Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: April 19, 2005
* Greenpeace breeds hypocrisy
* Don't Go Organic.
* Biosecurity, Biosafety and the Precautionary Principle
* Register of existing GM food and feed products published
* EU Clashes with U.S. Over GMO Maize Feed Imports
* Professor Takes UC to Court, Citing Discrimination
Greenpeace breeds hypocrisy
- The Daily Campus, By Josh Levinson, 4/14/05
Many people often assume my undying hatred toward hippies stems from their designer sandals or ceaseless desire to listen to bands like the Dave Matthews Band, the Grateful Dead or Phish. Although listening to this type of music is a fairly good reason to dislike someone, my reasons are actually slightly more complex (and sadly, less hilarious).
Consider the forefront of the environmentalist movement: Greenpeace. Even with noble intentions, Greenpeace lowers themselves to the same method of control their enemies (i.e., major corporations and "big, scary government") use with fear and propaganda.
Oftentimes, even without scientific data, Greenpeace warns of "disastrous" consequences and "devastating famines" from the result of anything they don't happen to endorse.
Members of Greenpeace resort to scare tactics and catchy slogans, such as referring to genetically-modified food as "Frankenfoods" (as if comparing a reanimated corpose to genetically altered crops for higher yields was a valid method of argument) or screaming "Save the Rainforests!"
However, we must remember who Greenpeace is ultimately composed of, with its predominantly white, middle class members from affluent capitalist countries who have never wondered where their next meal is coming from.
One of Greenpeace's founders, former President Patrick Moore (now of Greenspirit.com), turned his back on the organization he helped build after saying members "hijacked a considerable portion of the environmental movement back in the mid-80's and who have become very clever at using green language to cloak campaigns that have more to do with anti-industrialism, anti-globalization, anti-corporate, all of those things that are behind political campaigns."
Anyone who's ever been to an Earth Day Festival or environmental rally knows exactly what he's talking about. Instead of an intelligent conversation about the effects of global warming, activists are quick to blame "Big Oil" and any capitalist venture they can wrap up into their propagandist message.
Greenpeace and other environmental outfits have furthered their anti-corporate message with a stance against genetically-modified foods. On their official web site, they warn, "they pose unacceptable risks to ecosystems, and threaten biodiversity, wildlife, and sustainable forms of agriculture."
Their scientific evidence? Hey, who needs scientific evidence when you can scare people into thinking the only way to save the planet is to eat all-organic foods?
Yet, they fail to mention genetically-engineered (GE) foods are actually tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), all of whom deem the food fit to eat and deems no risk to health.
Think Greenpeace is just a little silly? Think again. In 2002, Greenpeace and other organizations helped convince Zambia and other impoverished nations to reject thousands of pounds of free, genetically-engineered maize because it was "poisoned," despite the fact Americans have been eating it since the mid-1990s with no adverse health effects.
We're talking about countries where millions are starving to death every year and now we have members of Greenpeace, who come from countries where food is abundant and plentiful, telling them they shouldn't eat genetically-engineered produce because it's "dangerous" based upon a complete lack of scientific data.
If you can find a better definition of moral hypocrisy, I would love to hear it. Just ask 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and one of the greatest men in the history of mankind, Norman Bourlaug.
In case you've never heard of him, that's because he was too busy saving lives to protest genetically-modified food or scream anti-capitalist propaganda. Boulaug is estimated to have saved more human lives than anyone in the entire history of mankind. How did he do it?
Beginning in the 1960s, Bourlaug began breeding new kinds of wheat resistant to pests and disease in Mexico. He saved over a million lives. Then he took his family and moved to India, where he did the same exact thing. Experts estimate his technological breakthroughs in genetics and agriculture have saved hundreds of millions of lives.
As Bourlaug points out, farmers have been cross-breeding genetics for years between plants. In biotechnology's favor, he says, "biotechnology will allow us to cross genetic barriers that we were never able to cross with conventional genetics and plant breeding. In the past, conventional plant breeders were forced to bring along many other genes with the genes, say, for insect or disease resistance that we wanted to incorporate in a new crop variety. These extra genes often had negative effects, and it took years of breeding to remove them."
