Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 6, 2004


Open Letter to the Victoria - Australian Premier; European GM Labeling Legislation; Why Bt Cotton Pays for Small-Scale Producers in South Africa; Fear behind GMO debate


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 7, 2004:

* Open Letter to the Victoria - Australian Premier
* Greenpeace Quote
* Flies in the Soup -- European GM Labeling Legislation
* Either/or Selection Markers for Plant Transformation
* Why Bt Cotton Pays for Small-Scale Producers in South Africa
* Food industry to pay for political brinkmanship
* Fear behind GMO debate

Open Letter to the Victoria - Australian Premier: Call for Australian AgBioView Readers to Sign! Dear Australian Friends: Please sign the following letter by simply forwarding it to David Tribe .

I encourage especially Victorian or Australian Scientists or farmers to sign this important letter and also include your name, location, occupation and other relevant details in your email to with 'GM crop letter' in title line of email.

Please forward to all your Australian friends and urge them to sign on!

- Prakash


April 5, 2004

Dear Premier and Minister Cameron

The announcement of a four-year moratorium on GM canola came as an unwelcome surprise to the majority of Victorian farmers.

The success of Victoria's farm exports is the result of innovation, based on new technology. To continue to succeed in the future we need to be able to make our own decisions about proven responsible new technology. Your moratorium is an unjustified restraint on our freedom to manage our farms, including our right to use tools that international competitors can already use and have been approved as safe in Australia. In the long term, your moratorium will damage our international competitiveness rather than protect it.

Your own expert report says that there is no discernable market advantage from being 'GM-free' but there are economic benefits from using the technology. There are also real costs to the moratorium; gene technology promises new tools for not just the grains industry but also the dairy, viticulture, livestock, fruit and vegetable industries - all staples of Victoria's rural economy. The question mark you have placed over ongoing research in these areas has a cost, in terms of uncertainty for researchers and their families, doubts in securing funding and discouragement to the best and brightest people to start a career in agricultural research.

Many projects are being undertaken by branches of your government, including La Trobe University, Department of Primary Industries Horsham and others. Why undermine them and their work in the way that you have? Scientists are openly questioning your decision. How can Victoria be the "biotech state" if there are no clear or consistent pathways for scientists and investors to follow?

Your moratorium wrongly raises concerns with consumers by suggesting that only existing methods are "clean and green" when in terms of pesticide applied, GM canola is cleaner and greener than most common type of canola now in use. If they are to mean anything, slogans such as "clean and green" should at least be based on evidence and sound science. Following perceptions that are not based on evidence puts our economic and environmental sustainability at risk.

Your responsibilities as a leader require that you acknowledge and respect the experts' advice you commissioned. However, you chose to ignore your own reports and instead of breaking the cycle of a polarised debate largely based on groundless perceptions and ignorance; you have endorsed the irrational approach of campaign groups, niche marketers and ignored the elected representatives of the farming community. You have done more than simply set gene technology back in time, you have reinforced the myths surrounding gene technology and increased the challenge that must be faced to realise its benefits in the future.

The expert reports that you have commissioned recommended that you should permit a limited release of GM canola for a trials period beginning in 2004 to assess the introduction of GM canola. These trial have overwhelming support from the farm industry; please allow them to proceed. Please let Victorian farmers manage their own businesses and continue to build the type of soundly based, competitive industry and strong rural economy that Victorians can have confidence in for the future.

Yours sincerely,

Gerald Feeny (Farmer, St. Arnaulds, Victoria)
Andrew Weidemann (Farmer, Wimmera)
David Tribe (Biologist, University of Melbourne)

And 16 other signatories so far....

Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2004 12:52:27 +0930
From: "Chris Preston"
Subject: Greenpeace Quote

Re: Greenpeace quote. This quote might actually have an earlier occurrence in a different form from a Canadian newspaper (see below) ...


- The Leader-Post (Regina), September 19, 2002

SASKATOON -- Anatole Krattiger, director of Cornell's Strategic World Initiative for Technology transfer, was cited as telling the final plenary session of the Agriculture Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) in Saskatoon that the agriculture biotechnology community should take a radically different approach to convincing people of the merits of genetically modified (GM) food.

Krattiger was cited as saying the world's leading science organizations have done a poor job extending the global reach of biotechnology, adding, "What food biotechnology hasn't done yet is put more food and healthier food into the bowls of the hungry."

