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March 10, 2004


Borlaug on Mexican Corn; GM Ain't New; Bulgaria Say Yes; Brits See the Light; Biotech for the Poor, Too; Flower Power; Drugs In My Corn Flakes?; Epidemic of Dishonesty


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - March 11, 2004:

* Borlaug: Ill-founded Fears of Mexican Corn "Contamination"
* GM Ain't New: We've Messed With Nature For Centuries
* Bulgaria Permits Production, Sales, Imports, Exports of GMO
* Biotech for the Poor, Too
* Strong Science Capacity a Necessity for Every Nation
* China Urged to Step Up GM Efforts
* Brazil's Quandary on Bioethics
* Transgenic Planting Approved Despite Scepticism of UK Public
* UK Farmers Union Welcomes GM Maize Decision
* FSE Chief Questions UK Audit Report
* GM Crops are Good for Us - London Debate
* Response to Traavik Claims of GM Corn Posing "Serious Health Threats"
* Not So Uncommon Bedfellows: Traavik and Pusztai
* Strategies for Sustainable Cotton Production
* Flower Power
* Are There Drugs In My Corn Flakes?
* Aflatoxin Accumulation In Conventional And Transgenic Corn Hybrids
* An Epidemic of Dishonesty

Ill-founded Fears of Mexican Corn "Contamination"

- Norman Borlaug, AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org March 11, 2004

Dear Dr. Prakash: The article written by Dina Cappiello and published in the Houston Chronicle on February 22nd, 2004, was a disastrous article, full of mis-information, but well presented in an attractive utopian mystic environmental package to deceive the poorly informed urbanites about the dangers of HYPT (including GMO's and transgenic technology).

Mexico has been importing 2 to 4 million tons of maize for food from the USA, over the past three years. Much of this grain (which carries the Bt
gene) is on sale in village, town and city markets in different parts of the republic. There is no credible scientific evidence that the Bt is dangerous to human or animal health, or to the environment. As has been the case for hundreds yes thousands of years, people buying grain in the market for tortillas, sometimes plant a few hills of the most "beautiful" grain in their garden plots. The seed germinates, the plant flowers and sheds pollen, which is carried by the wind and sometimes pollinates ("contaminates or pollutes") local maize varieties and modifies their genetic make-up--sometimes greatly improving the progeny--which the farmer may select for his seed for the next year. This process had been going on for hundred--yes, thousands of years, before scientific improvement of maize was begun in the 18th century.

The fear of "pollution" of the local varieties by transgenics that Dr. Ignacio Chapela and his colleagues from the University of California have spread among small farmers in isolated areas of Mexico, is ill-founded. It will have no measurable reduction on yield, nutritive quality or disease or insect resistance. From the standpoint of fear of loss of genetic variability and resistance for future maize breeding programs, this is another fear that is ill-founded. CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), has a collection of all of the primitive-unimproved "land races" (varieties) from all parts of Mexico and Central America that are stored under low temperature--low humidity conditions, whereby germinability can be maintained for decades. Small amounts of seed of these materials are made available upon written request to maize researchers from any countries of the world.

Drs. Chapela and Quist, and colleagues, have done a disservice to the small maize farmers of Mexico and to the general public of Mexico, by provoking fear from their "comfortable, theoretical cloud-nine utopian academic environment"--and Mrs. Dina Cappiello has apparently been converted to their non-scientific based political ideology and become one of their anti-biotech propagandist.

I was very favorably impressed by the letter Tom DeGregori drafted to the editor of the Houston Chronicle. It is right on target, clearly stated, and clearly discredits Chapela and Quist scientific data and indicates Cappiello was probably mislead by an environmental activist.

All the best,

Norman E. Borlaug

Dr. Norman Borlaug, architect of the 'Green Revolution' is the winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for Peace. The above letter is reproduced in AgBioView with his approval.

>Genetically altered corn worries Mexican farmers by DINA CAPPIELLO,
Houston Chronicle, Feb. 22, 2004 CAPULALPAN, Mexico -- The villagers knew that the corn stalk growing in Olga Maldonado's garden was different. It stood taller than a man, and the husks holding the ears dangled in bunches, like bananas. "The way it grew, it was amazing," said her brother, Javier Toro Maldonado.

Full article at http://forests.org/articles/reader.asp?linkid=29649


GM Food Isn't New: We've Messed With Nature For Centuries

- Matt Roper, Daily Mirror (UK), March 10, 2004 http://www.mirror.co.uk/

Modern-day miracle that'll end starvation and disease, or another example of man playing God and producing Frankenstein foods?
Wherever you stand on the debate over genetic modification - where foreign genes are inserted into the DNA of another species - things are going to get a whole lot more interesting...Yesterday, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett gave the go-ahead to the farming of GM maize, opening the gates to the previously unthinkable.

