Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : September 10, 2004
* Bioethics Nonsense Hard to Swallow
* Which? Magazine Has Let Down Its Readers
* Guilt: Use it and Lose it
* GM or Transgenic or Bioengineered? -- Biotech Glossaries Online
* Call for GM to be 'Taken in Context'
* The Frankenfood Myth's Chapter 6: Damage to Property
* GM Grapevines May Soon be Planted in France
* ISB News Report - September 2004
* English Version of the Chinese Journal of Agricultural Biotech
* Biotech in India: Intl. Knowledge Millennium Conference
* EU's Legal Labyrinth of GMO Legislation
* USDA-ERS Releases Database on U.S. Biotech Patents and Inventions
* Japanese Controversies over Transgenic Crop Regulation
* How Greenpeace Changed the World Forever
* Science Groove: Clinically Proven to Get Bodies Movin'
Bioethics Nonsense Hard to Swallow
- National Business Review (New Zealand), Sept. 3, 2004
The first major report from the bio-ethics committee is very nice.(*) In fact it's much too nice.
Obviously the members of the committee are thoroughly nice people who find it difficult to talk about, or question, those sensitive areas which colour and enliven human affairs.
I suppose that's what comes of being sufficiently ethical to sit on a bioethics committee. For example, the committee notes that the genes found in humans are the same as, or similar to, genes found in many animals. But it then tells us that "genes are more than chemicals. They also have cultural significance."
I am sorry -- but who says so? Certainly a gene has no cultural significance to me. A gene is simply a string of four amino acids -- A, C, G, T -- a coded recipe for making protein. Most living things share the same genes. The three-letter words of the genetic code are the same in every creature. CGA means arginine and GCG means alanine -- in bats, in beatles, in beech trees, and in bacteria. We share about 95% of our genes with other mammals such as a cow. If I have a gene from a human in one jar and an identical gene from a cow in another, what gives the human gene any "cultural significance"?
Well, my religious belief might do so, if I happen to believe in some human life force or soul. But if I don't I should not expect other people who do to impose their beliefs on me. The report says: "The Bioethics Council concludes that human genes have a special cultural value and significance." Again, who says so?
The Maori on the committee appear to be calling these religious shots because the report explains that genes are part of our "lineage, blood, whakapapa or creation".
We are supposed to be a secular society. We would not allow Jehovah's witnesses to sit on a committee on blood transfusion and decide that no one in New Zealand could have a blood transfusion. The rest of the committee obviously wanted to be nice to those Maori who continue to hold their old pagan beliefs.
Again the same "niceness" prevailed when they agreed that eating substances containing human genes is culturally "inappropriate." Does it really need someone as "not-nice" as me to point out that this is a bit rich coming from a culture which practiced ritual cannibalism that made a point of consuming "good" human genes? And who stood up for the huge percentage of New Zealand women who do not find eating human genes culturally inappropriate?
Each human sperm contains twenty three chromosomes which contain half the 30,000 genes of the human genome. Therefore the normal ejaculate's 50,000,000 sperm contain about 750,000,000,000 "culturally significant" human genes. Yet, in all seriousness, the Bioethics Committee has recommended that "wherever possible non-food animals [should] be used as bioreactors rather than animals that are a common source of food." I've searched the report and find no recommendation to ban oral sex. That what comes of being so "nice".
* See: http://www.bioethics.org.nz/index.html
Which? Magazine Has Let Down Its Readers
- Peter Campbell, The Times (UK), September 10, 2004
"Consumers call a halt to playing with Nature", declares the front page of the latest issue of Which? magazine, published by the Consumers' Association. The article following it is based on a survey which asked people whether they want genetically modified crops and food. The article falls well short of the objective analysis that has underpinned the work of the association since October 1957 when the first issue of Which? was launched.
The original aim of the Consumers' Association - I was a founder member - was to work in pursuit of a fair deal for all consumers. This meant identifying bad practices in production, packaging and pricing, assessing their extent and seeking remedies. In the 1970s, the association began to develop a role as a campaigning body and lobby group. Despite this shift of emphasis, I have continued to be an enthusiastic subscriber to its journal. As a scientist I have admired, and often used, its reports. However, tthe latest on GM food seems to indicate the final sacrifice of any aspiration to objective analysis. Its tone betrays astonishing bias.
