Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : December 29, 2003:
* Britain 'Has Moral Duty to Fund GM Research'
* Nuffield Council: The Use of GM Crops In Developing Countries
* GM Decisions 'Must Examine All Options', Says Report
* Scientist Hopes Bioeng. Crop Will Help African Food Supply
* Spanish Farmers Embrace Bt Corn
* Poisoned Real Estate, City Turns to GM Trees to Mop Up Mess
* Organic Plant Breeding Standards and Litigation
* DeGregori Webpage Updates
* Iowa Researchers Test Consumer Acceptance of GM Food
* USDA's Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants Program
* High Tech Harvest: Understanding GM Food Plants
* Towards Genetic Engineering for Stress Tolerance
* Pew Gives $3M For Food Biotech Project
* Institute for Accelerating Change
* Michael Fumento Hate Mail: The Divine Right of Fumentos
* Bjorn Lomborg: A Reprieve For Free Speech
* Relevance of GM Tech to Indian Ag & Food Security - Recommendations
Britain 'Has Moral Duty to Fund GM Research'
- Robin McKie, The Observer (UK), Dec. 28, 2003
Britain's most respected scientific ethics group will urge Ministers this
week to pledge millions of pounds to help develop GM crops for poor
In a report on 'The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing
Countries', the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says Britain is ignoring a
moral imperative to promote GM foods suitable for tropical and
GM varieties of rice, bananas, sweet potatoes and soybean, the report
says, could save these countries' crumbling economies. However, their
benefits are not being investigated by Western agricultural companies.
'Most GM crops have been developed by companies to suit the needs of
large-scale farmers in developed countries,' says the report, which is to
be released tomorrow. 'Only a limited number - a few varieties of cotton
and maize - are currently suitable for developing countries.'
Action is desperately needed, says the report. The Government, through the
Department for International Development, and the European Commission
should therefore fund 'a major expansion of public GM-related research
into tropical and sub-tropical staple foods'.
Such foods could provide lifelines for small farms whose survival offers
'the best means of achieving a substantial reduction of food insecurity
and poverty' in the developing world.
The authors analysed a range of GM crops already used in the developing
world and concluded that these offer major benefits. For example, many
varieties of cotton have been modified by Chinese scientists to produce
pesticides in their roots. Last year half of all cotton grown in China was
modified this way. As a result, there has been a reduction by as much as
50kg per hectare in pesticide use, a 10 per cent increase in yields, and a
reduction in the numbers of farmers being poisoned by their own pesticide
The report dismisses the alleged ecological dangers of GM crops. There is
not enough evidence to support the claim that they threaten 'actual or
potential harm', it says. Instead, it criticises European nations for
their obsession with pinpointing tiny traces of GM crops in our food
Tough new EU import and labelling restrictions, introduced in the wake of
anti-GM campaigns, are merely likely to cripple farming in the developing
world, it says. Not only would these countries find their GM crop exports
blocked but their non-GM produce could also be rendered unsaleable. Small
amounts of GM produce are likely to be mixed with non-GM produce during
storage because these nations do not have the infrastructure to keep them
separate, states the report, whose authors include Professor Michael
Lipton of the Poverty Research Unit at Sussex University.
The Nuffield scientists also strongly criticise anti-GM campaigners who
claim modified plants should not be developed because they pose a slight
risk to human health. Such a view is impractical and harmful, they say.
Food security and environmental conditions are deteriorating across the
developing countries, the report says. The world cannot afford to wait for
years to be sure GM crops are safe. Millions are likely to go hungry. It
is a fallacy to think the policy of doing nothing is itself without risk.
'We are not saying GM technology will save the world on its own,' added
Sandy Thomas, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 'Measures to
limit the effects of climate change and war are probably going to be more
important. However, modified crops clearly have a key role to play. We
have to judge each plant's use on an individual basis, of course, but it
is clear this technology has an awful lot to offer.'
* 'The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries' will be
available at http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org
Nuffield Council Discussion Paper: The Use of GM Crops In Developing
Agriculture has a crucial role to play in developing countries, as a
source of employment, income and food for the poorest people. This
Discussion Paper suggests that genetically modified (GM) crops could make
a useful contribution, by tackling some specific agricultural problems.
The Paper concludes that the possible costs, benefits and risks associated
with particular GM crops must be assessed on a case by case basis. The
Paper also discusses the impact of European regulations on GM crops in
developing countries, and makes recommendation about policy, regulation
and trade. Issues raised by food aid, micronutrient-enriched GM crops and
the impact of GM crops on biodiversity are also considered.
This Discussion Paper is a follow-up to the Council's 1999 Report,
Genetically modified crops: the ethical and social issues. The Paper
reassesses the recommendations and conclusions in the light of recent
developments in science and policy. Download at
GM Decisions 'Must Examine All Options', Says Report
- David Dickson, SciDev.Net, Dec. 29 2003
Decisions on whether to allow the planting of genetically modified (GM)
crops in developing countries should compare the costs and benefits of all
possible options – including "the potential cost of doing nothing" –
according to Britain's top panel on the ethics of biological research.
