Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 16, 2005
* UK Farms Want to Grow GM Crops
* Organic Farming - A Growing Threat to The World?
* Kraft CEO Sees Nutrition Role for Biotech Foods
* Tanzania Jumps On GM Bandwagon
* U. S. Left at the Station
* Answer to DeGreef Questions: Benbrook Has Blood on His Hands
* Your Support Needed for Pharmaceutical Crop Trials: Ventria's Field Test
* Price of Transgenic Helps Only Large Owners - FAO Official
UK Farms Want to Grow GM Crops
-BBC News, March 16, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/
The president of US biotechnology giant Monsanto says genetically-modified crops could be grown in the UK within five to 10 years. Hugh Grant told Radio 4's Farming Today programme that his firm's research suggests the majority of UK farmers want the chance to grow GM crops.
Following a five-year national debate, the government said last year GM crops can be grown on certain conditions. Critics say more research is needed to determine if GM crops are safe. Monsanto, which pioneered GM crops, announced it would close its European seed cereal business in the UK in 2003.
Mr Grant told the programme he finds the pace of change in Europe frustratingly slow and rejects the view that UK consumers are worried about the safety of GM products. He says more than 1bn acres of GM crops have been planted around the world and farmers from China to Brazil are literally reaping the benefits. He also insisted that GM technology could be used in future to produce a range of crops with distinct health benefits.
However, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth said biotechnology firms have been promising such "super crops" for years and failing to deliver and that much more research is needed into the effects of GM food. Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett approved the growing of a single variety of GM maize - herbicide-tolerant maize - in March 2004. But she rejected commercial cultivation of GM beet and oilseed rape - the two other GM crops involved in tests, known as the farm-scale evaluations.
Her statement followed five years of consultation, farm-scale trials and a major survey which showed 90% of the public were against GM crops. She said the GM maize licences would expire in October 2006, and any consent holders wishing to renew them would have to carry out scientific analysis during cultivation.
However, German company Bayer CropScience, the only firm eligible to grow herbicide-tolerant maize in the UK, pulled out of plans to cultivate it. It blamed government conditions for making the crop "economically non-viable" because they would stall production of the maize for too long.
The next window for the GM crop companies is 2008, when Bayer CropScience will propose commercialisation of oilseed rape and Monsanto and Syngenta will be vying to get GM sugar beet approved.
Organic Farming - A Growing Threat to The World?
- Damian Corless, Irish Independent, March 16, 2005
'A new book claims we have a duty to our planet to resist the tide of dangerous 'eco-fundamentalism' sweeping the globe.'
It was a day when the phone operators at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) were bombarded with queries from concerned callers. The authority fielded as many phone queries in a single day as it normally does in a month and its website received 22,000 hits instead of the usual 400. The public was in a tizzy having just learned that illegal cancer-causing agent Sudan 1 had made its way into the Irish food chain.
The Sudan 1 affair provided the organic lobby with a perfect parable for exposing the potential vices of today's mass-production food processes and for extolling the virtues of the natural alternatives. The potentially lethal toxin entered the food chain through a five-ton consignment of contaminated chilli powder imported into Britain. The powder was then added to almost 600 heavily processed products, many of them convenience foods. By the time the alert went out, the blighted foodstuffs were sitting on 4shelves across Europe, Canada and the United States.
In Britain the Sudan 1 scare raised troubling questions about whether that country's food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), had acted in the best interests of the consumer. Critics accused it of being more concerned to quell any public panic than with taking urgent remedial action. In this country there have been repeated calls to split the Department of Agriculture & Food on the persuasive grounds that the one Department cannot wholeheartedly serve two masters, the producer (Agriculture) and the consumer (Food).
Seven years ago there seemed no doubt that the customer really was king when it came to food safety best practice. In 1998, in the face of widespread public hostility to genetically modified (GM) foods, the EU put a freeze on the approval of any new GM crops (although it allowed the continued use of 18 GM products already in circulation). The following year that moratorium seemed thoroughly vindicated when the so-called Frankenstein Foods scare flared up.
The monster was unleashed when ITV'sWorld In Action interviewed Arpad Pusztai, a scientist who had been conducting research on rats fed with genetically modified potatoes. Pusztai claimed that the lab rats experienced stunted organ growth and a damaged immune system. He said he'd personally never eat GM food.
Pusztai's furious employers suspended him, accusing him of gross irresponsibility. GM conspiracy theorists had a field-day linking the US GM giant Monsanto, which had funded the research, to Pusztai's removal, claiming that sinister vested interests were trying to gag his attempts to warn the public.
The scare reached its height when an observant journalist spotted that several brands of baby foods contained GM ingredients, leading to a Sudan-1-scale total recall. When the dust had settled, Britain's Royal Society slammed Pusztai's research as shoddy and of no scientific worth, but by then the Frankenstein label had well and truly stuck.
