Today in AgBioView: October 9, 2003
* French Vandals Destroy Hopes
* On Tewolde Egziabher, the architect of the German/Africa proposal
* How Foods from Biotech Crops are Evaluated for Human Safety
* Re-assessing GM Safety Assessment
* Indian Study Confirms Superiority of Bt Cotton in Fighting Pests
* Study Reveals First Evidence that GM Superweeds Exist
* The Globalization of Food
* GMOs in Agriculture: Economics and Politics
* Loving Kids to Death
* Greenpeace Seeking to Poison Children in the UK with Toxic Milk!
* The Poor Like Globalization
* Hot to Get Real
French Vandals Destroy Hopes
- Enrique Silver, International Herald Tribune, Oct. 8, 2003
(Sent by Dan Holman )
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay: There is no way of knowing how many children and
young adults may die because some anti-biotechnology radicals destroyed a
plot of pharmaceutical corn in France in August. Maybe none will die;
maybe thousands will. One thing is certain: Much needed research has been
delayed because of this treacherous vandalism, and desperately ill people
cannot tolerate delays.
The destroyed corn contained a pharmaceutical protein that holds great
promise to treat one aspect of cystic fibrosis. Around the world, tens of
thousands suffer from the disease, and each year thousands die as we
desperately hope for a cure. In developed nations, the average lifespan of
someone with cystic fibrosis is about 34 years.
Cystic fibrosis is linked to a defective gene that causes the body to
produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to
life-threatening lung infections. These thick secretions also obstruct the
pancreas, preventing digestive enzymes from reaching the intestines to
help break down and absorb food.
In 1989, researchers identified the defective gene and learned that cystic
fibrosis can be treated by delivering normal genes to the lungs or other
affected parts of the body. There is great hope that protein-based drugs
can provide an effective treatment or even cure for cystic fibrosis and
many other diseases.
That is only part of the challenge. We must have the proteins in adequate
supply. The best hope of achieving plentiful and affordable supplies is to
produce the proteins in crops - such as the corn that was destroyed in
Such a setback deals a devastating blow to cystic fibrosis research,
because it is considered an "orphan disease," one that affects relatively
small numbers of individuals. With increasing demands being placed on
biotech companies, investors are sometimes leery about major capital
investments for orphan-classified drugs. Most research is aimed at more
common illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis or AIDS.
Those of us involved in fighting "orphan diseases" hope that the ability
to produce therapeutic proteins in crops will lower costs to the point
that companies will choose to invest in treatments for our patients.
Hopefully, the company whose research was destroyed will not give up on
its quest to help suffering cystic fibrosis patients.
This month, about 1,500 French scientists, including two Nobel Prize
winners, signed a petition demanding an end to the willful destruction of
genetically modified crop trials. Organizers of the petition said that
almost half the experimental fields of biotech strains in France were
destroyed this summer, ruining years of research. Others around the world,
including the Uruguayan Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, of which I am
president, join in condemning the vandalism.
Vandalism, of course, is the most radical form of opposition to bio-pharma
research. Others oppose it through more conventional means, no doubt
believing they are protecting the environment or frustrating the motives
of big corporations.
These self-appointed guardians apparently do not care that all
experimental plots, which typically consist of only a few rows of plants,
are rigorously monitored to prevent release into the environment. And
clearly, not all the beneficiaries of biotechnology are big corporations.
Somewhere in France today, some unnamed vandals are probably patting each
other on the back for their act of treachery. If only they could realize
that in homes and hospitals around the world, children with cystic
fibrosis daily undergo painful back-slapping therapy to dislodge the thick
mucus that clogs their lungs and threatens their lives. This is usually a
precursor to lung transplants or death.
New, protein-based drugs offer hope to millions, not just cystic fibrosis
sufferers. As with any new technology, we must protect against potential
risks, but it is critical that we not lose sight of the benefits.
The writer is vice president of Cystic Fibrosis Worldwide.
Re: Oct. 10 posting - "US and Germany Clash Over GM Policy in Africa"
- Fran Smith
Re: "US and Germany Clash Over GM Policy in Africa" It is interesting that
in today's posting Tewolde Egziabher is quoted as the "architect of the
German/Africa proposal." That does not bode well for Africa and the future
use of agricultural biotechnology as an important tool to help address
food security and environmental improvements.