The essential argument against genetically-engineered foods is they are "unnatural." But this is a misleading argument to say the least. Is it "unnatural" to save a child from disease? Is it "unnatural" to prevent someone from freezing to death? Is it "unnatural" to ever administer care for anyone in need simply because it didn't happen without man's interference?
Furthermore, GE crops yield better returns with even less land. From 1960 to 1990, the most important U.S. crops had gone from 252 million tons to 596 million tons - while using 25 million less acres! In fact, purely organic farming would require 460 million more acres of the same quality just to match our current food output. Can you imagine what Greenpeace would say if we took away 460 million acres of Wildlife Reservations to grow food for those disgusting humans?
Although many point out the socioeconomic inequalities between countries will always leave people starving, it would be foolish to say we should not attempt to create more food on less land if it will help people.
Farmers already use pesticides and cross-breeding in order to improve their yields. Genetic engineering simply allows this breeding to be far more selective and effective. We have not crossed a line except into rationality and technology. Activists can scream "Frankenfoods" all night and day, but how many of them have ever lied awake at night, starving to death? By what right do they deprive countries that need food the most from accepting it because it doesn't fit with their worldview of an "all-natural world."
For those of you keeping count at home, developing genetically-engineered foods has now been added to the list of drilling for oil, building nuclear power plants, cutting down trees and using cars as things we aren't allowed to do.
Apparently, feeding people and providing energy for a world of more than 6 billion people just isn't "natural."
Don't Go Organic.
- Owen McShane , "Straight Thinking" New Zealand's National Business Review, April 15, 2005
Don't Go Organic. As we move into election mode many lobby groups will insist Government should formally go 'Go Organic'. I have no objection to people wanting to grow organic food, sell organic food and eat organic food. It beats the hell out of the inorganic stuff.
However, "going all organic" is a dangerous public doctrine. Modern economies are science-based and, in particular, New Zealand's agriculture is science-based. The organic food-fad is based on pseudo-science. When governments adopt pseudo-science in one area it soon spreads to others. The government has already funded courses teaching Rudolph Steiner's weird theories of agriculture, and homeopathy. Both were justified on the grounds that organic farmers must understand organic theory and know how to use diluted water to treat their animals. As long as the organic market remains small, these whimsies do little harm. But to expand its markets the organic industrial lobby must widely promote its false claims that organic produce is healthier and safer.
The organic industry lobby is keen on truth in labeling - but not for its own stuff. Do they really want labels declaring that organic vegetables are likely to contain more pesticides than regular vegetables? Do they really want labels declaring that organic corn is likely to contain far more carcinogens than regular corn? In 2003, British authorities pulled 10 brands of organic corn meal from supermarkets because they were contaminated with anywhere from up to thirty three times the EU safety limit for carcinogenic fumonisins. One U.S. Agriculture Department study found fumonisin levels were 3,000 to 4,000 times lower in GM corn than in regular corn and 30,000 times lower than in organic corn. In 2004 research from the University of Minnesota found significantly more E. coli and Salmonella bacteria on organic produce than on conventional produce. The researchers said this didn't mean the organic food was more dangerous, but merely "supports the idea that organic produce is more susceptible to fecal contamination."
Well Golly Gosh - that's all right then. When pressed about such matters, organic lobbyists retract their claims of superior health and safety but hang on to their claims of superior soil management. That may well be - but how long will supermarket buyers put up with eating "fecal contamination" for the sake of supposedly healthier soil. No Government should officially endorse and promote a food-fad based on falsehoods and pseudo-science, because such endorsement finally corrodes all public policy, public science and public decision making. The journey from Steiner horns and 'peppering', to crystal-healing and spooky taniwha is a short one. Worse, our future markets will not be impressed with such romantic posturing which they associate with the eco-imperialists who put environmental myths ahead of their third world lives.