But more recently, to the horror of food purists, there have been clear signs that the dawning of the GM Age was merely postponed back in 1998, rather than stopped. Last September, with individual EU states bitterly divided on the merits of GM crops, the European Commission stepped in to end its own ban, approving the use of 17 seed strains engineered by Monsanto. The move was steered through by Irish Commissioner David Byrne with the support of the Irish Government but, if the opinion polls are to be beli4eved, against the wishes of 70% of the EU's population.
Presented with this fait accompli by our political masters, the only sensible thing for EU citizens to do now is to embrace our GM future. That's according to Dick Taverne, chairman of the UK body Sense About Science and author of a new book,The March Of Unreason, which claims that we have a duty to our planet to resist the tide of dangerous 'eco-fundamentalism' sweeping the globe.
Taverne's impeccable credentials as a dyed-in-the-wool Green include joining both Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth in the 1960s and giving up his car for good in the '70s in favour of a bicycle. However, Taverne believes that a significant part of the Green lobby is now preaching a woolly, emotional, stupid and deeply damaging eco-fundamentalism. He says: "Instead of rational, evidence-based analysis of such issues as the potential risk of GM crops, extremist Green lobbies whip up a hue and cry against the whole technology, presented, with the help of the media, as the democratic response of the people.
"Research involving private funding is perceived as automatically suspect and the fashionable call for greater public control of science translates into more power for groups who claim to speak for the people but do not."
The media, says Taverne, are complicit in giving the scaremongers a platform to make Luddite claims that have no basis in scientific fact. He remarks: "No wonder the public doesn't want to eat GM food. Where else can it obtain its information about scientific developments except through the media? The lobbies calling for a ban on GM crops cite public hostility, which they themselves helped to create, as one of the principal justifications for imposing one."
Taverne reserves some of his most scathing criticisms for the organic lobby, which he accuses of pedalling "a myth". All food, he argues, is organic, but a billion-euro industry has hijacked the label and used it to flog a product that is supposedly fresher, better tasting, untainted with toxins and better for the natural world.
The trouble with organic food, says Taverne, is that when you sweep away the hype and hocus-pocus, the only thing that really distinguishes it from conventionally produced fresh food is that it costs twice as much. The organic movement, he tells us, was inspired early in the last century by the misguided mysticism of German philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Steiner believed that cosmic forces entered animals like cattle and stags through their horns and he came up with a means of feeding the soil through a process of 'biodynamic cultivation', which involved burying cattle horns stuffed with entrails in the soil to nourish it. For best results the sowing of these cosmic horns should be synchronised with the phases of the moon. He taught his followers that chemical fertilisers damaged the human nervous system and the brain, instilling the belief which persists 4to this day that nature knows best and science is dangerous.
As he broadens his attack, Taverne cites a British report from last year which pronounced that: "On the basis of current evidence organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally."
Addressing claims that we should eat organic food because the pesticide residues on conventional crops are harmful, he says: "There is a disparity between public fears and the facts. Dietary contributions to cardiovascular disease and cancer probably account for more than 100,000 deaths a year (in the UK), food poisoning for between 50 and 300. There are no known deaths from pesticide residues or GM foods. A cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic synthetic residues in the diet. If people are worried about the effect of pesticides in farming on wildlife or human health, they sh4ould promote pesticide-resistant GM crops, which reduce their use."
He quotes blind tasting tests as showing that consumers cannot tell the difference between organic and conventional foods once both are fresh and he claims that GM farming, which requires less tillage of the land, is more beneficial to birds and wildlife than organic farming.
Ultimately, however, Taverne claims that organic farming is far too inefficient to provide for the planet's future. He says: "Organic food costs more because average yields are 20-50% lower than those from conventional farms. This inefficiency is highly relevant to the hungry and the poor.
"While there may be food surpluses in some areas, we need to treble food production in the next 50 years to feed three billion extra people and meet higher living standards at the same time. We face an increasing shortage of water and of good agricultural land.
"In many places the only way inefficient organic farmers can feed an expanding population is by cutting down more tropical forest. Every form of technology that increases efficiency in farming will be needed to contribute to the production of more food.
"What contribution can organic farming make? In the words of the Indian biologist CS Prakash, its only contribution to sustainable agriculture will be to sustain poverty and malnutrition."
This one is going to run and run.
'The March of Unreason' by Dick Taverne is published by Oxford University Press, §25.32
Kraft CEO Sees Nutrition Role for Biotech Foods
- K.T. Arasu, Reuters, Mar 14, 2005 http://www.reuters.com
Kraft Foods Inc., which was at the center of a 2000 controversy over unapproved genetically modified corn finding its way into the food chain, on Monday said transgenic crops will gradually evolve to play an important role in nutrition and the environment.
