Today in AgBioView at www.agbioworld.org; November 9, 2004
* World Hunger Conference
* U.S. Says NAFTA Report on Genetically Modified Corn is "Flawed"
* The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico
* Jeannette Fitzsimmons on peer review
* Bt Cotton
* Pesticides found in 'organic' food
* BYU professor to speak on genetically modified crops
SECOND ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON WORLD HUNGER
University of Maryland, College Park
December 2, 2004
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every night almost 800 million people in the developing world go to sleep hungry, despite the fact that the world's overall food production is sufficient to meet the demands of its population. In addition, approximately 1.2 billion people exist on less than a dollar per day. The total represents nearly one-third of the world's population.
Hunger in the midst of plenty is one of the most difficult development challenges of our time. Aggregate food production continues to increase, yet hunger continues to blight the lives of one-seventh of the world's population.
Consequently, the University of Maryland's Office of International Programs, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), Center for Sustainable Development, and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are holding a second annual one-day conference to address the seriousness of world hunger.
The conference is free, but registration is required.
For a full schedule, list of speakers, directions and registration information available at:
PLEASE RSVP BY NOVEMBER 15.
For more information please call 301-405-7158.
U.S. Says NAFTA Report on Genetically Modified Corn is "Flawed"
- US Embassy (London), 08 November 2004
The U.S. government says a report by an environmental commission of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) regarding genetically modified maize (corn) is "fundamentally flawed and unscientific."
In a November 8 joint statement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the two agencies said key recommendations in the report are "not based on sound science, and are contradicted by the report's own scientific findings."
The two agencies added that "while the report's authors recommend that biotech maize be treated differently from other modern maize hybrids, science tells us the opposite. In fact, the findings of this report echo the prevailing science, supporting our view that biotech maize will have no greater or lesser effect on maize genetic diversity than other modern maize hybrids."
The report is a product of the Secretariat of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The report, entitled "Maize and Biodiversity: The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico," is available on the CEC web site at: http://www.cec.org/pubs_docs/documents/index.cfm?varlan=english&ID=1647
The CEC was established under a "side agreement" to NAFTA to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law.
Following is the text of the joint EPA and USTR statement:
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
OFFICE OF THE U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE
JOINT STATEMENT -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 8, 2004
U.S. Calls NAFTA Environmental Report "Flawed, Unscientific"
Washington, D.C. -- (November 8, 2004) The United States issued the following Administration statement regarding the Secretariat of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) report on genetically modified maize (corn) "Maize and Biodiversity: The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico" released today. The Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Trade Representative issued this joint statement.
"This report is fundamentally flawed and unscientific; key recommendations are not based on sound science, and are contradicted by the report's own scientific findings. The authors acknowledge that no economic analysis of their recommendations was conducted, and that many of these recommendations are based solely on socio-cultural considerations.
"While the report's authors recommend that biotech maize be treated differently from other modern maize hybrids, science tells us the opposite. In fact, the findings of this report echo the prevailing science, supporting our view that biotech maize will have no greater or lesser effect on maize genetic diversity than other modern maize hybrids.
"The report also fails to consider the potential benefits of biotechnology. As the national science academies of Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, China and India noted in a joint report, 'GM technology should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and provide access to food for small-scale farmers.' Biotechnology offers the world enormous opportunities to combat hunger and protect the environment.
"Implementing many of the report's recommendations would cause economic harm to farmers and consumers in all NAFTA countries and restrict international trade. For example, requiring U.S. corn exports to Mexico to be milled at the border would increase the cost of U.S. corn significantly, negatively affecting Mexico's livestock producers and consumers. Milling corn before transport also raises quality concerns and increases shipping costs, exacerbating the problem. Perhaps most troubling, the report itself acknowledges that this and other recommendations would do nothing to preserve maize biodiversity.
"We are disappointed that this report was leaked before the United States, Canada or Mexico had a full opportunity to review it, and that a member of the Advisory Group spoke publicly about the report before its official release. The final report was delivered to the Parties on Sept. 14. We take these issues seriously and have been using the designated 60-day review guideline to develop a thoughtful response which would ensure that the public is fully informed of the nature of the recommendations in this report. Some have suggested the United States sought to delay or obstruct its release. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather the United States and other Parties were simply adhering to the review procedures associated with reports of this nature. While we disagree with many aspects of the report, we believe that our substantive response will set the record straight on this issue."