Future historians will rank the fifty million DDT preventable malaria deaths to date, right up there with Hitler's holocaust and Stalin's gulag. We sit at the bottom of the Asia Pacific Rim and the twenty seven economies of APEC are booming. The Americans have been eating GM foods for a decade now and are singularly unperturbed. In 2003 a nationwide survey indicated that the GM-Bt-cotton growers of India obtained, on average, increased yields of about 30% due to effective control of bollworms, a 60% reduction in chemical spray use, and a 78% increase in net profit, compared to their non-Bt counterparts. Nearly five million small farmers in China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Morocco grew genetically modified cotton to protect against boll weevil. The next generation of transgenic products will focus more on nutritional enhancement and tolerance to drought, salt, cold and other stresses.
Ironically the high regulatory costs imposed by green lobbyists in the West mean that only large multinational corporations can afford to develop these new crops - and these corporations are then vilified for squeezing out the smaller players. The smaller players are already emerging from the more rational economies of APEC. Unlike Europe, which faces population collapse and is talking itself into a nervous breakdown, the APEC economies are confident of their future and believe in the benefits of science and technology. They are not about to commit economic suicide by adopting the Precautionary Principle and the Kyoto Protocol. Their populations are expanding and their wealth is increasing. Our near neighbours of the Pacific Rim will appreciate the quality of our produce, but they will not be impressed by the high costs of nature worship or by market promotions based on false claims of health and safety. Certainly, they will sing us no praises if we side with eco-imperialists like Greenpeace who would sooner see them die of disease or starvation than enjoy the benefits of modern science and technology.
Owen McShane Director,
Centre for Resource Management Studies
158 Rangiora Road, R.D. 2,
Kaiwaka, Northland, 0582 New Zealand.
Phone: 64 9 431 2775
Fax: 64 9 431 2772
See Centre web page at: http://www.RMAStudies.org.nz
See personal web page at: http://mcshane.orcon.net.nz
Biosecurity, Biosafety and the Precautionary Principle
- Sephra Rampersad, Trinidad,
The nature of science dictates that there will be risk involved in the method and outcome of research regardless of the field or discipline. The risks related to research in the field of biotechnology and products that are developed from such research efforts have been subject to greater scrutiny (except perhaps for drug research and development) because the impacts of this technology are pervasive and directly affect society, economy and trade, food security, public health, environmental stability and scientific research and development. There are two main categories of protection that must be afforded every country in recognition of the potential risks that may affect most aspects of what it means to be alive in this century.
It has been demonstrated that regulation is the method that will achieve the highest level of compliance among concerned parties. Implementation of good practices is a challenge and requires a significant change in organizational and workplace culture and level of lab citizenry and a thorough and continued analysis of terms and conditions of operations and procedures. Many countries have used the terms biosecurity and biosafety interchangeably. Best regulatory practices within the context of biosecurity means the prevention of deliberate misuse or abuse of biological organisms and toxins. Support of biotechnology and critical endorsement of biotechnology-related products and services require a regulatory system that monitors the operations and procedure of biotechnology research facilities. The American Phytopathological Society Council, which produces highly subscribed journals in the fields of plant pathology and plant disease, has recognized the importance of compliance with biosecurity measures in conducting research (1).
Biosecurity can also be defined within the capacity of stopping potentially harmful organisms at airports and sea ports, taking justifiable measures to eradicate such agents that evade border clearance, and managing the impact of those which have become established in the country. Accidental or illegal/intentional importations of Genetically Modified Plants (GMPs) and Genetically Modified Seeds (GMS) with the potential to disrupt ecological stability must be monitored and regulated. New Zealand has strongly enforced biosecurity systems in place that allow rigorous border patrols and strict monitoring of trans-boundary movement of any material considered to be harmful to the people and environment of New Zealand (2).