The story says that shortly after he spoke, Krattiger left the conference to catch a flight to Beijing where he is working with Chinese officials to get the patented Golden Rice technology into the hands of Chinese farmers. In the developing world, food is the only form of health care, said Krattiger. The economic benefits of bringing Golden Rice to the Philippines alone is estimated at anywhere between $32 million and $150 million US a year.

As many as 15 million people in each of Bangladesh and Indonesia would also benefit.

Although the benefits are obvious, Krattinger was cited as saying he's had trouble getting funding to bring Golden Rice to the world's impoverished, adding, "For the last year, I've been struggling to get a few million dollars together in order to lend support to a national laboratory in Asia to get Golden Rice into local rice. I've come up with a bare $150,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation."

Krattiger says it is not enough for the corporate owners of Golden Rice technology to offer it royalty-free to the poorest of farmers. "If the biotech industry wants to be credible, it must work for development and must make things better across all of mankind," he said. Krattiger praised the governments of some emerging economies for ignoring anti-GM food advocates.

He applauded the Philippine government for working to get GM rice commercialized there within the next two years.

"That's despite the fact Greenpeace warned the Philippine government that there would be quote 'millions of dead bodies and disease from the use of biotechnology.'"

Flies in the Soup -- European GM Labeling Legislation

- Nature Biotechnology, Commentary, v.22, 383 - 384 (2004), By Neville Craddock. www.nature.com. Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor.

Beginning April 18, the European Union (EU)'s labeling legislation will extend to all foods and ingredients produced from genetically modified
(GM) organisms (GMOs), including animal feed and pet foods, irrespective of whether they contain detectable GM material. Over 30 ingredients from maize and soya--estimated to involve over 70% of processed foods--will require labeling unless manufacturers and suppliers take the necessary steps to avoid their use. Needless to say, the new legislation will have a major impact on the food industry. It takes little account of the commercial consequences that derive from the complexity of modern food and ingredient manufacturing and the global supply chain.

European sensitivities GM crops could scarcely have arrived in Europe at a worse time. They have encountered considerable European consumer resistance, which in turn has prompted legislators to introduce comprehensive controls on the GMOs themselves and statutory labeling of foods and animal feeds in which they and their derivatives are used.

There are several reasons for the entrenched resistance of European consumers to GM technology. One major factor is that the European public has been exposed to a succession of (non-GM-related) food and health crises -- including thalidomide, Salmonella contamination of eggs, Listeria in chilled foods, dioxins and, particularly, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- that scientists and politicians said "could not happen."

Numerous other 'scares' have fuelled a deep suspicion of science, politicians and the agri-food industry. Widespread lack of knowledge about food production, composition and regulatory control has led to speculation, skepticism, concern and even alarm among consumers. There is widespread distrust of the agri-food industry and deep concern in some quarters over the 'excessive' influence of global corporations.

The independence and reliability of scientific advice have also been questioned. Developers of new technologies are increasingly challenged to 'prove the negative' before any new development can be accepted. This has been reflected in the emergence, and stringent (some would say
overstringent) application, of the 'precautionary principle' as a basis for regulation by the EU.

Regulatory procedures are also poorly understood by the public. A lack of confidence that legislation is adequate or is properly enforced has resulted in wide-ranging demands for 'transparency and independence' of the process, and 'information' and 'assurance' for consumers. The truth, however, is that food is probably safer than it has ever been. All reputable companies consider safety to be non-negotiable. Significantly, most recent 'scares' have resulted from fraudulent practices that no legislation, per se, could have prevented. New rules and muddied waters

The new regulations (1, 2, 3) to be implemented on April 18 are applied to three food types: GMOs for food and feed use; food and feed containing, or consisting of, GMOs; and food and feed produced from, or containing ingredients produced from, GMOs. Foods and feeds that have an "adventitious or technically unavoidable" presence of GMOs and their derivatives are exempt from mandatory identification and labeling (see Box 1).

The European Commission has also stated that meat, eggs, milk, and other products from animals fed on GM feed are not within the scope of the new rules; however, this is not stated anywhere in the text of the regulations. In fact, on close reading, the legislation contains several omissions or ambiguities that will likely compromise its effective implementation.

