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March 7, 2005


Frankenfood or Godsend?; Thorns in Rose of Agbiotech; Right to Know, Need to Know; Embattled, Distrusted Researchers


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 7, 2005

* 'Frankenfood' or Godsend?
* Misnamed Activists are Thorns in Rose of Agbiotech Food
* The Right to Know, The Need to Know (about Biotech in Hawaii?)
* If Bt-Cotton is Failing in India, Why is it So Popular Among Farmers?
* India Allows Transgenic Cotton in Northern States
* Starlink Corn in Guatemala?
* Pesticides are Natural
* OECD Newsletter - Biotechnology Update
* Researchers in U.S. Increasingly Feel Embattled, Distrusted



'Frankenfood' or Godsend?

- Phillip Manning, The News & Observer, March 6, 2005

A Boston College professor coined the word "Frankenfoods" for genetically modified (GM) food in 1992. It aroused images of the mad scientist creating an uncontrolled monster. A few years later, Prince Charles famously pronounced that scientists working on GM foods had strayed into "realms that belong to God and God alone." Shortly thereafter, Greenpeace members wearing hazmat suits and carrying anti-GM signs marched into a field of GM plants in Britain and destroyed it. This demonization was so successful that, Europe has been off limits to GM foods since 1999.

The antagonism toward GM foods reflects society's uneasy relationship with science. We rely on science in almost every aspect of our lives, but many of us don't trust it or understand it. A recent Rutgers University poll showed that 43 percent of Americans believed (incorrectly) that ordinary tomatoes did not contain genes, while GM tomatoes did.

In fact, we live in a world that heeds slogans more than science. But in "Mendel in the Kitchen," two authors put the science back into the dilemmas posed by genetically engineered foods. Nancy Marie Brown is a science writer; Nina Fedoroff is a professor of genetics and molecular biology at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Their book may not get as much attention as a Greenpeace rally, but it should. GM crops have the potential to supply missing nutrients to the undernourished, improve the environment and alleviate hunger.

The concept behind GM foods is simple. Identify a gene (or genes) that confers a beneficial property to some organism and insert that gene into a food plant that you want to have that property. Golden Rice is a good example. White rice lacks vitamin A. And in regions where rice is a dietary staple, many children eat little else. Consequently, their diet provides little Vitamin A, a deficiency that dims their eyesight and kills a million of them each year.

Rice actually has the gene that produces beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, but the gene is not expressed in the grains. A Swiss scientist named Ingo Potrykus decided to find a promoter gene to turn on the beta carotene gene in white rice. After nine years of work, Potrykus and his colleagues inserted four promoter genes found in daffodils into white rice. The result was Golden Rice. This remarkable feat landed Potrykus on the cover of Time magazine in 2000 with a splashy headline, "This rice could save a million kids a year."

However, genetic manipulation is a powerful tool, too powerful according to its opponents, a high-powered rifle compared to the scatter-gun of earlier technologies. So, they ask, why not just ban them altogether? The answer: New technologies are chancy, but in this case, the rewards justify the risks. Biofortified foods, such as Golden Rice, could deliver necessary vitamins to needy consumers. Bt corn, a GM crop with a built-in insecticide, saves farmers (and the environment) from spraying 2.6 million pounds of insecticides. Roundup Ready crops, such as GM soybeans, enable farmers to practice conservation tillage, which reduces soil erosion and conserves water.

The biggest challenge facing farmers lies ahead. The number of people on Earth is projected to grow by 3 billion by the middle of this century. The authors observe that, "Many -- probably most -- of these people live in countries that are, even now, unable to provide their people with enough food."

To furnish hungry people with enough calories to survive will require a revolution in agriculture. And a promising route is GM foods. Researchers recently discovered that inserting a single corn gene into ordinary rice plants increased yields by 10 percent to 25 percent. More work is needed to confirm this and test the new rice for safety and nutritional value. But that will happen only if the research is allowed to proceed.

Despite the Frankenfoods moniker, genetic modification is just another tool in mankind's 10,000-year history of altering food plants. At first we relied on DNA replication errors or mutations produced by the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Our ancestors then picked the plants they wanted and discarded the others. Simple selection has changed some plants dramatically. Teosinte, for instance, the ancestor of corn, looks nothing like a corn stalk, and its few seeds are inedible.

