Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





October 12, 2004


Universities Oppose Anti-GM Bill; Politics & Perils of Precaution; Father of Rice Revolution; Organic Food Placebo; Allergy-Free or Hypoallergenic; Hawaii Democrats Against GM


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 12, 2004

* Largest Univ. System Opposes California's Anti-GMO Initiatives
* GMOs and the Politics (Perils) of Precautionary Principle
* The Father of Rice Revolution: Dr Gurdev Singh Khush
* You Have to Be Green to Swallow the Organic Food Myth
* ... The Organic Food Placebo
* Allergy-Free or Hypoallergenic Soybean?
* Hawaii Democratic Party Passes Resolution Against GM

The Biotechnology Program of the Nation's Largest University System Opposes California's Anti-GMO Initiatives

The 23-campus California State University system-wide biotechnology program (CSUPERB) opposes the anti-GM initiatives in Butte, San Luis Obispo, Humboldt, and Marin counties that would prohibit the cultivation of biotech crops. These initiatives narrowly and selfishly serve the purposes of the anti-biotech community by attempting to prohibit the cultivation of biotech crops that have been proven to be beneficial to agriculture in general, and farmers and the environment in particular.

The United States has well-established science-based regulatory requirements that assure the food and feed and environmental safety of biotech crops. Indeed, extensive safety data have been generated for each specific biotech crop and U.S. and international regulatory agencies have granted regulatory approvals. Most importantly, no case has been documented of harm to humans, animals, or the environment from any of the biotech crops currently being marketed.

The Institute of Food Technologists, the nonprofit scientific society with 28,000 members working in food science, approves of the current system of regulating biotech foods. The highly respected American Dietetic Association approves of biotech foods as well.

Crops improved through biotechnology are responsible for increased agricultural production and crop values and decreased farmer costs, with cost-saving estimates exceeding $2 billion to farmers in 2003. Because California farmers compete in a worldwide market, where lower production costs are the norm, it is important that our farmers have the best crop production technologies available to them. Biotechnology has allowed California farmers to lower their cost of production thereby increasing net return on the sale of their crops.

Making the propagation of biotech crops illegal in a county would likely result in farmers growing them illegally to ensure they reap the same economic and environmental rewards of farmers in adjacent counties. Around the world, farmers desire and in some cases demand the benefits that can come from the improved biotech varieties. For example, large numbers of Brazilian farmers smuggled in biotech soybean seeds even though Brazilian courts held up their use despite governmental approval. In India, extensive precommercialization field trials of biotech cotton found average yield increases of 80% along with a 68% reduction in insecticide use. In 2002, Indian farmers saw the value of biotech cotton and planted 25,000 acres of biotech cotton prior to government approval.

Importantly, biotech crops that are resistant to certain specific insect pests have allowed farmers to dramatically reduce the use of highly toxic, broad-spectrum insecticides. It has been reported that the adoption of eight current biotech cultivars resulted in a 46 million pound reduction in pesticide use in 2001.

The use of herbicide tolerant biotech crops has resulted in farmers switching from older generation herbicides -- many of which have become water contaminants -- to newer, cleaner, more environmentally benign herbicides. In fact, in watersheds where herbicide tolerant crops have been grown, studies have shown a decrease in ground and surface water contamination by these older herbicides. The concept is evident: If a water-contaminating herbicide is not used -- in favor of the new, safer herbicide - then it doesn't have the opportunity to leach into our water resources.

Plant biotechnology will provide answers to many of California's toughest agriculture problems. Farmers all know that water is a precious commodity in California. Many of our agriculture areas have salt levels so high that crops cannot grow. Crops that use less water, that can grow in salty soil, and that use fertilizer more efficiently all are promising techniques that will improve productivity and protect the environment of California agriculture lands. We expect to see all of these ideas commercialized in the near future.

What would happen if Pierce's disease were to break out in a county where biotech is banned? Would grape producers be prohibited from planting disease-resistant strains developed through biotechnology? A Pierce's disease task force appointed by the University of California Extension is convinced that disease resistance through biotechnology will provide the only long-term protection for grapes.

CSUPERB believes in the value and promise of plant biotechnology. CSU campuses across the state, including Cal State Chico, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Cal State Humboldt, have all invested in and resourced for this science. CSU have laboratories and field research farms committed to further refining crop technologies and ensuring that our students are on the cutting edge of the best agriculture production methods. We have hundreds of student's statewide who are studying plant biotechnology. These students are some of the most highly sought CSU graduates.

In August of this year, the CSUPERB Faculty Consensus Group with 60 representatives from the 23 campuses met in Los Angeles and passed the following statement:

"Science is the driving force behind innovation and technology advancement and has been a key driver for California's agricultural success. As deans, administrative heads and research scientists in the California State University System, we are alarmed by the extent of incomplete information and false statements regarding agricultural biotechnology that are prevalent in California today.

