Today in AgBioView: October 31, 2003:
* Open Letter to Tony Blair
* Scientists Attack Blair over GM
* British Farm Scale Trials and Biodiversity
* Reasoned Dialogue Must Prevail Over Acts of Destruction
* On Seed Saving: Leave it the Pros
* Re: Biotech and Genetic Diversity
* GM Food and Cloning, Is That All to Biotech?
* Biotech to Boost Trade Ties - Expert
* Plant Biotechnology Gains Momentum All Over the World
* Truth In Headlines
* Borlaug Discusses Future World Food Production At Seminar
* Plants that Will Save Lives and Eyes
* Safety, Risk and The Precautionary Principle
* GM Technology and You
* Four Breasts Good, Two Breasts Bad!
Open Letter to Tony Blair
- Denis Murphy, Univ Glamorgan (UK)
Today, Prime Minister Tony Blair received a letter (copy attached) about
the GM science review from the 100 leading UK bioscientists.
As stated in Todays 'Times' "More than 100 leading scientists have made a
once-in-a-generation appeal to
Tony Blair to save British science from a tide of neglect and abuse that
is driving the brightest young brains abroad".
The letter is also reported in the Western Mail:
Open Letter About őGM‚ from UK Scientists to HM Government
- From Professor Derek Burke and others, 13 Pretoria Road, Cambridge CB4
1HD; 30th October 2003
Dear Prime Minister
The results of the Farm Scale Evaluations of three GM crops announced on
16th October were reported across the media as „the end of GM in the UKš.
In fact the FSEs did not assess the effects of genetically modifying the
crops, but rather the impact of different types of weed control. They had
little to do with genetic modification, its processes or potential.
However the government‚s reaction to the latest misleading reports on GM
was to remain silent. Since 1999, the government has sponsored several
protracted deliberations on GM but has consistently neglected
opportunities to address any of the unsubstantiated assertions about the
process of genetic modification and possible risks.
We feel you should be aware of the consequences of this ongoing failure to
respond and to give a lead:
Some scientists are leaving the UK, but many more are thoroughly
demoralised by hostility to the work they do, which is continually
misrepresented and even sabotaged. This is despite the new scientific
opportunities afforded by developments like genomics. Those who have
contributed many hours to public communication and government-sponsored
deliberations feel undermined by the government‚s failure to contradict
false claims about őFrankenfoods‚, health risks and ősuperweeds‚.
2. Declining contribution to scientific development
Work on the basic science of genetic engineering and its applications to
plants is being scaled down. This will inhibit our ability to contribute
to scientific knowledge internationally, and to meet challenges like yield
improvement, drought tolerance and reduced reliance on pesticides.
The government‚s many initiatives in this prolonged deliberation on GM
crops have been structured in a way that makes it impossible to clarify
the nature of the scientific work or its opportunities. Genetic
engineering of plants has been reduced to a matter of consumer preference;
the public has been misinformed; and the efforts of scientists to
communicate about genetic engineering have been misused.
For those of us who have spent our lives ődoing research, publishing
research and teaching research‚ in the UK, it is distressing to experience
such a backward slide; for others of us, and our students just starting
out, it is deeply discouraging. More importantly, for society as a whole,
if the same framework is applied in future decision-making, we risk seeing
other technologies lose out to prejudice and procrastination.
Professor Derek C. Burke
Professor and Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (1987-1995)
Chairman ACNFP (1987-1997)
This letter has been signed by the 114 individuals above in a personal
capacity and not on behalf of their institutions or funding bodies.
Scientists Attack Blair over GM
- BBC News, Oct. 31, 2003 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3229685.stm
More than a hundred scientists have written to Tony Blair, complaining
about the handling of the public debate on genetically modified crops.
The group criticised ministers for not correcting "misleading" reports
about GM technology in the media.
They say they have been "demoralised" by the hostility to their work, and
said public meetings had been hijacked. Downing Street said it was
awaiting a report from its scientific advisers on GM before it could
comment on studies.
False claims. The scientists include Lord Robert Winston, Professor Lewis
Wolpert of University College London (UCL), Sir Richard Sykes of Imperial
College London, Dame Bridget Ogilvie of UCL and Professor Kay Davies of
the University of Oxford.
They say their letter is an indication of the frustration felt by many in
the research community. The signatories said they had hoped that
participating in the GM debate would help inform the public. But they
feel "undermined" by the government's failure to correct false claims, the
They set up meetings which were rallying groups for the anti-GM people,
and they were hijacked. They felt the process of consultation had been
hijacked by anti-GM groups, with scientists, in the words of one of the
signatories, "hung out to dry". If the same method of public consultation
continues to be used other technologies could lose out to "prejudice and
procrastination", they added.
