Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : November 22, 2004
* Clarification on Jeanette Fitzsimons' Comments
* Organic Tomato and Not So Pepper!
* Golden Wonder - Now Vitamin Rich Potato!
* Technology is Key to Africa's Fight to Avoid Food Deficits
* Farmers Best at Gauging Value of Biotech Crops
* Bt Corn as Best Strategy Needs Additional Context
* ... Bt Corn Effective, Simple Way to Reduce Fumonisin
* Modifying GM Food Perception
* Biotech Companies Need Patents
* Intellectual Property Rights in Living Matter
* FAO Workshop on Biotech
* Biotech Challenges to be Explored In 2005 Forum
Clarification on Jeanette Fitzsimons' Comments
- Chris Preston , University of Adelaide
The purpose of my comments the other day was to point out the
hypocrisy of some anti-GM campaigners in insisting that only
peer-reviewed studies are acceptable if they demonstrate that GM is
safe or useful (and only then if there is no association in any way
with industry), but any study, regardless of peer review, is
acceptable to show GM is dangerous to health or the environment.
I used Traavik's comments about Bt maize in the Philippines as a
classic example of the sort of 'study' published solely on the
Internet, incomplete and with no review, that is frequently claimed
as fact by anti-GM groups. If Ms. Fitzsimons feels I have slighted
her by suggesting she has specifically cited this work, then I
apologise. When I wrote my comments, I was unaware of whether Ms.
Fitzsimons had or had not commented on Traavik's claims about the
Philippines. She had certainly supported some of his other claims
about GE. However, for her to claim "I try to take care to rely on
properly peer reviewed and published sources" is simply nonsense. A
couple of minutes of trundling through her press releases picked up
1. New report explodes GM myths, 18th September 2002.
This press release was about the Soil Association of the UK's
publication "Seeds of Doubt". This publication made a large number of
entirely wrong claims about GM crops in North America, was certainly
not peer reviewed and the authors deliberately ignored any data that
was favourable to GM crops.
2. GE report says Royal Commission advice now dated, 24th September 2003.
This press release regarded a paper written by Prof Peter Wills from
Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics called "Genetic
Engineering: Policy and Science since the Royal Commission: Insoluble
Problems." This paper listed a whole range of impacts of GE crops on
human health and the environment. Some of the claims are correct,
such as "In the past seven years, several weed species have been
found with Roundup resistance" although not of real relevance to the
safety of GE crops per se. Others have yet to be proven "Initial
results from very large farm trials of GE crops conducted in the UK
confirm that there are all sorts of secondary effects generated when
apparently minor genetic modifications are made to plants" In fact,
the differences found were the result of herbicide use rather than
modification of the crop. Again, this paper was not peer reviewed.
3. Green bill would stop NZ being a safe haven for GE pirates, 28th
This press release starts with the grand claim that "Green Co-Leader
Jeanette Fitzsimons says evidence is accumulating that
internationally GE agriculture is an economic disaster." This claim
is certainly not from a peer reviewed source and would be news to the
millions of farmers around the world who are growing GE crops. If GE
crops are such an economic disaster, why does the area and number of
farmers growing them every year continue to rise?
Re: NZ Green Party Leader Responds
- Bob MacGregor
In Lance Kennedy's reply to Jeanette Fitzsimons, he missed noting the
difficulty of publishing negative results. This issue has been
brought up on AgBioView before, but it is worth reiterating. In
general, it is a lot easier to get a paper published if it identifies
some alarming negative effect than if it shows no difference from
conventional product.This makes it unsurprising that there would be
so few peer-reviewed articles showing the safety of GM foods; the
developing company may report these negative results to the relevant
regulatory/licensing agency, but isn't likely to have them routinely
Of course, even if they were published, the opponents would discount
them because of the source....
Organic Tomato and Not So Pepper!
- Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD
Yesterday, I was in my neighborhood Safeway store shopping for weekly
groceries. There is a significant section on organic produce and
looking the increased shelf space for organic produce, I could not
help but notice that organic market must be growing. Good for them!
Somehow, the cost of regular tomatoes has shot up and I was comparing
their price to organic tomatoes. To my surprise, I found that organic
tomatoes were a dollar less per pound than non-organic tomatoes. Just
to cut my costs, I bought organic tomatoes. I also noticed that by
their looks organic tomatoes did not look any different than
non-organic tomatoes in size, color and shape, and if one were to mix
them up no discerning shopper would have known the difference.