By the 1920s, scientists had learned how to cause mutations by blasting plants with radiation. The popular red grapefruit, Rio Red, was created by exposing buds of ordinary grapefruits to radiation at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Much of the wheat we consume today was made by similar methods. One popular variety of rice grown in California was created by exposing seeds to gamma rays from radioactive cobalt. None of these foods, according to the authors, were approved by federal regulatory agencies. In fact, they write, foods are subjected to scrutiny, "only if the genetic technique used to modify them was molecular [GM]."

This standard, based on how food is developed, not on its safety, troubles the authors. They contend that GM foods are not inherently more dangerous than foods created by other techniques and should not be rejected out of hand by consumers or subjected to punishing regulations that hamper research and field testing. In other words, safety testing should depend on the plant and the nature of the modification, not on the technique used to make that modification. Many consumers would agree. They want to be as˙sured that new foods are nutritious and safe to eat and not harmful to the environment.

Opponents point to problems specifically associated with GM foods. The most famous of these was the monarch butterfly flap. Two Cornell University scientists published a paper in 1999 based on lab studies, showing "that pollen from Bt corn kills the larvae of the monarch butterfly." This incident spurred Greenpeace members to don butterfly costumes and pretend to die. In fact, this result was not surprising; Bt corn was designed to kill caterpillars.

The real question is: Do Bt crops pose a significant danger to monarchs in the wild? Field studies began almost immediately. A summary of the results was published in 2001. Bt corn was not a deadly killer. So convincing were these studies that when the president of the National Butterfly Association was asked about the dangers Bt corn poses to monarchs, he replied, "In the Midwest, mowing roadsides and spraying herbicides is probably much more devastating, actually."

When Ingo Potrykus published his work on Golden Rice, GM opponents erupted. Greenpeace, always quick with a catchy phrase, labeled Golden Rice "fool's gold," and others called it "an intentional deception." The bewildered Potrykus attempted to defend his new rice, but his voice was lost in the uproar.

Today, Golden Rice is still not commercially available to the millions who might benefit from it. But testing continues, the authors write, albeit slowly, "inside a Biosafety Level Four greenhouse," the same facility "required of those who work with the deadly Ebola virus or anthrax."

Misnamed Activists are Thorns in Rose of Agbiotech Food

- Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, Investors Business Daily, March 3, 2005

In a spin-dominated world where activists claim--often on the flimsiest of data -- that this, that or the other thing causes cancer or threatens the environment, yet another carping communique from a radical group is hardly news. But a recent report about the current state of agricultural biotechnology from the ironically misnamed Center for Science in the Public Interest is so hypocritical and disingenuous--and so typical of radical groups' anti-technology screeds in general-- that it deserves attention.

CSPI's "analysis" finds that the agbiotech industry "is not innovating, it is stagnating," leaving unfulfilled its promise "that genetic engineering would spawn a cornucopia of heartier crops, more-healthful oils, delayed ripening fruits, and many more nutritious and better-tasting foods."

Also, according to the group, "the biotech cupboard remains pretty bare, except for the few crops that have benefited grain, oilseed and cotton farmers," and supposedly we have "a voluntary, antiquated and inefficient hodgepodge of a regulatory system" that must be replace "with a mandatory system that takes risk into account." These assertions are part of the activists' Big Lie about the application of the new biotechnology, or gene-splicing, to agriculture and food production--namely, that the technology is unproven, untested and unregulated.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Although a wide scientific consensus holds that gene-splicing is an extension, or refinement, of less precise and predictable technologies long used with great success, then new techniques offer plant breeders the tools to make old crop plants do impressive new things.

No One Hurt In the U.S., Canada and at least 16 other countries, farmers are using gene-spliced crop varieties to produce higher yields, with lower inputs and reduced impact on the environment. Adoption of gene-spliced crops by American farmers has promoted the use of no-till cultivation, which lessens soil erosion, and has obviated the need for millions of pounds of chemical pesticides, reducing runoff into waterways and occupational exposures.

More than 200 million acres of gene-spliced crops were cultivated worldwide last year, about 80% of processed foods on supermarket shelves now contain gene-spliced ingredients (mostly byproducts of soy and corn),and Americans have collectively consumed more than 1 trillion servings of these foods.

