Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : September 22, 2004
* How Safe are Genetically Engineered Crops?
* Mendel in the Kitchen: Scientist's View of GM Food
* GM 'Protato' to Cure India's Poor
* USDA - ARS Leads in Assessing Risk in Transgenics
* Exporting Europe's Protectionism
* The African Scientist - new free magazine
* Can Agricultural Biotechnology Help Vietnam?
* Thai Debate on GM Crops: Readers' Comments
* Genes From Engineered Grass Spread for Miles
* .... Klaus Ammann Responds..
How Safe are Genetically Engineered Crops?
- John W. Radin, "Forum", Agricultural Research magazine, September 2004 http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep04/form0904.htm
A lot of people around the world want to know the answer to the question posed in the title.
Here in the United States, genetically engineered (GE) crops have been grown on a large scale since the mid-1990s, with documented reductions in insecticide use and production costs. No discernible ill effects have shown up to offset these benefits. Not only that, but science promises a tremendous array of future advances, such as improved nutritional balance, elimination of trans fats, and enhanced disease resistance and cold tolerance.
So, what's the problem? With this relatively new technology of genetic engineering, naturally there are questions the public has never considered before, and people want some answers before they accept it. Some questions are obvious and have been thoroughly researched. For example, are these crops safe to humans and other species that inhabit Earth? Scientists measure the degree of safety by posing the question, "What is the risk?" Hence the origin of the science of risk assessment.
Risk is never perfectly controlled. Every activity in life carries some degree of risk. For example, we know that there were 42,815 highway fatalities in the United States in 2002, but we still get into our cars because we are familiar with that risk and we accept it for the benefits that our cars bring us.
Similarly, crops bred conventionally may carry risks, such as allergic reactions, but again we accept the risks. We also accept that some foods are riskier than others, and while we may handle them with more care, we still eat them.
Risk assessment basically consists of providing the answers to three questions: What can go wrong? How likely is it? How bad would it be? Risk analysis examines the answers and compares them to various alternatives so that the least risky pathway can be followed (risk management). Risk assessment is science. Risk management is art. It depends on the values and experiences of a society, which then decides which types and degrees of risks are acceptable and which are not.
This is where ARS research comes in. Research provides answers to the risk assessment questions. The answers may differ greatly depending on circumstances. For example, if genetic engineering simply moves a gene for a common food ingredient from one safe food crop to another, this does not expose consumers to new components in their food supply. The added risk to food safety is very small. But if a genetically engineered plant contains a pharmaceutical or other new compound that must be kept out of the food supply, the answers could be very different.
This is why ARS committed $24 million in fiscal year 2004 to biotechnology risk assessment and risk mitigation research, an increase of more than $8 million compared to fiscal year 2002. The research covers many topics, from assessing allergenicity of GE foods to blocking the movement of genes from GE crops to non-GE crops in the field. The story on page 4 gives a more in-depth look at this research.
Part of the reason for ARS to carry out risk assessment research is to provide data on the transgenic products of its own research projects. But there is more to it than that. ARS is supported by public tax dollars, and it takes on issues important to the public good that can't be done elsewhere. For example, ARS is monitoring insect resistance to Bt on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Some crops have been genetically engineered to contain Bt, a bacterium that controls certain insect pests.) It's a long-term, continuous effort that's national in scope and best done by a single organization. Data will be drawn from the Bt crop varieties of multiple seed companies, so it isn't research that a single company could carry out.
What happens when research detects a significant risk? If the product is important and there is no other way of producing it, then research to reduce risk is appropriate. ARS is developing several tools to decrease or eliminate some of the risks that might be associated with transgenics. For example, if a plant needs protection against a leaf-feeding pest, the protective agent need not also be present in the grain (that's harvested for food). The first defense against risk is to choose safe genes well and carefully and prove their suitability. A second line of defense is a risk mitigation strategy, in this case blocking accumulation of the new material in the grain. The technology to direct synthesis of these agents, such as Bt, to specific tissues is known and under development but not yet perfected.