Although, I bought organic tomatoes for they cost less, I could not
help but notice that present day tomato progenitors did not look
anything like they look today. Obviously, they have been selectively
bred for very many market qualities to bring them to today's shape
and form.The only difference must be the way organic tomatoes and
non-organic tomatoes are grown. In both cases, tomatoes have been
genetically modified and I cannot understand why in the name of the
world, organic producers make so much of fuss to keep out about
modern day GM produce (crops) which should otherwise make a perfect
fit into their scheme of cultivation. In any case, the organic tomato
I bought is also genetically modified; otherwise, I would not have
known they are tomatoes.
While reflecting on GM crops and organic agriculture, I picked up
Sunday's edition of The New York Times and read a piece on a new
variety of hot pepper bred (genetically modified) by University of
Texas A&M's breeder Dr. Kevin Crosby. To cater to a growing market of
peppers where consumers prefer not so hot habaneros, he crossed
regular hot variety with a heatless variety to create a hybrid which
was then self-pollinated and fertilized with its own pollen
(conventional breeding) to breed a desired quality of carotenoids,
flavonoids, ascorbic acid and capsaicin.
It seems this new hybrid mild pepper TAM is far less hot next only to
bell peppers and can be very healthy. The color is yellow but also
come in green, white and red. It has great flavor and just pleasantly
chewy. Needless to say some Mexican farmers groaned that they may
lose market for their hot habaneros, but that was just a false cry.
This new variety will be available along with regular habaneros and
consumers will have a choice. Those who like to it hot, can get it
hot, and those who like it mild can get what they want.
I wondered, had Dr. Crosby used some genetic engineering (genetic
modification) technique to obtain the mild habanero TAM, however
healthy as it might be, he would have had one heck of a time getting
it to the market place, and all the anti-GM folks would be jumping on
his case. It is really unfortunate that how we have arrived at a
juncture where we have started to use double standards to evaluate
otherwise perfectly safe and healthy GM crop just because it is GM or
is it gm! Viva GM!
- Sunday Times (UK), Nov. 21, 2004
A yellow genetically modified potato grown in Scotland is being
hailed as the answer to Third World hunger and the nation's poor
health, writes Kenny Farquharson
You can't escape the song. Last Thursday evening it was played on all
five UK terrestrial television channels simultaneously. Bookies have
stopped taking bets on it being the Christmas number one. For the
foreseeable future, Britain will be listening endlessly to Bono and
co urging us to "feed the world".
Sir Bob Geldof's Band Aid 20 venture is certain to raise millions of
pounds for good causes in developing countries, rivalling the £8m
raised by the original single 20 years ago. An impressive achievement
from a collection of the biggest names in pop and rock music. But the
superstars' impact on world hunger could ultimately be outdone by a
humble Scottish potato.
Call it the Wonderspud, the Supertuber or simply the Hot Potato, big
things are expected of a bio-tech invention from the rather
prosaically named Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI). Not only
do its makers believe it can help fill the world's bellies -- they
claim it can improve the globe's health at the same time.
The yellow Dundee tattie is set to enter the often fractious and
always emotive debate about the merits of genetically modified food.
That debate usually centres on freedom of choice for relatively
wealthy British consumers, but it takes on an entirely different
complexion when it is gatecrashed by the world's poor.
The team behind the new potato regard their prized tuber as the
ultimate justification for GM research, affirming the importance of
finding hardy and beneficial crops for a hungry world. The green
lobby, however, brushes aside such philanthropic notions, with some
environmentalists suggesting that GM multinationals working in the
developing world want to subject poor farmers to a new form of
So do the anti-GM protesters have a good enough argument against a
technology that a few years from now could be saving lives on three
continents? Or should a scientific advance developed in Scottish soil
be developed unfettered by such concerns?
IN A large greenhouse at the SCRI's sprawling headquarters on the
banks of the River Tay at Invergowrie, on the western edge of Dundee,
a jovial 53-year-old Welshman in a lab coat is standing in a leafy
sea of potato plants, waxing lyrical about this latest Scottish
biotech success story. "It even has a wonderful creamy texture,"
enthuses Professor Howard Davies, sounding like the Jilly Goulden of
the tattie world. "It tastes like the old-fashioned potatoes I
remember from when I was a child."
It was four years ago that Davies noticed something unusual about a
potato being bred by colleagues aiming to create a gourmet brand
called Inca Gold for the supermarket shelves. It had flesh that was a
startlingly bright yellow. Davies had a hunch. He guessed the colour
was due to a high presence of carotenoids - a substance that gives
colour to carrots, citrus fruits, peppers and tomatoes. Carotenoids
have been credited with a range of health benefits, from preventing
prostate cancer to halting deterioration of eyesight, but they are
usually found at very low levels in the humble potato.
