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Date:

January 14, 2004

Subject:

Debate Is No Referendum; Non Existent Allergy; Gordon Conway; HIV & Hunger; Futile Labeling; Natural Killers in Food; Defeding Globalization; Studying Risk

 

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: January 15, 2004:

* GM Nation?: The Results of the Public Debate
* Linking StarLink to Allergies Proves Elusive
* Benefits of Biotechnology are Real
* Conway: Sowing the Seeds of Global Change
* HIV/AIDS and Hunger
* Mandatory Labeling of GM Foods: Does it Really Provide Consumer Choice?
* Bioscience Communications in Agriculture & Food - Ghent
* Natural Pesticides and Bioactive Components In Foods
* New York Times Writer Complains We Have "Too Much Food"
* In Defense of Globalization: How the New World Economy Is Helping Rich
and Poor Alike
* Toward an Integrated Risk Assessment Model For Plant Transgene Spread
--

GM Nation?: The Results of the Public Debate

- Vivian Moses, Science & Public Affairs (UK), Dec.2003, pp. 12-14

'Don't use them as a referendum, argues Vivian Moses'

The idea of a public debate on a matter of great scientific interest was
warmly welcomed by many scientists. At a time when people are concerned
about the effects of technologies - cancer resulting from power cables,
nvCJD from BSE beef, autism from MMR measles vaccine, and brains roasting
from mobile phones - here was to be a chance to talk rationally about
whether or not to accept transgenic foods and crops.

There were hopes that open discussions of facts, and how they are arrived
at, would help people at large to come to grips with important issues.
Scientists saw the debates as a civic responsibility, and as
opportunities for people to participate, express their own views, hear
those of others, and arrive at a deeper understanding of the reasons
behind decisions to come and the implications following from them.

Not science-based
When the public documents were published and the arrangements announced,
many of us already had grave doubts. In the printed material, two views
were put forward for each of many topics; but the manner in which they
were presented differed markedly. Those in support offered reasoned
argument and detailed references to the findings on which they were
based. People genuinely wishing to know could find the f acts and the
evidence. The opponents, on the other, offered assertion, opinion and
hyperbole, positions heaping one unsupported and barely plausible
hypothesis upon another, inevitably leading to the conclusion that
disaster could be the only outcome. It was not quite the science-based
debate the Government had asked for.

Opponents over-represented
Nor did the debates live up to their promise. The level of interest in
the GM issue among the British public as a whole is so low that less than
one in a thousand voters attended a meeting or completed a
questionnaire. Hardly surprisingly, those people who did do so were the
ones most concerned to express their views. It is no secret that passions
run more strongly among opponents, who constituted t he overwhelming
majority both of people at meetings and of respondents to questions.

At a good number of local meetings, especially those organised by anti-GM
pressure groups, almost all the people present were their supporters.
Some chairmen were clearly partial while panels of speakers were not
infrequently unbalanced - always towards opposition. Nature has twice
commented on this preponderance of anti-GM views.1

Sure enough, the 40,000 completed questionnaires showed the inevitable
result from the self-selecting sample offering their views. opposition.
That response differs markedly from serious in-depth research into the
public view of the GM issue.2

Following several years of coordinated, well presented and incessant
anti-GM propaganda about 'Frankenstein foods' and similar evocative
terms, most people are hesitant. They acknowledge their lack of
understanding. But they often express a willingness to change their
views, pro or con, in the light of more information. In announcing the
GM Nation? debates, the Government said they would not be used as a
referendum. They were certainly right to do so.

Lessons
Is there a lesson for the involvement of public discussion in contentious
issues? I would hope there is. The more informed the public, the better
our democracy. But the endless cries that 'we have not been informed'
ring hollow. There is a surplus, not a deficit, of public information;
but people who want to make up their own minds must do their homework.

The problem our society faces in general, and scientists must confront in
particular, is how to enthuse people so that they are anxious to find
out more, not to be reluctant listeners waiting only for an opportunity
to turn their thoughts elsewhere, and all too of ten happy for others
to tell them what to think.

The GM Nation? debates were a good idea that did not, alas, work out well
in practice. We should not abandon the concept, but seek to do better
when the next major scientific or other issue comes up. Will we be ready
to discuss joining the Euro, if and when the time comes?

