Owns the Seeds?
* Talks Collapse on U.S. Efforts to Open Europe to Biotech Food
* Search for Grains of Truth
* The Killer Tomatoes Head for California Crop Summit
* Inside the Global Dome
* Agriculture, Hunger and Biotechnology: FoodFirst Discussion
* Greenpeace, Indian Protato, Puzstai..
* Prince Charles and 'Grey Goo'
* What We Have Learnt from Bt Cotton In China?
* Risk Assessment of GM plants: Avoiding Gridlock?
* U.S. Panel GM Moratorium, As Grassley Warns Egypt
* Tough Times Shut Down Turner Philanthropy
Listen to Sound Science on Agricultural Technology
'Agricultural Technology Conference in Sacramento'
- C. S. Prakash, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, San Francisco Chronicle,
Friday, June 20, 2003
Beginning Monday, government ministers from more than 100 countries will
join U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in Sacramento for the
Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology.
These international leaders are meeting to discuss the critical role
science and technology can play in improving agricultural productivity in
developing countries. Ultimately, the goal is to alleviate world hunger
and poverty in an environmentally sustainable way.
However, hundreds of misguided people also will likely travel to
Sacramento to protest a variety of issues, including the use of
biotechnology in agriculture. The theme of their gathering will be to
promulgate fear based on unsubstantiated and misleading information.
On behalf of the poor and starving in the developing world, we urge the
conference attendees to focus on the science and on each other. All too
often, the voices of protest drown out sound science and experience.
Anti-biotechnology groups have a history of lobbing emotionally charged
allegations, but the reality is that none of these groups has actually
provided any credible scientific evidence that would call into question
the safety of foods derived from biotech crops on the market or the
demonstrated benefits to the environment.
Instead, anti-biotechnology groups use their rhetoric and allegations to
advance their agenda, not to provide factual, informed perspectives.
Unfortunately, sometimes they prevail to the detriment of the environment
and the poorest and hungriest in the world, denying the benefits of less
pesticides, higher yields and greater sustainability.
The reality is that crops developed through plant biotechnology are among
the most well-tested, well-characterized and well-regulated food and fiber
products ever developed. This is the overwhelming consensus of the
international scientific community, including the British Royal Society,
the U. S. National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European
Commission, the French Academy of Medicine and the American Medical
Scientific and regulatory authorities all over the world have endorsed the
extensive and growing base of published scientific information that
upholds the safety and benefits of biotech crops and foods. Spreading
false and misleading information in an effort to polarize opinion is
irresponsible and does not serve the public good.
The public has a right to know that biotech crops and foods:
-- have been thoroughly assessed for food, feed and environmental safety
and found to be wholesome, nutritious and as safe as conventional crops
and foods by scientific and regulatory authorities throughout the world
(examples include insect-tolerant corn and cotton and herbicide-tolerant
-- have economic and environmental benefits that are significant and have
met the expectations of small and large farmers in both industrialized and
A study conducted by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy
in Washington found that biotechnology-derived soybeans, corn, cotton,
papaya, squash and canola increased the U.S. food production by 4 billion
pounds, saved $1.2 billion in production costs and decreased the usage of
pesticide by a whopping 46 million pounds in the year 2001 alone. Biotech
crops are now grown on 58 million hectares in 16 countries, and more than
three-quarters of the 5.5 million growers who benefited from these crops
were resource-poor farmers in the developing world. For instance, South
African farmers are already growing transgenic pest-resistant maize, and
this year began planting transgenic soy. South African, Mexican and
Chinese farmers have been growing transgenic insect-resistant cotton for
several years, and the Indian government approved it for commercial
cultivation in spring 2002.
Governments should thus resist the temptation to be distracted, and
instead focus on the real work that's needed in order to take advantage of
On hand to advise the ministerial delegates in Sacramento will be many
scientific experts with direct experience in applying science and
technology to food agriculture. And 40 of the countries represented are
already so convinced of the safety and benefits of biotechnology that they
approved field testing, import or commercial production of crops. This is
an important opportunity for the governments of the world to exchange data
and experiences with each other, and to resolve jointly to let sound
Biotech crops complement conventional agricultural production systems and
together can help to provide cost-effective and sustainable productivity
gains necessary to help meet the growing food, feed and fiber demands of
the 21st century.
C.S. Prakash is a professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee
University and director of its Center for Plant Biotechnology Research.
Martina Newell-McGloughlin is director of the University of California
Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program at UC Davis.
'Who Owns the Seeds?'
