Today in AgBioView: September 22, 2003:
* Genetically Modified Food Ruling Hopeful
* Defending GM Science Against Greenpeace Attack
* Smug WTO Foes No Friends to Poor
* A Necessary Setback for World Trade
* Perceptions of European Food Distributors
*... New Report Condemns Biased GM Surveys
* Adoption of GM Crops in the US
* The Plant Protection Racket
* Comparative Safety Assessment for Biotech Crops
* EU Regulation: Trade Strategy that Ignores Sound Science
* EU Trade Barriers Affect Developing Countries
* Trade and Development Dimensions of U.S. International Biotech Policy
* Biodiversity Treaty Called Disastrous
* Earth Liberation Front - 'Capitalist society destroying all life on
Genetically Modified Food Ruling Hopeful
- Gene J. Koprowski, UPI Science News, September 19, 2003
A ruling by the European Court of Justice is raising the U.S.
biotechnology industry's hopes some European regulators might take a more
scientific approach to regulating the sale of genetically modified foods.
Some observers think, however, many governments will continue to keep
corn, sorghum, bananas and other genetically altered crops out of their
markets through protectionist measures dressed up in the guise of science.
The recent ruling by the ECJ, the European Union's supreme court based in
Luxembourg, stated that governments in Europe can briefly ban the sale of
genetically modified foods in their domestic markets, as long as concerns
over the quality and safety of the products were not "purely hypothetical
or founded on mere suppositions which are not yet verified." The case came
to the ECJ after Italian regulators stopped the sale of genetically
modified corn made by Monsanto Co., located in St. Louis, one of the top
agricultural biotechnology firms in the United States.
"We certainly take great hope in the language that came out of the court's
opinion, namely that these decisions have to be made with scientific
reasoning -- and not just be hypothetical," said Peter Resnick, a partner
with the pharmaceutical law practice at McDermott, Will & Emery in Boston,
which has represented Monsanto.
Fears about the safety of genetically modified foods are so strong in
Europe protesters in France and Spain destroyed fields of corn planted by
Monsanto twice during the summer.
Former European colonies in Africa have followed the lead of regulators on
the continent and banned the importation of fungus-resistant genetically
modified foods, even though their domestic agriculture production has
lagged due to drought or disease.
"Caution with novel technologies is quite appropriate," Resnick told
United Press International. "But these technologies are not novel. They
have been in use in the U.S. for years, and have been accepted in the
U.K., too. In close observation, there has been no safety hazard for these
Much of the concern over genetically modified foods has emerged just in
recent years in the wake of health scares, like the spread of mad cow
disease in Europe. "The problems there arise out of concerns over hoof
and mouth disease -- but that panic arose out of natural causes," Resnick
said, and noted farmers fed body parts of infected cows to other cattle,
thereby spreading the disease.
This led the British government to order herds of cattle be culled to stop
the spread of the infection. "If they had used genetically modified foods
to feed their cattle, they would have avoided these problems," Resnick
Concerns continue to emerge in other European countries as well. The
government of Austria recently tried to create a genetically modified food
free zone in its country but was blocked by regulatory authorities in
Brussels, capital of the European Union.
The activist group Greenpeace has an ongoing protest against genetically
modified foods and has undertaken street theater protests in Vevey,
Switzerland, near the headquarters of Nestle S.A. The campaign is aimed at
stopping the "genetic manipulation of nature," according to the
organization's Web site.
Even the Vatican is getting involved, and is expected to produce a report
on genetic modification in the coming months.
Some patent lawyers and medical doctors contended the concerns are
overwrought. "Right now, there are no credible studies to show that
genetically modified foods show any danger to the public," James A. Gale,
a partner and patent attorney with the firm of Feldman, Gale & Weber,
located in Miami, told UPI.
There are other, ulterior motives that governments in Europe have for
banning genetically engineered crops, Jeff Bates, an intellectual property
lawyer and partner with McDermott, Will & Emery in Boston, told UPI. "What
we're really talking here about are trade issues and issues of
international law," Bates said. "There is great concern that this could
turn into a covert barrier -- a pretext for a trade barrier."
Dr. Henry Miller, a medical doctor and former head of biotechnology at the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was even more critical. "There's a
saying in Washington, D.C., and that applies in other government capitals
as well," said Miller, a fellow at The Hoover Institution in Stanford,
Calif. "And that is that when something has been said three times, it
becomes a fact. That's what's going on here."
