Today in AgBioView from AgBioWorld http://www.agbioworld.org : September
* On Seed Saving - Preston and DeGregori
* Church Nod Good for GMOs in Philippines: President
* Britain: Biotechs Dismiss GM Poll on 0.1% Turn-out
* Top GM Food Company Abandons British Crop Trials
* GM Crops Could be New 'Green' Fuel
* Understanding Biotech in Agriculture
* Third World Academy of Sciences
* Bjorn Lomborg's Hot Reception in Australia
* Academic Blacklisted Over Threat of Invasion
* Measles and Mumps on the Rise as Parents Shun Vaccine
Re: Seed Saving
- Chris Preston
In Australia, for crops like wheat and barley, most growers will save
their own seed for replanting for quite a number of years. They will buy
new seed mainly when they want to change varieties. At the moment new
wheat varieties are turning up every year, but my estimate is that farmers
only change varieties every 3-5 years or so. In general, farmers prefer to
grow their own cereal seed as they can be more sure that it is free from
weeds and disease.
With regard to canola, growers will only save seed for a year or two at
most. Unlike wheat, canola seed deteriorates when stored on farm as
storage conditions are not ideal. There is plenty of research here that
shows germination percentages of farmer saved canola seed are
significantly lower than those of certified seed. Some of this research
also shows that poorer stands causd by poor seed quality lead to lower
yields. This is inducing some of the better growers into buying seed new
Of course, there is a lot of variation among growers. Progressive growers
are more likely to be changing varieties more often and so will buy new
seed on a regular basis. Conservative growers are more likely to stick to
old varieties for longer. There is less risk for them, but also a lower
payoff as they are slower to take up the better varieties.
- Dr. Christopher Preston, Senior Lecturer, Weed Management, University of
"SAVE THE SEED?" response by Tom DeGregori
Allow me to comment on responses to my "SAVE THE SEED?" submission.
Alex Avery argues that "SAVE THE SEED crowd literally argues for ALL of
the land to remain as one huge genetic museum, or mausoleum." He adds -
"No farmers whose family depends on farming for a living (i.e. farmers in
the developing world on barely larger than subsistence farms) wants old
May I take Alex one step farther and say that the "SAVE THE SEED" crowd is
offering a prescription for mass starvation as this would simply return
poor farmers to the old system of low yields and more frequent crop
losses. For though they claim to be speaking for poor farmers, those for
whom they claim to be speaking, do not follow their advice unless they do
not have a choice. As Alex notes and I have observed many times, "one of
the most effective methods of disseminating the knowledge, techniques, and
demand to purchase high quality, high yielding seed have been
demonstration farms run by locals." Demo plots by local extension agencies
followed by respected farmers being provided the seed often with a crop
insurance guarantee, have been a part of every agriculture program in
which I have been involved or observed. I have yet to see an instance
where the guaranteed crop was lower that those of the farmer's neighbors.
To Alex, "the hitch has been lack of lending institutions,
political/economic stability, and supporting infrastructure (roads,
bridges, etc.). Show me one country where those limitations are absent and
invariably the farmers will be regular (if not yearly) purchasers of
improved, modern seed." I would not be quite so bold as Alex to deny the
believers any possible country but I have yet to observe one where Alex's
claim was not valid.
This brings me to a second thoughtful comment that was sent to me
personally. (As with the others sent only to me, I will send them a copy
of my response and suggest that they post their comment.) The observation
was that is Namibia, "buying seeds is a habit for only 1020% of the small
scale farmers the rest goes over the fence or is saved (Namibia intends
to increase this number by providing seed material). Commercial farmers
here buy almost 100% of the seeds and replanting might be in the same
range as described above." As I noted, most of Africa has never developed
the research/credit/extension system as Asia has and Africa's agriculture
reflects it. (Namibia is clearly farther ahead in this regard than most
Even so, African farmers throughout the continent have adopted hybrid corn
making it the number one food crop. In addition, farmers raising bananas
which are a staple food in many African countries, are increasingly buying
off the farm cloned shoots to avoid disease transmission by planting from
their own cuttings. For hybrid corn, their may have been one instance of
initial governmental coercion (as there was for HYV rice in west Java) but
this does not even remotely explain its adoption throughout the continent.
He does "agree that one should ask the resourcepoor farmer." The ones that
he has met do "indeed have the wish to grow."
An opening comment by the author that many farmers in Germany replant
their own seeds reinforces a belief of mine that this is easier in
developed countries where there is more effective disease and pest
management than it is in poor countries where replanting perpetuates
disease. I assumed from the context that the German farmers go into the
market for seeds but not every year. The author does raise the problem of
what to do when fewer farmers raise more food making some farmers
redundant. That is an important question for poor countries with
burgeoning urban unemployment but not in the same category of mass
starvation. Unless the food problem is solved there is no hope for solving
the employment problem.
Another author shared his experience which has been both "in the US and
developing countries." Wherever "they are available, the vast majority of
farmers jump at the chance to use hybrids when they offer higher yields
and other favorable qualities which they often do." Like others, he was
concerned about loss of biological diversity. May I add that those
activists who loudly complain about biopiracy, exploitation and other
evils, nevertheless would force on poor farmers an agricultural regimen of
lower yields that has them pay the full cost of preserving the biological
diversity that benefits all of us. With friends like the NGOs, the poor
farmers of the world don't need enemies.