"We believe that over time genetically modified ingredients will play a very important role both nutritionally and environmentally in terms of reduction of pesticide use around the world," Kraft Chief Executive Officer Roger Deromedi said. He was speaking at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago.
In the fall of 2000, Kraft pulled its Taco Bell brand taco shells from shelves across the United States after it was found that genetically modified StarLink corn -- approved for use only as feed for animals -- had been used in making the products.
ConAgra Foods Inc., the country's second-largest food manufacturer, soon after suspended milling operations at its corn processing plant in Kansas while it tested its supplies for StarLink corn. Azteca Milling, a distributor to Mission Foods and other food makers, stopped shipping and milling yellow corn in September 2000, and voluntarily recalled some corn products.
More than four years after the StarLink incident, South Korea, one of the world's largest importers of corn, still requires certification from suppliers that the corn it is buying to make food products does not contain StarLink corn.
Supporters of GMO technology say it will lower costs, increase yields, decrease the need for chemicals and help to feed a hungry world. Opponents are concerned about the health risks and the threat to the environment and say not enough studies have been done to prove it is safe and will not harm natural species.
Kraft's Deromedi said the food ingredients used by Kraft, the largest U.S. packaged food company, are well-documented on their safety to consumers in the United States. "Our criteria is to use genetically modified ingredients driven by both safety and by consumers themselves," he said, adding that Kraft does not use ingredients from transgenic crops in its products marketed in Western Europe.
Consumers in Europe are the primary bastion of opposition to genetically modified crops, grown extensively in the United States, because of their concerns over potential health woes. "We have a different consumer group in Europe, who feel differently about it," Deromedi said.
He said American consumers rely on the U.S. government to ensure the safety of genetically modified food ingredients, adding that it was not necessary for consumers to pay for the costs involved in ensuring the safety of such products.
One measure that has been touted is a so-called traceability rule, a process that will track the flow of grain from the farm to supermarket shelf -- something that can cost millions of dollars to implement in a country that produces billions of bushels of grain each year.
"I think they (consumers) have made the conclusion that given the safety of this ingredient, that they can rely on their government, that it is not necessary to pay this cost," Deromedi said.
Tanzania Jumps On GM Bandwagon
- Hans Nakora, Arusha Times (Tanzania), March 14, 2005 http://allafrica.com/stories/200503140605.html
Tanzania says it cannot afford to be left behind in technologies that increase crop yields, reduce farm costs and increase farm profits, Arusha-based TPRI is pioneering GMO experiments.
With an ever-increasing global population and massive third world hunger, Africa has never been overly excited over genetically modified food. Instead, in many places, genetically modified food is treated as the greatest threat ever to human civilization.
Now Tanzania is thinking twice, and actually not dismissing GMO as a threat, as it joins six other African countries in conducting in-depth scientific research that would eventually open its doors to Genetically Engineered Products.
It will start the GMO's Confined Field Trials (CFT) in Southern parts of the country where cotton farming was stopped in 1968 in a government move then aimed at halting the spread of redball worm disease that affected cotton yield. Depending on the outcome of the GM cotton, which Tanzanian scientists say will be positive and well received by the cotton farming communities, GM cassava will be their next target.
A cabinet paper on GMO policy has already been prepared and Parliament is scheduled to debate and approve the approaches towards GMO technologies in mid this year, according to Dr. Jeremiah Haki, Tanzanian agricultural ministry's Director for Research. He says Tanzania, which largely depends on agriculture, cannot afford to be left behind in technologies that increase crop yields, reduce farm costs and increase farm profits.
Other countries that have already started genetically modified crops trials are Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Kenya. South Africa is the only African country that is already in commercial production of GM crops.
Tanzania is one of the countries that has ratified the Cartagena protocol on biosafety, an international law which was negotiated under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and has basic requirements for member countries to comply when pursuing GMO. Dr. Sivramiah 'Shanthu' Shantharam, a Member of the WHO/FAO Consultative Committee on Biotechnology- Food Safety, was in Tanzania last week for a seminar aimed to equip East African plant inspectors on GMO technology.
Senior phytosanitary inspectors from Uganda's ministry of agriculture, phytosanitary services and commission for science and technology attended the GM training workshop in Arusha, so were their counterparts from Kenya Plant Heath Services and Commission for science and technology.
The objective of the workshop, which involved EA plant inspectors, included to familiarize phytosanitary inspectors with the principles and procedures of compliance and inspection required for the execution of safe confined field trials (CFTs) of GM crops (GMCs), as well as and to enhance the participants' understanding of concepts and issues associated with modern agrobiotechnology.
Kenyan and Ugandan participants said they were impressed with Tanzania's biosafety structure and hoped their governments would emulate their East African partner and start similar structures. In Tanzania, the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee, NBAC, has been established under the Ministry of Science Technology and Higher Education (MSTHE) and placed at Commission for Science & Technology.