With all this experience, not a single person has been harmed or an ecosystem disrupted-a record that is superior to that of conventionally produced products. The greatest boon of all from agbiotech in the long term may be the enhancement of the ability of new crop varieties to tolerate periods of drought and other water-related stresses.

Irrigation for agriculture accounts for roughly 70% of the world's fresh water consumption, so especially during drought conditions even a small percentage reduction in the use of water for irrigation could result in huge benefits, both economic and humanitarian.

Where water is unavailable for irrigation, the development of crop varieties able to grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could boost yields and lengthen the time that farmland is productive.

The biotech fix? Plant biologists already have identified and transferred into important crop plants the genes that regulate water utilization in wild and cultivated plants. These new varieties are able to grow with smaller amounts or lower quality water, such as water that has been recycled or that contains large amounts of natural mineral salts.

Standing In The Way There are thorns on the rose: unscientific, gratuitous and overly burdensome regulation in the U.S. and elsewhere that has been championed by CSPI and other activist groups. Part of the activists' strategy is to make agbiotech less accessible. Discriminatory regulation -- focused specifically on the most precise and predictable techniques of biotechnology-- has raised the cost of research and development to levels that "exclude the public sector, the academic community, from using their skills to improve crops," according to Roger Beachy, the director of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.

This is public policy at its most antisocial. The very regulatory policies promoted by radical activists are the primary reason we don't have gene-spliced versions of more nutritious and flavorful fruits and vegetables, new varieties of grapes resistant to Pierce's disease, and improved subsistence crops for farmers in the developing world.

It is revealing that CSPI's biotech spokesman Gregory Jaffe was a primary drafter of legislation introduced in Congress by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. That legislation would have established even more excessive and hugely debilitating regulatory requirements specific for gene-spliced foods--requirements that no conventionally produced food (made with less precise and predictable technology) could meet.

CSPI's crocodile tears for agbiotech remind us of the child who murders his parents and then asks for mercy from the court because he's an orphan. --- Dr. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, was the founding director of the FDA Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. Mr. Conko is the director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Their book, "The Frankenfood Myth:How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution," was selected by Barron's as one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.


The Right to Know, The Need to Know (about Biotech in Hawaii?)

- Thomas R. DeGregori, ACSH, March 1, 2005

The often-claimed "right to know" -- now being espoused by anti-biotech activists seeking the location of biotech testing areas -- cannot be fully understood without the related principle, the "need to know."

The right to know is deeply rooted in the methods of science and may have had its origins there. An individual scientist who conducts an inquiry and makes various discoveries and reaches conclusions is under no obligation to share with anyone what materials and methods were used in the research endeavor. However, should a researcher wish the fruit of his or her inquiry to be considered science and taken seriously by the scientific community, then full disclosure sufficient for the experiment to be replicated is necessary. Not only do scientists submit to these requirements, they enthusiastically support them.

Many leading journals require a variety of other personal disclosures that are considered necessary for the reader to be on guard for any likely biases. Unfortunately, journals seem to believe that financial relationships are the only significant source of potential bias (or conflict of interest). Highly ideological NGOs, on the other hand, are often seen as pure and unblemished.

The right to know in science is largely based on the need to know. Full disclosure of all methods and materials of a research effort is necessary for the peer reviewers to evaluate it properly, for others to replicate it, and for its incorporation into the body of scientific knowledge. Though science can seem arcane and mysterious to those not trained in it, in reality scientific inquiry is probably the most transparent endeavor in modern society. The right of others to know is so ingrained in modern science that scientists feel uncomfortable when, like those working on the atom bomb in World War II, they are put in a position in which they are not allowed to share their knowledge with anyone except a few (similarly constrained) co-researchers.

The demand for transparency (which is simply another way of stating the right of others to know) is increasingly permeating modern society. Accounting rules are promulgated to give any number of interested parties -- shareholders, employees, governmental authorities -- the right to know some of the critical financial workings of business enterprises. Various freedom of information acts give citizens the right to know about some of the important decision-making processes of government. Even when an individual has a right to withhold information about a discovery or invention, modern society can acquire the right to know from the creator in exchange for granting a patent (which literally means "open") that gives a monopoly privilege to exploit it. In these and other instances, a need to know is clear and compelling.