Downing Street added that it recognised the vital contribution of the
biotechnology industry, but said that its approach to GM was a
A three-year trial of GM crops recently concluded that two out of three of
the varieties tested were worse for wildlife than ordinary crops.
Professor Derek Burke, one of those involved in the letter to Mr Blair,
said scientists had not had the chance to put their case properly. He
said: "The fault lies with the politicians who have not set up a level
playing field for the debate."
Professor Burke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They set up meetings
which were rallying groups for the anti-GM people, and they were hijacked.
"We want arguments based on evidence and what we are getting is arguments
based on opinion. "We are saying to Tony Blair loud and clear that the
science community is disaffected."
'Case by case'
A Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said the
government had not commented on the results of the farm-scale evaluation
because they were being considered by the expert committee Acre (Advisory
Committee on Releases to the Environment).
"Acre's advice will inform the decision the government has to make on
whether GM crops should be grown commercially in the UK," the spokesman
said. "We recognise that the bio-technology industry is a vital part of
the country's economy. However our approach to GM is based on the
precautionary principle. "Each GM crop application is considered on a
case by case basis."
British Farm Scale Trials and Biodiversity
- Chris Preston, Senior Lecturer, Weed Management, University of Adelaide,
Having stood in wheat fields in the UK, US and Australia and spoken to
growers and industry in all three places, I can understand in part why the
cultural divide between the UK and North America (and Australia) over
farmland biodiversity occurs (UK Ecologist, Agbioview 28th October). I am
not a "biotechnologist", my work is more ecological than biotechnological,
but I have been one of the people saying "herbicides are designed to kill
There are a number of points we need to keep in mind in this discussion
and our UK ecologist has timely reminded us of some of these. In North
America the great majority of native biodiversity is not on farms (and
this is even more stark in Australia). In these counties, the concern is
largely about native biodiversity. In the UK there is increasing interest
in farms as sources of biodiversity and, as was pointed out by Alex Avery,
this is of course man-made biodiversity. Given that cropping at some scale
has been occurring in the UK for many centuries, man-made biodiversity is
important in how people view their world.
I would see a range of ways of achieving the protection of farmland
biodiversity. One option is of course to require farmers to grow weeds in
their crops. If indeed this is the intention, it should be stated and
should be pursued in a rational way. Another alternative, and one already
in operation, is the use of set-aside land and other initiatives to reduce
the area of land under cropping.
Presumably, if GM crops allowed growers to make more money off less land
through higher yields or better weed control, then more land could be set
aside. A third way to change biodiversity is to change the crop mix. What
the FSE has shown more clearly than anything else is that different crop
species have different amounts of biodiversity. On a great many of the
measures made, GM oilseed rape was as good or better than non-GM beets and
non-GM maize. It was worse than non-GM oilseed rape on only some of the
measures: most importantly weed biomass, weed seed rain and numbers of
butterflies. Therefore, one simple way to increase farmland biodiversity
is to increase the area sown to oilseed rape (GM or otherwise).
It seems to me, sitting outside the UK, that a double standard is being
advocated in sections of the UK Press and elsewhere. GM crops should not
be grown because the herbicides used with them will reduce the number of
weeds in crops. Yet new effective herbicides are introduced all the time
with no clamor that they should be banned because they reduce farmland
biodiversity. Also nobody is advocating a ban of specific crop species
that also reduce the number of weeds because there are highly effective
herbicides that can already be used in them.
I suspect two things are making it difficult for those in North America
(and elsewhere) to understand the clamor in the UK with regard to the
results of the FSE. The first is the notion that you want to have weeds
growing in the crop when you could quite easily create situations where
they grow outside the crop and secondly the appearance of a double
standard with regard to GM crops versus equally effective herbicides used
in other crops.
Reasoned Dialogue Must Prevail Over Acts of Destruction
- New Zealand Herald, Oct. 2003
Do not expect the GM debate to expire with the lifting of the moratorium
on the commercial release of genetically modified organisms. Values
debates do not neatly coincide with legislative decisions. People opposed
to abortion, for example, did not become reconciled when the
decriminalisation law was passed.
We should not, therefore, expect those absolutely opposed to the
responsible use of GM techniques to lessen their opposition simply because
a royal commission looking at the scientific facts and considering our
nation's spiritual and cultural values, a parliamentary select committee
and Parliament itself (by an overwhelming pan-party vote and following a
general election in which genetic modification was a central issue) have
all agreed New Zealand must proceed with caution.
However, two questions merit closer attention. First, how tolerant will
we be as a society of those who act outside the law to express their
continuing opposition? And, secondly, can we better manage the process of
debating similarly complex issues of values, culture and science? These
are practical questions for New Zealand's science entities.