"They keep repeating that there are concerns about genetically modified
foods, and so the concerns become the factual basis for the delay. This is
ideological pandering to interest groups. They are generating fears over
imaginary hazards," he said. "And that is the scandal of the last
half-century. They have created major industries in the legal community
and in the non-governmental organization community over these alleged
hazards, over nothing."
Government regulators have invoked the "precautionary principle" through
which to view the regulation of genetically modified foods, Miller said.
This principle holds that if there is any potential public health risk
involved in the introduction of a new food technology to market, it is
best to hold off bringing it to market until better information emerges
for a more scientifically sound regulatory decision to be taken, he added.
"But that's like looking for the human soul," Miller said. "You'll never
be able to be certain that it is there."
Gale, who represented the organization that created the genetically
engineered sheep, Dolly, said if all human activity was undertaken through
the framework of the "precautionary principle" then "society would not be
able to function."
The opinion by the ECJ, though, could help reduce regulator over-reliance
on this principle. "To the extent that regulators use a test that is a
fair-minded evaluation of the technology, that is fine," Resnick said.
"But it has to be rational and based on a scientific method, and a process
that does not result in unbounded delay."
Miller, though, is not too hopeful the issue will be resolved soon, and
said governments in the United States and elsewhere are eyeing the
European style of food regulation. He despairs over the starvation
plaguing some nations because of the bias against genetically modified
foods. "We've even seen concerns over gene splicing in Zambia, Zimbabwe
and Uganda," Miller said. "Uganda is being devastated by a banana fungus.
Bananas are far and away their most abundant crop. Experimental varieties
of the crop have been developed in Hawaii and Belgium. But, the Ugandan
government won't allow them to be tested, because of the concerns raised
in Europe. This is idiotic and gratuitous."
Miller said if regulators continue to try to keep out certain foods
developed with genetic technology, companies will stop their research
spending in that area because there is no potential return on the
"No one will genetically improve millet or sorghum or yams or other
important subsistence crops," he said. "The crops can be enhanced for pest
resistance, disease resistance, and for greater nutritional value. But
it's not going to be done, due to the regulatory costs and the
Defending GM Science Against Greenpeace Attack
- Steve J. Roberts (forwarded by
I am a postgraduate student at Keele University in the School of Politics,
International Relations and the Environment. I am a political sociologist
attempting to put together a defence of GM crops. I mainly focus on the
actors inhabiting the contested terrain (e.g. Monsanto, Friends of the
I don't know if you have seen Greenpeace's UK website, but in April 2003,
it launched its anti-GM campaign. It essentially suggests that the genetic
engineers account of science is now out of date and simplistic. Although
my thesis approaches the issue sociologically I would like to address the
scientific' claims being made by Greenpeace.
I know that traditional crop breeding was undertaken where thousands upon
thousand of genes were mixed together to modify crops. Prof. Derek Burke,
former Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods has stated that
GM is far safer. Here we take one or two genes and, according to Burke,
"we know exactly where the genes are going and what the adjacent genes
Greepeace's rendition of the process, however, is one of a random and
forcible introduction of DNA. The general claim is that, 50 years on from
Watson and Crick, the latest 'discoveries' in molecular biology suggest
that we don't know enough about genetics to go ahead with GM technology.
This 'crude' technology is rendered inherently hazardous because 'the full
picture' of GM, the one that Greepeace has placed at the centre of its
campaign to stop the technology being implemented, is being dismissed and
In a synopsis, the content of the case that Greepeace are making is this:
1. Genetic engineering is a crude and old fashioned technology
2. GE relies on the outdated central dogma of molecular biology: The
basic principle is that DNA makes protein through RNA. DNA codes for
genetic information; no genetic information can be transferred back to
3. There are networks regulating genes: There is more to genes than a code
for proteins. Genes perform many functions and are controlled and
regulated. Organisms or parts of organisms with identical genes can
produce very different forms. The regulation of genes is not performed by
DNA but by many other controls arranged in a complex network.
4. Elements regulating genes:
Transcription factors: proteins which interact with regions of the DNA to
switch genes on.
Interference RNA. A type of RNA that instead of making proteins stops gene
expression at the RNA level.
Gene silencing: genes can be switched off and this can be an inheritable
trait. Although there are no changes to the DNA, it is not known exactly
how this happens.