Davies's instincts proved correct, and the SCRI's 10 years of
experience in genetic modification was used to increase production of
the carotenoid and diversify it into more beneficial strains. Now, in
a success story authenticated by the Journal of Experimental Botany,
the result is a potato that should improve the nutrition of those who
eat it, as well as help protect them from cancer, heart disease and
The potatoes conjured up in Dundee have more than six times the usual
level of carotenoids -- enough for one serving to provide up to 30%
of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. Deficiencies of
vitamin A are thought to contribute to nutritional problems for about
250m people worldwide. The Dundee research team believe far higher
levels of carotenoids are possible. They also aim to fortify the
potato with essential minerals such as zinc and iron, as well as
folic acid which helps prevent birth defects.
"If we can do that in a staple crop that many farmers around the
world can grow with ease we can make a real difference," said Davies,
pointing out that potatoes are already the fourth-largest staple food
in the world, with their popularity growing among farmers in
developing countries in Asia and Africa.
But how does a discovery in Dundee -- which has so far produced only
a few sackfuls of the new potato -- make it into fields and foodbowls
across the Third World? For the next stage in the product's
development, Davies is looking to the richest businessman in the
An international consortium led by Davies -- with partners in
America, China, India, South Africa and Denmark -- has applied for a
$7m (£3.8m) grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand
Challenges in Human Health programme. This is a $200m (£108m) fund
set up by the Microsoft boss in January 2003 to find new ways to
combat disease and malnutrition among the two billion poorest people
on earth. As well as programmes to counter HIV, malaria and water
sanitation, $20m (£10.8m) has been allocated to "create a full range
of optimal, bioavailable nutrients in a single staple plant species".
Many of the applicants are expected to focus on rice and various
cereal crops. But the Scottish team believes potatoes will play an
important role and they understand their application is being looked
at sympathetically. An answer is expected just after Christmas.
SCIENCE has long been one of the most effective weapons against world
hunger. In the 1940s a plant breeder called Norman Borlaug, who was
working to improve agricultural yields in Mexico by cross-fertilising
strains of cereal, came up with something he called "dwarf wheat". It
won him the Nobel prize. Dwarf wheat was resistant to pests and
diseases and had a sturdier stem to support a heavier head of grain.
It proved invaluable in improving food production throughout the
Third World, saving untold numbers from starvation.
But sometimes ordinary cross-breeding does not produce the desired
results. "Potato is not generally a very good source of vitamin A in
the body. So looking at the natural variation that is out there in a
traditional breeding programme is never going to work," said Davies.
That is where genetic modification comes in. GM projects are
currently involved in improving crops' ability to be grown in soil
that is very dry because of drought, or where the water supply is
salty or brackish.
What gives Davies and his team confidence is that their not-so-humble
potato is already producing more nutrients than Golden Rice, a
much-heralded GM strain of rice that is also rich in vitamin A. It
was produced in 1999 by the biotech multina- tional Zeneca to
international acclaim - and confusion within the environmental
movement. Could they really oppose a potential life-saver?
At that time Benedikt Haerlin, Greenpeace's international
co-ordinator on genetic engineering, was reported to have said: "I
feel that Golden Rice is a moral challenge to our position. It is
true there is a different moral context, whether you have an
insecticidal or pesticide-resistant GM, or whether you have a GM
product that serves a good purpose."
Since then opinion within the green movement appears to have hardened
against what they call "Frankenstein foods". In Scotland, the SCRI
potato is unlikely to receive a favourable hearing from the Greens as
it was developed on the same site in Invergowrie that is responsible
for the controversial field trial of GM oilseed rape allowed by the
Scottish executive in the face of widespread political opposition and
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Green party's environment spokesman,
refuses to see the global benefits of the Invergowrie spud, taking
the standard line that GM crops are simply there to make money for
multinationals. "GM crops unleash unknown technology into the
environment and put power over food into too few hands," said
Ruskell. "Developing countries want support in producing a diverse
range of crops sustainably, they do not want farming systems designed
to line the pockets of western biotechnology corporations."
Recent moves to counter this argument -- such as the rights to Golden
Rice being put into the hands of a non-profit organisation committed
to humanitarian goals -- have failed to convince doubters.