We have seen scientists (and their families) harassed, their research
literally uprooted and dispersed, property destroyed and even acid thrown
at their vehicles by those who disagree with the right to do approved
research. It is little wonder that some scientists have moved abroad -
taking their work, knowledge and capabilities with them. They are, in any
sense, refugees from this nation.
Laboratories have been vandalised. We expect GM work will be the target of
deliberate campaigns of destruction by a few people. The aim is to prevent
legally and scientifically sanctioned work by forcing fear or despair upon
the researchers. However equivocal any of us might be about GM, we should
not give comfort and support to those who deliberately wreak destruction
and attack others' work or personal safety.
Wiser heads must counsel those considering direct action that it is
neither heroic nor legitimate, and might well be counter-productive. As
New Zealanders we are good at expressing our views, but abhor those who
step beyond the bounds. The news media, petitions, street marches and
even the courts provide forums - and there is the ultimate sanction of the
Anti-GM protests have paled in comparison to the 1981 Springbok tour and
anti-Vietnam and anti-nuclear protests, both in numbers and the
polarisation of views. While there are some concerns, it seems New
Zealanders are willing to give the Environmental Risk Management Authority
process a fair go. The second question is about what we might have
learned from the GM debate, and how we might do better in this and similar
The key lesson is the need to move from talking past each other or over
the heads of others to true dialogue. It will abandon the "them and us"
approach, which implies a struggle between science and society. Science is
part and parcel of society, underpinning our wealth and well-being. The
adversarial approach can lead to science enterprises keeping their
research secretive and hoping a "trust me" approach will work. Clearly it
Instead, let's encourage more engagement, earlier. Then it can be seen as
an exploration of possibilities for wider society to begin considering
risk and benefit. At present, it seems to open the research to the
prospect of immediate guillotining. Let's also abandon stereotypes that
portray scientists as nasty, profit-driven and mercenary, rather than
people contributing their skills to build a better country. Similar
caricatures exist about those who have other views - ill-informed and
willing to subvert the facts to fit a particular world view.
Our science environment is small, so unethical behaviour is easily
spotted. Our publicly owned entities are driven by scientific excellence
and ethical and social responsibility, not profit. Our scientists are
proud of their independence and integrity.
Dialogue will uncover shared concerns, such as the ownership of GM
technologies. Should this social or political issue, related only to some
uses, prevent all GM research, even that which is publicly owned? Let's
clarify what is germane.
How we debate is important. At times it has been like the fabled
Englishman trying to make himself understood in a foreign shop - he just
shouts louder. But louder repetition of the facts is not likely to
persuade those with a different view that we do not bother to understand.
Worse, it does nothing to engage a wider range of the public.
We need to make space for those who are not activists (for or against) -
and who might be less well informed - to learn, reflect and add their
voice. The royal commission process provides a good model.
On Seed Saving - Leave it the Pros
- Jonathan Gressel
Just remember the movie "The Bad Seed" - don't save bad seed, including
psychopaths - Farmers know better than to listen to who promote keeping
bad seed instead of obtaining good. The commercial seed supplier typically
coats seed with insecticide and fungicide, and has safe facilities to do
so, facilities unavailable to most of the world's farmers. I have seen
farmers coat themselves while coating seed with pesticides.
Good seeds are produced by professionals. - for the same reason that most
of use do not bake our own bread...., make our own movies, or brew our own
beer - we leave it to pros.
>>Today in AgBioView from AgBioWorld September 29, 2003:
>>* On Seed Saving - Preston and DeGregori
Re: Biotech and Genetic Diversity
- Nagib Nassar
Your article "Biotechnology and Genetic diversity" is very interesting.
I wish to add though: Gene flow from the cultivated to the wild depends on
a fourth factor not mentioned: the ability of the hybrid to grow and form
seed! The hybridization and fertilization may occur but the hybrid
possibly be so week that it may not survive or, it may grow but would be
sterile due to lack of chromosome pairing (see my article gene flow
between cassava and wild relatives in www.geneconserve.pro.br)
Another topic is that different genetically enhanced traits pose varying
degrees of risk can be seen from different viewpoints: For example
resistance to a disease or an insect transferred from the modified
cultivated crop to the wild may help the latter to invade habitats to
which it was not able in the past, but it could be useful too! How? if we
considered the dynamic of evolution on the long run! Who knows, it may
lead to evolving a new type useful to mankind and resistant to diseases
and insects in the same time!
Nagib Nassar, Professor, Genetica, Universidade de Brasilia and editor
GM Food and Cloning, Is That All to Biotech?