ARS is not alone in carrying out risk assessment research. Companies that produce genetically engineered seeds or genes collect a lot of specific information about their products to prove safety. The public sector (USDA and state universities), however, generally takes a broader approach, attempting to bring out principles and issues beyond specific products. In addition to ARS's in-house research, USDA funds a competitively awarded grants program for research on biotechnology risk assessment. That program focuses on environmental risk and is supported by a 2-percent levy on all biotechnology research funded by USDA.
The aim of all this research is to provide useful and important agricultural products to feed and clothe the world--now and well into the future. If genetic engineering is to fulfill its potential, it must be the safest way to meet that lofty goal. Moreover, it must be accepted as such by the public that eats the food. Until both those goals are reached, our work is not done.
John W. Radin, USDA - ARS National Program Leader, Plant Physiology and Risk Assessment, Beltsville, Maryland
Mendel in the Kitchen: Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food
- Nina V. Federoff and Nancy Marie Brown; 352 pages, Joseph Henry Press (JHP),, ISBN; Web:$25.16; Available in October 2004; Order at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11000.html
While European restaurants race to footnote menus, reassuring concerned gourmands that no genetically modified ingredients were used in the preparation of their food, starving populations around the world eagerly await the next harvest of scientifically improved crops. Mendel in the Kitchen provides a clear and balanced picture of this tangled, tricky (and very timely) topic.
Any farmer you talk to could tell you that we’ve been playing with the genetic makeup of our food for millennia, carefully coaxing nature to do our bidding. The practice officially dates back to Gregor Mendel – who was not a renowned scientist, but a 19th century Augustinian monk. Mendel spent many hours toiling in his garden, testing and cultivating more than 28,000 pea plants, selectively determining very specific characteristics of the peas that were produced, ultimately giving birth to the idea of heredity – and the now very common practice of artificially modifying our food.
But as science takes the helm, steering common field practices into the laboratory, the world is now keenly aware of how adept we have become at tinkering with nature – which in turn has produced a variety of questions. Are genetically modified foods really safe? Will the foods ultimately make us sick, perhaps in ways we can’t even imagine? Isn’t it genuinely dangerous to change the nature of nature itself?
Nina Fedoroff, a leading geneticist and recognized expert in biotechnology, answers these questions, and more. Addressing the fear and mistrust that is rapidly spreading, Federoff and her co-author, science writer Nancy Brown, weave a narrative rich in history, technology, and science to dispel myths and misunderstandings.
In the end, Fedoroff arues, plant biotechnology can help us to become better stewards of the earth while permitting us to feed ourselves and generations of children to come. Indeed, this new approach to agriculture holds the promise of being the most environmentally conservative way to increase our food supply.
Review: "In an extremely accessible style, [Fedoroff and Brown] take readers through the basics of genetics and genetic engineering to demonstrate why they believe that the risks associated with this technology are trivial. They also contend that the use of modern molecular technology to insert genes from one species into another isn’t very different from the hybrid crosses that agriculturalists have been doing for millennia. Taking on concerns voiced by environmentalists, the authors articulate how genetically modified crops could reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used and increase the yield of crop plants to keep up with a growing world population that could reach eight or nine billion in this century. Though likely to be controversial, the authors’ clear and rational presentation could well change the opinions of some readers." -- Publishers Weekly, September 13, 2004
"Mendel in the Kitchen is a highly readable and well documented account of the science, issues and people involved in the development of genetically engineered foods. This is a must-read for anyone interested in learning how the DNA in our food has been altered over the years." -- Alan McHughen, author of Pandora’s Picnic Basket
"...well prepared and well written, a pleasure to read. It will inform a wide range of readers about issues posed by genetically modified (GM) foods, hopefully contributing to elevation of the argument by inclusion of more scientific information." -- Eric M. Hallerman, professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Nina Fedoroff is a leading geneticist and molecular biologist who has contributed to the development of the techniques used to study and modify plants today. She received her Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University and as a post-doctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington she successfully sequenced one of the first animal genes ever sequenced. Switching to plants, she set out to study the “jumping genes” discovered in corn plants by geneticist Barbara McClintock in the 1940s. She isolated the DNA of these mobile genes then went on to study their structure, movement, and how they are controlled. In 1995 she joined the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University, where she studies genes that protect plants from biological and non-biological stresses. Fedoroff is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is currently serving on the National Science Board.