In a discussion paper published today (28 December), the Nuffield Council
on Bioethics warns against considering GM technology in isolation, and
argues that there is an ethical obligation to explore the benefits that
such crops could offer people in the developing world
The council also underlines the importance of comparing the use of a GM
crop to alternatives, focussing on the specific situation in a particular
country, and weighing up all possible options. "The possible costs,
benefits and risks associated with particular GM crops must be assessed on
a case by case basis," says Sandy Thomas, director of the council.
The discussion paper follows up an earlier report on the topic, published
in 1999, which argued that there was a moral imperative for making GM
crops readily and economically available to people who wnat them in
The new discussion paper is based on a consultation held by the council
earlier this year, and reassesses the recommendations of the 1999 report
in light of developments in science and policy over the past four years.
Many of those consulted by the council agreed on the potential value of
such crops. But other argued that economic, political or social change was
more important than new technologies.
"We recognise that we are discussing only part of a much larger picture,"
says Thomas. "We do not claim that GM crops will feed the world. But we do
believe that, in specific cases, they could make a useful contribution to
improving the livelihood of poor farmers in developing countries."
On the positive side, the discussion paper points out that GM crops could
address significant health issues in the developing world. It agrees, for
example, that rice modified to produce beta-carotene -- so-called Golden
Rice -- could help to prevent vitamin A deficiency.
But in other situations, the Nuffield Council accepts that the use of a GM
crop may be less appropriate. For example, it says that GM herbicide
resistant crops may lead to reduced demand for labour, which could hinder
the reduction of poverty in developing countries.
The discussion paper also endorses the widespread criticism that much GM
research serves the interests of large-scale farmers in developed
countries. In the light of this, the council recommends that research into
GM crops should be directed towards the needs of small-scale farmers in
developing countries, suggesting that national governments in Europe and
elsewhere should increase their funding for relevant research.
Scientist Here Hopes Bioengineered Crop Will Help African Food Supply
- Eli Kintisch, St. Louis, Post-Dispatch, Dec. 28, 2003
Joseph Ndunguru hadn't seen his family in southern Tanzania for three
years, but when he arrived at his home village, Mapera, he didn't even
have time to eat dinner.
Ndunguru, a biologist, was in the midst of a grueling, 31-day adventure to
catalog geminiviruses, pathogens that cripple the cassava crop in
sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia. The root of the cassava is a food staple
in Africa. Cassava meal, called (ITAL) ugali (END ITAL) in Tanzania, is
used all over the continent.
In Tanzania, "most of the people say, when they have food, they refer to
having cassava," said Ramadhan Lugaila, an official with the Tanzanian
ministry of agriculture. On the September morning in 2002 when Ndunguru,
40, surprised his relatives, they prepared a chicken feast for him as he
took infected plant samples from nearby farms. But when he returned around
nightfall, time was short. To purify DNA from the batch he needed to find
a refrigerator and power source immediately, or his samples would be lost.
So he took the dinner in his car to eat at a hotel, the usual site of his
Ndunguru is growing infected cassava plants brought back from Tanzania in
electrically powered growth chambers at the Donald Danforth Center in
Creve Coeur. As part of a doctoral thesis, he is analyzing the genetic
sequences of various viruses, and he hopes the project will lead to better
crops for poor farmers around the world.
Americans eat cassava as an ingredient in tapioca. Known in Latin America
as yuca, the plant was introduced to Africa by the Portuguese in the early
16th century. Africans currently harvest roughly 86 million metric tons of
cassava each year, according to the United Nations.
Experts calculate that plant viruses in Africa have cut the annual yield
of the crucial crop by as much as 30 percent, and the viruses also attack
the crops in Asia and South America. Growing up on a coffee farm in
southern Tanzania, Ndunguru saw the mosaic-like patterns of the virus in
fields all around him. As a college student in agricultural school in
Tanzania, he learned how the barbell-shaped viruses were spread by white
Over the last decade, a powerful new strain of viruses has spread south
into Tanzania from Uganda. Ndunguru hopes his research at the Danforth
center will help bolster defenses against future crop invasions and guide
an effort to grow more rugged cassava plants.
The Danforth-based International Laboratory is testing plants genetically
modified for viral resistance. Claude Fauquet, a biologist leading the
group, says his team has shown impressive results with the plant in the
greenhouse. The group is set to test the plant soon in field trials in
Kenya and Nigeria.
In recent years, Western biotechnology has begun to impact Third World
farming, raising hopes as well as controversy. Some feel the plants are
potentially unsafe. Also, Ndunguru is aware that some feel that
introducing bioengineered food to the Third World is a form of
"Many people do not understand what you are talking about with genetically
modified food," said Ndunguru. He said that efforts to use traditional
breeding to make cassava plants that can withstand the virus had worked
Scientists at the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural
Biotechnology, based at the Danforth center, are growing new plants that
are resistant to the geminiviruses, and Ndunguru's work offers a molecular
description of the enemy. "You need biotechnology," he said.
The biotechnology work is leading to profit as well as charity for the
Danforth team. While the laboratory has licensed aspects of the new
technology in confidential agreements with commercial firms, the contracts
allow the wide humanitarian use of new plants for Third World farmers.
