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May 6, 2000


Members' Contributions.....May 7, 2000


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

(Nine contributions below......)

From: Arie Altman
Subject: responses for article for Odyssey children's magazine

You can look at my review, with the same title: THE PLANT AND AGRICULTURAL
HERE? which was published in Electronic Journal of Biotechnology 1999, which
can be found at:


Arie Altman
From: Malcolm Livingstone

Dear Anne,

First of all it is ridiculous to claim that scientists are narrow minded
because they do not accept the arguments of people who generally wouldn't
pass a high school exam on biology. Scientists are the most open minded of
all societal groups but that does not mean they are stupid. There are
people out there who still believe the Earth is flat. I think we are
entitled to make the claim that this is false. Of course if evidence were
to surface that the Earth was flat scientists would be the first to embrace
the new evidence. Having and open mind is not the same as being gullible.

Secondly the use of agricultural chemicals may contribute to illness
(although there is very little direct evidence for this) but what choice
was there. If there had been no Green Revolution millions would have died
in the past 30 years without a shadow of doubt. Try growing tomatoes in
your backyard for several years without chemicals. Maybe in Canada you can
get away with it for a bit longer but I have tried to apply permaculture
techniques here in subtropical Brisbane and it is a waste of time. Of
course nature develops resistance to pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics
etc. but to argue that we should never use antibiotics because bacteria
become resistant to them is an absurd argument. In fact all the genes used
in biotechnology come from natural resources (where else?). If we can learn
to harness them to our own needs for awhile why not?

Lastly scientists are trying to engineer plants with all the qualities you
desire but it is difficult. Science always does first what is possible. It
just so happens that the first plants off the rack were herbicide and
insect resistant. In fact the golden rice product is an early example of
what can be achieved. Anti-biotech activists don't want plants with all the
fine qualities you describe. They want to stop the technology now. I
suspect in fact they would like to stop all technology except that which
directly benefits themselves. If you understood molecular biology you would
know that scientists are trying to develop plants with drought resistance
etc. right now. It seems to me that many opponents of biotechnology are
afraid of the process itself and that is a fear not based on logic. Why
don't you admit that there is no difference between conventional breeding
and current breeding techniques except for the source of traits and the
means of transferring them to plants?

CSIRO Tropical Agriculture
the same program, Marketplace, and have
e-mailed NPR suggesting that Mr Rifkin is an exteremely biased
individual when it comes to biotechnology and at the very least NPR
should have an equal representation of editorials representing a
positive view of biotechnology. Hopefully they will take your

Jeff Hall, PhD
PPGx Inc.
La Jolla, CA

"John W. Cross" wrote:
> I just sent the following message to Mr. David Brancaccio. I hope you
> don't object my suggestion he contact you:
From: Guy della-Cioppa
Subject: Re: Pespi: Not The Real Thing

For many years, NutraSweet (aspartame) was made from L-phenylalanine
produced in recombinant E. coli (I assume it's still produced this
way). Just try banning this "GM" food ingredient in Coke and Pepsi, and
other products, and imagine the consumer backlash that would result (I
would be protesting in the streets myself). NutraSweet is a safe, GM
food product that directly benefits the consumer (as opposed to the
farmer). Would this be an interesting "test case" for educating
consumers about GMO product streams in their food supply? Comments
welcome. Guy della-Cioppa

Jamie Bishop wrote:
> Pepsi: Not The Real Thing
> PepsiCo shareholders on Wednesday rejected a bid to ban genetically
> altered corn from the sweeteners used by the beverage and snack food
From: Matthew Metz
Subject: Re: responses for article for Odyssey children's magazine

With people dressing their kids up as butterflies it is a little late to
shelter any one from the political debate... The best we can do is give
the younger generation different perspectives to think on. Most junior
high aged people I know would find the protective approach seriously

Matt Metz
UC Berkeley

On Fri, 5 May 2000, Alex Avery wrote:
> I'm sorry, but I'm totally against giving middle school aged children
> "all sides" of such politically-charged debates and letting them "form
From: "Javier Verastegui"
Subject: Fw: From labelling to general issues


Estimados colegas,

Este es un reciente mensaje de Estanislau Fons a la Lista de Discusion
AGBIOWORLD ( http://agbioview.listbot.com ). Encontramos que Fons acierta
en describir la situacion actual en cuanto al etiquetado y al futuro de los
alimentos transgenicos, aunque no es capaz de encontrar respuesta al
impasse. Seria posible enriquecer la discusion presentando otros aspectos
de los alimentos transgenicos que pueden ser de preocupacion particular en
America Latina u otros paises en desarrollo. El que escribe no es un
experto, pero seria interesante que cientificos y expertos latinoamericanos
realicenr contribuciones sobre el tema suscribiendose y escribiendo a la
lista: AgBioView-subscribe@listbot.com que contiene valiosas
contribuciones sobre la biotecnologia agricola y sus problemas.

Dear colleagues,

This is a recent message from Estanislau Fons to the Discussion List
AGBIOWORLD ( http://agbioview.listbot.com ). We think that Fons is right in
describing the current status on labelling and the future of transgenic
foods, although he is unable to find an anwer to the impasse. It would be
possible to enrich the discussion by presenting other aspects of transgenic
food that may be of particular interest in Latin America or other developing
countries. I am not an expert, but it would be interesting that Latin
American scientists and experts can send contributions to this discussion by
subscribing and then writing to the list: AgBioView-subscribe@listbot.com ,
which contains valuable contributions on agriculture biotechnology and its

Javier Verastegui
From: Rick Roush
Subject: Re: 'Green Revolution' Made us (Literally) Stupid?