Nancy Brown was trained as a medievalist but has worked since 1981 as a science writer. Until recently she was editor of Research/Penn State magazine, for which she collaborated with Nina Fedoroff on a series of articles on genetics. Her first book, A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, was published in 2001. She is currently editing the memoirs of an herbalist, working on a book about modern archeology in Iceland, and writing about science and nature for children. She lives in a restored farmhouse on 100 acres in Vermont.
GM 'Protato' to Cure India's Poor
- Matt B, Sept 20, 2004 http://ruberyvillage.co.uk/mattsez/render.asp?include=20sept04.asp
Protato to cure India's poorGenetically modified potatoes are to play a key part in a 15-year plan to combat malnutrition among India's poorest children. Anti-poverty campaigners have greeted the "Protato" with caution and varying degrees of support, but what actually is a Protato?
The move aims to provide children with clean water, better food and vaccines. "Zero child mortality in underprivileged children would be the goal," says Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Formulated in collaboration with charities, scientists, government institutes and industry, the plan is currently being considered by the Indian government.
The protein-rich GM potatoes are in the final stages of testing, before being submitted for approval. Padmanaban, who outlined the plan at a conference at the Royal Society in London in December, hopes Western-based environmental groups and charities will not reject the project in the same way as they did AstraZeneca's "golden rice", a strain modified to make more vitamin A. "The requirements of developing countries are very different from those of rich countries," he says. "I think it would be morally indefensible to oppose it." This is a very strong point, as it’s easy enough to sit in a warm house eating a meal, complaining about GM foods, while others in less-fortunate countries starve.
Asis Datta's team at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi added a gene called “AmA1” to potatoes, resulting in a third more protein than usual, including substantial amounts of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. AmA1 is a gene from the amaranth plant, a crop long grown by native South Americans as a source of income, and now available in some Western health food stores.
"The potato doesn't contain a pesticide gene," says Padmanaban. "It's a gene that improves nutrition, and it's from another plant that is already eaten. Moreover, it's not a known allergen." Surely complaining that we’re “playing God” is simply a void counter-argument, as there is nothing harmful about this product, unlike Bt cotton, which was recently licensed in India, much to the disgust of activists due to it carrying a bacterial pesticide gene.
The idea is that the potatoes will form part of a midday meal to combat deficiencies in children's diets. A lack of lysine, for example, can affect brain development. The potato should only be adopted if it passes all safety and environmental requirements, and if the extra protein is digestible, says Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based sustainable development group opposed to the patenting of plants. Should it surpass these requirements, then there will be no logical nor moral argument against the growth of the Protato.
"If you're going to use GM at all, use it for this," she says. "India's problem is that we're vegetarian, so pulses and legumes are the main protein source, but they're in short supply and expensive. The potato is good because it's cheap." Yet another argument for growing it!
Siddharth Deva, policy adviser for south Asia for the British-based charity Oxfam, agrees that the potato could serve a useful purpose. But he calls for the government's judgements on GM crops to be independently assessed by panels of experts, including environmentalists. "We want to ensure that introductions of GM crops don't have harmful implications," he says. This effort to ensure that the idea is reviewed by a wide range of authorities provides further reassurance that all possibilities of risk are covered and cleared.
The Protato is not the first protein-enriched crop as we all know: strains of GM maize rich in lysine have been created for a while now, which have many uses and benefits. However, as many protesters point out, it is not necessary to resort to genetic engineering, of course: bread and wheat flour can also be enriched in protein simply by adding agents such as peanut flour, a harmless addition. However this is costlier and none of the various schemes to provide this bread to malnourished children since the 1960s has survived, despite the benefits.
As far as I can see, there is no counter-argument at all – The Protato can and should be introduced, for a better way of life for those less privileged than us, in our cosy Western society.
USDA - ARS Leads in Assessing Risk in Transgenics
--By J. Kim Kaplan, Agricultural Research magazine, September 2004 http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep04/trans0904.htm
Since before Mary Shelley published "Frankenstein" in 1818, people have oscillated between concern that what scientists create in the lab will be dangerous and hope that research progress will improve their lives.
