Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 11, 2004
* Plant Biology Society Opposes Ban of GE Crops in CA County Ballots
* Bush and Kerry United In Their Support of GM Crops
* More Crop for the Drop
* Ducking the Truth about EU GM Policy
* BASF Threatens Transfer of Plant Research Abroad
* America's Scientific Dominance Could Have Serious Repercussions
* ..... 'Anti-Science Propaganda' Drives Scientists Away from Europe
* Do European Non-Tariff Barriers Create Economic Nuisances in the US?
* Fields of Fire
* ISB News Report - October 2004 Issue
* The Proof in the Organic Pudding
* International Conference on Cassava
ASPB Opposes Ban of GE Crops in Butte County Ballot Measure D
- Medical News today, October 8, 2004: Via Agnet:
The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), today urged Butte
County, California voters to vote "no" on Measure D on the November
ballot. Passage of Measure D would ban the growing of genetically
engineered crops in the county. ASPB said in a letter to Butte County
Board of Supervisors today that "Passage of Measure D would mark a
historic step backwards for science and agriculture for Butte County
and the state."
The letter to the Butte County Board of Supervisors was sent by ASPB
President Roger Hangarter, Professor at Indiana University, and ASPB
Committee on Public Affairs Chair Pamela Ronald, Professor at the
University of Californa, Davis.
Following is the ASPB letter sent to the Butte County Board of Supervisors:
Dear Supervisors Beeler, Dolan, Houx, Josiassen and Yamaguchi:
The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), urges you and your
fellow voters in Butte County to vote "no" on proposed Butte County
ordinance Measure D in November. Passage of Measure D would mark a
historic step backwards for science and agriculture for Butte County
and for the state.
As you know, Measure D on the Butte County November ballot would
declare that the propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of
genetically engineered organisms in Butte County constitute a public
nuisance pursuant to the existing Butte County code. Further, the
proposed ordinance would provide that the growing of genetically
engineered organisms does not constitute "Legitimate Agricultural
Operations," which are exempted from the type of activities that can
be designated as a public nuisance, pursuant
The proposed ordinance would define "genetically engineered organism"
as an organism or the offspring of an organism, the DNA of which has
been altered or amended through genetic engineering.
A review of the scientific literature shows that genetically
engineered foods are as safe as foods that are not genetically
engineered. For example, the National Research Council and Institute
of Medicine of the National Academies published a study this year
which found no unique risk from genetically engineered foods compared
to traditionally bred food crops. The report can be read on the
National Academies web site at
There are instances in which genetic engineering can produce
healthier and safer foods than can be accomplished using traditional
plant breeding technologies. Researchers based in California
(University of California, Berkeley) have genetically engineered
hypo-allergenic wheat, which will be much safer for people with wheat
allergies to consume. Plant science research has resulted in
genetically engineered hypo-allergenic soybeans, which will lead to
safer soy-based infant formula and other soy food prod
Much lower levels of aflatoxin, a known potential cancer-causing
agent, have been found in lines of genetically engineered corn,
compared to conventional corn. The reason for this is that the
genetically engineered corn is more effective in preventing a
particular pest infestation. Genetically engineered rice, known as
Golden Rice, with higher levels of beta carotene will address Vitamin
A deficiencies in the diets of people in much of the developing
world. This enhanced Golden Rice promises to prevent micases of blindness among children of po or nations and help avert
many childhood deaths.
The progress of science using modern technologies, such as
biotechnology, is leading to genetically engineered foods that will
be safer, more nutritious, healthier, and more affordable.
The benefits that genetic engineering of foods offer to the people
throughout the world are substantial. The Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in a report issued in May of
this year found that biotechnology and genetic engineering of crops
hold great promise for agriculture in developing countries. The
report noted that more than 70 percent of the world's poor still live
in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival.
Agricultural research - including biotechnologykey to meeting their needs, the FAO said. The FAO added that
biotechnology can speed up conventional breeding programs and may
offer solutions where conventional methods fail.
If Measure D passes, Butte County, California will be taking a step
back into the century just past, denying its farmers discretion to
utilize newer technologies for enhanced crops. Passage of measure D
is unwarranted based on the best science published concerning the
safety of genetically engineered crops.
Founded in 1924, ASPB is a non-profit society of nearly 6,000 plant
scientists, including 450 scientists in California, based primarily
Please let us know if we can provide any further information.
Roger Hangarter, Professor , Indiana University; President, ASPB
Pamela Ronald, Professor, University of California, Davis; Chair,
ASPB Committee on Public Affairs
Bush and Kerry United on Biotech
- AgBiotechNet, Oct 7, 2004; http://www.agbiotechnet.com
Both President George W. Bush and Democratic contender John Kerry
believe in pushing for acceptance of GM products. Asked by the
American Farm Bureau how they would promote acceptance for products
enhanced through biotechnology both domestically and internationally,
Bush and Kerry stressed that such products should not be barred on
spurious safety grounds.
