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 20, 2004


Europeans Fight Back: Eco-Stalinists Cannot Hijack Debate; Extremists Ruining Earth Day; Risks of Not Adopting GM; Can't We All Get Along?; Better-Bred Bread: What Experts Say..


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 21, 2004:

* European Biotech Manifesto: Science Fights Back!
* How Extremists Are Ruining 'Earth Day'
* Risks of Not Adopting GM in the EU
* New Study Pushes GM Crops to Conserve Water
* Why Can't We All Get Along?
* Science is Seeking A Better-Bred Bread
* What The Experts Say About Agricultural Biotechnology


'Dangers of Letting "Eco-Stalinists" Hijack Intelligent Debate'

European Biotech Manifesto: Science Fights Back!

- Interviewer: Steve Zwick, ABIC 2004 No. 4, www.abic2004.org

(Botanist, ecologist, and unabashed biotech booster Klaus Ammann is putting together a draft proposal for a "European Biotech Manifesto" to be published at the close of ABIC 2004. Designed to provide a framework for helping the general public understand the benefits and risks of biotechnology, Ammann's draft will be submitted to ABIC delegates at this year's ABIC conference in Cologne, from 12-15 September. Participants will be asked to hammer out a final version. Inside, Ammann answers questions about the ethics of risk assessment, the need for proactive discourse, and the dangers of letting "eco-Stalinists" hijack intelligent debate. )

Prof. Klaus Ammann: A Biotech Manifesto


* What exactly is a European Biotech Manifesto?
- The Manifesto will be a Europe-focused version of a manifesto we drafted at the Global Forum in Concepcion, Chile, for the United Nations. The whole conference is built to unite positive forces behind biotech, and the manifesto will be a central part of this. The draft will be fed into the conference, and then we'll have an open session to discuss it.

It should be a declaration of major opinions exchanged, along with a strong statement that we believers in the benefits of biotech need to stand on our hind legs - as biotech scientists, as businesspeople, and as beneficiaries - and say to those who unfairly attack us, "Hey, you cannot go on like that." One of the paragraphs will deal with how to handle opponents.

* And how do you handle opponents?
- To begin with, you avoid the hypocritical charade of engaging in discourse with eco-Stalinists, because they're only pretending to engage you. Stick to oppo- nents with whom you share a true concern for the environment, and ignore those seduced by some woolly Rainbow Warrior aesthetic.

* That sounds like a broadside on Greenpeace.
- It is. I should mention that I worked with Greenpeace in the early 90s, and the organization I worked with never would have indulged in pseudo-science or intentional deceit, the way today's Greenpeace does. As far as I know, the Brent Spar was the only time they admitted to intentional deceit. That's why so many good people refuse to work with them now.

* Before we explore that, which groups would you engage in dialogue with?
- The WWF and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) oppose biotechnology, but they are openminded. You can talk to them, and you can learn from them, just as you can talk to and perhaps disagree with - but also learn from - many organic farmers, and - to a much lesser degree - also Friends of Earth, among others.

* How has Greenpeace lied regarding biotechnology?
- Let's start with golden rice, which creates more vitamins than standard rice does. This is a major breakthrough, because 500,000 children die every year from vitamin deficiency, and their primary staple is rice. Well, Greenpeace derides it as "mock rice" - as if it's made from cardboard or something - and they insist on maintaining the lie that you have to eat nine kilograms of it to gain any benefits, when you only need a fraction of that amount - 250-300g - to avoid deficiency syndromes.

Then there's Mexico, where land races of maize have been introgressed by Bt genes. Greenpeace says the land races are threatened by transgenetic maize, but that's a joke. The land races are threatened by massive subsidized American imports, which are destroying the local market. In Mexico City, I asked what was wrong with land races having transgenes in them which protect against insects. Nobody was able to give a negative answer. You talk to farmers down there - and farmers everywhere - and they always want to hear about ways of enhancing land races. We should help them achieve that - not just with technology, but with collaborative breeding programmes. Europe also has a responsibility there, because our subsidies are just as devastating as America's - but it's not a biotech issue; it's a trade issue.

* But you concede there are risks, correct?
- Absolutely. But the research into the risks is often distorted. For example, most risk assessments on the first generation had shown an accumulation of Bt protein in the soil. But the same scientist who first identified this risk, Gunter Stotzky from New York, also found that protein degrading on the long run. When he heard that his papers were taken over by opponents and grossly exaggerated, he became concerned.

