Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : December 2, 2003:
* GM Foods: Give It Time
* U.S. Needs Good Plan to Give AIDS Funds - Health Chief
* UK Field-Scale Evaluations Answer Wrong Questions
* Beans and Bras
* Calculating the Risks; Threats to Health, Nature Remains Unknown
* Biotech Could Help Provide Healthier Diets
* Triticale Gets the Best of Both Worlds
* Bayer Gets Exclusive Rights to Agrobacterium Patent
* Brazil University Says Transgenic Foods on Market are Safe
* Information Systems for Biotech - ISB News Report
* Tampering with Nature or Tinkering with the Truth?
* Scientific Freedom in the Age of the Biotech Industry
GM Foods: Give It Time
- Datamonitor, Dece. 2, 2003,
'Nutraceutical products could ease skeptical European consumers into using
After a five year long moratorium on growing and commercializing GM foods,
the EU has authorized the entry of a GM product onto the market. European
consumers are still unconvinced, and the biotechnology companies behind
the products fear the public may reject them. However consumers may learn
to accept GM, first in nutraceuticals, and then in mainstream foods.
In 1998 the European Union introduced a moratorium on the sale of
genetically modified foods and their use in other products, claiming that
their effect on human health and the environment had to be further
researched before they could be released on the European market. Although
this decision was partly motivated by a desire to protect European
agriculture and biotechnology sector from US rivals, there was also
considerable rejection of GM foods on the part of consumers.
However, to the great relief of the biotechnology industry, the EU
authorized the commercialization of a GM maize product two weeks ago,
giving the industry hope that its investments over the past five years may
finally pay off.
Nonetheless, from next year, all products containing GM ingredients will
have to be clearly labeled as so in the EU, and there is no evidence that
European consumers are any better disposed to GM foods now than they were
in 1998. This has lead to fears in the biotech industry on both sides of
the Atlantic that there may simply be no market for GM foods in the EU
because consumers just don't want them.
However, Sean Rickard, an expert in the field, this week told the first
national Agricultural Industries Confederation conference in the UK that
consumers would prefer foods benefiting from GM technology to traditional
ones within 15 years. According to Mr Rickard, consumers will see the
functional benefits that can be derived from using GM technology in the
growing nutraceuticals market.
Given the current high levels of consumer mistrust over GM foods, Mr
Rickard's scenario may be overly optimistic. However, consumers' gradual
use of GM foods with nutraceutical benefits (such as the cholesterol
reducing spreads available on the market today) and the improved consumer
health that these products could offer may provoke a gradual change in
U.S. Needs Good Plan to Give AIDS Funds - Health Chief
- Shapi Shacinda, Reuters, Dec. 1, 2003
Livingstone, Zambia - The United States will release the $2 billion
earmarked to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries if recipient nations
produce transparent spending plans, Health Secretary Tommy Thompson said
on Monday. He told Reuters that grants from the $15 billion pledged by the
U.S. would be released faster if there were plans for combating AIDS in
each of the 14 countries in Africa and South America.
Thompson also said Zambia, which rejected genetically altered foods last
year, must re-think its decision as scientific evidence showed that such
food was safe for human consumption.
"It was a wrong decision by the (Zambian) government and I hope they will
rethink it. We are going to make more food available to AIDS patients and
the government must decide," Thompson said. "GM (genetically modified)
food is absolutely safe, our experts have done tests and found it
completely safe," he added.
Thompson said many African countries were unable to provide AIDS sufferers
with nutritious food, and added that the United States was ready to
provide that food.
UK Field-Scale Evaluations Answer Wrong Questions
- Bruce Chassy, Catherine Carter, Martina McGloughlin, Alan McHughen,
Wayne Parrott, Christopher Preston, Richard Roush, Anthony Shelton &
Steven H Strauss, Nature Biotechnology, Dec. 2003 Vol. 21 No.12 pp 1429 -
1430; www.nature.com (Reprinted in Agbioview with the permission of the
To the editor: On October 16, 2003 the UK Royal Society published a
special volume of Philosophical Transactions that reported the results of
extensive field-scale evaluations (FSEs) of herbicide-tolerant GM crops in
the UK 1. On the basis of extrapolations from this information, certain
media and various environmental groups are citing the FSEs as proof that
genetically modified (GM) crops are environmentally damaging and bad for
Such a conclusion is not justified by the published findings. In the
introduction to the papers, the study authors forewarn us that "the FSEs
address one particular environmental risk of one particular trait in one
particular agro-ecosystem, and the results should not be extrapolated to
other socio-environmental systems." 2The studies show that for two
herbicide-resistant GM crops--oilseed rape (canola) and beet—fewer weeds
and fewer insects from species that live in or on weeds were observed.
