Today in AgBioView: July 16, 2003:
* Re: Biotech and Baby Food
* Re: GURTs
* Muslim council gives green light to GM food
* GM food labelling is an insane demand
* Lab-altered crops called inevitable
* Commission takes Court action against eleven Member States
* Salt-loving crops yield award for pomologist
* Food and drink groups jib at new US 'terrorism' demands
* Farmers likely will be the labeling rule losers
* LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Will It Help?
* UC Riverside is Part of New Initiative to Share Patented Research on
* Codex Guidelines for GM foods Include the Analysis of Unintended Effects
* Farmers protest 'flatulence' tax
* Erin Brockovich's Junk Science
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 10:57:06 -0300
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Biotech and Baby Food
Miller and Conko mention the refusal of the major fast food outlets to buy
Bt potatoes for their fries. This is a big PR joke. Ask the
McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's folks what kind of oil they use to cook
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 11:17:16 -0300
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: GURTs
Use of hybrid varieties might be seen as the original GURT, since the
hybrid variety's special production traits are often poorly reflected in
I still harbour reservations about V-GURTs. It seems to me that they
might work just fine in well-organized seed markets like the US and EU.
However, I can easily imagine accidental or deliberate/fraudulent use of
sterile seeds in developing countries. When something like that happens
in the US, somebody gets sued; when it happens in India or Africa,
somebody might starve. This would not be good PR for the technology; it
has to be demonstrably benign (or, at least, very difficult to
misuse/abuse) in the approved products.
Also, only the spliced gene is particularly valuable and makes the GM
variety special (and expensive). For these reasons, conceptually I tend
to favour T-GURTs over V-GURTs.
Muslim council gives green light to GM food
16 July 2003
Indonesia's leading authority on Islam has given the go-ahead for Muslims
to eat genetically modified (GM) crops.
The Straits Times reports that Aisyah Girindra, head of medicine and food
supervision at the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) has said that "as long
as it comes from [plants], such as soya bean or corn, there are no
problems" with the consumption of GM food.
MUI's announcement does not constitute an official edict, or 'fatwa'. But
it does indicate that, in the absence of a fatwa, Muslim consumers can go
ahead and eat GM foods. Almost 90 per cent of Indonesia's 215 million
inhabitants are Muslims.
GM food labelling is an insane demand
By Fazil Mihlar
July 16, 2003
The first bullet fired by the European Union at genetically modified crops
-- christened Frankenfoods -- didn't slay them. The second bullet --
called mandatory labelling -- hopefully will not kill GM foods either.
To make sure of this outcome, countries such as the United States and
Canada, two of the leading GM food producers in the world, should defend
this enormously beneficial technology in a robust manner.
If that means going on the offensive and challenging the EU at the World
Trade Organization for breaching trade rules or launching an information
campaign to let the world know GM foods are safe, environmentally
friendly, cost-effective and nutritious, so be it.
After banning GM foods from Europe for the past five years on the grounds
that they are unsafe, the EU now says it will allow them in as long they
have a label noting the amount of genetically modified organisms.
On the surface, this dictate sounds reasonable. It is not. It is
completely impractical. The Europeans want food producers to label any
item that contains more than 0.9% of GMO. That means a majority of North
American foods -- corn, wheat or cookies for that matter -- would have to
be traced for GMO from the farm or factory right up to the store shelf.
Implementing this insane demand is cost-prohibitive, meaningless and
unnecessary. That is why the Canadian industry, after three years of hard
work, has not been able to develop a standard for the voluntary labelling
of foods with GMO ingredients. The more than 50 organizations who were
trying to get the job done sent a letter to the Prime Minister in March
urging the federal government to take over the task.
According to some estimates, about two-thirds of processed foods already
contain trace amounts of GMO ingredients. Keeping track of it throughout
the production process will probably add another 5% to 6% to the price of
processed foods during the transition phase and another 3% each year after
that. That's not an insignificant price increase for many consumers.
It is important to remember that the Royal Society of Canada concluded two
years ago that mandatory labelling cannot be justified on a scientific
basis. Specifically, it concluded that where "there are clear,
scientifically established health risks or significant nutritional changes
posed by the product itself," mandatory labelling would be desirable.
Well, there is no such evidence to date. One of the world's most
pre-eminent scientific organizations -- The Royal Society of the United
Kingdom -- has concluded there is no evidence to suggest GM foods are a
health risk. The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee also concluded
genetically modified foods have undergone more rigorous testing than any
other foods and are safe.
But the weight of all of this evidence has not stopped the Europeans from
cocking their protectionist gun and firing at Frankenfoods once again.
Their accomplice in these attacks against GMO is the Codex Alimentarius
Commission, the food standards program at the United Nations.
Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Gregory
Conko at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. correctly
conclude the commission's task force on gene-spliced foods is trying to
come up with regulations that will "derail the development" of GM foods.
These so-called scientifically justifiable food standards could provide a
lot of cover for the members of the EU to erect non-tariff barriers by
requiring North American producers to use certain food-processing
techniques and testing requirements.
And this latest mandatory labelling requirement of GM foods by the EU is
old-fashioned trade protectionism. As Professor Robert Paarlberg at
Wellesley College has pointed out, GMO is a technology that was developed
primarily in North America and marketed by North American-based firms.