But few scientific advances have created a wider spectrum of public debate than genetic engineering of living organisms. Many people see the importance of the technology and believe it is essential for developing new and improved agricultural products. Others object to genetic engineering on philosophical grounds or worry about the risks a genetically engineered organism (GEO) could present to people or the environment.
Some people feel that scientists have not paid enough attention to potential risks. If GEOs are to maintain and increase their acceptance as new traits are introduced into more and more species, risk must continue to be clearly and openly assessed.
The assessment of safety data is integral to the regulatory process of the three primary federal agencies responsible for regulating GEOs: USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Advances in our methods of carrying out genetic engineering and in our understanding of physiological and ecological processes allow scientists to maintain sophisticated and state-of-the-art procedures and controls for ensuring the safety of GEOs before they're allowed to be commercially raised.
There's no question that GEOs are becoming essential to agriculture by making new traits available, helping agriculture be more environmentally sensitive, and reducing production costs. To remain competitive and environmentally sensitive, farmers need traits such as the insect and herbicide resistance offered only by transgenic crops.
For all these reasons, ARS has become a leader in biotechnology risk assessment research.
"For the past 4 or 5 years, ARS has coordinated and carried out more and more biotechnology risk assessment research and directed more resources into this work," says John W. Radin, ARS national program leader for plant physiology and risk assessment. "We've always done some research in this area, but today it's a very high priority."
There are several areas of risk assessment that ARS is uniquely suited to study: creating more specific ways to transfer only desired genes, developing new models for doing risk assessments, finding ways to limit spread of transgenes, discovering ways to prevent new allergens from being created, ensuring that nontarget organisms are not put at risk by a GEO, and carrying out long-term monitoring to spot any emerging resistance to transgenic traits.
Making Sure Resistance Is Futile
Cotton was one of the first crops to benefit from laboratory genetic engineering. Genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) were added to cotton, making the plant produce a protein toxic to several major cotton pests, including pink bollworm, tobacco budworm, and bollworm. Control of such pests had previously necessitated massive amounts of pesticide use.
Since EPA approved its release in 1995, Bt cotton has been extremely successful in the United States and other countries such as China, India, and Australia. In 2001, transgenic varieties generated an additional $235.6 million in revenue for farmers while reducing pesticide use by 8 million pounds, according to a study by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.
But there's concern that widespread growing of Bt cotton may lead to insects developing resistance to Bt proteins, thereby canceling out one of the most potent but more environmentally friendly antipest tools. Resistance to foliar-applied Bt has shown up in Indianmeal moths, diamondback moths, and at least nine other insects.
So, even though there's been no indication of resistance being generated by Bt cotton, EPA requested that monitoring studies be done. Each year, samples of insects are collected in fields all over the Cotton Belt and sent to the ARS Southern Insect Management Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi. "ARS is the perfect agency for conducting such a long-term, widespread monitoring study that will pick up the first signs of any insect resistance," says John Adamczyk, who, along with Carlos Blanco, coordinates the effort. Both are ARS entomologists.
"ARS is national in scope, which helps when you are running a program that needs to extend from Virginia to Texas," Adamczyk explains. "We're even working on making this an international program, since the insects migrate from Mexico as well."
But perhaps most importantly, he adds, ARS is an unbiased source of data. The agency has no financial stake involved if transgenic cotton is found to be creating a risk of insect resistance. "We report our results every year, and if we ever do start finding resistance, the industry is reassured that we have no agenda to simply take a technology away," says Adamczyk. While the impetus for resistance monitoring came from industry's need to provide EPA with data, Adamczyk sees the program as serving a wider audience. "We're providing a service to a $10-billion-a-year agricultural industry, but we are really protecting the public and the environment."
The group is also developing better methods that may serve as models for resistance monitoring in conventional pest controls as well as in transgenic crops. "We're also working on identifying genes that may control insect resistance to Bt," Adamczyk says. "If we can develop better information about that, we may be able to predict resistance very early—before we lose the effectiveness of Bt. Such a warning may allow us to do something about it in time."
