Today in AgBioView: February 12, 2004
* 25th Nobel Laureate Signs AgBioWorld Declaration
* Spain: The Promised Land for GM Corn
* Greenpeace: We Can't Handle The Truth!
* European Commission will push for gene-modified corn
* GM technology to benefit farmers in Nigeria
* Monarch butterfly larvae and Bt maize pollen
* UD plant geneticist part of $100 million genome research project
* Survey finds Australian perceptions of risk changing
* Stopping the Real Pests
AgBioWorld's Nobel Support Hits a Milestone - 25th Nobel Laureate Signs
Dr. Richard J. Roberts, the 1993 Nobel Laureate in Medicine is the 25th
laureate to endorse AgBioWorld declaration in support of agricultural
biotechnology at http://www.agbioworld.org/.
Dr. Roberts shared his Nobel with Philip Sharp of MIT for their for
discovery of "split genes" and that genes could be discontinuous
interspersed with "introns". Dr. Sharp has already endorsed the AgBioWorld
declaration earlier. Dr. Roberts, a native of England, did his
Nobel-winning research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories (NY) and now
works at the New England Biolabs (MA).
According the Nobel website: "Roberts' and Sharp's discovery has changed
our view on how genes in higher organisms develop during evolution. The
discovery also led to the prediction of a new genetic process, namely that
of splicing, which is essential for expressing the genetic information.
The discovery of split genes has been of fundamental importance for
today's basic research in biology, as well as for more medically oriented
research concerning the development of cancer and other diseases. "
Plant biotechnology has benefited much from their research because of our
improved ability to enhance the expression of the introduced genes in
transgenic plants. Last week, Dr. Roberts spoke out in support of GM crops
at a lecture in Thailand (see below)
I thank Dr. Roberts for this support of our initiative.
A complete list of Nobelists supporting AgBioWorld is available at:
Spain: The Promised Land for GM Corn
- DW-World.de, Feb 11, 2004
Spain is home to the greatest amount of genetically modified food
production in Europe. The experience gained there could prove valuable for
Germany and the rest Europe.
The use of genetically modified organisms remains a hot-button topic
throughout most of European Union. And the German government, led by the
Social Democrats and the Greens, isn't exactly seen as a friend of the GMO
industry. Indeed, the pesticide and crop care industry association Agrar
on Wednesday criticized remarks made by Consumer Protection Minister
Renate Künast, a skeptic of GMOs, and a new government bill the industry
says would inhibit the fair use of so-called "green genetic technologies"
rather than permit them as intended.
But as Germany continues to debate how to deal with GMOs, it could look to
the lessons learned in Spain, where GMOs have been widely embraced. The EU
frontrunner in GM food production cultivates 32,000 hectares (79,000
acres) of GM crops.
BT-176 is one of the Spanish farmer's GM corns of choice. It's designed to
be resistant to weeds and other pests, including the crop-wasting European
corn borer. The fat white caterpillars regularly chew through Catalonian
farmers' corn fields, ruining entire harvests. While few conventional
varieties of corn can survive the onslaughts, BT-176 crops remain
"We Spanish farmers have had very good experiences with GM corn. With a
minimum of pesticides we have pests under control," Jesus Ribera of the
Spanish young farmers association told Deutsche Welle. "That's good for
the environment and good for the farmers because we don't lose any crops
Greater yields, more money
Spanish farmers are practically encouraged to cultivate GM corn. They reap
greater crops and animal feed producers are willing to pay premium for the
corn. Additionally, they are unhindered by any restrictions from the
Spanish agricultural ministry.
"When someone consciously decides to sow GM corn, we know who does it
where -- and it's fine," said Luis Bayon of the Ecological Agriculture
Committee in Madrid. "But it's something else if someone thinks they're
sowing conventional corn and genetically modified seeds are actually
The incident in Navarra
No one knows exactly what happens when the wind blows GM corn pollen onto
conventional fields. But in 2001, organic farmers in northern Spanish
region of Navarra were prohibited from selling their corn as organic
because GM stock had strayed onto their fields. As yet, no fault has been
determined in the case and the farmers have not been compensated.
The Spanish government has commissioned the University of Barcelona to
investigate the consequences of genetic transfers, but the results of the
research has not yet been released. Nevertheless, the government in Madrid
approved five new sorts of GM corn in the last five years. Protest has
come mostly from the usual suspects, including environmentalists such as
Greenpeace. And even though many Spanish supermarket chains have "zero
genetic technology" tolerance policies, the concerns of environmentalists
and convention farmers are often plowed over.
