Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : May 19, 2005
* Most Farmers Embrace Biotechnology
* Benefits of Crops Outweigh the Negatives
* Lack of GM Laws 'Criminal', says Ugandan Ex-Minister
* Long on Speculation, Short on Facts
* Reason to Fight Back
* GMO Testing Capacity in Zambia and Elsewhere
* Dispelling the GM Myths
* Public Research and Regulation Initiative
* Australia Will Be A Scientific Backwater Without GMOs, Group Warns
* Greenpeace Prefers Genetic Purity Over People
* What's Future of Biotechnology?
Most Farmers Embrace Biotechnology
- Brian Besley, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), May 18, 2005
Dear Editor - Re: 'Farmer fighting seeds of trouble' (Guelph Mercury, May 16)
Percy Schmeiser does not represent the majority of farmers who were
too busy doing their spring planting on Saturday to attend his
anti-biotechnology rally. Most crop farmers in Canada have willingly
embraced biotechnology due to the benefits it provides -- reduced
pesticide use and the ability to conserve precious topsoil, as well
as reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions through
reduced tillage, another environmental benefit.
This year marks the 10th year that farmers in Canada have planted
genetically modified crops. We continue to plant them because of the
benefits they provide. Over 50 or 55 per cent of the corn and
soybeans planted in Ontario, as well as 90 per cent of canola are
varieties created through biotechnology. Contrary to the anti-biotech
rhetoric, these crops are studied extensively prior to
commercialization, and 10 years later there have been no human health
or environmental problems.
Contrary to Schmeiser's claim to have planted canola for 50 years,
this crop was not even developed until about 30 years ago when
Canadian plant breeders produced canola by genetically altering
rapeseed to improve its taste and fatty acid make-up.
- Brian Besley, Chair of AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned About
Resources and the Environment) and Vice President of the Ontario
Canola Growers' Association
Benefits of Crops Outweigh the Negatives
- Terry Daynard, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), May 18, 2005
Dear Editor - Re: 'Farmer fighting seeds of trouble' (Guelph Mercury, May 16)
It's hard to tell whether Percy Schmeiser, the 74-year-old
Saskatchewan farmer who lost a court case and two appeals to
Monsanto, is his own person or a frontman for the activist groups who
apparently fund his many speaking tours. But he sure seems like a
poor choice as champion for these anti-biotechnology/pro-organic
As I understand it, the courts have not stated how some plants of
Roundup-resistant canola first appeared on his farm. But it is clear
that he increased that seed supply sufficiently to plant about 1,000
acres (about four square kilometres) with this genetically modified
crop, and then sprayed some or all of it with the herbicide Roundup.
This hardly resembles the actions of an anti-GM or organic
enthusiast. Indeed, if Monsanto had not later asked him to pay for
the use of their proprietary technology, no one beyond his own family
or community might have ever heard of him.
As for those who claim that attacks on Schmeiser and support for GM
crops are all a global Monsanto-backed plot, that conspiracy is now
getting awfully large -- thousands of government regulators and
public scientists throughout much of the world, millions of farmers,
and a billion acres having been planted with biotech crops.
I don't particularly like paying Monsanto to use the GM crops I grow
on my farm either. But I do because the benefits in reduced pesticide
use and better crop yields outweigh the added costs.
- Terry Daynard, RR 7, Guelph
Lack of GM Laws 'Criminal', says Ugandan Ex-Minister
- Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, SciDev.Net, May 18, 2005
A former Ugandan minister for agriculture who is now a senior
official at the International Food Policy Research Institute used a
colourful speech last month to state that failure to accept GM crops
in Africa is both unjust and based on irrational fears.
Addressing a meeting on biotechnology and biosafety in Entebbe,
Uganda on 18-20 April, Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa said that delaying
the enactment of laws that promote biotechnology to fight hunger is a
glaring denial of justice to the poor.
He said that policymakers and legislators who fail to create laws to
accommodate the use in food of biotechnology products such as
genetically modified organisms are "accomplices in murdering" African
children who die of hunger and malnutrition. "Lawyers say justice
delayed is justice denied, but it is also true that food delayed is
killing people," said Kisamba-Mugerwa. "We are becoming murderers by
delaying quick access to genetic resources."