5. How does this affect Genetic Engineering?
a) GE does not consider any gene regulatory network b) GE relies on the
central dogma, now viewed as 'over simplistic'. c) GE assumes one gene
equals one function.
6. The 'discovery' of gene regulation mechanisms has caused a 'paradigm
shift' in gene expression.
"In order to assemble that meaningful story, a living cell uses a second
informational system. The key concept here is that these dynamic
epigenetic networks have a life of their own - they follow network rules
not specified by DNA". Strohman
The above is the centrepiece of Greenpeace's GM website. Would I be
correct in suggesting that they are making use of the new scientific
paradigm (what sociologists would call post-normal science), which some
believe questions the traditional assumptions of science. Is complexity
theory and its central concept of self-organisation being implicitly
alluded to when they talk of the regulation of genes, and regulation
networks having a life of their own? Greenpeace negates traditional
notions of 'Junk DNA' i.e. that it has no functional role and insisting
that Junk DNA has a vital yet unmapped role?
Additionally, Greenpeace are asserting that genetic engineering generates
hazards because it is reductionist and transgresses 'holistic character'
of the science.
I would appreciate knowing what your reply to these claims would be and I
hope that you can get back to me.
(Please include a copy to in your reply to
Smug WTO Foes No Friends to Poor
- Akinyi June Arunga, The Providence Journal (Rhode Island), Sept 21,
2003; Sent by Andrew Apel
The two women seated next to me in the cab claimed to be my advocates. But
as we traveled toward the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, in
Cancun, I found myself frustrated by their statements and doubtful that
the policies they promoted could do anything to solve my people's poverty.
They were scholars from a Canadian university, in Cancun with a
women's-rights group to protest the WTO. In the past, I'd felt gratitude
toward such people, who invested time, money and energy -- even risking
jail, by turning violent -- to fight for the poor of the world, a class to
which most of my family and friends belong.
The more I learned about economics and world trade, though, the less I
believed these women's rhetoric. Nonetheless, I thought that the cab ride
would help me understand why these educated people would so oppose free
trade and the economic reforms promoted by the WTO.
I asked them why they saw free trade as a threat to the poor's chances at
wealth creation. They pointed at the huge hotels of Cancun and one of them
said, "Look -- look at all this.I was in Cancun in the '80s and this place
was very indigenous; now, it looks just like the United States, no
different. I can hardly recognize it at all! Look --there's a McDonald's,
and a Burger King. Oh, my goodness, even Gucci! Cancun has disappeared
under the [North American] Free Trade Agreement that they signed with the
They were disgusted, but I looked around and saw opportunity. I wished
that we had such hotels in Kenya, where we have wonderful beaches and many
pleasant people who would benefit enormously if the tourism industry
flourished, as it does in Cancun. I said, "I'm sure that the people of
Cancun are happier, since they have jobs and hence money to buy food,
clothing and shelter. They meet people from around the world, and can
easily sell their goods and services to these visitors."
The women snapped back that Cancun workers were paid barely livable wages.
Puzzled, I asked, "So you would like to visit Cancun and see more
indigenous people in their indigenous clothes, living in their indigenous
huts, farming in their indigenous methods, and eating only their
To my horror, they said, "It would be better for the environment and for
Like many other globalization protesters I've encountered, they seemed to
believe that Mexicans and other poor people don't want the same
conveniences of life that they themselves enjoyed: running water,
permanent homes, affordable clothes and food, leisure time, cars. They
preferred things to stay "exotic" -- underdeveloped and poor.
The "indigenous" customs enjoyed by such tourists are not so charming when
they make up one's day-to-day existence. The protesters curse the use of
DDT, the only effective control of malaria, because it harms birds -- but
they never have to wonder if their children will survive the current
malaria epidemic. They argue against the use of pesticides and pest- and
drought-resistant crops -- but they never have to wonder how they will
survive if a pest invasion or drought destroys all their grown food.
They argue against new technologies, such as the genetic modification of
crops, that might increase productivity and help us move from subsistence
farming to cash crops -- but they never have to worry that there might not
be food on the table.
Such anti-free-traders -- including world leaders who refuse to remove
trade barriers and who promote environmental policies that sustain famine
in poor countries -- should take their children and move to these poor
countries. There, living under the laws that they advocate, they would be
without credit cards or jobs, sleeping in mud huts, cooking with firewood
(from chopped trees), and inhaling indoor smoke -- while dealing with
corrupt dictators and excessive regulation from their own government.