References
1. Campbell, S and Townsend, E. 'Flaws undermine results of UK biotech
debate’. Nature, 425, 559 (9 October 2003); Editorial, 'Diversity in food
technology' Nature, 424, 473 (31 July 2003)

2. Gaskell, G, Allum, N and Stares, Sally 'Europeans and Biotechnology in
2002: Eurobarometer 58.0 (2nd Edition: 21 March 2003). Brussels European
Commission
http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/eb/ebs_177_en.pdf;
Gaskell, G, Allum, N, Bauer, M, Jackson,J, Howard, Susan and Lindsey,
Nicola. ‘Ambivalent GM nation? Public attitudes to biotechnology in the
UK, 1991-2002' (July 2003)
http://www.lse.ac.uk/lses/docs/ambivalent-gm-nation.pdf
Groves, Angela. 'GM Food’. Consumer Watch (August 2003). Watford:
Institute of Grocery Distribution

**********************************************

Linking StarLink to Allergies Proves Elusive

- Scott Canon, Kansas City Star, Jan. 14, 2004
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/

Three years ago, Americans learned they might have been munching something
they didn't know was there, that wasn't supposed to be there. The
laboratory-tailored StarLink corn -- in ways that remain a mystery -- had
found its way into the food supply. The genetically modified grain had
been approved in 1998 for livestock. But it was blacklisted for people.

By June 2001, more than two dozen persons had complained about StarLink
allergies. There was logic to their complaints. After all, tests in
synthetic stomachs had shown its Cry9C protein was relatively slow to
digest. Other proteins allergenic to some people have performed the same
way. The human ban came from the possibility that people who weren't
allergic to corn might be allergic to this corn.

Among those reporting a reaction was Florida optometrist Keith Finger. In
April 2001, months after hundreds of potentially StarLink-tainted corn
products were recalled, he ate corn chips. Three hours later his skin
itched, his lips felt numb and he developed hives. He turned over samples
of his chips to federal regulators, who found in them the StarLink DNA,
but not its protein -- a strong argument that he had not had a reaction to
the transgenic corn. So he ate the chips again to test for the allergy,
and hours later a physician confirmed his case of hives. In August 2001
he volunteered for testing.

Doctors gave him capsules on three different days. One day the capsules
were placebos. One day they contained protein from ordinary corn. A third
day they contained StarLink's Cry9C protein. "The patient never developed
any hives, respiratory symptoms, hypotension, vomiting or diarrhea," said
an article that the testing physicians published in Journal of Allergy and
Clinical Immunology. "Of course," physician Amal Assa'ad said, "he was
very surprised."

But she said he conceded to her that he hadn't had any reaction, even
though the test would have exposed him to much more StarLink than a bag of
chips. In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Finger said he
had received $10,000 from StarLink maker Aventis CropScience in a
settlement in which the company also gave out $6 million in food
discounts. He also told the newspaper that he still thought he was
allergic to StarLink. Assa'ad said she didn't know whether some people
were allergic to StarLink. Others who claimed allergies submitted blood
tests that showed no sign of antibodies to its protein -- strong evidence
that they are not allergic.

"But all I can say for sure is about this one man," the doctor said. "He
was not allergic."

**********************************************

Benefits of Biotechnology are Real

- Southwest Nebraska News, January 14, 2004

Farm Bureau -- The benefits of biotechnology in agriculture are real, and
no longer only speculative, according to the Council for Biotechnology
Information (CBI). "We are now able to document the benefits for farmers,
the environment and the world’s food supply, and they are growing
rapidly," CBI Executive Director Linda Thrane said today at the 85th
American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting and convention.

Thrane said more than 6 million farmers in 16 countries are now growing
about 145 million acres of biotech crops. "The adoption of this technology
is nothing short of phenomenal," Thrane said. "We've seen double-digit
growth in global biotech acreage for seven straight years."

A study released last summer by the National Center for Food and
Agriculture found that six biotech crops planted in the United States –
soybeans, corn, cotton, papaya, squash and canola – produced an additional
4 billion pounds of food and fiber on the same acreage, boosted farm
income by $1.5 billion and reduced the use of pesticides by 46 million
pounds. "There are economic benefits, environmental benefits and
nutritional benefits," Thrane said. "We used to say that biotechnology
would transform agriculture. Now we can say that biotechnology is
transforming agriculture."

Twenty-one new biotech crops under development could boost U.S.
agricultural production by another 10 billion pounds, contribute another
$1 billion to farm income, and reduce pesticide use by an additional 163
million pounds, according to the study. Despite the increase in biotech
crops, Thrane said that biotechnology is not a "top of the mind" issue
with U.S. consumers.

Research by the Food Marketing Institute found that only a third of
supermarket shoppers consider biotech foods a health risk, and then only
when prompted with a list of topics. Only irradiated foods scored lower in
concern than biotechnology, while consumers were most concerned with
bacteria and germs (83 percent), followed by product tampering (72
percent).

