Today in AgBioView: March 1, 2004
* Union Of Concerned Scientist study
* Consumer accepted Non-GM plant breeding
* Consumers Love Frankenfood
* Demon Seeds
* EU Food Agency Clears Monsanto Rapeseed
* RESPONSE TO CLAIMS OF GM CORN POSING “SERIOUS HEALTH THREATS"
* DA BELIES CHARGES THAT BT CORN CAUSED ANTIBIOTIC IMMUNITY
* Racing to Construct the Perfect Rice Plant
From: "Don Gerbig"
Subject: GE contamination
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2004 11:42:48 -1000
Union Of Concerned Scientist study. How reliable is this study? Would like some rebuttal..
Don on Maui
FROM A SCIENTIST FRIEND:
"Keeping Seeds Safe", an editorial in today's New York Times.
Alarming findings indicate that the reservoir of traditional seeds is being threatened by genetically modified varieties.
This editorial needs a reasoned response from experts. The NY Times appears to accept uncritically UCS's viewpoint regards the significance of low percentages of transgene sequences in commercial seed. According to UCS, " The UCS study is too limited to provide a reliable estimate of the levels of contamination across the seed supply. However, the data obtained in the study suggest a range of roughly 0.05 to 1% in the seeds tested."
UCS claims that 0.1% is significant, since if one multiples that times the total weight of grain shipments, the total is enormous, but they do not make any kind of case for what percentage would be acceptable to their biased staffers. Indeed, they want to set the standard as zero percent in all cases. This is a standard that is unnecessarily and impossibly strict, and the Times needs to understand that. Zero or near zero percent may be appropriate for commingled seed from certain photo-drug crops or industrial chemical crops, but not for food crops which do not contain such substances and have been shown to be compositionally equivalent to their non-transgenic brethren.
The NY Times also may not understand that UCS has a history of opposition to transgenic crops based on little more than unfounded worries. They probably do not understand that UCS in not a disinterested party to the GMO debate and is hardly unbiased. In view of the progress of analytical biotechnology (like other areas of analysis) in progressively increasing the sensitivity of hybridization-based methods, it is doubtful if "zero" has any real meaning.
Finally, consider the end of the NY Times piece:
"The need now is for more extensive study, best undertaken by the Department of Agriculture. It's also time to subject genetically modified crops to more rigorous and more coherent testing. The scale of the experiment this country is engaged in — and its potential effect on the environment, the food supply and the purity of traditional seed stocks — demands vigilance on the same scale."
The UCS article does ask for increased testing, but for genetic purity of foundation seed and production seed, not the safety of the cultivars. UCS also is demanding a greater role for the public sector in seed research, but that is not the same as safety testing.
UCS bases the conclusions it draws from its findings mainly on a desire to safeguard the business of "organic" agriculture. "Organic" agriculture is based on a philosophy, not science, so the analogy should be to the role of government in other areas of philosophical or religious application to food. For example, would the UCS ask government to test Kosher foods for traces of pork? Should government ensure that no meat products go into cans of vegetarian chili?
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2004 11:32:15 -0600
From: "Tom DeGregori"
Subject: Consumer accepted Non-GM plant breeding
A student of mine found the following list of all "acceptable" methods of plant breeding on a Canadian anti-GM site, Network of Concerned Farmers,
"Alternatively, other varieties (non-GM) types of plant breeding are accepted by consumers, have no labeling legislation, no contamination issues, no liability issues etc.
Consumer accepted Non-GM plant breeding include:
Cell Tissue Selection
Tissue culture hybridisation
Anther culture hybridisation
(Source: Dr Tom Zinnen presentation to WAFarmers Federation)"
Of course "Consumer accepted Non-GM plant breeding" is accepted because no one has taken the trouble to frighten them about these forms of plant breeding which as always raises the question as to why these are accepted and transgenic plant breeding is not? One could make all the other anti-GM claims about them - such as consumer's right to know and no one asked consumers whether they wanted to have plants bred this way. The only operating assumption then as now, was that consumers wanted safe, nutritious food at a price that they could afford.
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg
Consumers Love Frankenfood
- The Wall Street Journal,Europe, By David Bowe, Feb 27, 2004
If you really want to understand whether European shoppers will buy genetically modified foods given the opportunity, ignore the agents provocateurs, the media and the panicked reactions of the big supermarket chains, and look instead at the behavoir of ordinary consumers.