Coupled with the escalating tariffs and subsidies applied by the First
World, these anti-free-traders would find themselves unable to escape the
poverty that we in the poor countries know only too well.
I don't wish this on my worst enemy, and I wish that our "friends" would
stop imposing it on us.
Akinyi June Arunga is director of youth education at the Inter-Region
Economic Network, in Kenya.
A Necessary Setback for World Trade
- Editorial, Nature, September 18, 2003; v.425, p223;
The world's poorer countries took a stand at Cancún to defend free trade
World trade negotiations have significant implications for many
scientists. Bio-prospectors rely on international agreements if they are
to scour ecosystems for interesting compounds, for example, and
antiretroviral drugs will only be made available to those in need through
such agreements. The future of agricultural biotechnology also rests, more
or less, in the hands of the World Trade Organization.
On the face of it, the acrimonious collapse of trade negotiations in
Cancún, Mexico, on 14 September, represents a setback for these efforts.
Although the Convention on Biological Diversity has come into effect, as
planned, and temporary arrangements are in place for the supply of
antiretrovirals and other medicines to poor countries, both activities
would benefit from the successful completion of the current round of trade
negotiations by its target date of January 2005.
However, the basis of the collapse leaves room for guarded optimism. The
talks crashed because a new alliance of developing countries and
agricultural exporters, led by India and Brazil, held their ground. They
did so even as wealthy nations taunted them by proposing that new areas,
such as government contracting, be opened to free competition, while
leaving unaddressed the high trade barriers that exclude farmers in poor
countries from rich countries' markets.
These barriers -- upheld by Japan on behalf of its rice growers, by the
United States for its wealthy cotton growers, among others, and by Europe
for most of its agricultural sector -- remain the chief impediment to free
trade between nations. Every country is entitled to protect its own trade
interests, but as long as these barriers remain in place, free trade
remains a mirage for most of the world's population.
At Cancún, the poor countries finally said that enough is enough. This
position carries a short-term cost: poorer nations will always suffer at
the hands of richer ones in bilateral trade negotiations, which is why the
trade talks must ultimately succeed. But for now there should be a period
of silence from Western politicians on the topic of free trade, until they
have garnered the courage to address their own protectionism.
Perceptions of European Food Distributors Regarding Factors That Could
Enhance or Damage New Zealand’s Image - Including GMOs
John Knight, David Holdsworth and Damien Mather
Risk to New Zealand’s "Clean Green Image" in foreign markets for food
products is often cited as a reason for New Zealand to continue to ban
commercial release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In order to
explore the reality and intensity of such a risk, we have undertaken a
series of in-depth interviews in European countries with companies and
organisations that were deemed by Trade New Zealand to be major
'gatekeepers' or key suppliers in the European food sector. Instead of
focussing on the GMO issue in isolation, we have explored the wider issue
of factors that determine country-of-origin image in relation to food
quality and food safety, and included various potential applications of
GMO technology as variables in this overall mix.
Favourable perceptions of New Zealand as a country-of-origin for food
products are dependent mainly on confidence and trust in production,
hygiene and quality control standards, rather than on diffuse images of
"clean green" landscape. Highly negative consumer sentiment towards GMOs
in Europe seems likely to continue to influence food buyers, at least for
the next few years. This negative sentiment appears likely to transfer
from GM crops to non-GM and organic versions of the same crop type due to
fears concerning accidental mix-up or contamination. However, no evidence
was found that presence of GMO food crops in a country causes negative
perceptions in general of food from that country. Furthermore, it appears
that GM applications in non-food areas are unlikely to damage perceptions
of country image in relation to supply of food products from that country.
Download report at
New Report Condemns Biased GM Surveys
- Life Sciences Network, Sept 22, 2003, http://www.lifesciencesnetwork.com
A report released by Otago University School of Business researchers casts
a new light on assertions about impacts of GM on New Zealand trade
The report's authors, John Knight, David Holdsworth and Damien Mather,
reject conclusions drawn by other researchers and call describe research
undertaken for the Sustainability Council as "contamination of public
opinion". They also say the failure of some recent researchers to adhere
to "accepted and acceptable [research] procedures is likely to result in
misinformation ending up in the news media."