Industry also has had some lies to account for. Of course, but there is a clear improvement. Monsanto, for example, has become one of world's leading risk assessment bodies. They've become incredibly transparent, to the point where many of their risk-assessments are published and peer-reviewed. Can Greenpeace say that of their studies? They have only submitted a very few studies on molecular lab work to peer review. And
worse: they publish so-called studies or reports, not at all peer reviewed, about various biosafety matters, and distort the papers they cite. A good example is their report on the Chinese Bt cotton studies, which the cited Chinese authors then protested.

* Is the issue of risk assessment addressed in the manifesto?
- It's a cornerstone - because we must have high risk assessment standards. But they shouldn't be absurd standards detached from reality, as Germany and also Switzerland is implementing.

* What is Germany doing wrong?
- First, there's insurance: in Switzerland, companies are liable for anything that goes wrong, but in Germany liability falls on the farmers. That's absurd because farmers won't be able to pay for the insurance. Then there's this coexistence issue. Some genes will always transgress into other fields, but up to now the threshold levels were up to 5%. Now they want to concentrate on homeopathic amounts detectible through high precision DNA analysis, and genetic engineering is victimized this way. If they want to set standards, they should ask seed producers. They know best how to set up standards. Now it's getting absurd.

* Can you expand on the risk assessment issue?
- To begin with, risk has two sides: the risk of doing, and the risk of not doing. In the case of golden rice, for example, to include human suffering - meaning 500,000 dead children per year - in risk assessment is ethical, and to exclude it is unethical. Plus, you need to apply risk assessment scientifically. Let's look at canola, which is also used to produce an oil for industrial purposes, not at all fit to get into the human food chain, but is not genetically engineered. Because it's not genetically engineered, it has no safety standards. The problem is that it presents a genuine risk, because industrial oil is high in erubic acids, which are not healthy for human consumption. But - as I said previously, seed producers know how to deal with this coexistence problem.

There are lots of examples of how distorted the risk perception picture is in Europe, especially when compared to the US. Allergens in foods, for examples, have to be declared in the US in a very exact way. Just look at soy beans, which have six allergens and for this reason have to be declared when they show up in food in the US. In Europe, their presence in foods only has to be declared if the soy beans are transgenic - which of course does not enhance public trust.

* Is that why there hasn't been this outcry in the US that you have here?
- The US has a better regulatory environment: it's risk-oriented and science-based, meaning it's based on results. And its two primary agencies
- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - employ hundreds of excellent scientists. As a result, in the US you have a history of trust, while in Europe you have a history of trust betrayed - most recently in the BSE and HIV scandals, where scientists and governmental bodies lied.

* And, again, past lies have come back to haunt the industry...
- It's important that we don't shy away from such things. Industry and science have made a lot of mistakes. Lot of people in the biotech sector today think they can explain the whole world with scientific facts. This causes mistrust and later aggression - a lot of people no more listen to scientists. We need to regain peoples' confidence by opening discourse and respecting different kinds of knowledge and abandoning the utterly nave stakeholder principle.

We need to invite all to the debate, and encourage a free and open exchange of views, minimize hidden agendas, be honest of background interests. And most importantly, we must obey the rule of the Symmetry of Ignorance, which means that we have to develop an open mind towards different kinds of knowledge. We have to realize that important elements of our language are culturally-oriented, and we have to learn not only to preach (especially to the converted) but also to listen.

* Getting back to the manifesto: Why Europe, and why now?
- Europe has a high responsibility, because its refusal of GM imports is hindering the development of GM crop markets in the developing world. Currently, the developing world would like to apply transgene advantages, but they start to argue: "If we can't sell to Europe, we won't start in the first place."

Professor Klaus Ammann, director of the University of Bern's botanical garden, has dedicated his career to protecting biodiversity, assessing the risks associated with genetically engineered crops, and promoting informed public debate about biotechnology issues. In addition to his duties in Bern, Ammann chairs the European Group of Plant Specialists for the World Conservation Union and sits on Switzerland's governmental biosafety committee. As a researcher, he concentrated on plant systematics and evolution.