Ndunguru's research, funded by the British government's Department for
International Development's Crop Protection Programme, is more focused on
the nonprofit use of the technology for Tanzanian farmers. His work has
provided a more detailed picture of Tanzania's viral enemy than previously
known. In Tanzania alone, Ndunguru's work showed, 15 types of geminivirus
were infecting cassava fields, including several new varieties.
"Five years ago, it was considered known that there is one or two species
of geminiviruses that cause mosaic disease in cassava," said Nigel Taylor,
a molecular biologist with the institute team. Getting the samples wasn't
easy. Some days Ndunguru visited more than a dozen farms.
"They would say, 'He is a crazy man' or something," he said of his initial
encounters with hotel clerks, in whose kitchen freezers he would store his
chemicals. At one hotel in Ngara, the generator for electricity only ran
until 10 o'clock. In what had become a frenzied, daily ritual, he
recalled, Ndunguru booked a room, got out his chemicals, set up his
centrifuge, and began to isolate DNA. "I followed their schedule," said
Ndunguru. "I had to work fast."
Spanish Farmers Embrace Bt Corn
'Growers say insect-protected corn can withstand high winds of northern
Spanish farmer Jose Victor Nogues remembers well what is was like before
genetically enhanced Bt corn -- bred to withstand attacks from insect
predators like the European corn borer -- was approved for commercial use
"Getting up in the morning to see your whole maize field completely
brought down to the ground is truly depressing," Nogues told the United
Kingdom-based GM Viewpoint. Nogues, president of a 500-member
cooperative who also farms about 500 acres in the windy growing area of
Monegros in northern Spain, said corn borer attacks could wipe out up to a
quarter of the co-op's corn. The corn borers feed on corn kernels and
stems, which can then easily blow over in the high winds common to the
Since then, however, Nogues and other co-op farmers who have planted Bt
corn -- known as maize in Europe -- have seen their incomes and yields
rise, and they are able to sleep at night knowing their crops are
protected against possible insect onslaughts. "After five years of GM
crops in the area, most people can appreciate the huge benefits and lack
of negative effects," said Nogues. "Introducing GM maize was definitely
the way forward for us."
Spain is the only country in Europe where biotech corn is commercially
grown – currently on about 5 percent (79,000 acres) of Spain's corn acres.
3 Because of Europe's concerns about the safety of biotech crops, the
availability of biotech seeds has been limited in order to gradually
introduce the new technology.
"Currently, only a fifth of our maize crop (at the co-op) is GM maize
because of the limited supply of seeds available, but I'm confident that
many of our members would happily increase that percentage," said Nogues.
According to a CropGen article, Bt corn has resulted in:
* Savings of £38 per hectare on pesticides. (A hectare equals 2.47 acres.)
* Reduced spraying -- some areas that had required two sprayings to
control corn borers now require none.
* A reduction in crop losses to corn borer attacks to around 200 kilograms
per hectare -- down from losses of between 500 and 2,500 kilograms per
hectare with conventional corn.
"In economic terms, this translates into a reduction from potential losses
of up to £190 per hectare on maize crops devastated by the corn borer to
just around £15 per hectare," said the CropGen article.
A number of studies have confirmed the benefits of Bt corn, which is
enhanced with a naturally occurring soil protein (Bacillus thuringiensis),
that Spanish farmers have come to value and appreciate. A November 2003
report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) said Spanish producers realized an additional 150
Euros per hectare from yield gains with two varieties of Bt corn, plus a
savings of 20 Euros per hectare on insecticides, for a total gain of 170
Euros per hectare (about $85 per acre)."
Yield gains for Bt corn over conventional varieties ranged from a high of
12.9 percent in the Girona region of Spain, where corn borer infestation
levels are high, to 2.9 percent in the Madrid region, where infestation
levels are lower, according to the ISAAA report. On average, Bt yields
were 6.3 percent higher.
To date, the Bt corn grown in Spain has been used as animal feed. And
farmers say because the genetically enhanced corn has less insect damage,
it has lower levels of mycotoxins, which are created when insects burrow
into corn stalks and kernels, allowing fungi to enter and produce a
harmful mold. The end result is that Bt corn produces a better animal
feed, say farmers.
"Based on this success and in response to strong farmer demand for
additional Bt maize varieties, the Ministry of Agriculture approved five
new varieties in 2003," said the ISAAA report.
Farmers in other regions of the world have also attested to the advantages
of Bt corn:
* Carlos Andico of the Philippines, the first country in Asia to permit
the commercial planting of Bt corn, says his family's living standard is
much improved from planting Bt corn. Families earn an average of 34
percent more -- enough to support a family of five, according to the ISAAA
* Rod Gangwish of Nebraska in the United States, says planting Bt corn is
an effective insurance policy against those years when corn borer
infestation levels are high. He calls biotechnology "the greatest thing
since hybrid corn."
Other studies, including one by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP), say more European countries could realize
similar benefits if farmers began commercially growing Btcorn. Bt corn has
been approved for planting in the European Union but only Spain is growing
The NCFAP study said if 41 percent of the corn acres in France, Germany,
Italy and Spain were planted with biotech varieties, yields would increase
4,178 million pounds, pesticide use would drop by 117 million pounds, and
growers would earn an additional 249 million euros (about $308 million).
