Today in AgBioView: November 25, 2003:
* GM warriors have killed the debate
* Debate on GM crops 'beset by confusion'
* GM friends and foes 'both wrong'
* GM opponents should stand trial - golden rice inventor
* World growing hungrier, says UN
* Scientists discuss food modification in respect to population boom
* EU Theatrics Obscure Anti-Biotech Agenda
* Using Genetically Modified Organisms Could Be a Duty, Says Bioethicist
* Vaccines and Antibodies: Potential and Limitations
GM warriors have killed the debate
A confused public is caught in the crossfire of the biotech battle
- The Guardian, By Robert May, November 25, 2003
As the government's advisers on GM crops meet today to discuss the results
of the GM farm trials, advocates on both sides of the GM propaganda war
should be hanging their heads in shame.
Publication last month of Europe's largest study of the impact of
intensive agriculture on wildlife should have sparked renewed debate on
how we can use the technologies of the 21st century to make farming more
sustainable. Instead, with the battle lines drawn well in advance, many of
the protagonists presented a biased and selective summary of the results,
digging further into their trenches and leaving the public caught in a
The results of the research, published after peer review in the journal
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences,
showed that the impact of GM herbicide-resistant crops needs to be
assessed on a case-by-case basis. They demonstrate that the cultivation of
these crops can help farmers to use weedkillers more effectively. But if
this more effective use of weedkillers results in changes, good or bad, in
the supply of food for farmland wildlife, it can significantly affect
Sadly, these important conclusions have been obscured by the kneejerk
responses of the GM warriors issued immediately after, and in some cases
before, the publication of the eight detailed scientific papers describing
the farm trials results.
On one side, some representatives of the agricultural biotechnology
industry appear to have ignored the impact on biodiversity in the farm
trials for GM sugar beet and oilseed rape. These results clearly show that
GM technology kills weeds more effectively than through conventional means
but reduces significantly the food supply for farmland wildlife.
On the other side, some campaigners have denied that the trials lead to
any positive conclusions for GM crops. But the results for maize
demonstrated that, in principle, if farmers adopt the right strategy with
herbicide-resistant GM crops, they can have a less damaging effect on
farmland biodiversity than when they use existing conventional methods of
Why does it matter what the research really shows when this summer's
public consultation appeared to show that most of the UK population oppose
GM crops? Well, over the next few months, the member states of the EU must
decide whether to allow their home soils to be planted with several new
varieties of GM crops. In the UK, that decision is due to be made after
the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (Acre) delivers its
verdict on the significance of the farm trial results, based on a
month-long consultation completed last week and two open meetings in
London today and Edinburgh next week.
As the 1997 European directive makes clear, the UK government could only
object to a licence for a GM crop if it has evidence of damage to the
environment or human health. If the impact on farmland biodiversity is the
sole criterion, the government may well be justified in objecting to
licences for growing GM herbicide-resistant sugar beet and oilseed rape in
the ways investigated by the farm trials.
But let us consider the potential implications of rejecting these GM weed
control systems solely because they are more damaging to wildlife. On that
basis, any proposed new innovation, whether it is the production of a
powerful new weedkiller or even the further removal of hedgerows, would
have to be rejected if it had a detrimental effect on farmland
That could be a good thing. The intensification of agriculture has had a
devastating effect on indigenous species, as farmers have sought to
produce more food for less cost. For instance, the government's farmland
bird indicator of 20 species shows an overall decline in breeding
populations of 40% since the mid-1970s.
Indeed, there is perhaps a case for deciding that no new innovation in
agriculture should be allowed unless it is less damaging to wildlife than
existing methods. The industry might explore more thoroughly how new
technologies, such as GM, might make farming methods better for wildlife
than they currently are, and not only concentrate on maximising profits.
The public will be more receptive to GM products that benefit the consumer
and the environment.
Campaigners could also change tack, and instead of opposing GM technology
in principle, put pressure on industry to develop it in a way that
benefits the environment. This might be a vain hope as much of the anti-GM
campaign is built on opposition to the influence of "big business" on
agriculture. But it is ironic that the campaigners should object to GM
because of the supposedly corrupting influence of commercial interests,
while extolling the virtues of organic farming. Organic food is a
billion-pound industry, with big business cashing in.