Professor Klaus Ammann recently edited and compiled accounts from an international workshop on the effects of transgenic plants on biodiversity. This volume focuses primarily on the impact of agricultural biotechnology on both native and farming ecosystems and on the consequences for conservation. -- Vol. IV Biodiversity and Biotechnology 2003. 196 pages. Hardcover 72.75 Euro ISBN 3-7643-6657-5 Professor Ammann also publishes 'The Impact of Agricultural Biotechnology on Biodiversity', a continuously updated review of new developments in the field. It can be downloaded at: http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Biotech-Biodiv/Report-Biodiv-Biotech12.pdf


How Extremists Are Ruining 'Earth Day'

- Henry I. Miller, Scripps Howard News Service, April 20, 2004

The first Earth Day celebration was held in 1970 as a "symbol of environmental responsibility and stewardship." In the spirit of the time, it was a touchy-feely, consciousness-raising experience, and most activities were organized at the grass-roots level.

Earth Day is now more about dire prediction than sober reflection and provides an opportunity for environmental extremists to hog the spotlight, dish anti-technology dirt and proselytize. A favorite target this year is biotechnology, which one activist has characterized as threatening "a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust."

Greenpeace demands no less than biotech products' "complete elimination
(from) the food supply and the environment." Some have taken this message so seriously as to vandalize field trials at universities and on private farms.

Who could tell from such apocalyptic language and extreme actions that what is at issue are products like papayas, corn and cotton plants genetically improved to resist pests, grow under adverse climatic conditions and with fewer agricultural chemicals and to give higher yields.

The extremists' eco-babble ignores the scientific consensus that gene-splicing, the newest manifestation of biotechnology, is a refinement of less precise methods of genetic modification that have been applied for more than a century. The National Research Council put the new biotechnology in perspective in a 1989 analysis:

"With classical techniques of gene transfer, a variable number of genes can be transferred, the number depending on the mechanism of transfer; but predicting the precise number or the traits that have been transferred is difficult, and we cannot always predict the (characteristics) that will result. With organisms modified by molecular methods, we are in a better, if not perfect, position to predict the (characteristics)." In other words, the newer techniques are more precise and more predictable and o ften yield a safer product.

Farmers and the health of the environment have been the major beneficiaries of the dozens of gene-spliced plants now on the market. According to a report on gene-spliced crops from the USDA's Economic Research Service, the adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans was associated with "increases in yields" and "significant decreases in herbicide use," and "increases in adoption of (gene-spliced) cotton resistant to insects in the southeastern United States were associated with significant increases in yields6 and profits and decreased insecticide use."

An innovation that decreases agricultural "inputs" _ all the factors that contribute to the costs of food production benefits everyone involved in the pathway from the dirt to the dinner plate. Increased yields are environmentally important because they obviate the need to put additional land such as forests under cultivation. In addition, they permit water to be used more efficiently, and encourage wider use of no-till cultivation, which de creases soil erosion.

In spite of these achievements and an extraordinary safety record, the row has been tough to hoe. In Europe, there is widespread public and political opposition to importing grains grown from gene-spliced seeds. Gene-spliced foods have been banished by major supermarket chains. Governments have imposed moratoria on commercial-scale cultivation of plants, and regulatory approvals have ground to a halt. In the United States as well, regulators have imposed overly strict, unscientific rules on agricultural and food research that hinder new product development.

The coup de grace may have been administered to agricultural biotechnology by the United Nations' forays into biotechnology regulation. The U.N.'s self-designated role as the world's bio-police imposes regulatory requirements for both field testing of new plant varieties and for foods that no conventionally-modified food could or should meet.

Unscientific, unreasonable regulations and standards harm the environment and public health, stifling the development of environmentally friendly innovations that can increase agricultural productivity, help clean up toxic wastes, conserve water and supplant agricultural chemicals. U.N. experts themselves warn that the greatest single threat to the planet's environment comes from the world's burgeoning population and its demand that ever more land be brought into food production.

Earth Day provides an opportunity for reflection about our planet including the well-being of the humans who populate it. Science and technology must play vital roles, and anyone who mindlessly rejects and disparages them is out of step with the occasion.


Biotechnology Expert Focuses on the Risks of Not Adopting GM in the EU

- Cordis News, April 21, 2004 http://dbs.cordis.lu/

Dr Clive James, chair of the international service for the acquisition of agri-biotech applications (ISAAA) and a leading proponent of agricultural biotechnology for the developing world, was in Brussels on 20 April to present his views on the current global status and future prospects of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Speaking to journalists, he began by outlining the challenge facing the agriculture sector. According to Dr James, estimates show that global food production will need to be doubled by 2050 to meet the needs of a predicted world population of nine billion people. What's more, he added, this doubling of production will have to be achieved using the same amount of land as is currently available, as the area of cultivatable land per capita in 2050 will have fallen to 0.15 hectares, from today's figure of 0.25 hectares.