The yellow potato is the latest manifestation of Scotland's growing
international reputation as a centre of biotech excellence, which
first gained a global profile in the 1990s with the creation of Dolly
the sheep by Professor Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute just south
Since then Dundee in particular has developed an envied reputation
for its medical and biotech innovations -- the most high-profile
example being Sir David Lane's pioneering work at Dundee University
on a treatment for cancer, said by many to be a Nobel prize waiting
to happen. The city is also home to Axis-Shield, which has developed
diagnostic test kits for conditions such as cardiovascular disease,
rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
All involved in working on GM fortified foods in Dundee accept there
is a regulatory quagmire to be negotiated before benefits can be
gained. Countries such as China, India and South Africa will all have
to accept the new advances. "These guys will decide through their own
regulatory systems whether or not to use this technology," said
The scientist in charge of the labwork to genetically modify the
potato is Dr Mark Taylor, who left Berkeley, California, to work at
the SCRI in Dundee. He says many of the objections to GM fortified
foods simply do not hold water.
"The levels of beta carotene we have achieved in a potato are about a
tenth of those you will find in a carrot, so people say: 'Why not
just eat a carrot instead?' But people simply don't or can't. We are
fortifying a staple food for millions of people. It is health by
Taylor and Davies say they are keen to see fortified foods improve
the health of Scots as well as people in the Third World. "The only
way of improving long-term health if people aren't going to change
dietary habits is to actually develop products that are more
nutritious to start with," said Davies.
The professor, who has been working in Scotland for 11 years and now
regards himself as a Dundonian, says he wishes Bob Geldof well with
his charity single. Improving world health needs many approaches, he
says. "There is no magic bullet," he said, "but I think
nutrition-fortifying foods that people can grow on a daily basis so
they are self-sufficient is a much better way of improving health
than shipping pills out to them.
"What Bob Geldof does is raise money for specific initiatives -- a
hospital or something. And that's wonderful. All these approaches are
complementary." Whether the professor will be as generous with his
praise after he has heard Do They Know It's Christmas? for the 20th
time while doing his Christmas shopping is another matter entirely.
Technology is Key To Africa's Fight to Avoid Food Deficits
- Norah Olembo, East African Standard (Kenya), Nov. 18, 2004
Despite the start of the short rains in parts of Kenya, many families
are still threatened by starvation. It will take at least six months
before much-needed staple crops of maize, sorghum and beans can be
This year's hunger situation in Africa was particularly devastating.
No less than 24 countries were haunted by famine. Yet after the rains
arrive, crops are harvested and hunger is momentarily forgotten and
yes, come the next drought the circle is repeated. This is a cycle
that must be broken if Africa is to achieve sustainable development.
Modern technologies have yielded positive results in countries where
they have been implemented.
America is a net exporter of food commodities precisely due to its
eagerness to utilise new technologies. Most other continents are
following suit, including Europe and Asia. How long is it going to
take Africa to wake up to the realities of modern technologies? The
challenge facing Kenya and other African nations is to objectively
examine what turned Third World nations like India, Vietnam and
Pakistan into food exporters. We believe Kenya is now willing to take
the practical steps needed to overcome its endless food shortages and
requests for food aid.
We urgently need to develop or acquire the capacity to produce
adequate, nutritious food. Kenyan leaders, including President
Kibaki, have recently made it clear that the country is ready to
accommodate agricultural technologies that will help the country
become self-sufficient in food. This commitment was practically
displayed to the world when the president officially opened the
country's first Bio-safety Greenhouse, which will be used to conduct
initial trials of Genetically Modified (GM) maize, designed to resist
The President said the government was introducing comprehensive
policies to ensure the responsible use of biotechnology, revealing he
was fully aware of the heated debates raging around Genetically
Modified Organisms (GMO).
African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) supports responsible
use of biotechnology and believes in providing the public with
well-researched information on all aspects of biotechnology including
bio-safety. It has conducted training activities and workshops
focusing on all aspects of biotechnology for MPs, scientists,
extension workers, farmers, high school teachers, consumer groups,
journalists and the general public.
People in the US and European Union have the choice of selecting
foods that are branded as organic, GM, products of the Green
Revolution and other technological packages.
In Africa, no such choice exists, because we depend on others. It
has to be repeated, over and over again, that Africa missed the Green
Revolution. Like all technologies that revolution was not perfect.