- Percy Schmeiser, San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 2003
Next week, the U.S. government is convening a ministerial-level conference
on agricultural science and technology in Sacramento. I will also be
coming to Sacramento, but not to participate in the conference. Rather, I
will be there to speak with ministers, elected officials, activists and
community members about my opposition to the biotechnology agenda of the
U.S. government and the biotech industry being advanced in Sacramento.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference will
"focus on the critical role science and technology can play in raising
agricultural productivity in developing countries," and to "broaden
participants' knowledge and understanding of relevant science and
technology, including biotechnology."
As a third-generation farmer in Canada who has been growing canola for
more than 40 years, I consider myself knowledgeable about agricultural
productivity. And as a farmer who is being sued by the Monsanto
Corporation for nearly $200, 000 for "stealing" its bioengineered seeds, I
know significantly more than I ever intended about biotechnology.
As my family has done for generations, I grow crops by using the seeds
from one year's harvest in the next planting season. This practice is
known as "seed saving." When we share the seeds with other farmers, it's
"seed sharing, " and when we trade seeds, it's "seed trading." Where we
see a traditional, communal, sustainable technique practiced by farmers
for millennia, multinational biotech corporations see big bucks.
Farmers who use Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola seed, which is
bioengineered to contain a gene that protects the crop from the herbicide
Roundup (also manufactured by Monsanto), must sign a contract with
Monsanto promising that they will buy new seed from Monsanto every year.
They cannot save, share or trade their seeds. The seeds, in other words,
belong to Monsanto, not to the farmer.
I have learned the hard way that one of the main problems with GE
(genetically engineered) crops is that it is impossible to keep their
seeds and pollen from spreading to fields with non-GE crops. The seeds get
blown by wind or passing trucks, or they get mixed with non-GE crops by
accident or any number of other means of cross-contamination. In other
words, there is no guarantee of containment of GE crops; ultimately they
will spread throughout a given area. This is what happened to me. And,
sooner or later, it will happen everywhere else.
In 1998, private investigators from Monsanto trespassed on my land to
collect samples from my fields. They found Roundup Ready canola. I never
put those plants on my land, but they claim to have found them there
anyway. Now they are suing me for stealing their seed. Mine is just one of
more than 550 lawsuits in North America Monsanto has filed against farmers
under similar charges.
In addition to growing canola, I have been a canola seed developer for 50
years and have developed my own special varieties. This work was all
destroyed through contamination by Monsanto seeds. Now Monsanto has my
Basically, the right to use our own seed has been taken away. The question
is, where do Monsanto's rights end and mine begin? Monsanto wanted to
settle out of court, but I refused and instead launched a countersuit.
Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada announced it would hear my appeal.
I'm continuing this fight for myself, but also for the majority of
farmers, particularly those in developing countries who cannot afford
Monsanto's seeds and the chemical fertilizers and pesticides needed to
grow them. If GE seeds get into their fields, what are they going to do?
What rights do they have?
Dependence on the biotech industry is the opposite of food security and
safety. It encourages monopolies and must be opposed in Sacramento and
everywhere else it is proposed.
Percy Schmeiser is a canola farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada.
Talks Collapse on U.S. Efforts to Open Europe to Biotech Food
- David Leonhardt, NY Times, June 20, 2003
Talks between the United States and the European Union over opening up
Europe to genetically modified foods broke down in Geneva today, the Bush
administration announced, heightening trans-Atlantic tensions.
American officials said they would soon request that the World Trade
Organization convene a panel to hear their case, in an effort to end a ban
that farm groups say is depriving agricultural businesses of hundreds of
billions of dollars a year.
The Bush administration called Europe's policy illegal, saying that
scientific research had shown genetically altered crops to be safe. The
European Union "denies choices to European consumers," Richard Mills, a
spokesman for the United States trade representative, Robert Zoellick,
said in a statement today. European officials said the long-term effects
of altered food remained uncertain. They said they were disappointed by
the administration's publicizing of the dispute.
The food dispute is one of a handful of trade fights between the United
States and Europe and comes as tensions linger over the war in Iraq, which
many European countries opposed. Trade officials also continue to haggle
over steel tariffs imposed by the Bush administration last year, farm
subsidies on both sides of the Atlantic, and an American law that reduces
taxes for companies with overseas operations, among other issues.
"There have never been more of these litigations than there are right
now," Robert E. Lighthizer, a trade lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate,
Meagher & Flom in Washington, said of the disputes. He said the
relationship was "extremely contentious."
American and European officials met in Geneva today for a round of
negotiations, known as a consultation, after the United States filed suit
at the W.T.O. over the issue last month. Today's announcement means that
the trade organization will soon begin selecting a panel of judges to hear
the case, although a decision is likely to take months.
Genetically modified food --which can grow more quickly than traditional
crops and can be resistant to insects --has caused scant controversy in
the United States, where people eat it every day. Almost 40 percent of all
corn planted in this country in genetically modified.