First, neither 'adventitious' nor 'technically unavoidable' are defined in the text. As a result, courts will be forced to base interpretations on everyday usage. 'Adventitious' describes contamination that occurs, despite every effort being taken to prevent it. One can argue that, if the origin of contamination can be determined, steps necessary to prevent it can be identified and future occurrences would no longer be 'adventitious'. One can also argue that persistent, low-level contamination is not permitted, persistent contamination not being adventitious. 'Technically unavoidable' does not equate to 'economically unavoidable.'

Although adventitious contamination is exempt from GM labeling, it is illogical not to exempt knowingly used ingredients, such as additives and flavorings, derived through several stages from GM crops, when these are used at levels well below the adventitious thresholds. This increases the complexity and cost of sourcing these materials from identity-preserved supplies, but it does not serve as a sound basis either for consumer information or to enhance consumer confidence.

A second problem is that Regulation 1829/2003 (ref. 1) introduces post-market monitoring of GM derivatives, but without guidance on how this might be achieved. Although feasible for prescription medicines used on an individual basis, it is difficult to see how this can provide a basis for valid diagnoses in relation to as-yet-unidentified problems without an extremely complex, globally applicable bureaucratic procedure being introduced and maintained for many years. One must ask, therefore, how this will work.

Third, possible distinctions between foods produced 'from' and produced 'with' a GMO have been considered but are not apparent within the legal text, which consequently is open to wide interpretation and unlikely to form a sound basis for rigorous legislation. Many questions remain unanswered concerning refined ingredients produced by sequential separation, purification or conversion stages, particularly where microorganisms or enzymes are used. It is unclear whether the use of free or bound enzyme systems affects the status of products. For example, is dextrose obtained from glucose syrup from GM maize, using a non-GM enzyme, to be regarded differently from dextrose produced from conventional
(non-GM) glucose syrup, but using an enzyme obtained from a GM microorganism? Other questions relating to fermentation-derived products, such as certain vitamins and refined chemicals, are also outstanding.

Implications For the food industry as a whole, cross-contamination during cultivation, harvest, transport and processing is unavoidable--this has been recognized in numerous legal and commercial purity criteria over many years (and is not a problem unique to GMOs). Because the new EU rules affect shipments not only of GM products, but also of non-GM products that may contain adventitious levels of GMOs, the labeling laws potentially affect all food producers.

Many businesses have already taken steps to exclude ingredients derived from GMOs and are unlikely to be affected immediately; however, many more will now seek to legitimately avoid GM labeling by sourcing ingredients either from non-GM supplies (putting pressure on the price of documented, segregated supplies) or from alternative species that have not been genetically modified. The latter is, of course, only a short-term option as increasing numbers of GM crop varieties become available. Others, less reputably, are unlikely to seek the more expensive alternatives, and, equally, are unlikely to label the GM derivatives, with little risk of detection.

Another problem is that no validated analytical methods can distinguish refined GM derivatives from their traditional counterparts. It is difficult to envisage how positive labeling or numerical thresholds can be enforced with sufficient rigor to prevent fraudulent non-declaration. If a seller claims that a product, without protein or DNA, has not been derived from a GMO, it will be costly, if not impossible, to prove otherwise. As authenticated non-GM materials will attract a premium price, the invitation to fraud is obvious.

As a result of the above, audit trails will replace analytical methods, imposing costly burdens on industry without adding significantly to consumer protection. These paper trails will themselves carry a risk of fraud that experience shows will occur as soon as financial gain is possible. In countries where GM crops are widely grown without reliable segregation, GM derivatives will be present in numerous processed foods and ingredients. It is likely that no foods or ingredients (regardless of their degree of refinement) that might be obtained from GMOs could be sourced from these countries unless full traceability and identity preservation systems are in place.

What is needed? When considering future global food security, pressure on the environment and the increasing need for sustainable agricultural practices, it is clear GM technology will become a ubiquitous part of global agricultural production whether for food, textiles or fuel. It has already been widely used in microbiological processes involved in food production for over 30 years without any apparent problem or consumer interest. Any system of GM regulation, whether related to safety approval or labeling, needs to be developed with this vision in mind.

In Europe, 'consumer protection' predominates over the broader need for economies to be founded on soundly based R&D that supports viable industries, providing secure, profitable employment and fair returns to investors and generating proportionate taxes to fund the overall needs of society.

The new rules and information on illustrate the peril of promulgating legislation to satisfy consumer demands for 'absolute safety' without due regard for how rules can be applied in practice. Legislation should be worded in such a way that there is no room for doubt or interpretation. It also needs to be developed on the basis of practical limitations, proportionality, economics and enforceability on a global basis. The essential requirement is for a robust set of regulations that will be as relevant in the future as today. Current EU labeling legislation falls far short of this goal.