There is no credible scientific evidence to question the health and environmental safety of approved, commercial biotech crops, yet opponents of agricultural biotechnology routinely challenge their safety. More than 7 million farmers in 18 countries planted a total of 167.2 million acres in 2003, up 15 percent from 2002. Countries with more than one-half the world's population now are utilizing biotech crops in their agricultural systems. We have a fundamental responsibility to the communities we serve to provide factual information that is understandable and informative so that the public can make informed decisions about agricultural biotechnology.

There is an immediate and critical need for accurate information on both the critical role that new technologies have played in improving food production over the past century of American agriculture, and on the extensive scientific knowledge base supporting the food, feed and environmental safety of biotechnology-derived crops and foods, as well as the economic, health and environmental and benefits to farmers and consumers around the world. Only with this information and in this context can consumers, legislators, and other decision makers separate fact from fiction when confronted by sensational risk allegations made by groups that oppose biotechnology-derived crops.

We recognize that some Californians from various walks of life are skeptical about the safety of potential impacts of agricultural biotechnology - even though these crops have been rigorously examined according to state, federal and internationally accepted methods and standards. Confidence in food and environmental safety is achieved through rigorous and comprehensive testing programs. Biotechnology-derived crops are among the most extensively tested, well characterized, and regulated food, feed and fiber products ever developed.

All commercial biotech crops have been thoroughly assessed for human and animal health and environmental safety and have been found to be wholesome, nutritious, and as safe as conventional crops, food and feed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, where the plant produces a pesticidal material, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Notwithstanding nearly two decades of extensive governmental, academic and industry oversight, not a single instance of actual harm to health, safety or the environment has ever been confirmed for any biotechnology-derived crop placed on the market. Just last week, the United States National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine published a report stating, "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."

We are committed to work jointly with local, state and federal government agencies and institutions to provide a strong foundation of information for sound decision making based on knowledge and reason. We are confident that together we can better serve the interests of Californians and ensure that we continue to pursue the most effective and safe technologies, which could include GMO's, for enhancing human health, farming, food quality and the environment."

---- CSUPERB is a multi-campus program created in 1987 designed to channel system-wide resources and catalyze interdisciplinary, inter-campus, synergistic endeavors involving Biology and Chemistry departments as well as Engineering, Agriculture and Computer Sciences. The interdisciplinary nature of biotechnology includes areas such as bioengineering; agricultural biotechnology; human pharmaceutical and health applications; environmental and natural resource biotechnology; molecular ecology; marine biotechnology; and bioinformatics and the computational sciences as they are applied to molecular questions. CSUPERB also recognizes basic research in the chemical and molecular and cellular life sciences as the underpinning of biotechnology.

--- Contact Person: A. Stephen Dahms, Ph.D., Executive Director, CSUPERB, 619-594-2822, sdahms@sciences,sdsu.edu


GMOs and the Politics (Perils) of Precautionary Principle

- Shanthu Shantharam, BioSpectrum (India), October 4, 2004

Luddites will never tell the public that world scientific and medical community has wholeheartedly endorsed the technology and GM crops as safe or that GM crops have undergone hundreds and thousands of tests the world over.

The precautionary principle as applied to GMOs today in Europe under duress from the Greens is a classic case of the choicest abuse of a well-intentioned scientific approach to managing known risks. Asian anti-GMO groups are borrowing this same tactic to keep GM crops out of bounds in their countries much to the peril of their own agricultural development. Which sane person can argue against age old nuggets of wisdom like "be safe", "better be safe than sorry", "take caution", and "be careful". We all give these gems of advice to each other all the time whether one listens to them or not.

The opponents of GM crops would have you believe that we really know next to nothing about the effects of GM crops on human health and the environment as they have not been tested sufficiently or properly by their purveyors. Unless all uncertainties are answered in the affirmative they say that GM crops should not be allowed into the market place. Luddites will never tell the public that world scientific and medical community has wholeheartedly endorsed the technology and GM crops as safe or that GM crops have undergone hundreds and thousands of tests the world over.

Even in India, the Bt-cotton underwent almost seven years of testing before it was approved for commercialization. Ordinary (read gullible!) public would get certainly alarmed and will immediately agree to the proposition to ban or carry out more tests until one is sure that GMOs are absolutely and unequivocally safe. Little does the public know that this "scare mongering" by the anti-GMO lobby is just a diversionary tactic to block the development of biotechnology applications and a mere proxy for the Luddite mentality that has been largely imported from the European Greens into Asian countries by their local compatriots. It is really appalling how these kinds of scare tactics are delaying biotechnology transfer to developing countries of Asia and Africa to the peril of honest and good agriculture development.

The 1992 Rio Declaration defines Precautionary Principle thus: where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. But, what is being pushed in the GMO arena is to use highly speculative risks of GMOs to ban them and stop new developments in the area of agricultural biotechnology.

Despite having no meaningful scientific evidence of unmitigated or irreversible harm by GMOs and despite the safe use of GMOs since 1996, the activists groups led by the European Greens are demanding a complete ban as they are not convinced that they are or can be safe. Anti-GM activists are totally dishonest as they refuse to recognize that all human activities carry certain degree of inherent risks and that if we can identify them and manage them far more benefits can be derived by the society.