Giant tomatoes, glow-in-the-dark tobacco and human organs grown in pigs could all be around the corner as boffins play with nature's building blocks. Frightening, perhaps, but don't forget we've been manipulating nature for centuries.

Dr Luke Alphey, a senior research fellow at Oxford University, says genetic modification is similar to the kind of manipulation we all accept. "Since prehistoric times, when men cross-bred horses, we've been interfering with nature to suit our needs," he says. "The only difference now is that we have the potential to do much more. With conventional breeding we could only bring in genes from the same or very similar species. Now we can swap genes with completely different species.

"We have the potential to take a gene from a jellyfish and create a florescent rose," he says.DR Alphey adds that virtually every product on supermarket shelves has undergone some kind of cross-breeding or selective breeding.

And our pet dogs - such as the chihuahua, poodle or shih-Tzu - now look nothing like their purest relative, the wolf. Valentine's Day wouldn't be the same if our roses hadn't been bred to make them to look redder, and a day at the races would be less exciting if we were backing the original, short Appaloosa horses. Modifying food to affect its appearance, flavour or shelf-life has been an accepted practise for more than 200 years.

The famous Cox's Orange Pippin was first created in the 1800s, when Middlesex market gardener Richard Cox cross-bred a Ribston Pippin with an unknown variety of apple. At the time, his new fruit was greeted with fascination - not fear.

In 1856, a monk named Gregor Mendel crossed pea plants for the first time. And we also owe the existence of French wine to crop modification. In the mid-19th century, a microscopic insect called phylloxera, which attacks grapevine roots, threatened to wipe out all of France's vineyards. The destruction was only halted when a Texan biologist grafted French vines onto a more resistant American root. That continues to this day.

More recently, scientists have been releasing billions of sterile insects, called medflies, into the skies over southern California in an effort to stop infestations of the bugs, which devastate crops. And genetically altered antibiotics, vaccines and vitamins have improved our health, while enzyme-containing detergents and oil-eating bacteria have helped protect the environment.

Experiments being carried out include potatoes with chicken genes found to be resistant to disease, salmon altered with growth-promoter genes to make them fatten up quicker and tomatoes made frost-resistant by inserting the antifreeze gene of an arctic fish, the flounder.

We have all reaped the benefits of interfering with nature, so why has genetic modification met so much condemnation? Many anti-GM campaigners believe changing plants and animals genetically is a step too far. They cite the biotechnologists who modified tobacco with a gene from fire-flies to make it glow in the dark, or the Japanese company creating the first GM house pets, including a glowing green fish, which contains a jellyfish gene.

In another bizarre experiment, Indian scientists created an animal with the head of a goat and the body of a cow which grew fatter faster than either. "GM enables scientists to bypass natural selection and evolution by transferring genes from species that would never normally breed together," says Emma Gibson, GM campaigner for Greenpeace. "The end result could be chaos.

"These are new life forms that have never occurred in nature and pose unpredictable and irreversible long-term risks to environmental and human health. "Once these man-made organisms are released, there's no way of recalling them."

OTHERS disagree. Dr David Brooks, of biotechnology company Oxitec believes the advantages of "Frankenstein foods" far outweigh the potential risks but argues modification should be done responsibly. He says: "GM has the potential for huge benefits. For example, in the control of infectious diseases. But each new application must be judged on its own merits and advanced in a responsible manner."

His firm is doing research into the breeding of GM mosquitoes, making them unable to carry yellow fever, dengue and malaria. They are also trying to make insects sterile without exposing them to radiation. "It would be desirable to reduce the use of chemicals on crops, to improve the resistance of crops to drought and cold, to make food with extra protein and vitamins. "All these goals can be achieved through genetic engineering and changes can be made faster and more reliably. And the process is not fundamentally different to what we've been doing for centuries."


Bulgaria Permits Production, Sales, Imports, Exports of GMO

- Bulgarian News Digest, March 10, 2004

Bulgaria shall permit the production, sales, imports and exports of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and foods, the Bulgarian Parliament decided when passing in first reading the GMO bill.

The bill envisages the setting up of a commission, which will be responsible for the issue. The commission will include representatives of the relevant ministries and scientists. Under the law, the GMO production licences in controlled areas will include the exact location of the facilities, where the GMO will be created, and will be issued by the Environment Ministry. The Agriculture Ministry will be responsible for issuing the licences for the sales of GMO.

A registry will be also set up, where to record the approved products and companies. Agriculture Minster, Mehmed Dikme, said the bill fully complied with the acquis communautaire, and was one of the conditions for the closing of the Aquiculture chapter under the EU accession talks.

Bulgaria should not lag behind the international trends so such a law is quite necessary, Dikme said. However Bulgaria should find the most suitable way to combine the traditional farming, the organic farming and the biotechnology.