So the Europeans, who are behind by a country-mile in the development of
this cutting-edge technology, want to kill it on the dubious grounds that
it is unsafe for human consumption and consumers deserve to know what they
Even the top scientific bodies in the EU have said their governments'
justification for banning GM foods is not on solid scientific grounds.
That much is clear by the EU's decision this week to allow genetically
modified products to enter the EU, albeit with a label.
This action by the EU is in response to the Americans' and Canadians'
decision in late May to file a legal challenge at the WTO alleging unfair
Now Washington and Ottawa must stiffen their spines and escalate this
trade battle by challenging the EU's right to fire at will on any GM foods
that are bound for Europe.
Lab-altered crops called inevitable
Nobel-winning scientist predicts wide use of genetically engineered foods
July 14, 2003
By William Brand
BERKELEY -- After a special all-organic lunch Thursday arranged by Alice
Waters, proprietor of Berkeley's famous Chez Panisse restaurant, Nobel
Laureate Norman Borlaug made a prediction: There will come a day, he said,
when genetically engineered foods will be considered organic and they may
wind up on Chez Panisse menus.
Waters may demur -- but Borlaug knows agriculture.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work with high-yield wheat in
India and Pakistan. His introduction of hybrids he developed in Mexico
caused what is called the Green Revolution, which ended starvation in
India and Pakistan in the 1960s.
China developed the same methods, high-yield hybrid wheat and rice coupled
with the ferocious application of fertilizer that ended most starvation in
Now Borlaug, who is spry and alert at 89, is in Africa -- trying to create
a new green revolution. He's teamed up with former President Jimmy Carter
and partners in a dozen African nations -- supported by a Japanese
Africa is the place where help from America and other developing countries
to fight AIDS, to improve human life is badly needed, Borlaug said.
The alternative is starving people, chaos and terrorism, he said.
Waters -- long an advocate of food produced locally by nonchemical means
-- hosted an international group of environmentalists enrolled in a course
on sustainable environmental management at the University of California,
Berkeley. Borlaug spoke last week at the university.
In an interview, Borlaug explained the logic behind genetic engineered
crops. Many people in the environmental movement confuse chemical
pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Fertilizers are chosen because they
can help plants grow and produce more; they supplement and improve the
soil, he said.
Pesticides are poisons. They are chosen because they are deadly to pests,
he said. Crops genetically engineered to resist pests make it easier to
grow food without the use of pesticides, he said. Eventually they are
going to become common and widely accepted because they reduce the use of
An associate, Chris Dowswell, pointed out a recent National Academy of
Science study of the use of BT cotton, which is genetically engineered to
resist many pests, prevented the use of 21,000 tons of poisonous
pesticides in a single season.
"It's the same with genetically engineered corn," Borlaug said. "Besides,
antibio- tics have been made by genetic engineering for years and no one
Dowswell noted that total world production of cereal grains in 1950 was
680 metric tons. By 2000, it had reached two billion tons, more than a
threefold increase on less than a 10 percent increase in cultivated land.
"Had you tried to produce the 2000 harvest, using 1950 technology, you
would have had to add millions of acres of land, decimating forests and
wildlands, he said.
"If you listen to some in the environmental movement, you get the
impression we're on the verge of being poisoned out of existence," Borlaug
said. "The truth is, we have a longer better life now than our
grandparents did. A girl baby born in 1900 had a life expectancy on
average of 48 years, for a baby boy, it was 46.
"Today, we have a longer, better life. In 2000, on average a girl baby had
a life expectancy of 74 years; for a boy baby it was slightly less," he
But Africa is one place the green revolution is having a rough go, the
Nobel Laureate said. Unlike India, Pakistan and even North Africa, where
introduction of new strains of rice, corn and wheat have been successful,
the continent below the Sahara is difficult.
First, there are no railroads and few roads leading into agricultural
areas, making it difficult to bring in fertilizers, which are heavy. There
also are few schools in rural areas and many young people -- who learn
about cities on their radios, have turned their backs on agriculture and
move to cities, where they find themselves in dismal straits, he said.
Massive intervention by developed nations is needed, he believes.
And forget the multi-nationals. If a corporation was to put money in
African -- stockholders would revolt, because it would be many years
before a company could expect a profit, he said.
Genetically Modified Organisms: Commission takes Court action against
eleven Member States
Brussels, 15 July 2003
The European Commission has decided to refer France, Luxembourg, Belgium,
Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Austria and Finland
to the European Court of Justice for failing to adopt and notify national
legislation implementing an EU law on the deliberate release of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment. The eleven
Member States cited have failed to meet an agreed deadline of 17 October
2002 for the adoption and notification of national legislation. The EU law
strengthens earlier laws and was adopted to help better ensure a safe,
step-by-step approach to releasing GMOs into the environment.
Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström
said: "I have been repeatedly inviting Member States to live up to their
obligations and I am disappointed that this has produced few results. The
new framework Directive on GMOs, which entered into force in October last
year, provides the European Union with one of the most advanced and
comprehensive pieces of legislation existing in this field at world level.
This legislation has been the result of a transparent and democratic
process, and provides a solid answer to public concerns about the
environmental and health effects of GMOs. But our credibility will be
severely undermined if we are not able to demonstrate that we can
implement it. It is therefore high time that all Member States bring their
national laws into line with the EU law."
On 17 October 2002, a new Directive revising the original framework for
regulating the release of GMOs in the EU came into force(1). The revised
Directive strengthens the rules on the release of GMOs into the
environment. It improves the strictness and transparency of the Directive,
notably creating a more effective and efficient authorisation procedure.
