Today in AgBioView: November 3, 2003:
* Thirsty Africa Faces Food Crisis
* Toxin Sparks Organic Scare
* Where are the 'organic food' Chemists You Need Them?
* GM Maize - Media Teleconference - Nov. 6, 2003
* African Govts Urged to Disseminate More Information on Biotech
* Biotechnology: Hope & Hype
* The Bio-Economy
* Industrial Crops: Let's Revisit Hemp
* ISB News Report - November 2003 Issue; New Database
* Ecological Systems Approach For Regulation of Transgenic Crops
Thirsty Africa Faces Food Crisis
- Alex Kirby, BBC News, Nov. 2, 2003
The spectre of famine and reliance on outside help could soon threaten
large parts of Africa, scientists believe. They think increasing water
scarcity may leave much of the continent not only thirsty, but without
enough water to grow sufficient food for its needs.
On present trends, they expect one in three of the world's people will be
affected by water shortages in 2025. The annual crop loss across Africa
could be as much as the entire grain harvest produced by the US and India.
The scientists, from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR), were speaking at the launch of the group's Challenge
Programme on Water and Food. The programme is trying to find ways to
improve the management of available water, and will work on technologies
to increase crop yields while cutting the amount of water needed.
Food beyond reach. Answers are likely to include higher-yielding crops
which are more resistant to drought, and farming methods that combine
agriculture with fish-farming. CGIAR says water scarcity projections for
Africa south of the Sahara suggest household water consumption there will
by 2025 show the highest proportional increase of any world region. With
"business as usual" policies and investments, the group says, the number
of Africans without access to clean water will more than double to 401
million, though at worst the total could be 523 million people.
CGIAR says: "The region will face a 23% shortfall in crop yields because
of insufficient water supply, and cereal imports will have to more than
triple to 35 million tons in the next 23 years to keep pace with demand.
"Under these conditions, many poorer African countries will be unable to
finance the required imports of food, leading to rising levels of hunger
and malnutrition and greater dependence on international financial support
or food aid."
Professor Frank Rijsberman of CGIAR said: "If present trends continue, the
livelihoods of one-third of the world's population will be affected by
water scarcity by 2025. We could be facing annual losses equivalent to the
entire grain crops of India and the US combined.
Nature squeezed out. "Agricultural subsidies in North America and Europe
determine where food is grown, and policy decisions taken in the World
Trade Organisation are possibly the single most dominant factor shaping
the global demand for food and consequently the amount of water required
to grow that food... "We have to make this issue is everyone's business
because it will affect everyone's future."
Globally, agriculture consumes about 70% of the world's fresh water, and
nearly 90% in developing countries. CGIAR says this is sharpening
competition between farmers' needs and those of the natural world. In the
last 50 years, 40% of the world's wetlands have been lost.
Critical eye. Its researchers will be working in nine large river basins
in Africa, Asia and Latin America, using them as "living laboratories" to
test their findings. One research project already approved will examine
how to improve barley varieties in Ethiopia, and another will work on ways
to use floodwaters for breeding fish, to improve people's nutrition and
tackle poverty. This project will include the Indus-Ganges and Mekong
basins in Asia, and the Niger in Africa.
A CGIAR team will also analyse India's huge national river-linking
project, a $120bn scheme which aims by 2016 to link 37 rivers and channel
water from the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin to drought-affected parts
of western India.
Toxin Sparks Organic Scare
- The Times Higher Education Supplement, London, Oct. 31 2003
High levels of a fungal toxin have been found in organic maize products
sold in British shops, prompting top scientists to question the safety of
this increasingly popular approach to agriculture. Experts have called for
research into the possibility that organic foods may be more prone to
contamination by potentially harmful substances produced by moulds.
A mycotoxin called fumonisin was detected in maize meal and flour tested
by Food Standards Agency scientists in September. All contaminated
products were voluntarily withdrawn from sale. The case has stoked fears
that the spread of farming practices eschewing modern pesticides and
fungicides may lead to a rise in mycotoxin poisoning. Some scientists have
even suggested the cereal crop fungus ergot, which killed thousands in
medieval Europe, might make a comeback as a result.