This say the authors, is serious in terms of potential to bring the whole
market research discipline into New Zealand into disrepute. They detail
serious errors of fact and misrepresentation of information. As a result
the report suggest it may be appropriate for legislative safeguards to
"...ensure that the market research industry adhers to the same ethical
standards required of academic researchers, so that public debate on
issues such as this [the GM debate] does not become contaminated by
invalid public opinion polls."
The comments are contained in an appendix to a very detailed report on
European attitudes and perceptions about the impacts of GM on New Zealand
exports. The report discloses a very different picture to that which has
been reported by other recent studies - which are subject of serious
criticism for failure to follow "accepted and acceptable procedures".
The authors urge a cautious and considered approach to the adoption of GM
in the food chain in NZ exports - consistent with the recommendations of
the Royal Commission on GM.
Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US
- USDA/ERS, September 17, 2003
This data product summarizes the extent of adoption of herbicide-tolerant
and insect-resistant genetically engineered crops in the United States.
Three tables devoted to corn, cotton, and soybeans cover the 200-2003
period, by State.
The Plant Protection Racket
- Thomas R. DeGregori
Comparative Safety Assessment for Biotech Crops
- E. Kok and H. Kuiper, Trends in Biotechnology 21(10): 439-444. 2003.
Since the first discussions on strategies to assess the food safety of
genetically modified (GM) crop plants, assessment of GM plants and derived
tissues has been based on comparisons with their traditionally bred
counterparts. This was termed the Principle of Substantial Equivalence.
However, implementation of the principle led to controversy and hampered
the precision of the actual safety assessment.
Here, we propose the principle be rephrased into the Comparative Safety
Assessment strategy. This describes the analytical nature of the first
step of the entire (GM) food safety assessment in combination with
consecutive toxicological and nutritional evaluations. Further development
of advanced analytical methods will help to improve the efficacy of
EU Regulation, Standardization and the Precautionary Principle: The Art
of Crafting a Three- Dimensional Trade Strategy that Ignore Sound Science
- Larry Kogan http://www.nftc.org
I have prepared a second study for the NFTC entitled: "EU Regulation,
Standardization and the Precautionary Principle: The Art of Crafting a
Three- Dimensional Trade Strategy that Ignore Sound Science". This study
examines how the EU is pursuing a deliberate strategy to legitimize the
precautionary principle under international law, through multiple fora, in
order to permit the discrimination among otherwise 'like' products on the
basis of process and production methods. This agenda coincides with EU
initiatives to pursue sustainable development. The precautionary principle
is being employed to pursue what the EU defines is sustainable
development. However, we both recognize that SD as defined by the EU is
illusory, and that it will actually cause adverse economic, social and
technological harm to developing countries.
The new study is now accessible on the NFTC website homepage
(http://www.nftc.org) under 'News Items', dated Sept. 4. It was also
published under a different title by the Washington Legal Foundation -
"'Unscientific Precaution': Europe's Campaign to Erect New Foreign Trade
Barriers". It is accessible under on the Washington Legal Foundation
website, at: www.wlf.org, under 'featured weekly publication'.
Regards, Lawrence Kogan, National Foreign Trade Council
EU Trade Barriers Affect Developing Countries
- Crop Biotech Update, September 19, 2003
A new report titled 'EU Trade Barriers Kill' was recently released by the
Centre for the New Europe (CNE). Authored by Stephen Pollard, Alberto
Mingardi, Cecile Philippe, and Dr. Sean Gabb, this new report explores the
impact of the European Union (EU) trade regulations and barriers on the
According to the report, trade barriers imposed by the EU limits the
access of developing countries to the European market, which is considered
the richest in the world. The EU trade barriers are said to slow down the
development of the poorest countries in the world, and one of these is
The authors say that if Africa could increase its share of world trade by
just one percent, it would earn an additional £49 billion a year. This
would be enough to lift 128 million people out of extreme poverty. If the
poorest countries as a whole could increase their share of world exports
by five per cent, that would generate £248 billion or $350 billion,
raising millions more out of extreme poverty.