Bush said "Biotechnology plays an extremely important role in
reducing environmental impacts of farming and meeting the world's
increasing demand for food. It can lead to safer foods that are
better for the environment because of improved crop yields, among
other benefits. To help protect our farmers, who produce 70% of the
world's biotech food, my administration opposes the labeling of
genetically engineered food. USDA is also providing aid for US
farmers who wish to grow non-engineered crops, particularly for
He continued: "Further, my administration has vigorously pressed our
trading partners to eliminate bans and restrictions on genetically
engineered agriculture products that ignore science. For example, we
brought a World Trade Organization case against the Europe Union's
baseless restriction on imports of genetically engineered products. "
Kerry said " I will push for the acceptance of safe agricultural
products in the United States and around the world. The Europeans and
other countries should not use this as a pretext to unfairly close
their markets to U.S. exports."
More Crop for the Drop
- Henry I. Miller/Gregory Conko, Washington Times, October 6, 2004
Your morning espresso at Starbucks will soon be more expensive.
Unless, that is, they find a way to make it without water or coffee,
both increasingly in short supply.
The worst drought in almost 200 years in arid northeastern Brazil is
turning about 110,000 square miles of once fertile land into desert.
The coffee harvest of the world's largest producer is expected to
drop next year as much as 17 percent. As a result, the price of
coffee is up more than 6 percent in the last two weeks, and Starbucks
has announced a price increase for October.
Well, droughts are just acts of God, with nothing to be done, right?
Wrong. Science may soon provide a partial solution.
Gene-splicing, sometimes called genetic modification (GM), offers
plant breeders the tools to make old crop plants do spectacular new
things. In the United States, Brazil, and at least 16 other
countries, farmers use gene-spliced crop varieties to produce higher
yields, with lower inputs and reduced environmental effects. Though
research has been hampered by activist resistance and discouraged by
governmental overregulation, gene-spliced crop varieties slowly but
surely are trickling out of the pipeline.
Most of these new varieties are designed to resist pests and diseases
that ravage crops; or to be resistant to herbicides so farmers can
adopt more environmentally friendly no-till farming practices and
more benign herbicides. Others have improved nutritional quality. But
the greatest long-term boon both to food security and to the
environment may be the ability of new crop varieties to tolerate
periods of drought and other water-related stresses.
Where water is unavailable for irrigation, development of crop
varieties able to grow with low moisture or temporary drought could
both boost yields and lengthen the farmland productivity.
Even where irrigation is feasible, plants that use water more
efficiently are needed. Irrigation for agriculture accounts for
roughly 70 percent of the world's fresh water consumption -- even
more in areas of intensive farming and arid or semi-arid conditions
-- so introducing plants that grow with less water would free much of
that essential resource for other uses. Especially during drought
conditions, even a small reduction in water used for irrigation could
offer huge benefits, both economic and humaniytarian.
Plant biologists already have identified genes that regulate water
utilization for transfer into important crop plants. These new
varieties can grow with smaller amounts or lower-quality water, such
as water recycled or containing large amounts of natural mineral
Aside from new varieties with lower water requirements, pest- and
disease-resistant gene-spliced crop varieties also indirectly make
water use more efficient. Because much of the loss to insects and
diseases occurs after the plants are fully grown -- that is, after
most of the water required to grow a crop has been used --
gene-spliced varieties with lower post-harvest losses in yield means
farming (and irrigation) of fewer plants can produce the same amount
of food: more crop for the drop.
Gene-splicing can conserve water in other ways. Salty soil is the
enemy of agriculture: Fully a third of irrigated land worldwide is
unsuitable for growing crops because of its saline quality, and every
year nearly a half-million acres of irrigated land worldwide is lost
to cultivation. Scientists at the University of California-Davis have
enhanced salt tolerance in crops as diverse as tomatoes and canola.
The transformed plants are so tolerant to salt that they not only
grow in salty soil but also can be yirrigated with brackish water.
There are thorns on the rose, however. Unscientific, overly
burdensome regulation in most countries and by the U.N. agencies has
raised significantly the cost of producing new plant varieties and
kept many potentially important crops from ever reaching the market.
This antisocial public policy -- which flies in the face of
scientific consensus that gene-splicing is essentially an extension,
or refinement, of earlier techniques for crop improvement -- adds
millions of dollars to the development costs of each new gene-spliced
crop variety. These extra costs, and also the endless (and
gratuitous) controversy over growing these precisely crafted and
highly predictable varieties, discourage research and development.
Not surprisingly, it is primarily the species and traits most
commercially profitable -- commodity crops with pest- or herbicide
resistance, grown at vast scale -- that have emerged from the
research and development pipeline.
Think of those flawed government policies as you sip that pricey cup of java.
Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former
Food and Drug Administration official. Gregory Conko is food safety
policy director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Their book,
"The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech
Revolution," is available from Praeger Publishers.
Ducking The Truth about EU GM Policy
- Lawrence A. Kogan, EU Reporter, Edition 11, October 22, 2004
It is a common rule of thumb that, if something walks, quacks and
even swims like a duck, it probably is a duck, notwithstanding
appearances to the contrary.