The approval of the Bulgarian law will coincide with the forthcoming end of the EU five-year moratorium on the imports, production and sales of GMO. Two new EU laws on GMO will come into force on April 18, 2004. One of them will lift the moratorium and the other will introduce very strict rules on the tracing and the labelling of genetically modified components in foods. Bulgaria made the first successful experiments in the field of GMO in 1986.


Biotech for the Poor, Too

- Gustavo González, Inter Press Service March 9, 2004

SANTIAGO (IPS) - Scientists and government representatives have called for democratising biotechnology and ensuring that its benefits also reach poor countries, but they agreed during a meeting in Chile that, as always, there is a great divide between good intentions and reality.

More than a thousand people from 79 countries took part in panel discussions on a broad range of biotech topics: from the use of bacteria and microbes for cleaner mining operations, to the development of vaccines
-- passing through the recurrent debates on intellectual property and trade.

The first Global Biotechnology Forum, held in the coastal city of Concepción (500 km south of Santiago), was considered a success by participants, though non-governmental consumer and environmental groups criticised the event for failing to include a greater civil society presence.

The main objective was to assess public policies to ensure that scientific knowledge and its material benefits are available to all, according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Chilean government, the organisers of the three-day event that ended this weekend.

The event's final statement underscored that the goal was "to examine the potential offered by biotechnology in all its facets for the creation of wealth and the improvement of the quality of life of people in the developing countries and countries with economies in transition." Among the participants in the Forum were Chinese scientist Huanming Yang, who led genetic research on SARS (severe acute respiratory disorder) and is credited with deciphering the rice genome, and Klaus Ammann, Swiss botanist and expert in medicinal plants.

In parallel to the Global Biotechnology Forum, a meeting of judges also took place in Concepción. Their main concern was to develop science training for magistrates, an urgent matter when considering that genetic material is gaining legitimacy as evidence in criminal cases. Franklin Zweig, president of the Einstein Institute for Science, Health and the Courts, organiser of the meeting that drew a hundred judges from around the world, announced that from now until 2009 the institute plans to train 120 'scientist judges' in Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the main Forum, the issue of genetically modified food was a source of discord, both in the analysis of its use in the fight against hunger and in the debate about the right of consumers to be duly informed. Gustavo Gordillo, Latin American regional representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), suggested that nations should use the potential of science and technology to augment their agricultural production and to improve people's access to food. "It is vital that developing countries aren't left behind," he said, in reference to the growing technological divide separating the South from the industrialised North. The FAO supports the use of biotechnology in agriculture, including genetically modified products, but is clear that "biotechnology is much more than genetic engineering," stressed Gordillo.

In general, the Forum environment was one of acceptance of transgenic foods -- those produced using genetic manipulation, particularly the introduction of genes from one species of plant or animal into another. Eduardo Bitran, of Fundación Chile, which promotes technological development and transfer, lamented that although his country produces transgenic seeds they cannot be planted because of government bans. This means the seeds are exported, but return to Chile as imports of finished products, he said.

The Latin American director of Consumers International (CI), José Vargas, said that appropriate public policies are not in place to protect the population from the potentially harmful effects of transgenics, whether on human health or the environment.

However, Albert Basson, of UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), argued that "before releasing transgenic seeds for planting, there is a great deal of laboratory work done to avoid negative consequences." But Vargas argued that this does not occur in developing countries, where regulations are not as strict or are non-existent, and he pointed out that the transnationals specialised in transgenics, particularly the U.S.-based seed and agrichemical giant Monsanto, focus their technology on production, impeding independent scientific assessment.

The CI regional director also challenged the notion that transgenics are necessary to eliminate world hunger -- 840 million people around the globe are undernourished --, arguing that the current volume of global food production is enough to feed everyone, but is inequitably distributed.
The London-based CI, the world's largest consumers association, with offices in 115 countries, was the only civil society organisation present for the Global Biotechnology Forum, CI sources told IPS.

Juan Carlos Cuchacovich, coordinator of the Chilean transgenics campaign for the environmental watchdog Greenpeace, said his organisation was not invited. The Forum was not an exchange of ideas, but rather a series of presentations that give the impression that "everyone thinks the same way" about biotechnology, complained the activist. But beyond these complaints, from the opening address by Chilean President Ricardo Lagos to its closing ceremonies, the Forum underscored the need to revitalise and reorient international aid in support of developing biotechnology in the poorest countries..

Carlos Magariños, UNIDO director general, said that "a global society needs global public goods." Based on that premise, and with the aim of achieving effective democratisation of biotechnology, these "public goods" to be shared and developed are knowledge, information and efficient markets, said the UN official.


