Today in AgBioView: August 14, 2003:
* Luddite Heads Stuck in the Soil
* Judge lifts Brazilian Court Ban on GM Seeds
* Kenyan MPs Chat the Way Forward for Biotech
* Brussels' Bad Science Will Cost the World Dear
* Truth Behind Those Mad Scientist Stories
* Progress Blocked
* Label Me Responsible
* ... Pop Quiz to European Regulators!
* Green Light for Global Study on Food Security
* Africans See No GM Food Risk to Humans, Back Use
* Vatican to Weigh in on Biotech Food Issue
* Vatican Backing Sparks GM Row
* Response to John Cross on Taking GM Food to Brittain
* Flawed Science Underlies Laws on Transgenic Crops
* Natural Decaf Could Brew Trouble for Farmers
* Would Jesus Eat GM Food?
Luddite Heads Stuck in the Soil
- Ken Vernon, Gold Coast Bulletin (Australia) August 13, 2003
'Australia's next 'war' will occur in our own backyard. Ken Vernon says we
must embrace genetically modified agriculture or be consigned to the
compost heap of history. Tomorrow Ross Eastgate argues that we should not
rush in where angels fear to tread.'
Just under two hundred years ago the first blows were landed in a battle
that is set to resume in Australia this year. Those first strikes were
made by a groups of workers in England that came to be known as Luddites,
now a short-hand term for anyone opposed to technological advances.
Now their ideological offspring - let's call them 'greenites' - have been
summoned back to the cause by the issuing of a licence to produce
Australia's first genetically engineered crops. The first plant to step
triffid-like into the brave new genetically modified (GM) Australia last
month was canola, followed within days by cotton.
Within a few years it is anticipated that 80 per cent of Australia's
cotton crop and perhaps the same percentage of canola will be genetically
modified - and the greenites argue that genetic modification of our entire
environment can only be gust of wind away.
In fact, genetically modified crops have already been introduced into
Australia and about 30 per cent of our cotton crop is genetically
modified. If the truth be known, people have been modifying food crops
since mankind first planted them.
What else is selective breeding and cross-fertilisation? What is survival
of the fittest if not genetic modification in slow motion? Before that,
nature has been genetically modifying plants and animals since time began
- it's called evolution.
But when it comes to the modern, high-speed genetic modification of food,
somehow the whole game changes, giving the greenites the chance to play on
people's unreasoned fear that GM food will somehow modify our health - for
In the process, they are threatening to derail one perhaps the only chance
that mankind has to alleviate the spectre of famine hanging over much of
the world. It is no coincidence that while half of the world starves, the
heartland of GM food - America - produces far more food that it can
To confuse this simple fact greenites promote horror stories which,
unfortunately do exist. Already American 'scientists' - I use the word
loosely - have produced rats and monkeys that glow different colours in
the dark by mixing their genes with those of jellyfish.
Why? Well, the only answer is 'because they can'. No technological
advances are created without the exploration of some dead ends - remember
the inventors who glued feathers to their arms in the first attempts at
For every scare story there are dozens of virtual miracles being produced
by the new technology that will not only help feed millions of people, but
will make them healthier. A New Zealand company has produced a
genetically modified potato by mixing it with the genes of a toad (is that
a potoado?) to make the potato (not the toad) resistant to soft rot. The
Irish should declare the developers national heroes.
The US Food and Drug Administration is considering an application to
market Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as
those presently raised on fish farms. The Atlantic salmon genes are
spliced with genes from Chinook salmon and a fish known as the ocean pout
to produce growth hormones year-round instead of just during the summer
In Australia, scientists are working on a GM grape that has been altered
to boost sugar and colour. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries
is developing a GM pineapple that would not suffer from the disease
blackheart and would have a longer shelf-life.
GM crops also mean less pesticide use - especially in under-regulated
third world countries - and ultimately less pressure on wildlife areas. If
Australia's entire cotton crop was genetically modified to resist disease
it would cut pesticide use in the cotton growing industry by 75 per cent!
Only the hungry can really appreciate the advantages of increased yields
from GM crops. One report by a group that promotes use of the technology
in poor countries found that an estimated six million farmers in 16
countries planted GM crops on 145 million acres last year, an increase of
15 million acres and three countries from the previous year.
India, Colombia and Honduras grew GM crops on a large scale for the first
time last year, joining Argentina, China, Uruguay, Mexico, South Africa
and Indonesia as developing nations that have embraced biotechnology.
Worldwide, 68 per cent of soy bean, 49 per cent of cotton and 32 per cent
of canola is already genetically modified.
But no matter what the benefits of modern technology - and that is all
genetic modification is, a modern technology - there are those who will
feel threatened because they cannot understand it or will be financially
worse off because of it.
It is worth noting that the original Luddites smashed power looms not
because the looms harmed mankind in any way, but because the machines put
their own cottage industry out of business. The fact that more people
benefitted from cheaper clothing did not concern the Luddites in the
Already scare stories spread by greenites have encouraged several African
countries to reject food aid because it contained GM grain, in the process
condemning their own people to starvation.