In respect of biology surely all advances of modern medicine and agriculture could be termed "playing with Nature". This is what I ask my doctor to do on my behalf when I have an infection. In respect of GM technology it should be noted that human insulin for diabetics is produced using that very technique in bacteria, and the excellent vaccine for hepatitis B is made in genetically modified yeast. The idea that we should not "play with Nature" is implausible and does not meet the needs of consumers. It is also an unfounded extrapolation from the survey, which asked people whether they want to buy GM foods, not about their philosophy on man and Nature.
The Which? article approvingly quotes one anti-GM campaign group which said: "The GM process may lead to unintended changes, such as creating new toxins and allergens." It is already widely agreed that GM crops must be carefully tested to eliminate such potential dangers. However, no such problems have been reported from the long-term and widespread consumption of GM soya in many other parts of the world. The Government gave its consent for a genetically modified maize crop only after completion of careful trials tot study the effect of GM plants resistant to herbicides on the plant population of surrounding fields. A balanced report would emphasise these points.
Which? also complains that "CropScience and Monsanto are driving the development of GM and stand to profit from these innovative crops." So what! We live in a capitalist society and should surely be pleased when companies develop new products.
Perhaps most frustrating of all is the new blinkered approach to agricultural production demonstrated in the Which? article. World population continues to increase but agricultural productivity has reached a plateau. Surely we should try to improve production and nutrition by new methods such as genetic modification? The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has drawn attention to the many benefits being reported in pesticide reduction and crop protection. The Consumers' Association should at least have provided this information.
Britain should be a world leader in the application of biotechnology and the concerns of the public must be taken seriously and debated. I look to the Consumers' Association to participate in this debate, but before it can do so it needs to rediscover its original commitment to fairness and objectivity.
Peter Campbell is Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at University College London
Guilt: Use it and Lose it
- Terry Wanzek, Truth About Trade and Technology, http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=2475
"The two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books," Andy Rooney once observed. "The cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food, and the diet books tell you how not to eat it."
Isn't that the truth? Sometimes it seems that when we eat, guilt is always on the menu.
That reminds me of another saying: Guilt is the mother of invention.
That's why so many biotech scientists are trying to create food that's guilt-free. We've already used biotechnology to improve some of our most basic crops, such as corn and soybeans. But most of the immediate benefits have accrued to producers, who have seen their yields go up along with the environmental benefits.
What's coming is good news for consumers--though many people don't often see the link between what happens on the farm and the purchases they make when they shop in grocery stores. Large numbers of them aren't even aware of how biotechnology has revolutionized agriculture in the United States and around the world.
That's going to change soon, and consumers will come to embrace biotechnology. A recent survey conducted by North Dakota State University scholars Cheryl Wachenheim and William Lesch proves the point. They conducted phone interviews with more than 400 North Dakota consumers to gauge their attitudes about biotechnology.
It should surprise nobody that many respondents didn't know much. Although controversies over biotechnology are in our newspapers constantly, few in the survey could describe what GM foods actually are. Moreover, large numbers did not know which products were most affected by genetic modification. Only 6 percent thought that soy products contained genetically enhanced ingredients, even though 85 percent of all the soybeans grown in the United States have been improved through biotechnology.
These results are entirely consistent with other polling data. The simple truth is that Americans don't know much about biotechnology.
But they do like it, especially when they come to understand its benefits in real-world terms. Among North Dakotans, for instance, nearly 80 percent said they would choose a hypothetical variety of pasta that has been genetically modified over ordinary pasta, so long as the GM pasta contained extra vitamins and minerals. A majority also said it would prefer pasta that's been genetically enhanced to have better taste as well as pasta that's been genetically enhanced to include zinc that helps prevent head colds.
In short, if biotechnology can give folks a reason to lose the guilt when they sit down to eat, it will win widespread public acceptance.
The survey also showed a high level of support for biotechnology's altruistic applications. Seventy-two percent endorsed grain genetically modified to improve nutrition in poor countries. More than 60 percent favored GM foods to help diabetics as well as wheat with vitamin A to combat blindness. Nearly half agreed that "unjustified fears have seriously blocked development of GM foods."
This is an indisputable fact. The fears about biotechnology definitely are unjustified--there isn't a scrap of evidence anywhere suggesting that the biotech foods now on the market are anything but perfectly healthy to eat. Yet fears about biotechnology certainly have blocked the development of new foods. In Europe, fear-mongers invoke the bogeyman of "Frankenfoods" to keep regulators from approving biotech products that are commonly eaten in the United States.
