Today in AgBioView: March 4, 2004
* Great Benefit, No Harm: So Where Is the Problem?
* Science Can Save The World's Poor: Benefits Blocked by Blind Opposition
* Ecology Society Calls For Interdisciplinary Studies of GEOs
* Outrageous Claims by Traavik
* .. Scientist Urges Three New GM Scares
* .. Here We Go Again!
* .. Counting Chickens Before They Hatch
* UK: Scientists Back GM Crop Findings
* Writing to Houston Chronicle and Washington Post
* New Measures to Boost Safety in Trade of GMO
* CGIAR: Lab Network Eyes Closer Ties For Tackling World Hunger
* The Man at The Sharp End of Scots Politics
* "Organic" Water? No Kidding!
* Daily Bread
Great Benefit, No Harm: So Where Is the Problem?
- The Wall Street Journal Letters to the Editor 3 March 2004
Claims by anti-biotechnology activists that "genetically modified" material has moved into conventionally produced seed supplies ("Modified DNA Found in Test of Traditional Seeds," Feb. 24) are misleading. They are part of a concerted attempt to disparage and discredit a superior, proven, safe technology that just doesn't fit the activists' view of "good" research and development. In fact, for many years the same group has opposed (and dissembled about) products ranging from environment-friendly crop plants to improved rabies vaccines.
Genetic modification is not new. Virtually all of the 200 major crops in the U.S. have been "genetically engineered," or genetically improved, in some way. Plant breeders -- not "nature" -- gave us seedless grapes, the tangelo (a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid) and fungus-resistant strawberries. In North American and European diets, only fish and wild game and berries may be said not to have been genetically engineered in some fashion.
Since at least 1999, gene-spliced plants have been grown world-wide on more than 100 million acres annually, and more than two-thirds of processed foods in the U.S. contain ingredients derived from gene-spliced organisms. The cultivation of these plants has increased yields, decreased the use of chemical pesticides, and reduced soil erosion. There has not been a single mishap that resulted in injury to a single person or ecosystem. The detection of small amounts of gene-spliced material in conventional seeds is rather like finding Lexus parts in your Yugo.
- Henry I. Miller, M.D. , The Hoover Institution , Stanford University
How Science Can Save The World's Poor: The Huge Benefits of GM are Being Blocked by Blind Opposition
- Lord Taverne, The Guardian (UK) - 03-Mar-2004 - P. 24
Many green activists oppose GM crops on principle. It is difficult to understand what the principle is, since they do not campaign against the production of drugs by genetic modification. Yet the same technique is used to transfer a gene from one species to another to make human insulin for people with diabetes, for instance, as to modify a GM crop.
By what principle is it right to make better drugs to protect us from disease, but not to modify plants to make them resistant to insect pests? Why is there such a violent reaction against the genetic modification of plants?
The strongest argument in favour of developing GM crops is the contribution they can make to reducing world poverty, hunger and disease. As the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body of experts and lay representatives, declared in 1999: "The moral imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to developing countries who want them is compelling." The council's recent update of its report confirmed this view. No one argues that all problems can be solved by the wave of a magic GM wand. The question is: can GM crops help? On the evidence we have, it seems they can.
Most new technologies take root slowly and take time to prove their worth. What is remarkable about the application of GM technology to plants is how quickly it has been adopted and how much benefit it has already shown in poorer parts of the world.
Last year GM crops were cultivated over 70m hectares in 18 countries, covering more than twice the area of Britain. Nearly 5 million small farmers in China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico now grow cotton genetically modified to protect it against the boll weevil. In China, this saves farmers as much as $500 per hectare, mainly through a 60-80% reduction in the use of pesticides. In KwaZulu, 92% of cotton farmers, mainly women, now grow GM cotton and some have seen their income nearly double, mainly because savings on pesticides greatly exceed the extra cost of the seeds. In India, when an infestation of pink bollworm devastated the cotton harvest, except where farmers had (illegally) planted GM cotton, farmers marched on Delhi demanding that GM cotton should be licensed, which it was in 2002.
The story of cotton shows actual financial benefit, here and now, mainly to small farmers in the developing world, contrary to the allegation frequently made by some NGOs that agricultural biotechnology only promotes industrial farming. But the greatest contribution of GM technology is to come. China spends over $100m a year on plant science and has developed 141 different types of GM crops, 65 of which are already in field trials. In India, too, biotechnology flourishes. Most research is on staple crops grown by ordinary farmers. A transgenic tomato has been modified to thrive on salty water and eventually salt-resistant crops can be cultivated in large tracts of land now infertile.
Research on GM plants will bring particular benefits to health. Some have already been achieved through the reduced use of pesticides. In South Africa, cases of burns and sickness from agricultural chemicals have fallen from 150 to a dozen a year because GM cotton is sprayed only twice a season instead of more than eight times.