1. The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Official J. Eur. Union L268, 1-23 (2003). 2. The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Official J. Eur. Union L268, 24-28 (2003). 3. The Commission of the European Communities. Official J. Eur. Union L10, 5-10 (2004).

-- Neville Craddock can be reached at Neville Craddock Associates, Tun House, 28 High Street, Bletchingley, Surrey RH1 4PA, UK. nevillecraddock@tunhouse28.fsnet.co.uk

Either/or Selection Markers for Plant Transformation

- Nature Biotechnology 22, 398 - 399 (2004), By Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid

'The use of D-amino acid oxidase as a marker gene allows positive or negative selection of plants that have incorporated transgenic DNA.'

Identifying plants that have successfully incorporated transgenic DNA is somewhat akin to finding a transgenic needle in a nontransgenic haystack. Until now, plant biologists have commonly relied on positive selection of a marker gene--usually cotransferred with a transgene of interest--that provides cells integrating the DNA with a growth advantage over nontransformed cells under selective conditions. In this issue, Erikson et al.1 present a novel marker system that is based on the metabolism of D-amino acids (mirror images of L-amino acids). Their system allows both positive and negative selection, expanding the choice of markers available for creating transgenic plants. -------

A Conditional Marker Gene Allowing Both Positive And Negative Selection In Plants

- Oskar Erikson, Magnus Hertzberg & Torgny Näsholm, Nature Biotechnology 22, 455 - 458 (2004)

Selectable markers enable transgenic plants or cells to be identified after transformation. They can be divided into positive and negative markers conferring a selective advantage or disadvantage, respectively. We present a marker gene, dao1, encoding D-amino acid oxidase (DAAO, EC that can be used for either positive or negative selection, depending on the substrate. DAAO catalyzes the oxidative deamination of a range of D-amino acids1. Selection is based on differences in the toxicity of different D-amino acids and their metabolites to plants. Thus, D-alanine and D-serine are toxic to plants, but are metabolized by DAAO into nontoxic products, whereas D-isoleucine and D-valine have low toxicity, but are metabolized by DAAO into the toxic keto acids 3-methyl-2-oxopentanoate and 3-methyl-2-oxobutanoate, respectively. Hence, both positive and negative selection is possible with the same marker gene. The marker has been successfully established in Arabidopsis thaliana, and proven to be versatile, rapidly yielding unambiguous results, and allowing selection immediately after germination.

Why Bt Cotton Pays for Small-Scale Producers in South Africa

- Nature Biotechnology 22, 379 - 380 (2004), By Stephen Morse, Richard Bennett & Yousouf Ismael, . www.nature.com. Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor.

There is much debate about the potential benefits (and costs) of genetically modified (GM) crop technology for developing countries. Studies have been carried out in Argentina, China, Indonesia and most recently India1 to assess the impact of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton on farmers in those regions. These studies have demonstrated benefits in terms of gross margin (revenue minus costs) as a result of increased yield and savings in pesticide, but were based on field trials with a high degree of researcher management.

Here, we describe the economic impacts of the uptake of Bt cotton by resource-poor, smallholder farmers in South Africa. It is the first such study on the continent of Africa based on farmers' own practice as distinct from field-trial data collected under controlled conditions. To our knowledge, there have been no comparable and large-scale studies on the continent of Africa and few anywhere that look at Bt cotton production under entirely farmer-managed conditions.

Our study focused on the cultivation of bollworm-resistant Bt cotton by smallholder growers in South Africa from 1998/1999 (season of first commercial release) to 2000/2001. We used individual farmer records held by Vunisa Cotton--a private company in the Makhathini flats (KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa) supplying all cotton inputs and buying cotton output--to collate data on yields, revenue, expenditure and gross margin (gross margin - revenue - seed cost - pesticide cost - spray labor cost - harvest labor cost) for each farmer. Results of this analysis are shown in Table 1 (means and 95% confidence limits for each sample). Table 1. Cotton yields, revenue and costs for producers as a function of adoption of a Bt variety

Some 2,223 individual farmer records were analyzed. Sample sizes reflect the number of clean records that could be gleaned from the Vunisa data set. In addition, personal interviews were carried out with 100 farmers, together with in-depth case studies of 32 farmers to validate the larger data set.