The former minister pointed out that industry began using
biotechnology some time ago and that drugs used to treat diseases
"are all products of biotechnology, modified in one way or another".
"But in agriculture, we are over-regulating and mainly citing risks.
Why should we overplay the risks and not the opportunities?" he asked.
He illustrated his point by saying that another product of
technology, the aeroplane, is the fastest means of transport but also
has risks. "If we were to hype up the risks of flying, I would not be
here for this meeting," he said, adding that to reach Entebbe he had
flown from France, via Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.
According to Kisamba-Mugerwa, biotechnologists are themselves partly
to blame for the perception of risk surrounding GM crops because of
the way they have communicated about genetically modified organisms.
"Genetic modification has been stigmatised, so we need to package it
in a very different way," he said. "Our communication strategy must
change for our products to be acceptable. Otherwise, genetically
modified organisms are viewed as poisonous."
He argued that including a range of professionals, such as
environmental scientists, legislators, communicators and teachers in
making decisions about biotechnology would reduce suspicions and
resistance to GM organisms.
The National Agricultural Research Organisation co-organised the
meeting, which was funded by the United States Agency for
International Development. Kisamba-Mugerwa is director of the
International Food Policy Research Institute's International Service
for National Agricultural Research, known as ISNAR, which is based in
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Long on Speculation, Short on Facts
- Vivian Moses, Western Gazette, May 19, 2005 http://www.westgaz.co.uk/
The anti-GM brigade has been prophesying gloom and doom for so long
that by now one might have expected something to have happened. Not a
bit of it - just more prophesies, this time by Jane O'Meara of the
Genetic Engineering Network (New threat to health may force GM issue,
12 May). It was appropriate that you published her letter in the very
week that farmers around the world planted the billionth acre of GM
crops. That acreage increased 20 per cent last year (involving about
eight million farmers worldwi
no sign of slowing down.
Ms. O'Meara, as usual for campaigners, is long on speculation and
short on facts. She worries that Bt10 maize may could lead to a
health disaster. On what basis? Its close relative Bt11 has been
approved and eaten for years; Bt10 differs only in the insertion site
for the transgene. In ten years of use, consumed by hundreds of
millions of people, there has not been one single authenticated case
of a health effect from any approved GM food.
In that same period, dozens of organic foods, no doubt praised and
promoted by the Genetic Engineering Network, have had to be withdrawn
from the shelves because of health safety problems.
And then she ramps it up, hinting that the presence of an antibiotic
resistance marker in Bt10 might promote "hospital superbugs": "they
could make the existing infection crisis even worse", she wrote.
If she and her colleagues bothered to read the literature they would
know that the scientists who performed the experiments on which they
all rely were quite clear about its significance: they concluded that
gene transfer did not occur. The medical profession knows full well
that antibiotic resistance derives largely from the failure of
patients to complete their courses of treatment.
Anti-GM campaigners tried the same trick some years ago with the
Monarch butterfly scare until incontrovertible evidence to the
contrary forced them to stop - except for some of the troops who have
not yet heard about a change in the party line.
And finally: "Currently nothing is happening to ensure that food or
agricultural seeds or animal feed imported into the UK are free from
these hazards". The hazards are in her imagination; does she not know
of the extensive regulatory procedures in the UK, the EU and dozens
of other countries around the world? Or does she not want to know?
By now your readers will have got the message. The controversy is
driven not by real risks and real hazards but by the political and
commercial agendas of those who make the noise. Consumers and farmers
in the UK and the EU suffer from lack of choice. The rest of the
world is laughing as they leave us behind, knowing that sooner or
later we will have to climb on board.
- Professor V. Moses, Chairman, CropGen, P.O. Box 38589, London
Reason to Fight Back
- John Durant, Nature 435, 277-278; May 19, 2005
'A stout defence of the evidence-based approach from attacks on all sides.'
'Book Reviewed - The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the
New Fundamentalism by Dick Taverne; Oxford University Press: 2005.
320 pp. £18.99, $29.95'
The barbarians are at the gate -- and what a motley crew they are!