So, the only thing surprising about a recent World Bank report on the
politics of Genetically Modified food (GMO) is that the otherwise
reserved scholars minced no words in calling the European
Commission's (EC) near obsession with avoiding GMOs blatant trade
The EC has long attempted to justify its strict health and
environmental regulations premised on the precautionary principle as
necessary to protect the public from uncertain risk. The World Bank
report, Trade, Standards and the Political Economy of Genetically
Modified Food, debunks this myth and offers empirical evidence
regarding the Commission's true motivation.
The real motivation
The Bank instead sees the Commission's enactment of stringent GM
regulations as apparently motivated by European industry's
comparative disadvantage in the use of genetically modified crop
technology - not any risk associated with GM crops.
In drawing this conclusion, the Bank's study points to the
significant role played by EU industry in lobbying for the imposition
of such protectionist barriers, one that is, perhaps, even greater
than previously realized.
It is refreshing to see the authors move beyond the conventional
wisdom that the EU is reluctant to allow GM crops and foods because
Europeans are more concerned with protecting the natural environment
and are less trusting of their food safety regulators than are
Perceptions aside, the Commission's strong anti-GM stance, as a
matter of logic, had to be based on more than just "cultural
preferences", notwithstanding EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy's
seemingly persuasive argument to the contrary.
The deeper question is: Why would European producers lobby for overly
strict rules that they too must face? What do they gain?
The simple answer is based in classical trade economics. As the
authors note, "when faced with a more efficient competitor, the
optimal response of farmers in countries with a comparative
disadvantage in GM adoption is to lobby for (or at least not resist)
more stringent GM standards."
Economic interests rather than cultural preferences, therefore,
provided the relatively smaller European farmers and underdeveloped
biotech firms with a "strategic incentive to [work with the
Commission to] raise [GM] standards" throughout Europe and its
network of trading partners. U.S., Canadian and Argentine GM
exporters account for three-fifths of the world's soybean exports and
four-fifths of global maize exports.
Faced with increased competition in GM products, domestic EU
producers lobbied their governments and the Commission to adopt
strict GM controls. Without sufficient GM market access barriers, the
lower prices being realized by foreign GM producers would quickly
drag down both European GM and non-GM food prices.
Of course, GM imports also generated widespread opposition among
outspoken and politically influential European consumer and
environmental groups. This prompted civil society and industry
concerns to converge, moving member state governments and the
Commission to respond in a politically popular manner that also
sought to eliminate EU industry's comparative economic disadvantage.
That disadvantage could be eliminated only by creating artificial
"product differentiation," first with the GM moratorium and then
through strict EU-wide traceability and labeling regulations.
All of this, of course, was rational from an economic and political
point of view. However, it is also arguably illegal from the
perspective of international trade laws enforced by the World Trade
Perhaps worse still, EU biotech policy has had serious global
repercussions, profoundly influencing the decisions of other
food-exporting nations to avoid or severely restrict the use of GM
technology. Countries such as China, whose agricultural trade with
Europe is steady and growing, has been unwilling to approve GM food
production for fear of losing EU market access. But with nearly
one-fifth of the world's population, China is in desperate need of
the kinds of yield increases GM crops offer.
EU policies have also encouraged many, even poorer developing
countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe to shun GM food aid for fear
that even their non-GM food exports would be tarnished with a "GM
taint" and be denied access to EU markets.
Some experts blame the now-ended GM moratorium for these decisions,
but poor countries are scarcely in a better position now that the
moratorium has been replaced with potentially crippling GM labeling
and traceability rules.
Furthermore, as EU support for NGO anti-biotech campaigns has even
stymied basic research and development programs in such countries as
the Philippines. There, EU-funded activists have helped to reduce the
financial incentives for research into GM products by raising
needless hurdles to research. Activist campaigns have even made
consumers reluctant to accept such publicly-funded GM products as
nutritionally enhanced 'golden' rice.
Tragically, while European industry has gained economically from
these policies, developing countries have continued to suffer the
human losses of hunger and disease.
Disguised trade barriers
All in all, the World Bank's findings are doubly disturbing because
they reflect the observation by many other scholars of a growing
trend in the use of EU regulatory policy for no better reason than to
disguise trade barriers.
My own research for the U.S.based National Foreign Trade Council
reveals how the European Commission has worked hand in hand with
anti-technology NGO campaigns to benefit European agriculture and
Considering the significant economic interests at stake in
international trade, one cannot help but suspect that similar
motivations underlie other precautionary principle-based regulations,
such as the EU's proposed REACH regulation for chemicals or its WEEE
and RoHS directives on hazardous wastes.
Those too are rules that walk, quack and swim like protectionist
ducks. And, until the resulting trade disputes arise, it's no
surprise that some European interests find them just ducky.