Bt cotton adopters achieved consistently higher yields and revenue per hectare than nonadopters over the three seasons, particularly in the poor, wet growing season of 1999-2000, which favored the bollworm. Adopters had higher seed costs (because of a Bt seed premium) but lower pesticide costs (both product and spray labor) than nonadopters across all three seasons. The higher yields of Bt adopters did result in significantly higher harvest costs.

The result of these differences between Bt adopters and nonadopters is that adopters achieved substantially higher gross margins than nonadopters across all three seasons. In financial terms, this advantage amounts to around 531-742 SAR ($86-93 at the time of harvest) per hectare on average depending on the season. In the 1999/2000 wet season those growing non-Bt cotton actually had a negative gross margin, which resulted in them having difficulty paying back credit that they had borrowed.

The results show significant, substantial and consistent benefits of adopting Bt cotton for resource-poor smallholders in the Makhathini area of South Africa over the first three significant years of adoption. Benefits were largely in the form of increased yields, reduced pesticides and labor for spraying that, despite higher seed and harvesting labor costs, resulted in substantial improvements in gross margin. Results also suggest that those benefiting most from the technology were the smaller and more intensive cotton growers.


1.Qaim, M. & Zilberman, D. Science 299, 900-902 (2003).


- The Columbus Dispatch, By Steve Rissing, April 6, 2004

It's time for organic-food enthusiasts to put genetically modified crops where our mouths are.

Check out labels in the organic section of your favorite grocery: no genetically modified ingredients. But genetically modified crops require far fewer pesticides than non-modified ones; all else considered, that's good.

The single gene added to those already in corn is from the common soil bacterium Bacillus thuringensis (Bt). Bt produces a protein that kills insects feeding on corn.

The strain of Bt used is selected according to crop and anticipated insect pests. Corn borers, for example, provide points of entry and growth for fungi that release disease-causing toxins in corn. Bt corn has 90 percent less fungal toxin than non-modified corn.

Cotton is one of the most pest-ridden crops in the United States; non-Bt cotton can require 12 to 14 applications of chemical pesticides per year. This drops to two to six treatments in Bt cotton.

Nonetheless, many people prefer non-modified foods. Indeed, the labels on soymilk assure the consumer that not only has it not been genetically modified, but it's organic as well. Way cool. One pest-control method certified for organic crops is spraying with Bacillus thuringensis spores; sound familiar?

Those spores contain all Bt genes, including the single one inserted into modified plants that attacks pests.

Why not buy foods that are both organic and genetically modified? Alas, that's impossible because federal labeling laws prohibit modified crops in foods sold as organic.

Genetically modified crops are powerful weapons in our ongoing competition with other organisms for our food.

Natural selection and plant breeders have hybridized plants for generations, transferring thousands of genes. A few of those genes have valuable properties for our food plants and for us. Properties of the Bt gene inserted into genetically modified plants are some of the best understood in biology.

As the agriculture and food industries and regulatory agencies continue to develop genetically modified technologies, we can look forward to even safer and more nutritious crops produced with fewer pesticides.

Grocery stores may someday be permitted to sell foods that are organic and genetically modified. I could buy that.

Steve Rissing is a biology professor at Ohio State University.


Food industry to pay for political brinkmanship

- Food Navigator, April 6, 2004

A political move that will burden the European food industry with more paperwork than necessary and will send an army of food manufacturers to rethink their ingredients formulations. So it is that critics of the incoming rules on the tracebility of GM foodstuffs view the move by Brussels to toughen up the labelling regime.

From 18 April all ingredients that contain or consist of genetically modified organisms, or contain ingredients produced from GMOs, must be labelled and traceable - a system that will lean heavily on traceability. The rules also set up a centralised procedure to consider applications to grow and market GMOs in the European Union. "We have never supported this law, it’s unworkable and impractical," Lynne Insall, the GM expert at the UK’s industry body, the Food and Drink Federation, tells FoodNavigator.com.

Declared a victory for consumer choice by Brussels, the new rules are viewed as little less than a nightmare by the European food industry which believes the move to traceability rather than detectability will not only leave the European food chain open to fraud, but be totally impractical to enforce.

"We still don’t know how it will be enforced and at what level the ‘proof’ will be," added Insall, commenting that the European Commission has yet to tie up all the loose ends on the incoming rules.