- Pravin Kumar, October 30, 2003, The Times of India
LUCKNOW: If scientists are poor communicators, she is an antithesis.
Biotechnologist Dr Adrianne Massey, rather, is an emancipator of science.
For over two decades now she has been working tirelessly to take science
out of the confines of laboratories first as a researcher and now as
Principal of North Carolina-based A. Massey and Associates, which helps
corporate houses, government agencies, NGOs and general public improve
understanding of the subject to facilitate the development of science and
Dr Massey is here to guide the industry how to make best use of a
discipline as pervasive as biotechnology for maximising the growth.
Talking to the Times News Network on the eve of a seminar 'Potential for
Indian Biotech Industry, to be jointly organised by the CII and American
Embassy on Wednesday, the former vice-president for education and training
at the North Carolina Centre, said that each country has to decide on its
focus area to get the maximum out of the biotech advancements.
For example, she said, the medical problems of the USA are quite different
from that of India and if we in the US work on obesity, here the research
should focus on nutrition.
"But one great thing about biology is that discovery in one area has
ramifications on other areas as well. Things are interlinked. In US, for
example, we are doing more research on protection against biological
weapons. So, any finding in this area should be applicable on a number of
other infectious agents as well," she said.
"On the other hand, the Chennai-based MS Swaminathan Foundation has
identified a mangrove gene which allows the plant to survive in salt water
and is also responsible for drought tolerance and heat tolerance. Now,
this discovery is applicable not only to tropical plants, but also to a
number of plants in the US, particularly in light of the fact that salt in
soil is a major problem now because of falling water table," she adds.
Talking about the US experience, Dr Massey says that, thanks to the
marvels of biotechnology, just 1 per cent of the population is responsible
for the total agricultural production. And it's time now for the
developing countries to ride the biotech bandwagon.
"The real challenge before the developing countries is how to use
biotechnology to gain maximum out of it," she says, adding "and for that
governments have to be 'wisely' and 'responsibly' supportive. Simply
because, it's not just about training a group of scientists.
It's also about training the attorneys to learn the patent laws; training
the potential investors to help them identify the areas they have selected
now and the emerging areas, they might like to invest in."
And then back to what she does best: Creating awareness. "Above
everything, the general public must be made aware about the fruits of
biotechnology. They have to be informed that it's much, much more than
genetically-modified (GM) food or cloning, that biotechnology can help
them improve economically, make new products and manage the environment in
a much better way. Because no matter, how great a product is, it's of no
use if there is nobody to buy it."
Another misconception, she says, is that biotechnology is the forte of
developed nations only. "In fact," she informs "Among top five countries
identified for the rate of adaptation of GM crop, three are developing
ones - China, Argentina and South Africa. And out of 6 million farmers
involved with production of transgenic crops world over, 5 million are
small farmers. So, the moorings are shattering."
And the lady has a clarion call for the developing nations: "Each gene now
is worth more than ever before."
Biotech to Boost Trade Ties - Expert
- The Economic Times (India), Oct. 29 2003
India's population will stabilise by '50. By that time India will have a
population of 1.9bn and feeding the additional people does present a
challenge. The possibility that biotechnology offers in addressing this
challenge was the focus of a workshop, 'The Role of Biotechnology in
Agriculture' organised by Ficci and the public affairs section, American
Embassy. Biotechnology, today is providing us with new insights into plant
genetics in a better way.
While it is being projected that population and income growth will
increase the demand for food, it is also being realised that agricultural
biotechnology will contribute significantly towards this end. CD Mayee,
agricultural commissioner, ministry of agriculture, said biotechnology has
the potential of alleviating poverty, rural development, strengthening
trade and economic competitiveness, providing agricultural sustainability
even while delivering direct benefits to farmers and consumers.
"The role of biotechnology in Indian agriculture will be highly
significant in the ensuing decades." He said that biotechnology provides
equal benefits to all stakeholders - farmers, consumers and the government
- even while protecting the environment. It is a good option for
agriculture as it is accurate, predictable, faster, scientific and safe.
He added that since the technology is in "seed," it does not have the
chances of differentiating large and small farmers.
Citing the example of Bt cotton, Mr Mayee mentioned that 75,000 farmers in
the country (in Maharashtra, AP, MP, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu) have
benefited by planting Bt cotton on approximately 1.3 lakh hectares. He
said that in the last and current season, it was observed that a good
control of bollworm complex was observed in Bt cotton unlike non Bt
cotton. He also added that while an early maturity of crop could
facilitate one additional crop, in most areas two pickings were completed.