But gave Asia and Latin America their excess rice, maize and wheat
and leaders of these nations no longer go around the world seeking
The demand that Africa goes for perfect technological packages is a
myth. It is unacceptable and unrealistic for some experts to say
Africa should begin its struggle to produce adequate foods by doing
what others did two centuries ago. It is in this spirit that we say
Kenya must focus on the rapidly unfolding biotechnology revolution
with its potentially unlimited impact on food production, industry,
environment management and medicine.
With our vast genetic resources it would be a socio-economic suicide
if Africa were left behind. Africa should not just be bogged down
with debates while having no facilities or skilled manpower to serve
and protect its interests.
The story of famine in Africa is a tragic tale of continued
sidelining of science and technology. With appropriate agricultural
technological packages, including biotechnology, it is possible to:
* curb pests that destroy crops before and after harvest;
* curb disease-parasites, fungi, viruses that damage or kill crops;
* produce crops that are resistant to drought;
* produce crops that grow faster;
* produce high yielding crops that take less farmland;
* produce crops that are nutritious with vitamins or essential proteins;
* grow fast-maturing trees or shrubs that provide fruits, firewood and timber;
* grow plants that produce medicines or vaccines.
We are alerting governments that it is never too late to catch up.
Our experts have a duty to re-examine where we have gone wrong and
what can practically be done. That involves working closely with
farmers. We must move out of our labs to ensure that our research
results end up as increased farm yields.
Farmers Best at Gauging Value of Biotech Crops
- Steve Savage (San Diego, Calif.), Western Farm Press, November 20, 2004
Harry, I agree that it is farmers who are the best measure of whether
biotech is a good thing or not. I have spent many hours sitting at
the kitchen tables of Midwest farmers who are still family farms even
though they tend 2-12 thousand acres. I have talked with the major
sweet corn producers to see if they would prefer to be growing Bt
corn instead of spraying every two days to control worms. I've talked
to Ph.D. personnel at wineries like Fetzer who cannot rationally
defend their position in support of the Men2docino GMO ban.
I'm a consultant to the biotech industry as you can see from our Web
site (www.cirruspartners.com) but over my career I've worked on
everything from chemical to cultural to biological to chemical to
"organic" control of pests. I've seen the good and the bad of all of
I'm as frustrated as I sense you are about how this is playing out.
I've taken to writing to every reporter and industry person I can to
offer help in getting a realistic perspective on what is happening. I
asked a reporter in Arcada to think about what percent of their food
is produced locally. I ask Fetzer to explain how genetic
contamination could occur versus the reality that they have grown
different varieties of grapes 8-12 feet apart for decades without
issue. I send e-mails to the president of Humb2oldt State offering
information because from what I've heard, he is the only even
marginally pro-GMO spokesman in the region.
Sentiment blocks benefits. At one level one could minimize the
importance of the anti-GMO initiatives in these marginal agricultural
regions. Unfortunately, the reality is that anti-GMO sentiment has
already effectively blocked many very beneficial traits from becoming
mainstream (Bt sweet corn, herbicide tolerant sugar beets, virus
resistant swash, longer shelf life bananas, Bt and virus resistant
potatoes along with bruise resistance, higher solids, and the ability
to store at lower temperatures to prevent soft rot without
accumul2ation of sugars that cause browning).
I'm not sure whether there is a way to head off this insanity. As
Mark Twain said, a lie is half way around the world before the truth
gets it's shoes on. I'm working on the shoes and hoping for a
Bt Corn as Best Strategy Needs Additional Context
Editor, The claim made by Bruce Chassy and Drew Kershen that Bt corn
presents the best strategy for preventing neural tube defects (NTD)
some additional context.
The interplay between fumonisin levels, pest damage, and the action
of fumonisin to block folate-uptake, coupled with the data showing
fumonisin levels to be considerably lower for Bt corn than for
conventional or organic corn (both in the field and in dry-milled
corn products) is provocative and compelling. However, the authors
fail to discuss some of the areas where more research is necessary
before any conclusions are possible concerning the prospect of
reducing NTD rates with this agricultural technolo2gy.
Reducing the rate of NTD among women of Mexican descent living in the
U.S. to that of non-Hispanic white women would result in the
prevention of between 188 and 628 cases of NTD each year,
representing a decrease of between 5 percent and 20 percent in total
cases (CDC National Center for Health Statistics and Suarez, et al.
2000. American Journal of Epidemiology 152: 1017-1023).
The degree to which lowering intake of fumonisin alone among
Mexican-American women would reduce NTD rates is unknown and needs to
be investigated further. Evidence that folic acid fortification does
not reduce NTD incidence among women of Hispanic descent (Shaw et al.