Another contributor added a point that I should have made - "careful
cleaning and inspection of the seed by commercial seeds men ... results in
fewer weed seeds." This is particularly important for farmers who are not
practicing as regimen of conservation tillage and for whom crop management
with pesticides is not as fully developed.
Andrew Apel a provides delightful and informative vignette about the
farmer next door to him who sold seed to his neighbors with the
requirement that they did not sell it to others to plant. It seems as if
saving the seed had its historical place as more successful farmers
developed their own varieties that they then made available to their
neighbors at an appropriate price. In other words, we had the emergence of
farmers specializing in seed production possibly before we had seed
companies. Adam Smith would approve. One wonders how many of the earliest
seed companies were the outgrowth of farmers who had developed better
varieties found that they could increase their income (and that of their
neighbors) by devoting themselves full time to growing seeds for others to
plant and not for immediate consumption?
In spite of the superb comments, I am still looking for data on how many
farmers only replant their own seed, how many replant their own seed which
they improve periodically by entering the market for seeds, how many buy
seeds every year and how many are potential seed buyers but lack the
credit, extension etc. to do so?
Once again, let me note that SAVING THE SEED has become the central theme
of the luddite NGOs seeking to disrupt the modernization of agriculture in
poor countries. Let me close with extended quotations from a most
perceptive article on the issue of the alleged "terminator gene." The
quotes are from an article by Gail Omvedt titled - "Terminating Choice"
(The Hindu, December 14, 1998, Pg 12, Col: c.
"What is objectionable about the antiMonsanto, "antiTerminator" campaign
is its hypocrisy: it is depicted by those involved and the media as a
spontaneous action by `farmers' in general, and not as a campaign by a
relatively small number of dedicated activists. ... an action which
involves at most a hundred people and some thousands of political, urban
and international supporters is going to deprive hundreds of thousands of
Indian cotton farmers access to new technology."
She adds: "Behind the appeal of the campaign is a distorted image of
farmers held by a section of the urban elite, which depicts them
romantically but demeaningly as backward, traditionloving, innocent and
helpless creatures carrying on their occupation for love of the land and
the soil, and as practitioners of a `way of life' rather than a toilsome
incomeearning occupation. These imagined farmers have to be protected from
market forces and the attacks of multinationals, from the seductions of
commercialisation and the enslavement of technologies."
Omvedt goes on about how this image does not fit any farmers that she
knows about. She then adds a superb description of farmers making going
into the marketplace and making intelligent choices about how to get on
with the business of providing for their family. I would love to quote
more of her magnificent prose but it would be unfair (and possibly
illegal) as it might cause some of you not to read the entire piece
thinking that I had covered it adequately. I have merely provided a taste.
- Thomas R. DeGregori, Professor of Economics, University of Houston
Church Nod Good for GMOs in Philippines: President
- Manila Time, Agence France-Presse, Sept. 29, 2003
Use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including seeds will get a
boost in the Philippines following a Vatican explanation that they are not
sinful, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Monday.
Arroyo said this was clarified to her in a talk with Vatican State
Secretary Angelo Cardinal Sodano after her audience with Pope John Paul II
at the weekend. In a statement in Rome which was released in Manila, the
President said, "we have our policies on GMOs and I think what's important
now for opposers is that the Vatican said that GMOs are not immoral."
She said this explanation would be used in government information
campaigns on GMO seeds in the largely Roman Catholic Philippines The
government has approved the use of GM seeds in the Philippines. However
leftist and environmental groups have opposed the propagation of such
GMOs, citing Catholic bishops' support for their campaign.
Ms Macapagal-Arroyo said Cardinal Sodano clarified that while the Vatican
considers human cloning as immoral, it does not condemn GM agricultural
products. With the issue of morality out of the way, "we will address the
concerns of the oppositors by making sure the safety concerns are
addressed," she said. She visited the Vatican as part of a five-day trip
to the United States and Europe.
Biotechs Dismiss GM Poll on 0.1% Turn-out
- Vic Robertson, The Scotsman UK), Sept. 26, 2003
The apparent thumbs-down to commercial production of genetically modified
crops, given in a report published this week, has to be qualified by the
number of people who took part in the consultation, according to the
Although the results were seized on by the anti-GM lobby, including
organic farmers and environmental groups, as clear evidence the government
should reject GM technology, a majority of farmers say the results of
farm-scale trials due next month must also be taken into account.
At the same time the European Commission ruling that "no form of
agriculture - conventional, organic or GM - should be excluded from the
EU" will be debated by farm ministers next week, following increasing
pressure from the United States to accept the technology.
This week’s report GM Nation?, the result of a £500,000 government-backed
public consultation, concluded that UK consumers were uneasy about the
technology and the further they went into the issues the harder their
But attendance at more than 600 public meetings averaged just over 30 and,
according to the biotech industry, total public response was just 0.1 per
cent of the population.
Top GM Food Company Abandons British Crop Trials
- Robin McKie, The Observer (UK), Sept. 28, 2003
A key GM crop developer, Bayer, has decided to halt UK trials of
genetically modified plants. The move is seen as a major blow to the
industry. Bayer was the last company carrying out GM trials in the UK,
though it said yesterday it hoped to start up again soon when conditions
were 'more favourable'.