Ian Crute, director of Rothamsted Research, the government-funded
agricultural research institute, warned: "The lack of control of plant
pathogenic fungi - such as ergot - that have the potential to produce
toxic metabolites is definitely an 'achilles heel' for organics and is a
food scare waiting to happen."
A spokeswoman for the Soil Association, which regulates and campaigns for
organic farming, backed the call for research but dismissed the
scientists' concerns. "Comparison of the levels of these compounds and the
possible risks associated with them is of great importance, particularly
when compared with the possible effects of the cocktails of fumigants and
fungicides that may be detectable on non-organic products," she said. She
added: "There is no real reason or evidence that organic farming has
higher levels of mycotoxin."
Consumption of fumonisin, which is produced by the mould fusarium, has
been linked to liver cancer and immune system damage in laboratory
animals. Fumonisin was found in minute quantities in all 32 maize products
screened. But the eight organic brands - as well as four conventional ones
- exceeded limits being considered for the mycotoxin.
A working document produced this month by the European Commission's
agricultural contaminants expert committee suggests a maximum level of
fumonisin in food of 500mg per kilogram for adults and 100mg per kilogram
for infants. One organic maize meal tested by the FSA contained 20,435 mg
per kilogram - 200 times the level thought safe for children.
The FSA stated this was "unlikely to be any immediate risk to health". But
a spokeswoman admitted there might be problems "if eaten at high levels
over a long period of time". She noted FSA screening had not found
heightened levels of mycotoxins in any other organic foods. "There is not
enough information available at present to say that organic foods are
significantly different in terms of their safety and nutritional content
to those produced by conventional farming," she added. The FSA is
consulting over a research programme to compare pesticide residue and
nutrient levels in organic and conventional foods.
Some scientists felt this should be extended to include mycotoxin levels.
Michael Wilson, chief executive of government-funded Horticulture Research
International, said: "We don't have a proper grasp on the problem because
no systematic analysis has been undertaken." He said many factors could
influence mycotoxin levels, such as growing-season climate and insect
damage to a crop.
He called on the FSA to conduct research into the potential problem,
adding: "If any GM product had the levels of toxin (found in the organic
maize), it would be the end for GM." The FSA is midway through a five-year
investigation into the environmental factors that prompt the production of
fumonisin and other toxins in both conventionally and organically farmed
oats, wheat and barley.
Jim Duncan, a senior scientist at the Scottish Crop Research Institute,
said: "By not applying normal plant protection measures, such as
fungicides, organic food would appear to be more at risk from mycotoxin
contamination." But Ray Coker, professor of food safety at Greenwich
University, insisted a full survey was needed. "I've heard such concerns
raised before but the jury is still out on whether, for example, not using
fungicide could lead to higher levels of mycotoxins," he said.
Tony Trewavas, professor of applied biochemistry at Edinburgh University,
has written to the FSA calling for an investigation into the potential
problem. "No one knows what fumonisin levels are dangerous," he said.
Richard Mithen, head of plant foods for health protection at the Institute
of Food Research, said: "I have been concerned that more widespread
adoption of organic systems will lead to a resurgence of diseases such as
bunt in cereals and, with important implications for human health, a
resurgence of fungal diseases that produce toxins for consumers."
Peter Goodenough, principal research fellow at Reading University and
editor of the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, said:
"If growers in some climatic regions regularly grow their crops without
fungicides, sooner or later ergot poisoning will occur again."
But the Soil Association spokeswoman said anecdotal evidence suggested
organic crops were less susceptible to fungi than conventional crops, as
they possessed thicker plant-cell walls. She said fungal infections were
best controlled through crop rotation, lower applications of nitrogen and
the selection of resistant crops.
Where are The 'organic' Chemists When Their Country Needs Them?
- The National Business Review (New Zealand), Oct. 31, 2003
Some readers thought my claims of organic corn being potentially more
dangerous than regular or GM food were written tongue in cheek. Not so.