More and greater benefits will come from the development of vaccines, antibodies and other pharmaceutical proteins in plants. Vaccines extracted from GM potatoes, against hepatitis B and against bacteria and viruses causing diarrhoeal diseases, are already under test. Eventually they will be produced in bananas or lettuces or in tomato juice that can be ingested raw. They will not then have to be administered by injection by trained personnel and should also be free from possible contamination with human pathogens.
Yet some NGOs dedicated to helping people in the developing world ignore these potential benefits. They even oppose the development of "golden rice" - which contains pro-vitamin A and, as part of a staple diet, could help redress the vitamin A deficiency associated with the deaths of more than a million children every year, according to the World Health Organisation. This deficiency is also the single most important cause of blindness in about half a million children annually.
Golden rice has not been developed for or by industry; it is given free of charge and restriction to subsistence farmers; it does not create advantages for rich landowners; it does not reduce biodiversity and has no harmful effect on the environment; it will benefit the poor and disadvantaged. Yet Greenpeace ridicules it as irrelevant.
Blind opposition to GM crops is the triumph of dogma over reason.
Lord Taverne is a chair of Sense About Science and author of The March of Unreason, published in November; firstname.lastname@example.org
From Prakash: Should you wish to send comments to the editor on the above letter, please send to . See one below.
The Guardian, Letters March 4, 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,3604,1161461,00.html
With little evidence, green activists have turned a nation against GM, using emotive terms such as contamination and flying genes. Shops must show GM signs, but we aren't to be told how often lettuce has been sprayed with pesticides.-- Geoffrey Watson Winchester, Hants
Ecology Society Calls For Interdisciplinary Studies of GEOs
From corn to carp to the bacteria in yogurt, people have modified organisms for specific traits for centuries. Today, genetic engineering offers the potential to provide new benefits and new risks, as does any new technology.
The Ecological Society of America (ESA)'s scientific position paper, "Genetically engineered organisms and the environment: Current status and recommendations," authored by an ESA committee of experts, addresses the nature of genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) and their possible impacts on ecosystems (Viewable at: http://www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Papers/geo_position.htm).
Potential environmental benefits from certain GEOs include more sustainable agriculture and better environmental management. For example, some GE crops can be grown with fewer pesticides and less soil erosion, while future GE trees might provide cleaner methods of paper milling. Future applications of genetic engineering extend far beyond traditional breeding, encompassing transgenic viruses, bacteria, algae, fungi, grasses, trees, insects, fish, shellfish and many other non-domesticated species. Unintended effects of GEOs released into the environment remain a concern for ecologists, regulatory agencies and the public.
"Understanding how genetic engineering will affect organisms living and dispersing outdoors is a major challenge," said ESA President William Schlesinger. "This position paper provides insight into the ecological questions that should be considered before genetically engineered organisms are released, as well as important recommendations for monitoring and evaluating GEOs once they are in the field."
Major recommendations of the ESA position paper include:
* GEOs should be designed to reduce environmental risks by incorporating specific genetic features, such as traits that limit unwanted gene flow between GE organisms and non-GE organisms.
* Rigorous, interdisciplinary scientific studies are needed to evaluate environmental benefits and risks posed by GEOs.
* Possible risks is inadequate or suggests the potential for serious negative effects on ecosystems.
* Well-designed monitoring will be crucial to identify, manage, and mitigate environmental risks when there are reasons to suspect possible problems.
* Science-based regulation should subject all transgenic organisms to a similar risk-assessment framework, recognize that many environmental risks are specific to the GEO and location, and incorporate a cautious approach to environmental risk analysis.
* Ecologists, agricultural scientists, molecular biologists and others need broader training and integrated communication to better address these issues.
While the ESA position paper recognizes the possible benefits GEOs may offer, it addresses several areas of concern. One worry involves the unintended escape of transgenic salmon into wild populations. Current findings show contradictory results of transgenic salmon's faster development and eating habits: these fish might out-compete the natural populations, or their traits "could increase their susceptibility to predation and stressful environments," according to the paper.
"Another concern is that GEOs will interbreed with native populations once released," said Allison Snow, lead author of the position paper and a professor at Ohio State University. "It is important to understand how an influx of transgenes can affect local populations, such as weedy relatives of crop plants. Also, new types of engineered microbes, insects, fish and horticultural plants are likely to require more ecological study than most domesticated food crops."
"Several environmental risks associated with gene flow, the evolution of resistance, and certain non-target effects could be irreversible," Snow said. "Additional research is needed to evaluate circumstances under which this could happen."
These conclusions and recommendations echo earlier sentiments expressed by the Society's 1989 position paper, "The planned introduction of genetically engineered organisms: Ecological considerations and recommendations." In addition to incorporating the new knowledge gained in the past 15 years, this latest ESA paper also discusses options for monitoring the long-term environmental effects of GEOs that have been released widely into the environment.