The company blamed Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett for its
decision. Her insistence that the locations of all trial sites be made
public had forced its hand, a spokesman told The Observer.
Until last week, Bayer CropScience, Bayer's crop subsidiary. believed it
was close to a deal that would allow GM crop test sites - which are
regularly destroyed by protesters - to be kept secret. Instead of having
to publish exact map references for fields, companies would only have to
name the county in which it was holding a trial.
The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment had said this vaguer
notification was 'acceptable in terms of risk assessment', while the
police have always complained that explicit disclosure of test site
locations has been a major factor in aiding 'crop-trashers'. But at the
last minute the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
told Bayer it would not support this change in regulations.
'In the absence of any moves to ensure the security for trials, Bayer
CropScience has no choice, therefore, but to cease its variety trial
activities in the UK for this coming season,' said the official. 'It is
disappointing the criminal activities of a small minority of people have
prevented information on GM crop varieties being generated.'
Most GM crop trials carried out over the past few years have been
sabotaged, not only those of Bayer. Other companies have pulled out. Now
Bayer, the last to continue with them, has decided to call it a day. The
current 'brain drain' of UK agricultural scientists to the US and Canada
is now only likely to intensify.
The fact that companies also specifically blame Beckett for this latest
blow is particularly intriguing. Last week, a letter from Beckett to her
fellow Ministers said Britain should back EU laws that ban all GM-free
zones, a move that would give the go-ahead to the commercial growing of GM
But as long as test GM trials are exposed to sabotage, the prospects of
commercial growing look remote. 'This is a back-door moratorium,' said an
GM Crops Could be New 'Green' Fuel
- Geoffrey Lean, The Independent (UK), Sept. 28 2003
Biotechnology firms are pressing to be allowed to grow GM crops across
more than a million acres of Britain to provide "green'' fuel for cars, as
ministers become increasingly wary about licensing them for food, The
Independent on Sunday can reveal.
GM wheat, sugar beet and oilseed rape could be converted into substitutes
for petrol and diesel. The plan is being pitched as an environmentally
friendly move that will help the battle against global warming. But
environmentalists say it will avoid few of the main hazards associated
with the technology.
The plan, detailed in as yet unpublished evidence to Parliament, reveals
growing pessimism in the industry about the prospects of ever persuading
supermarkets and consumers to accept GM food. A government survey
published last week revealed that more than 90 per cent of participants
rejected the technology and only 8 per cent said they would be happy to
eat GM food.
Ministers are back-tracking on plans to give the go-ahead for the
commercial growth of GM crops in Britain. A decision was originally
planned for this month but has now been put back into next year. As
disclosed by The Independent on Sunday last week, they have become
convinced that the erosion of public trust in Tony Blair and his
government as a result of the Iraq war and the treatment of Dr David Kelly
has made it politically impossible to push through such an unpopular
decision in the near future.
Written evidence by the Agriculture Biotechnology Council - representing
GM firms - to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Select Committee describes growing modified crops for fuel as a "win-win
solution for the rural economy and the environment''.
It adds: "Producing GM crops for non-food purposes, as a renewable source
of alternative fuels, may also provide the basis for a more rational and
balanced consideration of the technology and its potential benefits, away
from the disproportionate hysteria which has so often accompanied the
debate over GM foods.''
The Government plans to provide 5 per cent of all the fuel used by cars,
lorries and buses from crops by 2009, as part of a drive to reduce the
burning of fossil fuels, the main cause of global warning. The industry's
evidence says that this could be achieved by planting 1.7 million acres
with GM oilseed rape or more than 1.25 million acres of GM wheat and sugar
It says that the increased productivity of the modified crops could save
the Treasury £85m a year in subsidies for the alternative fuel and that
further modifications can increase the yields of oil from the crops,
making them even more economical. And it adds that using the technology
would also combat global warming by reducing the amount of fuel that
farmers use in spreading agricultural chemicals and tilling the soil.
Environmentalists, however, say that the main dangers associated with GM
crops - that genes will spread, creating "super-weeds" and contaminating
conventional and organic crops - are unaltered by the plan. Pete Riley of
Friends of the Earth said: "Having failed to persuade the British people
and UK supermarkets that it has got a product worth buying, the industry
is shifting its attention to growing crops for fuel. But there is
absolutely no difference at all in the risks that will be posed to the
Understanding Biotechnology in Agriculture
- Lester M. Crawford (Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug
AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY: An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Dept
of State; Vol. 8, No. 3, Sept. 2003
Bioengineering provides distinct advantages over traditional breeding
technologies because the risk of introducing detrimental traits is likely
to be reduced, says Deputy U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner
Lester Crawford. Crawford, a doctor of veterinary medicine by training,
argues that there are no scientific reasons that a product should include
a label indicating that it, or its ingredients, was produced using
bioengineering. He also outlines draft guidelines to strengthen controls
that would prevent biotech products in field trials from inadvertently
getting into food or feed.
Based on two decades of experience with bioengineered foods and
overwhelming scientific data that these foods are safe to eat, we believe
that biotechnology can offer a safe and important tool for both exporting
and food-deficit countries. This paper describes some of the basic science
behind biotechnology, the U.S. regulatory structure for ensuring safe
foods and U.S. policy on the issue of labeling.
