Today in AgBioView: October 13, 2003:
* Basic fact about the greens...
* Personal politics
* NY Times: Genetically Modified Food and the Poor
* Scientist dismisses fear of GM 'superweed'
* MARKET SHOULD DECIDE THE FATE OF BIOTECH FOOD
* Typical Greenpeace Protest Leads to an Unusual Prosecution
* Scientists working on GE spuds
* Stronger Stuff: Transgenics Can Help In Biofortifcation Of Foods
* The Politics of Rapeseed
* Fear GM is creating anti-science nation
From: "Murray Lane"
Subject: Basic fact about the greens...
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2003 12:56:53 +1300
I particularly like the comment by Tawanda Zidenga in AgBioview October
"The Greens have learnt the basic fact, that a lie will travel half the
world, before the truth has had a chance to put its pants on. They never
have to prove their claims."
Tawanda Zidenga (firstname.lastname@example.org), Graduate Student (from Zimbabwe),
Plant Biotechnology Center, The Ohio State University
This quote should be used more widely.
From: "Nagib Nassar"
Subject: new issue
Date: Sun, 12 Oct 2003 20:44:10 -0300
Dear Friends and colleages
Pleased inform the 10th issue (October-December) of
www.geneconserve.pro.br is running now, contains the following articles
- Manihot rogersii: A new synthetic species by Nagib Nassar
- Acess to genetic resources: Lessons learned from Costa Rican Experiences
by Jorge A Cabrera
- Does recurrent selection improves apomixis in cassava?
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2003 10:50:42 -0400
From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: Henry Miller's cheap shot
AgBioview should be about food and crops, not personal aspects of US
"Too bad he [John Deutch] didn't pay more attention to anti-terrorism
Dr. Miller seems to have forgotten that 9-11 occurred 9 months after the
Bush administration took over the US Government. It was the higher-ups in
the FBI and CIA under the Bush administration that ignored the clues that
the US was about to be attacked that fateful day in September 2001.
During that time, individual FBI agents duly reported grave suspicions
about Arabs taking flying lessons and other suspicious acts to their
superiors in Washington. It was the higher-ups in Washington who told the
field agents to mind their own business.
John W. Cross
Genetically Modified Food and the Poor
New York Times
October 13, 2003
Brazil has wisely decided to end a three-year ban and allow its soybean
farmers to plant genetically modified crops that require less pesticide.
But the decision has been controversial. Few global issues provoke a more
emotional debate than that of genetically engineered crops, which contain
transplanted genes from other species to make them easier to grow or more
nutritious or flavorful. The evidence suggests that such foods are safe
(Americans have been eating them for six years) and could reduce world
But genetically modified crops have not overcome widespread resistance
mostly because the industry is tightly controlled by five conglomerates.
The companies must realize that relaxing their grip on the technology is
in their long-term interests.
One of the problems is that the companies have done nearly all the
research on the crops' safety on their own or financed it elsewhere. If
they want to build consumer confidence, they should embrace independent
tests of the products' safety and impact.
While safety concerns have been the focus of debate, the real problem is
that genetic engineering is hurting the poor. It makes cotton cheaper to
grow for highly subsidized American producers, further undercutting the
price of cotton and forcing West African producers out of business.
Poor countries should fight back by adopting the technology themselves.
Unfortunately, so far most of them have failed to approve it. African
farmers work tiny plots without the benefit of fertilizers, irrigation or
pesticides. The risks they face from genetic modification are remote ÷ but
unlike Europeans, the average African would benefit hugely from crops
engineered to resist bugs or need little water.
The other reason Africans do not grow such products is that the major
companies like Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta have no financial interest in
developing them for African crops ÷ and tightly control the technology.
There are two methods of transferring genes, for example. Both were
developed by universities, but industry giants now hold the licenses. The
companies permit others to do research with the technologies but want
control over any product commercialized as a result. Several poor nations
are trying to develop improved versions of local crops, but these efforts
have been crippled by the biotech companies' control over the technology.
The world shouldn't ban genetically modified food. It should develop a
cassava root resistant to the mealy bug and drought-proof corn.
Antiglobalization activists are right that corporate greed is the problem.
But they are wrong that genetically modified crops should be banned. The
real crime of genetic modification is not its risks but that it is
squandering its promise, widening the gap between rich and poor.
Scientist dismisses fear of GM 'superweed'
The Dominion Post (New Zealand)
October 14, 2003
By JON MORGAN
NEW ZEALAND can have no fears that superweeds will be created from
cross-pollination between genetically modified rape crops and weeds,
according to a Crop and Food Research scientist.
