Today in AgBioView: October 16, 2003:
* GM Crops Giant Monsanto Pulls Out of Europe
* UK: GM Tests 'Provide Few Answers'
* Banning GM Crops Not Enough to Save Wildlife
* Reponse to Farm Scale Evaluation in UK
* Contaminated Organic Maize Withdrawn in UK
* Margot Wallstrom
* To Sell GM Foods to Consumers, Stress the Benefits
* Status of GM Plants in Europe as Compared to US
* Greenpeace Bends Tax Laws to Fit Its Radical Agenda
* GM Corn--Environmental Benefits and Risks
GM Crops Giant Monsanto Pulls Out of Europe
- Robert Uhlig, Telegraph (UK), Oct. 16, 2003, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Monsanto, the American pioneer of genetically modified crops, said
yesterday it was pulling out of its European cereal seed business.
The move was widely seen as a sign that it has given up hopes of
introducing GM cereals in Europe. It announced its decision on the eve of
today's publication of results of farm-scale evaluations of GM crops, the
final and most influential part of the Government's investigation into
whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially.
The trials, which investigated the effect of GM maize, oilseed rape and
sugar beet on farmland wildlife and biodiversity, are expected to give a
mixed verdict on the technology.
Two other Government reports on the economic benefits of growing GM crops
and on scientific understanding of their environmental and health effects
have also failed to present a strong case for rushing into commercial GM
cultivation. There are also questions about the value of the GM maize
trials, which did not take the vital factor of crop yield into account.
Monsanto's announcement that it wants to sell its cereal development
stations at Cambridge and in France, Germany and the Czech Republic,
follows hardening resistance to GM crops throughout Europe. Insurers are
not prepared to underwrite GM farmers and 98 per cent of 37,000
participants in GM Nation?, a public consultation, told the Government
that they did not want GM crops or food.
Jeff Cox, Monsanto's general manager for northern Europe, said the
withdrawal from Europe was to allow the company to realign its business to
"focus on those projects that will best capitalise on in its market and
technological strengths". He said the company needed to save up to £65
million and would be making one in 11 of its workers redundant worldwide.
When Monsanto bought Plant Breeding International Cambridge from Unilever
in 1998, Hugh Grant, then president of Monsanto's agricultural division,
said that GM crops would be commercial reality in Britain by this year.
Anti-GM lobbyists said the withdrawal was a sign that Monsanto was
"throwing in the towel" in Europe. They said that with Canadian farmers
campaigning hard against licensing Monsanto's GM wheat, the company was
also facing severe resistance in North America.
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said Monsanto was "pulling out after
five years with no products to show and no test sites for Monsanto GM
cereals in Britain this year". He said: "They are clearly backing off GM
wheat in Europe, where until now they were the pioneer."
This week Margot Wallstrom, the EU's environment commissioner, accused
American biotechnology firms of lying about the benefits of GM technology
and "trying to force it on people".
UK: GM Tests 'Provide Few Answers'
- Alex Kirby, BBC News Online, bbc.co.uk, Oct. 16, 2003
The results of a three-year scientific experiment on the environmental
impact of genetically modified crops in the UK are due to be published.
But Thursday's announcement will disappoint hopes of a resolution of the
GM debate. There are concerns about the impact of GM crops on wildlife.
The field trials are expected to show two crops harm wildlife, with calls
for tests on a third to be repeated. Ministers will be unable to claim
the trials give GM crops a clear green light.
The results will be published in the journal Philosophical Transactions Of
the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. The trials, known as farm-scale
evaluations (FSEs), are the largest scientific experiment of their kind on
GM crops anywhere in the world.
The government opted for them in 1999, to assess the impact on wildlife of
plants genetically modified to tolerate certain herbicides. Three crops
were chosen: oilseed rape, sugar beet and maize, with the GM versions
planted alongside their conventional equivalents for comparison.
The trials were criticised as too narrowly focused, looking at what the GM
crops might do to farmland creatures, but ignoring other possible effects
such as damage to consumers' health, cross-pollination with other plants,
harm to soil organisms, and the long-term transfer of modified genes
creating so-called superweeds.
There were protests against the FSEs, and crops in some trial fields were
pulled up. But the government decided it had enough data to make the
experiment worthwhile and pressed ahead. In the last few months, though,
a series of reports has come out against the commercial planting of GM
crops in the UK, at least for now.
In July the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit said they would bring little
short-term benefit to the British economy, with lack of consumer demand
limiting farmers' willingness to grow them. It did say that future GM
crops might offer benefits to both farmers and consumers. Ten days later
the government's GM Science Review Panel said the crops posed a very low
risk to human health, but it expressed doubts about their possible
environmental impact, especially on wildlife.
The government's chief scientist told BBC News Online precaution should
prevail, and the existing moratorium on growing GM crops should stay in
place. In September the results of a nationwide debate showed "caution
and doubt, through suspicion and scepticism, to hostility and rejection"
towards GMs from the 40,000 people who took part.
The results of the farm scale evaluations are supposed to remain a secret
until they are announced. But press reports suggest they will say the GM
oilseed rape and modified beet seem to do more harm to plants and insects
than conventional crops, and should not be grown commercially. Opponents
of GMs say the maize tests were invalid and should be repeated, because
the herbicide used on the conventional control crop was atrazine, to be
phased out by the European Union.
They say its replacement may well be more benign to wildlife, cancelling
out the advantage which GM maize appears to enjoy. The biotechnology
industry says this is a red herring, arguing atrazine is used on only
about half the maize grown in the UK, and the tests were to see whether it
was better to apply a herbicide to germinating weeds or later in their
So the stage is set for another inconclusive attempt to decide for or
against growing GM crops in the UK. Neither side is holding its breath.