But just as it was impossible to annihilate the power weaving machines of
the 19th century and just as the Luddites are today a quaint historical
anachronism, so will the greenites fail to prevent more technology being
applied to the world's oldest industry - agriculture.
Not only is progress impossible to stop, neither should it be.
There is no evidence whatsoever that genetically modified food is in
anyway unsafe, despite decades of intense study and research. Australians
must be wary about being caught on the wrong side of history, otherwise we
may find ourselves - like the Luddites - just a quaint footnote in
Judge lifts Brazilian Court Ban on Genetically Modified Seeds
- The Wall Street Journal-Associated Press, August 13, 2003
A federal judge Tuesday lifted a ban preventing U.S. agricultural giant
Monsanto Co. from selling genetically modified soybean seeds in Brazil.
Monsanto welcomed the ruling by Judge Selene Maria de Almeida, but the
company's victory could be short-lived. Two other judges who serve on her
appeals panel could reverse the decision, effectively putting back in
place the ban approved in 2000.
Monsanto wants the seeds legalized to recoup lost profits from widespread
illicit use in Brazil of its Roundup Ready soybean seeds. Brazilian
growers use seeds smuggled into Brazil from neighboring countries, then
grow more on their own land. The Brazilian government rarely enforces the
law, and experts estimate 17 percent of the country's soybean crop are
grown from the seeds.
Brazil harvested about 52 million metric tons of soybeans during the
2002-2003 season, making it the second largest producer after the United
States. The judge agreed with Monsanto's position that there are no legal
or scientific reasons to ban genetically modified seeds, and that Brazil's
robust agricultural industry could suffer if growers are not allowed to
use the seeds.
Environmentalists, including Greenpeace, oppose the use of genetically
modified seeds because of suspicions they could harm the environment.
Monsanto in June warned about 250 exporters that buy Brazilian soybeans
and 150 importers that the company would soon start monitoring exports of
crops grown with the illicit seeds.
The move came as the struggling St. Louis-based company is shifting its
business focus from manufacturing herbicides to developing and selling
genetically engineered seeds around the world. It has complained bitterly
for years about Brazilian farmers using Monsanto's technology without
paying for it. Monsanto has also been lobbying the Brazilian government to
legalize genetically engineered crops.
Kenyan Parliamentarians Chat the Way Forward for the Country’s Biosafety
- Catherine Ngamau, AgBioView, August 14, 2003 http://www.agbioworld.org/
(Kenya Biotechnology Information Centre (KBIC), Nairobi)
To exploit biotechnology and products of genetic engineering there is need
for an appropriate bio-policy and a legal framework that ensures the safe
use of such products and environmental protection. A Bill relating to
bio-policy and bio-safety for the exploitation of biotechnology and
products of genetic engineering has been drafted for discussion in the
However, the members of parliament need support and facilitation to
understand the context to enable them to discuss the issues of
biotechnology more broadly. It is with this goal that ABSF in
collaboration with Tuskegee University (USA) and the National Council of
Science and Technology (NCST) organised a two-day (4th & 5th August 2003)
biosafety workshop at the Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi.
Overall this workshop attracted over 150 Participants, which included
about 30 members of the Kenyan parliament, 18 representatives from
different countries in Africa with resource persons drawn from Tuskegee
University (USA), New Zealand, University of Agricultural sciences
(India), National Agricultural Research Organisation (Uganda), Kenya
Agricultural Research Institute, Attorney Generals Chambers (Kenya), ISAAA
AfriCenter, International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya),
Biotechnology Trust Africa, A-Harvest, CIMMYT among others.
The workshop presentations revolved around the developments in
biotechnology and biosafety policy, biotechnology strategies impacting on
agricultural production and brief remarks by the Kenyan parliamentarians.
In his opening remarks, Hon. P. Ayiecho acknowledged the role of genetic
modification in food security in Kenya and other developing countries. He
emphasised the need for MPs to understand and adopt an appropriate
bio-policy in order to exploit biotechnology and products of genetic
engineering appropriately. He suggested travelling workshops for the MPs
in order for them to appreciate implementation of biotechnology and be
enabled to answer questions related to biotechnology when the biosafety
Bill is tabled in Parliament.
The minister for livestock and rural development Hon. Joseph Munyao, in
his closing remarks, encouraged the participants to synthesize the draft
Bill and liase with the chief whip Hon. Norman Nyaga, who was also
present, to coordinate and mobilise parliamentary support. He emphasized
the need for embracing biotechnology as a tool for development.
Based on contributions, observations and questions raised by participants
it was apparent that the level of understanding of biotechnology is still
very low. Expression of fear due to lack of information was apparent among
parliamentarians. However, after presentations and discussions the
majority of the MPs appreciated the efforts made by African scientists and
expressed confidence on the role that biotechnology could play in
enhancing the Agricultural output.
As a way forward the MPs challenged the scientists and ABSF to bridge the
gap between them by consistently interacting with them. This they said
would help them contextualise the real issues in biotechnology, which
would make it easier for them to support the Biosafety Bill. This they
observed would also be instrumental in enhancing lobbying government
support for research and development. The MPs strongly felt there was need
for provision of more information on biotechnology and biosafety.