Alongside religious fundamentalists of all sorts there are purveyors
of alternative medicines, organic farmers, eco-warriors and even a
few postmodernist philosophers and sociologists, who have had the
temerity to call for wider public consultation over science and
technology policy. What unites all of these apparently disparate
people, according to Dick Taverne, is their disregard, or even
disdain, for the "evidence-based approach" of science, and their wish
to elevate "unreason" (in the form of various kinds of dogma,
mysticism or personal prejudice) above reason in the conduct of human
The March of Unreason is a bracing affirmation of Enlightenment
values against any and all nay-sayers. In a semi-autobiographical
prologue, Taverne recounts his early conversion to the cause of
environmentalism in the 1960s, and his subsequent disillusionment as
reasonable and pragmatic concerns for the welfare of the environment
steadily lost out to more extreme and ideologically driven forms of
'eco-fundamentalism'. Green warriors, he tells us, have fostered
public suspicion about science and mistrust of experts, to the point
where scientists have come to blame themselves for public ignorance
of, or misgivings about, their work. All this, Taverne argues,
constitutes a direct threat to both science and democracy, because
"the scientific method and democracy are natural allies and unreason
is their common enemy".
There is much to agree with and even to admire in Taverne's
wide-ranging and trenchant observations. Certainly, contemporary
society is now less straightforwardly optimistic about, and
deferential towards, science and technology than it was in the past.
But for all the apparently more questioning and critical attitudes,
our culture also indulges a surprising amount of pure hokum. For
example, pharmaceutical companies are required to spend millions of
dollars testing new drugs, but practitioners of alternative medicine
are free to purvey all manner of herbs, potions and other nostrums
(including pure water!) that have never been properly tested.
Before happily concluding that alternative treatments generally make
great placebos and may thus potentially benefit many patients, we
would do well to recall Taverne's warnings: choosing ineffective
alternative therapies over effective conventional ones can be
dangerous; and further, many alternative therapies are worse than
ineffective as they have various (often poorly characterized)
clinical effects that can cause direct harm to those who take them.
There should not be one rule for conventional medicine and another
for alternative medicine; all candidate treatments should be tested
as rigorously as possible for safety and effectiveness.
Similar comments can be made about much that Taverne has to say about
food and farming. In recent years, conventional farming has come in
for growing criticism, and the flood of (generally unsubstantiated)
claims for the virtues of organic farming has risen to a virtual
torrent. A key ingredient in the considerable success of the
organic-food lobby has been the vilification of genetically modified
(GM) food. It is true that early applications of GM technology in
Western Europe and North America offered few serious benefits to
consumers (who in any case enjoy an abundance of food and food
choices in the supermarket), but the emergence of what Taverne would
call fundamentalist opposition to GM technology in agriculture could
do serious harm to the prospects of many people in the developing
In the late 1990s I chaired a series of public debates about GM food
across Britain. I watched as public opinion turned inexorably away
from GM food and towards organic farming. The only time I saw an
audience pause and begin to move the other way was when an academic
plant scientist described his public-domain research using GM
technology to create new root-worm-resistant varieties of staple
crops that might constitute a lifeline for marginal farming
communities in the Caribbean. Relatively rich environmentalists in
the developed world will have a great deal on their consciences if
their lobbying efforts against GM food impede or prevent vitally
important biotechnological research that might otherwise have
provided real help to farmers in poorer parts of the world.
In these and other ways, then, The March of Unreason is to be
applauded. Nevertheless, the book has some real weaknesses. In the
main, these come from trying to squeeze too many different issues
into the strait jacket of "reason versus unreason". It is one thing,
perhaps, to criticize various kinds of religious fundamentalism as
enemies of the "evidence-based approach". But when religious
fundamentalists are lumped together with radical environmentalists,
animal-rights activists, homeopathic medical practitioners, organic
farmers, anti-globalization campaigners and various kinds of academic
philosopher and sociologist, one wonders whether the epithet
"unreason" has lost its critical edge. What do all these different
groups really have in common? Are they on the same side,
intellectually or practically speaking? And if so, what side is it?
The problem is at its most severe where Taverne deals with
intellectual criticism of various types of scientific and
science-policy practice. Noting the call for "more democratic
science", he concedes that the public and its representatives have an
important role to play in the development of science. But (in an
argumentative style that is repeated throughout the book), having
conceded this important point, he immediately undermines it by
blaming those who are working to make science more responsive to
public interests and concerns for having "driven scientists onto the
defensive". This charge immediately reduces what is an important area
of constructive debate, about the way that science policy should be
conducted in advanced democracies, to an 'us versus them' or (even
worse) a 'reason versus unreason' stand-off.