Highly effective weed control practices such as those the study chose to
use with these GM crops lead to low numbers of weed seeds and insects. In
turn, fewer insects and decreased weed seed might reduce the numbers of
birds that feed on these insects and seeds. In a conclusion that seems
dire for crops that in any given year cover less than 15% of the farmed
area in the United Kingdom 3, the media announced that GM crops will hurt
bird populations, and therefore are bad for biodiversity and should not be
planted ( e.g. , see ref. 4).
It is important to note that birds were never counted nor was biodiversity
measured in these studies. The media discussion assumes two important
points: first, that availability of weeds and weed-associated insects are
the dominant factors determining bird populations—which is clearly not
proven; and second, that biodiversity can be equated with insects and
weeds in crop fields. The studies in question measured numbers of a few
kinds of organisms in a several small, selected habitats. They tell little
about how these individuals interact as populations and communities in
these habitats and they tell nothing about the biodiversity of the larger
Furthermore, such conclusions ignore the fact that weed populations are a
result of the management strategy, not the GM status of a crop. For
example, an organic farmer who thoroughly hoes a field would be equally
effective at destroying potential bird feed and habitat. A farmer who uses
conventional herbicides effectively along with mechanical tillage might do
likewise. Thus, if leaving more weeds in the fields really were deemed an
appropriate public policy for UK farmers' fields, farmers would simply
need be mandated to use less herbicide, rather than having their right to
use GM crops curtailed. Indeed, the studies demonstrated that weeds and
some insects were more common in oilseed rape crops, GM or conventional,
than in beet or maize crops. Therefore, a more effective method of
increasing the numbers of arable weeds and insects in crops would be to
legislate crop choice.
Although the study designers acknowledge that it is unlikely to be the
case, the FSEs assumed current crop management systems would not change
with the advent of herbicide-tolerant crops 3. In actual practice, during
seven years of planting GM crops in the United States, agricultural
practices have changed in a manner that can broadly be described as
beneficial for the environment and biodiversity. A rapid adoption of
no-till practices has accompanied the adoption of herbicide-resistant
crops 5. A move toward no-till agriculture leads to decreased energy
inputs, lower soil erosion and soils that are much healthier with respect
to structure 6-8 , microbes 9, invertebrate species 10 and organic matter
content 5. As a consequence of these changes, concluded Fawcett and
Towery, "the habitat for birds and mammals improves" 5.
Crop management strategies also influence aspects of environmental impact
beyond numbers of weeds and insects in the field. For example, the FSE
studies totally ignore the effect of pesticide residues on and off the
farm field. The impact could easily be evaluated and compared--for
example, by using Cornell University's (New York, NY, USA) Environmental
Impact Quotient ( http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/publications/EIQ.html ).