In particular, it introduces:
* Principles for the environmental risk assessment;
* Mandatory post-marketing monitoring, including monitoring of possible
long-term effects on the environment;
* Mandatory information to the public;
* A requirement for Member States to ensure labelling and traceability at
all stages of marketing;
* A requirement that initial approvals of GMOs be limited to a maximum of
* Obligatory consultation of the Scientific Committee(s);
* An obligation to consult the European Parliament on decisions relating
to the authorisation to release GMOs into the environment;
* The possibility for the Council of Ministers to adopt or reject a
Commission Proposal for authorisation of a GMO by qualified majority.
Situation in Member States
As the Commission had received no implementing legislation from France,
Luxembourg Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece,
Spain, Austria or Finland by the deadline for transposing the Directive
into national law, 17 October 2002, it sent each Member State a Letter of
Formal Notice (first written warning) under Article 226 of the Treaty.
France, Belgium, Italy and Greece failed to respond to the Letter of
Formal Notice. The response from the Netherlands was unsatisfactory as it
confirmed that only partial implementing measures had been adopted.
Luxembourg, Germany and Austria responded by informing the Commission of a
proposed timetable for the implementation of the Directive. However, no
draft or adopted implementing measures were communicated to the
Commission. Ireland and Finland responded by indicating that implementing
measures were under preparation, but draft measures were not communicated
nor was any indication given of the proposed timetable for the adoption of
these measures. Spain indicated that primary legislation was being
The Commission then sent Reasoned Opinions (second written warning) in
March 2003 and gave the Member States 2 months to reply to the Commission.
France, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Greece failed to respond to the
Reasoned Opinion. For Belgium, although draft implementing measures at
federal level were communicated to the Commission in response to the
Reasoned Opinion, no indication was given as to when the legislation would
be adopted. In its response to the Reasoned Opinion, Ireland again stated
that implementing measures were under preparation but failed to
communicate draft measures or indicate the proposed timetable for
adoption. Spain notified new primary legislation. However, this needs to
be supplemented by a royal decree, which has not yet been adopted and sent
to the Commission. In its response, Austria updated the Commission on the
steps being taken to introduce implementing legislation in its Parliament,
but such legislation has still not been adopted. The Dutch and Finnish
replies included a copy of draft implementing measures but these have
still not been adopted.
As the eleven above-mentioned countries have still not ensured full
implementation of the revised Directive on GMOs, the Commission has
decided to refer them to the European Court of Justice.
For further information about GMOs in the EU, see MEMO/02/160-rev:
For current statistics on infringements in general, please visit the
Salt-loving crops yield award for pomologist
National honor boosts UCD's reputation as agricultural leader
By Ben Antonius
Aggie Campus Editor
July 14, 2003 - Tomatoes that can thrive in salty water and could
potentially restore hundreds of thousands of acres of lost farmland have
earned the UC Davis professor who developed them national recognition.
Eduardo Blumwald was selected for the Alexander von Humboldt award — an
honor given to the person deemed to have made the largest contribution to
American agriculture in the past five years.
It was Blumwald’s work engineering a groundbreaking new tomato that
promises to thrive in salty water and simultaneously restore salty soil
that earned him the award. It includes a $15,000 prize and a $5,000
scholarship for an agriculture student.
“I was happily surprised,” Blumwald said when he learned he had won. “It’s
a great honor to hear you have made the biggest advance in five years.”
Salt is a major agricultural problem in both soil and water. It is a major
inhibitor to plant growth — Roman soldiers are said to have sown the
fields of conquered countries with salt in order to cripple agricultural
Vito Polito, chair of the department of pomology and the person who
nominated Blumwald for the award, said he did not see another development
that rivals Blumwald’s.
“It’s an enormous achievement,” Polito said. “Any place with irrigated
agriculture has problems of salt buildup; it is one of the world’s leading
limitations on agricultural production.”
Though Blumwald said he has long been interested in how some plants adapt
to grow in otherwise inhospitable conditions, it was only recently that he
began to make breakthroughs in salt-tolerant crops.
In 1999, Blumwald announced that he and a team of researchers could create
a salt-tolerant plant by engineering the genes of the Arabidopsis plant.
The team had encouraged the plant — a small, flowering relative of cabbage
— to produce more of the protein responsible for funneling salt out of
water in the roots and placing it in compartments of the cells in the
leaves, separate from the rest of the plant.
This allows the fruit of the plant to develop more fully than would
normally be possible in salt water.
By 2001, the technique had led to the development of a genetically
engineered, salt-tolerant tomato.
Blumwald said that in addition to the plant’s ability to grow in poor
soil, the tomato also can actually extract built-up salt from the soil.
Much agricultural soil suffers from high salinity levels as a result of
years of irrigation.
Some estimates claim as much as 50,000 acres of world farmland are lost
daily to salt buildup. If the salt could be easily removed, as the tomato
promises to do, it would eventually reopen hundreds of thousands of acres
to renewed production.
Despite the potentially controversial nature of his work, Blumwald said he
has had only occasional run-ins with activists opposed to genetically
“I think they leave [the research team] alone because the tomato has
environmental benefits too,” Blumwald said, referring to its ability to
restore farmland. “They stay away because it is easy to see the holes in
Polito said the initial discovery and subsequent award had been a boon to
the pomology department.