1995 Epidemiology 6:219-26) provides corroboration to the idea that
reducing fumonisin intake would also reduce incidence of NTD. The
problem comes when the authors attempt to fit Bt corn into this
Fumonisin contamination comes, in part, as a result of pest damage,
which is reduced in the case of Bt corn. Contamination also results
from "environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, drought
stress, and rainfall during pre-harvest and harvest periods? (and)
optimal growth of fumonisin-producing mold that leads to increased
levels of fumonisin in the raw corn can occur when the moisture
content of harvested raw corn during storage is 18-23 percent,"
according to the FDA Center for Food Safety an2d Applied Nutrition.
Further, the levels of fumonisin found in different dry-milled corn
products can vary significantly, from 0.15 parts per million (ppm) in
degermed are produced from Bt, conventional, or organic corn is also
Since prevention of pest damage is behind lower fumonisin levels in
Bt corn, it would behoove the authors to describe the degree to which
this sort of damage is actively avoided in convention and organic
cultural methods, and provide the reader with information on the
potential of each of these methods to reduce pest damage. In other
words, if conventional and organic corn farmers are simply not making
as much of an effort to control pest damage as is represented by Bt
corn technology, it stands to reason 2that fumonisin levels would be
higher for those methods. That does not necessarily mean that Bt corn
is an inherently better method for reducing fumonisin levels.
Development of resistance among pests is also a major issue of
concern with Bt corn, requiring that farmers plant significant
acreage as 'refuges'. The authors fail to point out that, the
development of Bt-resistant pests presents the very real possibility
that fumonisin levels might actually become higher in Bt corn
products than in those made from conventional or organic corn. This
possibility, added to the lack of knowledge linking levels of dietary
fumonisin intake to increased risk of NTD, it seems to2 be at the
very best an exaggeration to say that Bt corn presents the best
strategy for preventing NTD.
We really don't even know whether it is the best strategy for
reducing fumonisin levels in a field or refined product context.
Given the history of capital- and technologically-intensive
applications as failing to meet the needs of farmers in developing
nations, it seems especially problematic to refer to Bt corn as a
promising strategy "in the African context."
Might not an attempt to change cultural practices around the
processing and consumption of corn products in order to reduce
exposure to fumonisin be a better public health approach?
More research on the relationship between cultural, storage and
processing methods associated with corn, fumonisin levels, and
potential health impacts associated with fumonisin in the diet is
very much needed. That Bt corn presents a promising strategy for
reducing fumomisin levels in corn products should be investigated
further and compared to other explicit strategies to reduce fumonisin
-- Josh Miner Food System Analyst and Food and Society Policy Fellow
University of California Cooperative Extension, Alameda County,
Response: Bt Corn Effective, Simple Way to Reduce Fumonisin
In response to our article - "Bt corn reduces serious birth defects"
(28 Oct. 2004) - Josh Miner agrees that reducing consumption of
fumonisin-contaminated corn likely reduces birth defects. He contests
our assertion that widespread planting of Bt corn would help
accomplish this reduction.
Mr. Miner objects to our conclusion that Bt corn is the "best" and
"only" way to reduce fumonisin intake and consequently lower the
incidence of birth defects. The words "best" and "only" do not appear
in our article because we know that the world is too complex to
warrant that conclusion. But we know of no other approach to reducing
fumonisin exposure that is as effective and simple as Bt corn.
Scientific studies from several continents showed that Bt corn
typically has 5-20-fold lower level of fumonisin 2than other corn
Mr. Miner observes that post-harvest mold contamination can cause
fumonisin contamination. Obviously to achieve maximal reduction of
fumonisin in corn products, farmers and grain-handlers need to avoid
post-harvest contamination. The published scientific studies,
however, point to insect damage as the major route of fumonisin
contamination. No regime of proper post-harvest storage and handling
can eliminate fumonisin already in the corn.
We are talking about a relative reduction of exposure to fumonisin.
It is unrealistic to think that we will ever achieve absolutely zero
fumonisin exposure. Even Bt corn suffers some insect damage - often
from insects not sensitive to the specific Bt protein present in the
corn. The point remains though that if we reduce the exposure to safe
levels, we improve public health.
Mr. Miner asks why conventional and organic farmers produce corn with
higher levels of fumonisin and if such levels are inherent in their
products. Entomologists tell us that there is essentially nothing
that a farmer can do in conventional and organic agriculture to
control corn borers. Conventional chemical sprays do not reach corn
borers once they have drilled into a plant. Organic farmers face even
greater challenges in controlling boring insects because organic
production standards prohibit using synt2hetic pesticides. Inherently
Bt corn not only is a better method for controlling boring insects,
it is the only effective method thus far developed.