The EU, the United States, Japan and Canada account for 75% of the world?s
output. These countries are the supposed destinations for exports from the
poorest countries. While these countries are discussing world trade
liberalization, they are said to have kept their domestic markets closed
to agricultural and textile exports from the developing world. The authors
conclude that for the European Union to open its markets to the poorest
countries of the world is the moral, humane thing to do. It is also
directly of benefit to the true interests of European consumers and
producers, and the interests of everyone. Read the full report at
Trade and Development Dimensions of U.S. International Biotechnology
- Alan Larson, US Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Ag
'Science-based regulation of agricultural biotechnology contributes to the
free trade of safe biotech applications and to the appropriate use of this
technology to promote development, writes Alan Larson, under secretary of
state for economic, business and agricultural affairs. Larson adds that
biotechnology -- one of the most promising new technologies of our times
-- is too important for the future prosperity of the world to ignore.'
Biotechnology is one of the most promising new technologies of our times.
The expanding use and trade of agricultural biotechnology-derived products
is enhancing prosperity and well being both in developed and developing
countries. Unfortunately, while the United States and many other nations
around the world are expanding the development and use of safe
biotechnology-derived products, some countries have imposed unjustified
restrictions on them. Such restrictions threaten the international trading
system and are preventing developing countries from exploring the enormous
potential of biotechnology to improve the lives of their people.
Biotechnology and Development
In 2000, the world's population was about 6 billion. It is expected to
increase to 9 billion by 2050. As a result, there will be more people to
feed on an increasingly crowded planet. Food production will have to
increase, and it must increase in an environmentally sustainable way.
Since 1980, 50 percent of the increased agricultural productivity in the
developing world came through improved seed technology. Better seeds can
come from improving traditional methods, developing conventional hybrids,
and through biotechnology. Biotechnology, while not a panacea, can make an
Agricultural biotechnology achieves enhanced crop productivity in a more
environmentally sustainable way. In the United States, the growing use of
agricultural biotechnology is resulting in reduced use of pesticides and
increased adoption of environmentally friendly farming practices such as
"no-till" farming, which reduces soil erosion and fertilizer run-off.
Enhanced productivity means that more food can be raised on the same
amount of land. As population pressure grows in the coming years, the
ability to grow enough food for the world's burgeoning population without
encroaching on vital habitats such as tropical rainforests will be of
enormous benefit to the environment.
The United States is not the only country that is reaping the benefits of
biotechnology. New crops derived from biotechnology are being used in
developing countries such as Argentina, South Africa, China, the
Philippines and India. The attraction of biotechnology in these countries
lies in the direct benefits these varieties bring to the developing
country farmer. In China, for example, where small farmers grow
biotechnology-derived insect-resistant cotton varieties in great numbers,
these varieties require fewer pesticides, which not only reduce costs, but
also significantly reduce exposure to dangerous chemicals. As a result,
farmers are healthier and have expanding incomes that let them buy better
food for their families or send a child to school rather than have that
child work in the fields. Such results, spread over the population of an
entire country where farmers are by far the largest percentage of the
population, provide the opportunity for development and improved
The challenge is to make tried and tested biotechnology varieties
available to more developing countries and to help develop new varieties
specifically adapted for their conditions. This is why the United States
supports the development of biotechnology-derived staple food crops that
will fight disease such as insect-resistant cowpeas, disease-resistant
bananas, cassava and sweet potatoes. Biotechnology may also offer a
quicker route for under-nourished populations to get access to a better
diet. For example, a Vitamin A enriched rice variety known as "golden
rice" is under development to help fight blindness caused by malnutrition.
The potential benefits of this new technology should not be thrown away or
delayed unnecessarily. Last year a few African nations balked at receiving
badly needed food aid -- food most Americans eat every day -- because of
unscrupulous and unscientific fear mongering. This must stop. Rather, the
international community should reach out to developing countries -- as the
United States is doing -- to explain how safe biotechnology-derived
products can be regulated, used domestically, and traded abroad to the
benefit of all.
Biotechnology and Trade
Despite the benefits of biotechnology for both the developed and
developing world, biotechnology-derived crops are at the center of a
number of contentious trade disputes. This is the case even though more
than 3,200 esteemed scientists around the world -- including 20 Nobel
Laureates -- have concluded that the biotechnology-derived products
currently on the market do not pose greater risks to human health than
their conventional counterparts.
The only way to maintain a free and fair trading system is for products
traded in that system to be regulated in a logical, objective and
science-based manner. When such a system is in place, we can have
confidence in the safety of the products we trade. How
biotechnology-derived crops are treated in the international system will
have consequences not just for biotechnology, but also for all new
technologies. It is important that we get this right.