Those of us who support agricultural biotechnology here in North Dakota were disappointed with Monsanto's decision a few months ago to shelve its plans for a form of wheat that's been genetically modified to resist herbicide. There were no health concerns about the product.
What's more, the recent cold snap we just endured--a lot of my neighbors are feeling blue over how their beautiful crops have sustained frost damage--demonstrates that we need to look to biotechnology for more solutions. How about crops that can survive a frost or are more tolerant to cool weather like this summer in North Dakota?
Yet there was no shortage of false impressions about GM wheat. Monsanto ultimately made a marketing decision, based on its belief that consumers would have resisted the new product. The feeling seemed to be that although Americans might accept GM wheat, the Europeans and Japanese--import buyers of U.S.-grown wheat--would not.
That's too bad, because herbicide-resistant wheat is simply the first step toward a future that North Dakotans and many others seem eager to achieve.
Isn't that something we should feel guilty about?
GM or Transgenic or Bioengineered? - Biotech Glossaries Online
From Prakash: There are many terminologies used in agricultural biotechnology, and some of it can be confusing. Following websites carry glossaries including searchable terms that would make it easier for look up terminology:
Call for GM to be 'Taken in Context'
- Angelina Lambourn, This is Exeter (UK), Sept. 9, 2004 http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/
A city-based biology expert has made the case for GM crops at the science festival. Professor John Bryant, of Exeter University's department for biological sciences, told an audience yesterday that the debate on genetic modification had been "derailed" and "focused on the wrong thing".
He argued that, put in the context of 12,000 years of plant breeding techniques, GM methods were no more unnatural than say, mutagenesis breeding or the development of new varieties by creating mutations.
He said: "GM techniques have been demonised by ascribing to them all the problems, both environmental and socio-economic, that are associated with modern intensive agriculture and the international trading of agricultural goods and services. "But GM techniques should be seen as one part of the plant breeder's toolkit.
"Many members of the public have been interested in the debate on GM crops. "If surveys of public attitude are to be believed, most would avoid eating the crops or their products if at all possible. "We are also conducting attitude surveys amongst different groups of students in order to ascertain whether attitudes are affected by specific knowledge."
The Frankenfood Myth's Chapter 6: Damage To Property
Note From Prakash: As I have noted in a previous AgBioWorld posting, several early readers of "The Frankenfood Myth..." have commented favorably on some of the little-known and counter-intuitive points made therein by Miller and Conko. An important example is the description of organic growers' concerns about "contamination" of their crops by outcrossing of gene-spliced plants, and possible compromise of their "organic" status.
Upon careful examination, such concerns appears to be little more than anti-biotech, Luddite mythology. As Miller and Conko explain, "The USDA seems to reward effort and intent, whether or not the 'integrity' (for lack of a better word) of the product is compromised. As long as the organic producer follows the process requirements specified in his own approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of gene-spliced crops in the organic food supply does not constitute a violation of USDA organic production standards. This process-oriented regulatory policy has important implications for allegations of damages related to trespass caused by gene-spliced pollen drift. Because neither pollen flow nor the presence of genetic material or other substances derived from gene-spliced crops, per se, constitutes a violation of the standards for organic crops, organic farmers may face significant difficulties in proving that pollen flow from gene-spliced crops caused any damage."
Below is a longer excerpt from "The Frankenfood Myth's" Chapter 6 (authored by Miller and Conko with Professor Drew Kershen):
Damage To Property
Claims of property damage from products of the new biotechnology will most likely be related to the flow of pollen from a gene-spliced crop to conventional plants that damages seed production or harvested products intended to be sold as "non-biotech" in order to capture some price premium -- including, but not limited to, organic crops.
Because gene-spliced products cannot be used in organic agriculture, producers of certified organic foods may claim, for example, that "contaminating" pollen from gene-spliced crops planted nearby has damaged their organic crop production, causing it no longer to meet the definition of "organic." Likewise, conventional seed producers may claim that the movement of gene-spliced pollen has damaged the purity and integrity of their seeds, making them no longer certifiable as meeting specified standards of purity (see discussion of seed certification in chapter 1 and below).
As discussed below, there are four primary types of tort claims -- trespass, strict liability, negligence, and private nuisance -- each with somewhat different applications and usage.