To truly test the impact of the GM nature of crops for their effect on
biodiversity--rather than the effect of a cropping system--the UK trials
could have focused on comparison of a single crop with a carefully matched
conventional counterpart. For example, FSEs could have grown replicated,
randomized plots of sulfonylurea-tolerant GM oilseed rape and conventional
sulfonylurea tolerant-oilseed rape, with and without sulfonylurea
treatment. This matched crop design would have tested the inherent safety
and impact of the GM nature of the crop. In all likelihood, the studies
would have found little difference in biodiversity between the planting of
GM and conventional sulfonylurea-tolerant cultivars. They would have found
the highest numbers of putatively 'bird-beneficial' organisms in the
untreated plots, regardless of cultivar, and the least weed seeds and
weed-associated insects in the treated plots, again regardless of the GM
nature of the cultivar. Put another way, these studies were not even about
The ultimate question that should be asked is which agricultural
technologies will maximize production while minimizing environmental
impact in the broad sense. Herbicide-tolerant technology--notice that we
do not say GM, because we do not believe that it makes a difference what
process was used to develop the herbicide tolerance--may be one of those
rare technologies that improves both yield and product quality while
reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. Besides contributing
to the efficiencies of current European farm systems in small spaces,
judicious use of herbicides on both conventional and GM crops could go the
next step of maximizing food production on existing farmland. With the
resulting increased food production, society could dedicate the land thus
conserved as natural reserves, where many species could truly flourish,
providing even greater biodiversity--after all, farmland has never been
intended to be a natural habitat for any form of life except crops and
The publication of the FSEs demonstrated, as the investigators themselves
foretold, that GM critics will seize any opportunity to continue their
anti-GM campaign. News coverage of the FSE results also confirms that
certain parts of the media may be more interested in sensationalism than
in getting the story right. On a scientific basis, the most damming result
from the FSEs is that GM crops can make it too easy to control weeds!
Perhaps most disappointing to us as food and agricultural scientists is
that the FSEs have created an unwarranted negative impression of GM
technology while answering all the wrong questions.
The UK Royal Society. The Farm-Scale Evaluations of Spring-Sown
Genetically Modified Crops. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal
Society of London. Biological Sciences, Series B vol 358 , issue 1439 (The
Royal Society, London, 2003).
Firbank, L.G. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 358 , 1777–1778 (2003).
Squire, G.R. et al .Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond B 358 , 1779–1799 (2003).
Fawcett, R. & Towery, D. Conservation Tillage and Plant Biotechnology: How
New Technologies Can Improve the Environment by Reducing the Need to Plow
(Conservation Tillage Information Center, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA,
VandenBygaart, A.J., Protz, R. & Tomlin, A.D. Can. J. Soil Sci. 79 ,
Bruce, R.R., Langdale, G.W., West, L.T. & Miller,W.P. Soil Sci. Soc. Am.
J. 59 , 654–660 (1995).
Lindstrom, M.J., Schumacher, T.E., Cogo, N.P. & Blecha, M.L. J. Soil Water
Conserv. 53 , 59–63 (1998).
Angers, D.A., Bissonnette, N., Legere, A. & Samson, N. Can J. Soil Sci. 73
, 39–50 (1993).
House, G.J. & Parmelee, R.W. Soil Tillage Res. 5, 351–360 (1985).
Beans and Bras
- Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 29 2003
Soybeans are a crop dear to the hearts of farmers in Missouri and
Illinois. They're dear to 35 million farmers in China, too, and the
Chinese government makes its farmers very happy by throwing up barriers
against American soy imports.
"Inspection permits" are demanded, then delayed for months. Last summer,
the Chinese temporarily banned U.S. beans because of a fungus that exists
both in the United States and all over China. At one point, the Chinese
demanded special "safety certificates" for genetically modified beans,
although no one in China knew how to get a certificate.
The Chinese throw up such bureaucratic barriers against an array of other
American products too, all while merrily copying American software rather
than paying for it. All of this is against the spirit, and often the
letter, of the agreement that allowed China into the World Trade
Organization in 2001.
So it's hard to summon tears for Chinese bra makers faced with new quotas
imposed recently by the Bush administration. The textile quotas affect
about $650 million in Chinese exports -- a drop in the bucket in the face
of China's $120 billion trade surplus with the United States. Such
temporary textile quotas are permitted in China's agreement with the WTO.
Over time, free trade will raise living standards here and across the
globe. The free flow of goods across borders creates efficiency. But trade
must be fair, and the Chinese are cheating. Mickey Kantor, a trade
representative under President Bill Clinton, says the quotas are justified
as a "shot across the bow." China should heave to.
Calculating the Risks; Chance of Threats to Health, Nature Remains Unknown
- Justin Gillis, The Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2003
In theory, the technology that scientists have used to create genetically
engineered crops like corn, soybeans and cotton poses two kinds of risks.
Are the crops safe for the environment, and are the ones grown for food
safe to eat?