Mr Mayee observed that biotech crops have significantly improved farm
competitiveness. He also highlighted the environmental benefits of
biotechnology which were insecticide reduction, soil conservation and
enhanced productivity, improved water quality and an enhanced
sustainability. In her theme presentation on 'The Role of Biotechnology in
Agriculture', Adrianne Massey of A Massey & Associates and former
vice-president, education and training, North Carolina Biotechnology
Centre stated that biotechnology in agriculture increased productivity,
improved product quality, increased product safety, altered food
processing traits and provided new uses for agricultural products.
She added that genetic engineering in crops improved nutrition and health
benefits; delayed ripening; increased shelf and freezer life; improved
flavour, texture and colour; and improved food processing characteristics.
She further stated that these crops could be alternatively used for
industrial oils, biodegradable plastics, biofuels, industrial feedstocks
and pharmaceutical production plants. According to her, consumers
benefited from genetically engineered crops by getting better access to
safer, healthier and more nutritious food.
On the issue of benefits to the environment, Ms Massey was of the view
that it facilitated shift to safer chemicals, thereby reducing risk posed
to the environment. Furthermore, she mentioned that it also reduced use of
fossil fuels for irrigation, reduced deforestation and increased wildlife
diversity. Mr R K Sinha, executive director, All India Crop Biotechnology
Association of India was of the opinion that crop biotechnology could
directly benefit the resource poor farmers of India. He however asserted
that IP protection should be an integral part of biotech development as
data protection was critical. He also urged for the need to set up a
single apex body that could streamline the various policies and
On an urgent need to increase public awareness, Mr Sinha stressed for the
need to build communication platforms with various stakeholders like
farmers, NGOs, media and the society at large. He also called for greater
public-private partnership towards making biotech a success in India. Mr
Walter North, director, USAID, observed that biotechnology has the
potential to address many issues. He further said that biotechnology is
one of the most promising new technologies with the potential to enhance
productivity while preserving the environment.
Plant Biotechnology Gains Momentum All Over the World
- Darunee Edwards, Bangkok Post, Oct. 30, 2003
'Instead of a select few, everyone benefits from fewer pesticides'
In an earlier article on Oct 4, we proposed a number of factually
supported reasons why biotech crops will be increasingly necessary in the
years to come. These included increases in the world's population and
declines in the amount of arable land, and recent advances in the science
of plant biotechnology.
These propositions have particular relevance in developing countries
throughout the world, including Thailand. Many of these countries have
growing populations that are increasingly made up of young people. For
this reason it is important to achieve higher agricultural production as
well as ensure adequate incomes for farmers and agricultural workers.
These improvements must come from better utilisation of existing land and
water resources, rather than simply expanding the amount of land under
cultivation, which is not possible because this would lead to
deforestation and eventually erosion.
Some countries are looking to plant biotechnology to help generate greater
and more reliable agricultural production and improved incomes for people
working in the agricultural sector. Recent advances in plant biotechnology
now make these possible.
In the developing world, China has played a leading role in implementing
plant biotechnologies. For example, it has made substantial investments in
planting Bt cotton, which produces its own natural pesticide. This has led
to significant reductions in the amount of pesticides that Chinese farmers
have to use to protect their crops.
Extensive use of chemical pesticides has been proven to have a number of
negative impacts. It is generally harmful to the environment, with
particularly negative consequences of contamination of water supplies. It
is expensive and reduces a farmer's profitability, plus it entails health
risks for farmers and agricultural workers who lack protective equipment.
By reducing pesticide use, Bt cotton effectively benefits both the
environment and Chinese farmers. It directly benefits the farmers' incomes
by eliminating the need for expensive pesticides. In China, the average
amount of pesticides used in 2002 declined by as much as eight kilogrammes
per rai, or a reduction of between 60-80% compared to the previous year.
The use of Bt cotton in China has also led to a reduction in the number of
farmers who suffer the toxic effects of pesticide exposure. In 2002, there
was a 60% reduction in these problems among farmers who planted Bt cotton
as compared to those who did not.
But how relevant are breakthroughs in plant technologies and biotech crops
to the Thai farmer?
Let's start with a concept that some people may not be familiar with:
Conservation tillage refers to any planting system that leaves more than
30% of the soil covered with crop residue to prevent erosion, compared to
less than 15% with conventional tillage. Biotech crops help farmers
control weeds without tillage, thus making conservation tillage systems
practical. Globally, "no till" conservation practices have increased by
35% since biotech crops came on the market in 1996. In fact, almost all
no-till acreage occurred where biotech crops have been employed.