Egziabher has for years been a vehement opponent of biotechnology, both in
his Ethiopian government role and outside of it. During the negotiations
on the Biosafety Protocol, his writings regularly appeared on
anti-biotechnology activist groups' websites, e.g., Third World Network
Web site >. The following is an illustrative quote from Egziabher's
article on Biosafety, which appeared on that site in 2000
www.twnside.org.sg/title/abdicatecn.htm shortly after the Cartagena
Protocol was adopted in Montreal (since removed):
>> "The USA delegation kept insisting that all genetic engineering did was
>mix genes from different individuals, which is what sexual reproduction
>does, and which is thus as old and as well tried as life itself. This is
>the basic thinking behind 'substantial equivalence': when my wife's genes
>and my genes mix to give us a child, that is considered the same as when
>the scientist, at the same time, introduces the gene for snake venom into
>the egg that will become our child. Our venomous child would then be
>considered substantially equivalent to my wife and me. Suppose the child
>bites my wife while suckling?"
At the Montreal negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol, he was the leader
of the "Like-Minded Group." In a monograph on the Protocol (March 2000), I
had written about the position of this group:
"This bloc, which included most of the developing countries, promoted the
broadest possible scope for the Protocol, earlier pushing for the coverage
of products produced through biotechnology but containing no living
organisms. The group also strongly supported the use of the precautionary
principle and wanted the Protocol to 'trump' other international
"Concerned about their countries' lack of resources and infrastructure to
protect their genetic resources, this bloc was the primary advocate of
'capacity building' requirements that would require either developed
country governments or the biotechnology industry to pay for training and
building a regulatory apparatus.
"It may seem puzzling that negotiators for developing countries, which
have most to gain from agricultural biotechnology in the future, were the
most opposed to this technology in the negotiations. These nations may
suffer from what economists call the 'principal/agent' problem in their
anti-biotechnology positions in Montreal. Many of their representatives at
Montreal were government employees, in most cases connected to
environmental offices. As such, their interests may have focused more on
furthering their departmental interests, not necessarily the broader
interests of their governments as a whole or of the citizens of their
countries. Also, because of the monies that are expected to be spent on
'capacity building' to help developing countries better deal with risk
assessment and regulation of biotechnology, there may have been a certain
amount of rent-seeking on the part of representatives, who see a
possibility of greater resources targeted to their agencies.
"The representatives at Montreal from developing countries also appeared
to take a different position toward trade from that of trade
representatives from developing countries at the WTO meeting in Seattle in
late November 1999. In Seattle, many developing countries recognized that
non-tariff trade barriers under the guise of safety considerations disrupt
open trade, and they were concerned that some of the developed countries
did not seem amenable to focusing on those issues."
How Foods from Biotech Crops are Evaluated for Human Safety in the United
- Dr. Robert K. D. Peterson, AgBiosafety Center, Univeristy of Nebraska
(Agricultural & Biological Risk Assessment, Montana State University;
Before reading this chapter, you may want to read, "Plant Biotechnology
Regulation: Science-Based and Consumer Accessible from Plow to Plate,"
(link) which provides a brief overview of how biotech crops are regulated
in the United States.
In the first chapter, we discussed why scientists can never prove that
biotech crops are safe. But that does not mean that regulatory agencies
and society at large can’t determine that those crops are safe for humans
and for the environment. To make that determination, society relies on the
scientific weight-of-evidence regarding how risky these crops are.
In the United States, there are three federal regulatory agencies that
primarily regulate biotech crops: the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA). Although their responsibilities overlap
considerably, each agency is responsible for a single overriding question
* EPA asks, "Is it safe for the environment?" * USDA asks, "Is it safe to
grow?" * FDA asks, "Is it safe to eat?"
In this chapter, we take a closer look at the roles of the FDA (and to a
lesser extent the USDA and EPA) in evaluating and making decisions about
human-health risks from biotech crops and the foods derived from them.
Based on the questions posed above, in the United States, determining
whether human health risks from consuming foods derived from biotech crops
are acceptable or unacceptable is the primary responsibility of the FDA.
In the first chapter, we discussed how science and the scientific method
form the foundation upon which the societal decision of “is it safe
enough” is made. For crops produced using recombinant DNA technology, the
FDA evaluates the new protein that has been introduced into the crop and
whether the nutritional and compositional aspects of the crop have been
changed. The EPA also is involved in this process, especially if the new
protein protects the plant from pests (what EPA calls a
The department within the FDA that primarily is responsible for assessing
the safety of consuming foods derived from biotechnology is the Center for
Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN). CFSAN enforces allowable residues of
pesticides (called tolerances) in food and feed, oversees all new plant
varieties derived from biotech not covered by the EPA, and oversees
biotech pesticidal substances that appear in food and feed.