Comprehensive U.S. comments on the report will be appended to the report upon its release.
The full report is available on the CEC Web site at
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2004 00:36:26 +0100
From: Klaus Ammann -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: The Effects of Transgenic Maize in Mexico: CEC-Report November 8, 2004
A major report on the Mexican maize has been just published:
Report on the Effects of Genetically Modified Maize in Mexico
The full report can be downloaded at: http://www.cec.org/pubs_docs/documents/index.cfm?varlan=english&ID=1647 or http://www.botanischergarten.ch/Mexico/Maize-and-Biodiversity_en.pdf
The CEC Secretariat report is also available in Spanish and French. For more information or assistance in contacting members of the advisory group, contact Spencer Ferron-Tripp.
My comments: Conclusions regarding gene flow and biodiversity are drawn in a very reasonable way. It is especially rewarding to see that socio-cultural matters have been given detailed consideration. Overall, the report is giving a very clear picture about the effects (or better, non-effects) of GM maize on biodiversity in Mexico. Still, several areas of poor or lacking knowledge have been identified and need attention.
The report remains remarkably vague in transgene flow statements: From the circumstances described it seems very likely that transgenes will occur in small amounts, and it is very unlikely that it will be possible to remove them later.
Conclusions related to biodiversity:
1. There is no evidence to suggest that the patterns of inheritance of transgenes in Mexican maize or teosintes differ from their behavior in other organisms, or from the behavior of genes and genetic elements, in general.
2. Neither negative nor positive effects of transgenic maize on the plants and animals occurring with them in Mexican maize fields, or milpas, have been reported; however, specific studies have still to be conducted.
3. The biological characteristics of maize and the teosintes are such that they appear very unlikely to spread into neighboring communities, whether they are transgenic or not. However, the effects of GM maize on target and nontarget insects moving between maize fields in Mexico and adjacent natural communities are unknown.
4. Agriculture, however practiced, reduces the overall level of biodiversity from its pristine condition. It is an open question whether productive, concentrated agriculture affects biodiversity more than dispersed, less intensive and less productive systems.
Conclusions related to gene flow
1. Gene flow between landraces of maize—as well as between landraces and modern varieties—has been demonstrated to occur experimentally and descriptively. All strains of maize, Zea mays subsp. mays, are interfertile and produce fertile progeny.
2. Descriptive studies have demonstrated that gene flow between maize and teosinte occurs, but it is not known how long maize genes persist in teosinte populations after hybridization has occurred in the field. The rate at which crop genes enter teosinte populations may be limited by partial genetic barriers and subsequently by the relative fitness of the hybrids.
3. Gene flow is important in the dynamic process of on-farm (in situ) management of maize genetic resources in Mexico. Mexican farmers often trade seeds, sow mixtures of seeds from different sources, including the occasional modern hybrid variety, and often allow and intend, cross-pollination between different strains to occur when they grow close together. Despite gene flow, farmers are able to select and perpetuate different landraces and cultivars.
Conclusions related to socio-economic matters:
Among numerous other conclusions here No. 4 and 5, which seem to me of utmost importance, if one is determined to save the landraces:
4. Campesinos should be supported in their efforts to protect and preserve the unique biodiversity in Mexican landrace maize. This may involve direct payments to farmers who are willing to sustain their traditional farming operations and adopt breeding practices that preserve landraces in a way that prevents or minimizes the introgression of genes from other sources and localities.
5. A quality assured landrace seed program should be developed. Campesino farmers may submit their own seed and any other materials they intend to use for breeding to labs for investigation of the presence of any GM traits. This measure may also require regional registration of campesino breeders and the development of a management system (which could provide a basis for campesinos protecting their traditional knowledge, creating the base for a differentiated food product). If effective, this would both limit introgression of new transgenes and detect and also allow for the removal of any transgenes currently in campesino seeds.