* Need for further exposure in the area of biotechnology for the
parliamentarians and public in general.
* Need for travelling workshops for the MPs in order for them to
appreciate impacts of biotechnology. (Travelling workshops especially to
countries that have already adopted and implemented agric-biotechnology
e.g. South Africa, India, U.S., and China.)
* Need to address the concerns already expressed about genetic
* An intensive session, outside Nairobi, for the relevant parliamentary
* Visits to labs in the country undertaking molecular biology research.
* Field days with farmers having biotech projects like TC products, clonal
* Need to support scientists in lobbing government for increased funding
for biotechnology research.
Brussels' Bad Science Will Cost the World Dear
- Gregory Conko and Henry Miller, Financial Times; Aug 14, 2003
Regulatory officials in the European Union seem to be ignorant of the rule
of holes: when you are in one, stop digging. Numerous analyses over the
past two decades have documented Europe's declining competitiveness in
agricultural biotechnology - the use of genetic modification to improve
plants, animals and micro-organisms.
Recently, for example, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre
reported that two-thirds of large European companies that had been
involved in developing GM crops had cancelled substantial projects since
1998. Yet the EU seems determined, through its unscientific, unwise and
unproductive approach to regulation, to let the sector fall further
At the root of the problem is the EU's adherence to the so-called
"precautionary principle", which holds that as long as the evidence about
a product, technology or activity is in any way incomplete, it should be
prohibited or, at the least, heavily regulated. This in turn is based on
the false assumption that little harm comes from delaying the introduction
of new products and technologies.
The principle exaggerates the potential drawbacks of new products and
underestimates their benefits. The decision-making process it dictates is
intentionally weighted against new technologies even after they have been
Literally thousands of laboratory, greenhouse and field studies show the
risks of GM plants and foods to be minimal, while their benefits - in
terms of increased yields and reduced pesticide use - are legion. Future
increases in their use would improve human nutrition and, by reducing
pressure on land and water, protect fragile ecosystems.
But the precautionary principle stands in the way. It forces us to ignore
proven benefits in a costly effort to eliminate hypothetical risks that
are small or easily manageable. Thus, in 1998, the highest French court
invoked the principle when it suspended commercialisation of three GM corn
varieties, even though the French government had already endorsed approval
of those same varieties at EU level. Similarly, in 2000, Germany rescinded
the licence for field testing a GM corn variety just one day before the
agriculture ministry was due to approve it for commercial cultivation.
The list of bizarre and baseless actions by European regulators goes on
and on. Even the Commission's own research implies that this has little to
do with protecting consumers or the environment. Last year, it reviewed
the 17 years of risk assessment research it had funded - 81 projects by
more than 400 multinational research groups, costing about €70m ($79m) -
and concluded that GM organisms are "probably . . . safer than
conventional plants and foods" for both the environment and human
The precautionary principle purports to be a useful method for decision-
making in situations of uncertainty. In practice, however, it serves as an
excuse for imposing arbitrary restrictions, often transparently motivated
by protectionism, on new technology. The results of this approach are
plain in the EU's labelling and traceability regime, which makes it
prohibitively expensive and complicated for growers of GM crops to comply
with the rules. The ultimate outcome will be to replace a de facto
moratorium with insuperable regulatory obstacles.
In view of the moribund state of GM research and development in the EU,
its only viable strategy may be to poison the well - that is, to make sure
that GM technology fails everywhere, and that no competitor remains
viable. European attempts to secure acceptance of the precautionary
principle in international agreements and treaties are a good start.
In the interest of human rights, economic justice and free markets, we
need global regulatory policies that make scientific sense and that lead
to greater productivity and consumer choice. By promoting the
precautionary principle, and by exporting their own version of
unscientific and inconsistent regulation, EU politicians are doing us all
a grave disservice. The only winners will be the Brussels bureaucrats who
will enjoy additional power, and the anti-science activists who will have
succeeded in erecting yet another barrier to a superior technology. The
biggest losers will be consumers, who will be denied access to safer, more
nutritious and more affordable food.
-- Henry Miller is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Gregory Conko is director of food safety policy at the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, Washington
The Truth Behind Those Mad Scientist Stories
- James Reynolds, Scotsman (UK), Aug 14, 2003. Excerpts below. Full story
Frankenstein Foods, cloned babies and dangerous injections which give your
children autism. Good headlines, but according to the Royal Society, very
This week, the UK’s most venerable scientific institution launched a major
investigation into the way scientists and media publish research. The
Royal Society, established in 1660, is worried that researchers’
credibility may be undermined by controversial claims about cloning,
genetically modified foods and the MMR vaccine.
The central concern is that the media is over-simplifying complex issues
and sometimes getting things plain wrong in the hunt for a good story.
The Scotsman took three examples of news stories similar to those which
will be examined during the inquiry and asked Professor Paul Harvey, a
member of the Royal Society working group, what they said to him about the
news media and science reporting.
'Frankenstein food fiasco. Daily Mail, 13 February, 1999.'
