Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : May 18, 2005
* India: Farmers Still Prefer Bt Cotton Seeds
* Impact of Bt Cotton on World Cotton Prices
* European Anti-GM Crusaders Advising Zambia on Biotech Policies
* Designing Genes: How Can GE Serve US Midwestern Ag Sustainability?
* Global Responses to GM Technology - Implications for Australia
* New Stamp of Barbara McClintock - Honored by U.S. Postal Service
* Business Award in Plant Biotech - Win Equity Finance in Germany
* Dr. Marc Lappé, 1943-2005
* Biotech Important for Ag Advancement
* GE Foods Under the Microscope
* Holding Experts to Account
India: Farmers Still Prefer Bt Cotton Seeds
- Deccan Chronicle, May 17, 2005 http://www.deccan.com
Warangal: Despite the hue and cry by the Non-Governmental
Organisations and the State government's ban on some varieties of Bt
cotton, the farmers in the district still prefer to go for the Bt
cotton this season too. There is a huge demand for the Bt cotton
seeds in the district and in some instances, the farmers are
agitating and taking on to the streets demanding for the increased
supply of Bt seeds.
Due to the rumours that the Bt cotton seeds should only be procured
from the black market, hundreds of farmers are thronging the Station
Road shops, here to grab their Bt seeds packets early. The cotton
crop was grown in a total of 3.5 lakh-acre in the district during the
last Khariff season and the Bt cotton was grown in around 60,000 acre
The agriculture department officials clearly indicate that despite
the massive campaign against the ill-effects of the Bt cotton by NGOs
and others, the Bt cotton crop area in the district is likely to
cross at least 80,000 acre during this Khariff season. The Joint
Director (Agriculture) Mr M. Laxmana Rao told this newspaper that the
Raasi brand, which is allowed to supply its Bt cotton varieties, had
allocated a total of 67,000 packets to the district.
But going by the unprecedented demand, the requirement for the Bt
cotton seeds is estimated at over 2 lakh packets. The huge gap
between the demand and supply is leading to the black marketing of
the Bt cotton seeds. Officially till now 7,000 packets of the Raasi
seeds were sold in the district.
"With the ban by the government on Mahyco Monsanto Bt cotton seeds in
the State, we thought that the farmers would desist from going for
the Bt variety. But the reality is the other way round," said M. Rama
Krishna, a famous seed and fertiliser shop dealer. The Joint Director
said that the Agriculture Department is writing to the Agriculture
Commissioner to allocate at least 1.5 lakh packets of Bt cotton seeds
in order to prevent the black marketing of the seeds.
"We will get early crop and the losses will be minimal in the Bt
seeds and most of the farmers benefited by the Bt seeds and I am
going for the same this season," reasons Sangem Saraiah, a farmer
from Nallabelli, who came here to buy the Bt cotton seeds.
Impact of Bt Cotton on World Prices
- Roger Kalla
David Tribe of University Of Melbourne and I have just submitted a
paper where we analyse the economic impacts of Bt cotton and Ht
canola in Australia and globally . You are right cotton prices are
coming down while productivity is rising. Efficient producers of
cotton which have got back up from high class research organisations
such as CSIRO in Australia involved in molecular plant breeding have
been doing well out of the boom.
Australian cotton industry is looking forward with confidence to the
national release of second and third GM cotton seed developed in
Australia where quality traits such as fibre and oil has been
modified to change focus away from commodity to value adding traits.
Might be a different story in a developing country like India which
would probably rely more on 'buying' in technological know-how from
multinational companies which will ultimately be reflected in price
of seed I would think.
Developing countries need to get access to technology and assistance
in breeding programs to introgress new quality traits into their
Our full analysis will be available upon the publication of the
Proceedings of the 9th ICABR conference on Ag biotech taking place in
Ravello Italy in July.
