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August 4, 2004


Frankenfood Fiction; Biotech Foods as Safe as Other Crops; $800 Million Wrong Answer; GM Cotton Helps Environment


Today in AgBioView: August 4, 2004:

* GM passports for UK crops
* Frankenfood Fiction
* Study Shows Biotech Foods Just as Safe as Other Crops
* Regulate Non-Halal In Genetically Modified Food Says Perm Sec
* $800 million wrong answer
* GM cotton helps the environment, Australian study finds
* Claims GM sugarcane safe

Subject: GM passports for UK crops - the latest nail in the coffin for UK farmers
Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2004 10:31:31 +0100
From: Denis Murphy, University of Glamorgan, Wales, UK

Here is the latest nail in the coffin for UK farmers (see story below).

From now on rapeseed (canola) growers may have to test each truckload of their seed for GM-free status – otherwise they could be labelled as GM & may be rejected by crushers.

The cost of an ELISA or PCR test kit is about £500 (US $800) and it requires a lab to do the test properly. How many farmers can afford or have the facilities to do this?

And this is even though there will be no GM rape being grown in the UK for the foreseeable future.

I have two suggestions:

1. UK farmers should get together and agree to not test their crops, even if this means labelling them as GM. If enough of them do this, the labelling system will be discredited.

2. Buy shares in the companies that make GM test kits! This legislation is already Europe-wide and may creep into the US as well, probably via California. That’s an awful lot of kits, guys.



Rape needs GM passports

- FARMERS WEEKLY, By Farmers Weekly Staff, 29 July 2004

OILSEED RAPE growers have been warned they must ensure crops moved off farm this season comply with the latest GM traceability regulations.

Some loads are being moved off farm with incorrect paperwork, and growers who ignore the new rules risk loads being rejected, said the National Farmers Union.

Since April 18 2004, the GM Food and Feed traceability regulations ((EC) no. 1829/2003 and (EC) no. 1830/2003) state that it is a legal requirement for all food and feed containing >0.9% fully approved GM material to be labelled as so.

Grain passports now contain a declaration stating that the load is not subject to the GM labelling requirements - i.e. does not contain any GM material.

It is the grower's responsibility to ensure that they are using up to date copies of the passport to avoid creating problems further down the line, warned Paul Ibbott, Chief Arable Advisor to the NFU.

"If rapeseed arrives at mills without the correct declarations it runs the risk of being rejected," he said.

"At the very least additional transport costs are incurred as the lorry is held pending the correct paperwork being sought from the producer."

Although at present there are no fully approved GM OSR varieties in Europe, producers using both farm saved and certified seed need to ensure the integrity of every load leaving the farm.

Before accepting the declaration, growers must be sure that the crop is free from any GM material, either through cross pollination, GM volunteers, or accidental mixing during storage or handling.

If there is any doubt, producers are encouraged to carry out GM testing.

The declaration form can be downloaded as below:



Frankenfood Fiction

- Consumer Freedom.com, August 4, 2004

The neo-Luddites from organizations like Greenpeace and the Organic Consumers Association are probably dancing in the fields -- the organic fields -- after a tiny county in northern California yesterday caved to their pressure and banned the production of genetically enhanced crops. Despite this tactical victory for the technophobes, and similar initiatives in other California counties, the more significant story is a pair of recent studies reiterating (once again) the safety and benefits of biotech crops. Thankfully, positive reports like these have not fallen on deaf ears in developing nations, where genetically enhanced crops have the greatest potential.

A recent report by the National Research Council (NRC), a division of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that genetic engineering is "not an inherently hazardous process." Instead, it calls the fears of anti-biotech technophobes "scientifically unjustified." The NRC's study actually reiterates its original findings from 1987: "No conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular methods that modify DNA and transfer genes."

A second study by the UK-based Institute for Food Science and Technology found that "Genetic modification (GM) has the potential to offer very significant improvements in the quantity, quality and acceptability of the world's food supply." Commenting on the study, one professor noted that "with 30,000 people dying from diet deficiency diseases every day, foods of the future will not be solved without GM."

Of course, these latest reports are hardly the first scientific studies from respected institutions to endorse biotech crops. The balance of evidence is so overwhelming that the European Union deemed GM foods "safer than conventional plants and foods."

Happily, some leaders of developing countries are beginning to listen to scientists rather than doomsday prophets. In just the last month, three countries -- Kenya, South Africa, and Argentina -- all announced new initiatives to cultivate biotech crops. "We must embrace and apply modern science and technology in farming," argues Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, whose country faces an impending famine. "Indeed, there is evidence that countries that have embraced modern agricultural technologies have improved economic performance, reduced poverty, and ensured food security for their people," Kibaki noted.