Strong Science and Technology Capacity a Necessity for Every Nation

- Datum der Mitteilung, March 11, 2004

NEW YORK CITY - All nations, whether industrialized or developing, face a broad array of challenges that will require the application of up-to-date scientific knowledge and technology. Such challenges include stimulating economic growth, mitigating environmental problems, safely adopting beneficial new technologies, and quickly responding to sudden outbreaks of new diseases. No nation can now afford to be without access to a credible, independent science and technology (S&T) research capacity that would help it to develop informed policies and take effective action in these and other areas, says a new report by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an organization in Amsterdam created by 90 of the world's science academies.

"Inventing a Better Future delivers on the commitment that member academies have made to apply sound scientific knowledge and evidence-based principles to the critical issues that affect all nations: poverty, hunger, disease, the effects of globalization, and economic transformation," said Bruce Alberts, IAC co-chair and president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The report calls for a worldwide effort from many sectors, with a strong emphasis on what the world's scientific community can do to help bring the benefits of science and technology to every corner of our globe." Goverdhan Mehta, IAC co-chair and former president of the Indian National Science Academy, emphasized that "the culture and values of science are key to building a more rational and peaceful world community. Science serves to transcend and connect national cultures. It can positively affect societies in which it flourishes, including those that have in the past been racked by war and civil or economic strife."

The report asserts that there is no reason why, in an era in which national economies are already tightly interconnected by air travel and the Internet, S&T capacity-building should not be a worldwide priority. Developing countries must begin strengthening their national capacities. "And they must do so soon through their own focused efforts, with help from their friends. Given the current rate of change in science and technology, there is no time to waste if the majority of humanity is not to suffer further marginalization," the report concludes.

Full story at http://idw-online.de/public/zeige_pm.html?pmid=77115


China Urged to Step Up GM Efforts

- Jia Hepeng, SciDev.Net, March 5, 2004

The Chinese government is coming under pressure to boost its efforts to allow the commercial use of food crops that have been genetically modified to withstand insects, diseases and herbicides. The main source of the pressure is a group of senior Chinese biotech scientists who have recently released a report urging the government to allow such planting to take place as soon as possible.

Chinese researchers have developed several GM rice varieties, with field trials showing boosted yields and less chemical use. The scientists say that if GM rice was widely used by farmers, it would have an even greater impact than GM cotton.

GM cotton has become the 'miracle crop' of China since its commercial growth was first permitted in 1996, and more than a half of China's cotton is now GM. One of the main reasons for this success, say its advocates, it that it has both helped farmers to cut their production costs by an average of almost 30 per cent, and reduce their exposure to chemicals.

Huang Jikun, an agricultural economist with the Agricultural Policy Research Centre, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and one of the group urging that GM efforts should be stepped up, says that the Chinese government should invest US$100 million a year from 2005 to support the commercial use of GM food, and carry out research into such use.

But the ministry of agriculture says the funding has not been finalised. China awarded its first formal safety certificates for imported GM crops – which allow foreign exporters to ship their GM products to China – last week. Huang says that this shows that the country's decision makers are becoming more receptive to GM technologies.

Five strains developed by the US-based biotech giant Monsanto, including Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, YieldGard Corn Borer, Bollgard cotton and Roundup Ready cotton, received certificates. Strict measures adopted in recent years to tighten control over imports of GM soybean have failed to stop the growth rate of GM imports. Last year, China imported more than 20 million tons of soybean worth US$4.8 billion, a rise of 100 per cent over the previous year. More than 70 per cent of China's imported soybeans are genetically modified.

The Chinese government is, however, increasing its efforts to develop the country's own GM rice varieties, says Huang Danian, a scientist with the Hangzhou-based China National Rice Research Institute.

His institute has launched several projects to test how well GM rice withstands diseases and herbicides, while another institute in China's Fujian Province is expanding the range of trial areas of insect-resistant GM rice. China's best strategy would be to develop its own low-cost GM technologies, especially rice, Huang Jikun says.


Brazil's Quandary on Bioethics

- David Dickson and Luisa Massarani, scidev.net, March 8, 2004

The Brazilian parliament is debating a broad-ranging bioethics bill covering topics from human cloning to GM crops. A more focused agenda would be more manageable -- and more democratic.

Three years ago, Brazil launched a television soap opera highlighting the social and ethical issues raised by human cloning. To many, the dilemmas raised by the decision of a geneticist to clone a friend's son (in order to replace another son killed in a road accident) proved an imaginative and innovative way of promoting public discussion on a key issue raised by modern science (see Soap opera puts human cloning in the public eye). Others, however -- including, but not restricted to, members of the scientific community -- criticised the programme for both overdramatising and oversimplifying the issues, for example, by ignoring the medical risks of the procedures involved.

Similar criticisms have now resurfaced in a real-life soap opera, this one taking place in Brazil's National Congress. Last month, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower of the two houses in the congress, passed a broad-ranging biosafety bill that is intended to set a new framework for regulating a wide range of biological techniques and their applications. In principle, the new bill is due to be discussed shortly in the Senate, whose approval is needed to pass it into law.