In Europe, however, the environmental movement is more powerful, and a
series of food problems, including mad cow disease, have made people far
more skeptical of assurances of safety from governments and businesses.
Some food packages there bear the label "GM free," and the initials are
well enough known to be used regularly in headlines in British newspapers.
The European Commission has permitted the use of some genetically modified
foods, like soybeans, in the last decade, but has effectively placed a
moratorium on most new products.
The Bush administration and agricultural businesses view the policy as
simple protectionism because American companies, which dominate the
biotechnology industry,would benefit most from lifting the ban. Without
it, American companies would export about $300 billion more in corn each
year than they do now, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Scientific research has generally shown that genetically modified foods do
not cause health problems.
"Countries shouldn't be able to erect barriers for nonscientific reasons,"
Don Lipton, a spokesman for the farm federation, said. "That's a very
important principle in international trade."
In a speech last month, President Bush escalated the dispute by saying
that Europe's policy was undermining efforts to fight hunger in Africa.
African nations, fearing their products would be shunned by Europe, are
avoiding developing genetically modified food that might help feed the
continent, he said. "European governments should join, not hinder, the
great cause of ending hunger in Africa," he said in the speech.
European diplomats reacted angrily to Mr. Bush's comments, saying that
their health concerns were serious and noting that European nations spend
a greater part of their budget on foreign aid than the United States.
European officials have also said that they are surprised that the United
States has highlighted the dispute recently. This summer, the European
Parliament is scheduled to consider a measure that would establish strict
labeling rules for genetically modified products, which could allow more
of them to be sold.
Europe's resistance to modified crops received a political lift last week
when a global treaty restricting them was approved. Although it is not
clear what effect the treaty, known as the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety, will have on the trade dispute, it is likely to make it easier
for countries to restrict importing the crops, trade experts say.
The United States, worried about the treaty's impact on American
exporters, agreed only reluctantly to support it when it was negotiated in
2000. Announcing that the talks between Europe and the United States had
broken down today, Mr. Mills, the trade representative's spokesman, said
in his statement that he was "disappointed but not surprised." He added,
"We'll be moving forward with requesting a panel" to decide the case.
Willy Helin, a European Commission spokesman, said that European officials
had explained their policy fully to the United States delegation today,
but that they had expected the dispute to reach the next level. "This is a
first formal step," he said.
Argentine officials, who have joined the United States in filing the
W.T.O. case, also attended today's talks, Mr. Helin said. But other
nations that have previously criticized Europe's position, including
Egypt, did not, he said.
Search for Grains of Truth: 'The boffins are trying to provide 'sound
science' on GM crops'
- John Mason, Financial Times, FT.com Jun 19, 2003
Scientists round the world have become increasingly frustrated that their
voices are drowned out in the rows over genetically modified crops. So
last week they pronounced on the issue in the biggest review so far of the
evidence on agricultural biotechnology. They agreed that current GM foods
appear to be harmless to eat but fell out over the safety of future
products and the long-term environmental impact of genetically engineered
The report was the work of the International Council for Science, the
Paris-based federation of more than 100 national science academies. ICSU's
aim in this wide- ranging review was to show where scientists agree and
disagree on the risks and benefits of GM technology and where gaps in
The report, and at least two others to follow, should have a big impact.
Governments around the world are insistent that policy on GM should be
based on "sound science". But until now there has been no attempt to draw
together the research to establish where consensus lies. It is little
wonder, says ICSU, which includes the US National Academy of Science and
the UK's Royal Society, that public and politicians are confused.
The ICSU study will be followed next month by a similar report by a team
led by David King, the UK government's chief scientist. It will influence
how the UK handles Europe's likely lifting of its moratorium on GM crops.
But just how valuable are these reviews and how will they be received?
The ICSU report, which looked at more than 50 important research studies,
was generally welcomed as a good first attempt at providing a snapshot of
current scientific opinion.
On food safety, it reveals wide acceptance among scientists that current
GM foods are safe, despite consumer concerns. But there is no room for
complacency - more complex products, yet to reach the market, may carry
health risks, it warns. Also, problems in conducting post-market
surveillance mean there are still gaps in knowledge about long-term
effects on human health.
It is on long-term environmental risks that scientists continue to
disagree most. They do agree that GM crops will change the environment as
their pollen spreads. The argument is whether this matters. The possible
impact on biodiversity remains hotly disputed. And gaps in knowledge
remain, such as the lack of baseline ecological information to make
The ICSU report has been welcomed by bodies such as the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organisation. But some experts pointed out
limitations. One ecologist, for example, was disappointed by the lack of
detail given to his area of expertise, while a study suggesting that
modified proteins can pass through the human gut was not considered.