"It seems likely that rates of adoption by farmers across the country will
increase rapidly when existing barriers are lifted," stated a report from
the biotech industry group Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe. 11 "There
is every reason to suppose that there would be a comparable, though
perhaps slower, uptake in countries like Italy and France when their
governments allow commercialization."
While Nogues concedes that there was a mixed reaction when Bt corn was
first introduced into the area, he said the technology is now widely
accepted by co-op members. "Any initial concerns were simply due to the
lack of information," he told GM Viewpoint.
Saddled with Poisoned Real Estate, One City Turns to GM Trees to Mop Up
- Bob Ivry, Popular Science, January 2004
While the world gauges its appetite for genetically modified (GM) food,
scientists are quietly planting the next big thing in biotechnology: trees
genetically tweaked to suck up chemical waste.
Researchers at the University of Georgia hope their GM cottonwood saplings
will draw toxic mercury from the soil, convert it into a less dangerous
form, and eventually store it in their trunks. The trees, planted last
July in a vacant lot in Danbury, Connecticut, could save the city many
thousands of dollars in cleanup costs and make disposal safer and easier.
Instead of digging out layers of polluted dirt and carting it to special
chemical landfills, workers will, in 4 to 5 years, simply let the
"Excavation, removal and replacement of the toxic soil would cost
$543,000," says Jack Kozuchowski, Danbury's environmental director. "The
cottonwood trees cost us next to nothing."
Nationwide, an estimated 332 mercury-contaminated sites are on the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list awaiting cleanup. The
Danbury experiment marks the first time that trees have been genetically
altered to draw the poison from the ground. "We're looking for a green
solution to the problem," says Steve Rock, who oversees the project for
The process of using plant life to clean up toxic chemicals leached into
the soil is called phytoremediation. Some plants, like the
arsenic-absorbing break fern, are hyperaccumulators, meaning they have
evolved the ability to thrive in toxic environments. Since there are no
known natural hyperaccumulators that absorb significant amounts of
mercury, Richard B. Meagher and his associates at the University of
Georgia turned to genetic engineering. Meagher knew that for centuries
mercury has been used as a crude antibiotic, giving bacteria ample
opportunity to evolve resistance. "The idea was to take that evolutionary
trick and give it to the trees," Meagher says.
First, he isolated an E. coli bacteria gene that transforms ionic or
methyl mercury (the forms found in tainted soil and water) to less lethal
elemental mercury. He then implanted the gene, dubbed merA, into day-old
cottonwood trees, which were chosen because they develop extensive root
systems quickly. When the trees were mature enough, they were transferred
to pots, and then to the Danbury test plot.
In the first stage of the experiment, the elemental mercury is expected to
pass through the trees' roots and up their trunks, to be transpired
through the leaves into the air. "The amounts that would be released into
the air are minuscule. It's a much greater danger to leave it in the
ground, where it can get into the food chain or water supply," Meagher
says. But he's confident that within the next three years he can engineer
a new batch of trees that will keep the mercury in their trunks. "There
aren't a lot of satisfactory technologies for mercury remediation," says
David J. Glass, chief executive officer of Applied Phytogenetics, the firm
Meagher co-founded to market his techniques.
Meanwhile, little is known about transgenic mercury phytoremediation, and
Danbury offers plenty of opportunities for field study. In the first half
of the 20th century, the Connecticut city was known as the hat-making
capital of the world. Scores of factories used a mercury bath to soften
animal pelts to make felt. Since mercury toxins attack the central nervous
system, longtime employees gradually became demented. So many workers
suffered from tremors that the affliction was nicknamed the Danbury
When a mercury bath was spent, factories usually dumped it out the back
door, and decades later the health threat lingers. Last spring,
Kozuchowski identified a suitable test area -- the site of a burned-down
former hat factory on Barnum Court in downtown Danbury. Mercury
concentration in the one-third- acre lot, which is covered by a layer of
protective soil, ranges from 1 to 315 parts per million, says Kozuchowski.
The state's voluntary limit for mercury safety is 600 ppm for an
industrial site and 20 ppm for residential, so Barnum Court actually meets
the looser criterion.
But the city wants to sell the property, "and we want to clean it up to
residential standards," Kozuchowski says. The Danbury demonstration
project will provide answers to basic questions: Will the trees drink
enough mercury to make it worthwhile? And if so, at what rate? Meagher
says he hopes to see a measurable decline in mercury by the end of 2004,
though he admits that results could take far longer.
So far, no arborial-rights group like People for the Ethical Treatment of
Cottonwood Trees has thrown a monkey wrench into the project, but Jim
Diamond, chair of the Sierra Club's National Genetic Engineering
Committee, is skeptical about the benefits.
"The transgenic trees wouldn't be observed closely enough to do this
safely," Diamond says. "What if the project goes bankrupt? What will
happen to the trees then? Ultimately, nobody knows the effects of
transgenic trees and pollen on the environment."
Glass says great pains will be taken to make sure reproduction is nipped
in the bud. For one, cottonwoods typically take 5 to 10 years to reach
sexual maturity -- "our trees will be cut down long before they have a
chance to spread pollen," he says.