The rules governing the trade of biotechnology-derived products, and
indeed all products, must be based on scientific risk assessment and risk
management. The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) requires that measures regulating
imports be based on "sufficient scientific evidence" and that countries
operate regulatory approval procedures "without delay."
When science is the basis of decision-making, countries find it easier to
agree on rules. For example, the Codex Alimentarius Commission recently
approved science-based guidelines for biotechnology food safety
assessments relating to human health. These guidelines were approved
unanimously by the Commission, which is composed of 169 members, including
the U.S., EU (European Union) member countries, and the vast majority of
Three international standard setting bodies, including Codex, are
specifically recognized by the WTO SPS Agreement. The Codex Alimentarius
Commission develops food safety standards. The International Plant
Protection Convention (IPPC) focuses on preventing the spread and
introduction of pests in plants and plant products. The Office of
International Epizootics (OIE) performs a similar function for animal
health. All three organizations base their work on scientific analysis. It
is essential for the integrity of the international trading system that
the WTO continue to refer to the work of these bodies in assessing
biotechnology products and that these organizations continue to perform
The U.S. supports workable, transparent and science-based regulations for
agricultural biotechnology applications. In fact, the U.S. government
provides technical assistance to countries to help them develop their own
capacity to regulate this technology and put it to use for the benefit of
their citizens. When countries adopt a science-based approach to
biotechnology, fair rules for the regulation and trade of biotech products
can be established. The U.S. is committed to pursuing such a science-based
approach to biotechnology with its trading partners and is convinced that
this approach is the best way to ensure a fair and safe trading system for
agricultural biotechnology products.
Agricultural biotechnology can help both the developing and developed
world enhance productivity while preserving the environment. Science-based
regulation of agricultural biotechnology applications contributes to the
free trade of safe biotech applications and to the appropriate use of this
technology to promote development.
Scientists around the world, including those in the European Union, agree
that there is no evidence that approved biotechnology-derived foods pose
new or greater dangers to the environment or to human health than their
conventional counterparts. Indeed, any alleged downsides to agricultural
biotechnology lie in the realm of the theoretical and potential. The
upsides have already been demonstrated. Biotechnology is too important for
the future prosperity of the world to ignore.
Biodiversity Treaty Called Disastrous
- Ted Agres, The Scientist, Sept 10, 2003
'Scientists complain that restrictions on access hinder research, undercut
The first legally binding international agreement governing the shipment
of genetically modified organisms (GMO) across borders goes into effect
tomorrow (September11). The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety requires that
the governments of signatory nations be notified when living GMOs, such as
crop plants, are going to be brought into the country with the intention
of introducing them into the environment.
Critics are already expressing concern about possible trade consequences
of the new rules, which are intended to protect native biodiversity, but
the protocol is not expected to significantly impact scientific research.
However, the biosafety protocol is only one part of a larger treaty, the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which also covers access to
indigenous plants and other genetic resources, and so far, scientists and
others say, the protocol's parent document has proved misguided at best.
"The treaty is an absolute disaster for scientists," said a senior UN
official on condition of anonymity. "It draws no distinction between
scientists bioprospecting for drugs and pharmaceuticals, scientists
conducting academic research, and those collecting samples for
agricultural research and plant breeding. I feel sorry for the scientists.
It's a nightmare."
The CBD was concluded at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.
Since then, it has been signed by 187 parties, including the United
States, the United Kingdom, and most European countries. The US Senate,
however, has never ratified the treaty, and the Bush administration
appears unlikely to push for passage.
Nevertheless, for those countries that have ratified the treaty--including
most of the developing world--the CBD establishes a framework to allow
access to indigenous plants, animals, and other organisms based on "prior
informed consent," under "mutually agreed terms," and to ensure the "fair
and equitable sharing of benefits" arising from commercialization and
other uses. The treaty leaves it to each country to negotiate its own
rules for access and benefit sharing.