Food scientists had actually predicted that GM corn would have lower
levels of mycotoxins than both regular and organically grown corn. The
recalls of organic maize came as no surprise to the GM scientists. Here
are some extracts from relevant scientific papers:
* GM corn "has a distinct health benefit of discouraging the buildup of
mycotoxins in corn, potentially dangerous human and animal toxins produced
by fungi that cause plant disease. Insect larvae chew on stalks and
kernels, creating wounds where fungal spores can enter the plant. Once
established, these fungi often produce mycotoxins" (APSnet, 1999).
* "The fumonisins are associated with Fusarium ear rot, the most common
ear rot disease in the Corn Belt; it can be found in nearly every
cornfield at harvest" (Munkvold & Hellmich, 1999).
* "European corn borer larvae carry spores of Fusarium species from the
plant surface to the surfaces of damaged kernels or to the interior of
stalks, where infections are initiated." (Munkvold & Hellmich, 1999)
* "Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus produce the most notorious
mycotoxins in corn, the aflatoxins, and can be passed into milk when the
infected grain is eaten by the cows, making the economic impact of
aflatoxins even greater than that of other mycotoxins in corn" (Munkvold &
So we were warned. The organic lobby took no notice. You may have noticed
it is not demanding appropriate labelling of organic corn - or its other
Where are the organic scientists who should be writing papers warning us
of these risks? The organic lobby keeps telling us that GM food is not
properly researched and tested. I await its own "organic" chemistry with
HEALTHY: GM corn has the health benefit of discouraging the buildup of
mycotoxins, potentially dangerous human and animal toxins produced by
fungi that cause plant disease
GM Maize - Media Teleconference - Nov. 6, 2003
Wider Adoption of Biotech Maize in Developing World Could Boost Yields and
Farmer Incomes, Improve Food and Feed Safety and Reduce Spraying
Planting maize or corn enhanced through biotechnology to resist damaging
insects in more countries of the developing world could boost yields
between 5 and 10 percent, could significantly improve farmer incomes,
could make food and feed even safer by minimizing insect damage that can
reduce the incidence of harmful mycotoxins, and could cut pesticide
spraying by up to half, according to the International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
At a teleconference Nov. 6, Clive James, founder and chairman of ISAAA,
will summarize findings of a report that says the role of Bt maize/corn
will become increasingly important as global demand for the staple is
expected to surpass the largest crops of wheat and rice by 2020.
The report says average yield gains for Bt maize over traditional
varieties were 5 percent higher in the United States, 6 percent higher in
Spain, and about 10 percent higher in Argentina and South Africa. In field
trials, Bt maize yields were up to 24 percent higher in Brazil, between 9
and 23 percent higher in China and 41 percent higher in the Philippines.
These yield gains will become increasingly important as rising incomes
cause a shift to more meat consumption in developing world diets,
resulting in increased demand for corn-based animal feeds. Bt maize also
could benefit several European countries, with Spain already planting
50,000 hectares of the insect-resistant crop.
ISAAA is an international not-for-profit organization whose mission is to
help alleviate hunger and poverty by sharing crop biotechnology
applications throughout the world.
Who: Clive James, chairman and founder, ISAAA; Randy Hauteau, global
What: Media teleconference
When: Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003, 3 p.m. UK/Ireland; 4 p.m. rest of Europe; 5
Where: International dial-in number: +1 719 234-7500; Passcode: 282527
Contact: John Dutcher, +1 515 334-3464, firstname.lastname@example.org, to RSVP
for the teleconference
African Governments Urged to Disseminate More Information on Biotech
- The Herald, Zimbabwe, Nov. 3, 2003
Africa needs biotechnology but more effort is needed to show the public
its benefits, participants at a biotechnology conference held in Harare
recently said. Most people in Zimbabwe and in Africa had no knowledge of
biotechnology and this needed to be corrected.