In contrast, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said biotechnology
would lead to development of new medicines, while nearly half said it
would lead to healthier foods and reduced use of pesticides. Among the
crops under development are tomatoes with triple the amount of
cancer-fighting lycopene and canola oil with elevated levels of omega-3
fatty acids, which help reduce cholesterol levels.

"The more people know, the more they support biotechnology," Thrane said.
Barry Ryan, with the University of Minnesota, also noted that
biotechnology is creating new interest in research and development in
agriculture. Ryan said agriculture has been benefiting from technologies
developed half a century ago at the start of the Green Revolution. Now, he
said, it’s time for researchers to "do our part to repay what we have
drawn down."

He said scientists such as molecular biologists who might not have
considered jobs in crop development before the rapid adoption of biotech
are being drawn into the agricultural sector. "There is a high rate of
return on agricultural research," Ryan said.

He said companies are creating high-paying jobs in agricultural research,
and not just in traditional farm states, as the interest in biotechnology
continues to grow. USDA is expected to fund more than $2.3 billion in
biotechnology research is 2004, while private research and development
spending is expected to top $2.7 billion, according to a University of
Minnesota study.

"The value of biotechnology extends well beyond the farm into public and
private job creation in new knowledge-based fields," Ryan said.
"Maintaining and expanding that level of investment in biotechnology is
critical to the future."

**********************************************

Sowing the Seeds of Global Change

- Lynda Richardson, New York Times, January 15, 2004

Gordon Conway, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who recently
announced he would retire at year's end, looks somewhat startled by the
question: How would he describe himself? But why, suggests his pained
expression.

Mr. Conway, a 65-year-old Briton, is known for speaking his mind as the
head of one of the country's most prestigious and oldest foundations. This
is the man who publicly chided the Monsanto Corporation, the biotechnology
company, over the sale of seeds that become sterile after a generation.
The company later abandoned plans for use of that gene technology. Yet Mr.
Conway, an agricultural ecologist, is also well known for his enthusiastic
support of genetically modified products to benefit developing countries.
Advertisement

Suffice it, then, to say he sees the nuances of things. "What I usually
like is telling people that life is more complicated than it appears to
be," he says. He sits in his large, airy office at the foundation's
elegant Fifth Avenue headquarters, which was designed with artistic
guidance from Maya Lin. Mr. Conway, who has a medium build and sharp blue
eyes, is thoughtful, charming, even irreverent at times during a long
conversation, with musings wandering from globalization to Siberian vodka.

Mr. Conway is the first non-American to lead the foundation, and says he
wants to spend more time with his family in London, where his wife, Susan
Conway, is a textile historian and an artist. A father of three grown
children, he laments that there is one grandchild he hasn't seen in two
years.

So what does Mr. Conway hope to accomplish in his last year at the
foundation? Since his appointment in 1998, he has focused the institution
more intently on the poor and their frequent exclusion from the benefits
of globalization. Among the initiatives he has championed are a
continentwide program in Africa to bring antiretroviral drugs to
H.I.V.-positive mothers and a program to increase low-income housing and
commercial development in poor areas of American cities.

"I want to speak out much more on the big issues," he says. "I need to be
much more public about them. In all good foundations, what they do is
experimental, and you have to wait awhile to see your programs mature.
It's all coming together. We're getting evidence and I'm feeling much more
confident about them."

As an example, he cites the Africa H.I.V. program. "The message is that
this is all doable and we should now be scaling up these ideas," he says.
"It's rarely said, but you can hear a kind of implicit comment that it's
hopeless in Africa. You can sense people saying that it's a waste of
money, that health services are so bad, the governments are so bad, and in
any case, Africans won't take the pills. What this is all showing is that
is malarkey!"

THE foundation, endowed by John D. Rockefeller in 1913, is not huge by
today's standards. It has assets of about $2.7 billion and is far
surpassed by institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and
the Ford Foundation. But its size belies its stature. It has served as a
kind of tutor to some emerging philanthropists, and works in partnerships
with organizations, including the Gates Foundation, to create bigger pools
of money for projects.

"In the old days, we could do things like get the 'green revolution'
going, fund schools of public health and develop a vaccine against yellow
fever," he says. "We could do it on our own and be a major force of
change, of change on our own. That is not true so much anymore. Things are
much more complicated."

Mr. Conway, who was born in Birmingham, England, became fascinated by the
world at a young age. His father was a mechanical engineer who worked on
the invention of the jet engine, and his mother was a geography teacher
who loved to travel. He has worked in developing countries for 35 years,
including a stint as the Ford Foundation's representative in India. Before
the Rockefeller Foundation, he was vice chancellor of the University of
Sussex near Brighton, England.