'No single approach will provide the solution,' said Dr James. 'Conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050, and similarly, biotechnology is not a panacea - GM is not the silver bullet that will solve all of the problems.'

However, Dr James expressed his firm belief that any successful strategy to meet the growing global demand for food would have to make use of multiple approaches, integrating both conventional and GM crops in order to optimise productivity. The challenge, as he sees it, is how to accommodate diverse opinions on GM technology within a global strategy, especially given the sceptical stance of many in Europe.

Dr James accepted that concerns surrounding GM crops, such as food safety, their environmental impact and the issue of who owns the technology, are currently hampering acceptance in Europe, but he argued that these issues represent only one side of the argument.

'What many people in Europe must ask themselves is 'what are the risks of not adopting GM?' said Dr James. He offered the example of a brain drain of scientific talent from Europe to other parts of the world, resulting in Europe not being at the cutting edge of the technology. Dr James described the current status of biotechnology as the tip of the iceberg, adding: 'What people must realise is that if Europe chooses to reject GM technology, it will be turning its back on the whole iceberg, not simply the tip.'

However, Dr James was positive about the future prospects for GM technology in Europe, saying that he chooses to view the region as 'a glass half full, not half empty'. New EU labelling and traceability requirements, which came in to force on 18 April, will open up new developments in Europe and lead to the reestablishment of GM product approvals, he hopes.

The introduction of practical coexistence measures should open the way for the cultivation of GM crops in Europe within the next five years, said Dr James, and he described the limited cultivation of GM maize in Spain as 'encouraging'.

When asked what benefits GM crops offer to consumers in Europe, Dr James accepted that the advantages for ordinary citizens are less evident than those for farmers, for example. However, he argued that the technology would lead to lower cost products, and that European consumers may be better persuaded by 'quality trait' GM varieties currently under development, such as a type of soya bean that can lower cholesterol levels in the body.

Ultimately, though, it is the potential benefits that GM crops can deliver in the developing world, and especially to the 870 million people currently suffering from malnutrition, that Dr James considers the decisive argument in favour of the technology. 'The problem may be that hunger is a difficult concept for consumers in the EU and US to relate to,' he concluded. ISAAA: http://www.isaaa.org/


New Study Pushes GM Crops to Conserve Water

- USAgNet, April 21, 2004 http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-national.cfm?Id=429&yr=2004

A new report released at a UN development summit in New York Tuesday warns that food production and agriculture are causing the rapid depletion of water resources across the world, advocating the cultivation of drought resistant and genetically modified crops to combat the crisis.

"Food and agriculture are by far the largest consumers of water. They require 1,000 times more than we use to drink and 100 times more than we use to meet basic personal needs," cautions the report titled "Water - More Nutrition Per Drop," initiated by the Swedish government.

Focusing on the estimated 840 million undernourished people across the world, the report warns that if measures are not taken to increase food production while subsequently using less water, the international community will face great difficulties in meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015.

Agriculture accounts for an alarming 70 to 90 percent of available freshwater supplies in developing countries, according to senior scientist Malin Falkenmark of the Stockholm International Water Institute, which collaborated on the report. Falkenmark adds that astonishingly huge volumes of water are transformed into vapor during food production.

The report explains that with globalization and an increase in purchasing power, consumers are becoming more selective about their food, driving an increasing demand for meat and dairy products that involve water-intensive production procedures.

Stressing that the conservation of water should be a combined global effort, the report advocates the cultivation and export of crops in regions where they can give the best yield with the least amount of water.


Why Not Hold an International Symposium? Can't We All Get Along?

- Timur Hyat-khan

I am very much concerned at the scale of venom being spouted from both sides of the Tech Divide. Could we not be more Civil in our approach? We in Pakistan face the same problem even with soft technologies in agriculture. I would suggest that an International symposium be held with clearly defined rules about civility. Publicize the even and make it historic. Take all issues and discuss them one by one as if in an International Court. Come up with transparent decisions and make them stick. This needless controversy is farcical to say the least. It does not behoove a 21st century human being to behave in the manner that we are exhibiting. The scenario is the same as for radical religious groups at each others throats. Even if things have not taken such a desperate turn.