Lawrence A. Kogan is an international environment and trade attorney
who has advised the National Foreign Trade Council on WTO trade and
BASF Threatens Transfer of Plant Research Abroad
In Pharma, October 6, 2004;
BASF has threatened to relocate research into 'green genetic
engineering' to other countries if German law continues to restrict
R&D into plant biotechnology, with applications as diverse as crop
biomanufacturing of proteins and GM foods.
The German chemicals group said it hopes that an agreement can be
reached with the Federal Government and the science and economics
communities about the legal conditions of this genetic manipulation
Jürgen Hambrecht, chairman of BASF said that green genetic
engineering is crucial to the future of humanity. In the year 2050,
it will be necessary to feed a global population of 9 billion. This
will only be possible with genetically refined plants, for example in
desert or cold regions.
"The population's acceptance of "genetic food" will increase if its
additional benefits are recognised, for example a higher vitamin
content or a cholesterol-reducing effect. In 10 years, plant
manipulation will be just as accepted as medical "red genetic
engineering" is today," he stated.
BASF's comments have been whole-heartedly supported by the Genetic
Engineering Law (GenTG), representatives of the German BioRegions.
They said: "The Genetic Engineering Bill will kill innovation as the
GenTG makes the use of plant biotechnology in Germany illegal." The
Bill especially hinders the use of modern bio and gene technology in
"Long-term investments in research and development will have been
wasted, jobs and growth potentials will be destroyed and the image of
Germany as being a country adverse to technological innovations will
be strengthened further."
America's Scientific Dominance Could Have Serious Repercussions
- Robin McKie, The Observer (UK), October 10, 2004 (via Srinivas Mane)
There is a terrible joke much loved by scientists, but not many
others. A man spots a farmer standing in a field in the rain. 'Why?'
he asks. The farmer replies: 'I am trying to win a Nobel Prize. You
get one for being out standing in your field.' If only it was that
easy. As researchers will tell you, the real thing requires decades
of commitment, hard graft, luck, and some grey matter - al/though
these days you will need another key qualification: a US passport, or
at least a US chequebook.
Just take a look at last week's batch of Nobels in chemistry, physics
and medicine. Medicine went to American smell researchers Richard
Axel and Linda Buck; physics went to a trio of US quark physicists,
David Gross, David Politzer and Frank Wilczek; while chemistry was
awarded to cell researchers Dr Irwin Rose (from California) and two
Israeli researchers, Prof Avram Hershko and Prof Aaron Ciechanover.
/The Israeli pair, it should be noted, were backed by generous US
research funds, and have spent a great deal of time working in
America (though it should be acknowledged that they carried out some
key research in their home country).
Americans have dominated the world's three most prestigious science
prizes for more than two decades, but now things seem to be getting
out of hand. All the 2004 science Nobels were backed and directed by
American cash, a point noted by UK cancer researcher Tim Hunt, winner
o/f the 2001 Nobel medicine prize. 'It is certainly startling and
worrying. Nobel destinations fluctuate a fair bit. Britain did quite
well in 2003, and who knows what might happen next year. However,
Nobels are just tips of a science iceberg. The more tips, the bigger
must be the iceberg underneath. All this preponderance of Nobels
really shows is how vast is the US science hegemony.'
But what does this near monopoly mean for the rest of the world, and
how, exactly, has the US managed to achieve it? The /second question
is the easier to answer: because America commits such a large
percentage of its vast wealth to science. The $27 billion budget of
the National Institutes of Health dwarfs that of any other
organisation in the world, and US backing for other sciences is
But this begs a subsidiary question: why the largesse? That is
trickier to answer though observers agree it reflects a deep American
interest in the universe, a lack of the anti-science snobbery that
pervades Europe, and a ju/stified belief that discoveries can be
exploited to improve life and make money.
Which takes us to the global implications? 'Numbers of prizes don't
matter,' says UK Nobel chemistry winner Sir Harry Kroto. 'What is
important is America's commitment to turning discoveries into
products. Here, they are also utterly dominant. Technologically, they
are far more vigorous and aggressive.'
British scientists will doubtless argue we still do pretty well
Nobel-wise. Maybe, but not that well. Since 1990, Americans/ have won
24 physics Nobels, 19 for chemistry and 21 for medicine. No other
country has got more than three in any category except for Britain
which has won, very creditably, six for medicine. It is still no
contest, of course. Today, if you want to do science, America is the
only destination. Once young US researchers headed to Europe to learn
basic research. Now the direction is reversed. Forty per cent of
scientists in the US were born in Europe. Few are expected to return.
The black hole of US science/ is simply sucking in money and talent,
leaving Britain more and more isolated. We are trying hard but if we
are not careful our best Nobel chances may one day be restricted to
joining farmers in their fields.
Comments from Prof. Michael Wilson (UK)
'Anti-Science Propaganda' Drives Scientists Away from Europe
Many thanks for this. I think it illustrates very well an intrinsic
(sometimes covert, sometimes overt) feature of contemporary UK and EU
journalism and the rest of the media - based on envy, smugness,
jealousy. frustration, self-rightousness or whatever - which results
in continuous sniping at the success of America in pursuing basic
scientific and technological progress, knowledge-based regulation,
progress and wealth creation.