The food industry has no choice but to implement the rules, although at this stage the actual cost to the €600 billion European industry is unclear.

It is very difficult to assess the cost. The UK implementing regulations were only published last week and at this stage some of the costs are also dependent on commercial issues, said Insall.

While the larger manufacturers involved in multiple food product sectors may have the systems in place to cope with maintaining five years of records on GM derived food products – as the new rules demand – for SME’s this may not be the case.

"It depends on the system already in place. Some of the larger firms may be able to ‘add on’ the requirements to their existing systems. For the small and medium-sized companies this is less likely, and the process will be costly," added Insall.

It is too early in the game to put a figure on the overall costs. But if they do rise, and companies fail to absorb the costs – already pressed by mounting raw material prices – it is probable the costs will be dispersed throughout the food chain – from producer to retailer.

Reformulation is an option underway by the industry today that could lead to a minor shake-up for the ingredients industry. Insall commented that every food manufacturer is today busy scoping their supply chain and checking for GM derivatives. They may opt to reformulate the ingredients in the recipe of a foodstuff rather than sticking with the GM derivative. A move which would send ripples throughout the ingredients industry and could see some suppliers faced with ailing order books.

"For most ingredients there are alternatives," added the FDF spokesperson.

The Commission, not too concerned about the impracticalities of enforcement according to Insall, implemented the new rules - (EC) 1830/2003 on the Traceability and Labelling of GMOs and (EC) 1829/2003 on Genetically Modified (GM) Food and Feed – under the banner of choice for the GM suspicious consumer. But critics maintain that the move was for pure political ends.

Introducing tighter rules on the labelling of GM’s could herald an end – as desired by Brussels - to the current GM moratorium on new GM crops in place since 1998. The US – a key exporter of GM crops- has been pushing Europe to end the bloc, viewing the moratorium as an illegal barrier to trade and lost revenues for its GM farmers.

The rules were drafted from a political view without any real understanding of the industry, said Insall.

"We have always recognised and respected the fact that a proportion of the population does not accept GM. We were prepared to accept a system of detectability that can be enforced- label the DNA or protein where detectable," Insall said.

Efforts are underway to help food and beverage manufacturers get to grips with the new rules. At a European level, the Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU will issue in the next two weeks a 30 page guideline to be sent out to all members. Nationally, goverment agencies and industry bodies have set up consultations and workshops.

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation will hold a workshop for manufacturers on 19 April with speakers including Patrick Deboyser, head of food law and biotechnology at the European Commission, and Dr Clair Baynton, head of novel foods branch 1 at the FSA.


Fear behind GMO debate

- The Maui News, April 06, 2004

Opponents of growing genetically modified plants in Maui County test fields say the companies involved won't say exactly what they are doing or where, and that government oversight is hampered by a lack of personnel.

Proponents of the GMO trials say the fields are closely regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the state of Hawaii.

It's a fear-laden issue fueled by stories of fish genes, mosquito viruses and the like being put into corn and other food crops, and of the companies involved attempting to "engineer" the world's food crops so only they can supply the seed needed for future crops.

On the other side, the companies and scientists fear the halting of testing and studies out of ignorance.

Opponents say there is no telling what dangers exist from playing what some call "paint-ball DNA." They cite a rise in allergies and other human ailments, along with ordinary crops being "polluted" by pollen drift from test fields. Maui and Molokai are prime locations for such fields because of the 12-month growing season.

Last Friday, the Maui County Council voted to send a resolution back to the Parks and Agriculture Committee. The resolution calls for the state to set up individual county advisory boards to review genetically modified organisms being developed or tested in Hawaii.

There is a difference of opinion as to whether such county advisory groups would have the authority to review confidential business information about GMOs. Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairwoman of the state Board of Agriculture, says they would not.

On a molecular level, it doesn't matter what produced the gene - a test tube or a plant or a creature. The industry and scientists involved haven't done a good job of explaining that fact, leaving nonscientists to wonder.

Frankly, most of us don't have the training or the knowledge to figure this out on our own and could be susceptible to believing any science fiction story that might be related to us about these organisms. Decisions affecting something as important as our food supply need to be made out of knowledge, not fear.

If the notion of county advisory boards isn't dead, any such Maui County board should include Maui-based scientists who can understand the science, and industry representatives who can relate the means and objectives of the tests. The other essential component of such a board would be a translator who can put its findings in terms the council and the public can understand.