Gabrielle Persley, the report's author, says the report "is not exhaustive
but it is broad-ranging, capturing the majority of opinions across the
range". She adds another point of principle - that science can never
provide certainty. "One person's sound science is another's matter for
debate". This means the study must continue to be updated.
The UK science review will try to answer the same questions about
consensus and gaps in knowledge. It is expected to be more exhaustive than
the ICSU study, with more people involved and more research studied. Those
organising the review are confident it will have real value.
The difficulty, some fear, will be to make the science comprehensible to
the public. Both reports were drawn up by scientists reviewing the work of
colleagues. Another, far more ambitious, project is taking another tack.
The World Bank hopes to launch a review of all agricultural technologies
used around the globe - from GM to organic farming. This epic three-year
study will be led by Bob Watson, the bank's chief scientist.
Mr Watson has a reputation for leading scientific assessments that have
real impact . His previous work on ozone depletion and global warming led
directly to the Montreal and Kyoto protocols to tackle these problems.
He has learnt lessons about how science reviews can best influence the
outside world, he says. "The key question about any review of GM is: does
it have the full ownership of the scientific community and those who take
decisions about biotechnology?"
His approach raises big questions about how science is conducted. To gain
wide credibility, you must involve more than just scientists, he says. His
review will involve anyone from scientists to biotechnology executives and
small farmers and fishermen. Non-scientists will be involved from the
outset in deciding the scope of the project, through to writing and
peer-reviewing the results.
Mr Watson is certainly not rubbishing his scientific colleagues. But they
alone cannot always guarantee the "sound science" that politicians seek,
he suggests. "You should not talk just to scientists. The longer I live,
the more I realise that scientists are not the only people with knowledge
or who ask the right questions."
The Killer Tomatoes Head for California Crop Summit
- Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, June 20, 2003
Anti-globalisation and environmental protesters are planning to converge
on the Californian state capital, Sacramento, at the weekend to
demonstrate against a conference run and funded by the US government on
genetically modified food.
Protesters claim that the conference is a desperate attempt to save the
embattled GM food industry. The conference theme is the broadening of
"knowledge and understanding of agricultural science and technology ... to
raise agricultural productivity, alleviate hunger and famine and improve
More than 120 ministers, some senior, from 75 countries including Bolivia,
Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, India,
Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Uganda and
Venezuela are to attend. It is backed by the US state department, the
department of agriculture and the agency for international development
(USAid). Some 130 groups are mobilising, mainly to protest against what
they see as the conference's hidden agenda.
"The largely US-based bio-technology industry is in crisis," said Peter
Rosset, co-director of Food First, the Institute for Food and Development
Policy, a thinktank based in Oakland, California. "This conference is a
desperate attempt, at the taxpayers' expense, to prop up a failing
industry. The whole conference is pitched at developing countries."
Mr Rosset said that, with suspicion growing about GM food around the
world, the US government had decided to bail out the industry. He said
every country, with the exception of those deemed to be in the "axis of
evil", had been invited. Fares for two senior ministers from each country
were being paid by the US, he said. Significantly, western European
countries were not attending. Accusing the US of "trying to hijack a
UN-sponsored multilateral process", Mr Rosset suggested that American
taxpayers were effectively sponsoring "some of the richest companies on
earth in a trade fair".
Apart from the £1.8m cost of the conference, £600,000 is being allocated
for security to combat wide-ranging plans for non-violent protest. One
group planning to demonstrate is The Killer Tomatoes. Member Mary Bull
said yesterday: "The United States is trying to coerce poor African
nations into taking [GM foods]. It is a really significant conference from
that point of view and we have to show that food can be distributed in a
just and equitable way and not in the form of corporate-controlled and
pesticide-driven agriculture." She added: "Knowing the Sacramento police,
I'm sure there's going to be lots and lots of arrests."
The US department of agriculture did not respond to questions about the
claims by Food First and other groups, but it has argued in the past that
GM foods can help alleviate hunger at a time when some 600 million people
worldwide are malnourished. David Hegwood, counsel to the agriculture
secretary, has criticised western European countries for their current
moratorium on GM foods: "The fear of Europe is keeping food out of the
mouths of hungry people in Africa."
Proposed GM innovations likely to be discussed at the conference include
fruit and vegetables aimed at stimulating the immune system and rice that
would contain extra iron and vitamins. Such foods are an estimated five
years away from being available commercially.
Inside the Global Dome
- Ron Curran, News Review, June 12, 2003
Full article at ttp://www.newsreview.com/issues/sacto/2003-06-12/cover.asp
Next week, Veneman will open the conference with an address on the theme
"How science and technology, in a supportive policy environment, can drive
agricultural productivity increases and economic growth to alleviate world
hunger and poverty."