Currently, all regulated biotech products or substances fit into three FDA
categories: Whole Foods, Food Additives, and GRAS (Generally Recognized as
Safe) Substances. "Whole Foods" must ensure that there are no changes in
nutritional profile and no introduction of foreign substances that might
present health hazards. "Food Additives" must receive pre-market approval
of substances intentionally added to foods that are significantly
different in structure, function, or amount than in current food
substances. "GRAS Substances" must demonstrate that the substances
generally appear in nature, have been consumed for long periods without
recorded hazards, and are scientifically found to have no undesirable
effects on humans.
To date, foods derived from biotech crops have fallen into the Whole Foods
and GRAS Substances categories. Why these foods have not been placed into
the Food Additives category will be discussed below.
Proteins that typically are considered safe (or that pose negligible risk)
have the following characteristics:
* They are from sources with no history of toxicity or allergy
* They do not resemble known toxins or allergens
* They have well understood functions
* They are expressed at low levels (major allergens are usually found in
large amounts in allergenic foods)
* They are rapidly degraded in the stomach (within minutes)
* There is a lack of adverse effects in mice at high levels of consumption
* Animal feeding studies (such as a 42-day poultry trial) do not reveal
any adverse effects
To evaluate the characteristics described above, the FDA regulator
evaluates data from the following studies:
* Acute oral toxicity in mice (Is the protein toxic when ingested by a
* In vitro digestibility under simulated gastric conditions (How quickly
does the protein break down in conditions that mimic the human stomach?)
* Comparison of amino acid sequence similarity of insecticidal protein to
known protein allergens (Is the protein structurally similar to proteins
that we know are allergenic?)
* Heat stability of the protein (Does heat, such as we might see in food
processing or cooking, break down the protein?)
* Protein expression in plant tissues (Where in the plant does the protein
occur and in what amounts?)
* Protein fate in parts of the plant and in processed food fractions (How
do the amounts of protein in different parts of the plant change over time
and how much protein is present as the harvested crop is being processed
* Poultry feeding studies (Are there any differences between chickens fed
the biotech crop and those fed a non-biotech crop over a 42-day period?
This type of study gives the regulator some idea of potential long-term
dietary risks associated with humans eating food with ingredients from
In addition to the risk associated with the protein, there is the question
of how the insertion of the foreign gene has altered compositional and
nutritional properties of the crop. To evaluate this, there are a number
of analyses that are required. They include:
* Protein, crude fiber, oil, carbohydrate, ash
* Amino acid composition
* Fatty acid composition
* Antinutritional factors such as phytic acid, trypsin inhibitor,
What is important to recognize here is that none of the results from the
studies alone or in combination prove anything. In particular, they do not
prove that human health risks from biotech crops are acceptable or that
they are safe. Each study tests a hypothesis. For example, the acute oral
toxicity in mice study is centered on the initial hypothesis that the dose
or doses of protein administered to the mice will not result in mortality
or any signs of toxicity. The results from all of the study are evaluated
by the FDA regulator, who makes a decision about the food safety of the
biotech crop. The regulator, therefore, utilizes a weight-of-evidence
approach when making his or her decision. The results either provide a
weight-of-evidence that the protein is safe to consume or that it is not.
Re-assessing GM Safety Assessment
- Suzanne Berry, BioMedNet, Sept. 19, 2003
The current method of assessing the safety of genetically modified (GM)
crops needs a new name to better reflect what it actually means, urge
For centuries, man has exploited the fact that genes continuously change
by natural mutation and recombination. Throughout history, farmers have
selected and bred crops with desirable traits - such as increased yield or
good flavor. More recently, biotechnology has enabled specific genes to be
identified, isolated, copied and inserted into other plants.
Since GM technology has become more widely used, concerns over the safety
of these crops compared with traditionally bred crops have come to the
fore. Assessment of the safety of GM plants and their products is
currently based on comparison with the parent line of the GM crop and then
with other traditionally bred varieties with a known history of safe use -
a process termed the 'Principle of Substantial Equivalence'.
Such an assessment aims to establish a globally acceptable, scientifically
sound approach to safety assessment. However, note Esther Kok and Harry
Kuiper of the RIKILT Institute for Food Safety in Wageningen, The
Nethelands, 'traditional' plant breeding practices, including the use of
chemical mutagenesis, can cause a higher rate of mutations compared with
those introduced by recombinant DNA technology. Thus, they argue that this
method of safety assessment needs to be reassessed.