See also the report of a PEW initiative conference from September 2003:
see also previous Berne Debates on the subject:
With my best personal regards,
Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2004 11:20:08 +1030
From: "Chris Preston"
Subject: Jeannette Fitzsimmons on peer review
I am sure others will have their 2 cents worth on this as well. The discussion of the lack of peer-reviewed publications on the safety of GM foods is an interesting one. It originated with a letter to Science in 2000 by Jose Domingo (Science 288: 1748-1749), where on searching Medline he could only find 8 experimental studies on safety of GM foods. Since then others, have published their own analyses. Ian Pryme and Rolf Lembcke published one in 2003 in Nutrition and Health (Nutrition and Health17, 1-8) that reported 10 peer reviewed studies.
I had a bit of trouble sourcing a copy of this review as Nutrition and Health is not indexed by Current Contents, but I found the abstract on Medline and the full paper from the Soil Association. This latter study has been widely reported by Greenpeace who have taken the added precaution of excluding any studies that have been performed by industry scientists or supported in any way by industry. This is a sure-fire way to keep the number of reported studies small. However, this analysis does not take into account any recognition of how science works. It also conveniently ignores the large number of studies submitted for regulatory approval under the polite fiction that these are not "peer reviewed". They are reviewed by scientists employed by or contracted to the regulatory agencies. On the other hand, Jeannette (and others like her) will be quite happy to cite a large number of "studies" that are published on the internet by anti-GM activists with no peer review, such as the Terje Traavik study on allergies to Bt in the Philippines.
As a practicing scientist, I deal with all ends of the peer review exercise. In my career I have published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers. I typically review about a dozen manuscripts a year and act as an associate editor for a journal. I can tell you that it is difficult to get negative results published. I have published only one paper that reported negative results and that was a close run thing. The only reason it was published was because it addressed failings in an hypothesis being widely expressed at the time. One reviewer of the manuscript did recommend against publication on the basis that my studies showed no differences between treatments. I have lots of other negative results, but they all live in the bottom of my filing cabinet. As a reviewer, I am often asked by Journals about the novelty of the work and I am afraid negative results just just don't cut the mustard as novel.
A secondary issue is corporate funding of such research. I am afraid this is a reality of the World. At my University in Australia, if I don't get outside support for work, it just doesn't get done. So it would be impossible for me to set up a study to examine the safety of GM crops unless somebody was going to fund it. The reality of granting agencies is they would largely see such a study as being outside their terms of reference, unless there was a perceived market failure - that is it was a question not being addressed by industry. However, given the recent furore over GM crops, such attitudes may have softened. Any grant application would also suffer from the perception that the results would be unsurprising (i.e. negative).
As to the two specific points you raised, there has been a lot of discussion among the anti-GM brigade about the safety of Corn MON 863. I don't know who started it, but it is based on an interpretation of a difference in white blood cell, lymphocyte and basophil counts in male, but not female, rats fed the MON 863 corn. The changes were not considered biologically significant because they fell within the range of the standard deviation of the control group. The European Food Safety Authority recently released a press release on MON 863: (http://www.efsa.eu.int/press_room/press_release/669/pr_gmo03_statement_mon863_en1.pdf).
The response of the EFSA to MON 863 corn has been the same as FSANZ, the US FDA and the Canadian authorities among others. Canola GT 73 harmful to rats. This has been raised as an issue primarily by Friends of The Earth. It is based on a selective reading of three studies conducted on rats. This is based on The US FDA Memo regarding GT 200 canola event (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~rdb/bnfm077.html). In the studies submitted some changes in rat weight gain for male rats, but not females, was observed in one study, but not two others. In a second study, an increase in liver weights was observed, but again not in the other two studies. These differences were statistically significant within the studies, but the biological significance is questionable, particularly as the differences were not replicated between experiments. Earlier studies submitted as part of the approval process for Canola GT 73 on rats and trout found no unintended effects (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~rdb/bnfm020.html).
Dr. Christopher Preston
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management
University of Adelaide
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2004 04:24:21 +0000 (GMT)
From: "anand halli"
Subject: Bt Cotton
It is very interesting to know that Bt cotton has significantly contributed to the yields of cotton. It also reduced the use of chemicals to control lepidopteron insects. But, at ground level in parts of Andhra Pradesh (India) where the cotton is grown as major commercial crop, farmers have noticed that Bt gene expression declines after 85-90 days during which the first picking starts. So farmers have been complaining to the seed suppliers that the quality of the seeds is not up to the mark. But as for as I understand once the plant turns woody the expression of the gene tend to come down.
Do the companies working in this direction to solve the problem?