“In terms of the impact on the program, [the award] has brought us a lot
of attention,” Polito said. “It sort of validates the premier position of
UCD, and the department of pomology, as a leading research institution in
the world for agriculture.”
A public award ceremony for Blumwald will be held in September on campus.
Food and drink groups jib at new US 'terrorism' demands
Financial Times (London)
July 15, 2003
By Tobias Buck
US moves to flesh out its existing bioterrorism legislation by placing
stringent requirements on companies exporting food and drink products to
the US could worsen further the already sour trade relations between
Washington and Brussels.
The US Bioterrorism Act was signed into law in June last year. Now the US
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on implementation proposals
which would force European companies to register their facilities with the
FDA, give prior notice of any shipment to the US and provide elaborate
records of the products used during the manufacturing process.
Pascal Lamy, the European Union's trade commissioner, said last week he
was "concerned" at the scope of the legislation, while other Commission
officials claim the proposed measures are ineffective, unnecessary and out
of proportion with the risks involved.
"Does anyone really think we have a greater chance of tracking down
bioterrorism by tracking down whether a cucumber comes from Sicily or
France?" one official remarked.
Industry representatives have also voiced fears that - put into practice -
the draft legislation would impose crippling costs on food and drink
exporters, threatening in particular the thousands of small and medium
businesses that form the backbone of Europe's food industry.
Branding the measures as "unacceptable", the European beer, wine and
spirits trade bodies estimate that in "in order to comply fully with the
record-keeping proposals, a large company would have to employ one to two
extra full-time persons and this would cost some Euros 85,000 to Euros
100,000 (Dollars 113,000, Pounds 70,000) per year."
Producers are also worried that the legislation would force them to reveal
sensitive commercial information regarding the recipes of their products.
Though the joint statement concedes that "the complete formula may not be
disclosed", it warns: "Listing the source of each one of as many as 50
individual Scotch malt and Scotch grain whiskies in a blended Scotch
whisky is not only extremely burdensome but would essentially reveal the
trade secret 'recipe' for that brand. This is often not even known by more
than a few within the company itself."
The European Commission itself made its views known to the FDA last week,
as part of a consultation procedure officials hope will succeed in
softening the impact of the planned law.
The US and the EU have already clashed over similarly strict traceability
requirements in the EU's new regime for authorising and labelling
genetically modified crops.
Farmers likely will be the labeling rule losers
Pensacola News Journal (Pensacola, FL)
July 13, 2003, P. 1B
By Charlotte Crane
U.S. corn and soybean farmers stand to be the big losers when expected new
labeling rules go into effect in Europe, alerting consumers when they're
buying genetically modified food products - and seemingly implying there's
a warning implicit in the notice.
In Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, where our biggest crop, cotton, is
more a wearable, less an edible, ruling out significant economic impact
from the July 2 ruling by the European Parliament would seem reasonable.
But the new rules on labeling will sweep wide in probing the genetic
lineage of any food product heading for European grocery shelves. As a
result, even cottonseed shipped out of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties
might not escape the engineered-genes hunt.
Restrictive rules could affect demand, thus prices.
Said Santa Rosa County Extension Director Mike Donahoe: "I hope this
labeling doesn't have a negative effect. We're already in a tight market."
The step by EU's Parliament would end a five-year freeze on introduction
of new biotech products. The United States filed suit last month with the
World Trade Organization, claiming the ban violated global trading rules.
While EU officials hailed the labeling rule for offering consumers choice,
U.S. trade representatives warn it will increase trade barriers. Reasons:
Compliance will be burdensomely expensive or even impossible, and labeling
will make it appear genetically modified foods might not be safe, while
extensive U.S. scientific tests have ruled they are. (EU member nations
still must approve the ruling.)
U.S. food processors face a daunting task in separating genetically
modified (GM) kernels from the non-GM varieties. They tend to get mixed at
the mills. Some 80 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans and 40 percent of corn
crops are from GM seed.
Of biotech crops, 70 percent are U.S.-grown. Farm groups say development
of genetically modified strains has increased yields, while allowing
better control of weeds and insects and more conservative and efficient
For cotton producers, the new law's traceability requirement could be
troublesome, said Phil Wakelyn, senior scientist for the National Cotton
Council. Cotton fibers aren't affected by the law, but cottonseed would
"You'd still have to trace from the food, even if you can't measure
anything in it. All food contained or derived from a genetically modified
organism (GMO) would have to be labeled."
Escambia and Santa Rosa farmers plant some 42,000 acres of cotton, as much
as 90 percent of it GM varieties. In addition to cotton fiber, area cotton
gins annually ship out around 25,000 tons of cottonseed, with most going
to dairy feed lots, smaller amounts to oil mills.
Under the new rule, "if the milk product is being sold into Europe, you
would have to say whether the animal the milk came from was GMO-fed,"
Wakelyn said. "Some snacks are cooked in cottonseed oil, and they would
have to be labeled, if any of that came from a GMO crop."
As an ironic aside, Wakelyn noted that Europeans' euro is made from U.S.
cotton fiber. "So paper money they're handling every day would contain
Maybe something will rub off.
LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
July 14, 2003
From a tropical storm to a storm of controversy over food. Tonight, we
begin a series of special reports on genetically modified foods. We begin
with a look at how much bioengineered food we're eating and how it's made
its way to our stomachs in our series "Food Fight."
HOPKINS (voice-over): Noisy protests in Europe over genetically modified
food. For the last five years, Europeans have banned what some call
Yet farmers in this country have quietly embraced the new technology.
