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





August 13, 2004


Europe, the Loser; Green Modified Bilge; Indians Speak Up; NGOs in Africa; Kerry's Worries; Debunking Technophobes; Modified Survey; Labeling Woes; Patents on Life?


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : August 13, 2004

* 'Europe The Loser' In Race To Develop GM Food
* Green Modified Bilge
* Indian Farmers Commission Thumbs Up for GM Crops
* Biotechnology, Africa and Non-governmental Organizations
* The Age of Activism - Porn Comes to the Street
* Prohibition - Nothing but Trouble
* John Kerry 'Worries' About GM 'Contamination'
* ... Alex Avery Calms Him....
* Debunking Technophobes
* A Genetically Modified Survey
* Academic Community Supports Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals in California
* Are You Afraid of Injections?
* Cost Implications of GM Food Labeling in the Philippines
* Patents on Life?
* Biotechnology Ushering in the Second Green Revolution
* Farmers Speak Out For 'Technology In A Seed'


'Europe The Loser' In Race To Develop GM Food

- David Firn and John Mason Financial Times (UK), August 12, 2004 (Via Vivian Moses)

European farmers will lose out to US growers if consumer sentiment changes and the public backs genetically modified crops, according to the head of BASF's agrochemical and biotechnology businesses. Peter Oakley said entrenched opposition in Europe to genetically modified crops could rapidly evaporate once products with clear benefits to the consumer were developed. But the crops would be grown elsewhere because of prohibitive rules being drafted that would make farmers and the industry liable for any econtomic damage to non-GM farming caused by GM crops, he said in an interview with the FT.

The rules being proposed in countries such as Germany and the UK would put farmers off planting the seeds, leaving the market open for US and Asian producers. Mr Oakley cited a recent German survey showing that most consumers would welcome GM products designed to reduce cancer risks. Such products are largely theoretical now but are being researched with other products offering health benefits.

One product range close to the market are oils containing Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease. "I think people will jump on something like that really quickly, but [demand] will be fulfilled by US growers," Mr Oakley said.

Farmers' acceptance of GM is important to European agrochemical companies because it is one of the few growth areas in a stagnating market. But Mr Oakley says it is also important for the future of European research.

"Biotech is an area where Europe can have a competitive advantage. I have a problem when this issue is abused to win votes. I see it as our assignment to make the public more aware of the benefits," he said. Mr Oakley said green politicians and environmental groups had used consumers' lack of scientific knowledge to create an unrealistic fear of the dangers of GM crops. But surveys showed consumers would buy products if they had direct benefits.

Mr Oakley said that the German agriculture-biotechnology industry could go the way of the pharmaceuticals industry, which has been losing importance since the 1980s, when companies wishing to use genetic manipulation had to set up abroad because of a ban at home. "German companies created a tremendous amount of jobs in Massachusetts, California and New Jersey." BASF, the last of the main agrochemical companies to begin developing GM seeds, has deliberately avoided so-called input traits such as herbicide resistance. Instead it is focusing on crops that will have direct benefits for consumers such as better nutrition, and less environmental impact than non-GM crops, and developing plants that can tolerate harsh conditions such as heat, drought and salt.


Green Modified Bilge

- Andrew Bolt, Herald-Sun, August 13, 2004 (via Vivian Moses)

We will marvel one day at how we let ourselves be so spooked by green lies on genetically modified crops. And we will ask how those lies were believed so religiously that the Bracks Government last year banned GM food crops out of nothing more than superstition.

Greenpeace has for years tried to stop farmers using GM cotton, claiming it would mean "increased pesticide use", cause "resistant superbugs" and "harm beneficial insects".

But last week we learned Greenpeace was wildly wrong, yet again. Its scaremongering was exposed this time by a University of Sydney study which found that one popular GM cotton -- designed to be tolerant to the weedkiller glysophate -- was much kinder to the environment than "natural" cotton.

Farmers no longer had to use harsher herbicides before planting, and could just wait and spray their GM cotton with glysophate when they needed to, so tending to use far fewer, and gentler, chemicals. "The field results confirm that it is possible to achieve both economic and environmental benefits from the use of this genetically modified crop," professors Angus Crossan and Ivan Kennedy declared. Great news for Australia, the world's third biggest cotton exporter.

But, wait, there's more. A week earlier, a study by the CSIRO concluded that the other main GM cotton -- resistant to the cotton boll weevil -- allowed farmers to cut pesticide use by about 80 per cent, saving cash. "But I think the argument that's most important is that the environment has been benefiting right from the start, with much reduced pesticides," study author Dr Gary Fitt said.

Great for insects, great for the environment, great for farmers. But Greenpeace hates it, claiming Mother Earth has damned this meddling with nature.