Co-authors of the report are Allison Snow, David Andow (University of Minnesota), Paul Gepts (University of California, Davis), Eric Hallerman (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), Alison Power (Cornell University), James Tiedje (Michigan State University), and LaReesa Wolfenbarger (University of Nebraska at Omaha).
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 8,000-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes four scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, Ecological Monographs, and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. For more information about the Society visit: www.esa.org.
Genetically Engineered Organisms and The Environment: Current Status and Recommendations
The Ecological Society of America has evaluated the ecological effects of current and future uses of field-released genetically engineered organisms (GEOs), as described in this position paper. GEOs have the potential to play a positive role in sustainable agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, bioremediation, and environmental management, both in developed and developing countries. However, deliberate or inadvertent releases of GEOs into the environment could have negative ecological impacts under some circumstances. For example, fast-growing transgenic salmon that escape from aquaculture net-pens might jeopardize native fish populations.
Ecological knowledge about potential environmental effects of transgenic organisms is crucial for understanding and avoiding these types of risks.
We reaffirm that risk evaluations of GEOs should focus on the phenotype or product rather the process of genetic engineering (e.g., NRC 1987, 2000, 2002a; Tiedje et al. 1989), but we also recognize that some GEOs possess novel characteristics that require greater scrutiny than organisms produced by traditional techniques of plant and animal breeding. Also, unlike commercialized crops or farm-raised fish, some GEOs are organisms for which there is little previous experience with breeding, release, and monitoring. Future applications of genetic engineering extend far beyond traditional breeding, encompassing transgenic viruses, bacteria, algae, fungi, grasses, trees, insects, fish, shellfish and many other non-domesticated species that occur in both managed and unmanaged habitats.
The environmental benefits and risks associated with GEOs should be evaluated relative to appropriate baseline scenarios (e.g., transgenic versus conventional crops), with due consideration of the ecology of the organism receiving the trait, the trait itself, and the environment(s) into which the organism will be introduced. Long-term ecological impacts of new types of GEOs may be difficult to predict or study prior to commercialization, and we strongly recommend a cautious approach to releasing such GEOs into the environment. Engineered organisms that may pose some risk to the environment include cases where:
* there is little prior experience with the trait and host combination;
* the GEO may proliferate and persist without human intervention;
* genetic exchange is possible between a transformed organism and non-domesticated organisms; or
* the trait confers an advantage to the GEO over native species in a given environment.
An assessment of environmental risk is needed to minimize the likelihood of negative ecological effects such as:
* creating new or more vigorous pests and pathogens;
* exacerbating the effects of existing pests through hybridization with related transgenic organisms;
* harm to non-target species, such as soil organisms, non-pest insects, birds, and other animals;
* irreparable loss or changes in species diversity or genetic diversity within species.
GEOs should be evaluated and used within the context of a scientifically based regulatory policy that encourages innovation without compromising sound environmental management. The process by which this occurs should be open to public scrutiny and broad-based scientific debate. In addition, current regulatory policies should be evaluated and modified over time to accommodate new applications of genetic engineering. In light of these points, we offer the following recommendations regarding the development, evaluation, and use of GEOs in the environment.
1. Early planning in GEO development - GEOs should be designed to reduce unwanted environmental risks by incorporating specific genetic features, which might include sterility, reduced fitness, inducible rather than constitutive gene expression, and the absence of undesirable selectable markers.
2. Analyses of environmental benefits and risks - Rigorous,
well-designed studies of the benefits and risks associated with GEOs are needed.
a. Ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and a wide range of other
disciplinary specialists should become more actively involved in research aimed at quantifying benefits and risks posed by GEOs in the environment. b. Because of the inherent complexity of ecological systems, this research should be carried out over a range of spatial and temporal scales.
c. We further recommend that the government and commercial sectors
expand their support for environmental risk assessment (including environmental benefits) and risk management research.
3. Preventing the release of unwanted GEOs - Strict confinement of GEOs is often impossible after large-scale field releases have occurred.
Therefore, we recommend that large-scale or commercial release of GEOs be prevented if scientific knowledge about possible risks is inadequate or if existing knowledge suggests the potential for serious unwanted environmental (or human health) effects. 4. Monitoring of commercial GEOs - Well-designed monitoring will be crucial to identify, manage, and mitigate environmental risks when there are reasons to suspect possible problems. In some cases, post-release monitoring may detect environmental risks that were not evident in small-scale, pre-commercial risk evaluations. Because environmental monitoring is expensive, a clear system of adaptive management is needed so that monitoring data can be used effectively in environmental and regulatory decision-making.
5. Regulatory considerations - Science-based regulation should: (a) subject all transgenic organisms to a similar risk assessment framework,
(b) recognize that many environmental risks are GEO- and site-specific, and therefore that risk analysis should be tailored to particular applications, and (c) incorporate a cautious approach to environmental risk analysis.