Ironically, one of its goals--and a reason many scientists originally
supported the treaty--was to increase access to genetic resources. The
problem, said John H. Barton, a Stanford University law professor who
specializes in international environmental law, is that developing
countries overestimated the monetary value of their plants and other
"The developing world pushed the treaty negotiations to be more about the
rights to those genetic resources than about actually protecting
biodiversity," he said. "The provisions that protect biodiversity are
pretty weak and the provisions that deal with genetic resources are quite
Douglas Daly, curator of Amazonian botany at the New York Botanical
Garden, says the problem stems from "bioparanoia"--developing countries
believe scientists and researchers want to steal their genetic resources
to create drugs and other valuable products and not return any of the
profits. "In most diversity-rich countries, there is a lot of concern over
biopiracy. Some of it is legitimate but a lot of it is exaggerated," Daly
said. "The treaty has led to the criminalization of the biological
researcher. Everyone is suspect. As a result, people are not doing
research or graduate work in these areas."
Even local scientists are not immune. Ricardo Callejas, a biology
professor at the University of Antioqua in Medellin, Colombia, described a
recent visit he and colleagues made to an Indian reserve in the central
Colombian Amazon to research Dipterocarpaceae, a flowering plant believed
to have originated in Asia.
"The locals were so obsessed by the fact that they somehow were 'owners'
of this precious plant that, like little children, they tried very hard to
hide everything" about it, Callejas wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist.
The researchers were made to wait in the forest while the tribe's chief
sent a young boy to fetch a few branches. The scientists were allowed to
photograph the plant but not to touch it. Ten minutes later, the boy and
branches disappeared and the scientists were told to return to their boat
"None of us was interested in the medicinal properties [of this species],"
Callejas said. "We just wanted to enjoy the experience of knowing and
learning. Biodiversity, particularly in poor countries like mine, is very
much nowadays linked to multinationals [and] exploitation. Obviously,
science itself is misunderstood and completely distorted."
The CBD has also negatively impacted agricultural research for plant
breeding and sample collection, said Cary Fowler, senior adviser to the
International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, one of a consortium of 16
major agricultural research institutes around the world known as the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Some
member centers hold the world's largest collections of biodiversity for
agriculture, crop-breeding materials, and gene banks.
"Our task has become extremely difficult since passage of the CBD," Fowler
said. "A lot of material in our gene bank would be extinct if it had not
been collected in the past. But we're finding it harder and harder to
collect materials now." Collection samples have dropped from about 30,000
per year to fewer than 5000 as a direct result of the treaty, Fowler said.
"The CBD is both the cause and effect of this mentality."
Fowler, who is also research director at the Agricultural University of
Norway's Center for International Environment and Development Studies,
said he previously supported the treaty but has since changed his mind.
"For years, it was sacrilegious to say anything against the CBD. If you
did, you were reactionary and anti–developing countries. But at what point
do you say the emperor has no clothes? The facts do not support this
treaty as being terribly productive."
Carlos M. Correa, a law professor at the University of Buenos Aires, has
surveyed access agreements made under the CBD by Andean Group countries.
The results are meager: Venezuela has signed 20 applications and 5
contracts, all from individual researchers; Bolivia has signed 3
applications and 1 contract; Colombia has yet to approve a single
contract. "Most of the applications have been made by individual
researchers from the Andean Group countries themselves, not from outside
companies," Correa said. "The assumptions about how to exploit genetic
resources were not correct."
Part of the problem may also be due to declining interest by
pharmaceutical companies in bioprospecting for new drugs. Advances in
combinatorial chemistry, genomics, and proteomics have made screening for
active molecules in the lab more cost-effective than prospecting in
In light of all these problems, the United Nations and the governments of
some developing countries are starting to recognize the need to change the
treaty's implementation. In April 2002, country representatives met in
Bonn to discuss how to improve access and benefit sharing, but "further
work is still needed to assist parties through complimentary approaches…
such as model agreements and model legislation," the UN's CBD secretariat
in Montreal told The Scientist.
The Bonn Guidelines will attempt to help countries distinguish between
access to genetic resources for taxonomy, collection, research, and
commercialization. Member countries have been asked to submit "action
plans" to increase access by February 2004.
For Callejas, progress on implementing the CBD must be made quickly.
"There is no way that our societies in Latin America will emerge from
centuries of poverty while holding a completely distorted view of nature,"
he said. "Once we start looking at organisms as bank accounts, then we are
missing the entire view of what is in front of us. Curiosity of the living
world ends and so does the meaning of being here."
Earth Liberation Front
"The ELF realizes the profit motive caused and reinforced by the
capitalist society is destroying all life on this planet. The only way, at
this point in time, to stop that continued destruction of life is to by
any means necessary take the profit motive out of killing."