Together, industry, campaigners and scientists should now be focusing on
how innovative technologies can affect, for the better, the many strands
of the development of agriculture in the UK.
· Lord May of Oxford is president of the Royal Society, the UK national
academy of sciences. The Royal Society's submission to Acre is published
today at royalsoc.ac.uk.
Debate on GM crops 'beset by confusion'
Use of farm chemicals needs more examination, says top scientist
- The Guardian, By Paul Brown, November 25, 2003
The results of the farm-scale trials of GM crops have been misrepresented,
with those for and against the technology wrongly claiming victory, Lord
May, president of the Royal Society, said yesterday.
What the results actually showed, he said, was that the more herbicide
farmers used on crops, the worse it was for wild plants and animals and
the more the countryside suffered. What was really needed was a debate on
modern farming methods and what kind of countryside Britain wanted.
Lord May, a former government chief scientist and now head of the National
Academy of Sciences, submitted one of 57 sets of comments to the
government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (Acre). An
open meeting today will discuss the farm trial results before a
recommendation is made on whether GM crops should be commercially grown in
The results of four years of research, published last month, showed that
less wildlife biodiversity was found in GM oilseed rape and sugar-beet
trials than in conventional crops. But in GM maize, more insects and weeds
Along with groups representing biotechnology companies, the Royal
Society's submission was one of only a handful still backing the
technology. Most urged Acre to advise the government not to allow the
crops to be grown.
Lord May's point was that it was not the GM introduction that was the
problem. In all cases, the quantity and type of herbicide used and when it
was applied was the decisive factor. Conventional crops - where the land
had been heavily dosed with herbicide before planting - also suffered
dramatic loss of wildlife.
Lord May said: "The most pressing question arising from the farm-scale
evaluations is not whether GM plants are better or worse for the
environment than conventional crops, but instead what type of modern
agriculture we want.
"Do we want an agricultural system that depends on the development of ever
more powerful weedkillers to increase yields, but which also has a
negative impact on biodiversity?"
The UK had already experienced a pronounced loss of biodiversity, he said.
"If this trend is to be halted, we need to decide how best to achieve
that. It could be through working with the grain of nature, such as
targeting land for non-agricultural purposes, or by growing our food more
efficiently, such as using techniques like genetic modification to develop
crops that require fewer chemicals.
"Much larger questions need to be answered about the kind of world we want
to live in. Social and environmental choices about agricultural practices
and their impact need to be made before we look to science and technology
to help provide the solution."
Also being published today is the Agriculture and Environment
Biotechnology Commission report on the proposed separation distances
between GM crops, conventional and organic crops and how to enforce them.
New laws are likely to be necessary to protect farmers before GM crops can
The commission is also looking at the question of liability for losses
caused by contamination of conventional and organic crops by GM and
compensation to farmers who may find their crops unsaleable as a result.
Part of this study is how to preserve the choice of consumers - most of
whom currently do not want to eat GM food.
The committee wants compensation funds set up so farmers can claim easily
if their livelihoods are affected by GM crops.
GM friends and foes 'both wrong'
- BBC News, By Alex Kirby, 25 November, 20
Both sides in the UK's increasingly polarised debate over genetically
modified crops have been accused of misrepresenting recent research
Lord May, president of the Royal Society, says opponents and supporters of
GM spun the outcome of farm-scale trials to suit their own arguments.
He says the research data should have prompted a debate on farming's
The trials data, published in October, revealed new weedkiller-tolerant
crops had mixed effects on country wildlife.
GM beet and rape fields were found to fare worse than in the conventional
In contrast, wild creatures in GM maize fields seemed to do better than
with conventional plants, though the validity of that test was questioned
Lord May said some members of both the biotech industry and environmental
campaigns had represented the results "in a biased and selective way".
He said: "The experiments demonstrated that GM crop technology may be
applied in ways that are better for biodiversity than conventional
practices, or alternatively may be used to further intensify agriculture
with a corresponding negative effect on farmland wildlife.
"To generalise and declare 'all GM is bad' or 'all GM is good' for the
environment as a result of these experiments is a gross
over-simplification, but statements from both sides in the GM propaganda
war have claimed 'victory' based on these findings.