6. Multidisciplinary training-- Ecologists, agricultural scientists,
molecular biologists, and others need broader training to address the above recommendations. We strongly encourage greater multidisciplinary training and collaborative, multidisciplinary research on the environmental risks and benefits of GEOs.
In summary, we urge scientifically-based assessment of the benefits and risks of GEOs that are proposed for release into the environment, and scientifically-based monitoring and management for environmental effects that may occur over large spatial scales and long time frames. GEOs that are phenotypically similar to conventionally bred organisms raise few new environmental concerns, but many novel types of GEOs are being considered for future development. These include baculoviruses that are engineered for more effective biological control, microorganisms that promote carbon storage, fast-growing fish, and fast-growing plants that tolerate cold, drought, or salinity. The Ecological Society of America is committed to providing scientific expertise for evaluating and predicting ecological benefits and risks posed by field-released transgenic organisms.
Traavik Claims Absurd, Dept Says
- via Agnet, 1 March 2004
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has discarded as the "height of absurdity" accusations by a Norwegian scientist that 39 Filipino-farmers have developed an immunity to antibodies in the development of genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn because of their exposure to Bt c orn.
Artemio M. Salazar, DA corn program director, said that it is impossible for human to develop immunity from certain antibodies by simple exposure to GM corn plants, either by planting it or by eating it.
"It's ridiculous. It's the height of absurdity. You should not touch it with a 10-foot pole. It's absurd. No Biology student will believe it," he said.
Salazar said that the human gene cannot simply mix with another gene, specially a plant's gene, just by inhaling it or being physically exposed to it. "If there's a chain of molecule of up to 100, if that goes through the human systems, when it's digested, it will be crushed beyond recognition. It's impossible it will be left intact. (Besides), it's an organic molecule. It is impossible that a plant gene will mix with human," he said.
"If it is impossible for a human gene to mix with another gene without copulation, without mating, how much more will a plant gene change human form under a natural setting," he said.
Norwegian scientist Terje Traavik said in an international trade conference that 39 farm workers in a GM corn farm in Mindanao have developed the immunity to antibodies due to their exposure to GM corn. Their blood samples, according to Traavik, contained increased levels of three different target antibodies.
Salazar said that genetic modification goes through a difficult process such that a desired gene (resistance to corn borer in the case of Bt corn) is normally injected in a plant together with a marker, particularly antibiotics.
The marker, he said, may have the characteristic of herbicide resistance or antibiotics resistance. Whatever the marker is, the objective of injecting it with the target gene, he said, is for the experimenter to detect whether the target gene has been implanted in a plant or not. "The marker is what you monitor to verify if the gene of interest is there," he said. If the gene is not implanted on the plant, the plant will be killed by the antibiotic.
"But if the Bt gene is there, the plant will live. What scientists do after rewards is to tissue culture the cell until it becomes a full-grown plant. If you put an antibiotic in a plant, the plant will die, if the gene is not there. But if you put this plant (with the gene and
antibiotic) in human, it is impossible (that the person will develop
immunity) because if you ingest the pollen, when it passes through your gag, it will be crushed into very small pieces. How much more could mere exposure impact on you," he said.
Traavik Must Provide Data To Prove Claims, Professor Says
- via Agnet, 1 March 2004
"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," Philippine Professor Nina Gloriani Barzaga says.
"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 NOT to carry the toxin, could have sensitized these Filipinos against the Bt Cry 1Ab toxin.
"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," the Professor says.
Nina Gloriani Barzaga, M.D., Ph.D. 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.
Scientist Urges Three New GM Scares
- Andrew Apel, Agbiotech Reporter, www.bioreporter.com, March 1, 2004
A scientist and former member of Norway's Royal Commission on GM has broken with protocol by claiming three new studies demonstrate serious health risks from GM foods, according to the activist group GE Free NZ (New Zealand). The findings of these studies, announced by director of the Norwegian Institute for Gene Ecology Terje Traavik, have not been published in peer-reviewed journals.
"Publication of results typically requires a waiting period of up to one year or more," Traavik said." With such evidence of possible human health impacts of (GM) foods already on the market, we believed that waiting to report our findings through publication would not be in the public's interest."
The three alleged findings are that Bt maize grown in the Philippines cause allergenic reactions in farming families living close by, that the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter used in GM crops was found intact in rat tissues two hours, six hours, and three days after it was mixed into a single meal, and that GM pox viruses in cell cultures recombined with natural viruses to create new hybrid viruses.
"It is to be expected that Professor Traavik will be criticized by the pro-GE lobby for not waiting for peer-review," GE Free NZ said in a statement, adding that criticizing him would amount to an - effort to suppress scientific debate and the study of risks from GE foods."