In practice, however, given the uncertainty and opposition that the draft has provoked, the next step remains highly uncertain. The challenge to the Brazilian government is to find a strategy that is in the best interests of its citizens, and avoids giving in to those who would place ideological commitment above either good science or responsible democratic control. Unfortunately it is not yet clear that it has managed to do either.

Full commentary at http://www.scidev.net/Editorials/index.cfm?fuseaction=readEditorials&itemid=107&language=1


Transgenic Planting Approved Despite Scepticism of UK Public

- Jim Giles, Nature, March 11, 2004

After years of careful deliberation, the British government this week took a crucial step towards acceptance of genetically modified crops. On 9 March, government ministers announced limited approval for commercial planting of a maize (corn) variety engineered to be resistant to a specific herbicide - the first such approval in Britain.

Although the approval lasts only until 2006, the decision indicates that prime minister Tony Blair's government is willing to support transgenic technology in the face of widespread public opposition. In Britain, opposition to agricultural biotechnology has been early and strident. Both supporters and enemies believe this week's decision will influence debates outside Britain about transgenic crops (see "Californian county bans transgenic crops").

Environment minister Margaret Beckett announced that farmers can grow the maize if they follow management guidelines used in farm-scale studies of the crop's environmental impact. These studies found that the maize could have a beneficial effect on biodiversity, provided the timing and nature of herbicide spraying are carefully controlled (see Nature 425, 751; 2003).

Blair's government has generally backed the technology since coming into office in 1997, but it has been cautious about allowing commercial cultivation. Opinion polls show that the public is concerned about the impact of the crops on human health and the environment, and environmental groups have campaigned against the technology.

The case for the crops was boosted by a scientific review, released last July, which found no reason to rule out carefully managed cultivation of the plants. The review was discussed at a cabinet meeting last month. Leaked minutes of the meeting state that ministers acknowledged public opposition, but thought that it "might eventually be worn down by solid, authoritative scientific argument".

Despite this week's announcement, the company marketing the maize used in the farm-scale study - Bayer CropScience, based in Monheim am Rhein, Germany - is unlikely to sell many seeds in Britain in the near future. The maize has had European Union approval since 1997, but the terms of the approval will have to be modified to take the herbicide restrictions into account before sales can start. Officials in Beckett's department say this will take several months, although they predict that the necessary rules7 will be in place for farmers to plant transgenic maize in spring 2005. Farmers will, however, be keeping a nervous eye on the first plantings, as environmental activists have damaged several research plots.

Farmers will also be wary of planting genetically modified varieties before the government has clarified rules governing how they should be kept separate from nearby conventional crops. In addition, European Union approval for the maize will have to be renewed if cultivation is to extend beyond 2006.

Renewing the application may not be a formality. The farm-scale trials compared transgenic maize with conventional varieties that had been treated predominantly with triazine herbicides, powerful weed-killers that are likely to be banned in Europe by 2006. When compared with fields treated with less intense herbicides, the biodiversity benefits associated with transgenic maize decrease by around a third, according to a study led Joe Perry, a statistician at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research fir7m based north of London (see J. N. Perry et al. Nature doi:10.1038/nature02374; 2004).


UK Farmers Union Welcomes GM Maize Decision

- David Mccoy, Farming Life (UK), Mar 10 2004 http://www.farminglife.com

The National Farmers' Union gave a cautious welcome to the Government decision to agree in principle to the commercial planting of genetically enhanced forage maize. The NFU has always advocated that any decision on this complex question be based on sound science and informed debate.

Speaking after the Commons' statement, NFU president, Tim Bennett, said: "We support the decision by DEFRA Secretary, Margaret Beckett, to adopt a science-based position on this controversial issue, but we ask the Government to proceed with caution.

"Farmers and growers should not be excluded from technologies that have received regulatory and scientific approval, but it is essential that systems are established to allow GM and non-GM production to co-exist.''

Mr Bennett added: "The farming industry, as always, will strive to provide a safe and diverse choice for the consumer, but it is important to develop measures to protect businesses that choose not to explore the GM option. "Co-existence - the growing of a traditional crop in a field next to a genetically modified crop - strategies should be developed in a science-based manner, with the participation of all strands of the food chain, and we will continue to work with the supply chain group SCIMAC (the Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops), to deliver a robust set of guidelines.''

Mr Bennett added: "It is important to note that any decision to grow this particular variety of animal fodder will be determined by the value it might add to the farm business as a whole. Farmers will only adopt this new option if market forces or consumer demand make it economical to do so.

"Now this decision has been taken, the Government must take positive steps to protect the homes and businesses of farmers who legitimately choose to grow this new variety of forage maize. "Whilst recognising the right to legal protest, it is essential that farm businesses are offered adequate protection under the law as regards trespass and criminal damage.''