The menu of sessions ministers may attend includes: - Public-Private
Partnerships to Improve Market Infrastructure and Agribusiness Linkages -
Science-Based Solutions for Increasing Agricultural Productivity -
Fighting Hunger and Increasing Incomes with Biotechnology - Technologies
to Improve Food Safety and Nutrition - Enhancing the Competitiveness of
Horticultural Crops and Products - Technologies to Advance Animal Health
and Livestock Product Safety
Those sound pretty tech-ominous, and critics contend that conference
organizers have been deceptive and have downplayed threats posed by
controversial processes, such as using GMOs and irradiating food, that are
being pushed on foreign ministers.
GMO proponents charge that environmental groups such as Greenpeace and
Friends of the Earth are standing in the way of scientific advances that
could help meet the food needs of 1.3 billion people who live on less than
a dollar a day.
"It's what‚s putting the brakes on further development of the technology
in developing countries," said C.S. Prakash, director of the Center for
Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama. "This is a
protest industry whose main product is fear."
But critics of GMOs point to a lack of long-term research and testing and
say GMO-developed food was rushed to shelves with the support of a USDA
that favors agribusiness over consumer health. Such critics note that
countries such as the world's No. 1 rice-exporting nation, Thailand, have
banned GMOs because of safety concerns and that a Royal Society of Canada
report found that current global governmental-approval procedures for GMOs
are "totally inadequate to guarantee health and environmental safety."
Critics say the USDA's pro-GMO priorities are reflected in the
conference‚s agenda, which they claim is stacked to support corporate
bottom lines. They point to the fact that conference organizers have
largely excluded esteemed institutions such as the University of
California, Davis, a cutting-edge world leader in agricultural research
and technology. Organizers originally invoked the university's reputation
to justify bringing the conference to Sacramento, but they've largely
snubbed the university since. Only one professor, Davis-based director of
the University of California's system-wide Biotechnology Research and
Education Program, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, was invited to be a panel
Since then, most UC Davis professors have worked hard to conceal
disappointment about not being more prominently utilized.
Judith Kjelstrom is acting director of UC Davis‚ biotechnology program.
When asked what her thoughts about the conference‚s agenda were, she
initially said, "I can't tell you a lot because there's not a lot of open
discussion about it." She later said, "to be able to share exciting
research, to build lasting partnerships, to realize it‚s not best to say,
'We have all the answers; take them‚--that's what I'm looking forward to."
Kjelstrom added that her department has bought space in the expo in order
to be part of the event.
Dan Sumner, a UC Davis faculty member and former USDA assistant secretary
who‚s now director of the University of California Agricultural Issues
Center, chose his words carefully in praising the ministerial conference's
agenda. "Nothing is more important than battling hunger, and there are so
many poor people relying on farming as their livelihood," he said. "This
conference gives us a chance to see what these politicians--and these
ministers are politicians, that's what they are--can do. But I'm very
optimistic. If we can get a commitment from governments throughout the
world out of this to help rural people, for governments to honestly
re-appreciate that importance, it would be great."
Agriculture, Hunger and Biotechnology: What Role Do Genetically Engineered
Crops Have in Developing Countries?
- Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy and Pesticide
Action Network present
Come and hear diverse viewpoints on the international controversy over
genetically engineered crops and food. The panel will include scientists,
policy makers, activists and industry representatives.
Monday, June 23, 2003 7:00 - 9:00 pm; Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street,
Sacramento; Requested donation: $5.00; This event is co-sponsored by UC
Berkeley Institute for International Studies, California State University,
Sacramento Department of Environmental Studies and Department of
David B. Hegwoodl Counsel to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Amadou
Kanoute Consumers International Office for Africa, Zimbabwe
Martina McGloughlin, University of California Davis, Ireland/U.S. Anuradha
Mittal Food First, India/U.S.
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group, Uruguay/Mexico
Christian Verschueren, CropLife International, Belgium
Moderator: Mark Hertsgaard author, "The Eagle‚s Shadow: Why America
Fascinates and Infuriates the World", Univ of Calif at Berkeley School of
Greenpeace and India's 'Protato'
- Letter Sent To The Editor of Guardian
Sir, Of course Greenpeace will condemn India's protein enriched potato
(page 14 13 June), as they will condemn any other product of GM technology
that might feed people and keep them alive. Since the biggest threat to
the environment comes from human activity, it is Greenpeace's agenda to
kill people off, so that the environment can be preserved. This can be the
only reason for their fight against GM crops, which will actually benefit
the environment immediately, practically and to far more effect than any
of Greenpeace's campaigns can be demonstrated to have done to date.