Some of the issues that we face apart from GM are:
Use of Chlorides; Calcium availability; Unstabalized Urea; Complete Plant Nutrition; Definition of Organics Eco Safe certification; Vested interests (Pesticides); Genetic Modification

These and other controversial issues are needlessly being discussed without any outcome. Do something please.

-- Regards, Sardar Taimur hyat-Khan, Chairman for Khidmat (Service) Foundation, Pakistan & Azad Kashmir

p.s. I represent a triple 'A' (Appropriate, Adaptive & Applied) R&D NGO from Pakistan. We have been introducing Complete Plant Nutrition Management Systems for the last 10 years with mixed success. Now we wish to move on to GM Crops and find that there is no movement at all in this field for Pakistan. We need GM Rice with protein and GM Cotton for our Industrial Mainstay which is presently riddled with Pesticides. Who do I contact for action?


Science is Seeking A Better-Bred Bread

- Ed Murrieta, ContraCosta Times, April 21, 2004. http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/8482243.htm

'Albany geneticist goes after culprit gumming up dough works'

The eastern shore of San Francisco Bay hardly inspires images of amber waves of grain. But it's right here in Albany, eight traffic-choked freeway lanes away from a horse-racing track on the water's edge, where a U.S. government plant geneticist may change the nature of wheat plants and commercial bread production.

Ann Blechl works for the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, whose tax-payer funded mission is to find solutions to agriculture problems that affect Americans from the field to the table.

A team led by Blechl is trying to solve a problem that affects large-scale commercial bakeries: how to control the stickiness of bread dough made from certain wheat flour. The conundrum is ironic: Overstickiness may have cropped up as a result of a "breakthrough" 20 years ago, when researchers cross-bred rye with wheat in order to obtain a more hardy wheat plant. Now it may take genetic engineering to isolate and remove the rye gene that is suspected of causing wheat flour to produce sticky dough.

"I've had a long-time interest in the proteins in wheat flour that control strength," says Blechl, who, despite her government-drab surroundings, becomes schoolgirl-giddy when talking about things like gluten, glutenins and gliadins. "Wheat is absolutely unique. It's the only food that has these very special proteins that allow you to develop elastic that will hold their shape and flow so you can make a gas bubble inside dough."

Not a boondoggle
If this sounds like another one of the government's $500 toilet seats, consider that large commercial bakeries -- the Wonders and Oroweats of the world -- depend on automated systems to mix and shape a ton of dough at a time. Anything that gums up the works -- big bakeries call them "stick-ups" -- can be costly.

"We are a business that works off economies of scale," says Robert Hardy, the operations manager for Wonder and Hostess bakeries in Northern California "We have to make bread at 200 units a minute to become profitable. It's not like stick-ups happen 10 times a day or every hour. All I can say is, the speed at which we run, when you have a stick-up, it creates a problem."

In response to the American Bakers Association, a trade group that identified sticky dough as a persistent problem during an annual meeting with the Agricultural Research Service, Blechl and her team are working to genetically transform some of the pest- and weather-resistant varieties of wheat that Midwestern farmers prize for their high yields. "Breeders and farmers like these wheats because they're hardier," Blechl says. "The baking industry as a whole does not like these wheats because they're stickier."

Through traditional cross-breeding, several wheats have been produced that contain a piece of a chromosome of rye, a different but related cereal that by itself does not make good bread. What Blechl hopes to accomplish
-- and where controversy begins -- is to identify various rye genes in these wheats and to genetically modify whatever it is that produces a protein which contributes to the stickiness of dough. If successful, the "transgene" will be introduced into wheat by regular cross-breeding.

"Given that the farmers are going to continue to grow this wheat with the rye, we would like to know what is the factor that makes bread dough sticky," Blechl says. "We're taking genes that code for rye proteins and putting them into wheat. The results hopefully will be wheat that doesn't make this rye protein. It will have the rye genes, but the protein that would end up in the flour isn't made. By doing this and selecting which genes we're going to 'turn off,' we can determine what makes dough sticky."

Catch culprit in the rye
It's a detailed process that involves modifying individual genes and growing individual plants in a greenhouse based on each genetic transformation. If a new plant's seed produces dough with changes in seed proteins and reduced stickiness in small-scale lab tests, that plant will be grown in highly regulated field trials. When a test crop produces sufficient grain for commercial-scale tests, it will be milled into flour, dough will be made and baking tests will be performed.