The story followed the publication of controversial findings by Dr Arpad
Pusztai, based at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen. He claimed
that potatoes injected with a gene to protect them against blight had been
fed to rats and that, as a result, the rats had weakened immune systems.
The debate about the safety of GM food raged for weeks after the story
The second paragraph of the story claimed Tony Blair and his ministers had
"rejected fresh demands for a moratorium on the ‘Frankenstein foods’,
despite a stark warning from top scientists that millions could be at risk
from cancer and killer infections".
Another paragraph read: "The heaviest blow to the government's stubborn
defence of GM foods came as an international panel of experts backed
[Pusztai], whose career was ruined after he sounded a warning about
Prof Harvey says: "This story confounds two issues. On the one hand, it
says Pusztai was right, when in fact he was wrong. Then it goes on to
quote Jack Cunningham on whether there should be a moratorium, which has
nothing to do with Pusztai.
"The panel of top scientists consulted, one of which is revealed as the
past president of the British Society of Allergy and Environmental
Medicine, is not what you would call ‘top science’. "After being
immediately dumped on and nobody being able to replicate his result, this
claims that an independent panel has legitimised those spurious results."
Prof Harvey adds: "Problems arise when issues are confounded and put under
one heading, and this is worrying when public health is at stake. "The
structures that are in place need to be examined and criticised, but in a
balanced way. This is nothing new to the Mail and they have done it since
in reports about supposed ‘Frankenstein foods’."
Professor John Eldridge, a media analyst at Glasgow University, argues
that the issues involved here are not just about the media and science,
but are also heavily political. "To show an awareness of the way the
politics is working rather than necessarily to be sucked into it is
important here," he says.
"There clearly are political dimensions to MMR and also, say, GM food or
genetic engineering, because they have economic and social consequences,
so there will always be a dimension which prevents it being turned into a
bland, neutral scientific argument in a simplistic way. But to show an
awareness of these levels of interest and concern is the task of good
journalism. It is easy to understand people in the medical field referring
to the great weight of serious medical evidence which points in the
opposite direction, and meanwhile we are told we are on the verge of a
measles epidemic [in the MMR story]."
Prof Eldridge says such stories raise crucial issues "about how they
should be reported and contextualised". He continues: "This manifestly
plays on very raw fears and emotions about damaging children’s’ health.
"We should listen to the dissenters and those that challenge the
orthodoxy, but this has to be done in reference to the volume and the
status of the overwhelming evidence. "None of this means you cannot
continue asking questions, but it raises concerns about serious
professional journalism, which can sometimes foreground claims about
particular research out of sync with what the vast majority of scientists
- Hull Daily Mail (UK), August 12, 2003
Your correspondent (Mail, August 7) is to be applauded for thinking ahead,
but has no need to apologise for our ancestors employing nature's
GM foods, phone masts, power lines, incinerators, space travel, motor
cars, genetic medicine - you name it, any progress through technology is
blocked by pseudo-science, emotional blackmail and intellectual
dishonesty. - Norman C Richards, Salisbury Street, Hull.
Label Me Responsible
- Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com, August 14, 2003
Have you ever heard of acrylamide? Me neither. But if California has its
way, we might become all-too familiar with the word. That's because the
state government wants to put warning labels on foods containing a certain
amount of the stuff, which may be found in baked and fried foods that
contain plenty of starch, such as potato chips and French fries.
California is in the midst of a gubernatorial recall election. I don't
know how that will play out, but I'm starting to hope it's possible to
recall this silly proposal. The Golden State's market is so huge that any
labeling mandate is tantamount to a federal requirement--big food
companies will slap the warnings on just about everything they produce, no
matter where they sell it.
Scientists are currently studying acrylamide. Some of our finest
researchers are at work on the matter, as they should be. Protecting our
food is their job. So far, however, we must recognize a fundamental fact -
there's no evidence that acrylamide is a danger to people.
This is the problem with so many warning labels: They give consumers
information they can't really use and inspire dread where there may be
nothing to fear.
If acrylamide is dangerous to people, products that contain too much of it
shouldn't bear warning labels. Instead, they should be taken off the
shelves. We expect our food regulators to protect us from harm, not to
scare us about unproven possibilities.
Labels need to be based upon real science, not superstition. Henry Chin of
the National Food Processors Association put it well recently in response
to the acrylamide proposal, "The State of California is at odds with the
course of sound science being followed by other health organizations
involved in this global issue, including the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration and the World Health Organization."
Until more is known about acrylamide--where it comes from, how it shows up
in food, and precisely what effect it has on the human body--we can't make
any kind of proper determination. We should allow science to perform its
proper function and give us the facts. Requiring labels when we don't have
these data is a panicked reaction, not a reasoned one.
Unfortunately, reason has not always dominated these debates.
There's a push in several other places to put labels on other types of
products, such as biotech foods. Last year, Oregon voters considered a
ballot initiative that would have required all sorts of products to be
identified as "genetically engineered." This would have included not only
tortillas made from corn-perhaps genetically-modified --but even items
that have only the loosest of connections to the latest advances in
agricultural technology. Under the Oregon proposal, a cake mix containing
no GM ingredients would have had to carry the label if the chicken that
produced the egg white in the mix had once consumed a few kernels of bt
This is madness, and the people of Oregon were wise to overwhelmingly
reject Measure 27, as the referendum was called. Reason did prevail--thank
goodness. Yet the professional anti-science activists who demanded the
labeling haven't given up. They'll probably run more initiatives in more
states soon, spreading misinformation about the nature of biotech foods.