Editor's note: Anyone familiar with the aftermath of the Pusztai rat/potato study, the Losey Bt maize/Monarch butterfly study or the Chapela Mexican maize biodiversity" study will be able to guess how much damage the industry could suffer at the hands of activists by offering a tardy and timid response to claims such as these.
Here We Go Again!
- Vivian Moses. http://www.cropgen.org/databases/cropgen2.nsf/?Open
London, March 3rd, 2004 -- It is a well-practised habit of anti-GM campaigners to start a hare running out of nowhere in the hope that, in all the resultant fuss and concern, nobody will remember or care how it that particular scare began. Thus it was with rats suffering intestinal lesions from eating GM potatoes, with Monarch butterflies force-fed GM maize pollen, patients suffering allergic reactions from Starlink maize and birds falling out of the sky because of GM agriculture. Enormous amounts of time,W effort and money are spent refuting these stories one after another but the campaigners don't care: causing disruption is what they want and, by the time one story is resolved, they are two or three further down the track.
They have just done it again, this time in the Philippines. The first we heard about it was a report in the Daily Mai on 'claims' by Professor Terje Traavik, the Director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, that villagers living near a GM maize field in the Philippines have suffered a range of illnesses, including fevers, breathing problems, intestinal and skin problems. Blood tests are said to have indicated that the symptoms resulted in 'inhaling mutated maize pollen that had been carried by the wind' he went on to claim that the villagers antibodies are considered to be evidence of an immune reaction to the Bt toxin. The maize is produced by Monsanto who rejected the findings." Something similar appeared in the Guardian. Rumours began to emerge local medical officers had found similar symptoms in areas well away from Bt-maize cultivation; to them it looked like flu.
Next we were told via a media advisory from the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) that on March 1st in Manila Professor Traavik was to hold a news conference on "Preliminary Results Of Study Show Immunological Reaction To Bt Toxin". On the 2nd, this was duly reported in the Manila Times with a headline of certainty. There was, however, no further information and "Traavik admitted that a more thorough investigation is needed to establish the cause-and-effect link between the production of antibodies against Bt toxin and the diseases that the patients reportedly sustained from exposure to the nearby Bt corn farm. Experts said such study could take one to two years." However, he also said: "that the results of his analysis can be treated as a scientific fact, they cannot be presented as scientific proof yet". So now we know exactly where we stand scientifically.
Not altogether surprisingly, neither medical nor agricultural authorities in the Philippines were best pleased. Dr. Nina Gloriani Barzaga, Professor of Medical Microbiology and Microbial Immunology at the College of Public Health , University of the Philippines, Manila commented that "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 hypersensWitivity (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." Those do not seem to be bad suggestions.
Dr. Artemio M. Salazar, Department of Agriculture corn programme director, said that "?it is impossible for humans to develop immunity from certain antibodies by simple exposure to GM corn plants, either by planting it or by eating it. It's ridiculous. It's the height of absurdity. You should not touch it with a 10-foot pole. It's absurd. No Biology student will believe it."
There we have it. How soon will the story die? Any bets?
1. The Guardian (February 27th, 2004): Scientists suspect health threat from GM maize http://www.enn.com/news/2004-02-26/s_13486.asp
2. The Manila Times (March 2nd, 2004): People near Bt-corn farms carried toxins in their blood http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2004/mar/02/yehey/business/20040302bus2.html
Food Safety Network: Response to claims of GM corn posing "serious health threats " to Filipinos living near corn fields in Mindanao, Philippines http://184.108.40.206/agnet/2004/3-2004/agnet_march_1.htm#story2
Counting Chickens Before They Hatch
- Life Sciences Network Media Release, 1 March 2004 http://www.lifesciencesnetwork.com/news-detail.asp?newsID=5437
Professor Terje Traavik has put his reputation on the line by going public with warnings of serious health risks from GE foods before the research he cites has been published or peer-reviewed, Chairman of the Life Sciences Network Dr William Rolleston said today.
"A responsible scientist would have presented their evidence to the appropriate regulatory authorities in a manner which allows time for proper scrutiny instead of using the media in an attempt to cause public panic and regulatory over-reaction. If this evidence is credible then the appropriate regulatory authorities will take it into consideration in their decision making as they have always done.
"GE free NZ is right to suggest that Professor Traavik will be criticized for circumventing the proper scientific process and it is probably no coincidence that Professor Traavik's claims coincide with the first major international meeting to discuss the implementation of the Cartegena protocol, which regulates the international shipment of GMOs.
"We have seen these scare tactics before from the anti-GM lobby - Professor Puztai and his potatoes, Professor Kaatz and his bees, and the Monarch Butterfly story. All have failed the test of time through lack of credibility or because they were just plain wrong. Even Professor Traavik's own evidence on DNA vaccines failed to impress New Zealand's Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.