"The conventional farmers don't want to allow any kind of commingling so
that their harvest is pure," said Ribera. "That's why they now have a
problem. Agriculture is just like life: Absolute purity doesn't exist."
Greenpeace: We Can't Handle The Truth!
- Center for Consumer Freedom, February 12, 2004
What are anti-biotech-food activists to do when confronted with the facts?
Close their eyes, cover their ears, and scream bloody murder, of course.
Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore encountered such a temper tantrum
coming from his former compadres before a scheduled speech in Paris. Moore
details his experience in the March issue of The American Enterprise:
"On October 15, 2001 I found myself sitting in my office in Vancouver
after Greenpeace activists in Paris successfully prevented me from
speaking via videoconference to 400 delegates of the European Seed
Association. The Greenpeacers chained themselves to the seats in the Cine
Cite Bercy auditorium and threatened to shout down the speakers. The venue
was hastily shifted elsewhere, but the videoconferencing equipment
couldn't be set up at the new location, leading to the cancellation of my
The issue, in this case, was the application of biotechnology to
agriculture and genetic modification. The conference in Paris was a
meeting of delegates from seed companies, biotechnology companies, and
government agencies involved in regulation throughout Europe. Surely these
are topics covered by the rules of free speech.
Had those rules not been violated, I would have told the assembled that
the accusations of "Frankenstein food" and "killer tomatoes" are as much a
fantasy as the Hollywood movies they are borrowed from. I would have
argued that, if adding a daffodil gene to rice in order to produce a
genetically modified strain of rice can prevent half a million children
from going blind each year, then we should move forward carefully to
develop it. I would have told them that Greenpeace policy on genetics
lacks any respect for logic or science.
In 2001, the European Commission released the results of 81 scientific
studies on genetically modified organisms conducted by over 400 research
teams at a cost of U.S. $65 million. The studies, which covered all areas
of concern, have "not shown any new risks to human health or the
environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant
breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater
regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants
and foods." Clearly my former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading
the morning paper or simply don't care about the truth. And they choose to
silence by force those of us who do care about it."
Greenpeace activists don't reserve their obstructionism for speakers of
biotech truth. They've also worked to prevent starving Africans from
receiving biotech food aid. The group's blind rage against genetically
engineered crops has real consequences. Moore laments:
"What is the risk of allowing this humanitarian intervention to be
planted? What possible risk could there be from a daffodil gene in a rice
paddy? Yet Greenpeace activists threaten to rip the G.M. rice out of the
fields if farmers dare to plant it. ... Surely if reasonable people saw
the choice between the risk of a daffodil gene in a rice plant versus the
certainty of millions of blind children, they would descend on Greenpeace
offices around the world and demand to have their money back. How is it
that these charlatans continue to stymie progress on so many fronts when
their arguments are nothing more than wild, scary speculation?"
As Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug warns, Greenpeace's actions threaten the
health and sustainability of the world: "I now say that the world has the
technology -- either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline
-- to feed a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question
today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new
technology. Extremists in the environmental movement from the rich nations
seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its
European Commission will push for gene-modified corn
- Bloomberg News, 02/11/2004
BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Wednesday will ask national
governments to approve the sale of a gene-modified corn made by Monsanto
Co., pressing ahead with efforts to lift the region's six-year ban on new
biotech farm products.
Approval of the corn for use in animal feed and industrial processing
would be the 15-nation European Union's first endorsement of a genetically
modified food since 1998.
The move also might help unblock decisions on 28 additional requests,
including others by Monsanto, of Creve Coeur, Mo., and some that involve
At stake is a chunk of the global biotechnology market that may reach $2
trillion by 2010, an EU study shows.
"We hope the decision will be positive," said Thomas McDermott, a Monsanto
spokesman in Brussels. "We'd like to see Europe send a signal ... that
it's ready to take a science-based regulatory approach."