Producers of seeds or organic crops, for example, who believe they have suffered damages from contamination with pollen from gene-spliced plants may bring a common law cause of action against a neighboring farmer growing gene-spliced crops that is based in "trespass," the physical invasion of the possessory interests of the property (land, in this case) of the person claiming damages.11
The physical spread of gene-spliced pollen to neighboring fields may itself be enough to establish the physical invasion element of trespass. However, pollen flow between varieties of the same plant and between related plant species is common both in nature and farming. Hence, if pollen flow by itself were sufficient to give rise to legal liability for trespass upon a neighbor's crops, all farmers would be exposed to legal liability for trespass for almost every crop they grow. To differentiate between pollen flow that constitutes trespass and pollen flow that is accepted as a biological fact of life inherent in farming, the law requires that the physical invasion cause demonstrable damage. Pollen flow from gene-spliced to non-gene-spliced crops may, under certain conditions, meet this threshold of demonstrable damage, but individual cases will vary.
It is noteworthy that if trespass were to become a widely adopted source of legal liability in this context, organic and conventional farmers too would be subject to legal liability for pollen flow from their crops to gene-spliced crops, if the pollen flow from the organic or conventional plants were to cause damages to the gene-spliced variety. For example, if the ability of a gene-spliced crop to produce a high-value pharmaceutical or enhanced nutrient content were compromised by pollen flow, the grower might use the trespass claim.
The relevant rules and standards regarding claims for damage to "organic" foods are somewhat counterintuitive. In the United States, federal law sets standards for "organic" foods through the National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.12 These standards specifically exclude from the production of organic foods "methods used to genetically modify organisms,"13 in spite of the fact that, as discussed in chapters 1 and 2, virtually all of the fruits, vegetables and grains on our farms and in our diet are from plants that have been genetically improved by one technique or another. In this context, USDA uses the term "genetically modified" to encompass only organisms altered with recombinant DNA techniques.
Even more problematic are the comments accompanying the official rule on organic standards that pertain to pollen flow, which place USDA squarely on the wrong (that is, unscientific) side of the "product versus process" discussion in chapter 1though, ironically, in a way that works to the benefit of growers of both gene-spliced and organic crops:
When we are considering [pollen] drift issues, it is particularly important to remember that organic standards are process based. Certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices that meet the requirements of the [National Organic Production] Act and the regulations. This regulation prohibits the use of excluded methods in organic operations. The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes responsible steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods should not affect the status of an organic product or operation.14
Thus, USDA seems to reward effort and intent, whether or not the "integrity" (for lack of a better word) of the product is compromised. As long as the organic producer follows the process requirements specified in his own approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of gene-spliced crops in the organic food supply does not constitute a violation of USDA organic production standards.
This process-oriented regulatory policy has important implications for allegations of damages related to trespass caused by gene-spliced pollen drift. Because neither pollen flow nor the presence of genetic material or other substances derived from gene-spliced crops, per se, constitutes a violation of the standards for organic crops, organic farmers may face significant difficulties in proving that pollen flow from gene-spliced crops caused any damage. Organic certification in some export markets, however, may require no detectable gene-spliced material, and that could be taken into consideration by courts as well.
GM Grapevines May Soon be Planted in France
- Crop Biotech Update, www.isaaa.org
A new strain of grapevines resistant to Fanleaf disease may soon be planted in a test vineyard in Alsace, France. The project hopes that modified vines might improve vineyard health, raise wine quality and reduce pesticide use, as well resurrect the French wine industry, currently suffering from competition from emerging wine leaders South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
Fanleaf disease is transmitted by the soil nematode Xiphinema index, which feeds on the roots of grape vines, transferring the Grapevine Fanleaf Virus (GFLV) from infected plants to otherwise healthy ones. The virus stunts vine growth, discolors grape leaves, and yields poor tasting fruit. It is estimated to affect more than 25,000 acres of vineyards in France, reducing crop yields by up to 80 percent for sensitive varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir.
French winemakers fight the virus by spraying infected plants with nematicide, a pesticide so potent that its use in agriculture has been banned in countries such as Switzerland and Germany and in some U.S. states. According to Marc Fuchs, head of the GM project, "It kills all organisms in the soil, even the micro-organisms that play a big role in the biological life that forms terroir." Terroir refers to all the characteristics of a vineyard, including climate and soil quality, which impart quality to a particular wine.