If the field trial pans out, Meagher envisions this now-fringe technology
being used in the future to clean up all kinds of toxins in the
environment. "We're not doing even one-thousandth of what we could be
doing," he says. "It's not that complicated a process, and it promises an
awful lot of power to do good."
Organic Plant Breeding Standards (Proposed) and Saskatchewan Litigation
- Drew L Kershen
I recently read E.T. Lammerts van Bueren, et. al, Concepts of Intrinsic
Value and Integrity of Plants in Organic Plant Breeding and Propagation,
CROP SCIENCE, vol. 43 pp. 1922-1929 (Nov.-Dec. 2003).
In this article, the authors present a Table 3 which "has provided the
basis for a draft by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements for the Basic Standards on organic breeding and propagation
(IFOAM, 2002)." In the text of the article the authors write, "Embryo
rescue, colchicine-induced chromosome doubling, and chemically induced
mutation may be reruns of processes that incidentally occur in nature.
Yet, these techniques still violate the plant-specific and phenotypic
integrity of cultivated plants as they violate the non-chemical
Hence, if the IFOAM adopts the draft, embryo rescue, colchicine-induced
chromosome doubling, and chemically induced mutation would become
prohibited techniques for plant breeding within the organic movement. If I
read the article correctly, crops created through these techniques would
also be prohibited for organic agriculture.
I would like to point out several implications of the IFOAM proposed
standards for organic breeding and propagation.
* Triticale - created by colchicine-induced chromosome doubling to allow
the wheat-rye sterile cross to become a true breeding grain - becomes a
prohibited crop for organic agriculture. Triticale is grown world-wide,
primarily as pasture for cattle, on approximately 50 million hectares.
* The Saskatchewan Organic Association lawsuit in Canada is presently
focused on transgenic canola that is 64.8% of the canola in Canada.
However, if the IFOAM 2002 draft standards applied, the Saskatchewan
Organic Association would also be suing, it appears, against mutagenic
herbicide tolerant canola that is 20% of the canola in Canada. (Data about
Canadian canola take from C. James, Global Review of Commercialized
Transgenic Crops: 2002 at p. 9 (ISAAA Briefs # 29, 2003). Hence, the
Saskatchewan Organic Association lawsuit appears to be against 85% of the
canola grown in Canada.
Has anyone on this list serve read or participated in other discussions
that relate to the comments that I have just made about the IFOAM 2002
standards. I am interested in learning from others about the proposed
IFOAM 2002 organic plant breeding standards.
- Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of
DeGregori Webpage Updates
AgBioView readers might be interested in some new items posted on my
webpage. These include audios of two interviews that I gave to the BBC.
One was on "Organic Agriculture and Food Production" and the other was on
Issues of "Genetically Modified Crops and Science/Evidence Based
DecisionMaking." There is also an interview with National Public Radio
Program Latino USA on the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
In addition, I have posted a paper, "Save the Seed" that I am giving at
the Association for Evolutionary Economics (in conjunction with Allied
Social Science Association Meetings, San Diego, January 2004, to be
published in the Journal of Economic Issues. This is a greatly expanded
and carefully documented version of some of my AgBioView postings which
benefited from emails that I received on them.
I hope either this week or early in the New Year, to post the paper ' The
Green Revolution And Green Biotechnology In Africa', given at CORDIA:
EuropaBio Convention 2003, Vienna, Austria, December 24, 2003.
Links that were posted on AgBioView to other pieces of mine can still be
found on my webpage.
Seasons greetings to all! -- Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.,
Iowa State University Researchers Test Consumer Acceptance of GM Food
- Susan Thompson, Seed Quest, Dec.26, 2003
How willing are consumers to buy genetically modified (GM) foods? What
effect does labeling have on food purchases? Who do consumers trust to
provide objective information on genetic modification? Those are three
questions Iowa State University researchers sought to answer in a project
involving 300 people.
Wallace Huffman, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture
and economics professor, led the research. Results are published in the
December issues of both the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and
the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Workers in the ISU Statistics Laboratory recruited randomly chosen people,
telling them they would be participating in research looking at consumer
decisions on food and household products. They were invited to come to
locations in Des Moines and St. Paul, Minnesota, in April and December of
Two types of food labels were used in the experiments. One label provided
nothing more than the contents of the package and its weight. The other
provided the same information, plus a statement that the product had been
made using genetic modification.
Participants received different kinds of background information. Three
statements on genetic modification were written that were typical of those
made by environmental groups that oppose the practice, by industry groups
that approve of the practice, and by an independent third party.
Participants were divided into small groups. Each group was presented with
a different combination of background information and food labels. Each
person was given $40 and asked to bid on three food items - vegetable oil,
tortilla chips and russet potatoes.
"In general, when consumers saw the GM label, they bid less by an average
of 14 percent," Huffman said. "This is an indication the industry won't
voluntarily label GM foods of the type tested, because consumers would pay
significantly less for them."
Huffman said the research also showed consumers are willing to pay the
most for food items that might be genetically modified if they hear only
the industry perspective, and the least if they hear only the
environmental group perspective. "The independent, third-party perspective
is a significant moderating force against the extremes of either of the
other two perspectives," he said.