No Risk to Monarchs
ARS's ability to be the objective voice, not beholden to any one group's agenda, allows the agency to work well with everybody. When a letter published in the May 1999 issue of Nature suggested that Bt corn threatened monarch butterflies, ARS was able to quickly coordinate groups with widely differing positions on GEOs to develop verifiable, sound, scientific data before any decisions were made, despite an initial flurry of media coverage and public concern.
The concern was that monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves, which sometimes grow in and around cornfields, and that Bt corn pollen falls on the milkweed leaves a short time each year. "Groups from the Union of Concerned Scientists to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, from universities to Monarch Watch, were willing to work with ARS to ensure we really did find out what risk, if any, Bt corn was to a nontarget insect like the monarch butterfly," says ARS entomologist Richard L. Hellmich. He's in the Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa.
How the issue was handled is being seen as a model for nontarget risk assessment research. First, the primary questions were researched. One: What dose of Bt protein from the transgenic corn varieties is actually toxic to monarch caterpillars? Two—and just as important: What are the chances that the caterpillars will actually be exposed to that dose?
The science showed that while a toxic dose is reachable, the potential for exposure is insignificant. "The final consideration," Hellmich says, "is to compare the potential for risk from using the GEO to the alternative--in this case, growing conventional varieties and spraying them with insectides. Certainly, chemical insecticides kill many more nontargets like monarchs than Bt corn does."
Not Spreading the Genes
Another concern widely discussed is ensuring that certain types of transgenic plants do not spread their new genes throughout the environment. Plant molecular geneticist David Ow, with the ARS Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany, California, is exploring ways to manipulate the DNA of genetically altered plants so that the transgene is deleted or inactivated during the physiological process of pollen production.
"After all, it's not really the presence of the gene itself that's the concern, it's what the gene will do if it spreads to unintended hosts," he explains. If Ow can work out an effective technique, it could help decrease the potential for risk in all transgenic plants. "That's one of the reasons for ARS to do this kind of work. As a federal agency, we can allow anyone developing a transgenic plant to use the technique, because the public benefits when we decrease risk," he says.
Another ARS plant molecular geneticist, James E. Dombrowski, with the Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit in Corvallis, Oregon, is approaching the problem from a different angle. He wants to find a way to inhibit flowering in grass and forage crops. In addition to preserving much of a plant's nutritive value, no flowering would also mean no pollen and no seeds, which would virtually eliminate the chance of transgene spread. He has already identified some flowering genes in grasses.
Dombrowski believes genetic engineering has great potential benefit, but he strongly advocates including risk assessment in transgenic research, "especially with plants like grasses that are wind pollinated and have the potential to cross with other plants," he says.
"We strive to have solid information about what happens with transgenic organisms in the real-world environment, not just in the lab or under controlled conditions. We need solid facts, like how far pollen drifts, its fertility lifespan, and its competition level with other pollen. Some of the data must be collected out in the fields under production conditions to give the real picture of potential risk."
Dombrowski says the public has a legitimate right to expect scientists to be concerned about the potential risks of transgenic crops. But, he adds, "I believe there's a lot of unwarranted fear due to a lack of communication. And in some cases, people aren't really thinking the issues and arguments fully through.
"For instance, you take a gene from rye and put it into wheat to give it resistance to a rust disease, and people are suddenly concerned about what they're eating. But people eat seven-grain bread with wheat and rye in it every day. And in doing so, they're already consuming the combined DNA and proteins from both plants."
New Genes, New Allergies?
Concerns about creation of new allergens are legitimate, and checking this out has always been part of the regulatory approval process. The assessment of the potential for new allergens in food is integral to the FDA process for reviewing transgenic plants.
"The public has the right to feel confident about its protection," says ARS molecular biologist Eliot M. Herman at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. "As we learn ever more about biological systems, we can provide even more specific assurances. Risk assessment will always be an evolving process."
On the other hand, genetic engineering can actually make a food less allergenic. Herman did so when he created a hypoallergenic soybean variety that should not affect the 6 to 8 percent of children and 1 to 2 percent of adults who are allergic to soy. He used a technique called "gene silencing" to shut down the gene that codes for the protein thought to cause most soybean allergies in humans.