Early in his career, he became an important player in the search for ways
to increase food production. He pioneered a type of pest management, which
he conceived as an ecologist in North Borneo in 1960. His job was to
tackle the insects and worms invading cocoa plants. While spraying plants,
he concluded that pesticides were killing not only crop pests, but also
the natural predators that feed on the pests, resulting in crop losses.

"We stopped spraying, and the pests came under natural control," he says.
In the 1980's, Mr. Conway was one of the first to define the concept of
sustainable agriculture, an approach that is seen as critical to the
development of poor countries. It involves controlling pests and
increasing crop yields without a huge reliance on chemicals.

As he talks animatedly about food, Mr. Conway clearly gets into his own
world. Let's venture closer to home now. What does he like to eat? He says
a bit sheepishly that the refrigerator in his Westchester County house is
nearly bare. It contains some English marmalade and, of course, Marmite,
that brown, very British spread. "It's terribly important," he says. His
face lights up as he describes a delectable snack; Marmite on toast with
vodka, served neat and at room temperature.

**********************************************

HIV/AIDS and Hunger

- James T. Morris, The Washington Times, January 12, 2004
www.washingtontimes.com

When HIV/AIDS first began its unrelenting spread through the poor
countries of the world, we in the World Food Programme (WFP), like many in
the humanitariancommunity, tended to view the phenomenon as a medical
crisis that had little to do with hunger and food aid.

No longer. WFP now finds itself on the front lines of this crisis,
grappling with a destructive phenomenon that has killed millions of people
and rendered millions more dependent on international food aid. Nowhere is
this more apparent than in the southern region of Africa, where half of
the continent's 30 million HIV/AIDS cases are found.

This year the region became a case study as the epicenter of a cataclysmic
confluence of disasters--HIV/AIDS and potential famine. More ominously,
the HIV/AIDS crisis is planting the seeds of future famines that could
imperil millions of additional people.

To date, more than 7 million farmers have died as a result of HIV/AIDs,
most of them women who make up four-fifths of the agricultural work force.
Frequently, if fields are tended at all, it is by weak grandparents who
have been weighed down by the urgent need to feed growing numbers of
orphaned grandchildren.

During a recent trip to Southern Africa, I met a lone grandmother who was
desperately trying to care for 18 children. To witness the plight of
those directly or indirectly affected by the AIDS crisis is to be
confronted with a problem so vast it seems to defy solution. Take for
example the14-year-old orphan I met, who suddenly found herself
singlehandedly caring for her six younger brothers and sisters. Buckling
under the weight of enormous responsibilities, as well as the effects of
hunger and stunting, she looked half her age. Yet she had been deprived of
the right to a childhood.

How should we respond? It goes without saying that the billions of dollars
allocated to HIV/AIDS treatment by donor countries (including the generous
$15 billion just announced by President Bush) are indeed encouraging. But
under current conditions, especially in poor countries, the crisis is
unlikely to be solved by medical means alone.

For one thing, anti-retroviral drugs are unlikely to be effective if the
user lacks basic nutrition, as is frequently the case in many poor
countries. Furthermore, there simply isn't enough financial aid available
right now to fund drug treatment for all of the millions of people living
with HIV/AIDS.

Recent estimates indicate that only 5 percent of those who are
HIV-positive have access to drugs, and most of these are in the developed
world. Even the lucky few in poor countries who receive free drugs often
find their bodies worn down by lack of food and malnutrition, which in
turn increases susceptibility to infection.

It is clear that in the absence of a medical solution, many of those in
poor countries will be in urgent need of basic food aid to survive. So too
will many of their children. It is estimated that by the year 2010, 25
million children will have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS -- a
potentially enormous caseload.

In the absence of sufficient free drugs to treat those suffering from AIDS
or those currently infected who may develop full-blown symptoms of the
disease, we will still have to find ways to keep them alive and
productive. We cannot allow the shortage or absence of drugs to become a
reason for doing nothing.

Unfortunately, until now, efforts to address the HIV/AIDS issue in many
poor countries have not worked and a major refocusing of effort is needed.
As a minimum first step, we must ensure that those living with HIV/AIDS
receive basic nutrition that enables them to survive and care for their
families as long as possible.

What has now become clear to us at WFP is that food is the first line of
defense against HIV/AIDs. WFP now distributes a food ration that takes
into account the increased energy, protein and micronutrient requirements
of those with HIV/AIDs. Not only does it help to keep HIV/AIDS-infected
parents alive longer, but it gives them time to raise their children
properly and to provide them with the necessary life skills to survive, if
not prosper.

Improved nutrition can also help prevent transmission of the virus from
mothers to babies. Furthermore, by simply feeding hungry people, we reduce
the likelihood that they will resort to high-risk survival strategies --
such as exchanging sex for food or cash.