According to the USDA, 80 percent of soybeans grown in the United States
are now genetically modified; 34 percent of the corn grown here is
John Reifsteck of Illinois saves money because science is able to breed
soybeans that require less weed killer. Without bioengineered crops, his
fields would be different.
JOHN REIFSTECK, CORN AND SOYBEAN FARMER: We find more pesticides being
used. You'd find more soil erosion. And who would benefit from that?
Certainly not the consumer and certainly not the environment.
Reifsteck and farmers around the country have been planting genetically
modified crops since the mid '90s. According to the Grocery Manufacturers
of America, as much as 3/4 of all processed foods on store shelves now
contain some genetically modified element, either directly or through
products such as animal feed.
JOSEPH ECKER, SALK INSTITUTE: Genetically modified food is a term that's
used for the alteration of genes to create new varieties of plants. Some
examples are alterations of the cold tolerance of a plant or the pest
resistance of a plant.
HOPKINS: There are groups in the United States that raise questions about
the safety of food that's genetically engineered. They worry about what
might happen down the road.
RICHARD CAPLAN, USPIRQ: Because many of these crops contain genes that
encode for resistance to antibiotics, that there may be a problem with
exacerbating the problem of antibiotic resistance. HOPKINS: The U.S.
Agriculture Department approves all genetically modified crops. The Food
and Drug Administration is responsible for our food. The FDA asks
companies to submit information about new food products, but this is
voluntary, not required by law.
JIM MARYANSKI, FOOD AND DRUG ADMIN.: Our responsibility for new products
is to ensure that they are safe and comply with all the requirements of
HOPKINS: In Europe, trade talks now center around whether bioengineered
food should be labeled.
So despite the widespread acceptance of bioengineered crops in this
country, farmers still worry whether they'll be able to sell what they
grow at home and abroad.
HOPKINS: Tomorrow we continue our series of special reports on genetically
modified foods. Casey Wian looks at whether bioengineered food is safe to
eat and what risks it may contain.
That brings us to tonight's poll: "Would you knowingly eat genetically
modified food? Yes or no?" Cast your vote at http://www.cnn.com/lou. And
we'll bring you the preliminary results later in the show.
Agricultural Biotechnology: Will It Help?
New tools offer new opportunities, but what are the risks and who
Human intervention for the improvement of crops, trees, livestock and fish
is nothing new. For millennia, humans have bred, crossed and selected
those varieties, ecotypes and breeds that were more productive, better
adapted or particularly useful.
Conventional breeding practices can now be complemented by a number of new
and powerful techniques. Some of these allow, for example, the propagation
of plant material in glass tubes to keep it free of diseases, and the
production of more sensitive and specific reagents for diagnosing diseases
in plants, livestock and fish through tissue and cell culture. Others,
often referred to as molecular methods, enable scientists to see the
layout of the entire genome of any organism and to select plants and
animals with preferred characteristics by "reading" at the molecular
level, saving precious time and resources.
Modern biotechnology also includes an array of tools for introducing or
deleting a particular gene or genes to produce plants, animals and
micro-organisms with novel traits. This kind of genetic manipulation is
called "genetic engineering" and the product is a genetically modified
organism, or GMO. Both traditional and modern biotechnologies result in
plants, animals and micro-organisms with combinations of genes that would
not have come about without human intervention. It has to be emphasized,
however, that biotechnology includes a range of techniques and products,
and GMOs are but one of them.
"With the increasingly limited amount of new land available to
agriculture, modern biotechnologies could complement and improve the
efficiency of traditional selection and breeding techniques to enhance
agricultural productivity," says Mahmoud Solh, Director of FAO's Division
of Plant Production and Protection.
So what's new?
A plant or an animal resistant to a particular disease can be produced
through a "traditional" breeding programme, that is, through crosses with
resistant relatives, selection and backcrossing again, or by the
introduction of a gene that confers the resistance through genetic
engineering. While the products of both approaches will be disease
resistant, only the second one is a GMO. What is new is the ability of
scientists to unravel the genome to look at the genes of an organism, and
then make use of that information to change the organism, and even
transfer genes to another organism very distant in the evolutionary scale.
And that is where the controversy comes in.
"FAO recognizes that genetic engineering has the potential to help
increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and
fisheries," says FAO's Statement on Biotechnology. "It could lead to
higher yields on marginal lands in countries that today cannot grow enough
food to feed their people." But, it adds, FAO "is also aware of the
concern about the potential risks posed by certain aspects of
biotechnology. These risks fall into two basic categories: the effects on
human and animal health and the environmental consequences."
These new tools offer new opportunities for solving agricultural problems
where traditional techniques have failed. Genetically modified products
are usually developed and used for large-scale commercial interests, and
with a few exceptions, small-scale farmers have so far not benefited from
The articles in this focus are intended to provide background information
on genetic engineering in agriculture for the non-specialist -- what it
is, how it is being used, how it might be used in the future and the
possible benefits and risks. If you are new to the subject, you might find
it easiest to read the pages in the order shown in the column on the
right. Those who would like to pursue the subject further may wish to
visit FAO's Biotechnology Web site at
More at.... http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/focus/2003/gmo1.htm
.. Crop breeding: the Green Revolution and the preceding millennia; Going
down to the genes; Animals: unexpected products?; Fish: the stakes are
high; Trees: long cycles, deep questions; Weighing the GMO arguments: for;
Weighing the GMO arguments: against; Where to go for further information
UC Riverside is Part of New Initiative to Share Patented Research on
(July 14, 2003)
News Media Contact:
Name: Iqbal Pittalwala
RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- (www.ucr.edu) -- UC Riverside is joining 13 other
institutions and foundations in an effort aimed to simplify the management
and sharing of their intellectual property and facilitate access to each
other’s current and future patented agricultural technologies. A paper
outlining the new initiative appears in the July 11, 2003, issue of
Science and is coauthored by the chancellors or presidents of the
universities or foundations.