>But the report says that the new crops, unlike their predecessors, fail to
>take up minerals such as iron and zinc from the soil. ........... "But
>these >are now blamed for causing intellectual deficits, because they do
>not take up >essential micronutrients."

I don't know about the evidence for the above (is there any data that the
grain has fewer micronutrients? I couldn't open the website mentioned),
but the following is nuts!


>He concludes that, eventually, the evolution of the brain could go into
>reverse as humans develop more extensive digestive systems to cope with the
>lack of nutrients sacrificing intelligence in the process.
(From Agnet)

May 4, 2000 The Vancouver Sun

Iain Taylor, a professor in the botany department and Botanical Garden at
the University of British Columbia, and is an associate in the Centre for
Applied Ethics, writes that recent developments in biotechnology have both
excited and confused the general public. Research to transfer a correcting
gene into a child with a birth defect is often greeted as a great advance
with obvious benefits, while use of the same gene-transfer technology to
produce a pest-resistant crop plant may be challenged because we are
``messing with nature''.

Taylor says the confusion comes from several directions. The technology for
genetic engineering is elegant, even simple, to laboratory researchers but
extremely complex to explain to non-scientists. As well, the inherent
conflicts of interest that exist in and between universities, industry and
government stemming from the financial stakes in biotechnology lead to a
strong temptation among scientists to ignore challenging questions -- to
keep their heads down and proceed with their work.

It doesn't help that scientists often disagree over such complex issues as
biotechnology. Some choose to emphasize the benefits of plant biotechnology
to make faster progress in crop plant improvement, while others see great
risks to the environment.

Failing to communicate the issues, including the conflicts, represents, says
Taylor, a failure of science to meet its obligation to society. Scientists
must provide straightforward and accurate accounts of new advances,
especially when they affect almost every area of our health, food and
environment. By remaining silent, scientists feed the growing public

Part of our problem is a weak communication link with the mainstream media.
Taylor says that few scientists have constructive working relationships with
reporters whom we rely on to inform the public about science and to comment
on the news. We hear calls for more science journalists, but that avoids the
obligation for scientists to do some of their own communicating directly
with the public.

Two promising models for the sharing of scientific information are consensus
conferences and science shops. Canadian scientists would do well to consider
applying such solutions to our growing communications crisis.
consensus conference The ``consensus conference'' was developed in the
United Kingdom in the 1970s. A conference on plant biotechnology was held in
Calgary in 1999.

Another approach is the ``science shop'' -- developed in Netherlands and now
being operated from university campuses in more than a dozen countries
worldwide. The main purpose is to make scientific knowledge accessible to
organizations with a need for community-based research.
Science shops conduct research and provide advice in areas such as nature,
environment and health as well as in the social sciences. Preference is
often given to research for organizations, and occasionally individuals,
that serve a broad public interest and where results will not be used

Such public-service work may be a valuable way of informing the public about
scientific and technological progress before it becomes a multi-national
commercial juggernaut.

If there are benefits to plant biotechnology, we must find them and explain
them, but we must be much more thoughtful in considering risks.
The public must be the watchdog and demand that the biotechnologists,
especially those in government who may be acting as both promoter and
regulator, take risk seriously and cautiously.

May 4, 2000, The Vancouver Sun

Carl Douglas, associate professor of plant molecular biology and head of the
department of botany at the University of British Columbia, writes that in
the debate over genetically modified plants, the question of how plant
biologists move genes around is not often addressed. But to assess possible
risks associated in the release of ``transgenic plants,'' it is important to
understand how gene transfers actually work.

Douglas says that generating transgenic plants is routine in research
laboratories, and can be done easily by students. However, it is not usually
done with the goal of producing genetically altered crops.
Rather, the goal is to introduce altered plant genes back into plants in
order to understand how plant genes control growth, development, metabolism
and the ability to withstand stresses such as pathogen attack, cold and

For decades, plant breeders have been moving groups of genes into crop
plants by crossing them with related wild species -- a process that is
difficult to control. Transfer of specific isolated genes to create
transgenic plants first became a reality in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Douglas explains the basics of molecular biology and genetic engineering in
crops, and then says that in considering possible risks associated with such
transgenic crops, it is important to keep certain facts in mind. The T-DNA
is inserted into plant chromosomes randomly. This is a potential
disadvantage because it is possible that the inserted T-DNA will alter the
function of a normal plant gene.

However in most crop plants, genes are islands in a sea of non-functional
DNA, so that the T-DNA usually does not insert into a functional gene.
Furthermore, since T-DNA insertion is random, different transgenic plants
containing the same introduced gene will have that introduced gene at
different locations.

If insertion of a T-DNA fragment into one transgenic plant causes an
undesirable alteration, the chances that a second transgenic plant with the
same T-DNA will cause the same alteration is close to zero. Testing of
multiple, independent transgenic plants can easily exclude possible
undesired effects.

It is important to remember that gene rearrangements continually occur in
plants without human intervention. For example, maize and other crop plants
contain transposable elements -- naturally mobile genes that can freely
change position on plant chromosomes.

Plant genome projects also show that genetic material is naturally in a
state of flux. In the development of crop plants, humans have accelerated
this flux by selection and the large-scale mixing of distantly related
genetic material typical of plant breeding, and now through transfer of
specific genes.

There is always the possibility of undesirable alterations in crop plants by
natural and human-induced genetic changes. However, it is the overwhelming
view of the scientific community that any potential risks from transgenic
crop plants lie not in the process of gene transfer itself, but in the
functions of the transferred genes in the plant.