Banning GM Crops Not Enough to Save Wildlife
- Andy Coghlan , New Scientist, Oct. 15, 2003
Genetically modified crops are now grown in more than 16 countries. In
2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of land with
dozens of varieties of GM crops. Yet in the UK, the decision to approve or
reject the technology could hinge on the results, out on Thursday, of
four-year trials involving 280 fields of three GM crops.
Although these farm-scale evaluations are being portrayed as a test of the
environmental credentials of GM crops, it is really the weedkillers to
which they are resistant that are on trial.
The studies looked only at the effect that these herbicides had on
"wildlife" in fields, in the form of weeds and insects. But if the aim of
the exercise really is to save farmland wildlife, banning any of the GM
crops tested is unlikely to make much difference.
Non-GM herbicide-resistant plants
That is because herbicide use in the UK is soaring even before any GM
crops are introduced. And in the long term, farmers denied GM crops may
instead turn to non-GM crops bred to be resistant to herbicides. That
might seem like a good thing to those who oppose GM technology, but like
GM crops, the conventionally bred strains allow farmers to splash on the
Their impact on farmland wildlife in Europe could be worse than that of
the weedkiller-resistant GM crops, because many allow the use of more
noxious herbicides than GM strains. And as with GM crops, the
herbicide-resistance could spread to other crops and wild relatives.
Despite this, these crops do not have to undergo the same scrutiny as GM
crops because they are not genetically engineered. The only hurdle they
face in the UK is tests designed to confirm that they are indeed new
varieties. And while GM crops can be banned under world trade rules on the
grounds that they pose a threat to human health or the environment, the
same is not true of conventional herbicide-resistant crops.
"We're as concerned about them as GM crops," says Brian Johnson, an
adviser on GM technology to the conservation group English Nature. "The
same principles should be applied to all crops, irrespective of their
origin." The sequencing of plant genomes is making it much easier for
breeders to create non-GM plants with a desired trait, he points out.
None of these crops is yet grown in the UK, unless one counts maize, which
is naturally resistant to the herbicide atrazine. But one company has
already tried to market them. An application to sell
imidazolinone-resistant rapeseed in the UK was turned down in 1998 only
because the strain proved low-yielding when trialled (New Scientist print
edition, 27 February 1999).
This strain and others like it are already grown in several countries.
More are being developed. And companies are likely to redouble their
efforts if GM herbicide-resistant crops are banned in Europe. "We're
continually looking at GM and non-GM solutions. If the market is there,
we'd explore all avenues," a Syngenta spokesman told New Scientist.
"We would be foolish to turn our backs on the possibility that other
methods of plant breeding could generate the same results without the
transgenic approach," says a Monsanto spokesman. "The regulatory systems
effectively ignore all these other methods, and are driven by politics,
not science. As things stand, a non-GM plant would bypass the arguments
But so far Monsanto has been unable to create conventional crops resistant
to glyphosate, the herbicide it sells as Roundup. Glyphosate is regarded
as one of the most benign herbicides because it breaks down relatively
rapidly. That is not true of many of the herbicides to which companies
have been able to breed resistant crops.
For instance, almost all Australia's oilseed rape now consists of strains
bred to be resistant to broad-spectrum herbicides. The most popular,
accounting for 72 per cent of the total grown, is "TT canola", which
tolerates the triazine herbicides, including atrazine, an older herbicide
suspected of poisoning frogs and polluting rivers.
The original strains were created by researchers at the University of
Guelph in Ontario, Canada, who cross-bred commercial canolas with a weedy
relative, Brassica rapa, which had evolved resistance to triazines.
Another variety, "Clearfield" rapeseed, is resistant to the imidazolinone
family of weedkillers. Scientists made it by chemically mutating rapeseed
strains until they produced some strains resistant to the herbicide.
Both strains were approved without the fuss surrounding GM crops, despite
arguments that imidazolinones and atrazine are worse for the environment
than the herbicides such as glyphosate. "The two canolas that were
classically bred have greater problems with persistence of herbicides and
resistance than the GM ones do," says Rick Roush, now of the University of
California at Davis, who served for five years with Australia's GM
regulation body, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
"Atrazine is probably the most problematic of these two herbicides, as it
is mobile in water and frequently appears in groundwater and waterways,"
says Chris Preston of the University of Adelaide. "Atrazine is persistent
and in dry years may cause minor damage to subsequent wheat crops."
Imidazolinones, meanwhile, can last so long in soil that it is impossible
to grow a crop the following season. "Australians opposed to GM crops have
totally ignored the fact that most of our canola is already herbicide
tolerant, and have also ignored problems with currently used herbicides,"
In the UK the use of atrazine has increased from 34,000 kilograms a year
in 1992 to over 130,000 kg in 2002, mostly because more naturally
resistant maize and sweetcorn is being grown. Atrazine was one of the
"conventional" treatments against which GM glyphosate-resistant maize was
evaluated in the UK's farm-scale trials.
Critics say that glyphosate-resistant GM maize is bound to look good
compared with atrazine, and that the comparison is irrelevant because of
an impending European ban. But the UK has applied for an exemption from
the ban for sweetcorn.
The EU ban does mean that TT Canola is unlikely to be grown in Europe. But
Clearfield products are edging closer, with launch this year of
imidazolinone-resistant sunflowers in Turkey, and the development of
similar varieties for southern and eastern Europe. BASF, the company that
makes Clearfield strains, has just launched imidazolinone-resistant wheat
in Australia and may develop variants for the European market.