Biotech: Does What You Don't Know Necessarily Hurt You? Without the slightest bit of shame, some of the NGOs who are most vociferous about their right to know about everyone else also argue that transparency requirements would be burdensome and harmful to them, preventing the NGOs from doing their duty to civil society. In a free democratic society, we all cherish our right to privacy. But at some time or other, we all have to trade small bits of our privacy in order to enter into public endeavors, particularly where others have a legitimate right to know.

Unfortunately, a right to know is too often claimed when there is no clear need to know. Over the last few years, there has been a repeated assertion of the consumers' right to know as grounds for labeling transgenic (genetically-modified or "GM") food. At first blush, it seems reasonable that consumers in a free society have a right to know what it is that they are eating. On closer inspection, the argument falls apart. Since the dawn of agriculture, stored grains have always been contaminated with insects, rodent hairs, and excreta. Modern grain storage has vastly lowered these contaminants but not to zero. Do consumers really want and need a label that reads "may contain insects and rodent hairs or excreta"?

Plants are chemical factories and may contain a thousand or more compounds, many of which are toxic, some of them known rodent carcinogens. The plants we use in agriculture are the products of a vast array of breeding techniques including mutation breeding by either radiation or carcinogenic chemicals. Probably 70% or more of our produce is the result of breeding techniques developed in the last century. So-called "natural" or "organic" produce is likely to have an even higher percentage of new-fangled techniques, the result of an ongoing effort to produce more-resistant plants in order to reduce the need for pesticides.

An organized campaign at the start of any of these breeding techniques could have easily frightened consumers and given rise to demands that such foodstuffs be so labeled. Fortunately, most of these techniques have been used safely for decades, so it is a little late in the game to frighten people about them. Given that there is a limitless amount of information that a consumer has a purported right to know, I have suggested that a CD-ROM be provided with every produce item giving its complete provenance as far as can be ascertained. Obviously, this is absurd but no more so than the demand that products be labeled GM or GM-free while ignoring all other aspects of their history, breeding, and constituency.

What Makes GM Special? The question is: what privileges the claims of those who want GM labeling? There would clearly be a right to know if there were a health or other need to know. There are hazards in the foods that we eat, and some people have special conditions such as severe allergenic reactions to foods such as tree nuts, in which case proper labeling becomes essential. Many hazards such as plant toxins or carcinogens exist in such infinitesimal quantities as not to pose a real threat, but conventional breeding has on occasion produced plants that express large enough doses of a toxin to be a health risk.

The only reason that there is any public demand for GM labeling, on the other hand, is a systematic campaign of misinformation that has raised a series of false fears about transgenic food but maintained a deafening silence concerning all other forms of plant breeding. Until the critics can demonstrate a health hazard -- a need to know -- the call for compulsory labeling should be firmly rejected. Given that the anti-GM activists have lost every serious argument on the dangers of transgenic food, we should not let them frighten us into an action based on a false assertion of a right to know.

If we succumb to the right to know argument when there is no evidence of harm, others would assert equal rights-to-know (through compulsory labeling) any number of things, including other breeding techniques; the toxins and their dosage; or even the religion, ethnicity, or race of the producer. In a free society, if a segment of consumers want some special production methods and/or purity and are willing to pay for them, the products will be made available without the necessity of compulsion. The only role that government has to play in the labeling of halal or kosher is protection against fraud.

Anti-Biotech Activists: Coming Soon to a Field Near You

The activists' demands for the right to know have extended beyond the realm of labeling. They assert the right to know not only what bio-engineered crops are being grown by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but where they are being grown. Their demand to know what is being grown is understandable, even though one might be skeptical about their specific interest in transgenic crops. Certainly, citizens have right to know what actions their government is taking and then initiate a public debate about its safety or appropriateness -- even if some of us consider their fears to be frivolous and groundless (this debate has been going on for over a decade and as yet no harm has been demonstrated).

The activists have a clever slogan: absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of harm. But mandatory labeling or other policies based on absence of evidence requires an anointed personage or organization to pronounce that which is maybe-harmful in absence of evidence. This would turn our democracy into a secular theocracy (if you'll pardon the oxymoron).

Absent evidence of possible harm, there is no need to know that could generate a right to know where the crops are being grown. On the contrary, given the tendency of some anti-biotech activists to vandalize labs and crops, there is real and substantive evidence of danger arising from the disclosure of the locations of crop production -- which suggests a need-not-to-know and thus no right to know, in this instance.