Hybrids can result but are "very very sterile", Dr Tony Conner said
He was commenting on a British study of non-GM oilseed rape crops and a
closely related weed, a wild turnip called bargeman's cabbage, that showed
hybrid plants were grown from naturally occurring cross pollination
between the two.
Dr Conner said it was a big step to say that this showed a new
weedkiller-resistant superweed would grow from the cross-pollination of GM
rape crops and the wild turnip.
"Our own studies have found the risk of gene transfer between the species
is very, very minimal. That does not eliminate the risk -- it is still
there and must be addressed when you release trangenical GM canola
[oilseed rape]." This would be "very vigorously" examined by the
Environmental Risk Management Authority, he said.
Dr Conner, a Crop and Food programme leader in plant gene technologies, is
studying the impact of genetic modification on plants. His own studies had
shown the cross-pollinated hybrids to be fertile. "They cannot transfer
their genes further. It is alarmist to say superweeds will be created and
there is no evidence superweeds actually exist."
The British study, while being credible and thorough, showed only that
non-GM rape cross-pollinated with bargeman's cabbage, he said. New Zealand
had both species, though our wild turnip was a different sub-species and
may not react the same way.
The study's leader, Mike Wilkinson of Reading University, told The
Independent newspaper that physical barriers such as isolation distances
-- buffer zones designed to stop pollen spreading from GM crops into the
wild -- would have only a limited impact on preventing hybridisation.
"This shows that isolation distances will reduce hybrid numbers but not
prevent hybridisation. It depends on what level of hybridisation you deem
acceptable but if you want to absolutely prevent hybrids then isolation
distances will not do so," Dr Wilkinson said. "Hybridisation is more or
less inevitable in the UK context."
Though the research was based on conventional oilseed rape, he said the
conclusions applied to any flow of genes that could be expected from the
GM varieties of oilseed rape that were undergoing farm-scale trials.
"Our findings are directly transferable to almost all sorts of genetically
modified oilseed rape. The only exceptions will be ones where there is
male sterility introduced into the crop."
MARKET SHOULD DECIDE THE FATE OF BIOTECH FOOD
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
October 11, 2003
By Fred Yoder
In a recent Forum column, Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic
Consumers Association, made some interesting assertions about the European
Union's moratorium on imported biotech foods.
First, he stated that if the World Trade Organization rules in favor of
the United States on this issue, it will force the European Union to
accept the importation of genetically engineered foods and crops from the
That is not true. All it will do is require the EU regulatory agencies to
assess the safety and approval of these new food products, based on sound
science. If the Europeans don't want any of these new products, they don't
have to buy them.
Second, Cummins stated that genetic engineering of proteins into food is
radical and unpredictable. On the contrary, it is much more predictable,
since you add one isolated gene, as opposed to adding thousands when you
crossbreed using conventional methods and then spend the next seven years
eliminating the undesirable genes out of the plant. Bacteria may be used
as a carrier to develop the proteins, much as new drugs are developed from
Third, Cummins stated that these new foods are not tested for safety. But
these new food products are the only foods that are thoroughly tested and
screened by our government agencies. Regular foods are not tested, some
readers might be surprised to learn. New biotech foods are indeed
subjected to strict compositional, toxicological and environmental
evaluation before ever being allowed on the market.
A great example of how well the system works is the 1996 incident Cummins
mentioned about the experimental soybean enhanced with a gene from a
Brazil nut. Contrary to what he stated, the new variety was screened early
in the developing stage of the soybean and never even came close to market
because it failed the initial tests for allergenicity.
Finally, Cummins indicated that pharmaceutical corn crops in Nebraska and
Iowa contaminated nongenetically engineered crops destined for the food
chain. Actually, the year after raising the pharma crop, there were
volunteer corn plants in the soybean crop, which were removed but not
destroyed according to U.S. Department of Agriculture rules. Hence, the
entire 5-acre crop of soybeans, which were destined for livestock feed and
subsequently blended into other soybeans at a local elevator, were
Rigid rules are in place to guard against co-mingling of these crops.
Again, the system worked.
The consumer should and does have the choice of what is purchased for food
in this country. If one wants nonbiotech food, all one has to do is buy
clearly labeled organic products. But having that choice is imperative.
For now, the consumers in the European Union have no choice. Let European
consumers decide what they want by putting both products on the shelf. The
market will take care of itself.