The conference was held last week under the theme of whether biotechnology
could benefit developing countries. Participants included researchers,
scientists, professors and farmers from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and
There was agreement that while biotechnology was good for the country and
the continent, it needed to be put at the level of the ordinary people.
"Instead of just sitting here and agreeing amongst ourselves that it is
good, we have an obligation to explain to the public who are indirectly
funding the researches currently being carried out, what it is we are
talking about," said one participant.
Others said it was now increasingly clear that biotechnology was one of
the ways of ensuring that the continent was secure in terms of food
security and even military prowess. "Biotechnology has lots of potential
and we should realise that now. Developed countries have already
identified that they can always have food reserves because of
"Let us also realise that and move now. In Zimbabwe, where the economy is
agriculturally driven, it is time we realised that biotechnology has the
potential to increase agricultural production," said Professor Lindela
Ndlovu of the National University of Science and Technology (Nust.)
Biotechnology is an advanced and revolutionary technology that separates
and manipulates genes of animals or plants to retain a certain trait such
as rapid growth or disease and pest tolerance. Some small-scale farmers
attending the conference said they had already realised the benefits of
biotechnology. They had learnt that instead of using fertiliser they
could use leguminous plants to maintain soil fertility.
The Minister of State for Science and Technology, Dr Olivia Muche-na, had
challenged the participants to look at how biotechnology was already
benefiting developing countries and whether developing countries had
strategies to ensure that their economies and people benefited from
biotechnology when opening the conference.
Participants identified that developing countries, including Zimbabwe,
were already benefiting from conventional bio-technology as evidenced by
the availability of things like insulin, which diabetics inject themselves
with due to the absence of a certain hormone in their blood.
What was left was to involve everybody, including schoolchildren and
policy makers, so that lasting results could be achieved. It was resolved
that the public should be given more information so that the negative
perception they had of biotechnology and genetically modified foods could
Biotechnology: Hope & Hype
- Editorial, The Hindu (India), Oct. 16, 2003
In some ways, biotechnology is nothing new. Breeding domestic animals and
cultivable crops were prerequisites for civilisation. Less essentially
perhaps, early societies discovered fermentation and alcoholic beverages.
But modern biotechnology (BT) has distinguished itself by understanding
how life's molecules, such as genes and proteins, interact with one
another and are affected by their environment. A thriving industry has
grown around converting such knowledge into useful products and services.
Although the pioneers in the biotech industry go back to the late 1970s
and early 1980s, the industry has come into its own only in the past
decade when its revenues quadrupled. During this period, biological
research and the biotech industry have been constantly in the public gaze,
whether it be the Human Genome Project or concerns raised by issues such
as genetically modified crops and cloning.
In India, there has been a widespread view that BT, with suitable support
and encouragement, could be the next IT (information technology) where
Indian capability has won international recognition. In BT too, India has
excellent academic institutions and laboratories that can provide research
support as well as trained people for a knowledge-intensive industry.
Moreover, it can draw on the experience of a well-developed pharmaceutical
Many States have formulated biotechnology policies, and some have
earmarked venture capital funding and established biotechnology parks
hoping to attract industrial investment in this sector. One estimate
suggests that the total annual revenue of this sector is Rs.1,800 crores
(about $400 million); if suppliers to the biotech industry are included,
the figure rises to Rs.2,300 crores. However, these levels are well below
the earnings of a leading IT company like Infosys, which had total
revenues exceeding Rs. 3,600 crores in the last financial year.
Biotechnology will have its greatest impact on two sectors: health and
agriculture. So meeting the requirements of foreign companies is not
likely to be the engine of growth for Indian biotechnology companies, as
in the case of IT. Rather, as has happened in the Indian pharmaceutical
industry, lower costs of production within the country and the ability to
meet local demand as well as the requirements of other developing
countries are factors that can sustain the Indian biotech industry.
Inexpensive diagnostics and vaccines are needed in India and most other
poor countries. The big multinationals have little interest in these
products, which have low profit margins.