> Cotton yield in Gujarat - Bob MacGregor
> The note on increases in cotton yield in Gujarat reminded me of an
> Has anyone on the list seen analysis of the world cotton price
>impact of increased production in India, China, etc. as Bt varieties
>spread? I don't know what the demand elasticity of the world cotton
European Anti-GM Crusaders Advising Zambia on Biotech Policies
- Roger Kalla
I can only agree that it seems to me to be very odd to say the least
to appoint Genok and Professor Terje Traavik to advice Zambian
scientists on the finer points of GMO testing.
A few point from Terje Traavik's CV to prove the point:
1) Besides being associated with the organisation listed on GenOK
webite ( http://www.genok.org ) Terjee also has got a long term and
close association with ISIS and its Director Mae Wan Ho. As I
understand it Dr Ho is principally against any new technology and
wants Governments to ban stem cell science, Genomics research on any
organism, nanotechnology and of course Gene technology. She has
quoted heavily on the unpublished work by Dr Traavik on the effect of
Cauliflower mosaic virus promoters on human cell lines as proof of
the unrealiability of the molecualr tools employed in designing GM
2) Terje Traavik and GenOK was invited by the sacked Minister for
Agriculture in UK, Michael Meacher (who in his new career a paid
anti-GM crusader came to Australia a while ago) to give evidence to a
UK Parliamentary committee and introduced as the scientific advisor
to the Norwegian Government in GM crops issues . In his evidence
Terje infamously likened gene technology to 'BSE (mad cow diseases)
in technicolor' to stunned Parliamentarians.
3) Terje Traavik has got personal links to the Science Advisor to
Greenpeace Internationals Anti-GE campaign and seems to have been
largely inspired to take on his work (published through media
conference in Kuala Lumpur last year) on the potential allergenicity
of BT maize pollen in the Philippines through his contacts with
It seems clear to me that Terje Traavik's and GenOk's 'research' is
totally devoted to finding and publicising unsubstantiated claims on
the ill-effects of GM technologies.
It is very disconcerting to say the least if the Norwegian
Governments donation of money to set up the Gene testing facility in
Zambia came with the stipulation that Terje Traavik and GenOk would
be the lead organisation advicing and training the scientits that
would use this facility.
These misgivings should be brought to the attention of the Norwegian
Government from AgBioWorld's readers.
> Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology is helping Zambia set up a lab
>to "protect" the country and its citizens from unauthorized GM crops
>and seeds. Here's a prime example of First World activists working
>to block GM into developing countries.
> Zambia Builds High-Tech Lab to Detect GM Food Imports
> - Talent Ngandwe, Science and Development Network, May 13, 2005
Designing Genes: How Can Genetic Engineering Serve US Midwestern
- Don S. Doering, World Resources Inst., 2004, ISBN: 1-56973-557-3
(40 pages). Thanks to Agnet for information.
The WRI White Paper "Designing Genes" explores the intersection of
two critical, but rarely juxtaposed science and policy issues: the
path to U.S. agricultural sustainability and the future of
genetically engineered (GE) crops. These two issues meet in the U.S.
Midwest where agriculture is facing critical environmental, social,
and economic challenges and where almost 70 million acres, or 34% of
the acreage planted in the principal row crops, were planted in
genetically engineered crops in 2002. Today there is not a policy and
research agenda that addresses the critical intersection of the
present challenges and future goals of both agriculture and of
In Designing Genes, we describe how the approaches of sustainability
and product design may be the framework with which to create such an
agenda. By designing genetically engineered crops for safety and
designing crops for sustainability we may reduce the risks and
enhance the benefits of tomorrow's genetically engineered crops.
Investment in innovation and design at the front end of the
genetically engineered product pipeline may reduce 'end-of-pipe'
costs, hazards, controversies, and regulatory burdens while enhancing
Our qualitative analysis suggests the need for a detailed assessment
to set actual research and development goals. In addition, there must
be a policy context that rewards agricultural sustainability and
rewards innovation in genetic engineering design and in ecology-based
alternatives to current agricultural methods.