The problem isn't confined to the United States. It's actually worse
abroad. The European Union may start to require labels for GM foods--even
though there isn't a scrap of evidence anywhere suggesting the biotech
crops are anything but perfectly healthy.
When we know more about acrylamide, we will make responsible regulatory
decisions--something we can't possibly do right now.
- Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in
support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Pop Quiz to the European Regulators and Greens...
- From Prakash, AgBioView, August 14, 2003. http://www.agbioworld.org/
Quick...What is this concotion below? Hint: You will find it in many of
your processed foods including ice cream and soft drink.
"Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethool, anisyl formate,
benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, benzyl acid, butyric acid, cinnamyl
isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl
ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl
heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate,
ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone
(10 percent solution in alcohol), alpha-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate,
isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone,
methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine
carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil,
neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl
alcohol, rose, rum ether, -gamma undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent."
ANSWER: Strawberry Flavor!
Now, using your own standards for labeling GM food, how would you label
Green Light for Global Study on Food Security
- Ian Geoghegan, Reuters, Aug 2, 2003
Budapest, Aug 2 - Experts from business, politics, food, farming and
development agreed the basis on Saturday for an ambitious review of how
science can help some 800 million chronically undernourished people in the
After months of regional meetings across the globe, a World Bank-sponsored
group of experts has recommended a searching look at how to harness
agricultural technologies, including genetic modification, to meet global
food needs over the next 50 years. "Over $35 billion is spent annually on
agricultural research. We need to know if this money is well spent and
where best to target our efforts," said the recommendation paper after
governments, agribusiness, development agencies, pressure groups and
non-governmental organisations met in Budapest.
"Having Greenpeace, the World Bank and a company like Syngenta sitting
together and agreeing this is important for the developing world is pretty
amazing," said Michael Stopford, an executive at Syngenta, the world's
The review, which will cost $15 million and could be finished by the end
of 2006, will canvass broad opinion, from local farmers to the public and
private sectors, to look at how biotechnology can help fight hunger and
poverty as the global population expands and land and water become
Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser said the review would help
make future agricultural research more relevant to farmers' needs in the
developing world. "We agreed an assessment...would be timely, sensible and
beneficial to advance new ways of thinking about agricultural science and
technology around the world," he said.
"The hope is we can tease out some of the important barriers that large
numbers of farmers face -- specific issues like pests, animal diseases and
blights that research has overlooked -- take that analysis to the
scientific community and come up with a research agenda that is close to
the ground," he said.
INTEGRATED APPROACH. Bob Watson, the World Bank chief scientist who
chaired the review and who helped prepare the groundwork for the Kyoto
climate protocol, said the assessment would be unique in bringing together
farmers' local knowledge and the work of university, government and
private sector laboratorties.
"We'll have a much better idea of what is the role of science and
technology moving into the future, bringing together local and
institutional knowledge which can be used by governments, NGOs,
international and funding agencies," he said.
The review will explicitly not be bogged down by broader disputes over the
merits of GM technology, the organisers said. "We've been very disciplined
in not arguing the pros and cons of GMOs and gene technology," said
"GM is not the number one issue and we've tried to take out the strident
debate on GM technology," said Syngenta's Stopford. "The sort of things --
like drought resistance, plant breeding, rice that doesn't need so much
irrigation -- that could be extremely interesting for the developing
world, are totally reachable without coming near the subject of GM."
The recommendation now goes to World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who
is likely to pass it on to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to
drum up the funding.
Africans See No GM Food Risk to Humans, Back Use
- Marta Odallah, Reuters News, Aug 8, 2003
MAPUTO, Aug 8 - African scientists sent on a fact-finding mission to the
United States and Europe found that genetically modified organisms posed
no immediate risk to humans and animals, a regional body said on Friday.
The team of researchers from the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) also recommended that the bloc embrace biotechnology, SADC said in
Reluctance to accept GM foods threw a spanner in the works for hunger
relief agencies last year. The survey team's findings will address some of
the safety concerns voiced then. The 14-member SADC said the trip by 17
scientists was forced by internal debate on the use of bio-technology for
international development, and implications for food safety, contamination
of genetic resources, ethical issues, trade and growing consumer concerns.
"The scientists have recommended that SADC embrace biotechnology as one of
the tools that can be used to address the issues of food security," SADC
said in the statement, handed out on the sidelines of a meeting of
defence, security and foreign ministers. "The general findings of the
mission indicate that the potential risks from genetically modified (GM)
crops and products appear to be less related to direct human and domestic
"The risks are more related to the impact of unintended release into the
environment. The risks include unintended gene flow to other crop
varieties, plants, animals and macro-organisms," the statement said.