Mr. Miner expresses a fear that insects will develop resistance to Bt
corn. Insects have developed resistance to almost every insect
control technology used in agriculture. But even if resistance
arises, we would be no worse off than we are today - i.e. with no
adequate means to control boring insects and mold-produced fumonisin.
Thoughtfully, regulators, developers, and farmers are not passive
about resistance. Governmental authorities require developers of Bt
crops to have proven resistance management plans in place before the
authorities approve the crops. EPA has reviewed the effectiveness of
these plans and has concluded that Bt crops perform better than
expected. Indeed after 9 years studies show no resistance has emerged
in the field. Moreover, developers are not waiting for resistance to
appear. They have stacked multiple B2t traits into single crop
varieties and developed crop varieties with alternative control
Developers have taken effective, approved measures to thwart
resistance. Farmers will respond to any resistance within a
particular corn variety by switching to new varieties with stacked
traits or alternative control mechanisms. We should take advantage of
Bt corn benefits for women and children now rather than worry about
when, if ever, resistance will occur in the future.
Mr. Miner states a concern about capital intensive high technologies
failing in the developing world. We share his angst. Fortunately,
with Bt corn, the technology is built into the seed. The farmer does
not need to change his practices and may not need to make new capital
Readers are referred to http://www.agbioforum.org/ Vol. 7 (Nos. 1&2)
for a fuller discussion of issues surrounding the development and
deployment of biotechnological solutions for agricultural challenges
in the developing world. With the technology in the seed, farmers in
developing countries are likely to gain greater benefits than farmers
in developed countries.
We repeat - not our words - the words of an African speaking about
the health value of Bt corn in Africa:
Izelle Theunissen of the Medical Research Council of South Africa has
written, "So despite the current discussions surrounding GM foods, it
appears that Bt maize hybrids could play a major role in lowering
fumonisin levels in maize products, which should ultimately enhance
the quality and safety of maize for animal and human consumption,
particularly in the African context."
We close by noting the irony that activists opposed to transgenic
crops demand governmental action in accordance with the precautionary
principle. They demand that the precautionary principle be used when
any hypothetical hazard exists to public health or the environment -
in the absence of complete scientific understanding. Yet when we
refer to scientific evidence establishing that Bt corn reduces
fumonisin exposure, Mr. Miner calls for more research. When we
provide evidence of present physical harm to w2omen and their babies,
Mr. Miner abandons the precautionary principle.
To be blunt, ignoring real risks but being precautionary about
hypothetical hazards damages both human health and the environment.
-- Sincerely yours, Bruce M. Chassy, Ph.D. Executive Associate
Director Biotechnology Center University of Illinois and Drew L.
Kershen Earl Sneed Centennial Professor College of Law University of
Modifying GM Food Perception
'Simon Barber on Europe's reluctance to accept genetically modified foods
- Erika Jonietz, Technology Review, December, 2004 (via Agnet)
Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at
EuropaBio(r), the European biotech industry association
Issue: Approval of genetically modified foods in Europe. Europeans
have been far more nervous about the safety of GM foods than North
Americans, essentially halting the approval of new varieties since
1998. Are skittish regulators and consumers finally warming up to the
Personal Point of Impact: Helped develop Canada's regulatory system
for GM plants and worked at the Organization for Economic
Co-Operation and Development on biotechnology and regulatory
harmonization. Currently leads EuropaBio(r)'s efforts to inform
regulators and policymakers about agricultural biotechnology and
present industry views on policy issues.
Technology Review: After almost six years in which no genetically
modified food or crop had been approved for sale in Europe, a few
varieties of corn finally made it through the regulatory process this
year. Where do things stand now?
Simon Barber: There is a complete regulatory framework in place for
assessment and approval of genetically modified plants that are going
to be grown or imported for food or food ingredients or animal feed.
We have seen two approvals through that process for imports for food
and animal-feed use of maize, for instance. So that system seems to
be beginning to work. Getting approvals to grow new GM crops here,
that's a different matter . That doesn't seem to be moving yet.
TR: Why have European consumers been so wary about GM foods?
Barber: There are groups that have made a huge amount of noise about
it. They raise the question of the precautionary principle and say
that we're not absolutely certain of safety-which actually we can say
about everything. If we're honest, no science will say that anything
is 100 percent safe.