Named PIPRA or the Public-Sector Intellectual Property Resource for
Agriculture, the initiative also aims to achieve food security for the
poor and excluded of the world, and has long-term goals for coordinating
research-based technology packages and know-how for projects that will
directly address critical global agricultural needs.
“One of the University of California's objectives in technology transfer
is the public benefit and it makes intuitive sense that collective action
with other institutions may enhance our impact in that regard,” said
Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California. “PIPRA is
an experiment that will test this supposition. It may also lead to new
paradigms of action that could be important in other technology sectors as
With the introduction of biotechnology in agriculture, researchers have
been able to develop improved staple and specialty crop varieties.
Agricultural biotechnology is a major emphasis of the UCR Genomics
Institute. Established in 2000, the institute brings together faculty from
a number of academic units on campus to foster innovations that advance
quality of life in terms of greater agricultural productivity and more
The Science paper notes that since 1980 there has been a marked increase
in the number of public sector patents and the licensing of technology to
the private sector. But the public research sector, the paper argues,
finds itself increasingly restricted when wishing to develop new crops
with the technologies it has itself invented, posing a barrier to the
applications of biotechnology in the development of new crops.
PIPRA’s immediate objectives are to review public sector patenting and
licensing practices, develop a collective public intellectual property
asset database, and making shared technology packages available to member
institutions and to the private sector.
Besides the University of California (including UC Riverside and UC
Davis), PIPRA participants include the Donald Danforth Plant Science
Center, the Rockefeller Foundation, North Carolina State University, the
Ohio State University, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research,
Rutgers – the State University of New Jersey, Michigan State University,
Cornell University, the McKnight Foundation, the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Florida.
The UCR Genomics Institute provides researchers and students access to
state-of-the-art tools for advanced studies in genomics, gene expression,
proteomics, microscopy and bioinformatics. Research efforts are focused on
insect genomics, plant cell biology/genomics, microbial genomics,
mammalian genomics and bioinformatics. Through an associated Biotechnology
Impacts Center, the institute also explores the policy dimensions of
biotechnology, taking into consideration the social, economic,
environmental and ethical impacts of new technologies.
UC Riverside’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS)
integrates the agricultural, biological and physical sciences under one
umbrella to create an atmosphere favorable for multidisciplinary research.
Plant disease such as Pierce's Disease, which threatens California's
grapevines, and exotic insects such as the olive fruit fly, one of the
most damaging pests of the olive in southern Europe, North Africa and the
Middle East, are among the subjects of today's intensive research efforts
in CNAS. The college has 215 faculty members in 13 academic departments
and conducts research that explores the fundamental principles underlying
biological activity, the nature of the physical universe, and mathematical
and statistical operations.
The University of California, Riverside offers undergraduate and graduate
education to nearly 16,000 students and has a projected enrollment of
21,000 students by 2010. It is the fastest growing and most ethnically
diverse campus of the preeminent ten-campus University of California
system, the largest public research university system in the world. The
picturesque 1,200-acre campus is located at the foot of the Box Springs
Mountains near downtown Riverside in Southern California. More information
about UC Riverside is available at www.ucr.edu or by calling 909-787-5185.
For a listing of faculty experts on a variety of topics, please visit
Codex Guidelines for GM foods Include the Analysis of Unintended Effects
Nature Biotechnology (www.nature.com)
By Alexander G Haslberger
Vol. 21 No 7 pp 739-741; Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of
In response to the increased delivery of genetically modified (GM) foods
to international markets, the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Food
Derived from Biotechnology of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Rome)
agreed in March on principles for the human health risk analysis of GM
foods1. These principles dictate a case-by-case premarket assessment that
includes an evaluation of both direct and unintended effects. They state
that safety assessment of GM foods needs to investigate direct health
effects (toxicity), tendency to provoke allergic reactions
(allergenicity), specific components thought to have nutritional or toxic
properties, the stability of the inserted gene, nutritional effects
associated with genetic modification and any unintended effects that could
result from the gene insertion.
Of particular note, the task force broadens risk assessment to encompass
not only health-related effects of the food itself, but also the indirect
effects of food on human health (e.g., potential health risks derived from
Unintended effects of the product The Codex's aim is to anticipate not
only the direct risks, but also the indirect/unanticipated risks that the
products of modern agriculture might pose for human health. All of the
methods used for breeding or manipulating plant traits, including self-
and cross-pollination, the generation of hybrids or haploid breeding,
mutational breeding (including X-rays or chemicals) and advanced
biotechnologies (including protoplast fusion and/or recombinant DNA
technology), have the potential to generate unanticipated effects in
In conventional breeding programs of spring barley, for example, different
degrees of a temporary breakdown of the resistance to powdery mildew by a
sudden relief of soil water-stress have been attributed to the genetic
background rather than the specific allele2. There have also been reports
that a traditionally bred squash caused food poisoning3, a pest-resistant
celery variety produced rashes in agricultural workers (which was
subsequently found to contain sevenfold more carcinogenic psoralens than
control celery4) and a potato variety Lenape contained very high levels of
toxic solanine5 (which was subsequently withdrawn from cultivation).