If the "new variant" HIV/AIDs-hunger crisis is to be overcome, we in the
international community will have to start with basics, especially in an
environment of extremely limited resources. Until the financial means are
found to provide medical treatment for all, it is imperative to at least
ensure that the needy receive enough food to survive.

--
James T. Morris is the executive director of the United Nations World Food
Programme.

**********************************************

Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods: Does it Really Provide
Consumer Choice?

- Colin A. Carter and Guillaume P. Gručre (University of California,
Davis); AgBioForum, 6 (1&2), 68-70. http://www.agbioforum.org. Excerpts
below...

'The mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GM) food aims to provide
consumer choice. However, in the European Union and elsewhere, GM food
with mandatory labeling has disappeared from the retail shelves. Food
processors' economic incentives may explain why mandatory labeling has so
far failed to provide consumer choice.'

More than fifteen countries have implemented labeling requirements for
genetically modified (GM) foods, including unlikely candidates such as
Russia. This trend will soon include many other countries. The first GM
labeling requirements for food products were introduced by the European
Union (EU) in 1997 (Regulation EC No 258/97) as an application of the
precautionary principle. The EU recently revised its rules on GM labeling
to include feed and most food products derived from GM crops (even if
there are no detectable GM genes in the final product) and lowered the
threshold level for adventitious presence of GM material. The EU
officially recognizes that approved GM foods are as safe as conventional
foods, and mandatory labeling is justified solely by the desire to provide
informed consumer choice: "We are allowing GM food onto the market but on
our terms so people can make a full and informed choice" (EU Health and
Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne, quoted in "GM laws to pave
way for lifting of EU approvals ban," 2003).

In this paper we offer an explanation as to why mandatory labeling has not
served its stated goal of providing consumer choice.

Where are the Labels? During a short time period in the late 1990s, some
food products in the EU were labeled as containing GM ingredients.
According to Kalaitzandonakes and Bijman (2003) and Bernauer and Meins
(2002), GM products then vanished in the EU. We found additional evidence
in Japan, another country that has adopted mandatory labeling, where it is
difficult (if not impossible) to find retail food products labeled as
containing GM ingredients. Mandatory labeling also exists in Australia and
New Zealand, where there is not much choice at the retail level.

Ironically, this fact has not been well publicized, and as a result many
observers still question how anyone could be opposed to mandatory labeling
if it provides information to consumers. Ignoring the current situation,
some European newspapers have predicted that GM foods will "invade" the
retail shelves with the new EU labeling regulations. This has not been the
case so far with mandatory labeling; we believe the new EU regulations
will do little to provide additional consumer choice.

Why does it matter? At the domestic level, we ask whether a policy is
beneficial if it is intended to provide consumer choice but fails to do
so. The policy results in additional taxpayer costs due to enforcement and
testing. In addition, losses are experienced by those consumers who would
prefer to buy lower-priced GM food products. More importantly, mandatory
labeling acts as an import barrier and diverts trade. Mandatory labeling
will impede the widespread adoption of GM food crops such as wheat and
rice.

Labeling Provides Processor and Retailer Choice
Once labeling regulations are implemented, food processors and retailers
are affected. For instance, opposition to GM foods is so strong in the EU
and Japan that most consumers there are not ready to buy GM-labeled food.
This means the processors and retailers are not ready to sell labeled
final products in these countries. Therefore, if processors were using GM
ingredients prior to the introduction of the labeling policy, they would
then have to decide whether to keep the same formulation and label their
final products, or switch ingredients to avoid labeling altogether. It
turns out that most food processors selling into the EU and Japan have
shifted ingredients away from GM due to perceived pressure from consumers
and retailers. Shifting away from GM ingredients has not resulted in a
significant cost increase for most processed food products, because the GM
ingredients now available (i.e., corn and soybean material) typically
account for a small cost share of any processed food products. Thus,
labeling provides processor and retailers' choice--not necessarily
consumer choice.

The decision of these intermediaries is central to the outcome of any food
labeling policy. Consumers will be part of their labeling decision ex
ante, because retailers and processors will conduct marketing studies on
consumer perceptions towards GM food. However, consumer choice may
disappear ex post, because processors have to make a binary choice.

There are two essential factors affecting the decision of processors
whether to label. First is overall consumer demand, which can be expressed
as the expected share of the market willing to buy GM labeled food. The
second and related factor is the profitability per unit of final product
sold. The processors will estimate any cost savings associated with using
GM instead of non-GM ingredients and compare these savings with the
relative final product price of a GM-labeled versus non-GM (unlabeled)
product.