But there have been food scares here, such as mad cow, which means
that our citizens are concerne d about the safety of their food
supply. There isn't an awful lot of what I would call very balanced
Balanced debate, let alone very balanced debate, the GM-fad couldn't
survive. The debate tends to be very antagonistic, so you would have
people very much "for" talking to people very much "against." If
people don't have things explained to them well, there's room there
for them to have concerns, and they're legitimate concerns.
TR: Has the European biotech industry done its share to expl ain the
Barber: They have recently made more efforts in that direction, but
at the outset perhaps not as much as they ought. But it's not just
the job of the industry. If you look at the industry, it's very small
compared to the others that it supports. Plant variety developers and
people who produce seed - that's our industry - support the farmers,
which is a larger industry; the farmers then support food processors,
and the value gets bigger and bigger. At the top, one U.K.
supermarket chain probably has the same annual turnover as the whole
international seed trade.
So in some ways, we are a limited resource to be able to teach
everybody in the world about modern biology and its uses. It's
something that I think everybody has to be involved in. It's easy for
people, once this had become an issue, to say, well, industry didn't
do a good job, but before anything can be imported into Europe and
used as animal feed or as an ingredient as food for us humans, it had
to go through a safety approval process. The governments of the EU
and the EU itself have institutions that did all this. Well, how were
they explaining to their citizens what was going on? It's something
that has to be shared across the board.
TR: But biotech companies would seem to have the most to gain from
consumer acceptance of GM foods, so shouldn't they bear most of the
Barber: They should bear some responsibility, and in more recent
years, they have put effort into this.
Biotech Companies Need Patents
- Richard Braun
Here are the conclusions below of an article I had published in
"FarmaChem" in September 2004 which can be accessed through
Conclusions. The patenting system is a complex social contract to
protect the use of intellectual property (IP) and prevents third
parties from making commercial use of IP during a limited period.
Thanks to its flexibility it can and must be improved to adapt to new
technologies emerging from genomics, proteomics and other branches of
the life sciences.
A dynamic equilibrium is to be maintained to balance the interests of
the inventor and of society at large. There is no reason not to allow
the patenting of genes, cells and organism, as long as certain
conditions like inventiveness are fulfilled. Many small biotechnology
companies could not exist without patents.
Intellectual Property Rights in Living Matter
- Drew Kershen,
Dear AgBioView reader: I want to bring to your attention a Project in
Intellectual Property Rights in Living Matter of the Oklahoma Journal
of Law & Technology (www.okjolt.org ). I am the faculty advisor to
OkJoLT and this project. The project asks the following question:
What are the IPRs for living matter in individual countries?
Law students at the University of Oklahoma College of Law write three
e-briefs (short, descriptive statements about the IPRs) on each
country. On line to this point in time, OkJoLT has published e-briefs
for the EU, India, USA, and International Treaties. Students are
currently working on Canada, Korea, South Africa. Next semester it
looks as if students will write about the laws of Argentina, Mexico,
China, Japan, Egypt, Nigeria. In the fall 2005, OkJoLT hopes to have
students writing on Australia, Kenya, New Zealand, Chile, Brazil.
OkJoLT has been very fortunate thus far to have students for each
country who are either native speakers of the official language or
fluent in the official language. By having language proficiency,
students can read the law in the official language. However, the
students write the e-briefs in English. I invite your attention to
Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University
of Oklahoma Collage of Law
FAO Workshop on Biotech
- From Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org
The Food and Agriculture Organization will hold a workshop on "The
role of biotechnology for the characterization and conservation of
crop, forestry, animal and fishery genetic resources" in Turin,
Italy on 5-7 March 2005. Co-organized with the Fondazione per le
Biotecnologie, the ECONOGENE project and the Societą Italiana di
Genetica Agraria, the workshop includes three sessions on the status
of the world's agro-biodiversity; the use of biotechnology for
conservation of genetic resources; and genetic characterisation of
populations and its use in conservation decision-making. See
http://www.fobiotech.org/FAO_2005.htm or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
Biotech Challenges to be Explored In 2005 Forum
Harnessing the benefits of biotechnology, as well as producing
results, present a challenge to the Asian Scientific community.
These challenges, as well as the political, economic, social,
technological, environmental, and legal aspects of the biotechnology
industry will be discussed in the Asia Biotech Forum, to be held on
the 3rd & 4th of February, 2005, at the JW Marriott in Kuala Lumpur,
Biotech professionals and those associated with the industry are
invited to attend. For more information, contact