"Rather than closing the case for or against GM crops, these results
should drive society to ask more questions, not just about GM crops, but
about agriculture more generally.
"They should be used as a catalyst for a debate about the future of modern
Lord May was speaking before the Royal Society, the UK's national academy
of sciences, submitted evidence on the implications of the farm-scale
evaluations to the government advisory body, the Advisory Committee on
Releases to the Environment (Acre).
One at a time
The society believes "it is not the technology of genetic modification but
the weed management system associated with it, such as volumes of
herbicides used and their persistence, which determines the effect on
biodiversity of a particular agricultural system.
"The different impacts of the GM crops on farmland wildlife are not a
result of the way in which the crops have been genetically modified."
In its evidence the Royal Society says there could be different ways of
managing these crops which might reduce their harmful effects on wildlife.
This, it says, reinforces the importance of evaluating GM crops on a
case-by base basis.
Lord May said: "The most pressing question arising from the evaluations is
not whether GM plants are better or worse for the environment than
conventional crops, but instead what type of modern agriculture we want...
"If appropriately developed, GM crops could be used deliberately to
improve the environment. But first, much larger questions need to be
answered about the kind of world we want to live in.
"Social and environmental choices about agricultural practices and their
impact need to be made before we look to science and technology to help
provide the solution.
"But if it chooses, society could use these results to persuade companies
to produce crops that are better for the environment."
GM opponents should stand trial - golden rice inventor
- AAP NEWSFEED, November 24, 2003
If Ingo Potrykus had his way, opponents of genetically engineered crops
would stand trial in an international court. Dr Potrykus, the man who
invented a rice that has been genetically altered to carry vitamin A, said
today it was up to those opposed to GM technology to justify the suffering
they were inflicting on millions of people. The Switzerland-based Dr
Potrykus is in Australia to discuss his creation of golden rice, which he
and supporters believe will save almost one million children a year from
going blind through severe vitamin A deficiency.
About 135 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, largely in
developing countries where rice is the stable food. Rice does not
naturally carry vitamin A. Golden rice has been altered to carry it, and
around an estimated 200 grams a day would provide the recommended daily
intake of vitamin A to a child. It's the delays in getting golden rice
released in developing countries for which Dr Potrykus believes GM
opponents must be held accountable. "I would tell those opponents that
they are responsible for the hundreds of thousands of children who go
blind every year," he told AAP. "I would make them responsible, have them
in an international court and get them to justify the pain and suffering
they are inflicting on so many people." Dr Potrykus said new research on
golden rice in The Philippines had found overwhelming support for the
technology among both farmers and housewives. He said it was now estimated
golden rice would save the Philippines health system between $32 million
and $150 million a year.
The success of golden rice has meant it has an iconic status in GM
circles. "It is a big burden to bear," Dr Potrykus said. "All plants have
deficiencies of minerals and vitamins, so if we saw more altered crops
that would help."
Only one GM good crop, a canola altered to make it resistant to a specific
herbicide, has been approved for general use in Australia. But a series of
state moratoriums mean this canola, and one that is likely to be approved
for use by year's end, will only be grown on trial plots. Dr Potrykus said
eventually consumers would demand GM crops when they realised the benefits
they brought. He urged scientists to be more vocal in support of GM, to
offset those opposed to the technology. "We have to overcome the hysteria
that's out there," he said. "There is not one case of an adverse health
outcome from GM crops anywhere in the world. "Against that, we have
opponents who can only talk in terms of hypothetical risks that have not
been proven. "I'm sure that one day the community will see the benefits of
GM technology." Dr Potrykus, who spoke in Melbourne today, was to address
the University of Adelaide's Waite campus tomorrow, before further talks
in Canberra, Sydney and Perth.
World growing hungrier, says UN
- BBC, November 25, 2003
The United Nations food agency has warned that world hunger is rising
again, despite international efforts to reduce poverty.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) annual report says nearly 850
million people go to bed hungry every night, mainly in Africa and Asia.
The number of undernourished people is climbing by 5 million a year, it
The agency warns that the UN goal of halving world hunger by 2015 is
looking increasingly remote.
The FAO report, entitled The State Of Food Insecurity In The World 2003,
calls the latest figures a "setback in the war against hunger".