SADC said the scientists had also backed a decision by the region's
ministers to promote the milling of transgenic grain before it was
distributed to hunger-stricken families. They also sought a quick
establishment of a regional advisory committee on advances in
biotechnology and legislation in SADC countries to guide on GM use.
The scientists findings will be endorsed by SADC ministers and heads of
state meeting in Tanzania later this month. SADC members Zimbabwe, Zambia,
Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique faced a crippling food shortage
All expressed initial reservations about accepting GM food aid, but all
but Zambia later relaxed their opposition and accepted milled grain, which
could not be planted by farmers. SADC comprises Angola, Botswana, the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique,
Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and
Vatican to Weigh in on Biotech Food Issue; Alarms Over Global Hunger Abut
Fears of Modified Crops
- Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2003
The Vatican, spurred by concern over world hunger, announced it intends to
jump into the controversy over genetically modified foods, a move that
promises to accelerate vigorous debate among Roman Catholics in Europe and
the Third World who staunchly oppose biotechnology.
While Vatican officials so far have stopped short of a statement of
support, they have acknowledged a keen interest in biotech foods as a
means of reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition. The Vatican plans to
convene a round-table of experts on genetically modified foods this fall
and will "draw the appropriate conclusions" afterward, Cardinal Renato
Martino said last week.
Genetically modified foods remain a source of contention among the United
States, Europe and other countries, with some wary of potential long-term
health and environmental consequences. The process involves removing
specific genetic material from one plant and transplanting it in another
to promote such characteristics as improved crop yield, protection against
insects and better taste.
"The problem of hunger involves the conscience of every man, and in
particular those of the Christians," said Martino, who heads the
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. "For this reason, the Catholic
Church follows with special interest and solicitude every development in
science to help the solution of a plight that afflicts such a large part
Catholic Church officials in South Africa, Brazil and the Philippines have
released statements opposing genetically modified foods. Jose Bove, a
French farmer and anti-globalization activist, said Vatican support for
biotech foods would be "scandalous." "I believe that St. Francis, if he
were living today, would have something to say about this stance of the
Roman shepherds," Bove told the Italian daily La Stampa.
Ultimately, the Vatican may have to decide whether genetic modification is
a legitimate means to alleviate world hunger--a position espoused by the
United States--or an unproven technology being pushed by profit-hungry
corporations that may cause long-term health and environmental problems,
as some critics contend.
Any decision likely will be influential--and controversial. The South
African Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement in 2001 demanding
more clarity on how genetically modified foods might affect subsistence
farmers. The bishops also warned that consumers should be able to choose
whether to eat genetically modified foods, said Dawn Linder, secretary for
environmental justice for the South African Catholic Bishops Conference.
"There are a lot of things that need to be cleared up in terms of the
safety to people's health and safety to the environment," Linder said.
She said the bishops are planning to reconvene this fall to reconsider the
issue, along with other South African church leaders and scientists. A
Vatican endorsement of genetically modified food would not necessarily
lead to a change in the position held by South African bishops, Linder
Several church experts said the Vatican generally is not opposed to
genetic intervention in natural processes as long as they fall within
certain moral guidelines. For instance, the Vatican opposes such
activities as cloning, in-vitro fertilization and stem-cell research
because of a belief that human life must be protected and respected from
the point of conception.
"I don't think the church has ever said that genetic modifications in
themselves are wrong," said Gerald McKenny, associate professor of
theological ethics at the University of Notre Dame. "It's permissible for
human beings to intervene in natural processes so long as certain moral
norms are not violated."
Stephen Pope, an associate professor of social ethics at Boston College,
said the Vatican will have to balance its desire to feed the needy with
concerns over genetic modification's potential impact on the environment.
"There's a subtle balancing act that the Vatican is trying between
responsibility for nature and the urgent needs of the poor," Pope said.
"The moral limits it is trying to draw are between acting on nature merely
to spur profits versus acting on nature to improve human well-being."
The conflict has been evident in Pope John Paul II's evolving comments
about genetically modified foods, authorities said. His initial confidence
that the technology could feed the world's hungry has given way to a more
cautious approach that warns against biotech's potential dangers, McKenny
said. In a speech to Italian farmers in 2000, the pope urged that
stringent scientific and ethical controls be placed on biotechnology to
avoid a possible "disaster for the health of man and the future of the
The Vatican has not said who will participate in the biotech round-table.
Authorities said a Vatican endorsement would be welcomed by manufacturers
and perhaps would relieve the Catholic laity's anxiety about eating
biotech foods. Less clear is what impact, if any, an endorsement would
have on government opposition to genetically modified food.
"It's hard to know what impact Vatican statements have anymore," said
Thomas Shannon, a professor of religion and social ethics at Worcester
Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, noting that the Vatican's
opposition to the Iraq war did little to change the debate.
If the Vatican decides in favor of genetically modified foods, Shannon
said, "obviously the Americans will latch onto this while the Europeans
would find this to be very problematic."
An endorsement could prove to be a savvy public relations move, serving to
offset criticism that the Vatican has contributed to world hunger by
objecting to birth control, some experts said. Jon Nilson, an associate
theology professor at Loyola University Chicago, said such a decision also
could help "to dispel the stereotype [of the Vatican] as a retrograde
institution that shoots down anything that is new and untried.