Download the full document at:
Global Responses to GM Technology - Implications for Australia
- Anderson, K., Jackson, L. 2005. Rural Industries Research and
Development Corp. - RIRDC. Publication No. 05/016. Project No UA-57A:
This report estimates the likely economic effects of alternative
responses abroad (and at home) by producers, consumers and policy
makers to new genetically modified (GM) products with particular
emphasis on the effects on Australian farmers, agribusinesses, rural
researchers and RDCs.
New agricultural biotechnologies, including those that involve
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), have great potential for
farmers (and ultimately consumers) in Australia as elsewhere.
However, consumers and community groups are concerned about their
potentially adverse food safety and environmental impacts .
Government responses in various countries to those concerns include
banning field-trials, production and/or use of GMOs, mandating strict
GMO labelling laws and even banning GM consumption and imports. Even
the threat of such action has non-trivial impacts on agricultural
product markets and hence on agricultural research agendas.
The complex question of whether Australia should adopt GM technology,
assuming it increases the risk that consumers abroad will not buy
Australian foods produced with that technology, requires empirical
analysis and an understanding of the global economic system. This
study uses a global economic model (GTAP) and separates GM-free and
GM-inclusive markets within each country being modelled to provide
estimates of global and national impacts of GM adoption under various
The results provide insights into why various countries have adopted
different GM policies, and how adoption and regulation abroad as well
as at home alter national benefits. In particular, model results
indicate there would be gains to Australia from GM adoption if
consumers are relaxed about consuming food that may contain GMOs,
even if the European Union ban on GM food imports were to continue.
If Northeast Asia were to copy the EU's policy response and ban
imports from GM-adopting countries, however, Australia's gain from
adopting GM crops may be fully eroded. The authors also note that in
all the cases they consider, Australia's gain from GM crop adoption
is much less than North America's as a percentage of national GDP,
and those Australian gains go to non-farm households at the expense
of farmers via lower domestic food prices.
Barbara McClintock Honored by U.S. Postal Service
Celebrating More Than A Century of Science On U.S. Postage Stamps
WASHINGTON - Four American Scientists-Thermodynamicist Josiah Willard
Gibbs, geneticist Barbara McClintock, mathematician John von Neumann
and physicist Richard P. Feynman-were honored with postage stamps
dedicated in a special ceremony today at Henry R. Luce Hall, Yale
University, New Haven, CT.
As host to the event, New Haven holds the unique distinction of being
the only city in the nation where the stamps will be available May 4.
The stamps will be available at Post Offices and Philatelic Centers
nationwide May 5.
"These are some of the greatest scientists of our time, their
pioneering discoveries still influence our lives today," said John F.
Walsh, a member of the U.S. Postal Service's Board of Governors, who
dedicated the stamp. "This is truly an honor for, not only science
enthusiasts and scientists, but for our community as well" said
DeStefano. "As a life-long resident of New Haven, I am thrilled these
beautiful scientist stamps are being issued here."
Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
In 1983, the renowned geneticist Barbara McClintock received the
Nobel Prize in the category of "Physiology or Medicine" for
discovering genetic transposition. McClintock's research on Indian
corn plants led to her discovery that genetic material can change
positions on a chromosome or move from one chromosome to another. Her
discovery was confirmed immediately in corn and in the 1960s and
1970s in bacteria and other organisms.
It was at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York that she
discovered transposition in the course of experiments on mutations
caused by broken chromosomes. She called her mobile genetic elements
"controlling elements," to indicate they controlled the action of
other genes during development. McClintock was among the first
biologists to think concretely about the way genetic material
controls the development of the organism.
(Thanks to Greg Conko for the alert on this...CSP)
Business Plan Award in Plant Biotechnology - Win Equity Finance to
Set up Shop in Germany
The award is intended for small and medium-sized companies from all
over the world working in the fields of plant biotechnology and
willing to settle in the Biotech-Park in Gatersleben, Saxony-Anhalt
The winning companies will receive an equity finance by IBG
Beteiligungsgesellschaft Sachsen-Anhalt GmbH as lead investor.