Blechl estimates the research should take five to eight years to complete. "We don't even know all the genes that are in there because wheat hasn't been sequenced," Blechl says. "We have suspects that we have already isolated the genes for. Those are storage proteins of rye which are the equivalent of gliadins (proteins found in gluten) in wheat. We suspect it might be them. If our hypothesis is wrong, and it's actually the absence of wheat rather than the presence of rye, then we can correct for the deficiency by introducing genes from wheat." It's like trying to find a needle in a wheat stack.

"As a percentage of all the genes, it's about 1/100th of all the genes that have been swapped for rye," Blechl says. "All we know is that the stickiness correlates with the presence of that piece of rye chromosome." Stickiness is a natural quality of bread dough. Bakers want a certain amount of tacky resistance as dough is slapped around the mixing bowl or kneaded on the bench. But too much stickiness can ruin the dough.

"Stickiness is usually generated by two things: either too much water or heat build-up in the dough," says Wonder Bread's Hardy. "When you deal with whole-grain flour, it damages (the gluten) and the dough's not allowed to absorb as much water and that results in the dough being sticky."

The artisans weigh in
There is a contingent of bakers who do not embrace Blechl's research, including Steve Sullivan, CEO of Acme Bread Co. in Berkeley. "Certainly, if you make your dough incorrectly or if you ferment your dough too much, you have to deal with consequences that may involve stickiness being more of a problem than a simple characteristic," he says. "Stickiness is pretty much something we take for granted and work with. For us -- as a small operator using organic wheat -- we don't want any genetically modified wheat to be in the ground at all, because it basically threatens our ability to produce something we feel good about. People who pump dough through a tube may have a real interest in this, but it may not be for artisanal breadmakers."

Daniel Weggenman, a grain buyer and vice president of operations at Giusto's, a South San Francisco miller of organic wheat, says Blechl's research could have positive impacts on some sectors of the baking industry. After all, a consistent product that performs the same no matter who or what is doing the mixing is every bakery's holy grail.

"With organic wheat, you've got a lot more variables -- you've got to deal with the conditions you've been given," Weggenman says. "Whether you get a lot of rain or drought conditions determines whether you get high-bushel yields with no protein or low-bushel yields with high protein. It's actually a struggle.

"Wheat is a living plant, so it doesn't always do things the same way. Dough is not living, because it can't make more of itself, but it's a dynamic thing. A very good baker could make a great loaf of bread out of just about any flour. They have the feel for when it's fully developed. But we're talking about mixing one ton of dough with machinery -- that doesn't have the feel. So the industry needs a very consistent product."

Genetic resistance
While there are no genetically modified wheat crops in commercial production and opposition to genetically modified crops runs strong in some quarters, the benefits of Blechl's research could still be put into effect the old-fashioned way:

"Natural preparations of any missing wheat proteins could be added to flours before mixing," Blechl says. "Or traditional breeders could use the knowledge of which protein or proteins confer stickiness to select against the presence of 'stickiness genes' in the wheats they develop." In practice, however, the former could be too expensive and the latter could take many years. "Maybe the plants we make don't go beyond the lab," says Blechl, whose greenhouse was vandalized during an earlier genetic modification project. "But the knowledge -- that has to go out."

The Western Regional Research Center, where Blechl operates, is among four such facilities operated by the USDA. Over the past 50 years, the lab's researchers have improved frozen food storage; made powdered eggs taste better; invented the most widely planted breed of iceberg lettuce; and identified the natural yeast culture that gives San Francisco sourdough bread its distinctive quality.

"For me to be successful," Blechl says, "I don't need to make a marketable product. To the extent that either I or other people can apply that knowledge when I publish my findings, that's what I'm trying to get out to the world."


What The Experts Say About Agricultural Biotechnology

- Select quotes below; Compiled by BIO http://www.bio.org/foodag/background/communitysay.asp

"The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture." - Thomas Jefferson

"We have large and various orchards and gardens wherein we practice all conclusions of grafting and inoculating, whereby we make trees and flowers to come earlier or later than their seasons, and their fruit greater and sweeter and of differing taste, smell, colour, and figure from their nature; and likewise to make one plant or tree turn into another." - Francis Bacon, New Atlantis

AgBioWorld Foundation, "Scientists in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology." Declaration signed by over 3,200 scientists who support the use of biotechnology to improve agriculture in the developing world. "We, the undersigned members of the scientific community, believe that recombinant DNA techniques constitute powerful and safe means for the modification of organisms and can contribute substantially in enhancing quality of life by improving agriculture, health care, and the environment."