By invoking the Precautionary Principle sensu stricto, its advocates are raising the regulatory standards bar all over the world making it prohibitively expensive to field test and commercialize GM crops. Most of the developing country governments are succumbing to this scare tactic and are indeed raising the regulatory review standards under pressure from the activist groups. This misguided biotechnology regulatory policy in the developing world is going to cost dearly in terms of missed opportunities. It is nobody's case not to have any proper regulatory oversight for introducing GMOs, but it is one that should be commensurate with scientifically assessed risks.

The fact that the world has decided to have case-by-case review of GM crops before commercialization is an eminent instance of the application of "Precautionary Approach". One can realistically assess the risks by comparing to an unmodified counterpart of GMO in question and knowledge from centuries of experience growing such crops in different parts of the world. Literally thousands of risk assessment documents have been written for tens and thousands of field tests that have been conducted all over the world to clearly demonstrate that GM crops have no more or less adverse or significant impact on the environment than any other conventional crop.

Major scientific academies of the world have come to the same conclusion and have put out long term monitoring advisory to identify any unidentified effects or impacts in the future. European Union spent almost 80 million euros on risk assessment research for more than a decade and a half to come to the same conclusion. There must be at least half a dozen medical associations in North America and Europe that have recommended that GM foods are safe. The Union of German Academies of Science and Humanities (Germany is strongly opposed to GMOs) was the latest to put out a similar scientific advisory that GM crops and foods are as safe as their conventional counterparts and in some instances superior and safer. 350 million Americans are serving as guinea pigs by consuming GM foods for almost a decade now without a single body bag being counted.

Yet there is this constant refrain from the anti-GM lobby that all that these respected credible scientific bodies are saying is unbelievable and the regulatory authorities must demand more stringent tests for a long period fo time (I have even heard from some NGOs that they should test it for patently absurd period of 50 to 100 years) before allowing it to be commercialized. That is Precautionary Principle for them. They want ironclad guarantee that absolutely nothing happens to the environment and public health by the consumption of GMOs even after 100 years. Can any self-respecting scientist give such a guarantee? I think not. Then they say see science does not know everything which is true, but at least is engaged in its quest to unearth the truth based on experimentally verifiable facts.

Their lobbying efforts are working in ever so many insidious ways to create new non-scientific barriers like ban on releasing GMOs into centers of origin and diversity and creating absurd and impractical "GM free" zones to protect biodiversity sanctuaries. GM free zones are absurd because GMOs have already got mixed up around the world and they do not recognize any sanctuaries and it is not necessary. GMOs are not an epidemic like plague or cholera. If it is impractical to have GM free zones, then they say, don't introduce GM crops at all. That is an indirect way of getting the technology banned.

No one has drawn up an even a single plausible scenario of how a transfer of a transgene from GM crops to wild and weedy relatives would destroy biodiversity, yet! But, the relentless scare mongering continues. They cite the infamous Oxaca, Mexico case where certain Mexican maize land races having been "polluted" or "contaminated" by Bt-Maize. They refuse to acknowledge that Mexican peasants have for centuries preserved those fragile land races by crossing whatever races or lines of maize possible, a method known as "Creolilization", a wanton case of "genetic contamination" (another non-existent scientific term).

By the way, the Mexican maize land races have not evaporated due to the out-crossing of the Bt gene. Now this same absurd theory is being invoked in Asia to prevent introduction of GM rice ostensibly to protect rice biodiversity. Surely, ancient and other traditional low yielding varieties of rice and other cultivated crops have disappeared from farmer's fields not because of extinction, but because of simple economics. But, those traditional varieties have all been collected and stored in germplasm collections all over the world both for posterity and for future use. Expert rice breeders and agronomists would tell you that any cross between cultivated rice and rice wild or weedy relatives will result in such unfit hybrids that they have no chance of survival. The common sense question to ask is: how is that in these fifty or more years of introducing high yielding rice and hybrid rice that the rice biodiversity (not to be confused with on-farm agro-biodiversity) has not destroyed or reduced rice biodiversity in the centers of origin and diversity? China has been growing GM soybean for a decade and its soybean diversity has not been affected. Here the point is not to protect biodiversity, but the point is to stop GM technology.

No one will disagree that modern agriculture has caused enormous environmental impact (some good and some bad, perhaps more good!) because wherever man started to cultivate plants; he had to clear the land (destruction of the habitat!). But, we have come a long way since man started agriculture and there is no going back to being hunters and gatherers and certainly, organic farming is not going to feed the masses that will be equally environmentally disastrous (not to speak of its health impacts) if not more.

A clear distinction must be made between "Precautionary Principle" and Precautionary Approach". The world has decided to regulate products of agricultural biotechnology and GM crops and is doing so. One can argue about how good or effective these regulations are in different parts of the world. But, to suggest that GM crops are dangerous and untested is being blatantly deceptive and unnecessarily creating scare. It is simply clear that anti-GM activist's sole purpose is to maintain their activism against GM crops for the sake of their own survival by involving a scientific sounding Precautionary Principle, which has nothing to do with either biosafety or environmental safety. It is self-interest, bad science and misuse of good science that are profoundly influencing regulatory policies around the world.

"Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution" by Henry Miller and Greg Conko is a brilliant expose on the politicization (conspiracy!) of technology to kill it in its infancy. The fact of the matter is that the benefits of biotechnology are far greater than the risks that have been identified so far and it would be a crime to deny it to those who need it most. There is something known as excessive caution, which can undermine scientific and technological advancement and derail economies. Already trade restrictions are creeping in the GMO commodities based on restrictive Precautionary Principle and it will hurt both the producers and consumers. Governments must avoid seeking the utopian GMO free world; instead exercise common-sense (which is what science is after all!) approach to risk assessment and management based on best possible scientific evidence to usher in sustainable development and progress.

We all want safety and we all want our environment to be safe more now than ever before. But, by propagating falsehoods and scare mongering, the anti-GM activists are perpetrating the worst possible crime on humanity by denying the most tested of all agricultural technology products. GM crops and foods are safer than adulterated, pesticide laced and vermin infested foods that are sold in many parts of Asia. We all want all foods to be safe, GM or no-GM. If one is fair, precautionary principle must be applied to the existing food supply and then we all know that all of us have to stop eating whatever we are eating. We should thank our stars that the present day anti-GM Luddites were not around when man started using fire. Otherwise, can you imagine being part of a fireless world and a cold civilization!

The venerable Norman Borlaug recently wrote, "Although we must be prudent in assessing new technologies, these assessments must not be based on overly conservative or overtly inaccurate assumptions or be swayed by anti-business, anti-establishment, ant-globalization agendas of a few activists, or by the self interest of bureaucrats. They must be based on good science and good sense. It is easy to forget that science offers more than a body of knowledge and a process for adding a new knowledge. It tells us not only the limits of what we know but also what we don't know. It identifies areas of uncertainty and offers an estimate of how great and critical that uncertainty is likely to be."

Everyone must recognize that the modern day environmental movement for raising global awareness about the state of the air and water quality and destruction of the habitat as the most profound cause of loss of biodiversity. The need of the hour is to adopt technologies that can solve those environmental problems and not give into ant-GM propaganda and save humanity and the environment. The real unfortunate part of this anti-GM movement is that it is being imported into Asia and Africa blindly and sometimes not so blindly by the compatriots of the European greens just for the sake of maintaining their activism without checking the realties of their own situation.

Dr. Shanthu Shantharam is the President of a biotechnology affairs consulting firm, Biologistics International in Maryland, USA.


The Father of Rice Revolution: Dr Gurdev Singh Khush

- N Suresh, BioSpectrum (India), October 5, 2004

Dr Khush is one of the global leaders on crop breeding and a major brain behind the development of productive rice varieties and the Green Revolution in plant breeding. Born in the village of Rurkee in Punjab, this son of a farmer finished his Bachelor of Science from Punjab Agriculture University and went to University of California, Davis, to do his PhD. He in fact worked as a laborer in a canning factory in England to earn his money to go to America. At the age of 25, Dr Khush completed his PhD in genetics in less than three years after joining the University of California. In 1967, Dr Khush joined the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila and he was there till 2000 and since the past few years he has been with University of California, Davis, as adjunct professor.

Dr Khush, who joined the IRRI after postdoctoral studies on tomato breeding, became principal plant breeder and head of the Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biochemistry Division, and took IRRI to the vanguard of developing 300 new rice varieties and trigger the green revolution in Asia. Dr Khush may not be a household name. But his rice varieties touch the lips of every person in Asia. In the last 35 years, he and his team at IRRI in Manila introduced several varieties like IR8, IR36, IR64 and IR72. IRRI rice varieties and their progenies are planted in over 70 percent of the world's rice-fields. The rice production around the world in 1966 was close to 257 million tonnes and today it has increased to over 700 million tonnes. Thanks to Dr Khush and IRRI.

In less than five years of joining IRRI, Dr Khush became the head of IRRI's plant breeding department and had developed his own new variety of "miracle rice", IR36. This was developed using IR8 as a genetic base and cross breeding it with 13 parent varieties from six nations. IR36 is a semi-dwarf variety that proved highly resistant to a number of the major insect pests and diseases. Further, IR36 matures rapidly in about 105 days compared to 130 days for IR8 and 150-170 days for traditional types and produces a slender grain that is preferred in many Asian countries. The combination of these characteristics soon made IR36 one of the most widely planted food crop varieties the world has ever known. However, it was not an easy acceptance though. According to Dr Khush the farmers were initially skeptical about IRRI's new grain varieties. It took almost 25 years for Dr Khush's rice initiative to see excellent results. The rice production doubled to 518 million tonnes in 1990. According to IRRI estimates, IR36 has added about 5 million tonnes of rice annually to Asia's food supply and accounts for an additional $1 billion yearly income to Asian farmers. IR64 later replaced IR36 as the world's most popular variety and IR72, released in 1990, became the world's highest-yielding variety.