Closing date for applications is June 15th 2005. Terms and conditions
can be found at http://www.biopark-gatersleben.com
Universities, companies and research facilities from all over the
world being involved in plant biotechnology are highly welcomed to
apply for the award. For More Info: Patricia Germandi, Genius GmbH;
Tel: 0049 (0) 6151 - 872 4047; email@example.com
Dr. Marc Lappé, 1943-2005
- Anthony Lappé, Guerilla News Network,
GNN's editor remembers his father - a scientist who stood up for the
planet's most vulnerable
"Three interrelated issues mark our times: We have altered the planet
with our chemicals; we are transforming agriculture with
bioengineering; and we are contemplating the recreation of humankind
through genetic technologies. All three compel us to reexamine how we
use scientific knowledge: will our new technologies be greeted with
'hurrahs' or a whisper of despair from the species that we have
decimated, crops that are gene-contaminated and people who, though
yet to be created, may yet curse us for our technological prowess? - "
My father, Dr. Marc Lappé, an author, educator and prominent
toxicologist and medical ethicist, died Saturday. He was 62. Marc was
a lifelong teacher, known for instilling in his students a love of
learning and an appreciation for ethics. Everyone who met him was
struck by his warm spirit, unforgettable stories, and limitless
Marc was a leading figure in the movement to integrate ethics and
public policy, especially as it related to toxics and genetics. He
authored or edited fourteen books, many of which predicted public
health and environmental problems long before their appearance.
Biotech Important for Ag Advancement
- Grand Forks Herald, May 16, 2005
FROID, Mont. - This year marked the 35th anniversary of Earth Day,
and it should be noted how important biotechnology has been (and can
be) for advancements in both agriculture and the environment.
For example, a comprehensive study published by the Council for
Agricultural Science and Technology in 2002 concluded that biotech
* Have significantly encouraged adoption of no-till farming,
resulting in decreased soil erosion, dust, pesticide runoff and
increased soil moisture retention and improved air and water quality.
* Allow use of herbicides that are much less persistent in the
environment and reduce the risks of herbicide runoff into surface
* Maintain and actually enhance biodiversity. In the case of Bt
varieties, beneficial insects fare better than when conventional
fields are sprayed with insecticide.
* Use of Bt hybrids reduces farmworker exposure to certified organic
Bt sprays and chemical insecticides. (Read that again: "reduces
exposure to certified organic Bt sprays." It is a common
misperception that organic means pesticide free, but that's not
necessarily true. Organic producers use fertilizers and pesticides
like other farmers, they just use alternative inputs instead of
synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.)
Another study by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy
confirmed the environmental benefits of biotech crops. Compared with
conventional crops, the study suggested that six biotech crops -
canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybeans and squash - increased grower
incomes by an additional $1.9 billion, boosted crop yields by 5.3
billion pounds and reduced pesticide use by 46.4 million pounds in
According to research at Iowa State, the introduction and adoption of
Bt corn alone - corn bred with genetic resistance to rootworm,
eliminating the need for insecticide spraying - eventually is
expected to eliminate the use of 1 million plastic insecticide
containers and save about 70,000 gallons of aviation fuel, 5 million
pounds of insecticide, 5 million gallons of water used in insecticide
formulations and 5 million gallons of diesel fuel, per year.
Even the co-founder of Greenpeace is a strong biotech proponent
because of its benefits of feeding a growing global population
without damaging/exhausting natural resources. Patrick Moore was so
put off by extreme activism by the group he started that he left that
organization and became chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit
Moore writes in an essay on his Web site ("Battle for Biotech
Progress") that "the campaign of fear being waged against genetic
modification is based largely on a complete lack of respect for
science and logic." I couldn't agree more. When it comes to
preserving our natural resources, biotech ranks right up there with
recycling and renewable fuels. I'm one Montana grower who's looking
forward to greater availability of biotech crops and the cost
savings, production advantages and environmental benefits they can
Editor's Note: Murray is from Froid, Mont.
GE Foods Under the Microscope
- Sharon Palmer, RD; Today's Dietitian, Vol. 7 No. 5 P. 36; May 2005
While some fear genetically engineered foods, others are convinced
that agricultural biotechnology can produce safe, beneficial crops.