Biosafety may be broadly defined as protection of human health and biodiversity and may be relevant to many fields of science. Within the context of biotechnology, however, the rules governing research and release of products arising out of such research become more defined. Biosafety guidelines should not only serve to regulate and monitor the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Genetically Modified Food (GMF), but also require systems to measure, manage and communicate the risks involved in the release of such material to the public and the environment. Risk management must also examine the research methods by which such products were developed. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP) as a supplementary agreement to the Convention on 29 January 2000 in recognition of the importance of biodiversity protection. The Protocol seeks to safeguard biodiversity from any risks related to use and release of living modified organisms (LMOs) arising from biotechnology research, and proposes "an advanced informed agreement (AIA) procedure" to ensure countries have access to information necessary for determining the risk of importation of LMOs into their country or region (3). The FAO has projected that "biosafety protocols should eventually strive to protect resources for food and agriculture, while allowing for their sustainable use, development of international trade and their commercialization" (3).
The precautionary principle has been used to "simplify" the decision-making process with respect to the development of country-specific policies and stategies under biosecurity and biosafety sections that govern biotechnology risk management and observation. There is a consensus that there is a lack of understanding of the principles of biotechnology by those who are not directly involved in biotechnology research and attempts to convey the science to the layman have resulted in mistranslations and misunderstandings. Mistaking "precaution" to mean "prevention" is another misdemeanour of which many policy-makers have been guilty. Where there is uncertainty, it is better "to err on the side of caution" (8) which superficially seems to be putting common-sense into practice. By factoring in the fallability of human understanding, it is better to restrain the action rather than to allow it and risk potentially negative consequences. However, one example of implementing such a simplistic interpretation of this ideal would mean that global drug research and development would halt and no drug would ever be released on the market because of its side-effects. There is a place for the precautionary principle in defining biosecurity and biosafety measures but interpetation must be subject to rigorous context evaluation.
A communication on the precautionary principle prepared by the Commission of the European Communities (4) has attempted to clearly define the context by which the precautionary principle should be referenced. The European Chemistry Industry Council (CEFIC) has also prepared a position paper on the precautionary principle (as stated in Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development) in which it is proposed that the industry function within a framework guided by specific conditions of precaution (5). The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) has also prepared a report (Chapter 1) including the boundaries by which the application of the precautionary principle should be maintained in developing a conceptual framework for environmental policy and governance (6). The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) has put forward a position paper on the interpretation and application of the precautionary principle (7) similar to the CEFIC.
While there are other examples where stakeholders have recognized the need to attach context to the precautionary principle and specific fields and disciplines of science and industry, an approach should be made to develop consensus on the application of the precautionary principle to biotechnology. It is evident that, because of the potential risks associated with biosafety and biosecurity, the precautionary principle as applied to biotechnology should be dealt within a globally and broadly defined context which would then be harmonized to a country-specific framework of action and precaution as there would be varying degrees of emphasis according to each country's needs.
A consensus on the application of the precautionary principle to biotechnology implementation would address certain important issues excluding those concepts of "notions of care and wise practice" (9) such as research paralysis, what are the qualitative and quantitiative limits of acceptance of proof of harm, what boundaries should operationally define the precautionary principle as related to biotechnology for the attainment of a balanced treatment of the socio-economic, political, environmental and scientific concerns and so that there is no hindrance to development and innovation and fair communication of concerns.
Countries, especially developing countries, cannot afford to allow the precautionary principle to be used in a manner that favors technological and industrial inaction as a result of socio-political fears of the unknown. Policy-makers should not make reference to the precautionary principle without defining the context for its use and justifying the operational boundaries for its applications. Herbert Spence and the press of the day coined the term "Survival of the Fittest" in reference to Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection and educators have spent decades attempting to correct this misconception in science education and the media. In the interest of best biotechnology practices, every effort should be expended to ensure that the public is not misguided by an oversimplification of "The precautionary principle".
References 1. Statement from APS Council. Policy Guidelines of the Publications Board of The American Phytopathological Society in the Handling of Manuscripts Dealing With Crop Biosecurity and Agricultural Bioterrorism Issues.