I do find it sadly and sickeningly ironic that, after campaigning so
unscrupulously against GM crops, nanotechnology, MMR vaccines and
just about every other tabloid scare story they could exploit to sell
their newspapers or assist their pals in the anti-science NGOs or
organic food industry spread their propaganda, it comes as a surprise
to these same journalists (or perhaps this is just another
anti-American conspiracy-theory gambit they can play-out) that the UK
and EU are losing good scientists to the USA (including Harry Kroto
now!) and that our relative performance is dwindling. Don't forget it
was THEY who created and fueled anti-science, anti-expert attitudes,
populist Luddism, etc among the UK public, trepid politicians and
For example, having scared vulnerable new parents witless about
(false) alleged risks from the MMR vaccine, the same UK press is now
trying to scare the same readers with stories of measles epidemics
and forthcoming deaths of babies! What are these people like? How
do/can journalists sleep at night?
Keep up the good work......Michael
Do European Non-Tariff Barriers Create Economic Nuisances in the US?
- Thomas P. Redick, Presented at the 26th Annual Education Symposium
of the American Agricultural Law Association; October 1-2, 2004; Des
Moines, Iowa. Excerpts below. Full paper can be obtained from
As of April 18, 2004, European Directives on Traceability and
Labeling went into effect in the European Union. E.U. officials
portrayed these new laws as lifting the de~facto moratorium on
regulatory approval of biotech crops, which has created a non-tariff
barrier to trade with the United States. E.U. laws impose a "zero
tolerance" standard for biotech crops that have not received
regulatory approval from the E.U., and the Traceability & Labeling
("T&L") Directives will lead to genetic testing of shipments of U.S
The E.U. is showing signs of an intent to use genetic tests to trace
every kernel, bean, or cottonseed that contains the wrong genes
(those lacking regulatory approval in the E.U.), using a "zero
tolerance" standard. Even approved biotech crops will be subject to
labels, with a 0.9% tolerance that is difficult to meet without high
costs. The E.U. law applies at "each stage" of commodity commerce,
from grain shippers leading back through elevators, growers and seed
This "zero tolerance" standard for unapproved biotech crops grown in
the U.S. will persist for years to come, pending a World Trade
Organization (WTO) challenge and subsequent E.U. compliance with a
pro-U.S. ruling. Given the economic impact of tracing leads to
liability in the U.S., as zero tolerance standards trigger the loss
of billions of dollars in export trade Tracing liability begins with
lost shipment in the ports of the E.U. and any trading partners
following a similar "zero tolerance" approach (e.g., China, New
Zealand, Japan, etc.).
There are legal mechanisms for securing compensation for those
impacts at stage in the chain of commerce where the growers, seed
companies and grain buyers meet, (i.e., common law of warranty,
nuisance, trespass, etc.), and there are also legal tools available
to U.S.-based businesses that could help to prevent economic loss and
liability claims. These tools include grower agreements, grower
districts, and industry standards for "identity preservation."
Last but not least, we will briefly outline the potential
implications of this E.U. policy for the environment and human health
in the U.S., the E.U. and their trading partners around the world. We
will suggest that the E.U. policy cannot be sustained for long, given
new-found tools (adapted from biotechnology'smedical side) that will
expose troublesome "relative risks" posed by traditionally-bred
counterparts to existing biotech crops (from carcinogen-free corn to
soil-conserving biotech soybeans).
If scientific analysis shows a genuine benefit from biotech crops for
human health or the environment, then both regulatory law and product
liability law will dictate the increased use of the "Best Available"
technology – biotech crops – as a tool for avoiding product liability
and for environmental conservation.
If the E.U.'s T&L directives continue to dominate world trade,
driving its trading partners to reject all biotech crops lacking E.U.
approval, this global rejection will have measurable "adverse
effects" in the form of health effects from mycotoxins and
environmental effects of soil run-off. These adverse consequences
will be measured in floating fish and loss of habitat for endangered
species, leading to nutritionally distressed children, lost species,
and lost lives.
Over time, direct loss of life and species that is attributable to EU
biotech policy could be tracked using a "biosafety body count" that
links deaths to various adverse effects of this tampering with the
global food supply. In an ironic twist, the EU'seffort to avoid
having biotech food "forced down its throat" could lead to the
force-feeding of mycotoxins or pesticides in nations lacking the risk
management tools to detect and remove such contaminants. As the
"biosafety body count" rises, the world will slowly be forced to come
to grips with the benefits that biotech crops now on the market could
have been bringing earlier, if widely accepted.
While biotech seed companies struggle to predict market acceptance
for products that come with significant risks of causing economic
loss if they commingle with other crops bound for export markets,
entire product lines will continue to fall by the wayside. To date,
over a dozen common forms of crops (e.g., potato, tomato etc.) have
been use for new biotech crop lines that improve on traditional
breeding, but these have been dropped, after passing U.S. regulatory
approval, due to global and commercial barriers to trade.