"It strikes me as a very progressive move," Nilson said.
Vatican Backing Sparks GM Row
- John Hooper & John Vidal, The Guardian, August 14, 2003
'Report set to anger Catholics in developing world'
Plans being laid at the Vatican to throw the Pope's vast moral influence
behind the cultivation of genetically modified crops have sparked a row
within the church.
An Italian archbishop, Renato Martino, is the prelate behind the pro-GM
lobby and the equivalent of a minister in the Pope's government. His
department, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which deals with
ethical issues, is preparing to publish a report on the use of
biotechnology in agriculture which, the archbishop has already hinted,
will give a favourable verdict.
He told Vatican radio: "The problem of hunger involves the conscience of
every man. For this reason the Catholic church follows with special
interest and solicitude every development in science to help the solution
of a plight that afflicts ... humanity."
His remarks have angered Catholic clerics working in the developing world.
Father Giulio Albanese, head of the missionary news agency, MISNA,
described them as a "provocation". In a statement, the influential Fr
Albanese stressed: "The concern of many in the missionary world over the
property rights to GM seeds ... cannot but accentuate the dependence of
the poor nations on the rich ones."
Opposition to GM technology is growing rapidly within the Catholic church.
"We do not believe that agro-companies or gene technologies will help our
farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century," said
bishops from Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland in a statement.
The bishops said it was morally irresponsible to produce and market
genetically modified food and warned of damage to the environment and
human health. "We think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge
and the sustainable agricultural systems and that it will undermine our
capacity to feed ourselves."
In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops Conference has urged the
government to postpone the authorisation of GM corn until comprehensive
studies have been made. "We have to be careful, because once it is there,
how can we remedy its consequences?" said Cardinal Rocardo Vidal.
GM supporters in the Vatican are thought to have been so worried about the
position of Filipino local clergy that they called them to Rome to be
addressed by a leading ethicist, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice-president of
the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life
"There are no impediments to animal and vegetable biotechnologies," Sgr
Sgreccia told them. "[They] can be justified with the motive that they are
for the good of man."
In Brazil, 14 bishops appealed to the government last month not to allow
GM crops to be grown. "It is clear that large corporations will be the
greatest beneficiary, with grave damage for the farmer", they said.
Catholics in other developing countries are split between their
hierarchies, who tend to be pro-GM, and the lower orders who work with the
poorest and tend to be against it. Zambian bishops supported GM food aid
earlier this year but were strongly opposed by Jesuits from the Centre for
The Pope has so far been cautious. Two years ago, he set the tone for a
wide-ranging inquiry when he declared that GM agriculture could not be
judged solely on the basis of "short-term economic interests", but needed
to be subject to "a rigorous scientific and ethical process of
A church official who has met Archbishop Martino described him as
"unusually forthright and voluble". The official added that the eventual
report from the Vatican might be couched in more ambiguous language - not
least because he expected a determined campaign by developing world
clerics to water it down.
Response to John Cross on Taking GM Food to Brittain
- Andre de Kathen |
Dear John, It might not be relevant whether your comment was ironical or
sarcastic - but it clearly indicated that it is a good idea to visit
Europe. In preparing yourself for this endeavour, you may make use of
freely available information resources (yes, we have Internet too). For a
quick look you may visit http://gmoinfo.jrc.it for example - just if you
find the time between your travel arrangements.
But before you leave the US (and make fun...) perhaps take a minute or two
and turn it the other way round. What do you think will happen if 'we'
(the minute rest of the world, not US Americans) visit the US with GMOs
not approved in the US? 'Zero' tolerance is not necessarily a European
- Kind regards, Andre de Kathen, BioTechConsult. currently in Namibia
Flawed Science Underlies Laws on Transgenic Crops
- Nature, v.424, p.613; August 7, 2003
Sir -- Your News story "Trade war looms as US launches challenge over
transgenic crops" describes the conflict between the United States and the
European Union and reports questions over the labelling and traceability
of transgenic crop products (Nature 423, 369; 2003). I would like to add
that commercialization and cultivation of transgenic seeds are also in
The US government has often stated that its consent to large-scale
commercialization was based on sound science, as required by the United
Nations' Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and other international
agreements. However, examination of documents of the US agencies
responsible, as well as confidential material, reveals a poor scientific
basis for this decision1-3.
Two US National Research Council publications1, 2 document the superficial
and flawed nature of many scientific conclusions, revealing the lack of
long-term risk assessment and of post-release monitoring. Superficial
assumptions, poor experimental design and statistical flaws are also
described in a report on insect-resistant (Bt-) plants3. The conclusion of
a broad-scale analysis4 is that key experiments on both the environmental
risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants are lacking.
In view of these deficiencies, a transgenic trade war seems ill-founded.
Instead, the priority should be the generation of a sound scientific basis
for registration of transgenic crop plants. Processes to be clarified at
the laboratory and field levels include recombination and gene transfer
events, as well as environmental selection processes that could cause
resistance development and population shifts, with many potential
- H. Sandermann Jr, Institute for Biochemical Plant Pathology,
GSF-National Research Centre for Environment and Health, D-85764
1. National Research Council Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants:
Science and Regulation (National Academies Press, Washington DC, 2000).