Facilitating Consumer Choice with Mandatory Labeling
With the GM products currently available, the situation of little or no
choice may not change quickly, because processors face a first-mover
disadvantage. The first processor deciding to use GM ingredients and to
label will almost certainly lose (at least in the short run), as the firm
will be exposed to political pressure and negative publicity. Therefore,
even if they were expecting to make some additional profits, processors
may decide to continue to avoid using GM ingredients under mandatory
labeling.

In the long run, if consumer acceptance changed dramatically, some GM
products would appear at the retail level. Better education and better
information may improve the image of GM food in the minds of cautious
consumers--especially if new GM products offer visible consumer benefits.

Current GM ingredients (i.e., corn and soybean products) are mainly used
in highly processed food; they typically account for a small share of the
cost of the final product. Therefore, the price and cost differences are
small relative to non-GM ingredients. But it will be different with fresh
products, such as fruits and vegetables. In this case, some of the cost
advantage of GM will be transmitted to the processors and partially to the
final consumers. These products will present a profit ratio under 1.0
(Figure 1), which means there will be more incentive for some processors
and retailers to provide these GM products, perhaps leading to a
coexistence of GM and non-GM products on the retail shelf.

Conclusion
Mandatory labeling provides food processors and retailers a choice, but it
does not facilitate consumer choice. Because of rational food processor
decisions, mandatory labeling acts as a market barrier, and GM products do
not appear at the retail level. The mandatory labeling schemes in place
today may be compared to a voting system with majority representation,
where the winner takes all. Some consumers would probably buy GM products
if they had the choice, but the mandatory labeling system does not give
them any choice.

In contrast, voluntary labeling provides consumer choice as long as the
maximum willingness to pay for non-GM products exceeds the corresponding
price premium. This is why most economists argue that voluntary labeling
is more efficient—it allows consumers to choose product quality. Voluntary
labeling is like a voting system with proportional representation, where a
share of the market may buy non-GM food, and the rest will buy mixed
conventional and GM food.

See http://www.agbioforum.org/v6n12/v6n12a13-carter.htm for full article
and references

**********************************************

Bioscience Communications in Agriculture & Food

- Ghent, Belgium February 6 - 7, 2004

The aim is to bring European bioscience communicators together to discuss
and evaluate bioscience communications practices, more specific in the
field of agriculture and food. The overall aim is to learn from each
other’s experiences and improve bioscience communications.

The first day will be dedicated to communication and discussion with 5
different target groups: schools, media, policy makers & advisors, general
public and professionals. The second day, different experts will cover
Ag-food related topics including north-south relations, coexistance and
traceability, and different communication issues. They will present their
views not only based on their own expertise, but primarily on what they
have heard during their interactions with the different target groups, the
previous day.

Who should attend? All of you involved and interested in bioscience
communications and agriculture and food. We are specifically targeting the
following persons: scientists, farmers, consumer and agricultural
organizations, environmental groups, agriculture and food industry,
retailers, teachers, policy makers and advisors, consumers, …

ECOD-BIO was given a mandate to develop 'best practices' in bioscience
communications by the EC. In order to achieve this goal, a network of
European bioscience communicators has been established. An intranet has
been set up in order to create a platform that allows interaction and
collection of information. In addition, different working groups were set
up and allow participants of the network to interact on specific issues.

Over the last few years, many workshops on ‘how to communicate’ have taken
place. Most of them tackle different issues that were identified by
experts to be the key elements responsible for the gap between the
scientific community and the general public. This approach often resulted
in one-way communication. Although these workshops have proven to be
valuable, there is little sense in repeating this format once again.
Nevertheless the gap between ‘bioscience’ and the ‘real world’ still
remains. We decided to choose for a complete different format.

We are convinced that it is not 'the public' that needs to change, adapt
or do an extreme effort to understand science; it are the scientific
community and bioscience communicators that need to find ways to interact
with the public. Two-way communication is an essential element, although
easier said than done. With the second ECOD-BIO workshop we hope to
achieve this.

Jonas De Backer, Rijvisschestraat 120, 9052 Zwijnaarde, F: +32 9 244 66
10, E-mai jonas.debacker@vib.be

**********************************************

Natural Pesticides and Bioactive Components In Foods

- R.C. Beier Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 1990;113:47-137. Excerpts of
Abstract below... (Thanks to Dr. Zongrang Liu for forwarding this)

In this review, some common food plants and their toxic or otherwise
bioactive components and mycotoxin contaminants have been considered.
Crucifers contain naturally occurring components that are goitrogenic,
resulting from the combined action of allyl isothiocyanate, goitrin, and
thiocyanate. Although crucifers may provide some protection from cancer
when taken prior to a carcinogen, when taken after a carcinogen they act
as promoters of carcinogenesis.