While there are genuine concerns that have to be addressed from some
innovations and uses, these risks are manageable and do not justify
the worldwide moratorium on marketing of biotech crops that E.U.
policies could create. History will not look kindly upon our Biotech
Century, if we have banished the best in biotech innovation from the
marketplace at the cost of countless irreplaceable harm on lives and
CONCLUSION: Ensuring Safe Innovation in Agricultural Biotechnology
The agricultural biotechnology industry in the United States (its
primary home worldwide, at present) will only have a thriving future
if the entire agbiotech industry implements adequate measures for
"containment" of biotech crops that are not approved for export.
Biotech companies can work closely with growers associations armed
with crop-specific "standards of care" that the E.U. could accept.
A heightened level of industry-wide stewardship could be established
immediately with a standard stewardship clause incorporated in signed
agreements with growers. The contracts could be enforced by the
threat of contractually stipulated injunctive relief against those
who fail to comply with stewardship standards. This industry-wide
mandatory stewardship program would simultaneously stem a looming
tide of frivolous nuisance cases and also "isolate" the public
nuisance precedent established in the Starlink case (by preventing
another set of "bad facts" from reaching appellate courts and making
"bad law" for biotech companies).
A coordinated strategy between growers and biotech companies is
needed to prevent both (1) economically cataclysmic impacts and (2)
devastating legal precedents that could cede control of our biotech
industry'sfuture to plaintiff'sclass action attorneys. Starlink left
both of these economic and legal impacts behind, it also left grounds
for supporting a credible threat of "anticipatory nuisance" that can
be used to impose strict containment on biotech crops where necessary.
Public nuisance law could be used by responsible biotech companies,
growers, grain companies, or grocers who want to impose a higher
level of stewardship for a particular biotech crop. If the chain of
commerce in a particular crop is threatened by potential commingling,
Starlink’s potential "public nuisance" precedent could be used to
enjoin that which federal regulators may lack the resources or
authority to oversee properly. Neutral legal forums, such as the
American Bar Association’s Committee on Agricultural Management, can
expl;ore the legalit of new risk management tools (like grower
districts) to protect the entire agricultural biotechnology industry,
and the chain of commerce that it serves, from the mistakes of any
single player in the game.
A cause of considerable tension between two of the world'sbiggest
trading partners for nearly ten years, the issue of
biotechnology'sinfluence on food and feed continues to generate a
multitude of debates, literature, and posturing. While health and
safety should be given priority in any regulatory scheme, the claims
made by governing authorities involving such interests should be
substantiated by scientific evidence. To allow otherwise would be to
permit discriminatory practices, illegally hindering trade while
undermining the legitimacy of the health and safety justification.
The economic threat posed by biotech crops to the marketplace is
vastly outweighed by the threat to the agricultural biotechnology
industry from such a novel legal development. In other words, the
economic impact upon the U.S. economy from the loss of future
innovations in agricultural biotechnology is a cataclysm well worth
avoiding, through careful legal planning and cooperation.
Fields of Fire
- Melinda Houston, The Age (Australia), October 12, 2004
Why the secrecy surrounding the planting of genetically modified
foods? Melinda Houston investigates both sides of the highly emotive
Frankenfood or environmental saviour? Few food issues inflame
passions and divide communities like genetically modified (GM) crops.
Bayer CropScience hit the headlines again last week when a Horsham
farmer revealed himself as one of the company's "secret" GM canola
growers. This followed Bayer's earlier refusal to disclose the
location of GM crops in Victoria - much to the alarm of local organic
farmers, terrified of accidental contamination of their crops and
infestations of superweeds. Bayer insists farmers have nothing to
fear; indeed, it denies the locations are secret.
And proponents of GM crops such as plant expert Dr Jim Peacock argue
that far from being sinister, they are looking at a brave new world
of a healthier environment.
Organic farmers and environmentalists beg to differ - vehemently. And
while much of the research is carried out under tight security, it's
difficult for the ordinary punter to judge. Steve Sawyer, head of
Greenpeace International's political and business unit, wrote
recently that proponents of GM foods repeatedly overstate the
benefits and understate the risks.
But one of the founders of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, claimed the
organisation's campaign against biotechnology "exposed their
intellectual and moral bankruptcy".
Concerns are that plant gene technologies are controlled by
multinationals such as Monsanto. Monsanto responds by saying much
research and development is also being done by universities and
scientific institutions with no commercial motivation.
Confused? Well, let's begin at the beginning. People have been using
what might be called biotechnology, including selectively breeding
plants and animals, for centuries: companion planting to keep pests
down, planting legumes to restore nitrogen to soil, mating the
strongest and best-yielding animals to improve herds, and grafting
good fruiting plants onto hardy root stock to improve crops.