The Hawaii Decision: Law Over Science A recent decision in Hawaii granted two NGOs limited rights to know where certain transgenic crops were being grown. Not being versed in the law, I do not know whether this was a legislative or judicial failing, but a failing it was.

Were there reasonable grounds that harm might result, then the appropriate action would have been to seek an injunction. This would have allowed for an open debate on the safety of transgenic crops, which many of us would have welcomed. Demanding to learn where they are being grown would seem to be a cowardly way of trying to interdict their development without the necessity of proving harm. Once again, the case should have to be made that there is potential harm from the crops -- and that growing them in one location would cause harm while growing it in another would not. This argument, if proved, would in my judgment be the only possible basis for requiring the disclosure of location of planting. But given that activists argue the dangers of transgenic crops under all possible circumstances, a motion to ban such crops completely would have been in order. This argument was not made since the activists knew that they would lose it on the scientific merits.

For the sake of argument, let us grant the honesty and integrity of the plaintiffs. Any disclosure of the location of planting would nevertheless result in the entire activist anti-transgenic community learning of it even if the organizations themselves sought to limit access to it. Dedicated animal rights and anti-transgenic zealots have successfully infiltrated highly protected laboratories. Is there any doubt that even the most reputable environmental organizations include key people sympathetic to those who would engage in terrorist, willing secretly to share the knowledge of crop location with them? Groups who believe in rooting up transgenic crops in order to save the planet from mutant genes would quickly learn of the crops' locations. A number of activist environmental groups have publicly stated their intention of rooting up transgenic crops whenever and wherever they can, no matter how illegal it may be.

The Hawaii decision puts a legitimate scientific and economic research project at needless risk. At minimum, it raises the cost of the research process by requiring additional crop security. Given the difficulty of a twenty-four-hour defense of open agricultural fields, the decision could doom the project itself.

A government in a democracy needs to base its policies and actions on sound science. It also requires openness -- the right to know -- so that soundness of the science can always be challenged. This need to know is the basis of a right to know. Once policies are established, sound science, not pseudo-science, should always be allowed to challenge the policies. However, using the presumed right to know apart from the need to know is spurious and violates the very spirit of the right-to-know principle. It becomes an undemocratic tool to counter both the wishes of the majority and the dictates of sound science.

----- Dr. Thomas R. DeGregori -- Professor of Economics at University of Houston and member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Science and Health -- has extensive overseas experience as a development economist, including work as a policy advisor to donor organizations and developing countries. He is widely published, and his most recent books include: Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate; The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology; Agriculture and Modern Technology: A Defense; and Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and The Environment. His homepage is http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg and e-mail address is trdegreg[at]uh.edu.

If Bt-Cotton is Failing in India, Why is it So Popular Among Farmers?

- Sivramiah Shantharam , Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD

Is Bt-Cotton failing in India? Asks Anand Halli and wonders if multi-national seed companies are responsible for all the failed reports he has read in Indian newspapers! I too have all those media reports about failed Bt-cotton in India. But, wonder why these large scale failures have not become obvious to other scientists and administrators.

It seems one district agriculture officer has written to Monsanto about the failure of their Bt-cotton in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh and has demanded a hefty compensation to the farmers. It remains to be seen who is proven right at the end of a proper inquiry.

The answer must be obvious to Mr. Halli as it is to thousands of Indian cotton farmers who have reposed faith in Bt-cotton for three years in a row. He should ask some twenty eight other local hybrid cotton seed companies who have invested a combined Rs. 20 crores to acquire Bt technology for their own proprietary hybrid cotton seeds. He should wonder how thousands of hectares have come under unauthorized Bt-cotton cultivation not withstanding the alleged failure of Monsanto-MAHYCO Bt-cottons seeds.

It is not multi-national seed companies that are responsible for all the confusion, but multi-national NGOs and their cohorts in India who are determined to discredit Bt-cotton technology with their ideological opposition to modern science and biotechnology and the entry of MNCs into Indian agriculture. Each time there is GEAC meeting, the malcontents of agricultural biotechnology start a media barrage to scare the members of the GEAC and mislead the general public about the impending doom of GM crops with their own reportage of the failure of Bt-cotton. They have been doing this for three years in a row and every year the Bt-cotton acreage has increased in the country and the only company that is laughing away to the bank is Monsanto-MAHYCO combine. The scare tactic worked a couple times in the beginning when GEAC put off decision making. But, no longer! No serious minded agricultural scientist or decision maker takes these scare tactics seriously as evidenced by the decisions they have made.