In 1994, Dr Khush announced a new type of "super rice", which has the potential to increase yields by 25 percent. His final work on what is called the New Plant Type (NPT) for irrigated rice fields is complete. Developing NPT almost took 12 years and the plants were yielding strongly in temperature areas of China and are expected to be ready for farmers in tropical Asia in 2005. It is a complete redesign of the rice plant from the roots up, making it higher yielding, more vigorous, and better able to resist pests and diseases without the use of environmentally damaging pesticides. It is designed to yield up to 12 tonnes per hectare in irrigated tropical conditions, but adjusting its genetic characteristics to match tastes and environment conditions.

"When Gurdev Khush first started to develop rice varieties 34 years ago, there were few countries in Asia with the research infrastructure to work with him to adapt new varieties to local conditions," said former IRRI director general and ex-officio member Ronald P Cantrell in one of the Annual General Meetings. "But now, almost every Asian nation has some level of agricultural research capacity." Because of this, Asian countries have been able to feed their growing populations and, for the most part, maintain peace and stability. "The true Asian miracle through the 1970s and 1980s wasn't stunning economic growth. It was keeping people fed and societies relatively stable," Dr Cantrell said, "And now, with the new plant type ready for farmers' fields, we are hopeful of being able to maintain this level of progress."

Dr Khush is one of the most decorated scientists in the world, winning the Japan prize in 1987, the World Food Prize in 1996, the Wolf Prize from Israel and the Padma Shri Award from the government of India in 2000, and the China International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award for 2001. The World Food Prize, widely regarded as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for agriculture, is awarded by the World Food Prize Foundation based at Des Moines (USA), which he won for his contribution to "advancing human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of the world's food supply." It cited that the increased availability of rice has not only lowered costs to consumers but also enhanced the nutrition of millions of people. Caloric intake in almost all Asian nations has improved. For example, caloric intake in Indonesia increased from 81 percent of the daily requirement in 1965 to 120 percent in 1990. And all of this happened while the population of rice consumers was growing by more than two percent annually, and the availability of rice production land remained stable.

"GM Crops Can Contribute In Several Ways," asserts Dr Gurudev S Khush

The BioSpectrum series on Biotech Gurus continues with Dr Khush who has joined the pantheon of eminent scientists from India who have made the world their home. Dr Khush was in Bangalore as a keynote speaker at Bangalore Bio in July this year. N Suresh and Ch. Srinivas Rao caught up with him to know the importance of bioagri products. Excerpts from the interview.

How important are GM crops? I think GM crops can contribute in several ways. One is in introducing durable resistance to diseases and insects. That's very important and that's where the progress has been made until now. The second area is developing the crops, with drought tolerance and salinity tolerance and what we call the tolerance to abiotec stresses. Thirdly, GM crops can contribute to the improvement of the nutritional quality like improvement of vitamin A, iron and zinc content. The fourth area is the improvement in the yield potential. This is going to be the most difficult. So the progress is more in diseases and insect resistance crops, the drought tolerance is coming and in the nutritional content, we have the vitamin A rich rice and the yield potential is going to come later.

But there is stiff opposition to GM crops ... I think it is just that the public has been so much confused with this anti-GM propaganda. They don't look at things in the right perspective and the average people read the information and cannot understand and sort out the science of the GMOs. So the public is generally confused. But if you see the records, there are 67 million hectares of transgenic crops grown world over and they have been consumed. Nobody has even had a stomach ache and nobody has had an adverse effect. So my answer is they should be properly regulated, biosafety tests done properly for food safety and environmental safety and if they are found to be safe, then we should go ahead and release these crops and consume them.

How can the industry counter this opposition? If you are worried about the risk, then you can't release any technology. Why are you driving cars? Anybody can get killed on the roads. If you are worried, you can't release any pharmaceutical. How do we know what this pharmaceutical can do after 20 years? We may sometimes find that one of these pharmaceuticals had some side effects. If you think of any technology, which has happened in the last 20 years, nothing could have been released if we did not take the risk.

How can the industry get this message across to the public? This is a problem. I am going to say a few words on that. There was a meeting at the Royal Society and they invited some people from the media, from science groups and from NGOs and the feeling was that the scientists should be more proactive and that they should talk to the media and the media should give out the right kind of information. So, I think, we have to get this idea across as most of the general public is confused about this. The scientists must develop skills to communicate with the media and public. The public must be able to recognize how scientific process takes place and understand relative risks. The governments should be involved in regulating the application of science but should not be a stumbling block.

Is the opposition to GM crops largely because the crops have been released mostly by giant multinational companies rather than public companies? I think the agenda of the anti-GM group is to go against all this and criticize it whether it is released by the public sector groups or the private sector. So I don't think that's going to make too much of a difference.

What are the major challenges facing both global and Indian agriculture? The challenge for the Indian agriculture is to produce more food. Although, we seem to be in a good shape now, you see there are 250 million people who go to bed hungry everyday. If they have the purchasing power, then we will have a shortage of the food situation. And our population is increasing at a fast pace. We are adding 18 million people every year. So the food production must continue to increase at about the same rate. Otherwise we will run into problems that we had in the 1950s and 1960s. Further investments in irrigation has virtually ceased and good land is being lost to industrialization. If present trends continue, it will not be possible to meet future demand for food.