"Professor Traavik should know that safety is based on considering all the evidence, taking into account its credibility and putting it into context with current risks," Dr Rolleston concluded.
UK: Scientists Back GM Crop Findings
- John Mason, Financial Times, March 4 2004
The imminent decision to approve the growing of genetically-modified maize in the UK will this week be supported by scientific advice that the crop remains more wildlife-friendly than conventional varieties, despite a European Union ban on atrazine, a widely-used and powerful weedkiller.
On Friday scientists involved in the farm-scale evaluations of GM crops will announce that the ban on atrazine does not overturn their original findings, published last October, that growing GM maize does less damage to biodiversity than non-GM maize crops.
Scientists had found that growing GM maize was more beneficial to weeds and wildlife. But this result was rendered out-of-date by the ban on atrazine, which is used extensively in conventional maize production. Environmental groups claimed withdrawing such a powerful weedkiller could make conventional maize production less damaging to wildlife and so overturn the result.
But Professor Joe Perry, the ecological statistician from Rothamsted Research station who recalculated the trials results following the ban, concluded that if atrazine was not used for conventional production, the benefits to wildlife of growing GM maize were reduced by about one-third but still remained significant.
His findings, to be published on the website of the scientific magazine Nature, will be welcomed by the biotechnology industry and disappoint environmentalists who had hoped the atrazine ban could force ministers to change their minds and block the commercialisation of the UK's first GM crop.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, is due to announce the controversial go-ahead for GM maize next week, subject to a number of conditions.
USDA Advisory Committee Meeting
Agriculture Department (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) (F.R. Page 7413) holds a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, to discuss the development of a report examining the impacts of agricultural biotechnology on American agriculture and USDA over the next 5 to 10 years, March 8-9.
TIME: 8:30 a.m.
LOCATION: Sphinx Club, Oasis Room, 1315 K Street NW, Washington, D.C.
CONTACT: Michael Schechtman, 202-720-3817,email@example.com
Writing to Houston Chronicle and Washington Post
Yesterday, I sent a long letter to the Houston Chronicle concerning an extremely biased front-page story on Chapela and the GM corn "contamination" issue in central Mexico. (Genetically altered corn worries Mexican farmers, By DINA CAPPIELLO, Houston Chronicle Environment Writer, February. 22, 2004. http://insite.chron.com/registration/?goto=http%3A//www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/world/2414312,
It was co-signed by a number of scientists in the Houston area and elsewhere. This morning, I received a brief reply from the Ombudsman (called Readers' Representative) that he will investigate the story and get back with me. We will see what happens. At this time, I remain hopeful.
On a related matter, maybe someone ought to prepare a letter to the Ombudsman at the Washington Post and to Kim Waddell's superiors at NAS. (Right now, I do not have time to do so as well as engage in any
follow-up.) To refresh reader's memories, I and others posted pieces on AgBioView in regard to an article in the Washington Post by Gillis (among the various titles was - Biotech Limits Found Lacking, Panel Calls for Controls On Genetic Engineering, January 21, 2002) that quoted Greg Jaffe of Center for Science in the Public Interest indicating that he was the only one in Washington who had read the report (Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms, Committee on the Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms, National Research Council) other than the NAS committee.
I had as I am sure you have seen, a posted open letter to Kim Waddell who directed the study, to Justin Gillis, the Post reporter, and to Greg Jaffe at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) asking them for an explanation as to why an opponent of GM (that claims to be for it) got to see an advanced copy of a report while others were denied access to it. (In fact, according to the NAS webpage, the final version has not yet been released in hardcopy but it has been available online for downloadning which I did.) There was silence (more likely contempt) from them as well as from the spokesperson of the anti-GM to whom the open letter was also addressed. The spin from the original Post article has dominated the interpretation of the report down to a brief story in today's New York Times. Absent an innocent explanation that I sought by my open letter, there was a likely violation of the rules for the release of these reports. One can further argue that in biasing the story by drawing heavily from someone who had a leaked report, the Post reporter has contributed to a major distortion of an important scientific issue. These are potential issues that both the Post and the NAS should investigate.
Is there anyone on this list who would like to initiate a letter to the Post and the NAS?
- Tom DeGregori
Ombudsman: The Ombudsman serves as the reader's advocate. He attends to questions, comments and complaints regarding The Post's content.
The current Wahington Post Ombudsman is Michael Getler. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 202-334-7582.
New Measures to Boost Safety in Trade of GMO
- Africa News, March 3, 2004
Efforts to promote the safety of international trade in genetically modified organisms has received a new boost with the adoption of labelling and documentation requirements from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Under the new system adopted by the 87 member States of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at a meeting in Malaysia attended by more than 1,000 delegates and observers, all bulk shipments of living or genetically modified organisms (known as LMOs, or GMOs) intended for food, feed or processing (such as soybeans and maize) are to be identified as "may contain LMOs."