Other nations, unfortunately, have fallen pray to the technophobes. Angola, Uganda, Zambia, and many other African countries have instituted bans on biotech food, even in the face of widespread hunger. A recent Washington Times editorial laments:

Greens and others of like mind repeatedly raised phantom fears about the safety of genetically-engineered (GE) foods, even when it meant pulling food from the mouths of malnourished babes ... Even though nearly half of Angola's children are malnourished, earlier this year its government banned imports of GE foods, which stopped a shipment of 19,000 tons of U.S. corn from arriving.


Study Shows Biotech Foods Just as Safe as Other Crops

- Wisconsin Ag Connection, 08/04/2004

A new study on the safety of bioengineered foods by the National Academies of Science concludes that bioengineered crops pose no greater risk to the food supply than traditional crops.

As a result, the study advises federal agencies to review the safety of bioengineered foods on a case-by-case basis by focusing on changes in composition of end products rather than the technology used to produce them.

Conducted by the National Academies' National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, the study stresses that such reviews should focus primarily on whether changes in composition could produce allergens or toxins.

The committee overseeing the study determined that genetic engineering of food is not inherently dangerous, adding that adverse effects of such food on the human population never have been documented.

Supporters of bioengineered foods praised the study's findings, which quell concerns about potential hazards of food containing genetically altered ingredients.


Regulate Non-Halal In Genetically Modified Food Says Perm Sec

- brudirect.com, By Bandar Seri Begawan, August 4, 2004

Feeding billions of people is the challenge the world is now facing as its population continues to grow.

By the year 2020, the projected world population will reach eight billion, of which 6.7 billion will be from the developing countries.

This was stated by Dato Haji Idris bin Haji Belaman, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, at the opening address of the Awareness Seminar of Bio-safety Aspects of Genetically Modified Organisms and the launching of the book on 'Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Organisms' yesterday.

Dato Haji Idris said that conventional ways of producing food will not be able to keep pace with the rapid rates of population growth.

This is where biotechnology provides the answer to this challenge, for without this advanced technology, the world will not be able to feed its future generations, he said.

He added that considering the fact that a significant number of the world population are Muslims and the majority of those who live in Brunei are also Muslims, it should become our concern that emphasis should also be applied in developing our capabilities to regulate the non-halal components in the genetically modified organisms.

The two-day seminar will give participants the opportunity to share experiences through the presentation of technical papers and exchanges of ideas on matters relating to GMO’s Biosafety.

A total of 12 papers will be presented by experts from Brunei, Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan.


$800 million wrong answer

- From Nature Biotechnology 22, 944 (2004), By Henry I Miller

Laura DeFrancesco's book review in the June issue (Nat. Biotechnol. 22, 663–664, 2004) exposes many of the biases and flaws of Merrill Goozner's "The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs," but her criticisms do not go far enough. The book is just one more exercise in bashing the drug industry by an organization that devotes itself to that pastime.

It is misleading to observe, as Goozner does, that US consumers pay twice for their drugs—once with tax dollars for research that provides the scientific substrate for pharmaceutical R&D, and again to purchase the marketed drugs themselves. In fact, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD, USA) funds primarily pre-commercial fundamental research into the biochemistry, physiology and molecular biology of cells and organisms, in health and disease. A perfect example is the invention of recombinant DNA technology, an indispensable tool in contemporary drug discovery, which emerged from the confluence of NIH- and National Science Foundation (NSF, Washington, DC, USA)-funded basic research on enzymology, molecular genetics, microbiology and analytical techniques. Who could have foreseen that the research on the hugely complex biology of bacteriophage lambda or the sex life of Escherichia coli would eventually pay such huge dividends?

Goozner's proposal to shift much of the responsibility and expense for pharmaceutical development from industry to "a more cost-effective government agency" is pure folly. In Milton Friedman's delightful phrase, that is like trying to design a cat that barks. History has shown repeatedly that the private sector, not the government, is better suited for product design, testing and manufacture. It has been a long time since the government itself produced munitions, for example. One impetus for its getting out of the business was the catastrophe that occurred in 1845, when the USS Princeton undertook the initial tests of new 12-inch guns. The first of these, which had been designed by a navy captain, exploded, killing the secretary of state, secretary of the navy, a naval captain and a Maryland congressman, among others. Had President John Tyler not been delayed below decks, he, too, would likely have been killed.