According to one industry observer, vaccines and locally produced
biomolecules make up most of India's biotech exports, accounting for half
the industry's earnings. In agriculture too, genetic modification has to
be carried out with Indian crop varieties, even when the genes are
imported. Moreover, Indian researchers and companies are discovering new
plant genes in plenitude. Mass health and food needs can ensure that the
Indian biotechnology industry can have an impact that computers and
software will not.
- Dr Stan M Davis, Economic Times General Management Review
The next economy is gestating right now. What will it be about? The bets
have already been placed and the results are in: biotechnology will be the
great wave after information technologies.
It will begin in areas like pharmaceuticals and agriculture and,
ultimately, spread throughout every economic sector, just as computers did
before. This article gives you a feel for what this next economy ¸ the
true economy of most of the twenty-first century -- will be like.
Lesson from the future: Biotechnology today is where computer technology
was in the 1960s. Its impact will be enormous and, unless you plan to
retire within the next decade, start to understand it now. We did not
realize that we were no longer living in an industrial economy for about
twenty years, from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. When we finally
figured out the old economy had exited, we did not know what to call the
new one. Post-industrial? Service? Shopping and gathering? Information won
the title. Get ready for d'eja' vu all over again. Like everything else,
all economies have beginnings and endings and we can already see the end
of this one a few decades hence.
Hunting-and-gathering economies ruled for hundreds of thousands of years
before they were overshadowed by agrarian economies, which ruled about
10,000 years. Next came the industrial ones. The first began in Britain in
the 1760s and the first to finish unwinding in the USA in the early 1950s.
We are halfway through the information economy and, from start to finish,
it will last 75 to 80 years, ending in the late 2020s. Then get ready for
the next one: the bio-economy.
Life circles for people and plants, for businesses, industries economies,
and entire civilizations have four distinct quarters: gestation, growth,
maturity, and decline. The internet is the main even of the information
economy's mature quarter, the last phase of it being marked by the
widespread use of cheap chips and wireless technology that will let
everything connect to everything else. Life circles overlap. So the
information economy will mature in the years ahead as the bio-economy
completes its gestation and finally takes off into its growth quarter
during the 2020s.
The bio-economy opened for business in 1953, when Francis Crick and James
Watson identified the double-helix structure of DNA. The bio-economy has
been in its first quarter ever since and completion and publication of the
decoded of the human genome marks the end of this gestation period.
We are halfway through the information economy and, from start to finish,
it will last 75 to 80 years, ending in the late 2020s
We are heading into the second or growth quarter, when hot new industries
appear, much as semiconductors and software did in the second quarter of
the information economy. Thus, biotechnology will pave the way for the
bio-economy era. During the next two decades, organic biotechnology will
overlap with inorganic silicon infotechnology and inorganic composite
materials and nanotechnologies.
During the overlap of infotechnology and biotechnology, we will be
digitizing many biological processes. Up until now, four kinds of
information have dominated: numbers, words, sounds, and images. But
information comes in many other forms, such as smell taste, touch,
imagination, and intuition. The problem is that our technologies for smell
taste, and other new information forms are not yet developed enough to
make them commercially viable. By the 2020s, they will be.
Smell, for example, perhaps the most primal of senses, is being digitized
the way sight and sound have been. The basics of what makes a smell can be
captured molecularly and expressed digitally on a chip at a reasonable
price. Companies like DigiScents of Oakland, California and Ambryx of La
Jolla, California have already developed digital odors. Cyrano Sciences of
Pasadena, California, is developing medical-diagnostics technology that
can "smell" diseases.
Imagine sending a greeting card that incorporates the smell of flowers
with a written and graphic message. By the 2020s, digital movies will have
their own distinctive smell prints. (You can watch Haley Joel Osment in a
remake of The Beach and smell the coconut oil!) Why stop there? How does a
bank smell and how does Chase smell different from Citigroup? How about
retailers? This is only a tiny example of what will come.
More fundamentally, the first four industries to be infused by the
bio-economy era will be pharmaceuticals, health care, agriculture, and
Best known are the dozens of bio-engineered drugs already on the market.