AfricaBio, Position on the Impact of Genetic Modification on Biosafety (August 2002). "With all the methodologies and scientific tools available to us today, the safety of the products of biotechnology is equal or safer than conventional food products. Decisions made in the advancement of biotechnology events are science based rather than based on emotional decisions."

American Council on Science and Health, Biotechnology and Food (2000). "Current regulatory scrutiny, plus the excellent track record of GM food safety, gives us confidence that GM foods are rigorously scrutinized and that the technology is safe. Consumers and farmers can expect a wide variety of beneficial new products in the not-too-distant future to augment those currently on the market."

American Dietetic Association, Biotechnology and the Future of Food-Position of ADA (reaffirmed 2000). "It is the position of The American Dietetic Association that biotechnology techniques have the potential to be useful in enhancing the quality, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and in increasing the efficiency of food production, food processing, food distribution, and waste management."

American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs, Genetically Modified Crops and Foods (I-00) Full Text (2000). "The AMA believes that as of December 2000, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education. . . . The AMA recognizes the many potential benefits offered by genetically modified crops and foods, does not support a moratorium on planting genetically-modified crops, and encourages ongoing research developments in food biotechnology."

American Phytopathological Society, Statement on Biotechnology and its Application to Plant Pathology (August 2001). "The approved statement acknowledges the many benefits of using biotechnology for plant pathogen and plant research and for disease management. It also expresses support for responsible and science-based oversight and regulation of biotechnology. Further, it calls for placing consideration of risks associated with managing plant diseases through biotechnology in perspective with other disease management approaches, including social, economic, and environmental issues and concerns."

American Society for Cell Biology, Statement in Support of Research on Genetically Modified Organisms. "The ASCB vigorously supports research and development in the area of genetically engineered organisms, including the development of genetically modified (GM) crop plants. . . . New products from genetically modified crops promise significant improvement in human health and the environment."

American Society of Plant Biologists, Statement on Genetic Modification of Plants Using Biotechnology. "The ASPB believes strongly that, with continued responsible regulation and oversight, biotechnology will bring many significant health and environmental benefits to the world and its people."

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), Market Access Issues for GM Products, July 2003 "There is no strong evidence to suggest that GM grains ... are not finding markets through the world. GM producing countries already dominate the world grain trade ... [and] there is limited evidence of willingness of consumers to pay higher prices for products that are certified to not contain GM materials."

Dr. Norman E. Borlaug (Nobel Prize Laureate for Peace 1970). 2000. Ending world hunger. The promise of biotechnology and the threat of antiscience zealotry. Plant Physiology 124: 487-490. "The affluent nations can afford to adopt elitist positions and pay more for food produced by the so-called natural methods; the 1 billion chronically poor and hungry people of this world cannot. New technology will be their salvation, freeing them from obsolete, low-yielding, and more costly production technology."

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor Report, Section One, "Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor: Promethean Science," by G.J. Persley (2000). "[M]olecular biology and other tools of modern biotechnology add elegance and precision to the pursuit of solutions to thwart poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity in too many countries around the world. In agriculture these enemies are manifest as pests, diseases, drought and other biotic and abiotic stresses that limit the productivity of plants and animals." Read other sections of the report here.

Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Position Statement on Food and Agricultural Biotechnology (2000). "Advances in biotechnology and its application to food production and agricultural practices can contribute to quality of life by improving food security, health care, and the environment."

Crop Science Society of America, CSSA Perspective on Biotechnology (August 2001). "Agricultural production has profound effects by transforming our environment, human health, the economy, and human culture. The Crop Science Society of America supports education and research in all aspects of crop production, including the judicious application of biotechnology."

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Statement on Biotechnology (March 2000). "Biotechnology provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, as well as the food industry. When appropriately integrated with other technologies for the production of food, agricultural products and services, biotechnology can be of significant assistance in meeting the needs of an expanding and increasingly urbanized population in the next millennium."

GM Science Review Panel, United Kingdom (July 2003)
This independent review, requested by British Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett, found that there is no scientific evidence for ruling out all biotech crops and their products. Additionally, the review found that worldwide there have been no verifiable ill effects reported from the extensive consumption of products improved through biotechnology by humans and livestock.