What makes those earth gods so dangerously unreasonable?

And why do our politicians try to placate them?


Indian Farmers Commission Thumbs Up for Cultivation of GM Crops

- Asia Pulse, August 13, 2004

New Delhi,- National Commission on Farmers, Chairman, M S Swaminathan, on Thursday said the science of biotech and genetically modified (GM) crops needs to be capitalised upon for development of agriculture in the country but with due protection of the interests of small farmers.

"There are ideological differences and some do not want GM-crops at all but others feel we cannot halt the march of science," Swaminathan said here. Addressing mediapersons after a conference on biotech, organised by Ficci, he said the country will have to find ways and means to use biotechnology for its benefit.

The science would help develop salt and drought resistant varieties of crops, he said, adding the country needs varieties with abiotic resistance. However, he cautioned that neither environmental nor farming risk could be taken and hence clearance to GM varieties must be given by a proposed single window national biotechnology regulatory commission and an insurance policy be put in place to insulate farmers from any failure of GM crops.

Swaminathan, who headed a government task force on biotechnology, said there were 110 million farmers in the country, most of them small who could not afford to hire lawyers and hence ran the risk of being bogged down by debt burden in event of crop failure if they had taken credit to invest in GM varieties.

Clive James of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications said increasingly investments in transgenic crops was being made by the public sector and that too in developing countries. There will be greater fibre-feed-food balance in trangenic cultivation once GM rice is released commercially, he added.


Biotechnology, Africa and Non-governmental Organizations

- Tawanda Zidenga

I have always had problems with the functions of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa – at least most of them! I strongly believe in Africa's development and I believe that anyone claiming to fight for Africa's development without fighting to strengthen its technological capacity is quite simply out of touch with reality.

The interesting thing about the biotechnology debate in Africa is that it takes a different twist from the way it is in all other continents. From the viewpoint of the average NGO in Africa, we are being victimized by western countries pushing an untested technology on us. We are being taken as one big laboratory. Is this true? Not a bit, but we all know the emotions it evokes. None of us in Africa really trust the west. Scientists probably hold as many meetings as activists in Africa, to explain the need to at least carry out research in transgenic crops, but they are out-publicised. Why? I thought you'd never ask. Facts tell, emotions sell. Why do I dislike NGOs (most of which I think should be relabeled Non-Developmental Organizations!!). They play the role of activists rather than champions of development. Activism is now a profession in the 21st century, but it is never going to take us anywhere.

Most of these European funded NGOs believe they are there to "protect" us. We do not need organizations blowing resources to tell us what we cannot do. We need organizations fostering an understanding of important issues. We need organizations that realize that science education is a must not an option for Africa. We need organizations like Africabio, Africabiotech, ISAAA, Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe and many others working towards strengthening our research and understanding, not our fear.

Philippe Guiton, the Africa relief manager for World Vision is worried that the Kenyan government has become too focused on research. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I think Guiton also believes in long term testing of GMOs. There can never be too much focus on GM research, not in Africa, and one would expect World Vision to know better. I go with Dr Florence Wambugu's frustration on claims that we would take GMOs because Europeans or Americans tell us to do so. Do people who make such claims realize how much they are insulting us?


The Age of Activism - Porn Comes to the Street

- Tawanda Zidenga

Our animal instincts seem to come out in the open so much when we are working in numbers and slogans. I have always had a fascination with the logic behind activism. I believe in groups that lobby for development, but I don't think hardly anyone ever suspected that in this century you could make a living out of demonstrations.

When I read the AgBioView article about protest thongs, I obviously thought the writer was just trying to be funny (well, that might still be true). A quick check on my callender convinced me that we are 8 months away from the next April fools days. Curiously I googled "naked protesters" and on came a limiteless number of news articles about this apparently new way of protesting. The logical absurdity of roaming around stark naked claiming to fight for a good course is really not the greatest fault of the undertaking. What is more mind boggling perhaps is that these people are actually paid to do that!

Those who try to find reason in the actions are probably out of touch with modern day activism. It does NOT have to make sense. Things that make sense don't make noise! The name THONG (topless humans organized for natural genetics) is really for laughing out loud. Activists are trully in love with the word natural. Those who know a little about their environment know the sad fact that natural has never meant good, at least not necessarily. If the co-founder's name is Just Joking then we know what we are in to. But whether or not the writer of the article was trying to be funny, we really have a problem with modern day demonstrators. If people really like the idea of being naked, why use GMOs as an excuse?