By using conservation tillage, farmers have been able to cut their
production costs by 10% or more. Importantly, the crop mulch in
conservation tillage systems shades the ground and slows evaporation. The
improved soil structure resulting from less ploughing actually increases
the movement of water into the soil following rain or irrigation and holds
it there, which means less irrigation is necessary. Also, less ploughing
means less money spent on fuel.
Additionally, crop yields in conservation tillage systems have also been
proven in most cases to be equal to or better, as well as more consistent,
than those produced with conventional tillage. We can add that crops
developed through biotechnology are dramatically reducing the amount of
pesticides used in agriculture.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that farmers throughout the world are
adopting biotech crops in steadily increasing numbers. Importantly, they
are doing this in a totally transparent manner with the full approval in
each country from relevant authorities. In Thailand, the Food and Drug
Administration has already declared that soybean and corn crops developed
from genetic engineering are safe for human consumption and for use in the
production of animal feed.
During the seven-year period from 1996 to 2002, the global area allocated
for growing biotech crops increased 35-fold, from 10 million rai in 1996
to 362 million in 2002. This ranks as one of the highest-ever adoption
rates for crop technologies.
Interestingly, an increasing proportion of biotech crops are grown in
developing countries. More than one-quarter (27%) of the global biotech
crop area of 363 million rai exists in nine developing countries, many of
which are in Asia, including India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Farmers in these countries appear to have discovered the same cross-border
benefits of plant biotechnologies that have already gained acceptance in a
number of developed countries. In Thailand, progress in the use of plant
biotechnology has been stalled due to lobbying by a number of special
interest groups. The actions of these groups have led to a complete ban on
field trials - which are a precursor to the approval of the crops for
In the next article, we will offer details about consumer and safety
issues as they related to plant biotechnology.
- Darunee Edwards is a deputy director at the National Center for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the second part of an occasional series on
biotechnology and its applications.
Truth In Headlines
- Dean Kleckner, October 31, 2003, Truth About Trade & Technology,
'Dean KlecknerI laughed out loud when I read the headline last week: „USDA
reports 115 infractions of biotech rules.š '
If I hadn‚t known any better, those words might have startled me. But then
that‚s the point of so many headlines - to startle the uninformed.
Here‚s a more honest way the same story might have been headlined: „USDA
reports 7,287 cases of biotech compliance.š
Doesn‚t sound nearly as interesting, does it? Yet it has the virtue of
being more accurate. The real headline--i.e., the startling one--reminded
me of something Winston Churchill once said in the British Parliament, „I
should think it hardly possible to state the opposite of the truth with
more precision.š Here‚s what really happened. Last week, the USDA said
that it had conducted 7,402 field tests with companies and research
universities that have been working in the area of genetic enhancement
since 1990. The government uncovered 115 regulatory infractions, meaning
that the rate of compliance was 98.4 percent.
Our goal always should be 100-percent compliance, but let‚s keep things in
perspective - topping 98 percent is pretty darn good. If this were a
science test, the biotech industry would earn a grade of A for its
efforts. The anti-biotech activists must be sorely disappointed. They had
lobbied for the release of these numbers on the false hope that they would
show poor stewardship on the part of the biotech industry. But they‚ve
done just the opposite.
What‚s more, these very occasional infractions in many cases weren‚t even
uncovered by the government--they were reported to the government by the
companies. This is powerful testimony to the biotech industry‚s commitment
to reasonable regulation. Consumer confidence in the latest agricultural
technologies is tied directly to public confidence in the U.S. regulatory
system, and that‚s why the regulators encounter such impressive levels of
cooperation from producers.
Biotech developers want the federal government‚s seal of approval so much
that when they make a mistake, they tell. It‚s like the kid who hits a
baseball through his neighbor‚s family-room window and decides to knock on
the front door rather than run away--he knows that doing the right thing
now avoids bigger trouble later on.
Even more comforting than the rarity of infractions and the willingness to
admit mistakes is the fact that the 115 violations never posed any threat
to human health anywhere. No person was ever in danger from one of these
inadvertent errors--and the environment was never at risk, either. Only
eight of the incidents were substantial enough to result in fines. So
here‚s another way of looking at the numbers: Field tests showed
violations less than 2 percent of the time, and they showed violations
leading to fines about one-tenth of 1 percent of the time.
Now there‚s a snoozer of a headline: „USDA field tests don‚t lead to fines
99.9 percent of the time.š Most of the USDA infractions were decidedly
minor, such as planting the seed one day later than the permit identifying
a one month planting period allowed. In the world of biotech regulations,
these are parking tickets. Of the eight fines--let‚s call them the
speeding tickets--the smallest was for $500 and the largest for $250,000.
That big fine was slapped on Prodigene last year for accidentally mixing a
few shreds of GE corn stalks with a half-million bushels of soybeans.