It is the national focal point for the biotechnology/biosafety activities in Tanzania. The NBAC consists of members from various institutions which include policy makers, government agencies, R&D institutions, and the private sector. The NBAC is an advisory body regarding introduction and development of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the country. Decisions by this body take into account human and environmental safety, public concerns, ethical, and socio-economics factors.
Dr.Shantharam said that time was ripe for East Africa to start GM related experiments, saying Africa should start to benefit from GMO technology, that he said have the potentials of alleviating the problem of hunger in Third World countries.
Dr Hussein Mongi, Alpha Seed Company Director of Research and Development, said with the GMO training workshop, the East Africa region biosafety inspectors will be more efficient and effective in performing their responsibilities of enforcing biosafety regulations in their respective countries and eastern Africa as a whole.
The key benefit in regional biosafety regulations harmonization is to have in all the three countries personnel who are well-trained in the application of the same standard regulations and who can effectively and consistently enforce these regulations.
The GMO's Confined Field Trials (CFT) in Southern parts could be good news to members of parliament in Southern highland regions who have been calling on he government to find alternative means to re-start cotton production in the regions.
Once the bacterium is introduced into crops, they are programmed to kill pests that try to feed on them, protecting food crops from insects that might reduce agricultural yield, according to scientist Dr. Roshan Abdallah.
Tanzanian scientists will also research into a genetically modified form of cassava that will deter and resist virus that have been a major drawback to cassava growing in the country, Dr. Abdallah (Mrs) from the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI), said.
Cassava is a major staple in the diet of as many as 500 million people, mostly in Africa but they have lately not been resistant to the infamous Cassava Mosaic, a virus that has ravaged crops across Eastern Africa. Under GMO technology, many food plants are being genetically engineered to resist pests that include bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as Bt, a bacterium that occurs naturally in the soil.
Genetic engineering makes it possible to locate the gene that produces Bt proteins lethal to insects and transfer the gene into crop plants. Dr Gratian Bamwenda, the Director General of the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI), says his institutions will closely monitor the development and testing of a genetically engineered products and provide scientific advices concerning their safety. He said bio-safety review teams will assess the potential risks associated with GMOs and evaluates the possibility of the risk occurring and the magnitude of harm.
The scientist said where GMO related risks are identified, management measures are investigated, which will minimise the risks and ensure safety of the proposed activity. Although there is still some ambivalence about the long-term effects of genetically modified foods, many consumers in East Africa are probably already eating these products without their knowledge.
South Africa and the United States have made trials in Bt maize and if maize has been imported from these countries it's possible that people have eaten these genetically modified products. In Africa there are no laws at present which require food containers to have labels detailing the way their ingredients have been made and, as a result, there is no way that consumers can know what they are really eating.
U. S. Left at the Station
- Gordon Couger, www.couger.com/gcouger
I think we all have been left at the station 4 or 5 years ago as the landscape of the USA became more conservative than the EU on embryonic stem cells and the EU ban on GM crops cost us years of research. The same was not true in China the made gestures to make the EU be a bit quieter and proceed full bore with work on GM crops.
I see desperate people from all over the world going to China for stem cell therapy.
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=1&ObjectID=10115303 http://www.ajc.com/health/content/health/0205/25stemcell.html http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1046543.cms http://www.wpherald.com/storyview.php?StoryID=20050221-080149-8121r http://www.lex18.com/Global/story.asp?S=3010202&nav=EQlsWuuk
The Orient doesn't face the same ethical problems that that hobbles the developed world. Chinese neurosurgeon have long been been willing to try thing that no one else will. I know of at least one that removes a nerve from the arm and hot wires around beaks in the spinal cord.
With the "go fever" got the USA on moon the US space program they will get results years soon before the timid ways of he US, UK, EU and Canada drag out the start of human trials on drugs and procedures. Actually China is proceeding more like X plane project that was killing one pilot a month in the 1950's There is no doubt that our safer ways save lives and suffering but they are giving couches like China a free ride on developing procedures and we will end up buying patents rights or procedures from them. And I am sure as sole source they will not price like the apparel and tools that flood the western world.
Having a multiple sclerosis lesion in my spine between C2 and C3 should the MS becomes active enough to cause serious damage there you can bet I will try and untested stem cell treatment before spending the rest of my life as quadriplegic on respirator. Fortunately the lesion is probably 45 years old and is just giving really annoying problem in the last 10 years. For some one with MS I am very lucky.
China is also ahead and gaining ground on GM crops because the profits of the western companies are to slim to do research at anywhere near full speed.
We may be safer and more ethical in our work but we will also come in second place and the second person to file the patent gets nothing. But the ethical choice is easy for someone that feels they have nothing to loose.