The United States, Canada and Argentina - the world's three biggest
growers of gene-modified seeds - have complained to the World Trade
Organization about the EU moratorium on products such as soybeans that
aren't harmed by weed-killing chemicals and corn engineered to contain a
GM technology to benefit farmers in Nigeria
- By anladi Dada Kuta
Nigeria, with favourable agro-climatic conditions and an estimated
cultivable land area of 71.2 million hectares, can produce food crops
exceeding the volume required to feed its over 120 million people and
export the excess to diversify its revenue base. Despite this potential,
Nigeria remains a low-income food-deficit country due mainly to low
The bulk of the agricultural production in Nigeria is done by
resource-poor rural farmers, who practice unimproved crop husbandry, grow
crop varieties that can not tolerate/resist water stress, insect pests,
diseases, nematodes and other field and post-harvest constraints. Though
many farmers are interested in adopting herbicide technology in weed
management, the need to combine different types of costly herbicides for
effective control of broad range of weeds discourages them from the
A recent survey has demonstrated several needs for GM intervention,
including rice varieties that can tolerate water stress and glyphosate
herbicide; cowpea cultivars that can resist insect pests; plantain/banana
clones that are nematode-resistant; cassava genotypes with broad
resistance to viral diseases. These demands have stimulated the interest
of the Nigerian government in the acquisition of biotechnology capability
in the country.
Already, a National Biotechnology Policy has been
formulated and relevant biotechnology agencies and laboratory are being
established to promote the exploitation of biotechnology for the benefit
of farmers in Nigeria.
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larvae and Bt maize pollen: a review
of ecological risk assessment for non-target species
By Karen S. Oberhauser and Erika R.L. Rivers
The four main ecological concerns from transgenic Bt crops are gene flow
of the transgenes to other plant species or strains, evolution of
resistance by the target pests, effects of the Bt protein in the soil, and
harmful effects on non-target species exposed to the Bt protein. In terms
of the effects on non-target species, the larvae of the monarch butterfly
(Danaus plexippus) is perhaps the system best studied.
Here we review the research to date on
how monarch butterfly larvae are affected by Bt maize pollen and discuss
the lingering questions from the scientific risk assessment that lead to
the re-registration of Bt maize in the United States. Although the risk to
monarch butterfly larvae from most varieties of Bt maize proved to be
negligible, one variety (Event 176) posed a significant threat to
monarchs. Since this variety was registered and commercialised without
complete understanding of its potential risk to a non-target species, we
suggest several ways pre-commercialisation regulation and ecological risk
assessment might be improved, with the hope of preventing future negative
impacts to non-targets.
Among our recommendations: make the pre-commercialisation risk assessment
broadly accessible, independent, and focused on the unique ecological
context for the proposed transgenic crop; increase funding for independent
non-target risk assessments; and establish a product registration regime
that is based on the best available science and responsive to uncertain
UD plant geneticist part of $100 million genome research project
- University of Delaware Daily, Feb. 10, 2004
The National Science Foundation has awarded a UD researcher $4.2 million
for genetic studies of rice, a plant that feeds more than half of the
world‚s population and serves as a model for cereal crops of great
economic importance in the United States.
The research is being conducted by Blake C. Meyers, an assistant professor
of plant and soil sciences who is affiliated with both the UD College of
Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Delaware Biotechnology
The project was developed in conjunction with co-principal investigator
Guo-Liang Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology
at the Ohio State University, who will generate the rice tissues and
treatments used in the analysis and assist in the analysis of the data.
Lynx Therapeutics Inc. of Hayward, Calif. will generate data using a
Meyers, who joined the UD faculty after doing postdoctoral work at the
University of California at Davis and with the DuPont Co. at the Delaware
Technology Park in Newark, said the recent availability of the genomic
sequence facilitates functional analysis and molecular studies of the rice
However, he said, most of these genes are as yet defined only by
computational and not experimental approaches. As a result, computational
gene predictions may not identify all RNA transcripts within the
Meyers said the project is using Lynx Therapeutics‚ transcriptional
profiling technology called Massively Parallel Signature Sequencing, or
MPSS, to characterize the diversity and expression patterns of rice
„Defining the patterns and levels of gene expression in the rice genome
will advance our understanding of rice molecular biology and genetic
factors controlling important agronomical traits,š Meyers said.
He said this analysis of rice has broad practical implications for the
improvement of other economically important cereals, such as corn, wheat,
sorghum and barley, because nearly all genes present in these species are
likely to have homologs, or similarities, in rice.
The MPSS data will be used to identify genes missed by computational
approaches and will provide data that validate many genes previously
predicted but never confirmed experimentally.