Participants were asked who they trust to provide information on genetic
modification. The groups mentioned most often were universities,
scientists or other third-party entities, followed by government. "We
found information does affect the decisions consumers make about foods
that might be genetically modified," Huffman said.
USDA's Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) Program
Application Form and BRAGP Program Information at
CSREES solicits applications for an estimated $3.0 million in grants for
the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants Program (BRAG). Applications must
be received by close of business February 10, 2004 The purpose of the
BRAG is to assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based
decisions about the effects of introducing into the environment
genetically modified organisms, including plants, microorganisms
(including fungi, bacteria, and viruses), arthropods, fish, birds,
mammals, and other animals excluding humans.
High Tech Harvest: Understanding Genetically Modified Food Plants
- by Paul F. Lurquin; Westview Press; 240 pages, 2002, Hardcover ISBN:
0813339464; Amazon.com price $17.50
Biologist Lurquin wants people to understand the scientific foundations of
the current controversy over enhancing the quality and quantity of the
world's food supply through genetic engineering. As Lurquin points out,
humans have practiced genetic manipulation since prehistory when the first
farmers crossbred grains to begin the practice of agriculture. He explains
in great detail the nineteenth-century discoveries of Gregor Mendel that
established the science of genetics.
Since Mendel, researchers have gone on to uncover the fundamental chemical
structures of cells. This knowledge has given birth to the field of
genetic engineering, whereby technicians transfer genes wholesale from one
species to another, affording massive new possibilities in plant
production. Lurquin doesn't view these new techniques as intrinsically
unsound, and he opposes wholesale condemnation of genetic engineering.
-This book's focus on scientific issues as opposed to political posturing
gives it a substantive voice in the current noisy debate over genetic
manipulation of the foods we all eat. - Mark Knoblauch, American Library
Plant Responses to Drought, Salinity and Extreme Temperatures - Towards
Genetic Engineering for Stress Tolerance
- Wang, W. Vinocur, B., Altman, A. Planta. 218(1): 1 - 14.
Abiotic stresses, such as drought, salinity, extreme temps., chem.
toxicity and oxidative stress are serious threats to agriculture and the
natural status of the environment. Increased salinization of arable land
is expected to have devastating global effects, resulting in 30% land loss
within the next 25 yr, and up to 50% by the year 2050. Therefore, breeding
for drought and salinity stress tolerance in crop plants (for food supply)
and in forest trees (a central component of the global ecosystem) should
be given high research priority in plant biotechnol. programs.
Molecular control mechanisms for abiotic stress tolerance are based on the
activation and regulation of specific stress-related genes. These genes
are involved in the whole sequence of stress responses, such as signaling,
transcriptional control, protection of membranes and proteins, and
free-radical and toxic-compd. scavenging. Recently, research into the mol.
mechanisms of stress responses has started to bear fruit and, in parallel,
genetic modification of stress tolerance has also shown promising results
that may ultimately apply to agriculturally and ecologically important
The present review summarizes the recent advances in elucidating
stress-response mechanisms and their biotechnol. applications. Emphasis is
placed on transgenic plants that have been engineered based on different
stress-response mechanisms. The review examines the following aspects:
regulatory controls, metabolite engineering, ion transport, antioxidants
and detoxification, late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) and heat-shock
Pew Gives $3M For Food Biotech Project
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology says that The Pew Charitable
Trusts has awarded a $3 million grant to The University of Richmond to
continue the Pew Initiative’s work over the next two years.
Since it was launched in early 2001, the Pew Initiative has produced
reports, issue briefs and conferences that examine some of the
controversial issues raised by the application of genetic engineering to
agriculture. Topics have addressed the risks and benefits of current and
future products of agricultural biotechnology, the adequacy of the U.S.
regulatory system, and the challenges of marketing GM crops in a global
marketplace deeply divided over acceptance of GM foods.
The Initiative also sponsored a two-year facilitated process that brought
together key stakeholders, including environmental, consumer, agricultural
and industry representatives, to discuss the role of regulation for future
agricultural biotechnology products.
Moving forward, the Pew Initiative will continue to provide opportunities
to address the many issues generated by agricultural
biotechnology. Current plans include: * Reports on transgenic insects and
the adequacy of the Coordinated Framework used by regulators to review
biotech products * Conferences on transgenic animals and plant-made
industrial products * Fact sheets on state legislation related to
agricultural biotechnology and the costs of segregating GM and non-GM
In addition, the Pew Initiative plans to continue to conduct polls that
track consumer opinion, update fact sheets on US/EU trade issues and host
events that respond to timely developments in the agricultural
Institute for Accelerating Change
'Realizing a Future of Exponential Promise'
IAC Mission: To help business and society examine the potential risks and
opportunities of the accelerating rate of change through our conferences,
publications, reading groups, websites, and sense of community.