Even without herbicide-resistant crops, GM or otherwise, herbicide use has
soared in the UK, with glyphosate use more than quadrupling in a decade
(see graph). The biggest rise has been on farms, where farmers receive
subsidies to reduce overproduction by temporarily leaving fields fallow,
but keep these "set aside" fields free of weeds with glyphosate.
Glyphosate use has also soared on cereals such as wheat and barley, to
compensate for a side effect of a popular fungicide.
"There's no strategic control over technologies used in the countryside,"
says Johnson. "We have many well-meaning technologies, but not a means to
Reponse to Farm Scale Evaluation Studies on Gene Flow in UK
- Daniel Pearsall ; October 13, 2003
SCIMAC has issued the following initial statements in response to the
results of three new research projects published today by DEFRA. These
cover: (i) Gene flow at maize Farm-Scale Evaluation sites (ii)
Landscape-scale gene flow in oilseed rape (iii) Persistence of oilseed
rape volunteers in subsequent oilseed rape crops
(i) Gene flow studies at GM maize sites endorse SCIMAC separation
The separation distances set out in the SCIMAC guidelines and applied at
field-scale GM maize sites are more than adequate to reduce
cross-pollination below the 0.9% labelling threshold for accidental GM
SCIMAC has welcomed this central conclusion of gene flow studies conducted
at Farm-Scale Evaluation (FSE) sites, published by DEFRA today. A central
objective of this study was 'to ensure that the guidelines issued by
SCIMAC stipulate an effective separation distance for each of the crop
The research, conducted at 55 maize FSE sites by scientists from the
Central Science Laboratory and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,
concluded that 'an isolation distance of 24.4 metres would be required to
meet the 0.9% threshold recommended by the EU for food and feed.'
This is more than three times less than the 80 metres separation distance
specified by SCIMAC which would, in most cases, 'be sufficient to ensure
that levels were below a threshold of 0.3%,' according to the report. 'We
have long asserted that the distances set out in the SCIMAC guidelines
should be viewed as extremely precautionary, since they are based on the
best available scientific information of worst case scenarios,' said
SCIMAC chairman Dr Roger Turner.
'Historically, most of the scientific studies relating to
cross-pollination in maize have been conducted outside the UK, generally
under climatic conditions quite different to those experienced in Britain.
These are first large scale experiments to be carried out under UK growing
conditions, and give a huge boost to the prospects for successful
co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture in Britain.'
The report also endorses the 200 metre separation distance specified by
SCIMAC for sweetcorn and organic maize crops, but recommends that 'edge
effect and removal of the first few GM facing stands prior to harvest
should be considered'.
Dr Turner continued, 'SCIMAC has always said it will review the guidelines
on the basis of new scientific information. The data presented in this
latest report will certainly be included in our ongoing efforts to ensure
robust and practicable arrangements are in place to allow GM and non-GM
crops to co-exist, and so maintain choice for farmers and their
customers.' - ends -
(ii) Gene flow studies confirm practical basis for GM crop co-existence
The results of studies into long-distance gene flow in oilseed rape,
published by DEFRA today, confirm previous assumptions that
cross-pollination is characterised by a sharp initial decline followed by
a long tail. The research, conducted by scientists at the Scottish Crop
Research Institute, concludes that: '...even relatively small separation
distances reduce impurity through cross-pollination in fields of
fully-fertile oilseed rape varieties to a low level, around 0.1% or
SCIMAC has welcomed the report as a useful contribution to the debate
surrounding the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, and notes that the
report refutes the notion that co-existence would only be possible if
GM-free zones were adopted: 'If GM and non-GM crops were grown in the
same farming region, the management of cropping systems to ensure purity
at pre-determined levels should be possible.'
While the report confirms that relatively small separation distances would
be needed to reduce cross-pollination between fully fertile crops to a
very low level, it does highlight the need to consider the specific case
of crop varieties containing a male sterile component (known as varietal
associations or partially restored hybrids). Such varieties include plants
which are more susceptible to cross-pollination because they do not
produce their own pollen.
SCIMAC already specifies a greater separation distance for such varieties,
but will study this report carefully to review whether any further
measures to minimise potential cross-pollination may be required. The
extent of cross-pollination to fully-fertile and male-sterile plants under
whole field conditions will be further informed by the results of gene
flow studies carried out at FSE sites, which are expected to be published
SCIMAC Chairman Dr Roger Turner said: SCIMAC has always said it will
review the guidelines on the basis of new scientific information. The data
presented in this latest report will certainly be included in our ongoing
efforts to ensure robust and practicable arrangements are in place to
allow GM and non-GM crops to co-exist, and so maintain choice for farmers
and their customers.' -ends -
(iii) Field-scale data needed to test assumptions of modelling study
SCIMAC has welcomed publication by DEFRA of a modelling study into the
potential persistence of oilseed rape volunteers in subsequent oilseed
rape crops. However, SCIMAC cautioned about leaping to conclusions from
this model until the FSE results have evaluated the effectiveness of
practical volunteer control measures at a whole field scale.
Clearly this is not a human health, food or environmental safety issue,
but a marketing issue in the context of new GM traceability and labelling
rules which will require labelling of material containing more than 0.9%
adventitious GM presence.
In-field experience cannot always be replicated in modelling studies such
as this, and SCIMAC notes the report's confirmation that the model will
now be tested and refined against real data collected at FSE sites where
GM crops have been grown.