For all the controversy that has attended these questions, the technology
is really just one small branch of the genetic revolution sweeping through
world science. The peculiarities of living things are determined, to a
large degree, by specific alterations in their genetic material, and with
tools developed over the past three decades, scientists are decoding these
variations at a rapid pace. They are gaining the ability to alter genes,
to switch them on or off, or even to move them from one species to another
to confer new traits.
Potential uses of the science constitute a field called biotechnology, and
many applications of it are uncontroversial, offering such possibilities
as treatments for cancer or heart disease. In the 1980s, when scientists
began manipulating plant genes, they assumed the resulting products would
be just as welcome. And indeed they seemed to be in the mid-1990s, when
Europe and the United States approved the first commercial crops. But then
a powerful backlash began among ordinary citizens in Europe, and
politicians there imposed a de facto moratorium on future crop approvals.
European buyers have continued to accept some crops, notably American
soybean meal to feed farm animals, but most human food containing
gene-altered ingredients has been forced off the shelves. In the United
States, a majority of food products on the market contain such
Monsanto Co., of St. Louis, has led the development of the new crops, and
most of them contain one or both of two genetic alterations. One
alteration involves inserting a gene from a bacterium into a plant to give
it the ability to produce a toxic protein not previously found in food.
The toxin kills worms, enabling plants to protect themselves from various
kinds of insect larvae, including corn borers and cotton bollworms. A
second alteration involves endowing plants with the ability to survive a
Monsanto herbicide called glyphosate, or RoundUp. By using RoundUp heavily
on such crops, farmers minimize weeding.
On food safety, most scientists say there isn't much ground for concern --
unlike a worm's digestive system, the human gut rapidly breaks proteins
down into their component parts, amino acids, that are identical to the
ones already in the body. But at least in theory, the new proteins might
cause allergies in some people, including potentially fatal reactions,
before the stomach destroys them. And some genes inserted into plants
might, conceivably, be transferred to bacteria in the human gut,
accelerating the development of germs resistant to antibiotics.
These questions have been studied in relatively short-term animal trials
sponsored by biotech companies, and the answers were reassuring to U.S.
government agencies, though many of the studies have not been made public
or subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Perhaps more convincing is
that the products have been on the market for the better part of a decade
with no evidence of harm.
The environmental questions are more esoteric, and unique to each region
where a crop is to be grown. In a given area, for instance, will a crop
kill off insects beneficial to the local ecology, such as types of worms
on which birds depend? Various tests are underway to assess such risks,
and initial results from Britain have been somewhat worrisome. But the
biotech crops have to be judged against alternatives, such as heavy use of
chemicals on the one hand and organic farming on the other.
A definitive accounting of the risks, costs and benefits of each method
could well take decades. In the face of uncertainty, many European
citizens prefer to invoke a concept, developed by the environmental
movement, called the "precautionary principle." It says that new
technologies posing theoretical risks should be avoided until those risks
are definitively understood.
Technologists have been highly critical of the principle, and the U.S.
government has rejected it. If conclusive risk information were required
of every new technology before it were deployed, the technologists
contend, progress would stop. They point out that research is still
underway on the risks of electrical fields, a century after electricity
went into widespread use.
Biotechnology Could Help Provide Healthier Diets
- Council for Biotech Information,
'What the fortification of foods did to vastly improve health in the 20th
century, some say biotechnology can do for the 21st century.'
Look no further than to America's recent past to discover the long-time
link between chronic disease and food. As recently as the 1920s, pellagra
-- which caused scaly skin, intestinal distress, depression and death in
about 5 percent of cases -- devastated areas of the South. It killed
thousands and afflicted hundreds of thousands more. 1 For the first third
of the 20th century, there were many theories about the cause of the
disease, including poor sanitation, rotten corn and that it was a virus
transmitted by human contact.
But it wasn't until 1937 that a University of Wisconsin researcher
discovered that the disease was actually caused by a deficiency in a B
complex vitamin, nicotinic acid, which later became known as niacin. 2
During World War II, white bread was enriched with niacin, which so
thoroughly eliminated any remaining traces of pellagra that the disease is
now sometimes referred to as "The Forgotten Plague."