GM crops will be helpful here. We can use both conventional methods as well as the biotechnology. Both should be used, wherever there is application. Globally there is a lot of work going on. The food security seems to be adequate. Only developing countries have some problem but most of the European countries have got good food security.

What is the status of the global agricultural production? It has slowed down. It's not as good as in the 1970s and the 1980s. The rice grain and wheat were increasing at the rate of 2.5 percent in the 1970s, by 1980s this was down to 2 percent and in the 1990s it was down to 1 percent and it is now 1percent or less than 1 percent. So the rate of increase has declined primarily because the steam out of the green evolution has run out.


You Have to Be Green to Swallow the Organic Food Myth

- Dick Taverne, Times (UK), Reposted on October 9, 2004 at

The Soil Association called yesterday for schools to provide organic meals. If you think this sounds wholesome, you are conning yourself. Every TV chef and lifestyle magazine tells us that organic food tastes better and is safer than other food. Supermarkets promote it and the Government subsidises farmers to grow it. Britain would, we are told, be healthier and our countryside would once again prosper if only we all went organic.

In fact the craze for organic food is built on myth. It starts with a scientific howler, has rules with neither rhyme nor reason, none of the claims made for it have ever been substantiated and if it grows, it will damage the nation's health.

To start with, the high priests of the organic movement tell us that natural chemicals are good and synthetic chemicals bad. This is utter nonsense. A molecule is a molecule, whether it is made by a synthetic process or a natural one. Many synthetic drugs that kill bacteria are highly beneficial; many natural chemicals are highly poisonous. Arsenic, ricin, aflotoxin are all highly poisonous chemicals found in nature. Yet the supposed superiority of "natural" over synthetic is the rock on which the organic movement is built.

Next, the rules that organic farmers have to follow are a marvel of inconsistency. They allow the use of some pesticides, for example spraying with the toxic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), but the Soil Association, which makes the rules, bitterly opposes using part of the Bt gene in GM crops, although this avoids the need to spray. In fact, Bt spraying kills useful insects that are not pests and so is worse for the environment, whereas a GM crop uses Bt to target specific insects. Again, the use of an inorganic fungicide, copper sulphate, is allowed; more effective, safer fungicides are banned.

But is not organic food safer because it contains fewer pesticide residues? Scares about residues are another myth. As Sir John Krebs, the head of the Food Standards Agency, wrote: "A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic synthetic pesticides in the diet."

Does it taste better? Many people swear it does; but blind tests show no one can tell the difference: the belief is sheer hype. As to biodiversity, a study at Boarded Farms in Essex, comparing like with like, namely the same farmer's organic and non-organic fields, showed that what matters is management. Well-managed conventional farming was no worse for wildlife; indeed a system of integrated farm management was better than organic farming for biodiversity and used less energy and labour.

Every time organic farming claims are objectively examined, they are rejected. When a complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority about Soil Association leaflets claiming that organic food is tastier, healthier and better for the environment, it was upheld and the leaflets had to be withdrawn.

Some argue that it does not matter if such claims are false and organic food costs more, since consumers are willing to pay and organic farmers profit. But it does matter. Since organic fruit and vegetables are more expensive, if organic products take a bigger market share, low-income families -- and children at less well-funded schools -- will eat less fruit and fewer vegetables. They will lose the protection against cancer that a healthy diet provides and more of them will die younger. Cheap food may be a luxury to the prosperous (and vocal) middle classes, but not to the lower paid.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about organic farming is that the Government wants it to expand. We the taxpayers have to pay.

Lord Taverne is chairman of Sense About Science


The Organic Food Placebo

- Richard Gallagher (Editor), The Scientist, Vol. 18, #19, Oct. 11, 2004 (Via Agnet)

Last month my parents threw a party to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. After dinner, dad gave a speech recalling their honeymoon, for which they traveled from Scotland to Port Bou, a village on the France-Spain border squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees. While he was discretely sketchy about certain aspects of the adventure, he vividly described meals as though he'd just eaten them.

Food rationing was just ending in the Britain of 1954. After years of compulsory restriction, people were free again to indulge in meat, butter, sugar, eggs, and white bread. This probably helps explain why his memories of those dinners were so clear.

But the availability of food and contemplation of its pleasures have always been important for one reason or another. These days, for the relatively affluent--which includes many readers of The Scientist but, sadly, not the majority of our fellow human beings--food obsession is reflected in the polarized attitudes towards organic foodstuffs.

I find myself at the same pole as Dick Taverne. A peer in the British House of Lords, Taverne has enjoyed a long career in politics, the law, business, and lobbying, so he's no stranger to a good lunch. He characterizes the organic food movement as a massive con trick: "...the craze for organic food is built on myth. It starts with a scientific howler, has rules with neither rhyme nor reason. None of the claims made for it have ever been substantiated, and if it grows it will damage the nation's health."1

The "scientific howler" in question is that "natural" chemicals are good and synthetic chemicals bad.

Are organic foods safer? No. While foods can be unsafe for any number of reasons, normal farming procedures are perfectly safe. The head of the UK Food Standards Agency has written: "A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic synthetic pesticides in the diet."