I have a considerable problem with the way drug testing is done in the USA. In an attempt to make drugs super safe the cause years of suffering and uncounted deaths and pain by treating terminally ill patients under the same rules as every one else. I don't see how someone with no dog in the fight can stand between someone with a few weeks to live an experimental treatment that may or may not help him but it may help the next person with that problem.
Just as those that came from Europe, Britain and the other developed places eclipsed their home lands in the new world China by moving full speed ahead will out do us all in biotech. Instead of debating the fine points they are just doing it.
Answer to DeGreef Questions: Benbrook of The Organic Trade Association Has Blood on His Hands -- Don't Let People Forget It!
- Alex Avery
Willie DeGreef asked at the US Grains council meeting:
"How did we get that far; who was responsible for whispering (those) messages to those policy makers," says DeGreef, referring to leaders of developing countries who have rejected humanitarian shipments of food that may contain genetically enhanced ingredients. "That is something that I would rather sooner or later want to find out, because you're talking about literally crimes against humanity."
I can answer this question in part -- it was Chuck Benbrook, now the director of the U.S. Organic Trade Associations' "Organic Center for Education and Promotion." See his open letter "Comments to the Zambian Delegation" below, which he sent during the Zambian delegations' visit to the U.S. where he didn't whisper, but openly warned the Zambians over the "dangers" and "risks" of GM food aid.
Not coincidentally, the mission of the OCEP is "to provide credible, scientific information about THE ORGANIC BENEFIT" which is funny, seeing as so far there isn't any evidence of an organic benefit in anything. But they're going to go find it, by God, which is exactly NOT the way science works. In science, you don't go looking for evidence to support a pre-conceived conclusion, you let the evidence lead you.
So, as DeGreef says, if there is blood on someone's hands, Benbrook's are certainly more than a little red, as is the entire organic farming community.
Thought you'd want to know. Oh, Benbrook will corroborate that he sent this letter, as will dozens of anti-biotech activist websites that reprinted it. He certainly can't deny that he sent this letter, as he widely distributed it.
Alex Avery, Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute Churchville, VA
Comments to the Zambian Delegates
- Dr. Charles Benbrook, Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, Sept. 13, 2002
Dear Distinguished Delegates from Zambia:
I am looking forward very much to a chance to visit with you via the phone on Friday afternoon. I apologize for not being able to get to Washington, D.C. to meet in person. I would have liked to do that very much, but it is a long way from North Idaho to the East Coast.
I am hopeful that your fact finding mission will convince you of a few key points, which should inform and guide your actions in the future as you deal with your country's unfolding food security challenges. First, there is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public and private donors. To a large extent, this "crisis" has been manufactured (might I say, "engineered") by those looking for a new source of traction in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology.
To use the needs of Zambians to score "political points" on behalf of biotechnology strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless. Second, if and when GMO corn is planted in Zambia, some degree of gene flow will occur to native varieties. There is universal agreement on this point now in the global scientific community. The more GMO corn planted, the more diverse its geographic spread, the faster and more complete the movement of transgenes will be into Zambian land races, i.e., your native corn varieties. Biotech advocates will argue that this is a good thing -- that Zambia is getting the benefit of "advanced" traits without having to pay for them. You should reject this silly notion.
The movement of biotech traits into your varieties will almost certainly not be of practical benefit, since levels of expression and the consistency of expression will be inadequate to provide farmers with a meaningful level of insect control. Indeed, it is more likely that gene flow will create some unexpected, and under certain circumstances damaging, physiological growth problems, or perhaps impairment of natural plant defense mechanisms.
Third, the flow of genes into Zambian corn varieties will almost certainly be detectable. Once it becomes known that GMO corn is growing in Zambia, European and Japanese buyers will insist upon a system to certify that Zambian corn was not produced from GMO seeds. Putting such a system in place, while possible, will prove costly, and indeed even the United States has not been able to do so, except for the organic market sector.
Fourth, when the companies advanced Bt corn through the regulatory process in the U.S. and Europe in the early 1990s, it was known and understood that 98% plus of the corn would be processed or fed to animals. If regulatory authorities had felt that a sizable portion of the populations of people consuming this corn would eat it directly (largely unprocessed) and that moreover, the corn might make up as much as half or two-thirds of daily caloric intake, they would NEVER have approved it based on the human safety data presented at the time.
Anyone who claims that U.S. and European regulatory reviews "prove" safety in the context of food aid to Africa is either ignorant of the factual basis of U.S. and European regulatory reviews, or is willing to make some rather major assumptions. In the final analysis, Bt corn might prove to be just as safe to humans when eaten directly and making up a large percent of the diet, but today, no one can point to a solid set of scientific studies that support this conclusion. Put simply, these questions have not arisen before and have not been the subject of any research, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps other experts or the U.S. State Department will be able to provide you with such studies.