Today, some believe that what the fortification of foods did to vastly
improve health in the 20th century, biotechnology can do for the 21st
century. "Biotechnology can help improve the health-promoting profile of
food by increasing levels of desirable substances and decreasing allergens
and other factors that increase the risk of disease," Catherine Woteki,
who has a Ph.D. in human nutrition and is also dean of Iowa State
University's College of Agriculture, told participants at a recent
American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. 3
Woteki says it's believed that dietary factors and the lack of physical
activity in adulthood are related to about a third of all cancer deaths in
the United States, 4 as well as many other chronic diseases. "Scientific
evidence has shown diet to be a factor in many of the leading causes of
death in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and
kidney disease," she says.
But what the exact link is between diet and many of these diseases is
still not fully understood. Sterols and polyphenols, micronutrients that
are found in red wines as well as in fruits and vegetables, for example,
are believed to help prevent heart disease. There are also many other
substances in fruits and vegetables that are believed to stave off
Once the role of these disease-preventing micronutrients is fully
understood, plant biotechnology can be used to boost their levels in food
to improve health -- just as the fortification of food did in the 20th
century. "To the extent that we can use various techniques to improve the
health-promoting quality of the food supply, we can be making a dent in
the occurrence of these diseases," says Woteki.
Although there are currently no such biotech products on the market,
Woteki says golden rice, which is enhanced with beta carotene that
stimulates the production of vitamin A, is one of the best examples of a
health-promoting biotech food in development. Every year, between 250,000
and 500,000 go blind because of vitamin A deficiency, according to the
World Health Organization. And about half of these children die within a
year of losing their sight. 5
There are many other health-promoting foods in development, including:
* Tomatoes with increased levels of lycopene, which is believed to lower
the risk of breast and prostate cancers, as well as coronary heart
* Soybean, corn and canola oils that are enhanced with nearly 10 times the
levels of healthy vitamin E, which is believed to improve the body's
immune system, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers,
and slow the progress of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. 6
* Lettuce that is enhanced with resveratrol, 7 the ingredient in red
grapes and red wine that is believed to help prevent heart disease and
cancer by increasing levels of good cholesterol and lowering levels of bad
The link between food and health, of course, is nothing new. Hippocrates,
the Greek physician who's known as the father of modern medicine, wrote in
400 B.C., "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." Back in
1753, James Lind reported that two oranges and a lemon a day would cure
scurvy, although it took the British Navy nearly half a decade to adopt
his recommendations. 8
More recently, adding vitamin D to milk has helped prevent rickets (a
childhood disease, caused by vitamin D deficiency and inadequate exposure
to sunlight, characterized by a softening of the bones), adding thiamin to
flour has helped eliminate beriberi (a nerve disease triggered by a
vitamin B deficiency that causes paralysis in the limbs) and adding folic
acid to cereals has helped prevent spina bifida, a birth defect often
causing neurological impairment.
"Fortifying or supplementing the food supply with healthful substances has
a proven track record," says Woteki, emphasizing that biotechnology is
just one of several approaches to improving diets even more.
For example, two colleagues at Iowa State -- Wendy White and Steve
Rodermel -- are combining biotechnology techniques with traditional plant
breeding techniques to develop "golden maize" that is enhanced with beta
carotene. This food crop is intended to help prevent vitamin A deficiency
in Africa, where corn is a staple.
Consumer education and product formulations are also important, says
Woteki. Concern about the link between saturated fats and heart disease
caused many food companies to drop palm oils, which are rich in saturated
fats, in favor of canola oils with higher levels of polyunsaturated fats.
But no matter how healthy you eat and how much you exercise, Woteki says
"we're all going to have to die of something. We just want to prolong the
length of healthy lifetimes and constrict as much as possible the period
in middle to older age when these diseases begin to occur and begin to
affect the quality of life."
"Biotechnology is one of several tools we can use to help people lead
healthier lives longer."
1, 2, and 8 Akst, Daniel. "The Forgotten Plague," American Heritage,
3 Meyer, Brian. "New Strategies Needed to Change Risky American Diets,"
Iowa State University News Service press release, February 18, 2003,
4 Woteki, Catherine. "Diet-Related Chronic Disease: Moving From Cause to
Prevention," PowerPoint presentation, slide 14.