SCIMAC has taken specific measures within the FSEs to address the issue of
volunteers and their control - pre-harvest, during harvest and
post-harvest. In relation to this issue, DEFRA made the following
statement in July: 'Specific measures were applied at FSE sites, in
accordance with the guidelines drawn up by SCIMAC, to minimise the
potential for volunteers. The FSE results will provide an indication of
the effectiveness of these measures, and will therefore contribute to the
development of good agricultural practice in line with EU labelling
SCIMAC Chairman Dr Roger Turner said: 'SCIMAC has always said it will
review the guidelines on the basis of new scientific information. The data
presented in this latest report will certainly be included in our ongoing
efforts to ensure robust and practicable arrangements are in place to
allow GM and non-GM crops to co-exist, and so maintain choice for farmers
and their customers.'
The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) is a
grouping of industry organisations representing farmers, plant breeders,
the seed trade and biotechnology companies. Member organisations share a
commitment to the open, responsible and effective introduction of GM crops
in the UK.
For more information visit the SCIMAC web-site at www.scimac.org.uk
Contaminated Organic Maize Meal Products Withdrawn From Sale in UK
- Denis Murphy, University of Glamorgan, UK
Here are some shock/horror stories about serious food contamination in the
UK. The reports are from our national safety authority - the Food
Contaminated maize meal withdrawn from sale
More contaminated maize meal products withdrawn from sale
However, since the offending toxin-laden foods are "organic" and/or
"health foods", we have not had a whisper about them in the media.
Can you imagine the reaction if 12 GM food products were found to contain
as much as 40 times the EU recommended maximum dose of a dangerous fungal
- John W. Cross
The intemperate statements of Margot Wallstrom quoted in the AFP article
are very revealing of her background and philosophy.
The speech reported in the AFP article is also summarized on an official
EU website, "EUROPEAN PRESS REVIEW" so the AFP article is not an
exaggeration: " GM crop groups accused of 'trying to lie'. The debate over
GM crops has intensified after EU environment commissioner Margot
Wallstrom accused biotech companies of misleading people over the benefits
of the technology. (FT10, T12, DT2, G5, IND1, DE2, DML1)"
If readers of this Newsletter wish to make their feelings known, comments
to the EU Environmental Commission may be sent via the following web form:
Feedback to the EU can also be sent via their US website,
A photo of Ms Wallstrom can be found on
>> EU Commissioner Blasts 'lies' of US Biotech Firms
>> AFP , LONDON, Oct 15, 2003
>> argot Wallstrom, EU environment commissioner
>> The EU's Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, has accused US
>> biotech firms of trying to lie about the benefits of genetically
>> (GM) crops in an attempt to force them upon Europe.
To Sell GM Foods to Consumers, Stress the Benefits
Most Americans don't know they are eating genetically modified (GM) foods,
although consumer awareness of GM foods is growing. Those are some of the
findings from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,200 randomly selected
Americans, released today by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers' Cook
College. The study also found that the way to improve the chance that
consumers will embrace GM foods may be to stress the environmental
benefits and make the resulting foods more attractive to consumers.
The study found about half of the respondents (52%) were aware genetically
modified food products are currently for sale in supermarkets, an increase
since 2001 when a similar FPI study found only 41% of respondents were
aware of them. Just 26% of Americans believe they have ever eaten GM
When asked directly, 49% of Americans report that they approve of
plant-based GM foods, down 9% from 2001. About one quarter (27%) approve
of animal-based GM foods, unchanged from 2001.
The study found, however, that simply mentioning potential benefits of GM
foods significantly increased approval ratings. For example, of those who
disapproved of plant-based GM food products, 30% said they would purchase
a GM product if it contained less fat and 24% said they'd buy it if it
tasted better than ordinary food.
Consumers also said they favor GM foods that offer environmental benefits;
a third (31%) of those who initially disapproved of plant-based GM food
products said they would be willing to buy a GM product grown in a more
environmentally friendly way than ordinary food. Almost half (44%) of
those who initially disapproved of plant-based GM food products said they
would be willing to purchase them if they contained less pesticide residue
than ordinary food. Reduction in pesticide use is one of the main benefits
conferred by some of the existing GM corn and cotton crops that are
already widely planted.
Lower prices, interestingly, were not a selling point for GM foods. Only
12% of those who initially disapproved of plant-based GM technology said
they would buy GM foods if they were cheaper than ordinary foods.
Another interesting finding is that early in the interviews, before the
issue of genetic modification was raised, respondents were asked to say in
their own words what information they would like to see on food labels.
Almost no one said they would like to see labels contain information about
whether the food has GM ingredients (less than 1%), FPI reports. Yet,
later, when asked directly if they would like to see GM food labels, the
overwhelming majority of Americans (94%) said that they would.
Americans' basic knowledge about farming and food production was also
found to be low. Only about half (55%) of Americans know that most of the
corn grown in the US is used to feed animals such as cows, less than half
(46%) recognize that sugar is not the sweetener used in most processed
foods, and 16% incorrectly believe that peanuts grow on trees.
The study was funded by a grant from USDA under the Initiative for Future
Agriculture and Food Systems Program (IFAFS). Copies can be downloaded for
free at the Food Policy Institute Web site: www.foodpolicyinstitute.org
Overview of the Current Status of GM Plants in Europe as Compared to the
- P. Brandt, 2003. Journal of Plant Physiology 160: 735-742.
Genetically modified crops have been tested in 1,726 experimental releases
in the EU member states and in 7,815 experimental releases in the USA. The
global commercial cultivation area of genetically modified crops is likely
to reach 50 million hectares in 2001, however, the commercial production
of genetically modified crops in the EU amounts to only a few thousand
hectares and accounts for only some 0.03 % of the world production.