President, National Corn Growers Association
Typical Greenpeace Protest Leads to an Unusual Prosecution
The New York Times
October 11, 2003
By Adam Liptak
Three miles off the Florida coast in April of 2002, two Greenpeace
activists clambered from an inflatable rubber speedboat onto a cargo ship.
They were detained before they could unfurl a banner, spent the weekend in
custody and two months later were sentenced to time served for boarding
the ship without permission.
It was a routine act of civil disobedience until, 15 months after the
incident, federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Greenpeace itself for
authorizing the boarding. The group says the indictment represents a
turning point in the history of American dissent.
"Never before has our government criminally prosecuted an entire
organization for the free speech activities of its supporters," said John
Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace in the United States.
In court papers, the organization's lawyers warned that the prosecution
"could significantly affect our nation's tradition of civil protest and
civil disobedience, a tradition that has endured from the Boston Tea Party
through the modern civil rights movement."
Legal experts and historians said that the prosecution might not be
unprecedented, citing legal efforts by state prosecutors in the South to
harass the N.A.A.C.P. in the 1950's and 1960's. But they said it was both
unusual and questionable.
"There is not only the suspicion but also perhaps the reality that the
purpose of the prosecution is to inhibit First Amendment activities," said
Bruce S. Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh
who has studied the history of civil disobedience in America.
Matthew Dates, a spokesman for the United States attorney's office in
Miami, declined to respond to questions about whether the prosecution was
unusual or politically motivated. In court papers, prosecutors defended
"The heart of Greenpeace's mission," they wrote, "is the violation of the
The trial is scheduled for December.
Greenpeace, a corporation, cannot, of course, serve prison time. But, it
can be put on probation, requiring it to report to the government about
its activities and jeopardizing its tax-exempt status. If convicted of the
misdemeanor charge, Greenpeace could also face a $10,000 fine.
The group is charged with violating an obscure 1872 law intended for
proprietors of boarding houses who preyed on sailors returning to port. It
forbids the unauthorized boarding of "any vessel about to arrive at the
place of her destination."
The last court decision concerning the law, from 1890, said it was meant
to prevent "sailor-mongers" from luring crews to boarding houses "by the
help of intoxicants and the use of other means, often savoring of
Mr. Passacantando said he had authorized the boarding in 2002. "The buck
does stop with me," he said.
Greenpeace maintains that the ship in question was illegally importing
mahogany from Brazil. The harvesting and shipment of mahogany is governed
by stringent international rules meant to prevent damage to the Amazon's
environment. In the indictment, federal prosecutors said that Greenpeace's
information was mistaken. A spokesman for the ship's owner, APL Ltd., did
not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Passacantando said the prosecution of the organization was unwarranted
and part of what he called Attorney General John Ashcroft's attack on
civil liberties. He acknowledged, however, the importance of ensuring the
safety of the nation's ports in light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
"If we were to lose this trial," he said, "it would have chilling effect
on Greenpeace and on other groups that exercise their First Amendment
right aggressively. The federal government is using 9/11 to come down
harder on an action like this, which was a good and dignified and peaceful
Even a minor criminal conviction, legal experts said, could have profound
"You in effect have a record," said Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the
University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. "It has a chilling
In their legal papers, prosecutors acknowledged that a conviction could
have tax consequences and "a chilling effect on First Amendment rights."
Still, they opposed the organization's request for a jury trial, which is
ordinarily available only where the defendant faces more than six months
The potential loss of constitutional rights, prosecutors wrote, does not
require a jury. They cited a misdemeanor domestic violence prosecution in
which the defendant was denied a jury trial although he faced losing his
license to carry a gun. In contrast to speculation about the impact of a
conviction on Greenpeace's First Amendment rights, prosecutors wrote, the
defendant in the gun case "was not entitled to a jury trial even though he
was definitely faced with loss of his Second Amendment rights."
Scientists working on GE spuds
Oct 13, 2003
A pest-resistant potato crop could be one of the first ready for
commercial release when the GE moratorium is lifted at the end of the
The potatoes are genetically modified with a bacteria which makes the
leaves toxic to moth pests.
But scientists working on the Christchurch crop say it may still be years
before the potatoes make it onto shop shelves.
"When the maggots hatch out, they burrow into the potato leaf and what we
want is a specific GM event that kills that insect," says Tony Connor of
Crop and Food. So far, it has been successful.
Tests on a normal potato crop found 800 of the 3,000 plants were maggot
infested. In the GM variety, it was only 1 in 3,000.
Connor hopes there could be other benefits.