- Sincerely, Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans, Cambridge, UK
Reply to Chris Gliddon (Agbioview 19 June)
- Murphy D (SApS)
Hi Chris You should find the full text of the ISIS piece on
Let me know if you still have a problem & I'll email a Word version I
downloaded - it makes very good material for 3rd yr courses on scientific
method! Cheers, Denis J Murphy, University of Glamorgan, UK
P.S. Below is a posting I sent to Agbioview on 8 June - I'm still looking
for a decent nutritionist to give a balanced critique of the article. Do
you know anyone? From experience I'd guess that a specialist should be
able to drive a coach & horses through these arguments. This is quite
important as one of the biggest public concerns emerging from the UK GM
debate is about the lack of testing of GM food. Hence I think Pusztai's
article merits proper consideration.
>> Pusztai's New Article on Human Health Risks of GM Crops
>> - Denis Murphy, Biotechnology Unit, Univ Glamorgan, UK
>> Here is a link to a new article on human health risks of GM crops by
>Pusztai et al which claims that "no opinions unless supported by
>experimental results will be discussed".
Prince Charles and 'Grey Goo'
- Anndrew Apel
Prince Charles has obviously leaped on the anti-nanotech bandwagon by
subscribing to the 'grey goo' theory, according to which self-replicating
robots of microscopic dimension will gobble everything in their path and
reduce the Earth to something resembling an unappetizing serving of
Jell-O. Presumably the moon and the other planets in the Solar System as
well, although the method of transmission has yet to be explained.
It will be unsettling to Charles and his cohorts ("the inedible in pursuit
of the unspeakable") to learn that these self-replicating, microscopic
robots are everywhere. Viruses, fungi, archaea (extremophiles) and
bacteria. Among the mindless, insatiable, self-replicating constructs, the
real "bad boys" are bacteria. They replicate dozens of times a day, and
even swap DNA from each other. With an environmental challenge, they go
into "hypermutation," recombining their DNA at random in a desperate bid
to find a combination that will help their kind thrive and reproduce. When
their numbers in a given location become great enough, they form
"biofilms," where the bacteria cooperate in communities to handle food
intake, metabolism and waste disposal. They can find an environmental
niche virtually anywhere, and if they can't do it, the archaea
On a somewhat larger scale, there are ants--self-replicating robots,
though lacking in the extreme mutability of bacteria. They form
communities and are relentless in grabbing anything that can feed a new
generation of young.
These critters are the most versatile, voracious, durable things the Earth
has ever seen, surviving and evolving strenunously in the merciless
crucible of unforgiving Nature. And they've had a billion years or so to
chew on things to the point where they become 'grey goo.' It hasn't
happened yet, and not even the supremest omnivorous consumers on the
planet--humans--have managed to reduce things to 'grey goo.' Relax,
Charlie, if you're well-fed, this is actually a pretty nice universe to
Safety Aspects of Bt Cottonseed Oil?
- Nagib Nassar, Professor, Genetics, Universidade de Brasilia
Can anybody tell me about Bt cottonseed oil, if it been examined from
human health viewpoint. Is there any systematic study on this subject? As
you know many developping countries like egypt and sudan depend on this
oil for human consumption as a food. Thank you
From Prakash: Perhaps you should look into www.agbios.com. A Reuters
report on December 19, 2002 said that "the European Union has approved two
oils from genetically modified cotton for use in food in the bloc....These
processed cottonseed oils are indistinguishable from conventional
cottonseed oils and can therefore be considered as being substantially
equivalent to conventional cottonseed oils," the Commission said in a
Oil is oil. One can hardly detect protein or DNA in it, whatever the
source. Nevertheless, let us see if some one can tell us how to access the
What We Have Learnt on Impacts of Bt Cotton on Non-Target Organisms In
- Kongming Wu, Yufa Peng and Shirong Jia, www.AgBiotechNet.com (ABN 112)
Bt transgenic cotton, containing a Bacillus thuringiensis toxin gene, has
been widely planted in cotton growing areas in China since 1997. One of
the major concerns of environmental risk is the impact on non-target
organisms in the agriculture ecosystem. Results obtained in recent years
indicate that the predator levels in Bt cotton fields are significantly
higher than those in conventional cotton fields where insecticide has been
used for control of the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera. However,
the population density of parasitic wasps which parasitise on H. armigera
larvae decreases dramatically due to the lower density and poor quality of
H. armigera larvae in Bt cotton fields. As the predator population
increases, the outbreak of cotton aphid in mid-season is effectively
controlled, while the mirids become key insect pests in Bt cotton fields
because of a reduced number of insecticides used against H. armigera.