The GM vines were altered in the laboratory through a process that would result in the vines' immunization to GFLV. A gene fragment, coding for the coat protein of the virus, is introduced into cells of healthy grapevine rootstock. This results in a mild infection, which the plant's immune system can combat, and which, once overcome, will render the grapevine immune to subsequent GFLV infections.
More studies on resistant grapevines are underway, including vines with bacterial chitinase genes, which may be able to fight fungal infections and even inhibit the growth of pathogens that cause Botrytis bunch rot and powdery mildew of grapes.
Some information on work being done on GFLV can be found at http://www.actahort.org/books/603/603_42.htm.
ISB News Report - September 2004
In this issue:
* Improved Nitrogen Assimilation using Transcription Factors
* Transgenic Plants with No Foreign DNA
* A New Strategy for Glyphosate Tolerant Crop Plants
* Determining the Safety of Transgenic Insects
* Meeting: Forum on Landscapes, Genomics and Transgenic Conifer Forests
* Meeting: Biotech Bugs
* Meeting: National Agricultural Biotechnology Council Conference
English Version of the Chinese Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology
A version of the Chinese Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology is now being published in English by CAB Publishing. On ingenta, the home page is: http://www.ingenta.com/journals/browse/cabi/cjb
A table of contents can be reached at: http://www.ingenta.com/isis/browsing/TOC/ingenta?issue=pubinfobike://cabi/cjb/2004/00000001/00000001
Chinese Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology brings cutting-edge Chinese research to an international audience. This journal takes the very best papers published in Chinese in the Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology, translates them and makes them available to the international scientific community.
Biotechnology in India: International Knowledge Millennium Conference 2004
- October 31 - November 2, 2004, Hyderabad, India
Biotechnology is defined as the technology associated with the production and processing of substances obtained through the application of principles and techniques of modern molecular biology. Hence it represents the convergence of multiple disciplines - Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Fermentation Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Process Control etc. Any successful exploitation of the potentials and the promise of Biotechnology in India require not only the interaction between these scientific disciplines but also the close cooperation between centers of scientific research and the industrial centers interested in the potential of biotechnology.
It is the objective of IKMC 2004 to build the bridge between "Science & Industry'' in biotechnology. Hence equal emphasis will be placed on the science of Biotechnology as well as its implementation in the "real world" applications.* Eminent Speakers from top US and Indian biotech companies, universities and Government; * Keynote Speaker - Mr. G. Steven Burrill, Founder, Burrill & Co., an investment visionary and one of the original architects of the US biotech industry
EU's Legal Labyrinth of GMO Legislation
- Reuters News, Sept. 8, 2004
Brussels - The EU executive Commission authorised the first genetically modified (GMO) seeds for commercial use across Europe on Wednesday. It entered 17 different strains of Monsanto's (MON.N) 810 maize into what is called the Common Catalogue - the EU's overall seed directory that includes all national seed catalogues.
European Union rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a legal labyrinth. Several different procedures apply for authorising a biotech product, depending on the uses that the manufacturer specifies in its request for EU approval. The most common requests are for cultivation, use in animal feed or industrial processing.
Some of these laws have been updated and replaced since the bloc started an effective moratorium on authorising new gene crops and products in 1998.
Following is a guide to the GMO legislation and authorisation process:
A company that intends to market a GMO must:
1. Apply to the competent national authority of the EU member state where the product will first be placed on the market, and include a full risk assessment.
2. If the authority gives a favourable opinion, the member state informs other member states via the European Commission.
3. If there are no objections by other member states, the notifying state or its national food safety authority may authorise the product for marketing throughout the EU.
4. If no objections are sustained, a decision is needed at EU level and the following procedure is initiated:
- depending on the law used for the application, the Commission asks a committee of member state scientists or the independent European Food Safety Authority for an opinion.
- if the opinion is favourable, the Commission submits a draft decision to a regulatory committee of either food safety or environment experts from the member states. If they agree, the Commission adopts the decision and authorises the new GMO.
- if the committee does not agree, the Commission sends its draft approval to the Council of Ministers, likely to be either agriculture or environment ministers, who have three months to reject or adopt it. If they do not act within this time, the Commission may adopt its own decision and authorise the new GMO.
- this was the procedure the Commission used to drop the unofficial ban, and authorise imports of Bt-11 maize.