We explore the accelerating development of special domains in science and
technology and examine their impact on business and society. We recognize
that humanity's central choice in technology development is not a blind
advocacy of acceleration, but a selective catalysis. Thus our more
complete, implied, and ungainly title would be: "Institute for Selectively
Accelerating Change." Discovering which technologies hold the greatest
promise, and preferentially advancing those in a beneficial manner, while
regulating and delaying destabilizing ones (e.g., weapons of mass
destruction, non-sustainable technologies), is the essence of our
individual and social choice.-
Imagine you lived in the year 1800 and could have foreseen the uniquely
important future of the steam engine and the railroad. Or in1900 and could
have foreseen the profound future of the internal combustion engine, the
mechanical census computer, and electricity. Now, imagine you live around
the year 2000 and can foresee major pieces of the future of information
technology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. We
are dedicated to helping you acquire that humane foresight -- the
foresight to make significantly better decisions today with your limited
time, energy, and resources.
We realize that informed individuals create an informed community, thus we
work hard to educate people on the future, given the expectation (a
testable hypothesis) that we inhabit a world of continually accelerating
technological change. We aim to help individuals, business, and society
realize (i.e., discover and intelligently choose) a future of 'exponential
promise' (i.e., greater opportunities and benefits because of exponential
growth in knowledge and technology). We attempt to do this by educating
our community and the wider public on 1) long-term technological futures
and 2) the mechanisms and meaning of the accelerating rate of change.
Michael Fumento Hate Mail: The Divine Right of Fumentos
Editors: Michael Fumento's July 18th article, "Europe's dishonesty on
biotech foods," is intellectual junk food. Typical of the Euro-bashing
Right, Fumento divinely claims to read the minds and hearts of those who
disagree with him and imputes jealousy and anti-Americanism as the "real"
motives for the European Union's moratoium (sic) on imports of genetically
altered foods. He criticizes the EU's concession to lift bans if imported
foods are labeled "GMO." Fumento refers to Europeans as "brainwashed...by
environmentalist groups like Greenpeace, demagogues" and the media in an
atmosphere of "ignorance and fear." He ends his whining litany with a
reference to our "quickly forgotten" 1944 invasion" for which he expects
Europeans to have eternal blind allegiance for any and all U.S. policies.
Fumento's justification for his attack is that the EU has "cost North
American farmers a fortune and denied Europeans cheap, nutritious food."
First of all, European consumers are not responsible for greedy corporate
agribusiness already heavily subsidized with billions of American taxpayer
dollars via the latest Farm Bill. I thought conservatives supported free
markets and capitalism. Lately, they seem more inclined to bully other
nations into accepting not only our products, but our ideologies as well.
And why the double standard? America always looks out for its own
interests first and would be guilty of hypocrisy to negatively judge
others who do the same.
[Rest omitted because it may cause drowsiness while driving or operating
heavy machinery.] - [omitted] Callan
Response from Michael Fumento:
Dear Ms. Callan: If you don’t call half of all Europeans being convinced
that biting into a transgenic piece of fruit will scramble their own genes
being brainwashed, just what do you call it? As to lifting the trade ban
being a scheme of the "Euro-bashing Right," countless high officials in
Europe are on record as saying that it is utterly baseless and must be
lifted. Concerning the “Right” aspect, I suppose you consider the most
influential American political biotech boosters – people with names like
Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, and Andrew Young – to be part of the “vast
right-wing conspiracy.” I really don’t see how going to court to get the
EU to agree to the GATT treaty which it willingly signed as “bullying” or
a "double standard." Would you consider it "bullying" if the holder of
your mortgage suddenly and arbitrarily decided to double your payments? A
deal is a deal; GATT allows exceptions only for health reasons, which is
why we’ve blocked British beef but not other British food products.
You’re right that our government’s subsidies to U.S. farmers is
anti-capitalistic and anti-free market. It costs U.S. consumers, it makes
it harder for foreign nations to compete, and ultimately it doesn’t help
our farmers because if they’re not otherwise profitable it just delays the
day of foreclosure. That said, our subsidies are a joke compared to what
European farmers receive. An amazing one-half of all EU funds go to farm
subsidies. Indeed, I personally know of Europeans who keep a few cows on
the side just because they’re paid a fortune just to have them lolling
around in the backyard. Were I a WTO judge, I would demand that all farm
subsidies be scrapped as an infringement of GATT. But why do I get the
idea you never even heard of GATT till know, even as you never heard that
people like Jimmy Carter are major biotech proponents? Is it because you
shoot off letters to the editor and then do your research later - or
because you never do research at all?
Bjorn Lomborg: A Reprieve For Free Speech
- The Economist, Dec 18. 2003
New developments to report in the saga of Bjorn Lomborg and "scientific
dishonesty". Dr Lomborg, currently the director of Denmark's Environmental
Assessment Institute, is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", a
global bestseller that embarrassed green groups by documenting their
systematic exaggeration of the Earth's environmental problems. Furious
environmentalists brought a complaint about the book before a body called
the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD), which, as we
reported on January 11th of this year, found that: "Objectively speaking,
the publication of the work under consideration [Dr Lomborg's book] is
deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty."