Well how about taste? No again. Blind tests show no difference in taste between organic and inorganic foods. Given all this, how has the organic movement become so successful? Why have so many been taken in?

We now have our answer: the placebo effect writ large.

In retrospect, the clues have been around for a while. Consider this consumer's quote from CNN Student News, a TV program for classrooms: "You feel healthy shopping [for organic foods]. You are rewarding yourself both mentally and physically by eating healthy foods. It's worth the cost in the long run."2

The anecdotes were borne out by a recent supermarket-commissioned poll, which revealed that, yes, simply making the choice to buy organic food can induce a sense of well-being. According to the BBC, "One nutritionist says people feel [that] organic food can even boost emotional and mental health, increasing their sense of well-being and optimism when they choose the food they think is healthier."3

While Taverne, others, and myself at least have our explanations for what appears to be silliness on the grandest scale, the discovery that the benefit of organic food is a figment of consumers' imagination doesn't seem to have broken the charm.

Should we tell them?

--- References 1. D. Taverne, "You have to be green to swallow the organic food," Foreign Dispatches, available online at reti.blogspot.com/2003/10/more-organic-food-nonsense.html 2. M. McManus, "Organic foods get a boost," CNN Student News, available online at cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/2002/fyi/news/04/15/organic.foods 3. "Buying organic 'gives you boost,'" BBC News, available online at news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3627026.stm

Allergy-Free or Hypoallergenic Soybean?

- Robert Derham, Checkbiotech, October 12, 2004

Towards the end of September, Dr. Ted Hymowitz and researcher Leina Mary Joseph of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign revealed that they had uncovered a significant stone in the world of soybean research--a soybean variety that lacked a protein that caused allergic reactions. However, Dr. Hymowitz called the variety "hypoallergenic," but the media called it "allergy-free"-who was right?

In general, what researchers say is technically correct, but they have a tendency to use words that are not often used in daily conversations. Although society has a growing familiarity with the term "hypoallergenic" since it is often used in connection with bottles of make-up, or written on the tags of pillows, many still incorrectly assume it to mean allergy-free. Such was probably the case with an Associated Press (AP) article from the 29th of September. It called Dr. Hymowitz's discovery an "allergy-free" soybean.

As Dr. Ricki M. Helm, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arkansas noted, "A soybean lacking P34 is not an allergy-free soybean variety as stated in the (AP) article. A number of seed proteins have been identified in soybeans that become bound to IgEs and are assumed to condition an allergic reaction. These include the 7S, 11S, soybean trypsin inhibitor and others in addition to P34."

In fact Dr. Helm is most correct. Soybeans have sixteen identified proteins that can give rise to allergic responses, and Dr. Hymowitz' discovery lacks only one of the sixteen. However even with such a high number of allergic proteins, Dr. Helm confirmed that, "Individuals with soy allergy represent less than 0.5% of the population. It is important that a more thorough search of the literature, as well advice from professionals in the field of allergy, is checked for accuracy before statements such as this are published."

Dr. Helm's disappointment again refers to the AP article that reported that 6-8% of children and 1-2% of adults experience allergies to soybeans, to which Dr. Helm replied, "The statement refers to 6-8% of children and 1-2% of adults who have any form of food allergy," not soybean allergies. However as noted, only around 0.5% of Americans have some form of soybean allergy, to which symptoms range from skin, gastrointestinal, and respiratory reactions to severe systemic reactions including anaphylaxis.

Many might think that they have never eaten soybeans before, and the assumption is understandable since soybeans are rarely found in a produce sections in a store, and less often on the dinner plate. However soybean products are quickly becoming the most ubiquitous ingredient used in processed foods. They might appear under the ingredients as a texturizer, emulsifier, or protein filler--all of which can refer to soybean products.

Allergy-free or Hypoallergenic Calling the soybean variety hypoallergenic is actually correct. It means the soybean is less allergenic. Although the soybean has sixteen identified proteins that can lead to allergic responses, three of the sixteen account for the vast majority of allergic reactions. Of the major three, P34 is leader. It accounts for 65% of all soybean allergies. Thus even though Dr. Hymowitz's discovery is not allergy-free, it is still extremely significant.

In order to produce a truly allergy-free soybean plant, researchers would have to eliminate all the 16 known allergy-producing proteins, called allergens that are found in soybeans. Each protein in an organism has a function, some more important than others. In some cases, organisms have back-up systems that can carry out a function, even if a protein is eliminated from the organism. In other cases, the loss of a protein might not be significant enough to harm the overall health of an organism.

With this in mind, some researchers have been successful in removing one or two proteins from a plant, but in the case of soybeans, researchers would need to remove at least 16 proteins to produce a real allergy-free soybean. In other words, do not get your hopes up.