2. National Research Council Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants:
The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation (National Academies Press, Washington
DC, 2002 ).
3. Marvier, M. Am. Sci. 89, 160-167 (2001).
4. Wolfenbarger, L. L. & Phifer, P. R. Science 290, 2088-2093 (2000).
Natural Decaf Could Brew Trouble for Farmers
- Nature, v.424, p.613; August 7, 2003
Sir – The reduced-caffeine transgenic coffee plant (S. Ogita et al. Nature
423, 823; 2003) must be one of the first transgenic plants where a natural
plant compound is suppressed. Caffeine has been proposed to form part of
the plant's defence mechanisms, specifically against insects (J. A.
Nathanson Science 226, 184–187; 1984) and slugs (R. Hollingsworth, J.
Armstrong and E. Campbell Nature 417, 915-916; 2002). These transgenic
plants may thus be more successful in testing this hypothesis than as an
It is interesting that the transformation was carried out on Coffea
canephora, the lower-grade robusta coffee, which has about twice as much
caffeine as arabica has. As its name suggests, robusta is more resistant
to attack by insects and diseases and it is likely that caffeine plays a
role in that.
The coffee industry may be especially keen to reduce caffeine in robusta,
as over the years it has gradually been slipping more of it into standard
arabica blends. In the opinion of Ernesto Illy, chairman of the Institute
for Scientific Information on Coffee and espresso maestro di tutti i
maestri, this has contributed to the present sluggish demand for coffee
world-wide as consumers drink less to maintain a constant caffeine intake
(Coffee and Cocoa International 28, no. 6, 20-22; 2001).
Because coffee is a perennial plant that takes about three years to come
into production and may stay in the ground for 20 or more years, changing
to a new variety is a major investment. Farmers would need assurance that
the new plant is as resistant to attack as other varieties. Unfortunately,
it could take many years for an agent to adapt to the new plant, so
short-term tests might be insufficient. Further, coffee is grown in many
regions and habitats, so very widespread field trials would be needed.
Hence, although a low-caffeine plant would be a useful research tool,
there could be unintended long-term consequences most acutely felt by the
- P. S. Baker, Coffee Projects Coordinator, CABI Commodities, Bakeham
Lane, Egham TW20 9TY, UK
'Would Jesus Eat GM Food?'
Doctor Says Obesity Can Be Won By Asking 'What Would Jesus Eat'
- Alexandra Alter. Religion News Service, Excerpts below. Full text at
If doctors had to identify the deadliest sin affecting Americans today,
they would probably name gluttony as the No. 1 killer. As obesity in the
United States reaches epidemic proportions, with more than 60 percent of
adults weighing in as overweight or obese, public policy makers and health
officials are scrambling over ways to improve the American diet.
But Dr. Don Colbert, physician and nutritionist, thinks the obesity crisis
could be solved if Americans would pause before inhaling a super-sized
fast food meal and ask themselves a simple question: "Would Jesus eat
If it's loaded with saturated fats, sugar or artificial ingredients, the
answer is no, says Colbert, whose recent book "What Would Jesus Eat?,"
combines biblical scholarship with conventional dietary wisdom. "The
gluttonous spirit is deadly," he said. "I've seen so many diseases related
to dietary excess, so why not go back to the owner's manual, the Bible,to
see what Jesus ate?"
Jesus essentially ate a Mediterranean diet rich in whole grains, fish,
fruit and vegetables and modest amounts of olive oil, meat and wine,
Colbert says. Anything the Old Testament blacklists in its dietary
prescriptions is out, including shellfish, pork products, horses, camels,
birds of prey and other carnivores.
Although there may be disagreement over what Jesus would choose given the
option of a veggie burger, broiled lamb with garbanzo beans, or
genetically modified corn on the cob, growing numbers of Christians are
looking to the Bible for dietary guidance, hoping that Scripture might
succeed where science has failed in inspiring healthy eating habits.
Dr. Stephen Kaufman, co-chair of the Christian Vegetarian Association,
said he hopes more Christians will start making faith-based choices about
what they eat. "There are a lot of people out there for whom diet is a
reflection of their faith," he said. "We're taught to take care of our
bodies, the temple of God's spirit, as Paul said."
Calling the Christian vegetarian movement an "attempt to co-opt Jesus for
left-wing animal rights propaganda," Moore cited Paul's letter to the
Romans, which calls vegetarians weak, as proof that the Bible sanctions
meat eating. Pushing a Mediterranean diet in Jesus' name is no good
either, said Moore, who says serious Christians should avoid alchohol,
even modest amounts of wine.
But although Jesus' eating habits may not offer up an obvious set of
guidelines, any philosophy that will help Americans lose weight should be
counted as a blessing, said Caplan, who also directs the Center for
Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Putting aside theology, if
you can motivate people to eat better by saying Jesus ate a moderate diet,
that's not a bad thing, even if the textual support isn't there," he said.
"Getting someone to drop 20 pounds in the name of Jesus is not the worst