What we're doing now with GM or GE (genetically engineered) foods is
in many ways just another step - exploring ways to produce better,
stronger, higher-yielding crops - but with one big difference. Before
genome mapping, it was impossible to breed across species. You
couldn't cross a pea with a tomato, or a fish with a cow, let alone a
fish with a tomato. But now scientists are attempting to cross a fish
with a tomato (using part of the "anti-freeze" gene in Arctic fish to
help prevent frost damage in tomatoes). And it's freaking people out.
In fundamental ways, genetic manipulation offends our idea of the
natural order. Many people find "everyday" genetic engineering (as
opposed to human cloning or other drastic forms of the technology)
particularly alarming because it seems to focus on the foods we eat:
soy, canola, wheat and cotton (cotton oil is in everything from
margarine to fast food).
Europe and Britain have a moratorium on all GM crops, but in the US
and South America, several GM food crops are widely grown and used in
various food products. In Australia there are only two GM crops grown
commercially - cotton and carnations - although trial crops of
everything from wheat to grapes to canola are under way in various
parts of the country. Any GM crop must be approved by the Office of
the Gene Technology Regulator (the federal regulator). The individual
states then approve the commercial release in their neighbourhood.
Although the edible part of the cotton crop - the oil - has been
ruled safe for human consumption (and therefore doesn't require
specific labelling), the big supermarket chains are boycotting
margarines containing GM cotton oil in response to consumer concerns.
Environmentalists and other people are concerned about the impact of
GM foods on both the environment and human and animal health, and
hold grave reservations about the consequences of such meddling.
We're also all aware of other biotech experiments gone wrong (cane
toads, anyone?) and of practices such as feeding cows their
reconstituted dead cousins, which have produced horrific results such
as mad cow disease.
Often, though, these same people are equally concerned about the use
of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers in agriculture.
They worry about salinity, about blue-green algae blooms, about land
clearing - which are precisely the issues proponents of GM crops say
they're trying to address.
In an article in The Atlantic Monthly last year, writer Jonathan
Rauch argued that rather than seeing themselves as the crucial
barrier between biotechnology and a devastated ecosystem,
environmentalists are the natural constituency for such technology.
It is they - not governments, and certainly not large corporations -
who have the power and the passion to make sure genetically
engineered crops are used for niceness (soil restoration, reduced
chemical use, reduced land clearing) rather than evil (agriculltural
dependence on patented seeds and chemicals).
At the moment, though, most GE research is being done by large
corporations to produce saleable products, not solve the world's
problems. And even "disinterested" institutions such as the CSIRO are
working in various kinds of partnerships with companies like Monsanto
and Bayer in much of their gene research.
About the only thing everyone agrees on is that the production of
genetically engineered foods is a complex issue, with far-reaching
consequences. Exactly what those consequences might be is at the
heart of the issue.
We asked two experts - one in favour of genetically modified foods,
the other against - to present their cases.
Dr Jim Peacock, president of the Australian Academy of Science and
former chief of the CSIRO's Plant Industry division for 25 years
Safe to eat
"There's only one transgenic crop being grown in Australia. That's
cotton, and it's been going for six years now, very successfully. It
contains an insect-protecting gene. We added a gene construct that
originally came from a bacteria (the soil bacteria Bacillus
thuringiensis or Bt), then made it into a plant gene. Now, when the
grub bites the leaf of the cotton plant, it kills it (the bug). It
doesn't hurt any other insects. What it does do is reduce the use of
insecticides. And because commercial cotton lhas trouble surviving
outside the agricultural environment, there's almost no risk of it
"Every individual case of the introduction of a GM crop has to be
examined on its own merits. Different hazards apply to different
"What you can forget about is the transfer of these genes through
eating the food. It just doesn't happen. You don't absorb rockmelon
genes if you eat rockmelon. You don't grow scales eating fish. Genes
can transfer between plants, but only between plants that are very
"The environmental benefits of genetically modified crops are huge.
Most people don't have a good understanding of what happens on a
farm. Most GM crops are geared to help farmers, and mainly to reduce
the use of chemicals. But that doesn't directly affect the consumer.
"What will affect consumers is the work we're doing to maximise the
nutritional benefits of foods. Producing barley with a lower GI
(glycaemic index), for instance.
"We're looking at plants that are more resistant to salt and acid.
Farmers use a lot of phosphorous on their crops, but on average only
15 per cent of that is taken up by the plant. The rest remains in the
soil as salts and ends up in waterways, where it promotes blue-green
algae. "Endosulfan is currently sprayed on cotton as an insecticide.
When that drifts into the water systems it can cause fish kills.
We've made another change to the cotton gene so endosulfan isn't
necessary any more.
"Both in the farming and urban environments, we'd like to see no
leakage of these chemicals into the groundwater. That's where we're
heading. "To me, GM crops are all about a healthier environment, and
a sustainable one."
Bob Phelps, director, Gene Ethics Network (The GeneEthics Network was
originally established with seed money from rock band Midnight Oil
and operated under the auspices of the Australian Conservation
Now, it's a separate entity that acts as a lobbyist on GM crops and a
clearing house for information.)