EUROPE'S GMO LAWS
1.Deliberate Release Law (Directive 2001/18):
This is the EU's main GMO law, dating from October 2002, and replaces Directive 90/220. First approvals under this law are limited to a maximum of 10 years. The law covers any environmental release of products that contain or consist of GMOs. This includes live GMOs for planting, as well as those for use in feed and processing.
The law also has a safeguard clause whereby a member state may provisionally restrict or prohibit the use of a GMO on its territory if it has cause to consider that an approved GMO product poses a risk to human health or the environment. This clause has been invoked nine times; in each case, the Commission has ruled that the restrictions must be withdrawn.
2. Novel Foods Law (Regulation 258/97):
This law dating from January 1997 covers food products and food ingredients derived from GMOs - such as flour, starch or oil from a GM maize, paste or ketchup from a GM tomato. Only products deemed safe for human consumption may be marketed. The law has a special procedure for foods derived from GMOs but no longer containing them. If a food is "substantially equivalent" to existing foods or ingredients, the company may notify the Commission itself (with a scientific justification).
A handful of applications have been submitted under this law, which has now been replaced by the new GM Food and Feed Regulation. Only those products with a final scientific assessment before the new regulation enters into force may be processed under the Novel Foods law.
3. GM Food and Feed Law (Regulation 1829/2003) and GMO Traceability and Labelling Law (Regulation 1830/2003):
These are the EU's most recent laws on GMO authorisations and came into full effect across the bloc on April 18, 2004. They set down criteria and standardised procedures for evaluating potential risks, as well as rules on labelling feed that consists of GMOs, contains GMOs or is produced from GMOs.
All GMO feed and all foods produced from GMOs, whether or not there is GMO material in the final product, must be labelled. This applies, for example, to biscuits made from biotech maize, refined soyoil made from GMO soybeans, and corn gluten feed made from GMO maize. The threshold for labelling is 0.9 percent.
For accidental GMO presence in food or feed, the threshold is 0.5 percent but it must be proved this cannot be technically avoided. Above this, the product may not be put on the market. However, there is no requirement to label products such as meat, milk or eggs that are obtained from animals fed with modified feed or treated with modified medicinal products.
SEEDS (Directive 98/95)
EU rules on biotech seeds date from December 1998 and are due for an update. However, member states disagree over the Commission's proposed thresholds for GMO presence in organic and conventional seeds - and the thresholds are being redrafted. The latest leaked proposal suggests a 0.3 percent GMO limit for maize and rapeseed, the only two biotech crops so far authorised. Batches of conventional seed with GMO material below those levels would not have to be labelled.
At present, national authorities that have agreed to the use of a seed on their territory must notify the Commission, which examines the information supplied If the Commission approves, it includes the variety in the "Common Catalogue of varieties of Agricultural Plant Species" which means the seed can be marketed throughout the EU. However, the seeds law also requires that biotech seeds must also be authorised under the Deliberate Release law before they are included in the Catalogue and marketed in the EU. If the GM seed is intended for use in food, it must also be authorised under the GM food and feed law.
COEXISTENCE: THE LAST PIECE OF THE JIGSAW
In July 2003, the Commission issued guidelines on how farmers should separate organic, conventional and biotech crops, to ensure that these crop types can be safely grown alongside each other with a minimal risk of cross-pollination.
But rather than pushing for EU-wide legislation, demanded by some countries, it wants EU states to use national laws. Some EU governments have already drafted coexistence laws, which must be endorsed by the Commission before they can proceed further.
The guidelines refer, for example, to isolation distances between crops, buffer zones and pollen barriers such as hedgerows. They also advise on cooperation among farmers on sowing plans and crop varieties with different flowering times. The issue is highly controversial as the main problem for countries will be how to determine economic liability. When does a farmer growing biotech crops have to pay if a neighbour complains of organic crops being contaminated?
USDA-ERS Releases Database on U.S. Biotech Patents and Inventions
This database identifies and describes U.S. patents on inventions in biotechnology and other biological processes with issue dates between 1976 and 2000 that are used in food and agriculture. The database also provides information about the ownership of these patents, whether patents are held in the public or private sector, and changes in patent ownership due to mergers, acquisitions, and spinoffs.