5 "Combating Vitamin A Deficiency: The Challenge," World Health
Organization Web site, Sept. 12, 2002, http://www.who.int/nut/vad.htm
6 "Increasing the Vitamin E Content of Plant Oils," Food Ag Biotech, BIO
Industry Organization Web site, <www.bio.org/food&ag/vitamine.html>.
7 Chia, Tet-Fatt, Faculty homepage, National University of Singapore,
Triticale Gets the Best of Both Worlds - Wheat and Rye
- M2 Presswire, Nov. 26, 2003. Excerpts below.. (sent by Andrew Apel)
Triticale is a hardy and new winter cereal crop created in a laboratory
environment by crossing wheat with rye. After years of effort over a
30-year period, plant breeders, in particular those at INRA (France's
National Institute for Agronomic Research), have succeeded in making this
species very attractive to farmers.
Indeed, Triticale is today producing yields equivalent to, or better than,
those for wheat. Annaig Bouguennec, INRA s researcher in charge of the
triticale programme, explains: "Triticale currently represents a good
compromise between the hardiness of rye and the yield potential and
nutritional qualities of wheat."
Triticale is derived from crossing two other cereals widely cultivated in
Europe: wheat and rye. Its name is a combination of the Latin names
Triticum for wheat and Secale for rye. It was developed by scientists and
is one of the rare artificial species produced by interspecies crossing,
which today are the subject large-scale development in agriculture.
However, it took great perseverance by researchers to obtain such results
A century of research
Along a historical timeline, triticale is a very recent species, but its
development has nevertheless taken almost 100 years to complete. The first
cross of rye and wheat dates back to 1876, when Scottish botanist
Alexander Stephen Wilson succeeded, for the first time, in pollinating
soft wheat plants with rye pollen in his greenhouse. However, this
biological curiosity had no interest for growers at the time since the
seeds resulting from the cross were sterile, and therefore could not
In 1891, German botanist Wilhelm Rimpau discovered by chance a natural
cross of wheat and rye whose offspring was partially fertile. In the
period 1920-1930, Russian and Swedish researchers again tried to obtain
fertile triticale seeds, but without success. The discovery of colchicine,
in 1937, was decisive in the process that led to the creation of
triticale. This natural substance, extracted from crocuses, makes it
possible to double the number of chromosomes in plant cells.
Applying colchicine treatment to a hybrid of rye and wheat enabled
researchers to artificially double the number of chromosomes in seeds,
thus making them fertile. This is when triticale really saw the light of
day. The first work started in Canada and Sweden, followed by various
other European countries (Spain, Germany, Poland and Hungary). Triticale,
however, had a number of disadvantages, including limited grain yield,
tall plants susceptible to lodging, difficulty in threshing, a
susceptibility for grain sprouting, late maturity, etc. These drawbacks
were too significant so that farmers showed no interest in the new plant.
In spite of these difficulties, plant breeders remained hopeful and
continued their work, which eventually led to the first acceptable results
by the end of the 1970s. Although the first varieties of triticale arose
from crossing rye and soft wheat, later researchers also crossed rye with
hard wheat, which allowed them to broaden the basis for selection.
If 'Triticale-like wheat' were to be produced today using biotechnology to
infuse cold hardiness genes from rye to wheat, it would be treated with
disdain in France and other EU countries. Yet, Triticale is a synthetic
crop that does not exist in nature, and was developed artificially many
decades ago by forced mating of wheat and rye, and employed a highly
carcinogenic chemical - colchicine.
One can use all the contrived fears on food safety and environment being
hurled at GM crops, and can quickly come up with simple reasons to ban
Yet, Triticale, now grown over six million acres around the world, proves
that there was never any harm from this 'genetically modified' crop and
only much good that came out of this bold experiment.
If 40,000 genes from rye does no damage in wheat, how can a couple of
genes in GM wheat pose any risk?
Bayer Gets Exclusive Rights to Plant-Parasite (Agrobacterium) Patent
- Yahoo News, Nov. 30, 2003
In the longest-running patent battle in the history of plant
biotechnology, Bayer AG was awarded exclusive patent rights on a plant
parasite technology developed by the Max Planck Society. In a statement,
Bayer said the technology, which is the basis for all genetically modified
plant production, is based on the plant parasite agrobacterium, which can
cause tumor development on plants.