CROSS-BREEDING, HYBRIDIZATION AND BIOENGINEERING: Scientists have been
improving plants by changing their genetic makeup since the late 1800s.
Typically, this has been accomplished through crossbreeding and
hybridization, in which two related plants are cross-fertilized and the
resulting offspring have characteristics of both parent plants. In the
breeding process, however, many undesirable traits often can appear in
addition to the desirable ones. Some of those undesirable traits can be
eliminated through additional breeding, which is time consuming. Breeders
can then further select and reproduce the offspring that have the desired
traits. Many of the foods that are already common in our diet are obtained
from plant varieties that were developed using conventional genetic
techniques of breeding and selection. Hybrid corn, nectarines, which are
genetically altered peaches, and tangelos, which are a genetic hybrid of a
tangerine and grapefruit, are all examples of such breeding and selection.
Today, by inserting one or more genes into a plant, scientists are able to
produce a plant with new, advantageous characteristics. The new gene
splicing techniques are being used to achieve many of the same goals and
improvements that plant breeders historically have sought through
conventional methods. They give scientists the ability to isolate genes
and introduce new traits into foods without simultaneously introducing
undesirable traits. This is an important improvement over traditional
breeding. Because of the increased precision offered by the bioengineered
methods, the risk of introducing detrimental traits is actually likely to
FOOD SAFETY CONCERNS: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
found no evidence to indicate that either ordinary plant deoxyribonucleic
acid (DNA) or the DNA inserted into plants using bioengineering presents
food safety problems. Nor are the small amounts of the newly expressed
proteins likely to change dramatically the safety profile of the plant. If
safety concerns should arise, however, they would most likely fall into
one of three broad categories: allergens, toxins, or anti-nutrients. FDA
has extensive experience in evaluating the safety of such substances in
food. It is important to note that the kinds of food safety testing
typically conducted by developers of a bioengineered food crop to ensure
that their foods meet all applicable requirements of the Food, Drug and
Cosmetics Act (FD&C Act) address these potential concerns. In the event
that something unexpected does occur, this testing provides a way to
detect such changes at the developmental stage and defer marketing until
any concern is resolved.
As aforementioned, some of the food safety concerns that could arise
Allergens: Foods normally contain many thousands of different proteins.
While the majority of proteins do not cause allergic reactions, virtually
all known human allergens are proteins. Since genetic engineering can
introduce a new protein into a food plant, it is possible that this
technique could introduce a previously unknown allergen into the food
supply or could introduce a known allergen into a "new" food.
Toxins: It is possible that a new protein, as introduced into a crop as a
result of the genetic modification, could cause toxicity.
Anti-nutrients: It is possible that the introduction of anti-nutrients,
such as molecules like phytic acid, could reduce essential dietary
minerals such as phosphorus. The use of genetic engineering techniques
could also result in unintended alterations in the amounts of substances
normally found in a food, such as a reduction of Vitamin C or an increase
in the concentration of a naturally occurring toxicant in the plant food.
LEGAL AND REGULATORY ISSUES: One important component in ensuring food
safety is the U.S. regulatory structure. The FDA regulates bioengineered
plant food in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). FDA has authority
under the FD&C Act to ensure the safety of all domestic and imported foods
for man or animals in the United States market. The exceptions to this are
meat, poultry and certain egg products, which are regulated by USDA. The
safety of animal drug residues in meat and poultry, however, is regulated
by FDA. Pesticides, including those bioengineered into a food crop, are
regulated primarily by EPA. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) oversees the agricultural and environmental safety of
planting and field testing bioengineered plants.
Bioengineered foods and food ingredients must adhere to the same standards
of safety under the FD&C Act that apply to their conventionally bred
counterparts. This means that these products must be as safe as the
traditional foods in the market. FDA has the power to remove a food from
the market, or sanction those marketing the food if the food poses a risk
to public health. It is important to note that the FD&C Act places a legal
duty on developers to ensure that the foods they market to consumers are
safe and comply with all legal requirements.
FOOD ADDITIVES: A substance that is intentionally added to food is a food
additive, unless the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) or
is otherwise exempt, such as a pesticide whose safety is overseen by EPA.
The FD&C Act requires premarket approval of any food additive regardless
of the technique used to add it to food. Thus, substances introduced into
food are either new food additives that require premarket approval by FDA,
or GRAS and are therefore exempt from the requirement for premarket
review. Generally, foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains are not
subject to premarket approval because they have been safely consumed over
many years. Other than the food additive system, there are no premarket it
approval requirements for foods generally.
Under FDA policy, a substance that would be a food additive if it were
added during traditional food manufacturing is also treated as a food
additive if it is introduced into food through bioengineering of a food
crop. Our authority permits us to require premarket approval of any food
additive and, thus, to require premarket approval of any substance
intentionally introduced via bioengineering that is not generally
recognized as safe.
Examples of substances intentionally introduced into food that would be
reviewed as food additives include those that have unusual chemical
functions, have unknown toxicity, or would be new major dietary components
of the food. For example, a novel sweetener bioengineered into food would
likely require premarket approval. In our experience with bioengineered
food to date, however, we have reviewed only one substance under the food
additive provisions, an enzyme produced by an antibiotic resistance gene,
and we granted approval as a food additive. In general, substances
intentionally added to or modified in food via biotechnology to date have
been proteins and fats that are, with respect to safety, similar to other
proteins and fats that are commonly and safely consumed in the diet and,
thus, are presumptively GRAS. Therefore, they have not needed to go
through the food additive approval process.