> Protest Thongs: 'It's not just a gathering of near-naked partiers wearing body paint and playing Twister; it's a political demonstration'
> - Chris McNamara, Chicago Tribune, 8 August 2004.Full Story at http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/q/chi-0408080413aug08,1,3974701.story


Prohibition - Nothing but Trouble

- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, August 13, 2004

"In California," joked the writer Truman Capote, "everyone goes to a therapist, is a therapist, or is a therapist going to a therapist."

Perhaps that helps explain why the craziest political movement in America is taking root in the Golden State: The effort to ban genetically enhanced crops.

Last March, California's Mendocino County became the first in the nation to outlaw GM plants (by the way - they don't happen to grow any). Nearly 57 percent of the local electorate voted in favor of Measure H, as it was called on the ballot. Anti-biotech activists now refer to it, approvingly, as the "H-Bomb."

They've got one thing right: It's radioactive. Mendocino County residents will discover that their new law is extremely expensive to enforce (assuming they even try to enforce it). And although Mendocino's climate is not conducive to corn, cotton, or soybeans--America's major biotech crops--the pace of progress is so fast these days that the county's farmers soon may discover they're not allowed to use the latest products of agricultural technology.

Now activists in several other counties want to repeat Mendocino's mistake. Residents in Butte, Humboldt, Marin, and San Luis Obispo Counties will consider their own versions of the H-Bomb in November.

I hope they make like bomb squads and defuse this emerging movement. Yet some or all of these ballot initiatives may succeed. This could be the start of a harmful trend.

The enemies of biotechnology are certainly determined. They have said publicly that their ultimate goal is to block biotech crops in as many as 20 California counties. The targets for 2005 and beyond include Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma Counties. The most recent target was Trinity County. Just recently, that County Board of Supervisors quietly passed an ordinance that bans the growth of genetically enhanced crops.

This modern-day Prohibitionist movement is insulting to farmers everywhere. We ought to be allowed to make our own decisions about what we grow. If one of my neighbors here in Iowa wants to start a banana farm, I may tell him he's being a fool--but I don't think it's my responsibility to pass a law forbidding his foolishness. That's not how we do things in America.

Some of these counties may find themselves really hurting their farmers. Conventional rice growers in Butte County, for instance, say their initiative is so poorly worded that it could threaten local research programs. And Santa Clara County stands to benefit if scientists perfect a form of genetically-enhanced broccoli that can grow in hotter temperatures than conventional varieties. This product is in the biotech pipeline right now.

Californians may like their therapists, but I wish they would listen to their doctors--i.e., the scientific Ph.D.-holders who have informed us again and again that biotech foods do not pose even the slightest health hazard to human beings. Some of the best biotech research in the world is going on in California right now, at places like UC-Davis. Researchers are learning new ways to feed the planet and protect the environment.

The people who want to ban these cutting-edge crops can't point to a single scientific study showing that biotech food has ever caused anyone so much as to sneeze. They can't because no such thing exists. These foods are perfectly safe. If they weren't, farmers like me wouldn't grow them in the first place. And we certainly wouldn't feed them to our families.

Yet the activists won't give up easily. "Whether it's in the courtroom, the statehouse, or in the campaign trenches, we're here to support these counties and to protect our hard-won victories," said Ryan Zinn of the Organic Consumer Association.

It's too bad Mr. Zinn feels this way. I don't know of any efforts on the part of farmers who grow biotech crops to pass laws ordering people like Mr. Zinn to stop growing or eating organic food. I guess some people are determined to boss others around.

California's major farming counties in the Central Valley won't get caught up in this nonsense, but they may need to take action to protect themselves. The anti-biotech activists would love to recruit enough Sacramento lawmakers to approve a statewide ban. Before that happens, perhaps a group of more sensible legislators will pass a law restoring the rights of California farmers.

For many of us, that would be the best therapy of all.


John Kerry 'Worries' About GM 'Contamination'

Kerry's remarks on "GMOs" are in paragraphs four and five: "If your crop gets polluted by a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop, poof, you're gone,"

Kerry Outlines Plan for Energy

By Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 7, 2004

Smithville, Mo. - Sen. John Kerry left his campaign train for a tour of corn country Friday to deliver a pitch for a farmer-friendly, $30 billion energy plan and for the votes of rural America.

On his third day in Missouri on his trip to the West, Kerry proposed doubling the amount of ethanol and farm-derived fuels required in gasoline as part of a broad energy proposal that he said can wean Americans off foreign oil.

In a discussion with farmers, the Democratic presidential nominee also promised to appoint an attorney general who would enforce antitrust laws in cases where corporate consolidation of agribusiness might be illegal.

And Kerry said he is considering an insurance program to protect organic farmers against losses if their crops intended for organic-only markets become dusted with wind-blown pollen from genetically modified crops.