THE European Commission has launched an initiative which will improve access to information on the EU's market policy. Following a short trial period, the results of the management committee for cereals as well as other relevant information are now publicly accessible via the Europa server to all interested parties. This new approach will replace the dissemination of the information by fax.


On: Genetically Modified Maize Crops Given Green Light

- The Times, Letters to the Editor, March 11, 2004 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,59-1033493,00.html

From the Co-ordinator of Farm Scale Evaluations

Sir, The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (report, March 5) has criticised the design and conduct of the government-commissioned farm-scale evaluations on genetically modified crops. Had the scientists who did the research been interviewed, we would have sought to correct some of the misconceptions in its report.

Moreover, the committee appeared not to draw its evidence from the papers detailing our methods and results. These papers have been reviewed intensively by the Scientific Steering Committee and by referees acting for the Royal Society and the British Ecological Society, by the GM Science Review panel and others.

We agreed with the committee that it was necessary to review our conclusion on GM maize in the light of the announcement that atrazine, one of the weedkillers used in the trials, is to be banned. We therefore analysed the data further. Again, this study was submitted for scrutiny by independent referees of the highest standard.

I find it astonishing that the chairman of the committee should announce that the work is "neither robust nor particularly credible science" within a few hours of its publication in Nature, the most highly acclaimed scientific journal in the world.

Society has major decisions to make about the impacts of new agricultural practices on our wider biodiversity - it can base them on independent, peer-reviewed, experimental science such as the farm-scale evaluations, or on preconception and dogma.

We recommend the former.

Yours faithfully, LES FIRBANK, Co-ordinator,
Farm Scale Evaluations; Head, Land Use Systems Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre, UK


GM Crops are Good for Us - London Debate

- London, March 22, 200, 7.15 pm


Speakers include: Professor Conrad Lichtenstein, Kerry Preete, Professor Vivian Moses, Dr Sue Mayer, The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP and Devinder Sharma. The debate will be chaired by Peter Sissons. This debate will take place at the Natural History Museum.


Corrected Version: Response To Claims Of GM Corn Posing "Serious Health Threats" To Filipinos Living Near Corn Fields In Mindanao, Philippines

- Nina Gloriani Barzaga, M.D.,Ph.D. February 27, 2004 ; Professor of Medical Microbiology & Microbial Immunology, College of Public Health, University of the Philippines Manila; Director of the Institute of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology, National Institutes of Health Philippines Director for Research, Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines

The statement made by Norwegian scientist Terje Traavik that "blood samples from 39 people in Southern Philippines carried increased levels of three different target antibodies showing evidence of an immune reaction to the Bt toxin built into the maize gene to combat pests" needs to be evaluated based on the basic principles of  immunology and immunobiology.  

Traavik needs to show pertinent scientific data that establish his claims, before making press releases and unduly causing panic to the public. It is important that Traavik specify which isotypes of antibodies were found to be increased in these individuals, the levels of increases in these individuals, the specific antigenic epitopes that these antibodies recognized, and his data should also be able to establish that the presence of these antibodies correlated with clinical signs and symptoms of hypersensitivity (or any biologic activity) among these individuals. It is also important for Traavik to indicate what types of tests were performed, and in which laboratories these tests were performed. There are accepted standardized and validated procedures used in any allergenicity testing. 

The MON 810 corn which is sold as Dekalb 818 YG in the Philippines has the Bacillus thuringensis toxin Cry 1Ab which Traavik referred to as the protein that the Filipinos generated an immune reaction to.  This is a serious allegation and if Traavik is indeed the scientist that he professes to be, he should be able to explain convincingly, how Bt maize pollen which is known to carry the protein at a very low or undetectable level, could have sensitized these Filipinos against the Bt Cry 1Ab protein. 

The Bt cry 1Ab protein that is in the MON 810 corn has been assessed for allergenic potential based on established criteria and procedures. This toxin is not considered an allergen. This protein has no sequence similarity to known allergenic proteins based on 8-12 amino acid mapping for T cell and B cell epitopes.  The toxin is also degraded rapidly when subjected to gastric digestibility studies, being degraded in less than 30 seconds, compared to major allergens being stable to gastric digestion for more than 1 hour, or minor allergens being stable for at least 2 minutes in simulated gastric fluid. 

Traavik should provide us with the scientific data to prove his claims. 


Not So Uncommon Bedfellows: Traavik and Pusztai

From Prakash: I am sure you all have read about the recent scare announcement by Professor Traavik of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology in Norway about his unpublished study on finding allergen antibodies in Filippinos to Bt corn pollen. Guess who is the 'Scientific Director' of this Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, 'Professor' Traavik's organisation.

It is our old friend, Professor Arpad Pusztai!

See below http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CA446.htm
Fearing the Unknown- Are we too risk averse? 'Taking sides'
- Arpad Pusztai, scientific director, Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology

'In most instances it is the society that has to face the consequences of the hazards, and the industry will take most of the benefits.'