A significant gap exists between the more than fifty genetically modified
crop species already permitted to be cultivated and to be placed on the
market in the USA, Canada and other countries and the five genetically
modified crop species permitted for the same use in the EU member states,
which are still pending inclusion in the Common Catalogue of agricultural
plant species. The further development of the "green gene technology" in
the EU will be a matter of public acceptance and administrative
Greenpeace Bends Tax Laws to Fit Its Radical Agenda
- Doug Bandow, Oct.13, 2003 (sent by Apel)
Corporate misbehavior remains much in the news. One day it is Enron; next
it is the New York Stock Exchange. Big Labor, too, must routinely be
called to account.
Now comes a study, "Green-Peace, Dirty Money: Tax Violations in the World
of non-Profits," from Public Interest Watch demonstrating the importance
of scrutinizing non-profits. PIW charges the activist environmental group
Greenpeace with misusing tax-exempt donations for political purposes.
Greenpeace, it says, is "the most egregious offender we reviewed," and
thus warrants a thorough investigation. Greenpeace activists sometimes
risk life and limb trying to blockade bases and ships and invade
businesses and power plants. Alas, the group lacks an appreciation for the
importance of protecting humans as well as whales and plants.
There may be no more avid antagonist to technological innovation than
Greenpeace, which sees danger in every advance and most ferociously
opposes changes that offer the greatest potential benefits. If the
organization had its way, we'd all be living in primitive hovels with dirt
floors, sharing our single room with farm animals while enjoying the
wonders of cholera, smallpox and typhoid.
Greenpeace has long focused on genetically modified food, which offers the
prospect of more abundant and nutritious products more resistant to the
depredations of nature. The organization recently criticized
nanotechnology, which deals with the introduction of man-made
micromaterials into products.
Greenpeace advocates applying the reasonable sounding "precautionary
principle" to nanotechnology. But in the group's interpretation, this
would ban virtually all technological change because no one can guarantee
the absence of any possible problem in anything.
One of Greenpeace's founders three decades ago, Dr. Patrick Moore,
complains: The organization has adopted "a new philosophy of radical
environmentalism." As a result, he argues, Greenpeace's "agenda is a
greater threat to the global environment than that posed by mainstream
The group obviously opposes free markets, even though statist economic
systems have failed routinely and catastrophically. Indeed, the worst
environmental destruction occurred throughout the Soviet empire.
Greenpeace also opposes technology and science, even though innovation not
only benefits humanity but also betters the environment.
Further, the group is anti-democratic. Explains Moore, it believes
democracy to be too "human-centered." Indeed, Greenpeace is fundamentally
anti-civilization and anti-human, subverting "the most important lesson of
ecology; that we are all part of nature and interdependent with it."
While that is an agenda that few rational people support in a
"human-centered" democracy, the members of Greenpeace are and should be
free to advocate it. What they shouldn't be able to do is manipulate the
tax system to advance their agenda.
The IRS code allows 501©(3) organizations, to which contributions are tax
deductible, to promote educational and other (e.g., charitable,
educational, religious) purposes. The groups are not allowed to advance
candidates or influence legislation. The latter activities can be
conducted by so-called 501©(4) groups, which also are tax-exempt but to
whom contributions are not deductible.
Public Interest Watch contends that Greenpeace has used two organizations,
the Greenpeace Fund Inc. (3) and Greenpeace Inc. (4) to engage "in a form
of money laundering." That is, reports PIW, "they are used to illegally
funnel tax-exempt contributions into taxable program activities."
As a result, notes PIW, of $7.5 million raised by the Greenpeace Fund in
2000, the last year for which returns are available, $4.5 million went to
Greenpeace Inc., $3.7 million to Greenpeace International, and $.8 million
to foreign Greenpeace organizations (the 40 Greenpeace groups around the
world collectively spent about $143 million in 2000).
Money can be transferred from a 501©(3) to a 501©(4) organization, but
only if it is earmarked for legitimate educational expenditures. Notes
PIW, "This is not happening with the wholesale transfer of funds from
Greenpeace Fund Inc. to Greenpeace Inc." There is no firewall between the
groups; there is no designation of educational grant purpose.
In fact, concludes PIW: "it is near impossible for Greenpeace Fund Inc. to
argue that these funds were earmarked for charitable purposes because its
$3.7 million grant in 2000 was described in its Internal Revenue Service
return as being made for 'general support,' as opposed to specific program
activity." Most of what Greenpeace does could be counted as political
advocacy, always confrontational, frequently illegal and sometimes
Both organizations are headquartered in California and Greenpeace's
behavior violates state as well as federal law. Also at fault are
foundations that subsidize Greenpeace but "are responsible for verifying
that their funds are used appropriately," contends PIW.
Any institution, from corporation to union to non-profit, can abuse its
position. Alas, many "public interest" groups, such as Greenpeace, are
actively working against the interests of most people. And Greenpeace
apparently is twisting the tax law along the way.
Genetically Modified Corn--Environmental Benefits and Risks
- Virginia Gewin, PLoS Biology: Open-Access Journal, V.1, issue 1, Oct.
13, 2003 (Alert from Sonny Ramaswamy ).
Corn is one of humankind's earliest innovations. It was domesticated
10,000 years ago when humans learned to cross-pollinate plants and slowly
turned a scraggly nondescript grass called teosinte into plump, productive
modern corn. As needs change, so does plant breeding. Today, while biotech
super-giants manipulate corn genetics to satisfy farmer desires and a
global market, indigenous Mexican farmers do so to fulfill individual
needs. Although the tools differ, the goal remains the same--to cultivate
Plant breeding was once restricted to sexually compatible plants, and
generations of offspring were selectively bred to create unique varieties.