The media has had a field day with the irrationalism displayed by the major stakeholders. Supermarkets are more concerned with enhancing their own image and charging above-average prices than with telling the truth about the products. The GM industry itself, blindsided by an early wave of negative publicity, has retreated into public silence on the merits of its technology.
So, despite the clear economic advantages, farmers across most of Europe have been forced to follow the irrational frenzy set in motion by others. Retailers have panicked and without market evidence, assumed there will be no market for GM and therefore chose to deselect such products.
But for all the hysteria, there are signs that the fear of GM foods among farmers, politicians and retailers is unwarranted. We don't need to look far to see what happens when farmers and retailers are prepared to take a risk and let the public decide. Take the example of Jeff Wilson, the Ontario farmer who grows conventional, biotech, and organic sweet corn side by side. Mr. Wilson's yield is separated out and labeled by type. The Bt corn outsells the conventional variety by about five to one.
And what about consumers? There are only two ways to understand their collective views. While consumer opinion polls can be helpful, the best way to understand what really matters to the consumer is to watch how they spend their money once they reach the supermarket till. When Safeway and Sainsbury's put GM tomato puree side by side with their non-GM counterpart in 1999 the proof was definitely in the puree. The GM product was seen to offer real added value -- it was less expensive and in numerous blind tastings consumers seemed to prefer the flavor. It sold as well as the non-GM product. But despite the clear evidence that consumers did see the added value in the products, they were taken off the shelves in a wave of panic when green activists started to scare the pants off consumers with junk science.
Consumers' purchasing behavior will soon be put to the test again now that consumers will finally start to find the first labeled GM food products on shelves from April 2004. The early signs are that the silent majority of consumers will happily choose to add GM products to their consumables mix, preferring to base their purchasing decisions on more tangible aspects such as quality, price, taste and safety. In this, they will act no differently from millions of consumers around the world who have been buying and eating GM products for years.
Consumer surveys have for a long time confirmed the old adage -- the customer knows best. Yes, it's true that in recent years consumer surveys have shown distrust in GM technology. However, as borne out by a recent survey by KRC Research, this fear has been driven by inadequate information and an overdose of irrational disinformation from green groups that have chosen scare strategies over reasoned arguments. Eighty-two percent of respondents revealed that consumers "should have the choice to buy or not to buy GM foods." Consumer polls also show that the degree of comfort with this emerging technology is increasing with an increase in dispassionate information available about GM. As ordinary people get a sense that they are receiving more balanced information, they will choose to become participants and actors in the debate as opposed to confused onlookers.
The conclusion is very simple: for all the posturing of some noisy opponents, it is the customer who will and should decide.
Mr. Bowe is MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Region and member of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy.
Three decades ago, Patrick Moore helped found Greenpeace. Today he promotes nuclear energy and genetically modified foods - and swears he's still fighting to save the planet.
- Wired Magazine, By Drake Bennett, March 2004
Patrick Moore has been called a sellout, traitor, parasite, and prostitute
- and that's by critics exercising self-restraint. It's not hard to see why they're angry. Moore helped found Greenpeace and devoted 15 years to waging the organization's flamboyant brand of environmental warfare. He campaigned against nuclear testing, whaling, seal hunting, pesticides, supertankers, uranium mining, and toxic waste dumping. As the nonprofit's scientific spokesperson, he was widely quoted and frequently photographed, often while being taken into custody.
Then, in 1986, the PhD ecologist abruptly turned his back on the environmental movement. He didn't just retire; he joined the other side. Today, he's a mouthpiece for some of the very interests Greenpeace was founded to counter, notably the timber and plastics industries. He argues that the Amazon rain forest is doing fine, that the Three Gorges Dam is the smartest thing China could do for its energy supply, and that opposition to genetically modified foods is tantamount to mass murder.
Moore's turnabout was the biggest change of heart since Harold "Kim" Philby left Her Majesty's secret service for the Soviet Union - or was it? Moore insists that he hasn't changed a bit. His professional life, he says, has been a single-minded quest for true ecological sustainability. To his opponents, however, it adds up to little more than an ideologically bankrupt series of betrayals.
Consider the public hearing held at Boston City Hall on October 23 last year. The matter at hand was a proposal to ban the purchase of polyvinyl chloride products using city funds. An impressive array of expert witnesses testified in favor of the resolution - an Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist, a Tufts University economist, a Boston Public Health Commission official, the head of purchasing for a cancer research center. The production and incineration of PVC products, they argued, releases chemicals known as dioxins, exposure to which can lead to endocrine disorders, cancer, diabetes, infant mortality, and cognitive and developmental problems in children.