Most of these save lives by treating existing problems. One of the biggest
shifts of biotechnology in the decades to come then will be the way it
transforms the health care paradigm from treatment to prediction and
prevention. Health care today is really sick care. The sick care business
model made money by filling hospital beds. Currently, we are in the
managed care model. It is transitional, lasting one to two decades. Here,
you make money by emptying beds. In the bio-economy, health care will work
on a preventive model, making money by helping people avoid having to
enter the hospital in the first place.
Basic needs are met in every economy by using the latest technologies
available. In the bio-economy of the 2020s, the farm will be a
super-bio-engineered place with multimillion-dollar manufacturing plants
instead of fields.
Today bio-engineered milk, meat and produce are already on our supermarket
shelves. Numerous varieties of corn are biogenetically altered -- albeit
not without challenge. One study showed that pollen from some strains of
altered corn killed the larva of the monarch butterfly. Fears of
Frankenfoods have caused enough of a furor to disrupt Monsanto's life
sciences strategy and help topple its chief executive officer. Such
incidents will certainly multiply.
Beyond 2025, when we move into the mature bio-economy the effects and
applications of biotechnology will spread into sectors seemingly unrelated
to biology. In the 1950s and 1960s it was difficult to comprehend that
computers would change every industry-from manufacturing to hotels to
insurance -- just as it is now tough to see how biotechnology will alter
non-biological businesses. By the third quarter of the next economy,
somewhere in the mid-century, bio-applications will seep into many of the
nooks and crannies of our non-biological lives.
Problems will spread as much as benefits do. Each era produces its own
dark side. The industrial era was accompanied by pollution and
environmental degradation. The major problem of the information age is
privacy. In the bio-economy, the issue will be ethics. Cloning,
bio-engineered foods, eugenics, genetic patenting, and certainty about
inherited diseases are just a few of the many developments that are
already creating a storm. And the storm will intensify in the USA.
All this will make baby boomers a unique generation. They will be the
first in history to span three distinct economies. Born at the end of the
industrial period, they will spent their entire careers in the information
age and will end their days watching their grandchildren negotiate the
bio-economy. The first four industries to be infused by the bio-economy
era will be pharma, health care, agriculture, and food
Generation Xers, born after 1964, will be different. During their working
years, they will experience two major economic shifts: first, from the
crunching to the connecting halves of this information economy and,
second, from a microwave-based connected universe to the cell-based world
of biologic and bionomics. Those of you in generation Y may have to go
However long you will spend in it, the bio-economy is the next one to be
born and, of all economies past, present, and future, it will exert an
impact that will make the info-economy look like the runt of the litter.
Dr. Stan Davis is the world-renowned guru and futurist on business in the
future. He is the author of twelve books, including the best sellers Blur,
2020 Vision, and Future Perfect. He has a working relationship with
Innovative Media and is scheduled to address Indian CEOs later this year
on coming together of technology, biology and business and how to gain
from this future.
Industrial Crops: Let's Revisit Hemp
- Thomas Jefferson Hoban IV, AlterNet, Oct. 30, 2003
Tension continues to mount over genetically modified crops. The
biotechnology industry is banking on its ability to utilize plants for an
assortment of industrial and pharmaceutical products. However, the food
industry and consumer groups have serious reservations about the
industry's plans to genetically modify common food crops, such as corn, to
manufacture pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals.
What we need for this emerging and important industry is a plant that has
all the technical advantages of corn; but is not widely used in food
production. We need a plant that can produce large quantities of seed
while growing like a weed in a wide range of conditions.
It would be great if there were a plant that we already knew how to breed
and manage for maximum production. Scientists also need a plant that is
easy to genetically modify. Consumer groups would be thrilled if that
plant could also be raised in an ecologically sustainable manner.