"If your crop gets polluted by a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop, poof, you're gone," Kerry remarked while speaking on the farm of Jim and Ruth Nelson.

Kerry later said during an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he hadn't yet figured out how such an insurance program should work.

"I heard the number of farmers who said, 'Gee I'd like to go do this (grow organic crops), but I'm afraid because if I invest in the crop and it doesn't qualify as organic, I lose the entire deal.' So I thought of an insurance concept which says, 'OK, let's share the risk, share the burden' ... I don't think it will be that hard to pull off."

The farm event near Smithfield, 25 miles north of Kansas City, was tailor-made for TV with corn waving in a midday breeze and farmers perched on hay bales. Sounding populist themes, Kerry told the gathering that 60 percent of farm subsidies go to 10 percent of farmers.

"There's an awful lot of rural Missouri, Iowa and other states where small farmers are just getting clobbered. Do you know why? Sure you do. Because the big guys are getting all the money because the system is tilted against the small people," Kerry said.

In his ambitious energy plan, Kerry embraced proposals that would be of considerable benefit to the Midwest if they passed Congress, among them a federal requirement that 5 billion gallons of ethanol and other farm-based fuels be produced for gasoline by 2012.


Response by Alex Avery:

Does Kerry not know that the USDA Organic rules say that a product will NOT lose organic certification from so-called "genetic contamination"?

The USDA even says that a crop could be 98% "GM contaminated" and still be organic -- because it's a process-based standard.

The mis-information MUST BE STOPPED!

If not, farmers should start demanding compensation for disease and weed seed contamination blowing over from organic farms. It's as valid.

It's the mainstream farmers/reporters who need these facts. I spoke to a reporter in Mendicino about this very fact well BEFORE the county biotech crop ban. I don't think he ever reported that most salient fact and the voters were kept totally in the dark.

The public is totally being hoodwinked and the facts don't seem to matter. The organic folks know the reality that they won't lose organic certification because of "GM contamination." But they need the issue to lever sympathy from the public, so they keep pretending up is down and black is white.

It's simply absurd and pathetic that our "independent media" is so easily, willingly, and cynically led by the nose. Hell, they seem to WANT to be used in this despicable fashion.

So-called GM contamination is simply NOT grounds for losing organic certification! Hail it from the hills for all the worthless good it will do.

Alex Avery, Director of Research, Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute, Churchville, VA


Debunking Technophobes

- William Bains, Nature Biotechnology, 22, 945 (2004). www.nature.com. Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of the editor. (Rufus Scientific, UK william@bains.u-net.com)

To the editor: Leigh Turner's excellent exposition in the June issue of the similarity of religion to the social belief systems that have build up around biotech (Nat. Biotechnol. 22, 659, 2004) and particularly around the last decade's genomania misses a key point. Technological enthusiasts propounding stem cells (or growth factors, or hormones, or antibiotics -- the fads are new, but the promises are not) as the key to defeating the Grim Reaper may answer the same psychological need as promises of heaven or hell.

But, unlike religious claims, technological ones can be tested. If I take stem cells and subsequently die, that is rather a letdown for cells as a credo. And it is hard to imagine a company that could keep its investors happy if, after 2,000 years of a phase 3 trial, it still could not produce evidence that would convince a skeptic (that is, the US Food and Drug Administration) that its 'MortaloBust' actually worked.

Of course, popular fantasies, science-fiction films, and the reporters of daily papers paid by the exclamation mark are not so restrained. They do build something that looks like a religious myth system from biotech, something I pointed out over a decade ago1. Turner's call for debunkers and skeptics is timely, important and hits the mark. Blurring the line between what is real and what we would like to be real leads at best to a Centoxin (A6H4C5; HA-1A), a Marimastat (BB-2516) or an Erbitux (cetuximab), at worst to deaths of sportspeople taking human growth hormone or erythropoietin.

But we must be wary lest this call gives succor to the technophobes who believe that biotech is blasphemy. Their belief system is as irrational and potentially harmful as that of those peddling immortality through growth hormone injections or buckets of pills. But, unlike the technophiles, whose mutable faith keeps one step ahead of phase 3 failures with the cheery optimism that something will work one day, the technophobe's belief system denies the very data that could make it more moderate. The arguments over genetically modified (GM) crops are illustrative: any data that supports GM crops' safety is decried as flawed, as much on moral as on technical grounds, any data that they might be unsafe, taken as conclusive proof of sacrilege.

There are many regulatory agencies that resist the excesses of selling dreams as reality, some dating from the century before last (for offering people hope when there is none is not a new scam). There are none controlling the scaremongers and political platform-builders who would set up biotech as the anti-Christ of their religious system. I believe it is at these that we should direct the skepticism and debunking. Either that or take the path of one Salk Institute postdoc of some years ago: join the new priesthood and write best-selling novels about people being eaten by cloned dinosaurs or 'grey goo.'