Kok and Kuiper believe that it is time to rethink methods of assessing the
safety of foods produced using current agricultural techniques. In an
Opinion article in the journal Trends in Biotechnology, they propose that
the Principle of Substantial Equivalence should be re-phrased to
'Comparative Safety Assessment (CSA)'. The term 'substantial' has caused
much confusion and led to widespread misinterpretation, they say.
Andrew Cockburn of agricultural biotech firm Monsanto is aware of the
problem. "If you have grown tomatoes from seed and the fruits on the same
plant are looked at - one might be green, another red, meaning that they
might not be considered to be equivalent," he said. "But in terms of
genetic background they are genetically identical!"
Thus it can be difficult to determine how substantial is 'substantial'.
Cockburn adds that one might do all the testing on a crop and find no
differences so call it 'equivalent,' then later set about to make it
different, for example making 'Golden Rice' (which contains elevated
levels of beta carotene compared with traditionally bred rice) and repeat
the tests to find that it is substantially equivalent to normal rice, when
in fact it is nutritionally very different.
The concept of substantial equivalence, says Cockburn, is to set out to
look at the similarities and differences between the GM crop and the
traditionally bred crop, then to ignore the similarities, and to decide if
the differences are big enough for concern. He agrees with Kuiper and Kok
that their term 'comparative safety assessment' does serve to refine the
concepts of the Principle of Substantial Equivalence.
Kuiper and Kok explain that the Principle of Substantial Equivalence can
only be applied after a thorough compositional analysis of the varieties
being looked at (the GM crop and its traditional counterpart). And more
importantly, that this compositional comparison is the starting point of
the safety evaluation and not the end point, which some publications have
apparently assumed. Cockburn agrees. "Substantial equivalence is no longer
an end-point but a starting point - a framework," he said.
Once the compositional analysis has been completed, toxicological and
nutritional studies are then undertaken, the Principle of Substantial
Equivalence is therefore only part of a comprehensive comparative
The phrase Comparative Safety Assessment "better outlines the comparative
nature of the assessment, while avoiding the idea that it is a safety
assessment in itself," say Kuiper and Kok. "Nutritional and toxicological
assessment should be performed on the basis of the CSA, and might require
additional safety tests."
They believe that a shift in the philosophy of assessing the safety of
foods produced by different agricultural methods would result in a more
balanced risk analysis system, and provide a basic safety protocol for all
novel food crop varieties.
India: Study Confirms Superiority of Bt Cotton in Fighting Pests
- Business Standard (India), Oct. 9, 2003
A study conducted by the University of Agriculture in Dharwad has revealed
that the cultivation of Bt cotton results in reduction of pesticides. The
study concluded that more Bollworm damage was recorded on the conventional
cotton and NHH - 44 hybrids (the commonly used local hybrid) as compared
to Bt cotton. While Bt cotton required only three to four applications of
pesticide for bollworm control, the conventional cotton and NHH - 44
hybrids required four to nine sprayings in both locations.
The study also said that Bt cotton cultivation translated into lower cost
for the farmer and increased profitability.The Bt cotton plots accounted
for a spend of only Rs. 750 and Rs. 1,210 on plant protection input costs
per acre, as opposed to Rs 1180 and Rs. 3310 on conventional cotton in the
university's research station farm and Nelahal locations respectively.
(1US$ = Rs. 45)
At the end of the study, it was found that the Bt cotton plots recorded a
net profit of Rs. 13,998 and Rs. 13,521 per acre in the University's
research station farm and Nelahal village which implied an increase of
31.12 per cent and 42.18 per cent, respectively. It was also found that
sucking pest incidence, particularly 'thrips', in the early stage and
'aphids' in the later stage was equal in all the cotton plots in both
Conducted at Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Raichur,
Karnataka, the study involved actual trials and collation of primary data
to study the behavior of pests and their impact on cotton.. The study was
conducted in 2002-2003 and the trials were undertaken at the university's
research station farm and Nelahal village in district Raichur.
At each location, three hybrids and a local popular hybrid were cultivated
on one acre, and after taking into account the input cost in each
location, the economic benefits were calculated. The principal
investigator in this study, B V Patil was currently an associate director
of research and headed the entomology department at RARS in Raichur.