I was struck by a number of interesting points about this debate so far. The first and most startling was that many respondents were not clear about the definition of hazards, risks and risk assessment - which was not helped by the red herring of fear thrown in by people such as John Ryan, director of the bionanotechnology IRC at Oxford University.


International Symposium on Strategies for Sustainable Cotton Production

- November 23-25, 2004; Dharwad, India http://www.arsdcotton.org/
The release of Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India has been a historical step in reducing the losses due to bollworms and in turn increasing the productivity. It is believed that the beginning of era of transgenic cotton and open fibre market are likely to reorient priorities of cotton research in India as well as in the world. Hence, this symposium provides platform for discussing the emerging issues in cotton research.

The symposium has been arranged to commemorate centenary year of Agricultural Research Station, Dharwad. This station becomes 100 years old by 2004. It is one of the most dedicated and oldest cotton research stations of India established by erstwhile British Rule during 1904, at Dharwad in then Bombay presidency. During 1750-1800, this was the area where first new world cotton experiments recorded success with cultivation of Burbons and New Orleons.

Flower Power

- Washington Times, March 11, 2004 http://washingtontimes.com/op-ed/20040310-084645-9600r.htm

The ticklish, often-tragic business of landmine detection might soon be taken over by a civilian armed with nothing more than a spray gun. A plant altered to show civilians the location of planted landmines might do the work instead. The project is one more proof of the power and utility of genetically modified plants, and the need for such seedlings of promise to be passed to the nations that need them most.

The weed is a strain of watercress known as Thale cress, which grows quickly, is self-pollinating and thrives in many climes. It was transformed by a group of researchers at the University of Copenhagen to turn red in the presence of landmines. It actually detects the gas nitrogen dioxide, which leaks from many types of mines. After about three weeks of exposure to the gas, the gene that naturally causes the plant to change color in the fall makes it grow red. Researchers also removed a gene for a growth hormone the plant needs to prevent it from spreading in the wild. It should only grow after a specially made fertilizer has been applied.

The plant is likely to see a great deal of action. About 100 million landmines are believed to have been buried in approximately 45 countries. Fear of such fields has made huge swaths of arable land in poor nations unusable. Landmines kill or wound approximately 26,000 people each year. Aside from accidents, they can only be detected by humans or specially trained dogs.

Not all buried explosives will be found by the plant. Some mines do not leak nitrogen dioxide, while others are buried too deep for it to sense. False positives could also be a problem. The plants were designed with such sensitivity that scattered cartridges might be sufficient to cause the color change. Extensive field testing, which is starting this spring, will be the only way to know for certain.

That testing should go forward. Anti-genetically modified foods activists claim that existing political means are sufficient to solve the problem of landmines. However, the utility of landmines makes them likely to be a constant hazard on future battlefields. Even a global ban on their manufacture or use would do nothing to clear existing fields.

In his poem "Grass," Carl Sandburg wrote about the grass that covers the scars of bloody battlefields. In the future, genetically modified plants might do the opposite, allowing farmers to safely till soil where deathtraps were once sown. Whenever possible, policy-makers should encourage the development and use of such flower power.


Are There Drugs In My Corn Flakes?

- Gregory M. Lamb, The Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2004

The food industry has already found out the dangers - and costs - of letting unauthorized biotech crops seep into the food supply. Now, another threat has emerged: seeds.

Traditional corn, soybeans, and canola seeds available for sale to American farmers have a tiny percentage of genetically modified (GM) seeds mixed in with them, a new study shows. The finding poses immediate challenges for farmers and nations trying to keep their crops GM-free.

It also raises key questions as GM acreage continues to increase worldwide. If the genie is out of the bottle for GM seeds approved for human consumption, what's to prevent other experimental GM crops from moving into the food supply? Do consumers want genes meant to produce drugs, plastics, and vaccines hiding in their corn flakes?

"There is no reason to believe that the transgenes detected in this study are the only ones moving into the traditional seed supply," concludes the study, released Feb. 23 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass. It also says GM crops not approved for human consumption have been and continue to be field tested, leaving possible the contamination of traditional varieties.

Not so fast, industry groups counter. The UCS study found levels of GM seeds varying from only 0.05 percent to 1 percent mixed with traditional seeds, they point out. Shipments regularly contain similar amounts of other "off type" seed varieties that have nothing to do with genetic modification. Nor are there any indications that GM-modified crops pose any health hazard, these groups point out.

They add that as biotech crops become commercialized, their seeds will naturally find their way into traditional seed lots - but at very small levels. "It is expected they will be held to reasonably low levels by the quality assurance procedures," the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) said in a statement. In other words, "there are low levels that are there, but they're allowed under seed laws," says Christopher Novak, a spokesman for Syngenta, a multinational agribusiness that develops GM crops, in a phone interview. "There's not a question of safety because all of these products have been approved for food use."