In fact, corn, along with rice and wheat--today's global crop
staples--would not exist without such techniques. With the goal of
ever-widening the pool of genetic diversity, conventional plant breeding
has gotten more technologically savvy in recent years. For example,
realizing that natural mutants often introduce valuable traits, scientists
turned to chemicals and irradiation to speed the creation of mutants. From
test-tube plants derived from sexually incompatible crosses to the use of
molecular genetic markers to identify interesting hereditary traits, the
divide between engineering and genetics was narrowing long before kingdom
boundaries were crossed.
But when geneticists began to explore microorganisms for traits of
interest--such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes that produce a protein
lethal to some crop pests--they triggered an uproar over ethical,
scientific, and environmental concerns that continues today. (See Box 1.)
Despite such discord, genetically modified (GM) crops have the fastest
adoption rate of any new technology in global agriculture simply because
farmers benefit directly from higher yields and lowered production costs.
(See Table 1.) To date, the two most prevalent GM crops traits are
Btderived insect resistance and herbicide resistance.
Since 1987, over 9,000 United States Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) permits have been issued to field-test GM crops. According
to APHIS, corn is the most tested plant. The International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications confirms that biotech corn is the
second-most common GM crop (after soybean), with 12.4 million hectares
planted in 2002. GM corn starch and soybean lecithin are just two of the
ingredients already found in 70% of the processed food supply.
With future incarnations on the horizon, GM corn remains a lightening rod
for debate. Embroiled in numerous controversies, corn has become biotech's
boon and bane.
As Danforth Center President Roger Beachy, the first to develop a
virus-resistant tomato, describes it, the first-generation GM crops were
intended to help farmers reduce not only the impact of pests, but also the
use of agrochemicals in modern crop productionöa legacy of the Green
Revolution. After a decade of cultivation, environmental benefits are
Bt corn reduces the need for pesticides, and while the primary benefit
comes largely during a heavy corn-borer infestation, an unpredictable
event, a secondary effect is that beneficial insects fare much better
under these conditions. The numbers are particularly impressive for Bt
cotton: the spraying of almost 2 million pounds of pesticides--roughly 50%
of previous usage--has been spared since the large-scale adoption of Bt
According to Leonard Gianessi, senior research associate at the National
Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, farmers who adopt GM crops make
more money in tougher times. Indeed, insect- and virus-resistance traits
have already saved several industries. Bt cotton is credited with reviving
the Alabama cotton industry, hard hit by uncontrollable bollworm
infestations. Likewise, genetically engineered papaya, made resistant to
the papaya ringspot virus, salvaged Hawaii's fifth largest crop industry.
Herbicide-resistant crops engendered a different reception. While GM
critics acknowledge that the use of a more benign herbicide, called by its
trade name Roundup, can have environmental benefits, the creation of a
market monopoly is a key criticism. However, the increased planting of
herbicide-resistant soybeans is an integral, but not sole, factor in the
increased adoption of no-till farming--a strategy that reduces soil
Surprise benefits have also occurred. According to the recent
International Council for Science (ICSU) review of GM crops,
disease-resistant corn crops may have lower levels of mycotoxins,
potentially carcinogenic compounds to humans. They result from fungal
activity in insect-infested corn crops. With fewer insect holes in plant
tissue, associated fungi are not able to invade and produce toxins.
While there is a growing amount of data documenting the intended
environmental benefits of GM crops, the potential risks are more elusive.
After seven years of GM crop production and no apparent health effects,
potential environmental risks--particularly gene flow into other
species--have eclipsed food safety as a primary concern. As pollen and
seeds move in the environment, they can transmit genetic traits to nearby
crops or wild relatives. Many self-pollinating crops, such as wheat,
barley, and potatoes, have a low frequency of gene flow, but the more
promiscuous, such as sugar beets and corn, merit greater concern.
Determining where genes flow is a thriving research avenue, but the real
question becomes "so what?" The risks associated with gene flow--such as
creating weeds from introduced traits, reducing biodiversity, or harming
nontarget species--are similar to those from conventionally bred crops. "I
wouldn't dismiss the ecological concerns out of hand, but I think they can
be exaggerated," says Gabrielle Persley, the ICSU report author.
There are few instances of crop plants becoming weeds. Bred so intensely
for hundreds of years, most crops cannot survive without human
intervention. Increased weediness could be conveyed, however, if the
plants are more fit or able to out-compete other crop species by producing
more seed, by dispersing pollen or seed further, or by growing more
vigorously in a specific environment. In fact, transgenic sunflowers can
produce over 50% more seed than traditional varieties. Additionally,
recent work shows that, compared to pollen, seeds are more likely to
spread GM sugar beet genes into wild relatives in western Europe. Norman
Ellstrand, plant geneticist at the University of California at Riverside,
has shown that gene flow from many conventionally bred crops increases the
weediness of nearby wild relatives.
For many domesticated crops, wild varieties do not exist in current areas
of cultivation. Nevertheless, regions where crop species originated are
particularly vulnerable to transgenic gene flow into local varieties, or
landraces. Some fear that transgenic varieties with a competitive
advantage might gradually displace valuable genetic diversity. For these
reasons, transgenic corn is prohibited in Mexico, home to over 100 unique
Despite the ban, transgenes have been found in Mexican corn. "We have in
several instances confirmed that there are transgenes in landraces of
maize in Oaxaca," says Ariel Alvarez-Morales, plant geneticist at the
Mexican Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) in Irapuato.
The ramifications of this will not be known for some time, but Luis
Herrera-Estrella, CINVESTAV's Director of Plant Biotechnology, is
convinced that these single gene traits will be of little consequence to
native Mexican varieties. "If Bt genes give an advantage to the farmer,
they will keep growing it. In that case it will not be bad," he says of
dynamically changing landraces. "Gene flow has been occurring for 50 years
from commercial lines to landraces." While admitting this, Ellstrand
points out that "if there are genes that you don't want to get into
landraces--this shows how easily they can get there." (See Box 2.)