The good news is that this plant already exists: It is hemp! The bad news
is that a small group of US ideologues currently holds this ancient crop
plant hostage. People have used hemp around the world for over 3,000
years. All parts of the plant provide useful materials. America's founding
fathers recognized this plant, along with tobacco and cotton, as the
cornerstone of our young economy. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself not
only raised and praised the crop but was also dedicated to scientific
research on "hemp-culture."
Unfortunately, US policy took a wrong turn in the 1930s. Prohibitionists
lost their battle with alcohol and needed a new target. Marijuana was an
easy choice because it was not widely used in the US (except among Mexican
immigrants, jazz musicians, and other "undesirables.") Over the subsequent
decades, right-wing fundamentalists have used misleading propaganda and
discriminatory law enforcement to vilify hemp, along with smoking grade
At a time when we desperately need new engines of economic growth, this
well-known and beneficial plant could "fire up" the American economy.
Those companies and countries that invest in hemp biotech will be richly
rewarded; the markets for hemp-based products have enormous growth
potential. Unfortunately, the current prohibition effectively restricts
any research into hemp production for industrial purposes ÷ not to mention
any scientific evaluation of the potential benefits and uses of medical
Recent surveys show over three-quarters of Americans support the medical
use of marijuana, while just as many agree that marijuana users should not
be sent to jail. Clearly there will be popular support for the industrial
use of hemp. In fact, the European community and Canada are rapidly moving
to legalization of marijuana, and US medical marijuana advocates are
making strong headway at the state level.
Marijuana (hemp's consciousness-bending cousin) is already the largest
cash crop in many parts of the US and the world. Unfortunately, all that
money is now off the books, meaning the public is denied a huge pot of tax
dollars. We should simply regulate these plants the same way we control
other more harmful ÷ but legal ÷ plant-based products (i.e., alcohol,
cigarettes and some questionable "nutritional supplements.")
Hemp has the potential to serve as a cost-effective, safe, and versatile
solution to the impasse facing the biotechnology enterprise. All parts of
the plant (seeds, stalks, leaves) can be used to produce a wide range of
medicines, health supplements, and industrial materials. Congress should
immediately take steps to legalize and promote this special plant. The US
Department of Agriculture should take over all regulation and eliminate
the ineffective and unjust programs of the Drug Enforcement
Hemp deserves an expanded R&D program through the USDA and our Land Grant
Universities. Once we map the hemp genome we will be able to fully unlock
the power within this versatile plant. Then companies will be able to
deliver innovative value-added products to the market place that will lead
to improved health care, cleaner industrial processes, and a range of
The same consumer groups who now oppose genetically modified food crops
should applaud the use of such a sustainable and well-understood crop. In
fact, many "green groups" in Europe also support international
legalization of hemp. The biotech industry could get behind efforts of
NORML and others who seek a more rational approach to one of humanity's
oldest and favorite crops.
For almost 70 years, conservative ideologues have waged a costly and
losing war against marijuana in the US. Like the current ban on stem cell
research, hemp is a victim of moral objections by a powerful minority. The
Dutch, Danes and Canadians are leading the development of new cannabis
hybrids and positioning themselves to reap the hemp economic harvest.
This issue should be addressed in the upcoming campaigns. Those
politicians who get behind the legalization of hemp will harvest a bumper
crop of popular support. Our founding fathers would applaud a willingness
to change course and take another look at one of nature's most valuable
Dr. Hoban is a professor of sociology and anthropology at North Carolina
State University. For the past 15 years he has studied the social
implications and public perceptions of biotechnology.
ISB News Report - November 2003 Issue
* Insect Resistance to Bt Crops: Lessons from the First Seven Years
* Generating Semi-dwarf Rice by Genetic Manipulation of Gibberellin
* Influence of Organic Acid Exudation in Alfalfa on Aluminum Tolerance,
Nutrient Acquisition, and Bacterial Diversity
* Heavy Metal Tolerant Transgenic Plants
* Three Brittle Pigs
ISB Announces New And Enhanced Databases
Information Systems for Biotechnology has created and enhanced several of
the databases available through the ISB web site (http://www.isb.vt.edu).