Again, nobody‚s health was ever at risk--and those soybeans were destroyed
before they reached the marketplace. (And it may be worth noting that even
if they had reached the marketplace, they still would have been harmless.)
Because biotechnology is advancing so rapidly, USDA created a
Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) within its Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) a little more than a year ago. Just last week,
USDA announced the establishment of a dedicated compliance and enforcement
unit within the BRS. This may sound like one of bureaucracy‚s
alphabet-soup overkill concoctions. In reality, it‚s good news for
farmers, because it means the government is keeping pace with the
scientific advances that will help us secure our livelihood and feed the
world in the 21st century.
Over the next decade, these fields will undergo thousands--and maybe tens
of thousands--of more tests. This is as it should be. And it gives us a
goal: How about hitting 99 percent compliance next time? I can see the
media headline now: „USDA reports imperfection among biotech developers.š
Borlaug Discusses Future World Food Production At Seminar
- Blair Fannin, Ag News (Texas A&M), Oct. 30, 2003
College Station - Dr. Norman Borlaug doesn't settle for mediocrity and the
proof is in his work ethic, his colleagues say. Recalling an instance
when he came into work early one Saturday to prepare for a meeting, Dr.
Mark Hussey, head of soil and crop sciences at Texas A&M University, said
he had just settled into his chair and heard a door open. Out came Dr.
Borlaug, who had worked all night on a project and was just leaving for
"He has that fire in the belly," Hussey said, recalling one professor's
assessment of Borlaug's tireless efforts to solve world hunger. Borlaug,
a distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M and
the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, shared his views on food production for
the next three decades with students and faculty at Wednesday's
Most notable, said Borlaug, is that "85 percent of (future) world food
production will come from land already in production," but there will be
limited opportunities for opening up new soils. As technology enhancements
continue to come about and food production becomes more efficient, Borlaug
said, wildlife is making a comeback since many forests are being left
Borlaug endorsed biotechnology used in food production. "I say we need it.
Why the fear? When there is a major change, there will always be
Genetically modified organisms will lead to more quality foods, he said,
both in nutritional content and development of herbicide-resistant
varieties. Borlaug said varieties are also being developed that will be
less susceptible to frost and other stresses.
He said there is a common "precautionary principle" used by many who
object to GMOs. Typically, scientists strive for perfection, Borlaug said,
but there's little time to refine technological advances in world food
production. Some 150 million malnourished children are living in
developing countries, he said.
Borlaug said the greatest worry is Africa because of its high rates of
population, little application of improved technology and escalating food
deficits. "The problem with Africa is roads and infrastructure," he said.
"Where there is a road, there will soon be a school."
Borlaug closed his discussion stating "technology is available now that
will allow us to produce food for the next five decades without opening up
a lot of new land."
He also quoted Nobel Peace Laureate Lord John Boyd Orr, who said "You
cannot build peace on empty stomachs."
Plants that Will Save Lives and Eyes
- Michael Fumento, Scripps Howard News Service, Oct. 30, 2003
Over a third of the world's population suffers anemia for lack of iron.
Half are at risk for numerous diseases because they get too little zinc. A
fourth receive so little vitamin A that they suffer incredible rates of
blindness and death. But with help from a $25 million Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation grant, a new international consortium called HarvestPlus
will combat these afflictions by encouraging production of fortified
Initially, the three aforementioned nutrients will be developed, with the
six targeted crops being: beans, cassava, corn, rice, sweet potatoes and
wheat. "We don't just want to produce more food; we want to make it better
food," HarvestPlus spokeswoman Bonnie McClafferty told me. "It's giving
the nutrition community another tool to help."
Plant "biofortification" need not be biotech; it refers to any process
increasing the nutrition of crops. But biotech is the quickest, surest way
of achieving the organization's honorable but admittedly lofty goals Ų
hence the angst and anger of anti-biotech activists. Patrick Mulvaney, of
Britain's Intermediate Technology Development Group, told the U.K.
newspaper The Guardian that "Mr. Gates is investing in hi-tech solutions
for a serious problem that could be solved by investing in proven
What does Intermediate Technology offer instead of biotech? It encourages
such "solutions" as "improved soil usage" and "irrigation," as if nobody
had thought of these before. Apparently "Intermediate Technology" means
"no new technology." That indeed is a major driving force behind
anti-biotech activists in general. To them, all that is new is bad. But
while biotech is hi-tech, it's also proven. The most famous example is
golden rice, developed by Swiss researcher Ingo Potrykus and other
Rice is a staple throughout much of Asia and Africa, but contains no
vitamin A. According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A
deficiency contributes to approximately two million deaths and 250,000 to
500,000 cases of child blindness annually. Potrykus spliced into rice two
genes from the daffodil (giving it its golden color) plus one from a
bacterium to give the grain beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene
to vitamin A.