2. New Zealand Biosecurity Institute. www.biosecurity.org.nz
3. FAO and the Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity. (2001). http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/sustdev/RTdirect/RTre0034.htm
4. Commission of the European Communities. (2000). Communication from the Commission on the Precautionary Principle.
5. European Chemistry Industry Council (CEFIC) (1999). Position paper on the precautionary principle.
6. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP). (2003). The Twenty-fourth Report on Chemicals in Products - Safeguarding the Environment and Human Health (Cm 5827, ISBN 0 10 158272 2). Cm 5827, ISBN 0 10 158272 2. Chapter 1., pp.1-10.
7. European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). (2000). ECPA's position on the interpretation and application of the precautionary principle. D/99/HA/4740.
8. Jones, P. B. C. (2000). "The Precautionary Principle: Legal Doctrine or Rorschach Inkblot Test?" Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report.
9. O'Riordan, T. and Cameron, J. (1994). Interpreting the precautionary principle. Earthscan Publications Ltd., ISBN 1-85383-200-6.
Register of existing GM food and feed products published
- European Commission, 18 April 2005
The Commission has published a list of 26 genetically modified (GM) products which have been legally on the EU market since before the new legislative framework for authorising GM food and feed had entered into effect. These so-called “existing products” were either approved under former EU legislation, or did not require approval at the time that they were put on the market. They have been added to a specific section of the Community register of genetically modified (GM) food and feed in order to clarify exactly which GM products are legally permitted to be sold in the EU and to have full information on these products.
Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said: “This register is an important tool to clarify the legal status of GMOs allowed for sale in the EU before the current legislation entered into force in April 2004. The register makes it clear which products can legally be sold in the EU, although in reality many of these products may not currently be on the EU market.”
Since the entry into force of Regulation 1829/2003 on GM food and feed in April 2004, all GM products seeking to enter the EU market as food or feed have to undergo a thorough authorisation procedure, including a scientific safety assessment by EFSA. However, there are certain GM food and feed products which can be legally sold in the EU according to the rules in place before Regulation 1829/2003.. In order to cover these GM products, Regulation 1829/2003 stipulated that operators who wished to continue marketing an “existing product” had to notify the Commission and submit detailed information on the GMO before 18 October 2004. Non-notified products will no longer be allowed on the EU market. The Commission, in co-operation with the Joint Research Centre, examined the validity of the notifications it received and agreed to enter 26 GMOs into a specifically created section of the Community register of genetically modified food and feed. Once one of these “existing products” is on this register, it can legally be sold in the EU for a set period of between 3-9 years, after which it has to resubmit an application for the renewal of the authorisation.
For the register of GM “existing products”, see:
EU Clashes with U.S. Over GMO Maize Feed Imports
- Kerala Next, April 19, 2005
Europe and the United States crossed swords on Friday after EU experts blocked imports of U.S. maize animal feed and grains unless there is proof they are untainted by an illegal genetically modified organism (GMO).
The United States, which has challenged EU biotech policy at the World Trade Organization, called the move an over-reaction.
From next week, U.S. exports to Europe of corn gluten feed and brewers grains, a by-product of ethanol, must be certified by an internationally-accredited laboratory to show there is no presence of Bt-10 maize, a GMO that is not authorized in Europe.
These measures will be reviewed at the end of October. U.S. exporters send 3.5 million tons of corn gluten feed to Europe each year, a trade worth some 350 million euros ($449 million).
"Imports of maize products which are certified as free of Bt-10 will be able to continue, but at the same time we cannot and will not allow a GMO which has not gone through our rigorous authorization procedures to enter the EU market," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.
Last month Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta said some of its maize seeds sent to the EU from the United States were mistakenly mixed with Bt-10. This insect-resistant strain is similar to Bt-11, a different GMO strain that won EU approval for distribution in 1998.
Syngenta said it respected the Commission's decision "to ensure compliance with the existing regulations."
"We are fully committed to continue co-operation with all concerned parties," Mike Mack, chief operating officer of Syngenta Seeds, said in a statement.
OVER-REACTION, SAYS U.S.