Genetic engineering (GE) is a hot topic these days. It's hard not to
take notice of the barrage of negative publicity flooding the media
on GE foods. Television news footage displays angry farmers dumping
GE-contaminated produce into bins marked "biohazard." The December
28, 2004, cable television program Doomsday Tech on the History
Channel depicted an imaginary world in 2021 with 3 billion people
suffering from severe wheat allergies all due to genetic engineering,
which then spins off into the destruction of the world's wheat
supplies and global food shortages.
The Science Behind GE Foods: Perhaps the biggest source of fuel for
the GE food debate is the difficulty understanding the hefty slice of
science behind the label. "The public has a difficult time
understanding the science of biotechnology. Only 29% of people
understand what DNA is," says Teresa Gruber, PhD, executive vice
president of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. The
truth is that genetic modification (GM) is not a shiny, new solution
in a high-tech world. It has been going on since the beginning of
time, when cavemen started saving seeds and began tending their crops.
Genetic modification is a broad term that includes traditional
methods of breeding plants, which farmers have relied upon for
generations. Genetic engineering is more specifically defined as a
biotechnological process in which traits or characteristics of an
organism are changed by transferring individual genes from one
species to another or by modifying genes within species. GE foods are
also referred to as biotech, bioengineered, and transgenic.
GE Popularity Polls: The public's opinion on GE foods is split down
the middle. In a Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology survey
released in November 2004, 30% of Americans said GM foods are
basically safe, while 27% say they are basically unsafe. The level of
awareness about GM foods remains low, with only 32% of consumers
reporting that they heard a great deal or some about GM foods in
2004. Of 40% of Americans who reported hearing about regulations of
GM foods, 40% said there is too little. Eighty-five percent said the
FDA should approve the safety of GM foods before they come to market.
A survey by EuroBarometer published in March 2003 found that most
Europeans do not support GM foods or crops. The Union of Concerned
Scientists released a report in December 2004 on the dangers posed to
the human food supply from GE crops that contain pharmaceutical drugs
and industrial chemicals. Even Pope John Paul II hinted about his
reservations about the production of GM foods last October.
At the same time, government and industry stand staunchly behind GE
foods. President George W. Bush proclaimed on Biotechnology Week from
the White House on May 16, 2001, "Genetic engineering will enable
farmers to modify crops so that they will grow on land that was
previously considered infertile. In addition, it will enable farmers
to grow produce with enhanced nutritional value."
The American Dietetic Association's "Biotechnology and the Future of
Food," written in 1995 and reaffirmed in 1998, specifies that
biotechnology techniques have the potential to be useful in enhancing
the quality, nutritional value, and variety of food available for
human consumption and in increasing the efficiency of food
production, food processing, food distribution, and waste management.
"GE foods is a challenging area; it's not a black-and-white issue,"
says Angie Tagtow, MS, RD, LD, regional nutritional consultant for
Iowa Department of Public Health and incoming chair for the Hunger
and Environmental Nutrition (HEN) Dietetic Practice Group (DPG). "In
the past two years, we have seen more dietitians interested in GE
foods. The media has a lot to do with that. The dietitians see the
press and realize that they don't know about it."
Sacred Cows: "People are not enthusiastic about biotechnology because
food is special. We eat to sustain ourselves with nutrients, but food
is more than that. There are historical and cultural issues. Food is
a religious and cultural icon. Through history people have been
defined by what they can or can't eat," says Carol Tucker Foreman,
director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy
Of more public concern is the development of GE animals. Thus far, no
GE animals have been approved for human consumption, although plenty
of research is being devoted to this biotechnology. Fast-growing
transgenic salmon are being considered for commercial release at this
GE Foods as Far as the Eye Can See. Many Americans may not understand
that 70% to 75% of all processed foods available in U.S. grocery
stores may contain ingredients from GE plants. The majority of foods
contain GE products from corn and soybeans, which are widely used as
ingredients in foods. Add canola and cotton to this list and you
account for almost 100% of the GE ingredients in the American food
supply. More than 50 GE foods have been determined to be as safe as
their conventional counterparts. According to the USDA, 81% of the
total soybean crop, 40% of the total corn crop, and 73% of the total
cotton crop is GE.6,7
In most cases, we aren't actually eating the genes in GE foods. Much
of the GE foods we consume are found in small amounts as food
ingredients. By the time a GE corn plant has been processed for corn
oil or high-fructose corn syrup, virtually none of the genes or
proteins produced by the genes remain in the food.