Indeed, unintended impacts are a primary concern. The potential risk to
nontarget organisms took center stage when a 1999 paper in Nature
suggested monarch butterfly populations might be adversely affected by Bt
transgenes. Corrected by subsequent publications, the field experiments
did not support original laboratory results. But effects on other
nontarget organisms, such as soil microbes, remain a concern. When
microbial genetics research uncovered how genes could be transferred
between species in ways other than reproduction, so-called horizontal gene
transfer, it not only explained why microorganisms were so diverse, but
that microbes could potentially be endowed with GM plant DNA found in the
soil. "Although a theoretical possibility, there is no evidence that it
happens at any degree of frequency to be meaningful," says Persley.
Opinions differ on this, however, and seem to follow the United
States--European Union divide over the use of GM crops. Kaare Nielsen,
microbial geneticist at Norway's University of Troms¿, is one of the few
scientists to find examples of horizontal gene transfer. "There are
actually very few studies and most of the ones conducted have been on
first-generation plants," Nielsen explains. Given that plant DNA can last
in soil for over two years, Nielsen does not believe the possibility can
be dismissed and argues that long-term studies are necessary. Work
continues in this area in Europe.
The lack of baseline ecological data--even agreeing on what an appropriate
baseline is--presents a substantial knowledge gap to environmental impact
assessments. Scientists, including Nielsen, wonder whether there could be
unexpected risk factors. Allison Snow, weed expert at Ohio State
University, agrees with what many feel is the most important risk÷the
inability to anticipate all the effects. "Do we know all of the right
questions we should be asking?" she wonders, adding, "Genes are
complicated and can interact." For these reasons, identifying factors that
regulate weed and pest populations and determining how microbial community
changes affect larger ecosystems are important areas of research.
Do Risks Differ for Developing Nations?
To two academicians that kindled the biotech revolution, the real GM risks
lie in how science is misinterpreted and misused. In fact, much of the
currently conducted basic research is not likely to be applied in the near
future. Public concerns coupled with corporate consolidation created huge
roadblocks, especially in getting the technology to developing nations.
While Beachy blames the skyrocketing regulatory costs that "are due to
regulators who have not put into context this technology and its relative
safety," Richard Jefferson, chairman and chief executive officer of the
Center for the Application of Molecular Biology to International
Agriculture in Australia, fears that innovation has been stifled by
corporate short-sightedness. "The biggest risk is that [biotechnology]
maintains itself as a monolithic, expensive industry with untenable entry
barriers for smaller enterprises," he says.
Indeed, when does the risk of not using available technology factor into
the debate? (See Box 3.) Many scientists argue that genetic modification
can help to ensure food security in developing countries, specifically in
Africa. While more than 25% of the 2002 global biotech acreage was grown
in countries such as Argentina, China, and India, there is little applied
research on crops relevant to famine-prone African countries.
"Food security is not going to come from crops being marketed outside
Africa, like wheat or rice," says John Kilama, Uganda native and president
of the Global Bioscience Development Institute. He points out that of
traditional staple crops such as cow peas and millet, only cassava has
merited some publicly-funded research. Beachy estimates that it takes
between US$5 million and US$10 million to bring a GM crop to market. Given
regulatory costs, neither industry nor universities can afford to develop
products that do not have mass appeal. "If the crop is not worth that much
to the seed market, it's likely that we'll never see the varieties because
of the cost of regulation," he says.
To ensure a return on research investments, with the regulatory costs
often the biggest ticket item, developing blockbuster traits is a
priority. ãGiven the diversity of environments and cropping systems, there
are not many more blockbusters such as Roundup resistance in the wings,ä
says Jefferson. The alternative, he adds, is to make it cheaper to
innovate local varieties in ways that are likely to gain public
acceptance. (See Box 4.)
"The Green Revolution largely bypassed Africa," says Josette Lewis,
biotechnology advisor for the United States Agency for International
Development. Given monetary constraints that prevent access to many
biotechnologies, many scientists worry that the Gene Revolution might as
well. Looming trade issues coupled with food insecurity shape the debate
in Africa. Caught between the United States and European Union trade
disputes, sub-Saharan countries are eager to use any technology that will
enhance production without jeopardizing trade.
Increasingly, industry is responding to the developing nations' needs.
Both newly formed, the industry-focused African Agricultural Technology
Foundation and the Public-Sector Intellectual Property Resource for
Agriculture are attempting to ease cost restrictions and encourage access
to current and future patents. By entering into such agreements,
industries will be able to protect patent rights and commercially
important markets. Such partnerships are already working. The Syngenta
Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is working together with the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Kenyan
Agricultural Research Institute to overcome corn stemborer infestations in
Kenya (Figure 2). "CIMMYT hopes to have a handful of local Bt corn
varieties in farmers' fields by 2008," says the admittedly ambitious Dave
Hoisington, director of CIMMYT's Applied Biotechnology Center.
Collaborations between public and private sectors may be the only way to
navigate thorny patent issues and research crop varieties of interest to
"Agricultural biotechnology is here to stay" read a recent opinion piece
by Gianessi. No doubt he is correct. As genetic engineering continues to
evolve, transgenic methods will become just one of many tools. In fact,
some researchers are currently focusing their work on manipulating an
organism's own genetic code to achieve desired traits.