The accompanying documentation should also indicate the contact details of the importer, exporter or other appropriate authority. Although the new system is binding on countries that are party to the Protocol, many key agricultural producers, such as the United States, have not endorsed that pact.
"Now that a system for identifying and labelling GMO exports has become operational, countries can enjoy the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence while avoiding the potential risks," the Protocol's Executive Secretary, Hamdallah Zedan, said.
"This rigorous system for handling, transporting, packaging and identifying GMOs is in the best interests of everyone - developed and developing countries, consumers and industry, and all those who care deeply about our natural environment," he added.
The Cartagena Protocol, which entered into force last September, is designed to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs that may adversely effect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It forms part of the Convention on Biological Diversity negotiated under the auspices of the UNEP and signed by over 150 Governments at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
Over the next year an expert group will further elaborate the documentation and handling requirements for bulk agricultural shipments.
Key issues still to be resolved include the percentage of modified material that these shipments may contain and still be considered GMO-free and the inclusion of any additional detailed information. A decision on these matters will be considered at the next meeting of the treaty's Parties, to be held in 2005.
CGIAR: Lab Network Eyes Closer Ties For Tackling World Hunger
- Dennis Normile, Science, Vol. 303, No. 5662, Issue of 27 Feb 2004, pp. 1281-1283.
'A group of 16 research centers is considering centralized labs, pooled resources, and other arrangements to help feed the developing world'
TOKYO--A casual conversation at a coffee break is leading to a major shakeup of agricultural research throughout the developing world.
Three years ago, Ronald Cantrell and Alexander McCalla shared concerns about the future of agricultural research for and by developing countries during a break in a meeting in Durban, South Africa. Both were acutely aware that new high-yield crop varieties are desperately needed to alleviate hunger among the poor. They also recognized that the institutes they represent--the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the Philippines, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) near Mexico City--were lagging behind private companies and academia in exploiting genetic techniques. So they agreed to explore closer collaboration, perhaps even a merger.
IRRI and CIMMYT are the crown jewels of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of 16 research centers affiliated with the World Bank. And what is good for these two institutes, it turns out, may be good for the entire system. Other CGIAR centers that work on cereals have asked to join the IRRI-CIMMYT talks. The four CGIAR centers that focus on legumes are exploring their own collaboration. And a task force is studying the possible consolidation of four centers in Africa.
The goal of all these deliberations, says William Dar, director of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, is to have "all the centers working in common on the big issues for the small farmers of the world." And meeting that goal, predicts CGIAR Director Francisco Reifschneider, will require a historic realignment of the entire $370-million-a-year consortium.
Cantrell, a plant breeder who became director of IRRI in 1998, and McCalla, a professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis, and chair of the CIMMYT board, can remember when these two institutions ignited a Green Revolution that led to a quantum jump in agricultural productivity for the developing world. CGIAR was formed in 1971 to build on that progress by fostering greater collaboration, including fundraising, among agricultural research centers around the world. But Michael Lipton, an economist at the University of Sussex, U.K., says that the 1980s witnessed "increasing pressure [from donors] to divert money from basic germ-plasm research to a whole range of other goals, from improving the participation of women [in economic activities] to natural resource management."
The result was a shift in research priorities. A recent evaluation by the World Bank of some 700 previous reports and studies * notes that CGIAR spending on improving crop productivity declined by 6.5% annually in real terms through the 1990s and that training programs for the developing world decreased by nearly 1% a year (see graphic). At the same time, research into environmental protection and biodiversity were receiving larger shares of a shrinking pie.
The resulting fierce competition among centers for scarce funding isolated research programs at a time when germ-plasm research efforts could have benefited from greater collaboration, especially in biotechnology. While private companies and universities in advanced countries invested $8 billion to $10 billion in agricultural biotechnology in the 1990s, says Uma Lele, an agricultural economist who led the World Bank review, the CGIAR system spent just $25 million. "For a billion poor people in the world, that is just minuscule," she says.
At the same time, the Green Revolution never took hold in Africa, and the continent's agricultural research capabilities are generally weaker than they were a generation ago due to continuing political and funding instability. Yujiro Hayami, a development specialist at the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development in Tokyo, thinks that it might be best for IRRI and CIMMYT to turn responsibility for Asia and the Americas over to local institutions and shift research staff and resources "to a new food-staple research institute in Africa." But ICRISAT's Dar disagrees. "There are still more hungry people in Asia than Africa," he counters.
Perhaps the biggest question is how donors will react. Rockefeller's Conway, an agricultural ecologist, says that coupling a new functional genomics program to the existing germ-plasm banks and field-testing expertise of the two centers will create "a really powerful basis for producing new crop traits" that might appeal to donors. So, too, might a report from the Rockefeller Foundation offering a blueprint for a new, improved CGIAR.