Commenting on the findings, he said, "For a long time now there's been a
debate on the Bt Cotton issue. For us, this was a fact-finding mission and
we are confident of the veracity of our research and are convinced that Bt
Cotton does play a significant role in reducing the farmer's worries. Our
study clearly establishes the fact that if the maximum benefits have to be
derived from cultivating Bt Cotton, then it is important to isolate the
crop from normal cotton or other hybrids and cultivate it separately. This
would ensure pest resistance and better yields."
Study Reveals First Evidence that GM Superweeds Exist
- Steve Connor, Independent (UK), Oct. 2003
Cross-pollination between GM plants and their wild relatives is inevitable
and could create hybrid superweeds resistant to the most powerful
weedkillers, according to the first national study of how genes pass from
crops to weeds.
Its findings will raise concerns about the impact of GM crops. Next week
the results will be published of farm-scale trials which have studied the
impact on the countryside of three types of crop.
The government-funded scientists said the latest findings "contrast" with
previous assessments of gene flow between farm crops and weeds. They had
suggested that the danger of hybridisation - where two types of plant
cross-pollinate to create another, for example a superweed - was limited.
Superweeds are considered to be a threat because, in some cases, they
might absorb resistance to weedkillers from GM crops engineered to be
But the results of the research, which involved analysing satellite images
of the British countryside and patrolling 180 miles of river banks, reveal
that hybridisation is both more widespread and frequent than previously
Mike Wilkinson of Reading University, who led the study published today in
the journal Science, said physical barriers such as isolation distances -
buffer zones designed to stop pollen spreading from GM crops into the wild
- would have only a limited impact on preventing hybridisation.
"This [study] shows that isolation distances will reduce hybrid numbers
but not prevent hybridisation. It depends on what level of hybridisation
you deem acceptable but if you want to absolutely prevent hybrids then
isolation distances will not do so," Dr Wilkinson said. "Hybridisation is
more or less inevitable in the UK context," he added.
The study concentrated on non-GM oilseed rape and assessed how easily it
cross-bred with a near-relative in the wild called bargeman's cabbage,
also known as wild turnip, which typically grows along river banks.
Although the research was based on conventional oilseed rape, Dr Wilkinson
said the conclusions applied to any flow of genes that could be expected
from the GM varieties of oilseed rape that were undergoing farm-scale
"Our findings are directly transferable to almost all sorts of genetically
modified oilseed rape," he said. "The only exceptions will be ones where
there is male sterility introduced into the crop." Researchers scoured the
countryside for sites where bargeman's cabbage grew near to oilseed rape
fields and they used DNA techniques to assess whether any hybrids between
the crop and the wildflower had been produced as a result of pollen
The scientists, from the Natural Environment Research Council and the
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Dorset, calculated the frequency of
hybridisation and used it to estimate the number of hybrids that would
form each year across the UK.
They concluded that typically there would be 32,000 hybrids produced
annually in wild riverside populations of bargeman's cabbage, and a
further 17,000 hybrids growing among a weedier variety of the wildflower
which tends to infest farmland. This represents a relatively small
fraction of the 88 million wild bargeman's cabbage plants estimated to
grow along British riverbanks, but if the hybridisation involved a GM gene
that conferred a significant advantage on the weed, the hybrid could
quickly spread to pose a superweed threat.
An important outcome of the work is that it will allow scientists to
assess what needs to be done to limit the spread of genes and pollen from
GM crops. One possibility is to make the male plants sterile so they do
not produce pollen.
"If we know how many hybrids to expect then we can test methods that
people put forward hoping to prevent hybrid formation. In order to prevent
hybrid formation you need to know how many to expect in the first place,"
Dr Wilkinson said.
"One of the main reasons for doing the work is that this sort of data
represents a starting point for us to do predictive modelling, to predict
how particular different sorts of genes will behave across the country.
"It's important to know how many hybrids to expect, to know how efficient
it has to be to prevent hybrids. The key question is whether the gene that
they contain is going to cause a change [to the countryside] or not," he
Although the latest study stands in contrast to previous work attempting
to predict gene flow between farm crops and wild flowers, Dr Wilkinson
said the findings were not totally surprising. "The level of hybrid
formation is more or less in keeping with what we expected on a national
level," he said. "What's surprised us slightly is the variability between
From Prakash: See the original Science paper at
The Globalization of Food
Yale Global, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/food.jsp
Take a look at your evening meal and what do you see? Common foods that
are so much a part of daily sustenance you would hardly suspect that they
originally came from another country. But it is true.