Biotechnology Benefit . It's hard to ignore that biotechnology can
yield some measurable benefits in agronomic characteristics of
plants, such as tolerance to broad-spectrum herbicides, resistance to
pests, reduction in chemical pesticide use, increase in potential
yields, healthier foods, longer shelf life, and growth of crops in
inhospitable areas. One GE success story can be found in the tale of
the Hawaiian papaya that was facing decimation due to the papaya ring
spot virus (PRSV). Researchers turned to GE to develop a
PRSV-resistant papaya and voila-the tropical fruit was saved.
Are GE Foods Safe? Plenty of scientists are concerned about the
safety of GE foods. There is always the risk that a GE food could
produce an allerginicity, toxicity, or unintended effect. "There
clearly needs to be more research of the unintended effects of
genetic engineering," says Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist
for the Center for Food Safety, who notes that there are dozens of
well-documented cases of unintentional effects that have been
identified during the testing of GE plants. Scientists from Norway
and Denmark recently reported that only 10 studies have been
published on GE foods and that much more scientific investigation is
necessary before GM material is proven safe in the long run.
The FDA maintains that they possess no information that the use of
biotechnology creates a class of food that is different in quality,
safety, or any other attribute from food developed using conventional
The National Academies' National Research Council and Institute of
Medicine recommended in a report last July that federal agencies
should assess the safety of genetically altered foods before their
commercial release on a case-by-case basis when warranted, with focus
on composition rather than the method used to create them. This
report concluded that no adverse health effects from GE have been
documented in the human population, but the technique is new and
concerns about safety remain.
"Agricultural biotechnology has the potential to produce safe,
beneficial products. Current crops produced in the U.S. are safe to
eat and have benefits to the extent that they have risks that are
manageable. As with any technology, we need to have a strong
regulatory system to protect consumers, the public, and the
environment," says Gregory Jaffe, director of the Biotechnology
Project, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Regulating Biotechnology. "In the current FDA biotechnology food
safety policy, the FDA focuses on the food, not the process. They
look at the final product, not how it was made. There is a voluntary
consultation process in which the companies can send data for the FDA
to review. The problem is that it is voluntary," says Jaffe. There
have been numerous examples of companies not complying with
regulations. For example, Prodigene, a small biotech company,
contaminated soybeans intended for the food supply with an
experimental corn that was engineered to produce pharmaceuticals.10
"Do the agencies have the will and resources to oversee and punish
the bad actors?" asks Jaffe. The CSPI proposes an approval process at
the FDA level that promotes a mandatory, transparent process
completed before marketing with specific data requirements. Jaffe
reports that the USDA is reevaluating the whole regulatory system in
the next year.
U.S. Senator Richard Durbin introduced the Genetically Engineered
Foods Act (S.2546), which would assign the FDA to regulate safety for
consumers of biotech crops and animals. There is also an outcry for
food labeling of GE food products. "People are concerned that there
are no labels on products. You will never persuade the public that if
you don't label it, you're not trying to hide," says Foreman. A CSPI
2001 survey indicates that 62% to 70% of respondent's desire labeling
of GE food. But according to a 1999 Economic Research Service study,
there would be a 12% premium over the farm price for corn and
soybeans to segregate GE and non-GE varieties.