The history of government manufacture of pharmaceuticals is far from encouraging. Consider, for example, the decades of production of human growth hormone for short children by the US National Pituitary Agency (Bethesda, MD, USA). This program, conducted from 1963 to 1985 under the auspices of the NIH, was a haphazard operation. The hormone was prepared from human pituitary glands recovered from cadavers, and the absence of rigorous collection guidelines and purification procedures permitted contamination of the formulated drug with the prions that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or 'mad-cow disease.' As a result, several dozen recipients have died a lingering and gruesome death.

If this had been a private operation, competition and the threat of liability would have compelled frequent updating of the drug's purification and formulation with state-of-the art technologies and would have required rigorous adherence to government regulation. But when the government itself is the manufacturer these forces are attenuated, and the shield of government safety regulation is weakened. The nation's drug regulator, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA, Rockville, MD, USA), is a sibling agency of the NIH, and the two agencies' common political interests and 'professional courtesy' appear to have compromised vigorous oversight over the NIH's production of human growth hormone.

This example underscores the importance of disinterested oversight that effectively neutralizes the conflict of interest that is inherent in essentially the same entity testing and marketing a drug. FDA, perhaps the most stringent regulatory agency on the planet, now provides that check on industry (a factor that Goozner overlooks), but having FDA regulate a sibling government agency charged with developing new drugs would create myriad new problems.

DeFrancesco is right that Goozner's book offers no "easy answers." She might have added that readers won't find any sensible ones there either.


GM cotton helps the environment, Australian study finds

- Agence France Press, August 4, 2004

SYDNEY (AFP) – The advent of genetically modified (GM) cotton has produced major environmental as well as economic benefits by slashing the use of destructive pesticides, an independent report showed.

Compiled by a team from the University of Sydney, the report found GM cotton had led to the use by farmers of other products which were much more tolerable to native animals.

GM cotton now accounts for more than 50 percent of the total Australian cotton crop, with plants modified to make them resistant to particular herbicides or to attacks from certain insects.

But farmers' leaders fear that a series of bans by Australian state governments on commercial trials of GM canola because of perceived health risks will hamper research and development of a product with huge potential.

Report authors Angus Crossan and Ivan Kennedy said their study of Roundup Ready cotton -- a GM cotton resistant to the broadacre herbicide Roundup -- had found major environmental benefits from the crop.

They said it was clear in the case of GM cotton, the environment was safer because of the new technology.

"The field results confirm that it is possible to achieve both economic and environmental benefits from the use of this genetically modified crop," they found.

Kennedy said apart from the environmental risk, farmers had quickly taken up GM cotton because of its economic benefits.

"The use of glyphosate (Roundup) in combination with other low-risk herbicides for weed control proves an opportunity to significantly reduce the risk of off-site herbicide contamination in Australian cotton production," he said in a statement.

National Farmers' Federation president and cotton grower Peter Corish said the advent of GM technology had been a huge environmental benefit.

"For the Australian cotton industry, it's been an extreme benefit because it's allowed us to very much reduce our conventional pesticide use, by well in excess of 50 per cent and that trend continues," he told reporters.

"We now have improved varieties as a result of biotechnology and we see that trend continuing."

Corish said he feared a series of moratoria introduced by state governments on commercial trials of GM canola would hold back Australian farmers.

While conceding there could be advantages by retaining GM-free crops, he said Australia also had to examine genetically altered products.

"My greatest concern is that if no clear path to commercialisation for new GM technologies exist, Australia's ability to attract and retain world class research and development will be significantly hampered, stifling innovation and reducing our competitiveness within global markets," he said.


Claims GM sugarcane safe

- ABC.net, August 4, 2004

BSES (Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations) Bundaberg, in south-east Queensland, says genetically modified (GM) sugarcane is safe because it cannot contaminate other farms.

The University of Queensland has lodged an application for a field trial of GM sugar, and the Australian Democrats has raised concern that may affect the industry's clean and green image.

Palmina Bonaventura from BSES Bundaberg says sugarcane does not seed.

"The way it is propagated means that the genes cannot be transferred into the environment," she said.

"Sugarcane will not just pop up wherever it wants as it does not seed."

She says GM sugarcane could be the industry's saving grace by offering farmers new uses for cane such as bioplastics or vaccines.

Ms Bonaventura says GM trials are strictly monitored.

"We have got rules, we have got regulatory bodies that govern how GM crops are produced and what happens with the GM crop when it is finished, how it is disposed of, how the land that the GM crop is planted on is treated, how it is marked out," she said.