More at http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=newsletter&topic_id=1&subtopic_id=2&doc_id=8821

GMO Resolution Passed During the 2004 Democratic State Convention of the State of Hawaii

- Democratic Party (Hawai'i); Forwarded by Drew Kershen

REGULATION of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)

Whereas, Hawai'i Senate Bill 726 (1993) stipulates that environmental assessment is a prerequisite for introduction of genetically modified organisms in the State of Hawai'i, and

Whereas, genetically modified organisms and crops have been introduced to the State of Hawai'i through research at the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center as well as through seeds sold commercially without the stipulated environmental assessment, and,

Whereas, wind, birds and insects carry the pollen of genetically modified crops onto adjacent areas, altering non-modified crops, including certified organically grown crops and heirloom seed species, and

Whereas, farmers specializing in organic, non-GMO produce lose their certification if their crops are contaminated by genetically engineered organisms, and

Whereas, instead of being held liable for damages incurred by encroaching upon the neighboring crops, biotech companies are suing neighboring farmers for theft of intellectual property, thereby bankrupting the neighboring farmers, and

Whereas, citing risks to public health, the environment and the agricultural economy, many countries including those in the Common Market, and Australia, prohibit the importation, cultivation and testing of biotech produce and food products, and other countries, including India, are now considering similar measures, and

Whereas, biotech genes are created by inserting genes from other species by means of viruses, creating not only new species whose effect on the entire environment is unknown and in some instances has already found to be detrimental, but mutations in viruses that might never have occurred in billions of years, which could result in widespread epidemics involving enormous suffering and loss of life, and

Whereas, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended the formation of community review boards to monitor genetically modified crops and their impact, and

Whereas, the State of Hawai'i has allowed more field testing of biotech crops than any other state in the nation, and

Whereas, Hawai'i's native ecosystems are already challenged by invasive species to the point that many native plants and animals are close to extinction, and many are already extinct, therefore

Whereas, biotech breakthroughs of GMO plants are developing faster than studies can be done to confirm safety to health, agriculture and the environment, and

Whereas, the great deal of uncertainty regarding long term possibly irreversible effects of GMO crops mandates the use of the precautionary principle: All products are presumed to be ineffective and toxic until empirical data proves (on a case by case basis) otherwise, and

Whereas, regulatory agencies are not requiring adequate safety data from these industries prior to marketing or field trials and therefore there are no incentives for industry to sponsor safety studies, and Whereas, there is a serious potential for, and appearance of, conflict of interest among industry, regulatory agencies and university departments receiving industry research grants. Potential benefits may be overstated and potential risks downplayed, and

Whereas, there is an urgent need for coordination among federal, state and county agencies (health, agriculture and environment) to examine, learn and agree on the truth about GM crops. Once should not let industry set policy, and

Whereas, as in other areas of health, agriculture and environment local decisions pre-empt federal ones if they are more conservative (following the precautionary principle), now therefore,

Be it resolved, that Regulatory agencies be established at both the state and country levels similar to federally mandated FDA hospital Institutional Review Boards t evaluated the safety of each independent genetic modification. No member of the Review Board shall have conflict of interest in the technology being evaluated. The Review board shall include representatives from environmental organizations and the Hawai'i Organic Farmers Association. the Review Board shall:

1) Establish guidelines for safety as related to health (occupational and community), environment and agriculture 2) Approve/reject all GM crops to be planted in communities 3) Establish a community monitoring board in each county (also with no conflict of interest) to monitor the impact of field grown genetically modified organisms. 4) Enforce regulations and required safety procedures; and

Be it further resolved, that state and county agencies promote examination of GM product safety by: 1) Requiring permit and fees of the research organizations applying for approval that will fund the cost of safety studies, 2) Identifying institutions (including international agencies) without conflict of interest to conduct safety assessments, 3) Insuring that regulatory boards require adequate safety studies prior to marketing and open field testing, 4) Holding GM companies liable for negative impacts which should have been detected prior to field or market release, 5) Investigating post-marketing complaints of negative impacts associated with GM products 9to facilitate these investigations, labeling of GM products should be required): and

Be It Further Resolved that all open air testing of biotech crops be suspended in the State of Hawai'i until the review board described above is operational; and

Be It Further Resolved that biotech agriculture and manufacture be suspended in the State of Hawai'i to protect our farmers, our Hawai'ian crops and native biota, and our people; and

Be It Further Resolved, that in litigation arising from open air testing of biotech crops that the liability rest with the person or organization responsible for planting the biotech crops in question, as well as with the manufacturer of the biotech seeds; and

Be It Further Resolved, that a community-review board (including representatives from environmental organizations and the Hawai'i Organic Farmers Association) be created in each county to monitor the impact of genetically modified organisms; and

Be It Further Resolved, that the Democratic Party requests that the State of Hawai'i limit public funding of research on biotech crops to research conducted in the confines of enclosed laboratories until approved by the review board; and

Be It Further Resolved that that all genetically engineered foods and food products (such as leavening agents) be clearly marked as such so that consumers know that they are buying; and

Be It Further Resolved that that the Democratic Party of Hawai'i urge the State and Counties to enact legislation that implements this resolution; and

Be It Further Resolved that copies of this resolution be sent to all members of the Hawai'i State Legislature, the County Councils, the Governor of the State of Hawai'i , the County Mayors, and the Hawai'i Congressional Delegation.