1.Bains, W. Biotechnology from A to Z, edn. 1, 223–224 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1993).


A Genetically Modified Survey

- Scott Campbell, Spiked, August 1, 2004; Full article at http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CA661.htm

The government's public consultation exercise on GM food, 'GM Nation?', was broadly accepted as an accurate reflection of the public's attitudes (a letter to Nature published by myself and my colleague Dr

Ellen Townsend provided one of the few critical analyses of the report).
In policy circles there has been talk of performing similar exercises in future in order to increase public participation in democracy, at a time when cynicism about politics is supposedly at an all-time high. In fact, though, the GM debate was a travesty, and serves as a model of how not to use social science in the interests of democracy.

The 'GM Nation?' report concluded that the general public is overwhelmingly against GM technology, with feelings ranging from 'suspicion and scepticism, to hostility and rejection'; there are, it was said, 'many more people who are cautious, suspicious or outrightly hostile about GM crops than there are supportive towards them'. These conclusions were based on quantitative questionnaires answered by 36,500 people, as well as by additional comments received. (About half of the responses came by mail, and half using the 'GM Nation?' website.) Such a large sample certainly looks impressive, considering that a lot of social science and market research draws conclusions on the basis of samples of only a few hundred people.

But the large size of the sample does not overcome one glaring problem with it. It is, as even its authors concede, a self-selected sample, and therefore is almost certainly not random. As a self-selected sample, it is probably comprised mostly of those with strong opinions on the subject. After all, if you don't give a damn, why would you go to the trouble of writing a letter to a survey unit telling them that you don't give a damn? The fact that tens of thousands of the sort of people who get worked up about GM wrote in to say that they get worked up about it tells us nothing much about the rest of the population, especially when one considers that none of the 'GM Nation?' budget was spent on advertising, and so most of the people who knew about it (before the results hit the headlines) were the activists.

After all, 36,500 people amounts to roughly one out of every 2,000 people in Britain, and you'd hardly have to ask 2,000 people before you got someone who was strongly against GM. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth mounted concerted campaigns to get their members to take part in 'GM Nation?' (and newspapers reported complaints that the public meetings held as part of the process were overwhelmed by anti-GM activists).

Consider that over a million people in Britain took to the streets against the Iraq war, but proper surveys showed us that there was not an overwhelming majority of people against the war. A survey about war attitudes that only asked people on these marches wouldn't be taken seriously - but the 'GM Nation?' survey amounted to little more than that. So we have no right to take these results to represent the general population. No decent scientific journal would take these results seriously, and there is no reason why anyone else should either.

Yet not all the blame can be laid at the feet of the activists, because it was the very nature of the government's debate process that encouraged them to act as they did. Any debate about an issue that provokes strong feelings in a minority, while the majority is less interested, is bound to attract the former group, but not the latter. For that reason we cannot take such debates as a good indicator of the view of the rest of the population, any more than gauging attitudes among the audience at a meeting on 'The fascist effects of Western capitalism' gives you a picture of what the wider population thinks about Western capitalism.

The authors of the report tried to remedy these limitations by picking out a random sample of participants to see if there were any standardised responses in the comments that were being sent in - which there weren't. But this tells us little. People who are against GM are perfectly capable of expressing their own opinions. Hence, we cannot assume the sample is representative on the basis of this check.


Academic Community Supports Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals in California

'Scientists Critique Misleading Claims in Advocacy Group Report'

August 9 - Drawing upon the expertise of their community of more than 120 academics, researchers, and other life sciences professionals, an online coalition of academics (http://www.PlantPharma.org) have refuted a report that claims biotechnology-improved rice being grown to help produce new life-saving therapeutic drugs may pose a risk to human or environmental health.

For full press release, please visit: http://www.plantpharma.org/ials/index.php?id=148 To comment on this article for publication on our site, please visit: http://www.plantpharma.org/ials/submitarticle.php or write to us at info@plantpharma.org


Are You Afraid of Injections?

- Flora Mauch, August 11, 2004 http://www.checkbiotech.org/ (Via Agnet)

Baltimore - In the future, instead of going to the doctor to be vaccinated, you may be able to eat a potato at home. Researchers at the Center for Vaccine Development in Baltimore are developing a strain of potato that when ingested has the same effect as an injected vaccination, when eaten in a certain quantity.