Surely, the country is awash with spurious Bt-cotton as well. These malcontents of biotechnology don't seem to understand that there is something called market force at play and no one, not even the mighty Government of India can keep a quality product much less a good quality seed from Indian farmer. Remember the black market of yesteryears in consumer goods!

There is really one problem with Bt-cotton of Monsanto-MAHYCO and that is their original germplasm, the MECH varieties may not be as good as many other proprietary hybrids in the market and even those hybrids are coming out with Bt-genes in them. If the farmers find that there are superior Bt-hybrids than what Monsanto can offer, they will quickly switch over. Farmers have no loyalty to any one brand of seeds or chemicals if they don't work and it does not matter who produces them. Already, costs of Bt-cotton seeds are on the decline as it always happens when competition hots up.

It seems GEAC will continue to have its customary meetings and take their customary decisions and the customary objectors will make their customary noises and the real customers (meaning farmers) are the only ones who will make real decisions (which they made about six years ago!). Customary (usual suspects) noise makers will keep doing it as it is the most lucrative for the moment, and they too will move on once they find some other lucrative cause. After all, why get off a ride that brings so much global fame, media attention and notoriety in some instances just by denouncing biotechnology. It also sometimes brings kudos and much needed greenbacks for survival.


India Allows Transgenic Cotton in Northern States

- Planet Ark, March 7, 2005

India, the world's third largest cotton producer, will let farmers in northern states grow genetically modified cotton, an official said on Saturday. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the main regulatory body, had approved new varieties of transgenic cotton for the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, a spokesman of the environment ministry told Reuters. "The committee gave approval to six varieties from three companies for commercial cultivation of Bt cotton in the north," he said.

Bt cotton, widely grown around the world, contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium species. When ingested by bollworm, a pest, it causes lethal paralysis in the digestive tract. The worth of biotech grains is debated worldwide, with advocates saying they could lead to a more secure future for food while critics say they could produce new toxins and allergens.

India opened the door to GMO technology in 2002 after years of trials. Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. (MAHYCO), 26 percent owned by US biotech giant Monsanto Co., was allowed to sell GMO cotton hybrid for sowing in southern and central states. India's cotton production in 2004/05 (Oct-Sept) is estimated to rise to more than 21 million bales from 17.7 million a year ago, mainly because of the use of transgenic cotton in large areas, government officials and traders say.

According to traders, the area under Bt cotton in India has jumped to about 1.34 million hectares in the current crop year from about 405,000 hectares a year earlier. Several state-owned farm institutes, private seed companies and agriculture universities are conducting trials on genetically modified seeds like mustard, rice, potatoes, brinjals and tobacco. These seeds are in various stages of development.

The GEAC, comprising of scientists, government officials, environmentalists and seed developers, also approved large scale trials of another eight new varieties of Bt cotton for the northern region, the spokesman said.

Starlink Corn in Guatemala?

- Gary A. Drimmer, GaryDrimmer@Cornproducts.com

To The Editor of Village Voice, NY (Letter Sent)

Though there has been no proven cases of anyone getting sick from the genetic material in StarLink, it should be kept out of all food; it doesn't matter if it is consumed in the Us or sent as food aid. Dry corn mills are still testing EVERY truck for StarLink corn, even though there has not been ONE truck found in nearly a year. As the corn was banned from seeding several years ago, it is no longer in the system, nor in the stored corn. The report nearly implies that illegal GMO corn was shipped to eight countries, when in fact the report is that there was contaminated corn in a shipment to Guatemala. I have not seen any comment on who took the sample(s) and how much contamination there was. These test can be extremely sensitive, and the tolerance is zero. As tests become more sensitive zero becomes more sensitive. One grain that might not have been found among the millions of grains, until sampled in Guatemala could be enough to show a positive result (and unless it was an official sample, who knows if it was from the shipment).

I would like to see more accurate reporting and some comments from scientist with differing views in a report in the Village Voice. You are too good of a publication to do less.