So far, Herman has tested his hypoallergenic soybean with human sera and in sensitive animals. Testing to be sure allergens are not present is a difficult task. He is currently working with the University of Arkansas Medical School to develop an animal model that will allow for very sensitive allergen testing at the biochemical and cellular level. Such a model would be more explicit and a good addition to the feeding trials now required.
One of the newest areas of genetic engineering is seeking to add to the nutritional value of crops. Herman is looking for new genetic, genomic, and proteomic methods to improve protein, oil, and nutritive value in soybeans. "While we focus on modifying crops to enhance their nutrition, we also look at genetic expression on a global physiological basis to detect any unpredicted negative effects," explains ARS plant physiologist Leon V. Kochian, with the U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, New York.
He points out that if genetic engineering does have negative effects, they are most likely to be seen first in yield losses. "That would direct us to look further at changes," he adds.
Kochian believes strongly in today's increased risk assessment. "Ten years ago, risk assessment research was largely a responsibility of the private sector. Increasingly, public research organizations like ARS have been stepping in. Two important reasons are, one, that USDA research can provide direct support for the needs of the regulatory agencies and, two, that many crops now being genetically engineered are small-market crops, such as fresh fruits. The reasons for making these crops pest resistant and reducing pesticide use are compelling, but companies are reluctant to pursue them because the small amount of acreage involved in growing these crops may preclude profitability."
Not Just Plants
Plants, of course, are not the only life forms that have been genetically engineered. Livestock, insects, and microorganisms are being genetically tailored for traits that cannot otherwise be easily bred in.
ARS animal physiologist Robert J. Wall with the Biotechnology and Germplasm Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, led the collaborative team that, in 2000, succeeded in adding genes for mastitis resistance to a cloned Jersey cow. He served as a subject matter specialist in the USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants Program workshop on research needs and priorities for animals last year.
"A major difference in risk assessment for genetically engineered farm animals is that we don't have the same worries about transgenes escaping from them as we do with plants," Wall explains. "But we still need to make sure the meat and milk are safe to eat."
The type of risk assessment needed is really determined by the kind of genes that have been added. "If what you add to a Hereford is an extra copy of a bovine growth hormone gene so that muscling is increased, that'll need a lot less testing than adding bacteria genes that don't exist in the cow naturally," Wall says.
"And if the genes are for a product that's broken down in people's stomachs, that too will change the nature of the risk assessment. But the public is entitled to know that we have considered the risks in whatever we are engineering."
That's the key to the future of genetically engineered organisms: The public must know that researchers have competently assessed any risk and that safety has been ensured.
Exporting Europe's Protectionism
- Lawrence Kogan, The National Interest Journal, Number 77, Fall 2004; www.nationalinterest.org Excerpts below...
"Due to its different view concerning the role of 'science' in assessing and managing public risks, the EU has effectively challenged the U.S./WTO risk evaluation framework seeking to establish the precautionary principle, a 'better safe than sorry' rule, as an absolute international standard by which all products, no matter where they are produced, are determined to be safe or harmful.
This challenge threatens the competitiveness of U.S. and other non-EU industries because it seeks to transform the current predictable risk-based evaluation system premised on objective empirical (technical) science, exposure data and, to a large extent, economic cost benefit analysis, into a subjective framework in which pre-risk assessment screening based on cultural moral values and demographic risk aversion (consumer fear perceptions) and hazard profiling based on intrinsic substance characteristics prevails.
The EU has endeavored to change the current framework by embedding the precautionary principle into overly stringent health and safety and environment regulations and technical product standards (in excess of international standards), and then exporting those regulations and standards abroad down supply chains via international treaties, international standardization bodies and bilateral technical capacity building intiatives. Examples of this include the recently enacted EU biotech labeling and traceability regulations that implement EU obligations under the Biosafety Protocol to the U.N. Biodiversity Convention, and the proposed EU REACH regulation, which is intended to serve as a template for global chemicals management.