It says that according to the most recent available figures from 1999 to
2001, there are 842 million chronically hungry people in the world.
The overwhelming majority of them, 798 million, are in the developing
While the numbers of undernourished people went down in Latin America, the
Caribbean, and Asia and the Pacific region, they continue to increase in
sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.
The agency said it was time for nations to ask themselves why millions of
people went hungry in a world that produces more than enough food.
"Bluntly stated, the problem is not so much a lack of food as a lack of
political will," said the report.
FAO director-general Jacques Diouf said in the report's foreword that
countries that succeeded in reducing hunger were characterised by faster
economic growth, especially in the agricultural sector.
The report pointed to some encouraging signs, such as Brazilian President
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's Zero Hunger project, which aims to eliminate
hunger in Brazil by 2007.
Scientists discuss food modification in respect to population boom
- DAILY BRUIN, By Joie Guner, November 25, 2003
By the year 2050, there will be 9 billion humans inhabiting the world – a
population that will require a 100 percent increase in the production of
food to stave of starvation.
A symposium on Friday entitled "Foods for the Future," organized by UCLA
Extension in collaboration with the David Geffen School of Medicine,
addressed this issue among others concerning the bioengineering of food
"This symposium is geared to educating the university community and the
public about trying to improve plants for human health and nutrition,"
said Robert Goldberg, co-coordinator and professor in the department of
molecular, cell and developmental biology at UCLA.
Experts on this subject from around the country spoke on issues ranging
from oral vaccines, the enhancement of foods through vitamins, and the
elimination of allergens to regulation of bioengineering foods and the
benefit of such products to developing countries.
Goldberg gave a presentation that mapped out the origins of agriculture
and its progress into modern day food. He showed how humans have been
genetically altering food to improve its quality for 10,000 years. The
improvement continues today.
With the advent of biotechnological gene modification, scientists like
Eliot Herman of the United States Department of Agriculture have made
"You can use biotechnology to totally remove an intrinsic food allergen
which causes problems for very large numbers of people," Herman said in a
speech at the symposium.
Herman uses suppression technology in order to clone allergen genes and
reinserts these genes into normal soybean plants. Consequently, the plant
gets irritated and thinks a virus is invading, so it eliminates the
proteins that cause allergies.
Channapatna Prakash, the director of the Center for Plant Technology at
Tuskeegee University, delivered a presentation on the uses of
bioengineered foods in developing countries.
"Many developing countries have a lot of malnourishment because of a lack
of certain vitamins and minerals in the crops that they eat, such as
rice," Prakash said. "This technology has potential for genetic
fortification to boost the level of vitamins and nutrients in the food."
He cited the lack of vitamin A in the diet of many in developing
countries, which leads to blindness in half a million children each year.
By bioengineering the vitamin A gene from carrots or daffodils and putting
it into rice, scientists take an enormous step toward solving the problem.
Yet the major concern in developing countries is not solely the lack of
nutrition – it is the lack of actual food itself.
"(Biotechnology) can increase productivity on the farm by cutting losses
that we have already in developing countries due to diseases and pests and
weeds," Prakash said.
"Technology has the potential to make our crops hardier by trying to
provide them with a level of insulation against these factors," he added.
However, Prakash said countries should implement biosafety regulations
that are "very science-based without too much bureaucratic red tape"
before bioengineered food can be used.
Goldberg said that by sticking to a "science-based" solution to the lack
of nutrients and food in developing countries, "miracle plants" can be
Such "miracle plants" could potentially be used as oral vaccines, said
Charles Arntzen, a professor at Arizona State University – a method
preferred over needles by organizations like the World Health
"The machinery of protein production in plants ... is slightly tweaked to
cause a new protein to accumulate in plant cells," Arntzen said. "This new
protein is designed so that it acts as an oral vaccine when a dried sample
of the plant is consumed."
These advancements can be hampered by activists who believe that
bioengineered food is poisonous or unhealthy, Goldberg said.
"The controversy with respect to genetic engineering and plants will go
down as the biggest hoax of the last part of the 20th century and the
beginning of the 21st century because there are no valid reasons other
than ideology that would prevent any of this stuff from going forward,"
EU Theatrics Obscure Anti-Biotech Agenda
- Wall Street Journal, Letter to the Editor, Nov 25, 2003
It's not surprising the EU is planning "to consider lifting a five-year
ban on biotech products, in an effort to end a long-running trans-Atlantic
trade spat over gene-modified crops" (Nov. 10). But lifting the moratorium
on approvals will not end the row; nor should it.