The use of tissue culture in plant breeding has also often resulted in
somaclonal variation of plant lines and irregular phenotypes or field
performance. Somaclonal variations are mutational and chromosomal
instabilities of embryonic plants regenerated from tissue cultures. These
instabilities may result from activation of dormant transposons in the
chromosome6. The consequent genetic variability is known to persist for
many generations and is difficult to eliminate by backcrossing.
For plants generated by recombinant technology, unanticipated effects may
additionally arise from the process of introducing foreign genes or as a
result of the effects of environmental factors/genetic background on the
expression of the transgene(s)7.
Complex multicopy patterns of transgene integration at the same locus, as
well as position effects caused by random integration, are often
associated with instability in transgene expression8. Random insertion of
DNA sequences can cause modification, interruption or silencing of
existing genes as well as activation of silent genes9, 10. Safety aspects
have been discussed for a transgenic maize line following the observation
of integration of recombinant DNA into a retrotransposon11, 12.
Table 1 list examples of unanticipated phenotypes observed in transgenic
crops in the field. A comparison of data from documents prepared for
notification of GM rape, maize, tomato, soybean and potatoes (exhibiting
mainly pest resistances) suggested that environmental factors like heat
were more important than genetic modification in influencing variation in
the expression of antinutrients13. Epigenetic transcriptional silencing
has been reported for a complex transgene in rice14 and epigenetic
variations in Arabidopsis disease resistance have been attributed to DNA
methylation15. Environmental stress factors that influence methylation
patterns and/or chromatin conformations have been suggested as
explanations for gene silencing of transgenes in the field16. The presence
of a pathogen can induce host defense gene silencing mechanisms17 also
affecting transgenes. And environmental signals have been shown to
modulate mRNA stability and translation through modulation of the
phosphorylation of components of the mRNA 5'-cap-binding complex,
ribosomes and mRNA-binding proteins18.
Unintended effects mediated via the environment In addition to
investigating health risks directly associated with food products, the
broadening of the Codex risk assessment to include indirect effects now
encompass effects of novel foods on the environment that may have an
indirect impact on human health. This concept has a precedent in
agricultural practice (e.g., sustainability19) and embraces the view of
human "health as an integrating index of ecological and social
sustainability" outlined in a report from a joint World Health
Organization (Geneva, Switzerland) and the National Agency for the
Protection of the Environment (Rome, Italy) seminar in 2000 on potential
environmental hazards of GM crops20.
Several recent findings argue that such environmental effects could/should
be supported by evidence (e.g., the need to inhibit outcrossing from
plants containing biopharmaceuticals;
http://www.worldbiosafety.net/paper/05-Rainer%20Fischer.doc ) in health
risk assessment of GM crops. The introgression of transgenic DNA into
traditional landraces of maize in Mexico (for review, see ref. 21),
recently confirmed by the Mexican government22, shows that gene flow may
be commonplace for certain crops in certain locations, and the effects of
foreign genes in certain backgrounds could pose health risks, although
these concerns remain speculative23.
The risk of outcrossing and gene transfer could also affect crop
biodiversity, especially that of landraces, and may compromise the
planting of crops by farmers who wish to remain GM-free (e.g., organic
farmers). Indeed, the coexistence of GM crop agriculture and organic
agriculture (which does not tolerate GM use above specific thresholds) is
likely to be difficult for certain plants in specific areas24. As a
consequence, the wish for regions with restrictions on planting of GM
organisms (GMOs) and GMO-free foods has already been expressed in
different areas25, 26.
Conclusions Both conventional methods of breeding and recombinant
technology can affect the expression of genes and raise questions about
food safety. Phenotypic variability in a novel crop can also result from
environmental/epigenetic factors as well as the genetic background in
which a trait is expressed. Clearly, risk assessment must account for the
effects of transgene-specific factors, environmental signals and genetic
background on phenotype. The expression level of a gene, rather than the
sequence of the protein product, can often determine phenotypes that
contribute to natural variation27.
In any risk assessment, however, it is important to differentiate between
hypothetical and proven risks. And, to date, no food-derived health
problems have been identified with the use of GM plants. However, it must
be acknowledged that occasional pleiotropic, unintended safety relevant
effects in organisms produced with traditional or modern biotechnology can
occur and need to be addressed.
The decision by the Codex to include unintended effects (e.g.,
environmental health risks) in the risk assessment is an important new
development. The link between environment and human health operates
through the exposure of humans to environmental hazards, where such
hazards may take many forms, wholly natural in origin or derived from
human activities and interventions. There have been several attempts to
conceptualize environmental-human health interactions28, 29. Indicators
for environmental health and methods for the consideration of the burden
of disease from environmental risk factors are presently harmonized to
support and monitor policy on environment and health for many
developments30, 31. These concepts may be useful in the analyses of
effects of GM organisms for food production. Such assessments need to
compare different approaches to food production, such as conventional,
organic or GM technologies, and may also prove valuable in assessing
regional differences (health relevant decreases or increases of pesticide
use according to local agroecological situation) in the impacts of modern
methods of food production.