This finding, and the total absence of evidence or argument to support it,
struck many as bizarre. Having read the DCSD's report, we ourselves
concluded, "The panel's ruling--objectively speaking--is incompetent and
On December 17th, Denmark's Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation
published its own response to the DCSD's finding. It is more politely
expressed than ours, but comes to much the same conclusion. The ruling is
thrown back to the DCSD with instructions to think again. Among a long
list of telling criticisms, the ministry says this: "the DCSD has not
documented where [Dr Lomborg] has allegedly been biased in his choice of
data and in his argumentation, and...the ruling is completely void of
argumentation for why the DCSD find that the complainants are right in
their criticisms of [his] working methods. It is not sufficient that the
criticisms of a researcher's working methods exist; the DCSD must consider
the criticisms and take a position on whether or not the criticisms are
justified, and why."
Quite so. What kind of panel is it that purports to be concerned with
scientific dishonesty, but needs somebody else to point this out?
Recommendations From An Indian National Symposium on The "Relevance Of GM
Technology to Indian Agriculture and Food Security"
- Suman Sahai (India); email@example.com
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, Gene Campaign had organized a two-day
national symposium in Delhi on November 26th and 27th, 2003, on " The
Relevance of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture and Food Security”. The
purpose of the symposium was to bring together a range of stakeholders of
differing views; to discuss what genetic modification technology offered
Indian agriculture and whether it was relevant to ensuring the food
security of the nation.
This exercise was undertaken because there is an increasing interest in
the subject of GM crops but no comprehensive discussion on the subject had
as yet taken place in India. Gene Campaign decided to provide a platform
where a variety of speakers could provide information on various aspects
of GM technology and all views could be freely expressed. Ample time slots
for discussion during the symposium ensured that the public had sufficient
opportunity to ask questions and express views.
The multi-stakeholder symposium brought together speakers and participants
with a wide spectrum of views on GM crops, ranging from those in favor of
GM crops to those that were opposed to them. Participants included
scientists, academics, social scientists, farmers, members of parliament,
lawyers and judges, representatives of government, including the
regulatory agencies, various policy makers, the National Academy of
Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), the Indian seed industry, the multinational
seed industry, food processing and retailing industries,
environmentalists, consumer organizations, organic farmer organizations,
international organizations, representatives of foreign embassies and
missions, and a number of civil society organizations. Dr. MS Swaminathan
delivered the inaugural address and Dr. VL Chopra; President of NAAS gave
the symposium keynote.
The symposium recognized that the field of biotechnology is advancing
rapidly and the Indian regulatory system is grossly inadequate to provide
any meaningful oversight. A common feature of all the presentations was
the urgent need to change the structure and composition of the regulatory
agencies, particularly the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
India’s apex regulatory body.
A series of recommendations emerged from the two-day deliberations. A
first draft was prepared on the basis of the recommendations that were
made by speakers and participants during the symposium. These were
circulated for comments. The final set of recommendations incorporates the
comments and suggestions received after the round of consultations. There
was a high degree of agreement on the recommendations but not necessarily
unanimity on all of them.
Copies of these recommendations have been forwarded to the Government’s
Task Force on Biotechnology, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC), the Department of Biotechnology, the Ministry of Science and
Technology, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Ministry
of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment as well as the Prime
1. A distinct law should be enacted to oversee Genetic Modification
Technology and its implementation. This law must harmonise with other laws
and national and international agreements.
2. A comprehensive biotechnology policy should be developed in
consultation with all stakeholders.
3. A statutory National Bioethics Commission must be set up.
4. There should be a consultative and participatory process to prioritise
crops and traits for genetic improvement through biotechnology with the
goal of addressing the needs of small farmers and Indian agriculture.
5. Investment in public sector research should be increased and
strengthened. Novel gene discovery in crops of relevance to India should
get highest priority.
6. India must develop a policy for transgenic varieties of crops for which
it is a Centre of Origin and Diversity. Commercial cultivation of GM rice
should not be allowed until the nature of gene flow and its impact is
7. The Herbicide Tolerance trait should be subject to rigorous cost and
risk benefit analysis before being considered for adoption.
8. Alternatives to the GM approach must be carefully evaluated in each
case before deciding on the GM route. A cost and risk benefit analysis
must be conducted before deciding on a GM product.
9. Protocol for food safety tests must be vastly improved and mechanisms
for long term monitoring of human health (post GM food release) be put in
10. Develop a stringent protocol to assess environmental and ecological
11. There should be provisions for post-market surveillance and monitoring
of GM products.
12. Have a policy to deal with bio terrorism urgently.
13. India must exercise caution in the IPR regime that it adopts. The
current PPV-FR should be retained since it balances Breeders and Farmers’
14. A new statutory, independent National Biotechnology Regulatory
Authority must be established.
15. Make GEAC more competent, transparent and accountable. Post data on
research and development of GM crops and products on websites and local
16. An annual review of all decisions on GM products must be presented to
17. Conduct a scientifically sound study to assess attitudes and
perceptions about GM technology among stakeholders in India.
18. Undertake a program of awareness about GM technology to educate the
19. Organize a series of public debates across the country to elicit the
views of the people, to channel it into policy making. The government
should fund this exercise.
20. There should be a moratorium on commercial cultivation of GM crops
until the regulatory system is demonstrably improved. Research on GM
crops, however, should continue.
For details about the symposium, visit Gene Campaign’s website:
http://www.genecampaign.org; For queries, send email at firstname.lastname@example.org