Intellectual property rights in agriculture, for example, patents and plant variety protection certificates are frequently used to protect technological advances. These rights allow their owners to exclude competitors from "making, using, offering for sale, or selling" an invention for a limited period of time. As the pace of scientific discovery in agricultural biotechnology has accelerated over the past few decades, the use of patents and other intellectual property rights to protect these discoveries has increased tremendously. USDA-ERS Contact: John King, 202-694- 5068; JohnKing@ers.usda.gov
Japanese Controversies over Transgenic Crop Regulation
- Kazuo N. Watanabe, Mohammad Taeb, Haruko Okusu; Science, Vol 305, Issue 5690, 1572, September 10, 2004
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was enacted in 2003 to regulate transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms or LMOs (living modified organisms, the legal term defined by the protocol) (1). The Japanese Diet approved a bill that made drastic changes to existing national guidelines to fulfill the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol (2). Ministries associated with aspects of biosafety discussed the bill and its integration with the overall system for environmental and laboratory safety (3), and the Japanese law entered into force in February 2004.
This law has made legal procedures more comprehensive and consistent. However, operational details have not yet been digested by stakeholders, especially commercial traders and academic researchers. Furthermore, Japan is at a critical stage in dealing with negative public reaction to modern biotechnology and its products.
Under the new law, there are specific legal procedures required for exchange of transgenic organisms with Japan. For importation, it is necessary to document prior informed consent (PIC) between exporter and importer. The shipment must clearly indicate on the package and in accompanying documentation that transgenic materials are included. For Japanese scientists, importation of transgenic materials is allowed only after the certification of experiments as safe by the research institution or, if the risk level is high, by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT).
For exportation, a PIC document is required from the importer to protect Japanese research institutions from foreign claims. International scientists should be aware, for example, that transport of recombinant microorganisms and seeds from transgenic plants could be rejected for lack of documentation. For those who are accustomed to a more relaxed system, the new laws require attention to avoid delays or blocked shipments. This applies to materials for basic research or commerce.
There is domestic confusion as well over the new rules. To focus attention on this issue, officials at MEXT (4) have held tutorials for the academic community and basic research institutions on risk minimization and the new legal system. This is to avoid procedural failures that might result in domestic legal prosecution and penalties, as well as any international perception that Japan has problems with compliance.
Importation of transgenic crops is skyrocketing in Japan. For example, the combined value of imported transgenic soybean, maize, and canola was nearly US$ 3.5 billion in 2003 (5). However, against the backdrop of food safety concerns and distrust of government authorities in the wake of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, avian influenza, and fraudulent food labeling scandals, public anxiety has been increasing (6). One result is that local prefectures in Shiga, Iwate, Hokkaido, and Ibaraki are considering instituting their own regulations (7-10) on the general release of transgenic organisms, in an attempt to regulate crops that have already been approved by the central Japanese government. There is concern that public reaction will adversely affect local farmers and the tourism industry, as well as fear that products derived from genetic engineering are not safe and that transgenic crops could contaminate neighboring fields.
Elsewhere in Asia, national efforts to promote testing and use of transgenic crops have increased. For example, China has nearly 7 million acres of Bt cotton (which has Bacillus thuringiensis toxin genes), and India and Pakistan have developed commercial products from their research (11-13). However, the paradigm shift toward comparable developments in Japan may not occur because of extreme feeling against transgenic crops (14). Although hundreds of experiments on transgenic plants are being conducted yearly, they could be shut down by fragmented and preventive regulations, as is happening in the United Kingdom (15).
The biggest problem may be that discussions on transgenic organisms have never been seen as a long-term, trust-building, and collaborative exercise among stakeholders. Organizations such as the Japan Bioindustry Association; the Society for Techno-Innovation of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fish; and the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) Japan have met to discuss public education (6, 16, 17). However, their sessions have not had follow-up. Approaches to risk communication need to be re-examined (18).
Although academic societies have tried to promote public awareness, there has been little consensus within or between organizations. Individual scientists have made public statements, adding to the confusion (19). The Japanese Society for Plant Cell and Molecular Biology and the Japanese Society of Breeding have begun to hold discussions on transgenic crops with consumer groups, stakeholders, and governmental organizations. This is a step in the right direction, but sustained effort will be needed if plant biotechnology is to prosper in Japan.
References and Notes
1. See www.biodiv.org/biosafety.
2. K. N. Watanabe, Nature 421, 689 (2003).
3. Law Concerning the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity through Regulations on the Use of Living Modified Organisms (Law No. 97 of 2003), available at www.biodic.go.jp/cbd/biosafety/sps.html.