In essence, the EU exports the high cost of precautionary regulation and standardization abroad in order to 'level the global economic playing field' (as a form of protectionism to compensate) for its lagging, less cost-efficient or otherwise technologically underdeveloped industries. Lastly, the EU and its member states also fund non-governmental environmental groups, both in Europe and other countries, that are actively engaged in pursuing antiglobalization and anti-technology (biotech) campaigns. These campaigns threaten government and company technological innovation and research and development programs.
Further comments from the author Lawrence Kogan to AgBioView readers:
The excerpt above is from a new article that will be published in the upcoming fall issue of The National Interest journal. The journal should be available on newstands at the end of the month. This new article should be read together with my previous paper which was published in the Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations this past August. That paper discussed how divergent views towards the role of science in assessing and managing public risks have resulted in the EU challenge to the U.S./WTO risk evaluation framework. This challenge threatens the competitiveness of U.S. and other non-EU industries because it seeks to transform the current risk-based evaluation system into one based on precaution, where pre-risk assessment screening, consumer fear perceptions and hazard profiling based on intrinsic substance characteristics prevails over empirical science and exposure data, not to mention economic/social cost-benefit analysis.
The Seton Hall paper is accessible at:
The African Scientist magazine
The first issue of The African Scientist is now available. Covering the world of genomics, the magazine is aimed at students, teachers and scientists. In the January 2004 issue.
In this issue:
Is a vaccine for Aids really possible?
Where do Africa's cattle come from?
Madness and Genius: Two sides of the same coin Beyond science fiction: The pros and cons of cloning Teachers 'cross over' to a new understanding DNA practical: isolating DNA from an onion pull-out poster The genome and Africa: Don't get left behind Cairo Conference 2004 programme and preview
Sowing seeds of doubt – the GM food controversy
Unravelling the secrets of our past – hidden in our DNA How biotechnology has changed our lives
Paternity and the miracle of DNA
Diabetes cure a 'can of worms'
Download and read The African Scientist at http://www.africagenome.co.za/publications/scientist.html
The African Scientist magazine. Editor: Adrian Hadland. Production editor: Lynne Wilson.
Published by the Africa Genome Initiative, a project of the Social Cohesion and Integration Research Programme of the Human Sciences Research Council.
Can Agricultural Biotechnology Help Vietnam?
- Nong Thon Ngay Nay, Country Side Today (Vietnam), Sept. 221, 2004
"People will recognize more clearly the strength of genetically-modified products: Dr. C.S. Prkash, director of a U.S. biotechnology research center"
Dr. C.S. Prakash, Director of the Biotechnology Research Center of Tuskegee University in the U.S., recently visited Vietnam and had presentations on applications and the development trend of biotechnology. He had an interview with Nong Thon Ngay Nay on the issue.
Dr. Prakash said genetically-modified plants are grown in more than 70 (m) hectares in around 15 countries. Vietnam neighboring countries, such as China and the Philippines, are investing massively in developing and applying biotechnology. China invests every year around US$125 million in biotechnology and gene modification. They are growing millions of hectares of genetically-modified cotton, which helps save tens of thousands of kilograms of pesticide and herbicide compared with the past. Vietnam at present has to import almost all of the cotton it needs. If Vietnam applies gene modification technologies, Vietnam's cotton output can increase significantly.
Q: Do you think Vietnam can apply gene modification technologies?
A: I see that there now signs that Vietnam is gradually accepting genetically-modified products. Vietnam's Ministry of Resources and Environment has begun drafting bio-safety regulations for the Government's approval. They are important not only to the use of genetically-modified products but they also serve as a legal corridor for Vietnamese scientists to test the safety of those products before releasing them to the market.
Q: Will Vietnamese genetically-modified products be accepted in foreign markets?
A: Not only in the U.S., so far in the world, there has been no complaint about harmful effects by GM products on both human and animals. In the U.S. and many other countries, there is no difference between GM and non-GM products (in labeling) as with regard to nutrition or safety aspects people see that GM products are no different from traditional products. I am confident that in the near future, misunderstanding about the safety of GM products will disappear as there is more scientific evidence to prove that GM products are very safe, highly nutritious, very good for human health, and they are even safer and better than conventional products.
Q: Do you think that applying gene modification technologies is the only way for Vietnam to increase the productivity of plants?