The Codex's approach to GM crops will be inherently linked to agreements
at the World Trade Organization (Geneva, Switzerland). Codex principles do
not have a binding effect on national legislation, but are referred to
specifically in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement of the World
Trade Organization (SPS Agreement), and can be used as a reference in case
of trade disputes. This has particular relevance in the light of the
recent complaint brought by the United States, Canada and Argentina to the
WTO against the EU de facto moratorium on GM crops.
1. Codex Alimentarius Commission. Joint FAO/WHO Food Standard Programme.
Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from
Biotechnology (Codex, Yokohama, Japan)
http://www.codexalimentarius.net/ccfbt4/bt03_01e.htm (11-14 March 2003).
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3. Kirschmann, J.C. & Suber, R.L. Food Chem. Toxicol. 27, 555-556 (1998).
4. Ames, B.N. & Gold, L.S. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 87, 7772-7776
5. Prakash, C.S. Plant Physiol. 126, 8-15 (2001).
6. Courtial, B. et al. Mol. Genet. Genomics 265, 32-42 (2001).
7. Meyer, P. In Vitro Cell. Dev. Biol.-Plant 35, 29-35 (1999).
8. Koprek, T. et al. Plant Physiol. 125, 354-1362 (2001).
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Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods of Plant Origin. Report of a Joint
FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology (WHO,
May-2 June 2002).
10. World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization. Safety
Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Modified Microorganisms.
Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from
Biotechnology (WHO, Geneva, Switzerland)
http://www.who.int/fsf/Documents/GMMConsult_Final_.pdf (24-28 September
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16. Meza, T.J. et al. Transgenic Res. 10, 53-67 (2002).
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Genet. 46, 235-275 (2002).
18. Bailey-Serres, J. Trends Plant Genet. 4, 142-148 (1999).
19. Brundtland Report. Our Common Future (World Commission on Environment
and Development, Nairobi, Kenya)
20. World Health Organization/National Agency for the Protection of the
Environment. Release of Genetically Modified Organisms in the Environment:
Is it a Health Hazard? Report of Joint WHO/EURO-ANPA Seminar (WHO, Rome,
Italy) http://www.euro.who.int/document/fos/Fin_rep.pdf (7-9 September
21. Bt Corn Gene Flow in Mexico. Ag BioTech InfoNet,
http://www.biotech-info.net/mexican_bt_flow.html, 18 November 2002.
22. Alvarez-Morales, A. Transgenes in maize landraces in Oaxaca: official
report on the extent and implications. Presented at the 7th International
Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms
(International Society for Biosafety Research, Beijing, China)
http://www.worldbiosafety.net/paper (10-16 October 2002).
23. Sánchez-González, J. de J. Concerns About the Effect of Transgene
Introgression in Maize Landraces and Teosinte. Presented at the 7th
International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms
(International Society for Biosafety Research, Beijing, China)
http://www.worldbiosafety.net/paper/ (10-16 October 2002).
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(EC, Brussels, Belgium)
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27. Mauricio, R. Nat. Rev.Genet. 2, 370-381 (2001).
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Institute for Organic Farming, Berlin, Germany)
30. Fehr, R. Epidemiology 10, 618-625 (1999).
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The author is at the University of Vienna and the World Health
Organization FOS Program for Food Safety, Geneva, Switzerland. e-mail:
Farmers protest 'flatulence' tax
By RAY LILLEY
July 15, 2003
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Farmers are mailing parcels of sheep and cow
manure to lawmakers to protest a so-called "flatulence" tax on greenhouse
gas emissions from their flocks and herds, the New Zealand's postal
service complained Tuesday.
The service said about 20 reeking packages and envelopes had been sent to
the nation's Parliament and that the protest - dubbed the "Raise a Stink"
campaign - was endangering the health of postal workers.
Farmers are angry that the government has levied the tax to raise 8
million New Zealand dollars (US$4.7 million) a year - about 300 New
Zealand dollars (US$177) for average farms and ranches - for research into
methane gas emissions from agricultural animals.
Millions of sheep, cattle and other animals that graze on New Zealand's
lush farmlands are thought to produce 55 percent of the country's
New Zealand Post spokesman Ian Long said sending manure by the mail was a
"Our main concern is for the health and safety of our people," said Long.
"The police have told us that they will prosecute if they can prove
Mail sorting workers were wearing protective gloves and placing suspect
parcels into bags, he said.
Parliamentary security officials said some stained and damp mail items had
been intercepted before they made it to government ministers.
Adam Fricker, editor of the Rural News newspaper which encouraged the
protest, said farmers had taken "radical" action to get the ear of the
"Farmers feel marginalized. They don't have the voice in Parliament they
once had ... to really get traction on an issue when a ridiculous tax like
this is being foisted on them," he said.
Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said climate change from greenhouse gases
"is the world's biggest environmental problem. We have to do something
He said farmers could be "responsible guardians" of the environment and
help generate new technology to deal with animal methane.
Dismissing the manure protest as "nonsense," Sutton said an alternative to
the tax was for farmers pay emission levies like other industrial sectors.
That would cost them tens of millions of dollars more a year.
Greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide from burning fossil
fuels like coal and oil, are being blamed for a feared warming of the
Environmentalists fear it will cause havoc with global weather patterns
and trigger sea level rises.
Erin Brockovich's Junk Science
New York Times
July 11, 2003
By Leon Jaroff
Her new suit against oil companies and Beverly Hills has little scientific