How Green Is Biotechnology? Many safety concerns for GE foods go
beyond the realm of human food consumption. Some scientists say the
environment will pay the largest price for biotechnology. The
Ecological Society of America is concerned that while GE organisms
may have a positive role to play in sustainable agriculture, the
release of GE organisms into the environment could have negative
ecological impact, such as creating new or more vigorous pests,
exacerbating the effects of existing pests through hybridization,
harm to nontarget species (such as birds and wildlife), disruption of
biotic communities, and irreparable loss or change in genetic
diversity.12 In Mexico, it was discovered that GM corn had been
planted by peasants, thus threatening the cultural heritage of maize
that dates back 10,000 years.13 Another ecological argument is that
newly acquired genes might be transferred via pollination to wild
relatives, possibly endowing them with a "fitness" gene that could
turn them into "superweeds." And recent data shows that overall GM
crops have led to an increase in pesticide use.
Life on the Farm. Farmers worry about more than safety. Contamination
of non-GE crops by GE plants is reason for concern. What's happening
to Hawaiian papaya these days? Nearly 20,000 non-GE papaya seeds
across the Big Island, 80% of which came from organic farms and
backyard gardens or wild trees, showed a contamination level of
50%.15 This comes at a time when a study was published showing that
GE grass found its way into conventionally grown grass approximately
12 miles away in Oregon's Willamette Valley.16 Organic farmers
promise their customers that their products are GE-free and customers
in Japan and Europe demand their crops are grown conventionally. It's
not surprising that Trinity County, Calif., recently became the
second county in the nation to ban the growth of GE crops and animals.
As companies patent GE seeds, they continue to gain control over the
world's food supply. Newspaper headlines have reported that in
faraway places such as Kenya, farmers complain about the high costs
of company-produced seeds and the fear that indigenous varieties will
be destroyed due to contamination.
Traditional breeding methods have been coming up with some positive
results lately, such as non-GE hybrid sunflower oil free of trans
fats.19 After three years of field trials and $6 million, GM sweet
potatoes modified to resist a virus intended for African farms were
no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties. In Uganda, conventional
breeding developed a high-yielding resistant variety of sweet
potatoes more quickly and cheaply.20 Three hundred Catholic nuns in
11 Manila convents worked with international researchers led by a
Philipino scientist in experiments that produced a conventionally
bred rice variety high in iron and zinc. "There are instances that
conventional breeding may be a better fit," adds Jaffe.
The Future for Biotechnology. If you look into GE's crystal ball,
you may see a world of high-tech "pharms," which use plants as mini
factories for pharmaceuticals such as vaccines. Plants may be grown
to boost nutrients such as pro-vitamin A, ferritin, lycopene, and
protein. Scientists are worried about fallible humans allowing these
pharmaceutical crops to accidentally get into our food supply. "You
don't want to read about cornflakes with GE spermicide," says Jaffe.
Dietitians Weigh in On GE ."I don't think dietitians have a good
grasp on the GE foods issue," says Tagtow, who adds that even for
professionals interested in the topic, it's very difficult to stay on
top of the latest information. But Tagtow also reports an increase in
HEN membership and inquiries regarding GE foods, indicating that
dietitians are starting to realize that GE foods is an important
issue they need to be informed about.
Wading through the science and emotion is essential to communicating
a message to your community regarding GE foods. Jaffe suggests that
dietitians turn to reputable sources of information such as the CSPI
Web site, the FDA Web site, the Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology, and the National Academies of Sciences Report. Barbara
Hartman, MS, RD, LD, HEN DPG chair, suggests that dietitians may find
that HEN offers networking opportunities with many dietitians of
varying opinions on GE foods.
Dietitians are finding themselves in the thick of the battle on GE
foods. Look at the 15 dietitians of San Luis Obispo County, Calif.,
who signed their support of Measure Q in September 23, 2004, stating
that "registered dietitians in the county feel that it is premature
and unwise to introduce these GE organisms into our open environment
when there is no proven health benefit to do so. Conversely, they
will most certainly bring us many potential health risks."
"When it comes to GE foods, the more I read, the more questions I
have. Are there any longitudinal effects from consuming GE foods? Are
there nutritional differences between conventional and organic
products? How do GE grown foods affect agriculture?" comments Tagtow.