Then Patrick Moore took the floor. "It's a good thing most of the people who got up here before me weren't under oath," he began. "There is not a public benefit to be derived from a ban on PVC." The whole issue is "based on bad science and misinformation."
First of all, Moore argued, total dioxin emissions have dropped 90 percent since 1970, to levels safely below those that cause health problems. Furthermore, dioxins are not some newfangled product of the industrial age. They've been around as long as fire. If the council wanted to make a real difference, he said, it could ban backyard burning, which spews nearly 60 times more dioxins than PVC manufacturing, or residential fireplaces, which emit 10 times more.
Throughout his presentation, Moore made barbed references to the devious forces behind the legislation, the same pack of Luddites who "hijacked a considerable portion of the environmental movement back in the mid-'80s and who have become very clever at using green language to cloak campaigns that have more to do with anti-industrialism, antiglobalization, anticorporate, all of those things which are basically political campaigns."
It was a bravura performance. When Moore returned to his seat, he was greeted with handshakes and backslaps from the folks who had paid his way: the Vinyl Institute.
For Moore, the PVC showdown was part of a larger crusade to reform environmentalism. He derides today's activists as philosophically unmoored and blindly technophobic, and he offers an alternative philosophy that not only accepts but celebrates humankind's growing ability to alter the planet. With a tip of the hat to best-selling "skeptical environmentalist" Bjørn Lomborg (and perhaps Thomas Paine), he has anointed himself the sensible environmentalist and set out to win converts. There haven't been many. So far, Moore has succeeded mostly in making himself a pariah and a cautionary tale.
Greenpeace was born in 1971 when an aging fishing boat steamed out of Vancouver, British Columbia, to disrupt an American nuclear test at the far end of the Aleutian Islands. Halfway there, the boat was intercepted by the US Coast Guard and the crew arrested. But the mission proved
successful: The subsequent global show of support for the band of plucky environauts caused President Nixon to cancel the remaining tests. When the crew returned to shore, it adopted the name of the boat, Greenpeace, and turned its mediagenic activism into a global institution. By the mid-1980s, the organization had offices in 21 countries and an annual income of more than $100 million in donations and grants.
Patrick Moore was on board for that inaugural voyage, and he went on to serve as president of Greenpeace from 1977 to 1979 and as a member of the international board for seven years after that. He was a natural activist, impassioned and articulate, and his PhD from the University of British Columbia gave him a mantle of scientific legitimacy. Greenpeace veteran Rex Weyler recalls that "you could put Moore in front to talk to the media on scientific issues, and you could always rely on him. He'd get his facts straight, and he was tough as nails in any debate."
In his study in the neat, airy Vancouver home he shares with his wife, Moore keeps scrapbooks of his activist days. News clippings show him, with a cloud of tawny hair and a bandit's mustache, poring over nautical charts and shielding baby seals. Today the mustache is gone. The mane has receded to a mat of gray.
Moore won't have anything to do with Greenpeace these days, but he still gets a charge out of talking about the early campaigns. He shows me an aerial photo of a tiny raft floating in the way of a supertanker. The ship fills half the frame, like a snub-nosed sea monster. He and Weyler are on the raft, about to be arrested by the US Coast Guard. "Cool, eh?" he says with a hot-rodder's grin.
Moore was made-to-order for Greenpeace. He was raised in Winter Harbour, a village on the far northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. "It was like growing up in a dreamworld," he says. "My most memorable moments were in my boat with the motor turned off, floating over the shallow tide flats and looking down at all the marine life, or in the forest with the moss and the ferns." It's easy to see how that little wood sprite went on to study ecology and fashioned himself into an environmental shock trooper. Even today, Moore can sound druidic when talking about the natural world. He's a firm believer in James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, which posits that Earth is a self-regulating superorganism. He hates the word weed, he says, because "it's a value judgment about plants."
Moore's family made its living off the land. His father and grandfather were loggers, and his mother came from a clan of fishermen. Perhaps this explains why, despite his animist tendencies, his ecological attitudes are grounded in an obsessive rationalism. He's fascinated by nature's cycles, mechanisms, and systems, and he sees no reason to privilege natural systems over man-made ones.