PRE-MARKET CONSULTATIONS: FDA has established a consultative process to
help companies comply with the FD&C Act's requirements for bioengineered
foods that they intend to market. The results of our consultation are
public information and are available on our website at:
www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/biocon.html. Since the consultation process was
created, companies have used the process more than 50 times as they sought
to introduce genetically altered plants representing more than 10
different crops into the U.S. market. We are not aware of any
bioengineered plant food that is subject to FDA's jurisdiction and is on
the market that has not been evaluated by FDA through the current
Typically, the consultation begins early in the product development stage,
before the product is ready for market. Company scientists and other
officials meet with FDA scientists to describe the product they are
developing. The agency then advises the company on what tests would be
appropriate for the company to assess the safety of the new food. After
the studies are completed, the data and information on the safety and
nutritional assessment are provided to FDA for review.
FDA evaluates the information for all of the known hazards and also for
potential unintended effects on plant composition and nutritional
properties since plants may undergo changes other than those intended by
the breeders. For example, FDA scientists are looking to assure that the
newly expressed compounds are safe for food consumption and that there are
no allergens new to the food, no increased levels of natural toxicants,
and no reduction of important nutrients. They are also looking to see
whether the food has been changed in any substantive way such that the
food would need to be specially labeled to reveal the nature of the change
If a plant developer used a gene from a source whose food is commonly
allergenic, FDA would presume that the modified food might be allergenic.
The developer, however, is allowed the opportunity to demonstrate that
such food would not cause allergic reactions in persons allergic to food
from the source.
Our experience has been that no bioengineered product has gone on the
market until FDA's questions about the safety of the product have been
LABELING: One of the most important issues confronting the biotechnology
industry is that of labeling. Under the FD&C Act, a food is misbranded if
its labeling is false or misleading in any particular way.
FDA does not require labeling to indicate whether or not a food or food
ingredient is a bioengineered product, just as it does not require
labeling to indicate which conventional breeding technique was used in
developing a food plant. However, if genetic modifications materially
change the composition of a food product, these changes must be reflected
in the food's labeling. This would include its nutritional content (for
example, more oleic acid or greater amino acid or lysine content) or
requirements for storage, preparation or cooking, which might impact the
food's safety characteristics or nutritional qualities. For example, one
soybean variety was modified to alter the levels of oleic acid in the
beans. Because the oil from this soybean is significantly different from
conventional soybean oil, we advised the company to adopt a new name for
that oil, a name that reflects the intended change.
If a bioengineered food were to contain an allergen not previously found
in that food and if FDA determined that labeling would be sufficient to
enable the food to be safely marketed, FDA would require that the food be
labeled to indicate the presence of the allergen.
FDA has received comments suggesting that foods developed through modern
biotechnology should bear a label informing consumers that the food was
produced using bioengineering. We have given careful consideration to
these comments. However, we do not have data or other information to form
a basis for concluding that the fact that a food (or its ingredients) was
produced using bioengineering constitutes information that must be
disclosed as part of a bioengineered product's labeling. Hence, we believe
that we have neither a scientific nor a legal basis to require such
labeling. We have developed, however, draft guidance for those who wish
voluntarily to label either the presence or absence of bioengineered food
in food products.
STRENGTHENING CONTROLS OVER FIELD TRIALS: In August 2002, President Bush's
Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) proposed strengthening
controls over field trials to address the potential of material from field
trials inadvertently getting into food or feed.
FDA's task is to publish draft guidance for comment on procedures to
address the possible intermittent, low-level presence in food and feed of
new non-pesticidal proteins from biotechnology-derived crops that are
under development for food or feed use but have not gone through FDA's
premarket consultation process. Under this guidance, FDA would encourage
sponsors, domestic and foreign, to submit protein safety information when
field testing showed that there could be concerns that new non-pesticidal
proteins produced in the field-tested plants might be found in food or
feed. FDA's focus would be on proteins new to such plants because FDA
believes that at the low levels expected from such material, any food or
feed safety concerns would be limited to the potential that a new protein
could cause an allergic reaction in some people or could be a toxin.
PHARMACEUTICAL CROPS: FDA has the authority and responsibility for
regulating pharmaceuticals, whether they are manufactured in a traditional
manufacturing plant or they are manufactured in crops in the field. For
crops in the field, however, there are additional issues to be addressed,
including issues involving the parts of the plant that do not contain the
pharmaceutical and the residual crop left over after a pharmaceutical is
In September 2002, FDA and USDA published Draft Guidance for Industry on
the use of bioengineered plants or plant materials to produce biological
products, including medical devices, new animal drugs, and veterinary
biologics. This draft guidance outlines the important scientific questions
and information that should be addressed to FDA by those who are using
bioengineered plants to produce medical or veterinary products. We are
currently reviewing public comments on this guidance.
CONCLUSION: After 10 years of experience in this country, there is every
reason to conclude that bioengineered foods are as safe as food produced
through traditional breeding techniques. Both the U.S. General Accounting
Office (GAO) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have issued
reports agreeing with this assessment. We are confident that the foods
developed using bioengineering that we have evaluated are as safe as their
counterparts, and we will continue to follow the development of this
technology to ensure that any new safety questions are also resolved prior
The Third World Academy of Sciences
TWAS represents the best of science in the developing world. Its
principal aim is to promote scientific capacity and excellence for
sustainable development in the South.