Group Reports from the Workshop on Future Directions and Research
Priorities for the USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants
Program Group Reports from the USDA BRARG workshop held in June, 2003 are
now available through the ISB web site. The reports were compiled by each
of the breakout groups: Plants÷unintended effects, Plants÷resistance
management, Plants÷gene flow, Microorganisms, Fish, Shellfish and Insects,
and Animals. The six group reports identify research needs and priorities
for future funding through the BRARG program. The reports are available at
Annotated Bibliographies for Environmental/Ecological Impacts of
Transgenic Organisms: To increase awareness and accessibility of
peer-reviewed journal articles with data addressing environmental and
ecological impacts of transgenic organisms, Dr. LaReesa Wolfenbarger has
compiled an annotated bibliography with abstracts. Abstracts are sorted
into three categories: data papers (empirical or theoretical), issue
papers (no data), and papers on other topics. Abstracts that indicated the
paper contained original data (and those where it was ambiguous) are
sorted into five topics corresponding to the breakout group topics from
the BRARG Workshop above: Plants÷unintended effects, Plants÷resistance
management, Plants÷gene flow, Microorganisms, and Animals.
The bibliographies are available in five formats: Acrobat˙, MS-Word˙, Rich
Text, HTML, and Endnote˙ .enl files for direct importation into
bibliography management programs. The bibliographies will be updated on a
regular basis and are accessible at
http://www.isb.vt.edu/eeito_bibs/eeito_bibs.cfm or through the Risk
Assessment menu option.
Field Tests Currently in Effect
In addition to the other search criteria available, users may now view
only those field test permits that are currently in effect. The field test
database is available at http://www.isb.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm.
Towards an Ecological Systems Approach in Public Research For
Environmental Regulation of Transgenic Crops [Review]
- David E. Ervin, Rick Welsh, Sandra S. Batie and Chantal Line Carpentie;
Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 2003, 99:1-3:1-14
Abstract: A review of current research shows insufficient monitoring and
testing have been conducted to reliably assess the degree of environmental
risks posed by transgenic crops. The major risks include increased
resistance to particular pesticides, gene flow into related plant species,
and negative effects on non-target organisms. Significant gaps in
knowledge, often stemming from missing markets for ecological services,
warrant a cautious environmental regulatory approach for transgenic crops.
The objective of this paper is to identify the types of ecological systems
public research to implement effective biosafety controls. US biosafety
regulatory processes tend to focus on controlling type I error, i.e.
restricting the release of the crops when significant environmental risks
do not exist, because the economic losses from denying commercialization
can be estimated. However, the precautionary principle, which focuses on
controlling type II errors, i.e. releasing the crops when serious
ecosystem damage will occur, adds a necessary criterion given the current
deficit in ecological science.
The key challenge facing regulators is to find the appropriate balance of
controlling type I versus type II errors. The research program should
embed the lessons of evolutionary biology and ecological sciences. Viewing
the plant as a production machine that can be ''brute-force'' reengineered
for more efficiency is a poor analogy. Unanticipated and unintended
results, positive and negative, will emerge from such engineering because
plants are complex systems embedded in poorly understood, complex, and
An ideal public research program should capture the interconnectedness of
ecological systems, the essential roles of ecosystem services, nonlinear
and threshold responses to accumulating stresses, and global expansion of
the technology. Basic elements of such a program include long-term studies
of cumulative and synergistic pesticide resistance effects, potential gene
flow problems for those transgenic crop trait-weed complexes with high
probabilities of outcrossing and ecological disruption, and scientific
protocols for assessing deleterious effects on non-target organisms. For
all three effects, expanded ecosystem monitoring of the commercialized
crops in varied settings is needed for improved type II error definitions
The development of improved risk analysis methodologies and protocols
should also be a priority. Finally, scientific effort to stimulate
precautionary research, such as the development of transgenic crops that
mimic ecological systems functioning, could avert many risks. Creating
information to avoid significant ecological damages and foster
precautionary research and development for transgenic crops are neglected
roles of public biotechnology research.