Most of the foods that we commonly eat today are the product of
globalization. And often a globalization that began centuries before the
term came into use. Next time you eat one of the foods highlighted in the
following articles imagine what life would be like if that food had never
left its home country.
Please click on the links below to learn about the various foods that have
made a significant impact in our life today.
* The Potato: From a wild tuber to the french fry, the potato has
withstood the test of time and traveled the world.
* Coffee: First thing in the morning or after dinner, would life be as
bright if coffee had never left Ethiopia?
* The Tomato: Pizza, salsa, rogan josh, and ketchup: the tomato has
adapted to every cuisine and continues to please.
Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics
Gerald Nelson, Dept Agric and Consumer Economics, Univ of Illinois at
Urbana Academic Press
Hardback, p344; March 2001; $69.95; 0-12-515422-4;
"This publication is the best overall and up to date summary of this
important subject I have seen. ...The authors, editor and the 30
contributors (all but four from the US) are to be congratulated on an
excellent production which should help all sides of the current
discussion." - Nigel Steele Scott, Deputy Chief, CSIRO Plant Industry for
FOOD AUSTRALIA (2002)
"There is something to interest scientists, economists and the
well-informed lay-person in the book." - M.O. Humphreys for JOURNAL OF
AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE, CAMBRIDGE (2002)
Genetically modified crops have become a topic of great interest among
scientists, regulators, consumers, farmers, and politicians. Despite their
potential benefits, public hostility toward these crops is causing
dramatic changes to import/export policies, food safety regulations, and
agricultural practices around the world. Genetically Modified Organisms in
Agriculture provides a comprehensive overview of the subject and a
balanced look at the costs and benefits of GMO products.
Part I reviews the scientific, economic, and political issues relating to
the use of agricultural GMOs. Chapters cover specific applications,
regulatory concerns, import/export patterns, international trade issues,
and a discussion of future trends. Part II offers a unique look at all
sides of the GMO controversies, with short chapters contributed by leading
individuals with widely different perspectives. Part III presents a more
in-depth look at selected issues plus helpful reference materials. This
book makes the latest information on GMOs accessible to all interested
parties, including students, laypeople, scientists, activists, and
professionals working in related fields.
Loving Kids to Death
- Henry I. Miller & Gregory Conko, National Review Online, Oct. 6, 2003
Americans take nothing as seriously as the need to protect the health and
safety of children. Public concern about environmental harms has
intensified in recent years, and politicians and public-health officials
have taken notice. Hence, "Children's Health Day," observed on the first
Monday of October.
Seizing an opportunity to further their own agendas, many radical
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) exploit the event by attacks on
various products and technologies that they claim are harmful.
As is the case for many other public-health false alarms, NGOs'
condemnation of the new biotechnology -- also known as gene splicing,
genetic engineering, or genetic modification (GM) -- is less about real
concern for children's health than about environmental activists'
willingness to exploit children's issues for their own benefit.
Biotechnology has been the target of scare campaigns since the technique
was first demonstrated in 1973. Activists like Jeremy Rifkin of the
Foundation on Economic Trends have been warning against the supposed
dangers of biotechnology for three decades, calling it "the most radical,
uncontrolled experiment we've ever seen," and even likening it to "Nazi
With varying degrees of subtlety, others such as Greenpeace and the Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, have questioned the safety of the
new biotechnology. In spite of the overwhelming scientific consensus that
the new molecular methods of the "new biotechnology" pose no inherent
risks, critics still argue that splicing genes into plants can cause all
sorts of human health risks, including the addition of new plant toxins or
allergens into the food supply.
The allergy issue is of special concern when children are involved,
because children tend to be more sensitive to allergens than adults.
Approximately 5 to 8 percent of children have a true allergy to certain
types of foods, but only one to two percent of adults do. Therefore, if
gene-splicing really did increase the risk of introducing new allergens
into the food supply, this might pose a genuine children's health issue.
How real is this possibility?
Food allergies are a reaction of the body's immune system to a substance
or an ingredient in a food, usually a protein. And, because the function
of most genes is to provide the cellular blueprint for making proteins, it
has been easy for activists to convince the uninformed that a real
children's health scare is imminent. But the issue is not so simple.
Both conventional and biotech plant breeding involve the introduction of
new genes into established crop plants. Thus, they both pose a theoretical
risk of introducing potentially harmful proteins and other substances into
the food supply, some of which could be allergens or toxins. However, the
risk for both types of breeding is generally quite small, and the level of
risk an individual plant will pose -- either to human health or the
environment -- has nothing to do with how it was developed. It depends on
the characteristics of the plant that is being modified and the specific
gene or genes that are added.