In Europe, consumers have been far more reluctant than in the U.S. to accept GMO products, often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods," while manufacturers of GMO foods insist they are safe.
U.S. officials condemned the EU move.
"We view the EU's decision to impose a certification requirement on U.S. corn gluten due to the possible, low-level presence of Bt-10 corn to be an over-reaction," said Edward Kemp, spokesman at the U.S. mission to the European Union.
"U.S. regulatory authorities have determined there are no hazards to health, safety or the environment related to Bt-10," he said. "There is no reason to expect any negative impact from the small amounts of Bt-10 corn that may have entered the EU."
The maize mix-up occurred sometime between 2001 and 2004.
Small amounts of seeds, up to 10 kilograms, arrived in France and Spain from U.S. suppliers for research purposes. All the seeds have since been destroyed.
Some 1,000 tonnes of Bt-10 maize also entered the EU as food and animal feed but it is still not clear to which countries. Around 70 percent of this is thought to be animal feed.
Green groups said the decison amounted to an effective ban on imports of U.S. maize-based feeds for the foreseeable future.
"Today's emergency measures will be unpopular with the U.S. government and the biotechnology industry but will start to protect Europe from more contaminated products," said Adrian Bebb at Friends of the Earth Europe.
Professor Takes UC to Court, Citing Discrimination
Chapela Says His Origin, Criticism of UC Sparked Retaliation
- Daily Californian, April 19, 2005
UC Berkeley associate professor Ignacio Chapela took his ongoing battle for tenure to court yesterday, claiming his national origin and criticism of a UC research contract drove UC to deny him tenure.
Chapela, an associate professor of microbial biology, was denied tenure twice in 2003, after receiving nearly unanimous support from the first two tenure committees. He lost his bid for tenure when it was rejected by the third and final committee.
He has since gained immense support from his followers, who claim his rejection was a response to his opposition to UC research contracts and other controversial articles he published.
“It was time to open my case up to the purview of the state of California, the nation and the world,” Chapela said in a press conference Monday. “It is with happiness that I come to the court to do what the university has not been able to do.”
In January, Chapela and the university reached a mutual agreement to conduct a new tenure review process, said George Strait, assistant vice chancellor of public affairs. The final review committee is set to make its revised recommendation in two weeks, but Chapela went forward with the suit because he faced an April 21 deadline for filing a discrimination lawsuit.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has ultimate authority on granting tenure.
Because the committee will make its recommendation after this week’s filing deadline, the future of the lawsuit depends on the chancellor’s decision, said Chapela’s attorney, Daniel Siegel.
In the lawsuit, Chapela argues that his criticism of genetically modified organisms in a 2001 Nature magazine article made him a victim of retaliation by the university. The magazine later rescinded its support of the article, saying that “the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the original paper.” He has maintained that the magazine’s action was because of corporate pressures on the publication.
Chapela, originally from Mexico, also claims to be a victim of racial discrimination during the tenure process.
Finally, he claims that the university committed fraud by not disclosing significant information about the criteria required for obtaining tenure.
UC Berkeley officials could not comment on the specifics of Chapela’s case, but Strait said the tenure process has multiple steps so no one individual has influence over the process.
“(UC Berkeley’s) review process is designed among the most rigorous processes in the entire United States, and it has to be because we have the best faculty,” he said.
In 1998, Chapela’s outspoken criticism of the university’s $25 million research agreement with a Swiss biotechnology corporation, Novartis, drew national attention. At the time, Chapela said any such agreement with a private interest like Novartis would prevent the university’s research mission of serving the public good.
Siegel said UC Berkeley claims tenure is determined on the basis of teaching, research and commitment to the university through service, but it fails to mention another factor.
“The other requirement (for tenure) is a requirement of political correctness—it is one that doesn’t speak out against private funding,” Siegel said.
He added that Chapela’s outspoken criticism of Novartis “derailed a tenure case that is as close to a sure thing on this campus.”
Contact Preeti Piplani at firstname.lastname@example.org.