And what about the GM crops being field tested for pharmaceutical and industrial purposes? The conclusion that these crops will comingle with traditional crops is not supported "by science, law, or practice," Mr. Novak says. Companies like Syngenta have a self-interest not to allow pharma and industrial biotech crops into the food chain, he says, if for no other reason than "because of liability for us as a company."

Syngenta uses several methods to keep experimental GM crops separate, including growing them in locations away from traditional crops. The GM crops also may be planted at a different time, meaning they wouldn't flower when traditional crops do, making cross-pollination impossible. Physical alterations, such as detassling corn, can also be used to prevent the spread of pollen.

Full story at http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0311/p14s01-sten.html


Listen to the National Public Radio 'Science Friday' Discussion on this topic by Allison Snow and C. S. Prakash at http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2004/Mar/hour1_030504.html


Aflatoxin Accumulation In Conventional And Transgenic Corn Hybrids Infested With Southwestern Corn Borer (lepidoptera: Crambidae).

- Williams, W. P.; Windham, G. L.; Buckley, P. M.; Daves, C. A. 2002. Journal of Agricultural and Urban Entomology. 19. 4. 227 - 236.

Aflatoxin is a potent carcinogen produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus Link:fr. Aflatoxin contamination of corn greatly diminishes its value and is a major impediment to profitable corn production in the South. Aflatoxin contamination is frequently linked with drought, high temperatures, and insect damage. The effects of southwestern corn borer, Diatraea grandiosella Dyar, damage on aflatoxin contamination were investigated.

Aflatoxin contamination levels in conventional nonBt corn hybrids and transgenic Bt hybrids after inoculation with A. flavus and infestation with southwestern corn borer were compared. Aflatoxin contamination was highest when hybrids were inoculated with A. flavus using a technique that wounded the kernels.

Aflatoxin contamination was significantly greater in non-Bt than in Bt hybrids when ears were inoculated by spraying with an A. flavus conidial suspension and concurrently infesting with southwestern corn borer. Infesting conventional non-Bt hybrids with southwestern corn borer resulted in significant leaf feeding, stalk tunneling, stunting, yield loss, and aflatoxin contamination. Losses were significantly reduced in transgenic Bt hybrids.


An Epidemic of Dishonesty

- Stuart Derbyshire http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CA447.htm
Assistant professor of Anesthesiology and Radiology, University of Pittsburgh

'Current risk assessments are bound to be irrational, because the underlying prejudice is towards the expectation of damage.'

Contemporary discussion of risk has very little to do with what science has and has not discovered. There is a widespread expectation of disaster, and the precautionary approach to human behaviour has developed from a particularly jaded view of the world. We imagine viruses wiping out humanity, cities as harbingers of bacteria and violence, modern food-processing techniques introducing poisons, faceless corporations planting dangerous technologies in our backyards and a never-ending litany of life-threatening risk associated with the foods and drinks we consume.

This negative outlook is rampant among our senior scientists and government officials - and it constitutes an epidemic of dishonesty. Long-term successes, such as the astounding improvements in life expectancy, are turned upside-down in a lament about the population time-bomb. Tremendous advances in industrial and agricultural productivity, with parallel improvements in prosperity, are re-spun as the rape of the planet. The eradication of poverty and vast improvements in healthcare and educational standards across large swathes of the planet are condemned as increasing the North-South divide.

It is very difficult in this environment to have a rational discussion. If I were to tell you that the evidence linking mobile phone towers and power lines to cancer is non-existent, many will presume I am involved in a cover-up. If I explain that the link between cholesterol and early coronary heart disease is dubious, many will think I must be getting salary support from the lard corporation. If I point to evidence that global warming is far less of a problem than widely perceived, many will assume I work for the coal industry. And so on. Just look at the trouble that met Bjørn Lomborg in his transition from the mainstream view to that of the 'skeptical environmentalist' 1 .

There is nothing irrational in calling for an appraisal of risk, which both Helene Guldberg and Alan Irwin appear to endorse - however, current assessments are bound to be irrational, because the underlying prejudice is towards the expectation of damage. The public is not to blame for this, since they are simply following the lead provided by governments and government scientists. On almost every major health scare (SARS, mad cow disease, phone towers, GM food) the only legitimate public role for science is to put a case of, 'move along, nothing to see here', but this has been impossible because science, especially medical science, has become increasingly vested in promoting fear.

Governments use health and environmental risk policy to bolster their falling authority and popularity, and this brings scientists into closer relationship with government, allowing them influence over social policy and the further direction of scientific research. In an environment where funding and influence are bound up with continued emphasis on small or non-existent risks, there is little motivation to dispense with those risks and challenge the policies erected. The result is the current
dishonesty: an unreal discussion of danger that captivates the imagination of our population and most influential bodies and individuals.