Institute of Food Science and Technology, Position Statement, Genetic Modification and Food (1999). "Genetic modification (GM) has the potential to offer very significant improvements in the quantity, quality and acceptability of the world's food supply."

Institute of Food Technologists, Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods (2000). "The use of rDNA biotechnology and molecular techniques of genetic manipulation significantly broadens the scope of the genetic changes that can be made in food organisms and broadens the scope of possible sources of foods, but this does not inherently lead to foods that are less safe than those developed by conventional techniques. By virtue of their greater precision, such products can be expected to be better characterized, leading to more predictability and a more reliable safety assessment process."

International Society of African Scientists, Position Statement adopted at a technical conference held on October 5, 2001, Potential Benefits of Biotechnology to Agriculture in Africa and the Caribbean (2001). "The International Society of African Scientists (ISAS) believes that agricultural biotechnology represents a major opportunity to enhance the production of food crops, cash crops, and other agricultural commodities in Africa, the Caribbean and other developing nations."

John Innes Centre (UK), JIC Position Statement on Genetic Modification. "JIC expects, based on its unique historic perspective and the present state of scientific knowledge, that appropriate application of genetic modification has the potential to provide significant benefit to society in many areas of the life sciences."

National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation (2000). "The committee is not aware of any evidence that foods on the market are unsafe to eat as a result of genetic modification."

National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Field-Testing of Genetically Modified Organisms: Framework for Decisions (1989). "Crops modified by molecular and cellular methods should pose risks no different from those modified by classical genetic methods for similar traits. As the molecular methods are more specific, users of these methods will be more certain about the traits they introduce into the plants."

National Academy of Sciences, Introduction of Recombinant DNA-Engineered Organisms into the Environment (1987). "There is no evidence that unique hazards exist either in the use of r-DNA techniques or in transfer of genes between unrelated organisms. The risks associated with the introduction of r-DNA organisms are the same in kind as those associated with the introduction in the environment of unmodified organisms and organisms modified by other genetic techniques."

Nuffield Council on Bioethics (U.K.), Genetically Modified Crops: The Ethical and Social Issues (May 1999). "The scope of improvements offered by genetic modification in the future is much wider and consumer benefits much more evident. However, concentrating exclusively on the safety and environmental impact of GM crops in the UK and Europe may distract both the public and governments from giving proper attention to the benefits they could bring to developing and developed countries."

Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Science and the Future of Mankind: Science for Man and Man for Science, "Study Document on the Use of 'Genetically Modified Food Plants' to Combat Hunger in the World" by Nicola Cabibbo (2001). "Contrary to common perception, there is nothing intrinsic to the genetic modification of plants that causes products derived from them to be unsafe. The products of gene alteration, just like the products of any modification, need to be considered in their own right and individually tested to see if they are safe or not. "

Royal Society, Genetically Modified Plants for Food Use (September 1998). "The use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has the potential to offer real benefits in agricultural practice, food quality, nutrition and health. There are, however, uncertainties about several aspects of GMOs. Continued research, funded in part from public sources with the results made openly available, is essential if these uncertainties are to be properly addressed, the risks understood and the full potential of the new technology made clear."

Royal Society of London, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, Mexican Academy of Sciences, and Third World Academy of Sciences, Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture (2000). "Foods can be produced through the use of GM technology that are more nutritious, stable in storage and in principle, health promoting-bringing benefits to consumers in both industrialized and developing nations. . . . GM technology, coupled with important developments in other areas, should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers."

Society for In Vitro Biology, Position Statement on Crop Genetic Engineering (2000). "The membership of the Society for In Vitro Biology believes that the commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) crops will have a dramatic and positive impact on people the world over. We believe the current oversight of these crops by the federal regulatory agencies (FDA, USDA, EPA) is adequate and that these crops are as safe, if not safer, than traditionally bred crops."

Society of Toxicology Position Paper, The Safety of Foods Produced Through Biotechnology (2002). "There is no reason to suppose that the process of food production through biotechnology leads to risks of a different nature than those already familiar to toxicologists or that cannot also be created by conventional breeding practices for plant, animal or microbial improvement. It is therefore important to recognize that it is the food product itself, rather than the process through which it is made, that should be the focus of attention in assessing safety."

Read All of it at http://www.bio.org/foodag/background/communitysay.asp