Fifth, people in Africa who are suffering acute or chronic malnutrition may react to consumption of Bt corn, especially when minimally cooked and processed and present as a major share of their diet, in different ways than the average American or European has reacted to it, given how it has been incorporated in the food supply in North America and Europe. It is known that Bt corn may have adverse impacts on the stomach lining and that some potential food safety/allergenicity impacts are a function of gut bacteria and the overall health status of the GI tract. It is unlikely that any company or institution has carried out any research to determine whether these differences could translate into risks in Africa among the very hungry, risks that are both qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from those that might be expected in North America and Europe.
And sixth, the agronomic benefits of today's Bt corn varieties in the United States have been marginal, given that the target pest, the European corn borer (ECB) is an episodic pest in most corn growing regions and does not do much damage in most years. My research has shown that the premium price paid by farmers since 1996 for Bt corn seed varieties has been a poor investment averaged out across the whole nation. Where ECB levels have been high and consistent, Bt corn has clearly paid for itself. But on about two-thirds of planted acres each year, it clearly reduces per acre profits. The information and technology exists in the U.S. to target Bt corn to high-risk acres, but this approach is not compatible with biotechnology and seed company marketing and financial plans/objectives, and for this reason, this approach is the "road not taken."
As Zambia looks to the tools of biotechnology to improve the productivity of your farming sector, it will be important for Zambians to define the needs and the ways that this technology can be used in order for Zambia to be, and remain the beneficiary of progress made.
I am sure your hosts in Washington will provide you copies of various reports that substantiate the above points. You will also find much information on our website, Ag BioTech InfoNet, http://www.biotech-info.net/.
Thank you for the chance to share these views.
- Dr. Charles Benbrook
From Alex Avery:
Comments on Benbrook's letter to Zambian Delegation from the Center for Global Food Issues:
In the past, we at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues have had many disagreements with Dr. Benbrook. While these disagreements may have been strongly felt on both sides, a professional decorum has always been maintained on both sides. However, the letter that Dr. Benbrook apparently sent last Fall to the Zambian delegation on so-called "GMO" foods moves beyond professional disagreement into morally reprehensible misrepresentation. It is shockingly tragic and leaves Dr. Benbrook with the blood of starvation victims on his hands.
Dr. Benbrook claims that the humanitarian "crisis" in Southern Africa has been "engineered by those looking for a new source of traction in the evolving debate over [ag biotech]", and, further, that there "is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public and private donors." Yet in the same letter, Benbrook acknowledges that the "system to certify that [corn] was not produced from GMO seeds" is "costly, and indeed even the United States has not been able to do so."
Thus, I ask Dr. Benbrook: Where is the abundance of non-GMO corn that could be offered to Zambians? Dr. Benbrook is well aware that a long-standing US law requires food aid to be given in the form of US-held commodity stocks. Even in the U.S. -- by far the largest single food aid donor in the world, with ~60% of food aid donated thus far in this humanitarian crisis -- there simply isn't near enough "organic" corn available to meet Zambia's needs. Dr. Benbrook offers a false hope to the Zambians, one that he knows cannot be fulfilled to his standards.
Dr. Benbrook asserts, without any evidence whatsoever, that "movement of transgenes" into "Zambian land races" is likely to "create some unexpected, and under certain circumstances damaging, physiological growth problems, or perhaps impairment of natural plant defense mechanisms." Dr. Benbrook's blatant fearmongering -- to call it "informed speculation" would be charitable -- is clearly designed to scare the Zambian delegation. Such fearmongering in a time of hunger crisis is morally abhorent.
Finally, Dr. Benbrook asserts -- again without any supporting documentation -- that regulatory authorities "would NEVER have approved" biotech corn if the authorities "felt that a sizeable portion of the populations of people consuming [it] would eat it directly. . . [or if] the corn might make up as much as half or two-thirds of daily caloric intake".
There is no evidence whatsoever that responsible regulators would have rejected any biotech crop based on the type of speculation engaged in by Dr. Benbrook. In fact, US regulators are responsible for ensuring the safety of all consumers -- including those in the US whose diet IS comprised of a high proportion of corn. There are many populations in the United States whose diets are comprised of a high proportion of minimally-processed corn, especially African American, Hispanic and Native American populations in the South and Southwest. Dr. Benbrook has zero evidence of any risks posed by biotech corn or other approved biotech crops. Again, this is blatant fearmongering on the part of Dr. Benbrook.
When all are more or less well fed, society can "afford" some level of unsubstantiated speculation of the type now part-and-parcel to the anti-biotech activists community, of which Dr. Benbrook is a leader. In times of real human misery and need, such as that occuring in Zambia and Southern Africa, this sort of unsubstantiated speculation is not only fear mongering, it is death mongering.
Dr. Benbrook owes the starving citizens of Zambia a profound apology. The citizens that recently liberated 230 tons of US corn from locked warehouses owe Dr. Benbrook their contempt. For those that have already died, humanity owes them a vow to keep political agendas out of crisis policy and responses.