"We are looking at ways to modify the starch so that it is not so
digestible therefore you don't gain weight from eating the tubers, but you
get the benefit of roughage in your diet to help overcome incidence of
Four years ago the crop was hit by anti-GE activists, however they are
back on track and looking to move to farm scale trials.
It is the kind of research that has some consumers worried about what they
may end up buying in the shops.
But the government says it will not be a free-for-all when the GE ban is
lifted on October 29. Instead, the government says it will be a slow and
Environment Minister Marian Hobbs says: "New Zealanders will not find
crops out there growing everywhere of GM this summer, next summer, the
summer after. They might find a few paddocks somewhere with some
conditions set around it. We want this not because we are buddying up to
Monsanto in the US, we want it for us. It will pay for health, for
education and the things we want."
But anti-GE lobbyists are not giving up.
Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, says it is vital that the
climate of severe scrutiny continues if multinational and New Zealand
companies want to release GE.
"That will make some of the shonkiest ones think twice," says Fitzsimons.
Connor says they are taking into account consumer fears. He says the
insect-resistent gene of the potato will only work in the foliage of the
plant and not underground in the tuber.
And that is crucial for finding a market, given polls show 68% of New
Zealanders are still against commercial GE release.
Stronger Stuff: Transgenics Can Help In Biofortifcation Of Foods
October 13, 2003
While research activities in agri-biotechnology and transgenics to improve
resistance in crop varieties are gaining momentum, the tools for
transgenics or rDNA (recombinant DNA) technology has opened up newer areas
for research, such as biofortification of foods.
Transgenics or genetic variability is the basic raw material for all
breeding programmes and the next generation in transgenics research
includes enhanced nutritional content, functional foods and
phytoceuticals, plant-derived plastics and polymers and plant-based
vaccines, according to Dr William D Dar, director general of International
Crops Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (Icrisat), Hyderabad.
Expressing his views on the role of transgenics in modern biotechnology,
Dr Dar said that research on biofortification of foods like golden rice,
golden mustard, golden peanuts, etc, have resulted in incorporating
value-adds like vitamin A enrichment, beta carotene and other essential
While the use of biotechnology in agriculture helps increase productivity,
genetically modified crops would have enhanced resistance to major
diseases and pests, thus reducing the dependence on conventional methods
of pest and disease control.
However, ăconventional breeding methods have resulted in some initial
gains but with the limited variability in the available genotypes,
possibilities of further breakthroughs are remote,ä says Dr Dar.
Agricultural transgenic technology uses the tools of modern genetics to
add, remove or enhance selected genes to achieve desired traits in plants
and animals, he explained.
In fact, the gene containing the desired traits can be functionally
introduced into the crop and the dosage can be effectively controlled,
says Dr KK Sharma, a transgenic expert at Icrisat.
Dr Sharma also said that there is a need for extensive testing and care
should be taken in gene transfer to ensure that non-target species are not
While only 0.1 million hectares of land area was under cultivation using
transgenic crops in 2002, this is expected to increase by more than 20 per
cent in about three years time.
Besides cotton, crops like maize, potato, groundnut, chickpea are also
undergoing trials in different levels in order to be ready for final
commercialisation, Dr Sharma said. These transgenic crops are expected to
enter the market in about three to five years time.
The Politics of Rapeseed
Tech Central Station
By Meghan Sapp
October 13, 2003
Belgium is one of those countries people typically forget if they even
knew about it in the first place. It's small and usually gets overshadowed
by the big guys. For example, Belgium was against the war in Iraq, and
though some Belgians say they had the idea before France and Germany,
nobody seemed to care.
They're still ticked off here that the French get the credit for French
fries, which are actually of Belgian origin. So when the US Congress and
other Americans started calling them Freedom Fries as a slap to the
French, they were inadvertently applying a double insult to Belgians.
Even when it comes to an issue as emotionally and politically charged as
genetically modified organisms, no one seemed to notice that Belgium was
on the brink last Wednesday of approving production of the first GM crop
in the EU since 1998. Perhaps most people forgot to check the agenda and
instead were waiting for the UK's upcoming rejection of the same GM
I myself heard about the meeting only the day before from some anti-GMO
campaigners. But the expected swarm of protesters didn't arrive, the cops
stayed in their van and the onslaught of press and paparazzi consisted of
two Belgian TV stations and me.
The rumors during the previous few days would have warranted front page
news if people had been listening. First, the word was that Belgium,
incredibly, was going to approve the seed. A couple of days later, the
story changed: the OK would come only if the UK approved it as well --
something everyone knows won't happen.