Some of the well known intestinal diseases are Typhus and Cholera, which are caused by bacteria. In addition, there are several other parasites and viruses than can cause diarrhea-based infections. These illnesses are transferred through polluted water or food, and in consequence, when people come in contact with a contaminated source, they develop the typical symptoms of diarrhea, fever and stomach-ache. Without an appropriate treatment these infections can lead to death.

As intestinal infections are very frequent in developing countries, as well as periodically in developed parts, this new possibility of being immunized is extremely significant from a global standpoint.
At the present, diarrhoeal diseases are prevented by medication and improvements of hygiene. In addition, antibiotics are an effective treatment, when a bacterium can be identified as the cause of this disease. But u nfortunately, the medical supplies needed to treat diarrhea are not granted everywhere in the world because time, money and coordination are lacking.

Seeing the need for a better vaccination solution, Dr. Carol O Tacket, from the Center for Vaccine Development in Baltimore, developed prototypical vaccines against cholera and several other pathogens (May issue of Expert Opin Biol Ther., vol. 4). For that, genes that encode viral, bacterial or parasitic proteins, called antigens, from some of the known causers of diarrhea, were introduced into potato plants. Just as with antigens in injected vaccines, the antigens produced in the enhanced potatoes will not cause disease related symptoms on their own.

Thus, Dr. Tacket inserted these genes of interest into potato cells, and confirmed that they were expressed in fully mature potatoes. Her studies in mice and humans demonstrated that when they were fed the enhanced potato, the antigens produced in the potatoes were able to pass through the barrier of the stomach and intestine. This is a significant achievement in medicine, because so far there have been only a few vaccines that have succeeded at crossing this barrier.

To confirm that the antigens transferred into plant cells led to the production of antibodies, Dr. O Tacket took blood samples from the mice and human patients. After ingesting the enhanced potatoes, the blood samples showed antibody-secreting cells and antigen-specific serum. This demonstrated that an immune response had been generated, which in turn leads to vaccination.

After such a success, the question comes up, if the immune response induced by ingesting the enhanced potatoes is comparable to an injected vaccination. In response, Dr. O Tacket explained, "To date, we have done Phase 1 studies looking at safety and immunogenicity. We have not done comparisons to other vaccines or to other routes of vaccination, such as injections."

Thus, the achieved success gives hope for a new area of vaccination, as the manufacturing, packaging, storage, tra nsportation and administration of such vaccines will be much more economical - and those who are afraid of injections will have one less thing to worry about.

Flora Mauch is a Science Writer for Checkbiotech in Basel, Switzerland and is currently studying Biology.


The Cost Implications of GM Food Labeling in the Philippines

- Augusto de Leon, Abraham Manalo, Fe Cielo Guilatco (De Leon Consulting); With Supplemental Technical Reports by Nina Gloriani-Barzagal (University of the Philippines Manila)

The growing debate on GM food safety and consumers' right to know have pressed GM food labeling into an important public policy issue. While the issue has yet to be resolved, some countries have already adopted policies that either imposed mandatory or voluntary labeling of GM products.

The issues involved in GM food labeling are complex particularly so since product labeling is not simply sticking labels on finished food products. There are multiplicative processes with attendant benefits and costs. The type of GM food labeling to be adopted by a country will have a significant impact not only on trade but also on agricultural and food production.

In this study, the impact of mandatory GM food labeling in the Philippines was evaluated from the standpoint of all stakeholders concerned, focusing on two GM products, soybean and corn, which are found in the daily diet of Filipinos. A significant portion of the study examined the cost implications of mandatory labeling of GM food products to the farmers, traders and manufacturers, the government, and consumers.

Full article at http://www.isaaa.org/kc/Publications/htm/cbtbriefs/cbtbriefs4-2.htm


Patents on Life?

- Richard Braun, TechCentralStation, July 29, 2004

A few weeks ago the European Patent Office in Munich finally decided that the Harvard Oncomouse could be patented in Europe. This transgenic mouse has an activated oncogene, which makes it suitable for cancer research.

It was developed in the 1980s at Harvard University and granted the world-wide first animal patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1988. A pan-European patent was granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 1992, following which a coalition of church, environmental and animal protection groups, led by Greenpeace, succeeded in having the patent suspended. They made the point that the patent raised ethical concerns and violated the dignity of living beings.

In the new ruling the breadth of the patent has been somewhat more restricted than in the first application by allowing the patent only to cover the transfer of oncogenes into mice, rather than into any sort of rodent. This restriction is in line with many other patenting decisions of the last few years which no longer grant very broad protection, as was the case ten years ago. This recent decision of the EPO is final and does not allow for any further appeals. However, the case might still be brought to national courts, which could then – theoretically - make a different ruling on their national territory.