A: Efficient agricultural production depends on different factors. Beside gene modification technologies, we have tissue culture or DNA marker assisted selection technology plus many other conventional methods which also can help increase the efficiency of agricultural production. However, in some specific cases, such as cotton, peanut, corn, sweet potato, bean, etc., applying biotechnology is the optimal method to achieve high yield.
Vietnam has the strength in human resources with bright scientists. The Government needs to invest more in scientific researches in this area. Especially, it needs to promulgate a bio-safety law, creating a legal corridor for scientists to test and conform the safety of GM products and let them circulate in the market. We are helping the Vietnam Biotechnology Institute to apply gene modification technologies to sweet potato plants. After that probably we will work on peanuts and other plants.
Thai Debate on GM Crops: Readers' Comments
- The Nation (Thailand), September 21, 2004
Genes From Engineered Grass Spread for Miles, Study Finds
- Andrew Pollack, New York Times, September 21, 2004. Full story at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/21/business/21grass.html
A new study shows that genes from genetically engineered grass can spread much farther than previously known, a finding that raises questions about the straying of other plants altered through biotechnology and that could hurt the efforts of two companies to win approval for the first bioengineered grass.
The two companies, Monsanto and Scotts, have developed a strain of creeping bentgrass for use on golf courses that is resistant to the widely used herbicide Roundup. The altered plants would allow groundskeepers to spray the herbicide on their greens and fairways to kill weeds while leaving the grass unscathed.
But the companies' plans have been opposed by some environmental groups as well as by the federal Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Critics worry that the grass could spread to areas where it is not wanted or transfer its herbicide resistance to weedy relatives, creating superweeds that would be immune to the most widely used weed killer. The Forest Service said earlier this year that the grass "has the potential to adversely impact all 175 national forests and grasslands."
Some scientists said the new results, to be published online this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, did not necessarily raise alarms about existing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. There are special circumstances, they say, that make the creeping bentgrass more environmentally worrisome, like its extraordinarily light pollen.
Because Scotts has plans to develop other varieties of bioengineered grasses for use on household lawns, the new findings could have implications well beyond the golf course. And the study suggests that some previous studies of the environmental impact of genetically modified plants have been too small to capture the full spread of altered genes.
Scotts says that because naturally occurring bentgrass has not caused major weed problems, the bioengineered version would pose no new hazards. And any Roundup-resistant strains that might somehow develop outside of intentionally planted areas could be treated with other weed killers, the company said.
In the new study, scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency found that the genetically engineered bentgrass pollinated test plants of the same species as far away as they measured -about 13 miles downwind from a test farm in Oregon. Natural growths of wild grass of a different species were pollinated by the gene-modified grass nearly nine miles away.
Previous studies had measured pollination between various types of genetically modified plants and wild relatives at no more than about one mile, according to the paper.
Response From Klaus Ammann:
Dear Friends, this is what has to be expected anyway.
My comment regarding wild grasses has been given in many publications, here two examples from our research with grass hybrid statistics in herbaria, see in the publications, here also given as pdf-powerpoints separately, see lowermost link.
Ammann, K., Jacot, Y., & Rufener Al Mazyad, P. (1996) Field release of transgenic crops in Switzerland : an ecological assessment of vertical gene flow. In Gentechnisch veränderte krankheits- und schädlingsresistente Nutzpflanzen. Eine Option für die Landwirtschaft ? (eds E. Schulte & O. Käppeli), Vol. 1, 3, pp. 101-157. Schwerpunktprogramm Biotechnologie, Schweiz. Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung, BATS, Basel, http://www.botanischergarten.ch/debate/techdef5a.pdf
Ammann, K., Jacot, Y., & Rufener Al Mazyad, P. (2000) An Ecological Risk Assessment of Vertical Gene Flow. In Safety of Genetically Engineered Crops (ed R. Custers). Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology, Zwijinarde, BE.J. Bury, VIB Publication, http://www.vib.be some charts, where for the SWISS situation grasses are of highest dynamics (most probably worldwide) and also alfalfa (most probably not outside the region of dozens of mediterranean wild relatives)
(Greenpeace is not yet going out of business...)