Scientific inquiry will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of such
technologies, realizing that there may never be enough evidence to ensure
zero risk. Only with data will tolerable levels of environmental risks be
determined--case by case. Indeed, the level of risks and benefits may
differ for developing nations, where decisions must be made in the face of
food security concerns. To many scientists, the risks associated with
forgoing genetic engineering far surpass any environmental risk associated
with its use and further development. However, all stakeholders must have
access to the tools in order to realize future benefits.
In the quest to feed the world, a few things are clear. Public outcries
will continue to vet the need and use of genetic engineering. Private
organizations will necessarily focus on research for profit, while
exploring collaborative prospects. Public initiatives, however, will
provide the critical bridge between science and global food security.
Although genetic engineering cannot be summarily accepted or rejected, any
lack of scientific risk now doesn't negate future concerns. And, no matter
what direction future research takes, corn will continue to be a
Box 1. Bt Technology
Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium, produces several crystal (Cry)
protein toxins that destroy the gut of invading pests, such as larval
caterpillars. So far, over 50 cry genes have been identified and found to
affect insect orders differently.
Considered safe to humans, mammals, and most insects, Bt has been a
popular pesticidal spray since the 1960s because it had little chance of
unintended effects. Engineering the gene into corn, however, caused an
unexpected public backlash. "We thought it was going to be the greatest
thing since sliced bread," says Guy Cardineau, agricultural
biotechnologist at Arizona State University. "Here's a way to withstand
insect pressure, eliminate the use of pesticides, and Bt spray was widely
used in organic agriculture," he adds. The Bt wrangle illustrates how
differently a product and a process can be regarded.
After the expensive development process, today's concern is that
broad-scale planting of Bt corn will render the toxin ineffective over
time. Pests can gradually build resistance to any pesticide, and so the
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that 20% of
Bt field areas be planted to non-Bt corn to avoid such pressures. But
humans have to follow the rules. A recent report from the Center for
Science in the Public Interest shows that almost 20% of farmers in the
United States Corn Belt are violating EPA standards by overplanting Bt
corn, causing some to question the regulations and enforcement that will
be necessary for certain GM crops.
Box 2. Pharma Corn
"The gene flow risk that keeps me awake at night is the possibility of
hybridization between crops engineered to manufacture poisons and related
crops intended for human consumption," says plant geneticist Norman
Ellstrand. Indeed, this application of GM crops seeks to turn corn into
cost-effective pharmaceutical factories and may bear the mark of
unacceptable risk. It is currently the subject of intense debate. An
open-pollinated crop, corn is known for its promiscuity--making it more
prone to gene flow risks than other crops. Genetic contamination takes on
a whole new meaning when the escapable trait could produce proteins to
treat diabetes or a hepatitis B vaccine.
Given that pharma corn demands multiple safety measures--including
production in remote areas, separate farm equipment, delayed planting to
offset pollination--many ask, "Why use corn?" "We know so much about corn
genetics," explains agricultural biotechnologist Guy Cardineau, "and it
naturally lends itself to production with kernel packets of protein that
can be stored indefinitely." A number of scientists and United States food
makers are not yet convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks and have
joined environmental groups in questioning the use of pharma corn.
Over 130 acres of pharma crop field-tests were planted in 2002. Several
products have moved on to clinical trials. Aware of concerns, the members
of the influential Biotechnology Industry Organization decided last
December to overturn its initial decision to remove pharma crops from the
United States Corn Belt states and voluntarily police their use. A
Colorado trial of corn producing a protein to treat cystic fibrosis
Box 3. Golden Rice
Current regulatory constraints have a choke-hold on innovations for
genetic modifications that seek to improve subsistence crops, such as
rice. Golden rice, yellowed in appearance because it is infused with the
vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, could save thousands of malnourished
people each year from blindness and the other vitamin Aödeficiency
diseases prevalent in Southeast Asia.
Intellectual property issues and opposition from anti-GM activists have
confounded the development for years. Faced with patent issues and
regulatory hurdles and costs, developer and academic researcher Ingo
Potrykus formed an alliance with Syngenta (then AstraZeneca Corporation)
to allow the free licensing of the patents to public research institutions
for humanitarian use. In addition, farmers making less than US$10,000 will
receive free golden rice seed.
After over a decade of work, golden rice is still not on the market. The
retired Potrykus is determined to bring this technology to farmers once it
passes regulatory field testing--an additional four-year delay that he
feels is scientifically unnecessary. "Nobody can construct even a
hypothetical risk to the environment from golden rice," he says, adding
that nutritional risks are nonexistent as well. He acknowledges, however,
that field tests will be beneficial for acceptance of this and future
bio-fortified products. ãI have experienced so much support in these
countries, I don't think it [the anti-GM lobby] will be able to stop this
project once it passes regulation," he says.
Box 4. Apomixis
One way to minimize the problems associated with gene flow is to introduce
sterility, such that pollen cannot transmit information. Richard Jefferson
has high hopes for an accessible, cheap way for farmers to produce
genetically superior seeds, called apomixis.
But similar concepts have been floated before. The controversial
terminator technology prevented gene flow, but it also outraged activists
because it kept farmers from reusing seed. Unlike terminator, apomixis is
"germinator" technology--avoiding fertilization altogether by producing
seeds without pollination. In effect, seeds can be natural clones of the
mother, instead of a genetic exchange between mother and father.
Therefore, hybrid quality can be maintained as farmers use seed year after
Although apomixis occurs naturally in about 400 plant species, Jefferson
believes that it can be successfully developed as a useful trait in other
crop plants. To ensure its widespread availability, Jefferson and
collaborators pledged not to create restrictive patent rights that could
block the development of apomixis.
Virginia Gewin is a freelance science journalist in Corvallis, Oregon,
United States of America. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.