Meyers said MPSS will be used to assess gene expression under the
-- In diverse untreated rice tissues and a subset of these tissues under
cold, drought and salt stress;
-- In fungal- or bacterial-infected rice tissues in both susceptible and
resistant plants; and
-- In an Indica rice background and in a hybrid of Indica x Japonica. This
experiment will measure differences in gene expression between the two
rice varieties for which the genomic sequence is available.
The novel transcripts identified by the MPSS technology will be validated
at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute by microarray analysis and by
sequencing more than 500 novel transcripts, Meyers said.
All of the data -- MPSS, microarray and sequence validation of transcripts
-- will be made available through a project web page.
Meyers said the web site will include query and analysis tools to
facilitate public use of the rice MPSS data and will display the abundance
and chromosomal locations of rice MPSS signatures.
Meyers said the new NSF grant extends his earlier work on Arabidopsis, a
plant that is easy to grow and for which the genome sequence had been
determined. In fact, the rice web site will be similar to that which has
been developed for the model plant Arabidopsis at
Meyers earned a bachelor‚s degree in biology from the University of
Chicago in 1992 and his master‚s and doctoral degrees in genetics from the
University of California at Davis in 1995 and 1998, respectively.
His father, Terry L. Meyers, is on the faculty of the English department
at the College of William & Mary.
Meyers said he came to an interest in the life sciences early in life,
developing a fascination with plants that eventually led him to this line
The NSF grant to Meyers is part of a $100 million plant genome research
project that involves 48 different institutions.
NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research
and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual
budget that exceeds $5 billion. Its plant genome program examines the
structure and function of plant genes, particularly those important to
agriculture, environmental concerns, energy and health.
According to Mary Clutter, assistant director of NSF's Directorate for
Biological Sciences, this year's awards take advantage of the fruits of
earlier genome projects to extend existing areas of research and to break
entirely new ground.
„In key ways, these projects will expand what we know about the biology of
the plant kingdom, including plants that have a major impact upon the
lives of people around the world,š Clutter said. „In a relatively short
time, genomics has created massive amounts of data and innovative,
adaptable tools for biological research. These now make it possible for
scientists, wherever they are, to approach important, challenging
questions in new ways.š
Survey finds Australian perceptions of risk changing
- Biotechnology Australia, 11 February 2004
Australians are more likely to be concerned about pollution, the
greenhouse effect and nuclear waste than the use of gene technology.
That‚s one of the major findings in a four year tracking study of public
attitudes towards biotechnology, undertaken for Biotechnology Australia.
The study was conducted in 1999, 2001 and again in 2003 looking at changes
in public attitudes toward applications such as GM foods and crops, stem
cells and cloning. „The general trend from 1999 to 2001 was an increase in
support for many applications of gene technology.
From 2001 to 2003 there was an increase in risk perception, but no
parallel increase in concern,š said Craig Cormick of Biotechnology
„The concept of risk has changed enormously in the last two years.
Australians have increased risk perceptions right across society, fuelled
by global insecurities such as September 11 and the Bali bombing,š Mr
Cormick said. The major findings of the study included:
ū Continued high support for the use of gene technology in medicines;
ū 82% of the population support stem cell science but, perhaps
unrealistically, expect it to improve our way of life in the next five to
ū 56% believe Australian farmers need access to gene technology to remain
ū 45% of the population would eat GM foods, down from 49% in 2001, but
well above the 1999 level of 25%. Opposition to GM foods is largely based
on a perceived lack of benefit for consumers;.
ū Highest risk perceptions related to modifying plant cells using animal
genetic material or genetic material from bacteria; and
„While perceptions of risk have increased, a majority of people (56%)
continue to feel that Australia should accept some degree of risk if it
would enhance Australia‚s economic competitiveness,š said Mr Cormick.
„There was also strong support for continued research, because when asked
if the risks of gene technology outweighed the benefits to the point that
all research and development should be stopped, 73 per cent of respondents
did not agree,š he said.
The independent poll of more than 1000 people was conducted by Millward
Brown. For further information: Craig Cormick, Biotechnology Australia,
0418 963 914
Stopping the Real Pests
- Tech Central Station, Feb 12, 2003, By Henry I. Miller, MD
It's great news that most Americans now identify themselves as
environmentalists. Unfortunately, a small number have embraced
environmentalism with religious fervor, basing their beliefs more on faith
and dogma than on science and data.