But rice diets also cause iron deficiency. Perhaps a fifth of all maternal
deaths are caused by a lack of iron. Rice contains the mineral, but not in
a form our bodies can absorb. So Potrykus and colleagues inserted a gene
from a fungus, which makes the iron in the rice useable. Finally, they
added a gene from the French bean, doubling the amount of iron in the
Golden rice is now being specialized for planting in different parts of
the world. Bio-agricultural companies are also developing other vitamin
A-enriched plants, including golden canola (for cooking oil), and golden
mustard (used as cooking oil in India and elsewhere). The Monsanto Company
is donating its golden corn research to ProHarvest. In parts of Africa, a
high beta-carotene sweet potato is already being eaten.
Let them eat liver!" the wealthy, corpulent Vandana Shiva says of the
mostly poor and largely vegetarian population of India. But in what
smacks of Marie Antoinette's mythical sneer of "Let them eat cake!"
upper-crust, upper-caste Indian biotech basher Vandana Shiva blasted
golden rice, saying better alternatives are "liver, egg yolk, chicken,
meat, milk and butter." This assertion from the obese Ms. Shiva is even
more ludicrous considering the predominant religion in India is Hinduism
and many Hindus will eat neither animals nor animal products.
Meanwhile, Sue Meyer, of the British group Genewatch told the Guardian,
"This is a Trojan horse to make [genetically engineered] foods acceptable
to poor countries."
Yet farmers in these countries have already been adopting biotech crops as
fast as they can. More than one-quarter of the global biotech acreage was
grown in developing countries in 2002," according a report last January
from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Nobody claims that the only way to solve nutrient deficiencies is by
building them into plants. In the U.S. we've long added iodine to salt and
vitamin D to milk. But that only works in industrialized countries with
regional and national distributors. Try doing that where people get their
milk from their own animals.
But none of this matters when you're damning the "American multinationals"
(my favorite oxymoron), when you believe "globalization" is a four-letter
word, and you think no price is too high to defeat biotechnology including
massive childhood blindness. As long, of course, as they're not your
Michael Fumento is the author of numerous books. His book, BioEvolution:
How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World, was published in October 2003 by
Order Your Copy of Michael Fumento's BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is
Changing Our World; Buy from Amazon.com
Safety, Risk and The Precautionary Principle: Rethinking Precautionary
Approaches to the Regulation of Transgenic Plants
- Gregory Conko, Transgenic Research (2003 Forthcoming), Kluwer Academic
(Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC; E-mail: email@example.com)
Prepublication Uncorrected Proof Now Available At:
Abstract: Operationalizing the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety will
require resolving disputes about the meaning of the term 'precautionary
approach' in the treaty text. Although the terms precautionary approach
and precautionary principle have been referred to in the regulation of
transgenic plants for nearly a decade, no customary expectation of what
actions it requires has developed. If specific obligations for regulators,
regulated entities, or both are not established, compliance will be
This essay examines various interpretations of the precautionary
principle, discusses their shortcomings, and suggests a way to rethink the
regulation of transgenic plants that focuses on genuine uncertainty.
Transgenic plants with familiar phenotypes should be subject to
considerably less regulatory scrutiny than those whose risks are genuinely
unknown, or known to pose heightened risk.
GM Technology and You
- E-Debate, Nov 3-9, 2003
Genetic Modification Technology has been an issue of intense debate
worldwide. Genetic modification enables transferring of genes between
unrelated organisms. For example, an antifreeze gene from a cold-water
fish has been added to tomato to create a frost-resistant tomato plant.
The antifreeze gene comes from the cold-water flounder, a fish that can
survive in very cold conditions. Although the technology promises a lot of
potential benefits, concerns persist about health and environment, and
relevance to the needs of developing countries.
For the first time in South Asia, Gene Campaign provides you with an
opportunity to express your views on this crucial issue. Starting with
Theme 1, Gene Campaign's GM Forum will provide an e-forum for debate on GM
issues every alternate month. We look forward to hearing from you. The
questions posed by Theme 1 are: "What do you understand by GM Technology?"
"What are the priorities that India/developing countries should address?"
Four Breasts Good, Two Breasts Bad!
- Denis Murphy
Four breasts good, two breasts bad? (apologies to George Orwell)
Here is a delightful image from an anti-GM group in New Zealand.
Of course, it doesn't relate even remotely with anything going in in GM
research or commerce but who cares about boring old facts!
More good stuff from http://www.madge.net.nz/who/