Pesticides found in 'organic' food
- The Dominion Post, 06 November 2004, By LEANNE BELL
Pesticide residues found in "organic" produce have prompted fresh concerns that shoppers are being misled.
The Food Safety Authority says shoppers should be aware that some food sold as "organic" might not be produced organically.
It took 41 samples of "organic" fruit, vegetables and wine from shops and found nine of them – 22 per cent – had pesticide residues.
Residues were found in lettuce, tomatoes and grapes. There was so much residue that they had probably been deliberately sprayed, the food safety watchdog said.
Executive director Andrew McKenzie said the food was not unsafe but it did not comply with the organic standard.
"The sample size is quite small – it's not like a real good scientific study – but it points that there's a bit of a problem."
Consumers could have confidence in food that was certified organic, Mr McKenzie said. "But if it's not certified, you're not quite sure what's going on.
"We never differentiated between certified and non-certified, we just went into shops where the consumer would logically think these things were organic."
The Commerce Commission, the enforcement agency for the Fair Trading Act, is assessing the information before it decides if it should investigate, a spokeswoman says.
Organic certifier BioGro New Zealand criticised the authority's test because it did not distinguish between certified and self-proclaimed organic foods.
Technical director Seager Mason said BioGro did more than 250 pesticide residue tests a year on produce and had not found any residues for five years.
"I'm sure that test is correct but it means nothing about organics if they have selected a product which has an invalid claim of organic on it."
He wanted the Government to beef up the Fair Trading Act to tighten organic labelling. "Or we may need some sort of law to protect that organic label."
Mr Mason advised shoppers to look for food that had organic certification labels as its producers had to meet stringent standards and were regularly audited.
Commonsense Organics managing director Jim Kebbell, chairman of the committee that developed an organics standard for New Zealand, called for the Government to better police the industry. "There will be no end of cheating and fraud till people who are not certified are disqualified from using the word organic," he said.
"We want the Government to regulate in a way that if you're going to call stuff organic, it needs to be certified organic."
Consumers' Institute chief executive David Russell said the authority's test showed that shoppers could never be certain they were buying food truly free of pesticide residues.
BYU professor to speak on genetically modified crops
- BYU Daily Universe, By Marc Fehlberg, 8 Nov 2004
The Korean government has invited a BYU professor to speak in Gyeongju, Korea this month on the development and management of insect resistance against genetically modified crops.
Steven Peck, assistant professor of integrative biology at BYU, will be one of several guest lecturers speaking on the subject of genetically modified crops or transgenic crops at the agricultural conference.
"I think I'm most excited about this conference because it's good to see my work being used to bless people's lives," Peck said. "It's not very often that I get to see my work as a mathematical modeler make a difference in the way people do things."
The use of transgenic crops has become increasingly popular in the United States since the first genetic crops appeared in the U.S. in the early '90s, Peck said.
The most recent development in genetically modified crops is the use of a gene found in bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, he said. Scientists found that a gene in this bacteria is highly poisonous to insects, but not to humans or animals.
"Scientists took the gene from the bacteria and inserted it into many kinds of crops," Peck said. "It made a marvelous insecticide."
Farmers have typically used conventional insecticides to protect their crops. The problem with most insecticides is they are extremely expensive and have harmful effects on the environment.
"It really is an amazing thing," Peck said. "We've essentially made a plant that is poisonous to insects but not to animals or people."
Peck said in addition to being safe for humans and animals, transgenic plants are also environmentally safe because the insecticides do not escape into the environment.
At the conference, Peck will speak specifically on how to keep insects from developing resistance to genetically modified plants.
"The key to the long-term success of using transgenic crops will be proper resistance management," Peck said. "Insects can become resistant to insecticides very quickly."
More than 400 species of insects have developed insecticide resistance, and although transgenic crops hold great promise in controlling pests, the possibility of insects developing resistance to transgenic plants is always a threat.
Peck has developed mathematical computer models that show the most effective ways to use transgenic crops in order to control insect resistance.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has used his models to determine its regulations regarding the use of the new genetic crop technology.
Finding ways to control insect resistance while the technology is relatively new is important in order to sustain genetically modified crops, Peck said.
"Once resistance is observed in the field, it is likely too late to control its spread and the technology will be lost," he said.