The European Parliament's vote in July to change the way it regulates
gene-splicing, or genetic modification technology, made the EU an even
less hospitable environment for gene-splicing, not a better one. It left
in place the voting structure that allows a minority of European countries
to refuse registration for new gene-spliced products, and it imposed
Draconian, hugely expensive new requirements: a strict labeling regime
that requires gene-spliced foods to be identified; the segregation of
gene-spliced from conventional products; and "traceability," so that
gene-spliced ingredients can be traced through every step of the food
chain all the way back to the farm where they were grown.
Even European officials acknowledge these rules have nothing to do with
protecting consumer health or the environment. In fact, they have
everything to do with making it prohibitively expensive and complicated
for growers of gene-spliced crops to comply with the rules.
Why should we be suspicious of European motives? Gene-splicing research
and development in Europe has virtually disappeared. Since 1998, 61% of
the private-sector institutions surveyed by the European Commission's
Joint Research Center have canceled research projects that involve
gene-splicing technology, and there has been a near-meltdown of field
trials of gene-spliced organisms. From an unimpressive peak of 264 field
trials in Europe in 1997, there were only 35 in 2002. Thus, the EU's only
viable strategy may be to poison the well -- to make sure that the new
biotechnology fails everywhere, and that no competitor remains standing.
No one should be fooled by the EU's promises to lift the moratorium -- or
even by its doing so. These theatrics are a ruse to get the U.S. and other
countries to end their WTO challenge to unscientific, antisocial EU
Henry I. Miller, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford,
Gregory Conko, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Using Genetically Modified Organisms Could Be a Duty, Says Bioethicist
If They Pose Opportunity for Development
- ZENIT, 2003-11-21
ROME, NOV. 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- If genetically modified organisms
represent an opportunity for development, especially for poor countries,
it might be a moral duty to disseminate them, says a bioethicist.
Father Gonzalo Miranda, dean of the School of Bioethics of the Regina
Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, expressed this idea last week when
addressing the symposium held at the Pontifical Council for Justice and
Peace, on "Genetically Modified Organisms and the Social Doctrine of the
In an interview with ZENIT, Father Miranda spoke about the function that
biotechnology might have in the development of the poorer countries and
emphasized that "the Church invites us to go beyond mere justice and
equity and undertake the path of solidarity."
"If GMOs represent a real opportunity to foster the development of all
countries, especially the neediest, it would be a real moral and
solidaristic duty to favor their dissemination," he said.
"To block them a priori in virtue of merely ideological postures or
disgraceful economic interests would not only be a lack of solidarity but
also a grave injustice," the priest noted.
In the dean's opinion, "solidarity should lead to facilitating the
exchange not only of seeds improved by genetics but, above all, the
communication of technologies necessary to develop 'in situ' more suitable
products for each place and situation."
"Some people think that genetic manipulation of living beings is an
ethically reprehensible act because it tends to alter what is natural, but
the Church's anthropological view leads to different conclusions," Father
In regard to Christian ethics, Father Miranda stressed that "God has put
man as a gardener of creation, who must act with responsibility to
cultivate and take care of creation."
And, in regard to biotechnology, John Paul II has stated clearly that
"technology might constitute, with a correct application, a precious
instrument useful to resolve serious problems, beginning with those of
hunger and sickness, through the production of varieties of more advanced
and resistant plants and precious medicines," Father Miranda added.
If man intervenes, without abusing or harming nature, it can be said that
"he intervenes not to modify nature, but to help it to develop according
to its essence, that of creation, that willed by God," the dean concluded.
Vaccines and Antibodies: Potential and Limitations
Location: Veyrier du Lac, France
Date: 21 - 24 March 2004
Organised by: Fondation Mérieux
This symposium will review the state of research and applications (in
human and veterinary medicine) of antigen and antibody produced in plants,
evaluate the prospects and limitations of this approach, and propose steps
forward. This meeting seeks to bring together researchers, clinicians, and
representatives of industry and regulatory agencies from developed and