Patenting organisms is not new. The first patent was granted to Louis Pasteur in 1873 for a yeast „free from organic germs of disease, as an article of manufacture" for improving wine production. Much later, in 1980, a landmark decision was taken by the US Supreme Court in the Diamond vs. Chakrabarty case, when it recognized that a transgenic bacterium, able to break down some industrial waste products in the soil, was a „new composition of matter", similar to a new chemical compound. In recent years many patents have been granted world-wide on transgenic animals.

For the biotechnology industry the possibility of having their products patented is essential. Worldwide some 10'000 biotechnology patents are issued every year. For small companies (SMEs) the sale of patents and licences (and thereby of technical knowledge) to larger pharmaceutical firms is often the sole form of income and therefore patenting is an economic necessity. The aim of the patent is to protect intellectual property (IP), thereby making it attractive for companies to spend money on research and development. Looking at the other side of the coin patent offices need to be careful that they don't allow patents on discoveries taken directly from Nature, but only on man-made inventions, a distinction which in practice is not always easy to make. They also need to avoid honouring very broad claims. Each patent contains a detailed description of a new, original and useful invention, in biotechnology as in any other field of technology. In biotechnology the verbal description of the patent is often accompanied by the deposition of a sample of the new material, for instance a bacterial strain, so that experts can control the invention that was claimed to have been made. The patent holder has a time-limited monopoly on the sale of the patented product. This monopoly usually lasts for 20 years from the moment the invention was made and mostly leads to a practical marketing monopoly of only 10 to 12 years because of the time taken to develop and market the new product.

IP legislation in most countries contains different types of privileges, specific situations where the usual patenting rules do not apply. One is the research privilege, which allows researchers to use patented material for their own research, but not for later commercialisation. The second is the farmers' privilege permitting the re-use of home grown seed, even if that seed is patented. This rule is in the European patent legislation and holds for small and medium size farms. Large farms may have to pay a technology fee for re-using patented seed. Most farmers in Europe in fact buy new seed every year, irrespective of the IP regulation: only new seed from a professional producer is covered by a quality guarantee.

Greenpeace and other organisations claim that patenting infriges the animals' dignity. However, this is not the case, since a patent only regulates the commercial use of an invention by others. A patent on an animal (or any other object) does not allow the owner to do anything specific with the animal. To experiment with the patented onco mouse, for instance, a researcher requires the appropriate animal experiment licence. The owner of a dog can have it castrated or even killed, irrespective of whether or not that dog was patented. So a patent on an animal has no consequence for its wellbeing. Ownership legislation is much more intrusive than patent legislation. Those claiming the contrary either have not understood the principles of patent legislation or aim to mislead the public.

Finally, let's return to the title of this article. Of course life cannot be patented, but with the new knowledge in the life sciences, cells and organisms have to be patentable, as long as certain conditions of inventiveness are fulfilled. Investment in research and development in biotechnology depend to a large extent on the legal possibility of patenting living organisms.


International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology Ushering in the Second Green Revolution, New Delhi, India, August 10-13, 2004

- Excerpts, From Crop Biotech Update. www.isaaa.org.

Partnerships Key to Deliver Biotech Benefits to Agriculture

Without formal, dynamic, and synergistic interfaces between the public and private sectors, much of the benefits of crop biotechnology will not reach those who need them most. The sharing of information and experiences across sectors is crucial to facilitate the flow and process that technologies undergo from the laboratory to the farm. This was the common view of speakers during the discussion on technology transfer of agri-biotechnology.

The delivery of Bt cotton into farmers' hands would never have been possible without collaboration between the public and private sectors. This was clearly highlighted by representatives from the two leading seed companies responsible for developing Bt cotton, Sh Raju Barwale and Sh Ramasami of Mahyco and Rasi Seeds, respectively. Bt cotton was a "national collaboration but implemented by the private sector," involving many local institutions at various stages of the process", according to Sh Raju Barwale of Mahyco.

This sentiment was shared by other speakers in the session. Dr S. Nagarajan, Director of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute stressed that a better working relationship with the private sector is needed if biotech products are ever to reach the market. This involves "changing the mindset for research and credit sharing; a reorientation of priorities; and a strong networking mechanism to share genetic resources." Similar lessons were also shared by Dr Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, who described the papaya network project, a collaborative endeavor of five Southeast Asian countries in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. ISAAA served as a broker in getting the technology developed by a private sector partner to these countries and in the process developing in-country capability to address other issues such as regulations, biosafety, and intellectual property rights.

Dr. Purvi Mehta Bhatt of Science Aschram summed up the discussion by posing the challenge of "bringing the technology to where it belongs". This can only be done, she said, by cultivating meaningful relationships among various stakeholders.