When he was 8, one of his toys was a one-cylinder engine that he would take apart and reassemble. For his dissertation research, he built a transmissometer, a device that measures water quality. He's as likely to wax didactic about the minutiae of paper pulping ("There's more computer power in a paper mill than there is in a 747!") as about the life cycle of the moths in the eaves of his porch. Moore is equal parts tinkerer and mystic, and his environmental thinking may be an attempt to reconcile those two impulses.
Like many people who earn a living making speeches, Moore prefaces much of what he says with phrases like "my line on this is" and "as I like to put it." As he likes to put it, he left Greenpeace in 1986 because "I'd been against at least three or four things every day for 15 years, and I decided I'd like to be in favor of something for a change. Suddenly, presidents and prime ministers were talking about the environment. We had won society over to our way of looking at things. As I like to say, maybe it's time to figure out what the solutions are, rather than just focusing on problems."
Moore got a glimpse of how an environmentally responsible society might function four years earlier, at the 1982 Nairobi Conference of the United Nations Environmental Program. In a presentation given by Tom Burke, then leader of Friends of the Earth UK, he first heard a phrase that was an oxymoron by Greenpeace standards: sustainable development. It was several years before the idea gained wide currency, but for Moore, "The light went on."
"When I understood sustainable development," he recalls, "I realized that the challenge was to take these new environmental values that we had forged and incorporate them into the traditional social and economic values that drive public policy. In other words, it was a job of synthesis."
Moore's new interest in sustainable development led him increasingly far afield of the rest of the environmental movement and estranged him from the organization he had helped found. Inspired by Elizabeth Mann Borgese's book Seafarm, he started a salmon farm and became head of the fledgling Salmon Farmer's Association - only to find himself pitted against Greenpeace, which blamed saltwater aquaculture for polluting the ocean.
In 1991, as his farm was going under due to a salmon glut, he joined the board of the Forest Alliance of British Columbia, a group created by the timber industry to address the accusations of environmentalists. There, he saw his role as a mediator. He proudly points to his stubborn - and ultimately successful - insistence that the industry soften its resistance to national parks and government regulation. At the same time, however, he was attacking the eco crowd, proclaiming that "clear-cuts are temporary meadows."
Moore's enemies have a simpler explanation for his conversion: revenge. After all, he left Greenpeace amid complaints about an autocratic leadership style and abrasive personality. When it became obvious that he lacked enough votes to keep his seat on the board of directors, he went off to farm fish. When that didn't work out, he joined the loggers.
And then there's money. Even 18 years after he left Greenpeace, Moore's business relationships with polluters and clear-cutters elicit disgust from his erstwhile comrades. "He'll whore himself to anything to make a buck," says Paul George, founder of the Western Canada Wildlife Committee. In an email, former Greenpeace director Paul Watson charges, "You're a corporate whore, Pat, an eco-Judas, a lowlife bottom-sucking parasite who has grown rich from sacrificing environmentalist principles for plain old money."
Moore admits he's well paid for his speaking and consulting services. He won't say how well, avowing only that his environmental consultancy, Greenspirit Strategies, has been "very successful because we know what we're talking about and give good advice." Nonetheless, he adds, he refuses to tailor his opinions to please a client. "People don't pay me to say things they've written down or made up. They pay me to tell them what I think." Furthermore, he maintains that his positions - with the exception of his take on nuclear energy (which he now favors) - have hardly changed since 1971. The rest of the movement, he says, has shifted around him.
It's possible that fat fees or wounded feelings give Moore's vehemence an edge. And it's not inconceivable that he's an out-and-out mercenary. But although his critique of latter-day environmentalism strains in a few places, it does have a larger coherence. The unifying principle is simple: "There's no getting around the fact that 6 billion people wake up every morning with a real need for food, energy, and material." It is this fact, he charges, that environmentalists fail to grasp. "Their idea is that all human activity is negative, while trees are by nature good," he says. "That's a religious interpretation, not a scientific or logical interpretation."
Moore's accusation may read like a caricature, but its outlines are readily apparent in environmentalist thinking. Bill McKibben, one of the movement's preeminent intellectuals, warned in his 1989 book The End of Nature that human beings, not through any particular action but simply by becoming the dominant force on the planet, were destroying nature, a "separate and wild province, the world apart from man to which he adapted." In effect, McKibben's argument blurs the line between man changing the planet and destroying it.
Perhaps the best evidence of Moore's integrity is his enthusiasm for genetically modified foods. He's not on the payroll of any biotech companies, yet he has become an outspoken GM advocate.