Herbs contain many biologically active components, with more than 20% of
the commercially prepared human drugs coming from these plants. Onion and
garlic juices can help to prevent the rise of serum cholesterol. Most
herbs used in treatments may have many natural constituents that act
oppositely from their intended use. Some herbs like Bishop's week seed
contain carcinogens, and many contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can
cause cirrhosis of the liver. The general phytoalexin response in plants
(including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, celery, and sweet
potatoes) induced by external stimuli can increase the concentrations of
toxic chemical constituents in those plants.

In potatoes, two major indigenous compounds are alpha-solanine and
alpha-chaconine, which are human plasma cholinesterase inhibitors and
teratogens in animals. Because of its toxicity, the potato variety Lenape
was withdrawn from the market. Celery, parsley, and parsnips contain the
linear furanocoumarin phytoalexins psoralen, bergapten, and xanthotoxin
that can cause photosensitization and also are photomutagenic and
photocarcinogenic. Celery field workers and handlers continually have
photosensitization problems as a result of these indigenous celery
furanocoumarins. A new celery cultivar (a result of plant breeding to
produce a more pest-resistant variety) was responsible for significant
incidences of phytophotodermatitis of grocery employees.

Since there is no regulatory agency or body designated to oversee
potential toxicological issues associated with naturally occurring
toxicants, photodermatitis continues to occur from celery exposure. Sweet
potatoes contain phytoalexins that can cause lung edema and are
hepatotoxic to mice. At least one of these, 4-ipomeanol, can cause
extensive lung clara cell necrosis and can increase the severity of
pneumonia in mice. Some phytoalexins in sweet potatoes are hepatotoxic and
nephrotoxic to mice.

The common mushroom Agaricus bisporus contains benzyl alcohol as its most
abundant volatile, and A. bisporus and Gyromitra esculenta both contain
hydrazine analogues. Mycotoxins are found in corn, cottonseed, fruits,
grains, grain sorghums, and nuts (especially peanuts); therefore, they
also occur in apple juice, bread, peanut butter, and other products made
from contaminated starting materials.

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New York Times Writer Complains We Have "Too Much Food"

- Robert James Bidinotto, Oct. 14, 2003
http://bidinotto.journalspace.com/?entryid=33

Scientific advances in agricultural production over the past half-century
have rolled back the global scourge of mass starvation and hunger. That's
a good thing, right?

Well, not according to those dubbed the "food police."

The same pack of leftists who just a few years ago were howling
indignantly about "hunger in America," and pontificating about millions of
kids supposedly going to school with empty bellies, are now writing
screeds about an alleged national "obesity epidemic." And the cause of
this new National Crisis? Declares prominent food cop Marion Nestle: "We
have too much food in this country."

Yep, too much food.

Nestle is very exercised that, for Americans, "food is cheap"--about the
cheapest in the world relative to average income. And rather than viewing
this abundance as a blessing, food cops like her find it to be a curse.
You see, it's making us fat.

The latest media volley fired by the food cops is targeted at readers of
the October 12th New York Times Magazine. There Michael Pollan echoes
Nestle and lectures us that the source of our glut of gut is not our lack
of self-responsibility; it's not our unwillingness to eat sensibly; no,
the real reason, "very simply, is this: when food is abundant and cheap,
people will eat more of it and get fat."

According to palate policeman Pollan, "The underlying problem is
agricultural overproduction," which has led to "corn (along with most
other agricultural commodities)" being overly "abundant and cheap." He
attacks farm subsidies (a very legitimate target), but also blames "the
constant stream of improvements in agricultural technology (mechanization,
hybrid seed, agrochemicals and now genetically modified crops --
innovations all eagerly seized on by farmers hoping to stay one step ahead
of falling prices by boosting yield)..." These, he says, are "a sure-fire
recipe for overproduction -- another word for way too much food." Pollan
then goes on to draw the predictable cartoon of money-hungry food
industries and unbridled agricultural scientists virtually cramming extra
calories down our ever-more-bloated throats, just to make a buck.

His solution? Environmentally Correct agriculture, as he detailed in an
earlier article. Using language that sounds like a chorus from John
Lennon's "Imagine," he rhapsodizes: "I'm thinking of things like locally
grown, like the humane treatment of animals, like the value of a shorter
and more legible food chain, the preservation of family farms, even the
promise of a countercuisine."

Countercuisine?
In addition to promoting what I can only surmise to be some kind of
tofu-laden, Environmentally Correct "unfood," he and his Gang Green pals
also would impose lawsuits and higher taxes against all the many
Environmentally Incorrect comestibles they want to force us to avoid.