TWAS Research Grants: Research grants of up to US$10,000 each are offered
to scientists from developing countries; TWAS Research Units in Least
Developed Countries: Each TWAS research unit selected receives a grant of
up to $30,000 to strengthen its activities. The grant can be renewed for
up to three years.
Spare Parts for Scientific Equipment : The Academy provides funds for
covering the cost of small items of spare parts for scientific equipment
in Third World institutions, up to a maximum of US$1,000 each.
Provision of Books and Journals: In collaboration with the International
Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), the Academy provides scientific
publications donated by institutions or individuals in the industrialized
countries to a number of libraries in developing countries. Deadline:
C. Fellowships and Associateships: Fellowships for Postdoctoral Research
and Advanced Training: TWAS provides travel support to young scientists of
up to 40 years of age holding a Ph.D. or equivalent degree to enable them
to visit scientific institutions within the South for a period between at
least six and at most twelve months. The fellowship includes a
contribution towards subsistence costs up to US$200.00 per month. Living
expenses are borne by local sources. Deadline: 1 October of each year.
CSIR/TWAS Fellowships: The Academy and the Council of Scientific &
Industrial Research (CSIR) of India have instituted two types of
fellowships for scientists of proven ability from developing countries
(other than India) to work in the laboratories of the CSIR in India:
Fellowships for Postdoctoral Research (for 3-12 months), and Fellowships
for Postgraduate Studies for PhD (for 2-3 years).
TWAS-UNESCO Associateship Scheme: In collaboration with a number of
centres of excellence in the South, TWAS has instituted a Joint
Associateship Scheme to enable competent researchers from the South to
visit these centres regularlyTWAS provides travel support for the
associates and a contribution towards subsistence costs up to US$200.00
per month while living expenses are covered by the host centres.
Support for International Scientific Meetings: The Academy encourages the
organization of international scientific meetings in Third World countries
by providing financial support in the form of travel grants for principal
speakers from abroad and/or participants from the region.
ICSU-TWAS-UNESCO Visiting Scientist Programme : This programme provides
institutions and research groups in developing countries, especially the
Least Developed Countries and those with limited outside contacts, with
the opportunity to establish long-term links with world leaders in areas
of science other than mathematics and physics, and so help develop
capacity-building in their country.
More Details: http://www.ictp.trieste.it/%7Etwas/Activities.html
Bjorn Lomborg's Welcome in Australia (Sent by David Tribe"
Green Skeptic To Get Hot Reception
- Leigh Dayton,The Weekend Australian Sept 27-28 2003
THE self-proclaimed "Skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg arrives in
Australia next week, his views having already been dismissed as "claptrap"
by local environmentalists and scientists.
"He's the dodgy brother of science," said David Butcher,chief executive
officer of the World Wide Fund for Nature. More criticism of the Danish
political scientist and statistician came yesterday from Greenpeace
Australia Pacific campaigns manager Danny Kennedy. "Lomborg is an
illusionist. He looks convincing until you look past the smoke and
mirrors," Mr Kennedy said. What has earned Associate Professor Lomborg, on
leave from Denmark's Aarhus University, such hostility?
The answer is the publication in 2001 of his book The Skeptical
Environmentalist:Measuring the real state of the world. In the book,
Professor Lomborg accuses lobby groups and concerned scientists of
dishonestly creating a "litany of environmental fears" that he claims are
not supported by scientific evidence. The world is getting better,not
worse, he claims. Professor Lomborg bases this controversial conclusion on
his statistical analysis of "indicators" collected by other researchers.
The statistics cover issues such as global warming, air pollution and
Professor Lomborg is also accused of not following the conventions of good
science. Graeme Pearman, former chief of atmospheric sciences with the
CSIRO, said: "If he has any hard science, he should be publishing it in
the scientific press and going through the rigours of the review process."
The Bjorn Storm
- Leigh Dayton, The Weekend Australian Sept 27-28, 2003
Environmentalists are distorting the facts, argues an influential sceptic.
Science writer Leigh Dayton reports on a global stoush
BJORN Lomborg is a publicist's dream. He's good looking, articulate and
has a string of credentials and accolades that can be dropped into press
releases like sparkling jewels of credibility. Examples? Well, Lomborg is
on leave from the University of Aarhus, where he is an associate professor
of statistics in the political science department. He took leave when he
was named director of Denmark's national Environmental Assessment
Institute in 2002.
Weighty? Indeed, yet there's more. The same year Lomborg took the helm of
the institute, he was named Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World
Economic Forum as well as one of the 50 stars of Europe by US magazine
Business Week. What's more, the 38-year-old academic is the darling of
Britain's influential The Economist magazine and has been lauded in
publications as diverse as The New York Times and Rolling Stone. Oh, and
there's one more killer arrow in the publicist's quiver.