In short, the fact that gene-splicing is used to introduce a new gene into
a crop plant has little bearing on whether or not new allergy issues could
arise -- except that with gene-splicing techniques, plant breeders are
actually less likely to introduce new allergens into the food supply.
Conventional plant breeding involves an essentially random mix of
literally tens of thousands of genes from two or more parent plants -- any
one of which may never before have been part of the human food supply.
Thus, plant breeders generally have little knowledge about which genes
combine to create new crop varieties, which gene products are expressed
(and at what levels), or which traits may be generated or altered. Dozens
of new plant varieties produced through imprecise hybridization and other
traditional methods of genetic improvement enter the marketplace each year
without any governmental review or special labeling. Many such products
are from "wide crosses," hybridizations in which large, sometimes huge,
numbers of genes are moved from one species or one genus to another --
across "natural breeding barriers" -- to create a plant variety that does
not and cannot exist in nature.
For example, Triticum agropyrotriticum is a relatively new man-made
"species," which resulted from combining genes from bread wheat and a
grass sometimes called quackgrass or couchgrass. Possessing all the
chromosomes of wheat and one extra whole genome from the quackgrass, T.
agropyrotriticum has been independently produced in Europe, Canada, the
United States, and China, and has been grown for both animal feed and
Various problems could arise from such a genetic construction that
introduces tens of thousands of foreign genes into an established plant
variety. For example, the new genes could increase the weediness of the
plant in fields, or proteins derived from the quackgrass genes could be
toxic or allergenic to consumers. However, neither regulators nor
activists have evinced any concern about these possibilities. Instead of
focusing regulatory attention on such risk-related issues, they have
concentrated solely on gene-spliced plants, about which plant biologists
and breeders invariably know considerably more -- for example, exactly
which new genes are being added into an existing plant line, and what
proteins will be synthesized by those genes.
Paradoxically, only the more precisely crafted, gene-spliced crops are
exhaustively, repeatedly (and expensively) reviewed before they can enter
the field or food supply. If those supposedly concerned about risk were
crafting regulatory approaches logically, the balance of scientific
certainty and uncertainty would dictate that greater precaution apply not
to gene splicing but to the cruder, less precise, less predictable
"conventional" forms of genetic modification. Returning to the T.
agropyrotriticum example, this chaotic mixture of genes is unregulated,
but if a single gene were transferred from quackgrass to wheat with highly
precise, gene-splicing techniques, the product would elicit an extensive
and hugely expensive regulatory regime. This is a discrepancy that cannot
be reconciled. Policymakers have ignored a fundamental rule of regulation:
that the degree of scrutiny of a product or activity should be
commensurate with the risk.
Ironically, one of the most noteworthy potential advantages of
biotechnology is actually to eliminate existing allergens from foods like
peanuts, wheat, and milk, by "silencing," or turning off, the genes that
generate allergenic proteins.
The new biotech's greatest contribution to children, however, will likely
be via the nutritional benefits of gene-spliced plants. For example, the
diet of more than two hundred million children worldwide includes
inadequate levels of many important micronutrients such as vitamin A,
whose deficiency results in impaired intellectual development, blindness,
and even death; each year, approximately two million children die from a
severe lack of vitamin A. A new, gene-spliced rice variety boasts enhanced
levels of beta carotene, which is then converted in the human body to
vitamin A. This "Golden Rice" could prevent as many as a million deaths
In spite of significant and real benefits of gene-spliced foods, the
anti-biotechnology "kid campaign" has borne fruit for environmentalists in
a way that other forms of activism could not. The public is confused, and
most regulatory agencies treat gene-spliced foods and crop plants in a
discriminatory, unnecessarily burdensome way. They have imposed costly and
time-consuming requirements that could not possibly be met for
conventionally bred plants. The use of the new biotechnology, which holds
so much promise for improving the health of children, is being held
hostage by a perverse campaign that exploits them for political gain.
- Henry I. Miller, a physician, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Gregory Conko is director of food-safety policy at the Competitive
Greenpeace Seeking to Poison Children in the UK with Toxic Milk!