- Gary Drimmer

Pesticides are Natural

- Sunday Telegraph (UK), March 6, 2005

The public deserves better than the account of pesticides provided last week ("50 pesticides found in British food"). Plants make more than 10,000 natural pesticides that protect them against threats to their existence. We eat thousands every day in fruit and vegetables. Over 50 per cent of them test as carcinogens, others consumed daily are teratogens (chemicals that damage the foetus), chromosome-breakers, goitrogens, oestrogen mimics (gender benders), nerve toxins, induce sterility in test animals or en skin disorders.

Consumption of natural pesticides outweighs synthetic pesticide traces in food by many thousands of fold. The overwhelming chemical exposure of all human beings is to natural chemicals and for every chemical some amount is toxic. Once that is grasped, reasoned choices about what to eat can be made.

- Anthony Trewavas FRS, Professor in Plant Biochemistrym University of Edinburgh

OECD Newsletter - Biotechnology Update

- Peter Kearns, Peter.KEARNS@oecd.org

Dear Colleagues, The latest version of the OECD Newsletter, "Biotechnology Update", has just been published. An electronic version is available through the OECD web site at: http://www.oecd.org/biotrack/.

It is also worth noting for the future that "Biotechnology Update" is also distributed through OECDdirect, an e-mail alerting service, which is part of MyOECD. By clicking "My OECD" on the OECD homepage at http://www.oecd.org/, visitors can personalise their home pages to present the news, events, and documentation strictly related to themes that interest them. They can also register to receive newsletters automatically. To register, first sign up to MyOECD/OECDdirect (top right-hand corner of any page on the OECD site) and follow the online instructions. Select the theme, "Biotechnology", and when you confirm, the next screen will give you all OECDdirect e-mail services corresponding to biotechnology or general items. Once you have registered, you'll start to receive e-mails from OECDdirect only in the areas you have chosen.

OECD has also recently published an "Introduction to the Biosafety Consensus Documents of OECD". This is also available from the web site at: http://www.oecd.org/document/51/0,2340en_2649_34385_1889395_1_1_1_1,00.html. (Apologies for the inelegant URL). Amongst other things, this text describes the purpose of the biosafety documents, their relationship to environmental risk/ safety assessment, as well as the process by which they are drafted, reviewed and brought to publication. There is also a complete list of the documents published to date.

Researchers in U.S. Increasingly Feel Embattled, Distrusted

- Rick Montgomery, The Kansas City Star. Mar. 06, 2005.

Full article at http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/local/11062006.htm

They don't need microscopes to find it. Everywhere they look, America's scientists see evidence of a widening public assault on, and distrust of, their work. Skeptics fire away on many fronts:

* Conservatives call areas of environmental research politically laced, while scientists accuse the Bush administration of manipulating or ignoring critical findings. * Despite discoveries nearly every day in paleontology or astronomy, religious opponents of evolution have found new energy and are pushing back in school boards across the country.

* Fresh products of corporate science trigger backlashes in all directions: activists opposed to genetically modified foods; mainstream groups worried about Vioxx and other wonder drugs. * Fast-developing medical advances unleash troubling ethical questions.

Each controversy differs from the other -- from proposals to criminalize an aspect of embryonic stem-cell research in Missouri and Kansas, to efforts to teach "intelligent design" alongside evolution. Yet all are converging now, obscuring the lines that separate science -- once seen as a bastion of the unbiased -- from politics and opinion.

"Scientists feel they're under attack. And they are," said Austin Dacey, director of research and education for the Center for Inquiry at State University of New York, in Buffalo.

The tensions carry real-world implications. A recent survey published in the journal Science showed scientists feeling pressured by political and cultural forces to sidestep sensitive areas. "Most respondents worked hard to avoid controversy," the study found. As one researcher put it, "I would like to lunatic-proof my life as much as possible."

Nearly a half-century after the Soviet space satellite Sputnik spurred America to embrace the hard sciences, the periodic tables have turned. Scientists are now on the defensive. Policy-makers grill them. Doubters seek to debunk the most fundamental beliefs about global warming, natural selection and the wonders of modern medicine.

On the political right, deep suspicions stir about the ideological leanings of the scientific community. On the left, grave concerns are voiced about the Bush administration's respect for science. And in the middle reside the confused -- most of us, probably -- who are more than a little worried about where researchers, if allowed to run unrestrained, might take all of us.

What has brought on the bruising of science? And why now? Here are 10 theories on why scientists feel bruised......

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