It allows researchers to exploit the natural genetic-engineering
capacities of the bacteria and turn these into a basic tool for the
production of transgenic plants. Monsanto Co. developed a similar
technology, but the U.S. Patent Office recently decided Monsanto's patent
interfered with that of the Max Planck Society. The patent will now be
the dominant patent in relation to the production of transgenic plants,
the spokesman said.
Brazil University Says Transgenic Foods on Market are Safe
- Agencia Camara de Noticias, Nov. 28 2003
Genetically modified foods such as cornflakes and soy milk have caused no
harm to consumers, Herman Chaimovich, Professor in Chemistry at the
University of Sao Paulo, said on November 25, 2003. He took part in a
public hearing of the special commission which analyses the draft law that
established safety norms and fiscal mechanisms for the activities that
involve genetically modified organisms and creates a National Biosafety
Chaimovich said that studies conducted by the International Council of
Scientific Unions (ICSU) showed that foods with transgenic ingredient
available to date do not cause harm to human health. According to him,
the new foods are those that need to be analysed. 'It is essential that
Brazil does not stop conducting researches', he said.
Luiz Antonio Barret de Castro, Professor at the Agriculture Ministry's
crop research department Embrapa, also stressed on the need for more
researches related to transgenic products.
He said that the Government had a programme that deals with the
biotechnology in a wider way, certifying products such as honey, shrimps
and flowers. 'The biotechnology is not only transgenic but if we don't
make science of the transgenics we won't advance', he said.
Information Systems for Biotechnology - ISB News Report
December 2003 http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2003/news03.dec.html#dec0305
* FDA Releases Draft Summary of Risk Assessment for Animal Cloning, Holds
Public Meeting of its Advisory Committee
* Reversibly-Sterile Fish via Transgenesis
* Relative Fitness of Glyphosate Resistant Creeping Bentgrass Cultivars in
* Transformation by the Floral Dip Method
* Agbiotech: Mistrust in the UK, Green Light in Brazil, and Antitrust in
* USDA Establishes New Biotechnology Compliance And Enforcement Unit
* Upcoming Meetings
Tampering with Nature or Tinkering with the Truth?
- C. S. Prakash, Letter sent to the Editor of Bangkok Post, Dec 1, 2003
Dear Editor, I was dismayed to learn that anti-technology groups
continue to stand in the way of progress in Thailand by creating promoting
misinformation about the safety and benefits of biotech or GMO crops, as
evidenced in the recent opinion piece by Greenpeace published in your
newspaper ("Tampering with Nature" 28 November).
Scientific and regulatory authorities across Asia and all over the world
have endorsed the extensive and growing base of published scientific
information that upholds the safety and benefits of biotech crops and
foods. Spreading false and misleading information in an effort to polarize
opinion is irresponsible and does not serve the public good.
The reality is that crops developed through plant biotechnology are among
the most well-tested, well-characterized and well-regulated food and fiber
products ever developed. This is the overwhelming consensus of the
international scientific community, including the British Royal Society,
the U. S. National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European
Commission, the French Academy of Medicine and the American Medical
Your readers have a right to know that biotech crops and foods:
- have been thoroughly assessed for food, feed and environmental safety
and found to be wholesome, nutritious and as safe as conventional crops
and foods by scientific and regulatory authorities throughout the world
(examples include insect-tolerant corn and cotton and herbicide-tolerant
- have economic and environmental benefits that are significant and have
met the expectations of small and large farmers in both industrialized and
A study conducted by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy
in Washington found that biotechnology-derived soybeans, corn, cotton,
papaya, squash and canola increased the U.S. food production by 4 billion
pounds, saved $1.2 billion in production costs and decreased the usage of
pesticide by an impressive 46 million pounds in the year 2001 alone.
Biotech crops are now grown on 58 million hectares in 16 countries, and
more than three-quarters of the 5.5 million growers who benefited from
these crops were resource-poor farmers in the developing world. For
instance, South African, Mexican and Chinese farmers have been growing
transgenic insect-resistant cotton for several years, and the Indian
government approved it for commercial cultivation in spring 2002. In
SEAsia, Filipino farmers are celebrating the first anniversary of approval
for growing transgenic pest-resistant maize.