"This is where the environmental movement is dangerous," he says. "Environmentalists are against golden rice, which could prevent half a million kids from going blind every year. Taking a daffodil gene and putting it into a rice plant: Is this Armageddon?"
Even if the benefits of golden rice have been oversold - something Moore doubts - the limitations of one particular and still-experimental crop shouldn't discredit the possibilities of the entire technology. For all GM's risks, he argues, there are greater risks in failing to develop it.
For Moore, the stakes are higher, even, than a half-million blind children. "The Dark Ages are always just around the corner," he warns. "There will be future Dark Ages, and with this antiscience agenda we may be entering one right now."
I'm reminded of this flourish later, when he mentions that he tries to use his experience as an activist against the activists themselves. It's obvious he hasn't forgotten the art of rhetorical one-upmanship: No matter what environmental catastrophe keeps you awake at night, Moore can always conjure a bigger bogeyman.
While describing his childhood, Moore says something telling. His hometown was "a pristine environment, but it was an industrial environment. People were catching fish and cutting trees." This is what separates him from most environmentalists (and all linguists): the belief that there's no necessary contradiction between pristine and industrial, that development is not despoliation.
One of Moore's favorite metaphors is "gardening the earth." He's all for setting aside land as wilderness, but the rest we should not be afraid to use.
"When you've got over 6 billion people, you can't just say we'll let nature do its thing," he says. "We have no choice but to garden - why don't we do it better? Why don't we do it more efficiently?"
Moore's notion of gardening encompasses plenty of things that environmentalists wouldn't object to. He's full of uplifting stories about rice farmers in California who have turned their fallow fields into shorebird sanctuaries, and cattlemen in Montana who leave dead cows for grizzlies that might otherwise eat live ones. He's a passionate advocate for the geothermal heat pump, an unfortunately obscure device that uses solar energy trapped in the ground for residential heating and cooling. But gardening also means genetically engineered trees that grow faster, resist disease, and pulp better. It means large-scale fish farming to take the pressure off wild stocks. It means the widespread use of nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels. It means a willingness to distort nature's cycles to fit human needs.
Shortly after we spoke, Moore emailed Paul Watson, a longstanding enemy of his with whom I had spoken a few weeks earlier, and reopened an old feud. Moore accused Watson of, among other things, lying to me about the details of a 1977 seal campaign involving Brigitte Bardot and falsely claiming authorship of Greenpeace's Declaration of Interdependence. The back-and-forth that followed was Vesuvian in its viciousness and stunningly petty, from Watson's end in particular. I was CC'd on the whole thing. Afterward Moore seemed a bit embarrassed.
In what may have been an effort at damage control, he forwarded me some recent posts from visitors to Greenspirit.com, his Web site. One was from a German man disillusioned with his country's Green Party. Another was from a registered Republican who was "always interested in greener ideas if they make sense" and wanted Moore's opinion on the prospects of alcohol-burning engines. A third was from a former Sierra Club development officer feeling "a little disheartened, to tell you frankly, with the environmental movement as it is today." They were examples, Moore told me, "of the kind of response I get very regularly from people who go to my Web site cold. This is a big part of what keeps me sane in this very emotionally charged environment."
The note was poignant, but its subtext was clear: Here was the prophet of moderation, cast out by his colleagues, tending a growing flock of ideological misfits. The legacy - and the curse - of Moore's Greenpeace days is that he knows how little it takes to ignite a movement. He lit that match once, more than 30 years ago. Now he's looking for a fresh spark.
March 1, 2004
To the editor:
Nothing in your 29 February editorial on possible contamination of non-genetically engineered crops with DNA from genetically engineered (GE) ones deserved its horrific title: “Demon Seeds.” Still, it should not have relied on an advocacy “study” from the virulently anti-biotech Union of Concerned Scientists, which despite its name is essentially a lay group. It could also have noted that since plants first developed, they have genetically “contaminated” each other, sometimes even crossing species barriersB. Since the beginning of agriculture, over 10,000 years ago, the same has been true of cross-bred plants. The difference with GE crops is that, as a recent National Academy of Sciences report detailed, there are many methods under development, and some in use, to keep newly-transferred genes from escaping to other plants. For example the gene can be inserted into an area of the genome where it can’t express itself in pollen.