Bt Cotton Has Future In India, Says Agric Commissioner

Bt cotton in India is all set on a growth path with 1.3 million acres to be planted this year. It is already accounting for 40 percent of the total hybrid market value in the country.
Dr. CD Mayee, Agricultural Commissioner, Government of India, gave this optimistic view in his presentation on the status of Bt cotton and future of biotechnology in India.

Mayee noted that India has presently the highest acreage in cotton, approximately 24 percent in the world. Ironically, the country has the lowest yield in the world. The challenge for India, Mayee said was "to increase competitiveness and overcome key constraints like bollworm losses, dependence on rain, historical indebtedness among farmers, and unorganized farming and lack of education." Hence, the need to explore other options particularly in the use of new varieties is necessary.

The agricultural commissioner gave the example of the experience of the State of Madhya Pradesh where farmers grew 10 times more Bt cotton in 2003 and six times more in 2004. A survey revealed that less than 2 percent of farmers who were aware of the technology said they would not try Bt cotton.

Since 80 percent of the Bt cotton growers were planting the crop for the first time, Mayee opined that their experience would be the key for growth in 2005. He also stressed the need to address crop performance issues particularly as it relates to agronomic constraints as well as issues related to high expectations of a crop's potential, price and institutional support mechanisms. Mayee also added that to meet market demand, it was necessary to aim for the approval of more and new hybrids.

Predictive Regulatory System to Assure Food Safety of GMF

Various international documents are now available to provide a harmonized framework to assess the safety of genetically modified food (GMF). However, it is important that each information or data requirement submitted to food safety assessment should be biologically significant or that they address specific safety issues. Only then can a "decision to approve or not approve a product be made based on sound science within a transparent, efficient and responsive regulatory environment while still assuring food, feed and environmental safety." Dr. Morven McLean of Agbios, Canada stressed this point during her talk on food safety during the international conference on agricultural biotechnology organized by FICCI in New Delhi, India.

It is a strong regulatory framework in a country, which would protect people's health and safety. McLean clarified that the framework must provide a predictive environment for industry, and build public confidence. A predictive regulatory system is one that is clear and defines the different activities and division of responsibilities among those involved in the process of evaluation. As such however, it requires developing systematic approaches to evaluation.

In the same forum, Dr. V. Prakash, Director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysore, Karnataka, India, said that a national database on GM foods is needed to adequately address food safety issues. At present, CFTRI is the only agency in India, which is the reference food analysis center for detection of GM in processed foods.


Farmers Speak Out For 'Technology In A Seed'

- Council for Biotechnology Information, August 12, 2004 (via Agnet)

More farmers from around the world are planting genetically enhanced crops because they are producing better harvests, according to four international farmers who recently spoke at a news conference in support of biotechnology. And more hope to plant them soon as word spreads about better results, the four said.

"For me, it's really amazing," said Filipino farmer Edwin Paraluman, who plants about 10 acres of biotech corn. "This is the first time in my life that I can actually get ahead and provide a better life for my family."

Other farmers in countries such as India and Romania, where more than half of average incomes is spent on food, also experienced significant yield and income gains from planting biotech seeds.
"With biotech cotton, I have been able to get effective protection of my crop from bollworms, and I make two to three times more profit than what I used to with the old, traditional seeds," said Indian farmer Mahalingappa Shankarikoppa, who plants about two acres of Bt cotton. "That enables me to provide a better life for me and my family."

In Romania, a former Eastern Bloc country that is still transitioning to a market economy, biotech soybeans are playing a key role in boosting productivity in fields that have become infested with weeds following a decade of neglect.

"With biotech soybeans, yields are twice what they were with conventional varieties," said Romanian farmer Lucian Buzdugan, who manages 23 farms in the fertile region near the Black Sea. "Controlling weeds is a lot easier and more effective, which helps make me a better farmer and a better steward of the land."

Although agricultural biotechnology remains controversial in Europe, more farmers see the new technology as a tool to improve incomes in rural areas. "A lot of our farmers are quite interested in growing biotech crops," said Thierry de l'Escaille, who operates farms in Belgium, France and the Netherlands and also h eads the Belgium-based European Landowners' Organization. "Our farmers and our rural communities need to stay profitable and competitive."

To date, Spain is the only country in the European Union where biotech crops are grown for commercial sale. Yields for Bt corn, on average, were 6.3 percent higher than for conventional varieties. That, in addition to a reduction in pesticide spraying, has meant extra earnings of about $85 an acre.
"With results like this, it's easy to understand why farmers want a ccess to this new technology," said de l'Escaille.

In fact, in five years, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications expects that 10 million farmers in 25 countries will be cultivating biotech crops -- up from 7 million in 18 countries in 2003.