The diversity of the arthropod community in Bt cotton fields is higher
than that in conventional cotton, suggesting that Bt cotton is highly
favourable for integrated management of cotton pests. An assessment on the
impact of Bt cotton pollen on two important economic insects, the Chinese
tussah silkworm, Antnaea perngicuerin [Antheraea pernyi] and the silkworm,
Bombyx mori, was conducted, from which it was concluded that the adverse
effect is negligible.
Risk Assessment of GM plants: Avoiding Gridlock?
- Mike J. Wilkinson, Jeremy Sweet and Guy M. Poppy, Trends in Plant
Science 2003, 8:208-212 (Sent by John W. Cross)
Full paper at
Cultivation of genetically modified crops is presently based largely on
four crops containing few transgenes and grown in four countries. This
will soon change and pose new challenges for risk assessment. A more
structured approach that is as generic as possible is advocated to study
consequences of gene flow. Hazards should be precisely defined and
prioritized, with emphasis on quantifying elements of exposure. This
requires coordinated effort between large, multidisciplinary research
Commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops increased
35-fold from 1.7 Mha in 1996 to 58.7 Mha in 2002, with soybean, cotton,
maize and rapeseed occupying >99.9% of the area sown
(http://www.isaaa.org). Just four countries currently account for 99% of
GM hectarage (USA, Argentina, Canada and China), although the total number
of countries involved increases steadily. Transgenes for herbicide
tolerance and insect resistance predominate, with 98% of GM cultivars
containing one or both types (http://www.isaaa.org).
This situation is also about to change globally with the recent explosion
of information on gene identity and function. These data have spawned a
new generation of GM lines with a staggering array of applications
(http://www.olis.oecd.org/biotrack.nsf). For economic reasons, many of
these new constructs will never be released commercially.
However, the trend towards commercial transgene diversification is
illustrated by the presence of traits such as reduced nicotine content,
altered fruit ripening, resistance to various viruses and altered oil
profiles among GM lines approved by the United States Department of
Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (USDA, APHIS) for
deregulation (generally a precursor of commercialization) in the USA
(http://www.aphis.usda.gov/bbep/bp/petday.html on 21 February 2003).
Construct complexity is likewise expanding following numerous advances in
the control of transgene expression.
Overall then, we expect more GM cultivars grown over a wider area and
containing a broader array of transgenes, expressed in various ways. These
developments should radically increase the adaptability of farming, with
benefits to farmers and, in some cases, to the environment . Conversely,
there are legitimate concerns over possible environmental consequences
arising from some GM cultivars . Predicting detrimental impact becomes
more challenging as the diversity of GM releases grows and will be
particularly difficult for transgenes that fundamentally change plant
physiology (e.g. lignin content and drought tolerance).
However, it is important to distinguish between unwanted environmental
changes attributable to a transgene and those caused by other aspects of a
dynamic agro-environment. Indeed, the absence of quality 'baseline data'
on environmental change caused by farm practice, land use, conventional or
mutation breeding or by the importation of exotics for gardening is
something that warrants attention. The purpose of this article is to draw
attention to forthcoming problems relating to the release of future GM
crops and to propose a more generic strategy for risk assessment .
Developing a new way to assess risk
U.S. Announces Panel On EU GMOMoratorium, As Grassley Warns Egypt
- Inside Trade, June 20, 2003
Following consultations with the European Union on its moratorium blocking
the marketing approval of biotechnology products, the U.S. announced
yesterday (June 19) that it will request a dispute settlement panel in the
World Trade Organization, most likely in July. Given the EU's likely move
to block that first panel request, the U.S. expects the panel request to
go forward in a Dispute Settlement Body meeting at the end of August, a
U.S. official said.
A U.S. statement issued on June 19 said such a request would not prevent
the EU from "following through on their promises to reverse course and end
the moratorium." The DSB is scheduled to meet on July 21, and then again
on August 29, according to a WTO schedule. Under WTO rules, a second
request for a panel automatically goes forward. The earliest the U.S. can
request a panel is 60 days after its consultation request. The U.S. made
its request for consultations with the EU on May 13. The June 19 U.S.
statement said the U.S. was "disappointed but not surprised that these
consultations have not resulted in any changes to the EU's five year old
illegal and unscientific moratorium."
The European Commission is hoping that it can put in place traceability
and labeling rules for biotechnology products by October, which member
states have said must be in place to lift the moratorium. In order to be
finally approved by member states, the rules must go through the European
Parliament, which is set to take up the matter on July 3. If the
Parliament approves a different version of the traceability and labeling
rules than the Commission's proposal, that date is likely to slip because
there would have to be a conciliation process between the Council of
Ministers and the Parliament. In a June 13 press conference, an EU
official said USTR had told the EU that it would cease WTO action if a set
of traceability and labeling rules were adopted that resulted in the
lifting of the moratorium.