They admit that all these proposed measures would insure the availability
of far less food, at far higher prices. And this unmasks and explains the
real motive underlying their campaign--including their furious opposition
to genetically modified crops.

At first glance, their hostility to biotechnology seems incomprehensible,
because genetically engineered crops would demonstrably reduce harm to the
environment, by producing higher yields using less land and fewer
pesticides. Yet environmentalists still stridently oppose biotechnology.
Why? Precisely because it would produce more food and feed more people.

Since greens believe our planet already has far too many people, they aim
to put every kind of obstacle--taxes, regulations, land use restrictions,
lawsuits, bans on pesticides and new technologies--in the path of all
efforts to feed and sustain larger populations. They claim that expanding
human populations are "unsustainable"--while simultaneously they try to
stop every conceivable effort to sustain them.

The ultimate goal of the environmentalists, then, isn't to reduce harm to
the environment, any more than it is to reduce our waistlines. Their
ultimate goal is to reduce the presence of humans on the planet. They've
said so, explicitly, countless times, in countless ways, in countless
books, articles, and speeches.

Why, then, don't more people start to believe that they mean exactly what
they say?

--
Robert James Bidinotto is an award-winning writer and lecturer who reports
on cultural and political issues from the philosophic perspective of
principled individualism. Check out http://www.econot.com

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In Defense of Globalization: How the New World Economy Is Helping Rich and
Poor Alike

by Jagdish Bhagwati, Amazon.com $19.60, Hardcover: 304 pages; Publisher:
Oxford Press; (March 2004), ISBN: 0195170253

Columbia Economist Jagdish Bhagwati is an funny, intelligent, and highly
persuasive writer on free trade. He argues (among other things) that we
should separate the economic agenda of the WTO from other social, moral,
and environmental agendas, and that those who oppose free trade
effectively undermine the social goals they seek to support.

Like his student Paul Krugman, Bhagwati has a gift for making complex
economic arguments seem transparent to non-economists. The issues are
*not* really transparent, and readers who desire a balanced view should
read opposing voices as well. But opponents of free trade and the WTO must
lend Bhagwati's arguments an ear and an open mind. - Clark Wolf from
Athens, GA, commenting on author's earlier book "The Wind of the Hundred
Days: How Washington Mismanaged Globalization"

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Toward an Integrated Risk Assessment Model For Plant Transgene Spread

- ISB News Report, Information Systems For Biotechnology, January 2004

Excerpts below. Full Text at
http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2004/news04.Jan.html

Special Issue: Workshop Report - Extending the Net Fitness Model to
Considerations of Crop Gene Flow

Information Systems for Biotechnology (ISB) hosted the Environmental Risk
Assessment Modeling Workshop II on October 9 and 10 in Colorado Springs,
Colorado. The Workshop was convened to evaluate and extend the net fitness
approach of Muir and Howard (2001, 2002) to plants for use in predicting
the spread of a transgene in a wild population.

The Environmental Risk Assessment Modeling Workshop II focused on the use
of an integrated net fitness modeling approach for assessment of transgene
spread into natural environments. There was clear recognition that
alternative needs (crop-to-crop gene flow) and methodologies
(spatially-explicit probabilistic modeling) must be considered in the
comprehensive evaluation of risks posed by transgenic plant deployment.
Modification of the net fitness model of Muir and Howard to include an
evaluation of transgene spread as affected by correlated genes interacting
over environments within the background of natural selection could be a
useful component of a modular system for risk assessment of transgenic
organisms.

Verification of the integrated model reliability for predicting transgene
spread could enable the development of screening tools that effectively
gauge the relative risks posed by transgenic plant constructs under a host
of environmental scenarios. The availability of such a tool will provide
transparent, quantitative rationale for the nature of data that need to be
developed to support regulatory decision-making in the area of gene flow.

Within an environment where there are competing research needs for
transgenics, there is a continuing need for appropriate resource
prioritization. An integrated net fitness model evaluating relevant cases
should use cost/benefit analysis to support whether data generation to
reduce uncertainties regarding transgene spread into natural environments
should be a public research priority. Probably the greatest current impact
of the net fitness approach relates to transgenics in trees and grasses.
These technologies tend to involve fewer companies with fewer resources;
therefore, there is a need for a linkage of public and private enterprise
to assure that there are no unmet needs with respect to responsibly
advancing new innovations in plant biotechnology.

Transgenes have been deployed in Brassica and cotton for many years;
therefore, there are fairly rich experimental and monitoring data that
make these crops valuable cases for consideration. Linkage of the genetic
thrust of research to encompass ecological consequences and context will
better benefit regulatory decision-making and should attract greater
support within the research community.