4. MEXT, see www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/shinkou/seimei/.
5. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan, 30 April 2004, available at www.maff.go.jp/www/info/bun09.html.
6. Questionnaire on GM crops and food, 6 April 2004, available at http://web.staff.or.jp/.
7. K. Watanabe et al., Nature Biotechnol. 22, 943 (2004).
8. Mainichi Newspapers, "Trends in GM crops in prefectures," 31 July 2004, available at www.mainichi-msn.co.jp/kagaku/news/20040731k0000m070175000c.html.
9. "Shiga Prefecture examines the need for regulating GM crops," Kyoto Shimbun News, 11 June 2004, available at www.kyoto-np.co.jp/article.php? mid=P2004061100213&genre=G1&area=S10.
10. For example, Guideline on planting GM crops in Hokkaido, 5 March 2004, available at www.pref.hokkaido.jp/nousei/ns-rtsak/shokuan/conf.html.
11. C. James, Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2003 (ISAAA Briefs. No. 30, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Ithaca, NY, 2003); available at www.isaaa.org.
12. P. Menon, Frontline 19, 22 June 2002; available at www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1913/19130900.htm.
13. I. A. Rao, www.pakissan.com/english/advisory/the.use.shtml.
14. K. N. Watanabe, A. Komamine, in Intellectual Property Rights in Agricultural Biotechnology, F. H. Erbisch, K. M. Maredia, Eds. (Michigan State Univ., East Lansing, and C.A.B. International, Wallingford, UK, ed. 2, 2004), pp. 187-200.
15. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, "Genetic modification," available at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/index.htm.
16. Japan Bioindustry Association, "Biotechnology Q & A," available at www.jba.or.jp/index_e.html.
17. ILSI Japan, see http://japan.ilsi.org/.
18. A. Kapuscinski et al. Nature Biotechnol. 21, 599 (2003).
19. No! GMO Campaign, see www.no-gmo.org.
20. K.N.W. acknowledges the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, grant no. JSPS-RFTF-00L01602.
1Gene Research Center, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, 305-8572, Japan. 2International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy. 3Institute of Advanced Studies, United Nations University, Yokohama, 220-0012, Japan. *To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
How Greenpeace Changed the World Forever
- Charles Campbell, Sept.9, 2004; Full story at http://www.straight.com/content.cfm?id=4802
"Now A Global Monolith, The Vancouver-Born Activist Group Still Has Lessons For Would-Be Peaceniks And Revolutionaries "
"Today, some veterans of the original Greenpeace campaigns chip away at the Greenpeace international monolith, funded by an annual budget that now stands at about $243 million. Hard-nosed activist Paul Watson calls Greenpeacers the Fuller Brush salesmen of the environmental movement because of their reliance on door-to-door fundraising, and he decries their choice not to oppose the recent Makah whale hunts off the northwestern tip of Washington state. Patrick Moore attacks Greenpeace's objection to open-cage fish farms and has become an advocate for the B.C. forest industry.
Vancouver's Kalle Lasn, who calls his Adbusters magazine "the Greenpeace of the mental environment", says Greenpeace lacks passion. "It's reached the autumn of its existence." ... Certainly Greenpeace does make compromises, to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the governments and corporations it lobbies, to ensure its financial supporters aren't offended, to avoid lawsuits, and to balance competing national interests"
Science Groove: Clinically Proven to Get Bodies Movin'
The members of Science Groove have something to prove: science and music can be integrated in a manner that can get right-brained individuals excited about science and shake scientific types out of their left brain and onto the dance floor. Members of this eclectic ensemble were frustrated both by the stodgy society of scientists and by professional musicians who have the tools to communicate musically but don't have anything to say. The project developed from Do Peterson's PhD thesis in biostatistics at UW when he coupled his innate love of music and passion for science by using a student loan to buy equipment for a home recording studio. "Science Groove has a musical and educational agenda," Peterson says. "I didn't want my dissertation moldering in a university library. I think musically engaging other musicians and listeners is the best way to express my passion for scientific learning. I also want to get people to come and enjoy the experience."
The MASSIVE database contains information on over 1700 science and math songs. Some of these songs are suitable for 2nd graders; others might only appeal to tenured professors. Some songs have been professionally recorded; others haven't. Some are quite silly; others are downright serious. To find songs that will interest you, proceed to the search page. Or check out our companion site, MASSIVE radio, an Internet radio station devoted entirely to science/math songs.