- Thomas R. DeGregori
Re - Apropos my posting on the very real possibility that "organic" milk
fed with "organic" corn could contain dangerously high levels of fungal
toxins, particularly the aflatoxins, I received the following:
SHOPPERS at Ripley Sainsbury's returned their fresh milk after being
informed by Greenpeace that they'd unknowingly bought genetically modified
Local Greenpeace campaigners talked to customers last Saturday September
27, and offered to exchange what they described as genetically modified
milk for the organic alternative, free of charge. Greenpeace said:
"Customers were unaware that the supermarket gets its dairy produce from
cows fed on American genetically modified maize."
Janet Miller from Greenpeace said: "The response was good. We set up an
exchange point at the store entrance and just told people where their milk
comes from. "Over 100 pints were exchanged in favour of organic milk.
People have been lulled into thinking GM food isn't sold in this country
but most had GM milk or dairy produce in their trolleys."
The title of my posting - Greenpeace seeking to poison children in the UK
with toxic milk - is only partially a spoof and is not one that I would
seriously choose. It is a Greenpeace type headline and is essentially what
the Greenpeace promotion is saying - The milk that you bought is poison so
exchange it for good wholesome "organic" milk.
Well, somebody in the UK ought to respond that the "organic" milk could
possibly be highly toxic since the fungal infestation in "organic" maize
has been demonstated. The "could possibly be" that I use in the previous
sentence has a much higher probabiltiy than any of the scare terms used by
Greenpeace. Anyone in the UK wishing to use any part of my previous
posting are free to do so without any need for citation. How about a
"non-negotiable demand" for testing "organic" milk for fungal toxins now
that they have been found in "organic" maize? After all, some people in
the UK have been lulled into thinking the "organic" milk is less toxic and
The Poor Like Globalization
- David Dollar, Yale Global, June 23, 2003
'But institutions and policies are needed to deliver the hoped for
More, not less, economic integration is good for the world, according to a
worldwide poll, conducted by the Pew Global Attitude Survey. David Dollar,
Director of Developmental Policy at the World Bank, cites findings from
the survey to support the argument he has made in the past that
globalization indeed helps reduce poverty and inequality. He points to a
significant decrease in the number of the world’s extreme poor since 1980.
But globalization has also been received with great distrust, particularly
among anti-globalization activists who argue that global economic
integration favors the already wealthy while hurting the poor from
developing nations. Contradicting the anti-globalization movement’s
claims, Dollar says that most "striking in the survey is that views of
globalization are distinctly more positive in low-income countries than in
rich ones." For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa 75% of households thought
that multinational corporations had a positive influence on their country,
compared to only 54% in rich countries. Of the 38,000 people in 44 nations
surveyed, those in the developing world generally blamed their local
governments, not globalization, for their country’s ills.
There is, however, no ground for complacency. With 1.2 billion people
still living below the poverty line, Dollar says , the world needs more
"international and national actions - including enhanced market access for
developing countries, improved investment climates, and effective delivery
of health and education."
Read the article at http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=1934
Hot to Get Real
- Roger Caldwell, Philosophy Now (Sent by Andrew Apel)
Is Postmodernism finally on its deathbed? Roger Caldwell examines the
evidence and takes a look at its would-be successor: Critical Realism.
Critical realism, then, rescues us from the postmodernist nightmare and
restores us to reality. We cannot manage without a concept of truth. There
is (as most of us thought all along) a pre-existing external reality about
which it is the job of science to tell us. True, we must be cautious about
claims to objective reality, alert to ideological distortions, and aware
that the world is a messier, more complicated place than the accounts of
physicists would suggest. This does not mean that such claims cannot
plausibly be made. A central plank of critical realism is that science can
no longer be considered as just another myth or story.
Ted Benton is concerned to restore the centrality of the concept of nature
to the social sciences. He notes that, among sociologists, there is an
ambiguous attitude to the natural sciences, debunking on the one hand but
envious of their success on the other. The notion of nature, and for that
matter human nature, tends to be seen as essentially a social construct,
which means that we can never speak of nature as such but only of
discourses about nature.
The result of this, combined with a suspicion of scientific thought as
indissolubly linked with political and social domination, is that
sociologists are powerless to contribute to debates about such important
contemporary issues as loss of biodiversity or ecological degradation,
assessment of which is crucially dependent on scientific analysis. If
sociologists deny the validity of a scientific account of nature to begin
with, dissolving 'nature' into so many discourses, they are left with a
hapless relativism, inadequate to deal with the 'real' problems that
This is not to deny that science may be put in the service of political or
social oppression, or indeed that scientifically-based remedies may be
inappropriately applied. The answer to this is better political systems
and more finely tuned application of science. It does not constitute an
argument against scientific truth as a whole.