Full story at
The Man at The Sharp End of Scots Politics
- Euan McColm, The News of the World (Scotland), Feb. 22,2004 (Sent by Vivian Moses)
They walk among us, you know - and to the naked eye, they can appear perfectly normal. Some even have families, take holidays and go to the chippy, just like the rest of us. You might never have seen one, but make no mistake - SCIENTISTS are currently operating in Scotland.
And if the latest round of scaremongering is anything to go by, they pose an immediate threat. Opponents of genetically modified food have called on First Minister Jack McConnell to block the commercial growing of GM crops. They cite public concern and the fear of contamination as the key planks of their opposition. And they caricature scientists as villainous egomaniacs whose only desire is to distort and damage.
Fear. Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie and Friends of the Earth Scotland Chief Exec Duncan McLaren have led the latest round of attacks on GM.
And while they may make some progress in furthering their own agendas, there is no doubt that their comments are representative of an ever-growing anti-science movement which relies on misinformation and fear.
Current evidence suggests GM maize is perfectly safe to grow and eat. Of course, in our culture of mistrust, the response from opponents is 'Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?'. It is unthinkable, in the current climate, that men and women of science might actually be engaged in work which could benefit all of us.
Rather than examining how GM foods might be used to tackle hunger and malnutrition, opponents focus on unproven theories about the corruption of nature (they grafted an ear on to the back of a sausage, you know).
While it is right and proper that we are more questioning of authority figures, a growing lobby of middle-class protesters have taken an extreme position which says science is bad. The knock-on effect, of course, is that we create doubt about the motives of scientists operating in every field of research.
It is a backwards leap which, at best, will slow progress and, at worst, will threaten funding of future work. After all, why should anyone support the sick experimenting of these maniacs who play God? What next, taxpayers' money for underground lairs? Free white cats for every graduate?
Collapse. There is a simple solution to all this nonsense, of course. By agreeing to judge each GM case on its merits, we can examine each type of crop. If testing finds it to be safe, let that crop flourish.
We can also insist on clear labelling of genetically modified products, allowing the customer to choose. If Harvie, McLaren and their ilk are to be believed, the GM industry would immediately collapse because of public refusal to scoff tweaked tomatoes and extra-large bananas.
Fine. They win. Let me throw the first suspect in the Clyde - if she floats, she's a scientist and we can set about burning her forthwith. Of course, there is also the danger that the anti-GM movement would be exposed as representing the views of a narrow minority of chattering class commentators.
"Organic" Water? No Kidding! (Sent by Andrew Apel)
OTA Task Force Vote for 'Organic Water' Scheme Revoked; Rutgers University Study Exposes Need for USDA Action 3/1/04 12:57:00 PM Contact: Craig Minowa, 320-384-7764; e-mail: Craig@OrganicConsumers.org; Adam Eidinger, 202-744-2671; e-mail: Adam@Mintwood.com, both for the Organic Consumers Association
I read it and I am still not sure whether or not it is a spoof! But if it is not, please allow me to volunteer "organic" (guaranteed to be Giardiasis-free - no other claims made for it) content to the believer's water as I am sure others on this list would also be happy to do. Some of us who are naive have actually thought that the "organic" in water is what humans have been trying to remove throughout human history.
- Tom DeGregori
- Andrew Apel
The issue of hunger has made very few headlines lately, even though hunger is a perennial with roots in every clever malfeasance humans can devise. What recently reminded me of this is a poem appearing in the Heimat-Kurier (Jan/Feb 2004, Nr. 331/55 p. 30), a German publication for refugees/expatriates around the world who survived the Russian invasion of Kreis Rosenberg in West Prussia during World War II. The poem is credited to Herbert Wegner and said to be composed in 1946 while he was held captive by Russian forces. All translations suffer. My translation below lacks the flawless rhyme and the cultural context embedded in the German version, which is far more painful to read. (Those familiar with Germans and their sandwiches will understand this poem the best.)
A Piece of Bread
A piece of bread, do you know what that means!
Have you ever seriously thought about it before,
covered with sausage and butter,
coming daily to your table?
You grab it without another thought.
So what is the value of a piece of bread?
Bread becomes for you a blessing from God,
you only learn what is true treasure in your deepest need.
A piece of bread - with tear-filled eyes
you take it gratefully in your hand,
in awe of the nameless farm it came from.
Look upon the ripening fields and pastures,
that bend and wave in the summer wind,
then understand the full extent of God’s power,
which is bread, the true gold of the Earth.
A piece of bread - you should never forget
if some day you are again at home,
how you once ate your bread in fear,
nor how you were overcome by fate.
What you have sworn to yourself you must maintain,
and must think upon always, in good times and bad.
As soon as you can, teach your children to pray, with folded hands,
"Give us, dear God, our daily bread!"