Lomborg is controversial- very controversial. It's a packag hard to
resist, as Australians are set to discover. Melbourne think-tank the
Institute of Public Affairs is sponsoring Lomborg on a national speaking
tour, slated to kick off on Tuesday. For the uninitiated, Lomborg's rise
to fame began in 2001. That's when Cambridge University Press published
the English language edition of his book The Skeptical Environmentalist:
Measuring the Real State of the World. As the book rocketed up bestseller
lists worldwide, it was accompanied by equally escalating condemnation
from environmentalists, climatologists, demographers,ecologists and
biologists. They were immediately outraged by Lomborg's basic argument:
forget the doom and gloom, things are getting better and better for planet
With breathtaking confidence, Lomborg claims in his book that a
statistical analysis of international data suggests that many of the ills
of the world -- from global warming and climate change to air pollution,
hunger and human health-have been overstated. The science, he says, has
been distorted with "nearly religious" zeal by organisations and
individuals with an axe to grind and plenty of vested interest. According
to Lomborg, "the most important indicators" show clearly that the world is
not going up in a puff of greenhouse-induced global warming. Instead, the
former Greenpeace member argues, for instance, that human population is
slowing, air pollution is falling in rich countries and species are not
becoming extinct at unprecedented levels.
"This does not mean I don't care about the environment, and there are some
things that are deteriorating," he says this week from his office in
Copenhagen. "I just think it's important to put it into perspective."
Lomborg argues that encouraging developing countries to crank up economic
growth will eventually put the brakes on environmental decline. This
message is clearly music to the ears of industrialists, conservative
thinkers and budget conscious politicians and decision-makers, says Ian
Lowe, a science policy analyst with Griffith University in Brisbane.
"He has been acclaimed because he's saying what they want to hear, namely
that there's no serious environmental problems that can't be solved by
more economic growth," says Lowe, who chaired the 1996 report state of the
Environment Australia. In contrast, Lomborg certainly has not been
applauded by the scientific community. He and his book have been
pilloried. "Lomborg's book is junk," says Paul Ehrlich, president of the
Centre for Conservation Biology at Stanford University in California and
author of an earlier contrarian book, The Population Bomb(1968).
"It's a deeply flawed work. Real scientists are offended by what Lomborg
has done," says John Holdren this week from Boston, where he heads the
program on science, technology and public policy at Harvard University's
John F. Kennedy School of Government. In a nutshell, Lomborg's critics
allege that he has violated the cornerstones of good science: objectivity,
accuracy and credible analysis. Stanford's Stephen Schneider puts it:
"Lomborg deliberately selected his data and spin from the happy end of the
spectrum of materials out there."
And Schneider goes further: "He has no right to make claims about climate
since he seems unwilling or is incapable of providing a balanced survey of
the literature." Like Holdren, Schneider is one of four experts asked by
Scientific American to critique Lomborg's treatment of their areas of
expertise: global warming, energy, population and biodiversity. The others
are Thomas Lovejoy, chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the
World Bank and adviser to the UN Foundation, and John
Bongaarts,vice-president of the policy research division of the Population
Council in New York City. Scientific American published its conclusions in
January 2002. In the introduction,editor-in-chief John Rennie wrote:
"Lomborg's assessment that conditions on Earth are generally improving for
human welfare may hold some truth. The errors described here, however,
show that in its purpose of describing the real state of the world, the
book is a failure."
It was a harsh appraisal and Lomborg replied in detail in the pages of the
magazine. But it didn't satisfy the anti-Lomborg camp. The intellectual
bun fight raged on. "I shouldn't have been surprised by the debate, but I
was," Lomborg admits.No doubt he was equally stunned when the Danish
Research Agency's committee on scientific dishonesty mounted a six-month
investigation into the allegations levelled against him. In a startling
decision last January, the panel found the book "scientifically
dishonest". "Many people have said it's a shameful decision," counters
Lomborg, who says he has "answered all the issues and demonstrated they
are not relevant". He says he has appealed the "extraordinarily
politicaldecision ", and points out that the panel is under review for its
vaguely worded report.
Regardless of Lomborg's protestations, the Danish parliament has called
for an investigation into eight environmental analyses conducted by his
institute. One concluded that the country's recycling scheme for cans and
bottles cost far morethan incineration and produced minimal environmental
benefit. It does all seem much of a muchness. Dispassionate observers may
be excused for feeling they are witnessing a school yard brawl rather than
a healthy scientific disagreement. Certainly, as the arrows fly back and
forth, it's hard for outsiders to follow developments. Perhaps some
insiders are also confused, suggests CSIRO atmospheric scientist Barrie
Pittock. He points out that statisticians and economists and natural
scientists speak different languages. One group speaks numbers, the other
"For instance, I think a lot of people [like Lomborg] tend to treat
climate change research as a matter of dogmatic truth or falsity when in
fact there are uncertainties about the observations and the
interpretation," says Pittock, a lead author with the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, a group of hundreds of international scientists
whose findings link human activity to global warming. Lomborg dismisses
all but the most conservative of the IPCC scenarios of future climate
change, as he lobs apples at the panel and they, in turn, toss back
"It's all good knockabout stuff", long-time environmental writer Fred
Pearce wrote earlier this year in New Scientist. But is that enough to
bring out the self described sceptical environmentalist? To quote Pearce:
"Lomborg struck me as an eager and honest researcher, working outside his
field and out of his depth. But without repeated challenges, even flawed
or naive ones, evidence and theories go stale. Science needs its
dissidents and mavericks."
For more information on Lomborg's visit to Australia, visit www.ipa.org.au
or call the Institute of Public Affairs on (03) 9600 4744
Lomborg’s Early Accounting
Priorities: "We need to realise that 800 million people are starving.