Dietitians need to be able to answer tough questions when the
community cries out, "Should we be eating GE foods?" "First, we need
to educate ourselves about potential benefits and dangers and learn
more about decision making under the precautionary principles," says
Barbara Scott, MPH, RD, School of Medicine at University of Nevada,
Reno. "After we educate ourselves and know why we believe what we
believe and understand where gray areas are, then we can communicate
this to our patients so they can make an informed decision for
- Sharon Palmer, RD, is a freelance food and nutrition journalist in
Special thanks to Christine McCullum, PhD, RD, for guidance with this article.
For References: See the orginal article
Holding Experts to Account
- Alan Anderson, TechCentral Station, May 16, 2005
"Though it is the resentment of the frustrated specialist which gives
the demand for planning its strongest impetus, there could hardly be
a more unbearable - and more irrational - world than one in which the
most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed
unchecked with the realisation of their ideals." -- The Road to
Serfdom, F.A. Hayek
Over the past several decades, governments in the developed world
have delegated power to administrative and expert bodies to an
unprecedented extent. In many more cases, credulous acceptance of
"expert" advice in lieu of debate constitutes effective delegation.
This trend, whilst inevitable, has accelerated to the point where it
is undermining both democracy and freedom.
There are three underlying causes of delegation. I will illustrate
them with examples from my home jurisdiction of Australia, but my
conclusions apply equally elsewhere.
The first cause is the explosion of technology and innovation in
almost all fields of human endeavour. To keep pace with the growing
complexity of the world, governments have, of necessity, delegated
authority in specific areas to expert bodies. For example, the Civil
Aviation Safety Authority promulgates rules on aircraft safety.
The second cause is the desire to keep certain objective decisions
free of the polluting influence of politics. For instance, most
developed nations have given their central banks independence in
setting monetary policy, to ensure that irresponsible politicians
cannot plunge us back into the inflationary spirals of the seventies.
The third cause is shirking of governmental responsibility. Rather
than making and defending controversial decisions, politicians resort
to "expert" bodies to provide political cover for their
non-decisions. Naturally, delegation arising from the third cause is
passed off as arising from the first and second causes.
There is a difference between, on the one hand, politicians setting
out broad policies and leaving it to a delegatee to sort out the
details and, on the other, politicians delegating to avoid the
necessity of formulating a policy. The latter class of delegations
frequently conceals unjustifiable government intervention in markets
behind a façade of independent expertise.
Experts are not objective. Expert regulators are subject to capture
by established interests. They are prone to empire-building, which
encourages them to support additional regulation and the
consequential increases of their resources. And individual experts
frequently have barrows to push in their fields of interest.
This approach to government also has implications for technological
progress. For instance, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator
controls all dealings in genetically modified organisms in Australia.
Without a doubt, GM technology raises complex scientific questions.
But the underlying debate over the "precautionary principle" requires
no qualifications to understand. By abdicating responsibility to a
regulator, government avoids the necessary task of confronting the
The regulator was established by a GM-friendly government and is
relatively sympathetic to industry. But even where short-term
tactical victories emerge (eg the approval of commercial GM canola
crops), the strategic battle is being lost: the "need" for GM
regulation is conceded by the mere existence of such a regulator,
which will hardly question its own raison d'être. When political
winds change, the regulator will become an agent of GM opponents,
invested with the authority of expertise which GM proponents have
conferred upon it.
In short, the use of delegation to abdicate responsibility in
controversial areas invites unnecessary regulation, not to mention
capture of the delegatee by established interests. To be sure, these
problems can affect elected legislatures also. But the democratic
process, combined with the public's healthy scepticism towards
politicians, provides a check in that context. This check is wholly
absent when dealing with "expert" bodies that, like the medieval
Church, shroud themselves in the mysticism of their arcane knowledge.
The trend towards delegation is irreversible, as much of it is the
necessary consequence of society's increasing complexity. Cognisant
of the growing power of expert bodies, we must therefore develop more
effective mechanisms to hold them to democratic account.
The author is a lawyer living in Australia.