If that’s not enough, plants can always be “back-bred” to remove genes. Finally, there are massive repositories of germplasm (living tissue from which new plants can be grown) maintained all over the U.S. and the world that both aid the development of new plant strains and prevent old ones from being lost.
Washington, DC 20036
- Washingotn Post, February 29, 2004
TO DATE, there is no proof that food grown from genetically modified plants poses any danger to human health. On the contrary, so-called GM plants have the potential to feed more people than traditional crops and to contribute to a cleaner, pesticide-free environment. Nevertheless, the technology used to modify plant species is new, and there's a good deal still to be learned about it. Many of America's trading partners have not yet accepted it, preferring not to buy modified foods. For those reasons, it iBs in the interest of American farmers to maintain some supplies of traditional seed "uncontaminated" by engineered genes.
That may soon cease to be possible. In a report published last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists described tests carried out on supposedly unmodified corn, soy and canola seeds, all purchased commercially. Of 18 seed varieties tested, 16 seemed to contain some genetically engineered elements. How this DNA got there is unclear: Contamination could have come through pollen, could have been carried by the wind or could have occurred through the physical mixing of seeds. The depth of the problem is also Bunclear. This was a relatively small study, testing for a relatively limited range of modified DNA.
But the results are significant enough that they should interest the American food and agriculture industries, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all of which ought to have a strong interest in clarifying the situation. In part, the concerns are economic: If American exporters cannot guarantee that some part of their products are made from traditional seeds, they will soon lose markets in Europe and elsewhere. In the longer term, the concerns might be environmental as well.
The first reaction may be to ignore or dismiss a report that will frighten some consumers, both at home and abroad. But industry and government should not brush this issue aside. Both the USDA and the companies that grow grain and manufacture food products will be better off if they commission larger, more comprehensive studies of the nation's seed supply and start reviewing the wide range of regulations that govern sale and storage of seed. By accepting that this problem could be real and thinking in advaBnce about how to solve it, the nation could avoid a much larger scare.
EU Food Agency Clears Monsanto Rapeseed
BRUSSELS (AP)--The European Food Safety Authority Monday said a genetically modified rapeseed produced by Monsanto Co. was safe for human and animal consumption.
The decision by EFSA, which advises the European Union Commission on food safety issues, moved the Commission a small step closer to revoking the unofficial ban it placed on genetically-modified foods in 1998.
EFSA said oilseed rape variant GT73, which is engineered to be resistant to herbicides is as safe as conventional oilseed.
The E.U. Commission had asked the EFSA for a scientific evaluation after some countries questioned the validity of previous tests involving rats.
EFSA said its tests have dismissed those fears. ``The animal feeding trials reviewed by the panel showed that GT73 oilseed rape is as safe as the conventional one.''
``We provided a simple scientific evaluation,'' said EFSA spokeswoman Anne-Laure Gassin.
In Brussels, Monsanto spokesman Ken McDermott said: ``We're happy that Europe is returning to a science-based regulatory system.''
But the St. Louis-based biotechnology company's battle is far from over. The E.U.'s 15 member states are yet to vote on allowing import of the product. GT73 is grown in the United States, Australia and Canada. It is allowed for sale in those countries, plus Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. Monsanto has applied for a license only to import, not to cultivate, GT73.
RESPONSE TO CLAIMS OF GM CORN POSING “SERIOUS HEALTH THREATS “ TO FILIPINOS LIVING NEAR CORN FIELDS IN MINDANAO, PHILIPPINES
- February 27, 2004, by 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
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 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.
DA BELIES CHARGES THAT BT CORN CAUSED ANTIBIOTIC IMMUNITY
February 25, 2004 Manila Bulletin
By Melody Aguiba
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 corn.
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.
Racing to Construct the Perfect Rice Plant
- Interpress News Service, bY Katherine Stapp, Feb 28, 2004
NEW YORK, Feb 28 (IPS) - Rice, a crop that feeds half the world's people and supplies income for a billion more, will have to keep pace with surging demand using far fewer resources, a goal for which many scientists believe biotechnology will be indispensable.
Even as public investments into the staple crop fall off, the cultural and economic importance of rice is gaining prominence. In its first-ever endorsement of a commodity, the United Nations declared 2004 ”The Year of Rice”, in hopes of promoting research and addressing the problem of dwindling production growth.
Until 1960, the rate of production increase was four percent per year; today, it is stagnating at one percent, adds the United Nations.