- Alex Avery, The Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues
Your Support Needed for Pharmaceutical Crop Trials
USDA has called for public comments on the Ventria Bioscience application to obtain a permit to grow plant-made pharmaceutical rice in Missouri. Please help the biotech efforts of this company by writing to ISDA/APHIS supporting their application to grow this engineered rice as it has tremendous implications.
Please see the links to the federal docket plus other relevant documents. Please see my letter to USDA, and feel free to send a similar letter yourself.
Thanks for your consideration,
To send your Comments, go to:
Select Ventria's docket toward the bottom. There are two for Ventria, one for lactoferrin and one for lysozyme, please be sure to submit the comments to both. Click on the bubble in the right column and follow the instructions for submitting comments.
Link to Ventria's Environmental Assessment:
Link to the Federal Register Notice:
COPIES OF MY LETTER TO USDA
United States Department of Agriculture
Docket No. 05-006-1 and Docket No. 05-007-1 Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238
Dear Secretary of Agriculture Johanns:
Re: Docket No. 05-006-1 and Docket No. 05-007-1
I am writing to support Ventria Bioscience's efforts to obtain a permit to grow plant-made pharmaceutical rice in Missouri. Plant-made pharmaceuticals offer numerous advantages for the advancement of global human health and by providing higher value agricultural crops for America's farmers.
Plant-made pharmaceuticals offer an affordable alternative for production of life-saving medicines at a scale of production not available with current technologies. Ventria is currently working on products to address gastrointestinal health, which is a leading cause of death for children under the age of five (5), claiming 1.3 million lives annually according to the World Health Organization. This is just one product being developed by Ventria and the plant-made pharmaceutical industry. Other products are targeting infectious disease, cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, cystic fibrosis and many other diseases.
With successful production of plant-made pharmaceuticals, America's farmers will have an opportunity to utilize their skills and resources to add value and create job opportunities in rural areas. Although this will not happen overnight, it will contribute significantly to the economic development of rural areas and could become a major factor in the next decade. Without these types of value-added opportunities, America's farmers will be stuck with low margin commodity crops.
After reviewing the USDA Environmental Assessment and Ventria's history of six consecutive years of growing plant-made pharmaceuticals under USDA permit, scientifically there is every reason to grant this permit. It is clear from the Environmental Assessment conducted by USDA that Ventria's rice poses no risk to the environment. The Company's track record is also an important consideration and is among the best in the plant biotechnology industry.
Ventria utilizes a closed system to produce its proteins. This closed system involves the use of self-pollinating plants and dedicated production where the viable seed is processed by grinding into a powder before shipment from the production location. Since rice is a self pollinating plant, the risk of outcrossing is very limited. Self pollinating plants contain both the male and female reproduction systems within the same plant and do not require wind or insect pollination for reproduction. Outcrossing has been studied by numerous scientists and these studies have shown no outcrossing of rice beyond 30 feet. In fact, within 6 feet, the outcrossing rate is very low at 1 in 1.6 million according to a recent study by University of California at Davis. Since Ventria utilizes a fallow area of 50 feet and also is at least _ mile from any other rice, the outcrossing risk has been sufficiently mitigated. Ventria also utilizes technology that allows for production of the product in the seed only during the last month of the growing phase of the plant. This means that it is not present in the leaf, stems, or root material.
In consideration of the facts, I urge you to approve this permit as there is no scientific evidence why this permit should be rejected.
Very truly yours,
C. S. Prakash
United States Department of Agriculture
Docket No. 05-006-1 and Docket No. 05-007-1 Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238
Dear Secretary of Agriculture Johanns:
Re: Docket No. 05-006-1 and Docket No. 05-007-1
I am writing in support of Ventria Bioscience's Permit Application based on the Environmental Assessment recently posted for open comment. Ventria Bioscience has been growing plant made pharmaceutical rice under USDA permit since 1997 and the Environmental Assessment very clearly establishes that Ventria's rice poses no risk to the environment and that their permit should be approved.
This permit would allow Ventria to grow 150 acres of plant-made pharmaceutical rice containing lactoferrin and lysozyme. Lactoferrin and lysozyme are part of the body's innate immune system and are found in bodily secretions such as tears, saliva and mother's milk. Lactoferrin and lysozyme play important roles in human health including anti-microbial activity to fight infections by bacteria, viruses and fungi and immunomodulatory activity to support the body's immune system, in addition lactoferrin has anti-inflammatory properties to combat inflammation.
Ventria is developing a number of products for human health. One product, an improved oral rehydration solution containing lactoferrin and lysozyme, has the potential to rehydrate and manage acute diarrhea in children. This is critically important when you consider that the world's second leading cause of death for children under five is dehydration due to acute diarrhea. Ventria is also studying these proteins for management of irritable bowel disease and management of diarrhea in geriatric patients. Ventria is developing a number of other products which incorporate one or both of these proteins and other treatments including monoclonal antibodies.