Don't forget that if we worry so much about butterflies, we forget about
Criticism: "I keep thinking if you present people with data they'll say,
oh yeah. But this area is so penetrated feeling, almost to the point of
religiousness, so much else is riding on this discussion."
His choice of data: "I honestly believe I have not been selective. I've
tried to take all the important indicators. it's important to say that my
baseline is humans."
The Kyoto Protocol: "Kyoto is very expensive and will do very little good
100 years from now." The energy crisis: "We're not running out of oil
despite our increased use of oil. We've never had as much left over."
Population growth: "There are too many people but there's not much we can
do about it. But most people don't realise that the population increase
peaked in the 1960s and has been declining ever since."
Environmental policy: "It's only the rich who can afford to "' have an
environmental policy. Developing countries are still worried about getting
enough money for food. . . When people stop worrying about where they're
going to get their food, they will then start worrying about the
environment, 100 years from now." "
Greenpeace: "I was a member of Greenpeace but not an out- '"
in-a-rubber-boat member or a supporter wearing a backpack. I believed that
when they caught the last fish and chopped down the last tree, then
[people] will realise they can't eat gold."
Academic Blacklisted Over Threat of Invasion
- Steve Farrar, The Times Higher Education Supplement Sept. 26, 2003 (Sent
by Andrew Apel)
Ecologists have been accused of allowing emotions and aesthetics to colour
warnings about the environmental threat posed by non-native species. The
scholar at the centre of the dispute said he had been prevented from
publishing his thesis by outraged members of the scientific community.
Most experts believe the global movement of plants and animals, often
inadvertently carried by ships and planes, to colonise unfamiliar
ecosystems is a principal culprit in the loss of native biodiversity. They
argue for measures to prevent new waves of invasive species - such as the
green crab in the US, the mink in the UK and the zebra mussel on both
sides of the Atlantic - from driving out native species as well as harming
human health and the economy.
But some scientists are arguing that the threat has been exaggerated.
Philosopher Mark Sagoff said the scientific community had pilloried his
insistence that the distinction between native and non-native species as a
group had no ecological or economic basis and had in effect blocked
publication of his full thesis. His latest submission to a journal was
rejected last month by a majority of the reviewers.
One reviewer called Dr Sagoff's paper "egregious" and complained of
"half-truths, statements out of context and twisted logic". Dr Sagoff, a
senior research scholar at the University of Maryland in the US and former
president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics, said he
admired many of his critics and had been surprised at the strength of the
He felt that the established line was influenced by aesthetic, cultural
and spiritual arguments to conserve native ecosystems. These were valid
reasons but should be acknowledged as non-scientific arguments. While he
supported efforts to prevent the spread of known pests, Dr Sagoff argued
against a general presumption among ecologists that non-native species
were "guilty until proven innocent" and observed that his was not
supported by research.
Mark Davis, professor of biology at Macalester College in the US, said
this argument threatened deeply held beliefs. "Ecologists have been guilty
of overgeneralising and categorising beyond what the data actually say,"
he said. "An emotional response is the best indication that you really are
onto something." Professor Davis said that many ecologists revealed their
feelings by using pejorative metaphors such as "invasive meltdown" and
"pollute" in scientific discourse.
"I'm not welcoming all invasive species with open arms - I'm arguing for
sound scientific comments based on data and a more sensible perspective."
Professor Davis added that this would enable the limited resources
available for control to be better focused on serious problems.
David Lodge, professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre
Dame in the US, accused Dr Sagoff of drawing illogical conclusions in a
journal six months ago. He told The THES there was a kernel of truth in
Dr Sagoff's claims, but that he was none-theless attacking a straw man as
few, if any, ecologists believed non-native wholly equalled bad.
Professor Lodge said the priority had to be to push for risk assessments
to identify those new species likely to cause damage. "It is important to
get beyond Sagoff's and Davis' arguments and address the very many serious
threats that invasive nonindigenous species pose to human commerce, human
health and environmental health," he said.
David Pimentel, professor of entomology at Cornell University in the US,
said: "Personally, I like Mark Sagoff, but ecologically several of his
arguments have serious errors. This is why not a single biologist that I
know supports his position and assessment."
Measles and Mumps on the Rise as Parents Shun Vaccine
- Maxine Frith, The Independent (UK); Sept. 27, 2003 (Sent by Andrew
Britain is on the brink of an epidemic of childhood diseases because
parents are shunning the MMR jab for their children, public health experts
warned last night.
Government figures reveal a fivefold increase in mumps and a doubling of
measles cases in the past year. The statistics coincide with the
disclosure that the uptake of the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine
is at an all-time low.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical
Association, said: "These figures are extremely worrying. We are now at
the danger zone, where instead of having small, sporadic outbreaks we are
going to get major epidemics which could well become lethal ... that could
happen very quickly."
Between April and June there were 467 cases of mumps, compared with 84
confirmed reports for the same period in 2002, the Health Protection
Agency (HPA) reported. Measles cases more than doubled, from 52 in the
second quarter of 2002 to 145 during the same period this year. MMR
immunisation rates are at their lowest, with 78.9 per cent of children
receiving the vaccine, despite a £13m government campaign to convince
parents that MMR is safe.