With this in mind, scientists from around the world gathered in Rome earlier this month for a U.N.-sponsored rice conference to consider how to meet an estimated 40 percent jump in demand for the crop by 2025 -- with less land, less water, less labour and fewer chemicals.
If they fail, desperate farmers will be forced to expand into fragile areas such as hillsides and wetlands, with dire consequences for wildlife and watersheds.
Many hopes are pinned on exploiting technological advancements like the decoding of the rice genome, announced simultaneously in January 2002 by Swiss agricultural giant Syngenta and a team of Chinese scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), working independently of each other.
Having revealed the DNA sequence of every rice gene, scientists are now focusing on ”marking” the traits that each gene expresses in the plant, such as whether the grain's consistency is sticky or smooth.
”The most direct use of the sequence information for improvement of rice and other cereals is the genetic tagging of important phenotypes by DNA markers,” said Dr. Takuji Sasaki of the Japanese National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences.
”The next idea is to identify genes and their characteristics for physical roles,” he told IPS.
”These results must be transferred to the actual improvement of main staples,” Sasaki explained. ”It will take time because the growth of plants takes time, (as does) investigating the target species.”
While many of the benefits lie years away, progress is already being made. In India, scientists have engineered a strain of samba masuri rice able to withstand bacterial leaf blight, which destroys about 15 percent of the local crop every year.
Using DNA markers greatly accelerated the process of developing the pest-resistant rice to less than three years, compared to conventional breeding techniques that can take up to six years.
The new strain will be tested in large-scale field trials beginning with the next growing season.
Other recent advances include rice varieties enriched with vitamins and minerals, others that grow with less water or in salty soil -- key in light of Asia's looming water crisis -- and high-yield hybrids.
A key player in much of this research is the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which presides over a gene bank of more than 100,000 rice varieties that it distributes free to researchers with the understanding that the resulting products will not be patented for profit.
”At IRRI, we use (the genome) to pinpoint candidate genes for conferring disease resistance, tolerance for submergence and phosphorus deficiency and heightened micro-nutrient content,” Hei Leung, who leads the Institute's functional genomics activities, told IPS.
”As our biological understanding of such complex traits as drought-tolerance improves, the sequence information will facilitate identifying the genes involved.”
But the advent of new strains of ''biotech'' rice will inevitably bring controversy in the context of the highly polarised debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Golden Rice, a variety enriched with vitamin A to help stave off blindness in poor countries, was hailed as a miracle food when it was first announced in 1999. But its safety and nutritional potency were quickly challenged by prominent environmental groups.
Once a supporter of Golden Rice, IRRI now says it will start field trials this year to test numerous uncertainties it has about the crop, such as yields, resistance to various pests and palatability, but it would be at least four to six years before the rice was market-ready.
”Use of the products of transformation breeding requires acceptance of GMOs in the food chain,” said N.M. Upadhyaya, principal research scientist of the Rice Functional Genomics Group of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.
”Unless this occurs, full benefits of transformation breeding will not flow to the common farmer nor reduce hunger.”
”Alternatively, the knowledge can be effectively used in speeding up classical breeding,” he added.
”Quite often a subtle variation in the gene sequences can make a big difference in its effectiveness. Once we identify such variations and their effects on plant growth and productivity, they can be used as 'molecular markers' in classical breeding”, said Upadhyaya.
Prominent environmental group Greenpeace International disagrees that GMOs are necessary in the food chain but does not reject genetic research to improve crop yield.
”We are not opposed to biotechnology research and are certainly not opposed to scientific advances such as molecular-assisted selection/breeding, which use knowledge of plant genomes for plant breeding, without resorting to GE (genetic engineering) techniques,” said Steve Sawyer, head of the group's political and business unit, in a Feb. 23 article in 'The Age' newspaper.
The data derived from rice research is a useful model for an array of other economically important grains, such as corn, wheat, sorghum and barley, because nearly all the genes present in these species are likely to have homologues, or similarities, in rice.
The rice genome is also shorter and thus easier to sequence -- six times smaller than that of corn and 37 times smaller than that of wheat.
But with a recent surge in patents on gene products associated with rice, some scientists are wary that future research could end up dominated by a handful of private agri-business concerns.
”It is important to make these tools and resources publicly available,” Upadhyaya stressed.
”I sincerely hope that multinational companies will pour funds into rice research without excessive strings attached. A pledge from everyone concerned to make rice an 'IP (intellectual property)-free zone' will definitely accelerate progress and boost yields for small farmers without production cost blowouts.”