Thus, Contrary to the pseudo-scientific claims recently cited, GM
technology has actually decreased the usage of pesticide by an impressive
46 million pounds in the year 2001 alone.
Despite these facts, misguided activists from around the world continue to
travel to places like Thailand to promulgate fear based on unsubstantiated
and misleading information. The reality is that none of these groups has
actually provided any credible scientific evidence that would call into
question the safety of foods derived from biotech crops on the market or
the demonstrated benefits to the environment.
Happily there are signs recently that decision-makers and the public are
resisting the temptation to be distracted by the emotional rhetoric of
anti-technology groups, and instead focus on the real work that's needed
in order to take advantage of the benefits of agricultural technology.
For example, in the Philippines, where anti-technology activists staged a
hunger strike, yet failed in their attempt to force the government to back
away from their approval of Bt corn. President Arroyo and Agriculture
Secretary Lorenzo remained firm in their commitment to the science-based
safety assessments that followed several years of rigorous research and
testing of biotechnology under Filipino conditions. Now thousands of
farmers are beginning to reap the benefits in terms of greater yields and
less pesticide applications, improving the Philippines ability to
domestically produce grain for its poultry industry.
Forty other countries around the world are already so convinced of the
safety and benefits of biotechnology that they have approved field
testing, import or commercial production of crops.
In spite of the claim from Greenpeace that negative impacts of GMO crops
on the environment and farmers are still being discovered, many scientific
studies definitively show that GM crops are no more likely than their
non-GM counterparts to become agricultural 'weeds', and are no more likely
to affect biodiversity than any other change in agriculture.
On only one point do I agree with the Greenpeace opinion: the safety and
benefits of agricultural biotechnology in the Thai environment and for
Thai farmers needs to be demonstrated. And the only way to do this is for
the government to allow, closely monitor and thoroughly evaluate limited
field trials in government stations under the current strict regulations.
To suggest that this technology can be properly assessed without seeing it
on the ground in Thailand is tampering with common sense.
In Thailand there are many scientific experts with direct experience in
applying science and technology to food agriculture. I urge you in the
media and other decision-makers to rely on their experience, as well as
the wealth of international data that is available, as Thailand moves
forward on its own terms toward agricultural modernization - beginning
with field testing all the way through the product development chain.
Listen to sound science - not opinion -- on agricultural technology.
> Tampering With Nature
> - Varoonvarn Svangsopakul (Greenpeace), Bangkok Post, November 28, 2003. Excerpt..
> The position of the Thai government must be clear: As long as new information on the ecological risks and economic impact of GMO crops is still being collected, assessed and understood, and the long term health impact of GMOs remains unknown, the ban on GMO field trials must be treated as a necessary measure to protect the rights and interests of Thai farmers, consumers and the environment.
> Varoonvarn Svangsopakul is a genetic engineering campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
The Pulse of Scientific Freedom in the Age of the Biotech Industry: A
- December 10, 2003; Univ. California, Berkeley
Speakers: Arpad Pusztai, John Losey, Tyrone Hayes and Ignacio Chapela
Introduced by Michael Pollan; Moderated by Mark Dowie
The four participants in this conversation have performed simple, yet
dramatic discoveries that question the wisdom of a quarter century of
commitment to an agenda of agricultural development based on intensive
The publication of their research brought these researchers world-wide
attention, but made them into urgent targets for suppression from an
ailing but still powerful Biotech industry. As a consequence, each of the
participants has encountered not only controversy, but also threats to
their research, reputations, and livelihoods. Behind their research lies
a commitment to make their best knowledge available for the public.
Behind the hurdles they have faced lies one of the greatest challenges to
public, democratic discourse in our century: the growing influence of
private interests in the scientific enterprise.
The commonalities of their stories and the peculiarities of their personal
histories provide a unique window into the mechanisms through which this
threat operates. This will be the first time that a meeting between these
scientists will take place, providing a unique opportunity for the public
to gain insight into the bizantine workings of the academic-industrial
complex. Beyond the discussion of technicalities of their discoveries,
this evening of conversation should provide the opportunity to reflect
upon the challenges to scientific freedom and dissent at a time when these
basic principles are under attack.