Ventria's products are representative of a production technology called plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMPs) and are the result of an application of biotechnology that enables plants to produce therapeutic proteins to combat life-threatening illnesses. In this process, plants themselves become "factories" that manufacture therapeutic proteins. These proteins are then isolated and formulated into human health products. Using plants to produce pharmaceutical proteins could deliver on the promise of affordable health solutions to combat disease in the US as well as diseases afflicting the developing world. Grain producing plants are the world's largest and most effective producers of protein, and through biotechnology, they can produce specific therapeutic proteins required in large amounts.
Plant-made pharmaceuticals have the potential to provide patients with the benefits of greater access to necessary medicines. Doctors and patients are always seeking new treatments for disease, but often don't have access because the medicine cannot be produced in large enough quantities to meet demand. Enbrel, manufactured by Immunex Corporation as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is a perfect example of the problem of demand. This treatment was so successful that it created the most overwhelming supply shortage in pharmaceutical history and patients had to be put on waiting lists to receive treatment. Analysts predict that biotech drug shortages like this may become more common and this is just one example why biotechnology firms are looking to plant-made pharmaceuticals to expedite patient access to new therapeutics. This permit is a very important step in the continued development and application of this technology.
In closing, I urge you to consider what plant-made pharmaceuticals mean to patients that need affordable access to new disease treatments and the promise that this technology holds for managing world disease. I think you will agree that that this exciting new area of biotechnology could make a significant impact on the future of medicine.
C. S. Prakash
The Price of Transgenic Supports the Large Owners - FAO Official
- Judith Rueff, Liberation (France) March 12, 2005 http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=281882&AG
(Unimproved machine translation from French - forwarded by Prof. Vivian Moses)
Arturo Martinez is responsible for the service for the seeds and phytogenetic resources of FAO, the United Nations for the food and agriculture.
Q* Is FAO declared for or counters cultures GMO? (It was machine translation!..CSP)
A - For FAO, the reinforcement of the capacities of the developing countries in the field of agricultural biotechnologies and the biosecurity is a priority. This action is well beyond the support for research on the transgenic cultures, it includes/understands also the techniques of reproduction of the seeds or the fight against the viruses. With regard to cultures GMO, our principal concern, it is to prevent the monopoly of research. Today, the three great genetically modified productions ? soya, the corn and4 cotton ? are indeed almost entirely with the hands of four large private firms (1). These companies are very related to the pharmaceutical research, which has other concerns that the improvement of the plant varieties. For cereals for example, once that a variety GMO was obtained, it remains still much of work to adapt it to the ecosystem of an area. I point out that there is no today GMO consumed directly by people in Europe and in the United States.
* Beyond don't their scientific interest, the GMO make the peasants dependent on large seed-bearer, like Monsanto for soya?
- The true problem of transgenic is a socio-economic problem for the countries in the process of development. Monopolizing the production of seeds, the large companies impose their price. Seed GMO is sold expensive: the large producers can buy it but not the small farmers. They are thus underprivileged on the market. This inequality involves a redistribution of the grounds to the profit of largest, especially in Latin America, in Paraguay for example. One can wonder what will occur in the land plan to West A4frica (where 60 % of the population lives in the campaigns) or in China, which are adopting the transgenic culture of cotton on a large scale. But one should not either fall into the caricature nor to have an ideological approach of the question. In Argentina, the culture of soya GMO was a great success since 2001: thanks to the Chinese imports, the country left the economic crisis.
* What does one know environmental impact of these cultures?
- One controls the consequences well on the environment of the GMO in North America or Argentina, of the moderate areas where the grounds are cultivated since more than one century. The things are less clear in the tropical and subtropical areas: we miss reliable information on possible damage of the weedkillers, in particular on the grounds. We work with the ecologists to define the priorities as regards management of the ecosystems. The durable use of the resources, and in particular of water, is of the fi4rst importance for the countries of the south, and not only for poorest of them.
* Can the adoption of the transgenic cultures by the developing countries enable them to nourish their populations?
- Biotechnologies can help to fight the hunger and the OGM will be perhaps one of the elements among others making it possible to come to end from malnutrition in the world. But the transgenic cultures are not the miracle solution. Because before being a problem of technologies, the hunger is a more complicated problem of distribution of the richnesses, access to the food market of poorest. For the Èradiquer, it is necessary to regulate the problems of access to water, with education in the campaigns, in par4ticular that of the women because it is they which cultivate the ground in many countries of the south. To retain the elites, for example the agricultural technicians best trained who expatrient themselves towards the developed countries, is at least as significant as the use of new plants resulting from biotechnic research.
(1) Syngenta, Monsanto, Delta and Land Pine and Dupont.