Riddled with failures
"Proponents of GM crops like to talk about saving the environment,
but after almost two decades of research, they've only managed to
alter two characteristics of crops, and the main one is to make the
plants more herbicide-tolerant, which means you can spray more
heavily and more often without damaging the crop.
"There are problems with the so-called success stories, too. In
Australia that's Bt cotton - Bt refers to the bacteria that kills
caterpillars, and they've transferred that bacterial gene into the
cotton crop. But Monsanto owns the gene, so when the research was
completed in Australia and the cotton became available for commercial
production, Monsanto charged a royalty for every hectare planted.
They also own the seed, so you can't save seed from your own crop and
replant it - you have to go back to Monsanlto year after year and buy
new seed. The patenting of food crops - especially a patent monopoly
- is clearly not in the public interest.
"Then there are the questions about the survival of genetic material
in the gut - for instance, bacterial resistance introduced into crops
remaining in the human or animal gut. Whether that happens is
unresolved. The regulator has made an assumption this won't occur,
but we say there needs to be more research.
"Two major CSIRO projects have been shut down in the past year. They
took a gene from a bean that is toxic to pea weevils and, after a
decade of work, managed to get it into field peas. The plants grew,
the weevils were hatching and being killed by the toxins in the pea.
But the peas then contained anti-nutrients and when they fed the peas
to cattle, they couldn't properly digest the starch and actually
started to lose weight. So the whole thing has gone down in a flaming
"They were also touting for a long time they could switch off the
gene for browning in potatoes, but they found the non-browning gene
is closely associated with pathogen protection. So you switch that
gene off and suddenly your potato is far more susceptible to a range
of diseases. The truth is, we know bugger-all about how this complex
system works, and a heck of a lot more of basic research needs to be
"The central question for me is, can GM actually solve our core
problems - soil loss, salinity, acidity, water pollution - or not?
And so far the answer is not. "Meanwhile, huge amounts of funding are
being diverted from the things that are producing results, like
sustainable agricultural practices.
"Companies shouldn't be able to bring their products to market until
they meet certain standards that are agreed on by the community as a
whole. Not just the so-called experts. And if scientists are going to
be credible, they can't act like religious gurus, and they need to
disclose who's behind them.
"The CSIRO now needs to find 40 per cent of its funding from outside
sources, and some of that comes from Monsanto and Bayer, but the
public is often not aware of that. "We need a much more robust
debate, not just within the community, but within scientific circles.
We need more rigour, more precaution, and the commercial imperative
needs to be subsidiary to questions about what kind of society we
want, what are priorities now and for the future.
"The 20th century delivered a lot of disasters and we can't keep
repeating those mistakes."
ISB News Report - October 2004 Issue
* National Research Initiative: Animal Protection Funding Opportunity
* Biosafety Considerations in the use of Genetically Modified
Organisms for Management of Animal Populations
* The Development Of The D-amino Acid Selectable Marker System
* T7 RNA Polymerase-Based Overexpression of Foreign Genes in Plants
* HOS9 Mediated Cold Acclimation Outside the CBF Regulon
* Plant-made Pharmaceuticals: Progress and Protests
* Biotechnology & Biodiversity Symposium and Discussion Educates
* The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (PIFB) Posts Archived W
Gordon Research Conference - Agricultural Science
- February 13-18, 2005; Ventura, CA http://www.grc.org/programs/2005/agsci.htm
Chairs: Ann M Hirsch & Keith D Wing; Vice Chairs: Ken Feldmann & David A Somers
* Crop Efficiency and Yield Enhancement through Conventional Breeding
and Molecular-Assisted Breeding
* Molecular approaches to improve yield sustainability: Challenges
and opportunities - Roundtable and
* Improving Plants for Nutrition, Sustainable Ag, and Pest Control
* Agromedicine: Plants and Human Health
The Proof in the Organic Pudding
Listen at http://www.metrofarm.com/radio_files/OrganicD.mp3
Guests: Alex Avery, Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues;
Charles Benbrook, Organic Center for Education and Promotion;
Subject: We now spend over $10 billion a year on organic foods. And
so its time to ask: "Is organic food better than food that is not
Topics include the reasons behind the explosive growth of organic
foods; what scientific evidence exists, or does not exist, as to
whether organic foods are actually better; and what consumers can do
to make up their own mind as to the veracity of organic foods.
Listen to the program at:
International Conference on Cassava
This is a preliminary information on the upcoming meeting on cassava
Location: Brasilia or Africa
Tentative date: 1st-5th December, 2006
Themes Cassava breeding as for
1. cassava breeding and food security in Africa subsahara
2. Management of cassava reproduction system
3. Cassava polyploidization and chimera production: an old method for
4. Cassava genetic resources: the wild and the indigenous ones
5. Enriching Cassava contents
For more details kindly contact with
Prof. Nagib Nassar [ mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ]email@example.com
Dr Rodomiro Ortiz [ mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ]email@example.com