It's something of a typically Belgians political move: make a stand and
say "No" to GMOs without being the bad guy.
The country's Biosafety Advisory Council (SBB) passes its approval on to
the environment minister, who gets the rest of the member states to sign
off on it. But even the SBB is aware that everyone would assume Belgium
was following the UK's lead. Early leaks have revealed that the UK study
will argue the rapeseed damages agricultural ecology.
The head of SBB's secretariat, William Moens, said after the meeting, "The
report has been analyzed by the committee and they have identified some
weakness in the ecological report of the dossier." Before he could take
another breath, he continued, "The questions have nothing to do with the
The politics are sensitive. Friends of the Earth argues that if Belgium
approves the seed it would make it a lot harder for the UK to reject it.
Other enviros say that if Belgium approved it despite the UK's disapproval
that they would be turning their backs on science. That's a laugh. The GM
debate in Europe has never been about science.
Perhaps it's true that the ecological "weakness" allegedly detected by the
Belgians is completely unrelated to what the British have found, but that
seems entirely unlikely. Could it have anything to do with the fact that
the president of the SBB is a former Greenpeace activist?
Equally likely is that there is some debate among the members of the
committee. The Greenpeace veteran pitted against the Secretariat, who said
he doesn't understand why this is such a big deal since the rapeseed has
been legal in the US and Canada for about five years.
Moens is on the green hit-list for being pro-GMO -- or at least not
sufficiently anti-GMO. He said after the meeting that a lot of time was
spent discussing "internal matters" and not just the Bayer Cropscience
By sending the report on the rapeseed back for another review at the next
meeting, which theoretically would have resolved the ecological "weakness"
issue, the Belgians have bought themselves just enough time to not have to
prove they were born without a backbone.
The next meeting of the SBB is November 6. The U.K. report comes out
So the Belgians have nearly three weeks to hear what the Brits say and
manipulate the language so they don't sound like English copycats with
French or Dutch accents. The UK report is expected to approve a GM maize,
however, which will then be put to the European Union for approval,
thereby beating Belgium to the punch.
Such a lost opportunity for the world to take notice of a tiny country.
Fear GM is creating anti-science nation
New Zealand Herald
October 14, 2003
By SIMON COLLINS
The country's top scientist says campaigners against genetic modification
have created a climate of "anti-science" in New Zealand.
Dr Jim Watson, president of the Royal Society of New Zealand and chief
executive of Genesis Research and Development, says the backlash against
science is a barrier to investment in high-tech businesses.
He told the Australasian Research Management Society, holding its
conference in New Zealand for the first time in Auckland yesterday, that
delegates might have been "stunned" to see between 15,000 and 30,000
people marching up Queen St on Saturday against GM.
"We have been very successful at polarising a major debate. The
polarisation is the thing that stood out to me on Saturday," he said.
"What we have done is we have actually built a climate of anti-science,
and I think that is a very, very critical thing for us to look at ...
"I think today we have confused GM with science. That is a big barrier to
Dr Watson's own company, Genesis, is working with US partners
International Paper and MeadWestvaco and local company Rubicon to
genetically modify pine trees to improve their quality and growth rates
and reduce the chemicals required in timber processing.
A subsidiary company, AgriGenesis, was set up this year to develop ethanol
fuels from plants.
Dr Watson said he was not against protests, but felt the ethics involved
in GM were being distorted.
All the energy of public discussion was going into GM when there were
other problems crying out for science-based solutions, such as pollution
in the Rotorua lakes and the threat to Lake Taupo from present farming
"We are so intent on this particular GE debate, and as a community we are
so polarised, that we are seeing a tragedy unfolding [in the lakes] before
The vice-chancellor of Victoria University, Dr Stuart McCutcheon, told the
conference GM protesters were making "unscientific" claims, such as the
implication in a billboard for Mothers Against Genetic Engineering (Madge)
that women might be genetically modified to have four breasts.
"No one stands up and says that is simply not the case," he said.
"To be an anti-GM terrorist is actually quite a cool thing if you are a
13- or 14-year-old. I know because I've got a 13-year-old."
Madge founder Alannah Currie said the argument against GM was not against
"It's about where science is placed within society and whether a small
group of scientists or science entrepreneurs should be dictating what the
country wants as a whole," she said.
"There are people," she said, "who should be working with scientists to
get together to work out what it is that we want.
"If there is an anti-science situation, then they have created it for
themselves by not communicating with the public."