In a related development, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee
Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed
Maher on June 19 warning that its failure to join the U.S. WTO case on the
biotechnology moratorium could hurt the country's chances of a free-trade
agreement. Grassley said that while he was supportive of a possible
U.S.-Egypt Free Trade Agreement, "[o]ne of the criteria that ought to be
used to determine with whom the United States negotiates future FTAs is
whether a country shares the same vision of the global trading system as
does the United States. I certainly would like to be able to include Egypt
in that camp."
He said he was "concerned by reports that Egypt is now considering not
participating in the challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
against the European Union's moratorium on agricultural biotechnology
Tough Times Shut Down Turner Philanthropy
- Audrey Hudson, The Washington Times, June 20, 2003
Ted Turner's philanthropic group has closed its wallet for at least one
year to new funding for environmental groups because of financial
The Turner Foundation has given away more than $222 million since its
first year in 1991, but will not award new grants this year and is looking
to limit future grants. At least two-thirds of the staff also has been
"People are understanding of the situation but they are disappointed, and
that's how we felt," said Devon Finley, program officer for the Turner
Foundation. "We will get back to grant-making, but it will be much smaller
and by invitation only." The foundation will honor multiyear grants
already awarded, totaling $13 million for this year and $6 million for
"Given the current state of the stock market and the resulting decline in
the foundation's asset base, the board has determined it to be in the best
interest of the foundation's long-term sustainability to forgo any funding
requests in 2003," read a message posted on the foundation's Web site.
"Founder Ted Turner and the board of trustees, including his five adult
children and Jane Fonda, have firmly stated their commitment to the
foundation and their interest to remain a strong and innovative force in
the philanthropic community for years to come."
Last year, the foundation awarded more than 500 new grants and paid out
$28 million to special-interest groups. That was down from 675 new grants
in 2001 with $69 million paid out. The foundation's trustees decided in
September to eschew new commitments, Miss Finley said. "It's meant a lot
to us. This is a terrible loss for the environmental community," said
Chris Pabon, director of foundation relations for Friends of the Earth,
which received $100,000 in two grants.
CNN reported in January that Mr. Turner would step down as vice chairman
of AOL Time Warner, CNN's parent company, to which he sold the network in
1996, to spend more time on philanthropic endeavors.
Fortune Magazine reported May 26 that Mr. Turner was so distressed about
shrinking funds in his foundation that he broke down in front of his
children, who serve as trustees. "I cannot believe my foundation, and all
I want to do and can't," he tearfully told his children late last year,
according to Fortune. "It's all my fault."
Mr. Turner also still owes more than $600 million of the $1 billion pledge
he made to the United Nations. The money will be paid through a separate
foundation he established, but it will take longer than the original
10-year pledge. An additional pledge of $250 million to the Nuclear Threat
Initiative also will take longer than the estimated five years.
Those and other commitments put him "down to his last billion," Fortune
said. "I think that's great," said Alan Gottlieb, president of the Center
for the Defense of Free Enterprise and a critic of the foundation. "Crazy
environmental extremist groups that like to shut businesses down, and
other groups that ally with them to control people's lives won't be
The foundation has been criticized for giving large sums to extreme
environmental groups such as Greenpeace, which has collected more than $1
million, and the Ruckus Society, which Rolling Stone magazine described as
"a cadre of direct-action veterans who consider themselves the training
arm of the radical left." Ruckus was given more than $100,000.
The foundation also contributed nearly $5 million in 2001 to
zero-population groups, including Population Action International. The
decline of the foundation is sure to create a financial burden for these
and hundreds of other environmental groups that rely on funding.
"Turner was a consistent funder of environmental groups, so it's really
like losing one of your strongest allies - the stone on which the
environmental community was built. And when the pillar moves, the
foundation shifts," Mr. Pabon said. Some groups will have to fold while
others probably will consolidate their assets. "These groups will have a
hole in their budget, and they will have to fill the gap somewhere," Mr.
The impact of lost dollars will be most acutely felt among the more
radical environmental groups, including Earthfirst Affiliates, the
Rainforest Action Network and Union of Concerned Scientists, said David
Martosko, director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom.
"These are groups that use scare tactics and junk science, and perhaps
next year, there will be a little less of both," Mr. Martosko said.
"Top Grantees of the Turner Foundation Inc. through 2001"
$3,795,167 - Natural Resources Defense Council
$1,840,308 - Tides Foundation and Tides Center
$1,390,000 - Greenpeace
$523,000 - Union of Concerned Scientists
$300,000 - Waterkeeper Alliance
$255,000 - Northern Plains Resource Council
$225,000 - Environmental Working Group
$204,000 - Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
$160,000 - Environmental Media Services
$115,000 - Ruckus Society
- Source: consumerfreedom.com