Not unlike fundamentalists engaged in a jihad against unbelievers, these
radical environmentalists pursue an agenda that has less to do with
protection of the environment than with antipathy toward business,
profits, and certain products and technologies. Ironically, their efforts
to achieve their own narrow vision of what constitutes a "good society"
often are inimical to protection of the environment -- a variation on the
admission by Peanuts cartoon character Linus van Pelt, "I love humanity;
it's people I can't stand."
For example, exploiting a technicality that links the Endangered Species
Act (ESA) to pesticide registration, environmental groups have filed a
spate of nuisance lawsuits that attempt to prevent the Environmental
Protection Agency from registering or re-registering pesticides. These
suits take advantage of a legal technicality that links pesticide
registration to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). They allege that by
failing to put in place a process for consultation with the federal
agencies that administer the ESA -- the National Marine Fisheries Service
and Fish & Wildlife Service -- before registering a pesticide, the EPA has
not complied fully with the law. This in spite of the fact that the Fish &
Wildlife Service's ESA Consultation Handbook makes it clear that "[t]he
Services cannot force an action agency to consult."
The environmentalists' lawsuits are not substantive but procedural: No
actual damage to threatened or endangered species from the EPA's actions
(or inactions) has been demonstrated. And never mind that pesticides
control vermin, increase agricultural productivity, reduce the need to
convert wild lands into farmland, prevent the growth of harmful fungi and
bacteria on crops, reduce prices to consumers -- and that they undergo
exhaustive testing and regulatory review to ensure their safety.
Substantive or not, the lawsuits constitute a nuisance and distraction for
EPA officials, who must expend vast effort and expense on defending the
agency in court - resources that could be better spent reviewing and
approving new products, and on prosecuting dishonest manufacturers and
Although the ESA requires all federal agencies to ensure that their
actions take into account possible adverse effects on endangered species,
Congress recognized the value of pesticides by expressly directing that
pesticide registration by the EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide
and Rodenticide Act should "minimize the impacts to persons engaged in
agricultural food and fiber commodity production and other affected
pesticide users and applicators."
This is not the only instance in which misguided activists and their
lawyers have obstructed government agencies charged with protecting public
and environmental health. Last November, an activist coalition filed a
lawsuit that seeks to stop the field testing of crop plants that produce
pharmaceuticals -- so-called "biopharming." Again, the grounds for the
suit were purely procedural. The groups claimed that "neither USDA nor any
other government agency has prepared an Environmental Impact Statement . .
." to evaluate the safety of the field trials, and that this "lack of
oversight violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the
Endangered Species Act." And during my tenure at the FDA, the agency was
constantly diverted and distracted by the need to defend against bad-faith
lawsuits and by the need to respond to annoying, insubstantial "citizens'
The hidden agenda in all of these cases is activists' opposition to the
use of certain kinds of technologies or products, and animus toward the
companies that use or make them.
There is good news to report, however, about the lawsuits that are
attempting to halt pesticide registration. The EPA, which boasts vast and
comprehensive experience with assessing the potential risks of pesticides
to plant and animal species -- including those listed as threatened or
endangered under the ESA -- and other federal agencies have devised an
appropriate solution to the procedural problem. The National Marine
Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, which administer the ESA,
on January 30th proposed a rule that will eliminate the requirement for
the EPA to consult with other agencies as the agency reviews and registers
pesticides. This technical revision will not only assure greater
consistency in the assessment of pesticides, but by freeing regulators to
more expeditiously license more environment-friendly products, it will
also better protect endangered species and their habitats. And, of course,
it will moot the lawsuits.
Confounded by incomplete data and incessant pressure from radical groups
and commercial interests, the formulation of environmental policy is
difficult, to be sure, and assessing the risks and benefits of pesticides
can be devilishly complex. This proposed rule will draw the battle lines
clearly. Brandishing pseudo-facts, half-truths and warnings of apocalypse,
the anti-pesticide, anti-technology, anti-agribusiness groups will oppose
it, while genuine environmentalists will support it.
This change will not fix other existing flaws in the ESA, but it will
prevent the legislation from interfering with the development and
registration of an important class of agricultural and consumer products.
Henry Miller is a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was
an official at the National Institutes of Health and FDA from 1977 to
1994. His most recent book, "The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and
Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution," will be published later this
year by Praeger Publishers.