Those of us who seriously advocate closer public engagement in
science and science policy-making are not motivated by antiscientific
or antirational sentiments. Rather, we recognize that making
decisions about how to conduct and apply science and technology in
advanced industrial societies is a complex and difficult business.
Experts of various sorts have essential roles to play, and so too do
democratic representatives. But it is increasingly becoming clear
that the establishment of sustainable policies in socially sensitive
areas of science and technology is facilitated by the engagement of
others in the process -- such as special-interest groups, stakeholder
groups and citizens' groups.
Frankly, tarring efforts to achieve wider engagement in science and
technology policy-making with the broad brush of 'antiscience' or
'unreason' is simply not helpful.
John Durant is chief executive of At-Bristol, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5DB, UK.
GMO Testing Capacity in Zambia and Elsewhere
- Roger Kalla, May 19, 2005
I have had some interesting conversations with agbioworld members and
supporters triggered by the revelation that Zambia is setting up its
own GMO testing facility to ' Protect' itself and its population
against GMOs entering its food chain.
As a past practitioner and innovator in 'forensic ' GMO testing in
crop plants I have gained some knowledge in the many ways different
and varying ways you can reach a false positive or false negative
result in testing for the presence of a specific gene sequence in a
complex sample like a taco shell or in fresh plant material harvested
in the field.
It is interesting to note that Greenpeace International when wanting
to scientifically prove that GM rice was available in China and that
soy shipments crossing the Atlantic had a GM content is relying on
the professional services of GeneScan, a pioneering German company
in the GMO testing business.
Greenpeace also recognises the value of scientific credibility in GMO
testing it seems.
The Parties and non-parties to the Cartagena Biosaftey protocol are
continuing their discussions in Montreal at the end of this month on
how the Protocol is going to be implemented globally to regulate
transborder shipments of Living Modified Organisms and food, feed and
processed material derived for LMOs.
Capacity building in developing countries to process the extra
bureaucratic red tape created byt the Protocol has been on the agenda
at previous meetings. At the upcoming meeting the requirement for
building technical capacity in forensic GMO testing is likely to be
The Norwegian Governments donation of money to assist in the setting
up of a GMO testing facility in Zambia might be seen as proof of
Norway's commitment to the implementation of the Biosafety Protocol.
However, I find it deeply disturbing if this donation was in any way
coupled to the appointment of GenOK led by Professor Terje Traavik as
the laboratory to be used in training and advising the Zambian
scientists in GMO testing.
Professor Traavik has very little credibility left in the eyes of
many eminent scientists in the area of molecular biology and plant
breeding as evidenced in the open letter to Prfessor Traavik from
Rick Roush. I would argue that any result coming from a GMO testing
lab with scientists accredited by GenOK would be scrutinised with a
healthy degree of scepticism based on Professor Traavik's previous
I would urge the Norwegian Goverment to turn to the EU Joint Research
lab for providing expert training and advice in GMO testing. the EU
JRL is the GMO testing authority that the EU Commission takes
evidence based advice from for its policy decisions in GM crops.
To employ GenOk and Professor Traavik as the authority on GMO testing
smells of political expedience and doesn't serve to enhance the
reputation of the GMO testing facility in Zambia or any other GMO
testing facility anywhere in the world.
Roger Kalla, Director Korn Technologies
Dispelling the GM Myths
- Farmers Guardian (UK), May 18, 2005
The American Soybean Association's response to critics of the new technology
* Biotechnology has not been a bad deal for US farmers:
- GM technology has come to dominate production of the three big
crops, soybeans, corn and cotton. This year, more than 90 per cent of
the 29 million hectares of soybeans planted by US farmers is likely
to be GM, along with 76 per cent of the cotton and 45 per cent of
Since GM crops were first commercialised a decade ago, the acreage
has grown every year. In 2003 the six main biotech crops increased
grower income by $1.9 billion, as well as boosting net yields by 5.3
billion lb and cutting pesticide use by 46.4bn lb, according to
research done last year.
* GM crops have not ruined US commodity markets:
- Despite the EU's anti-GM stance US export levels have continued to
rise. For example, soybean exports globally have reached record
levels for four out of the past five years. Exports to the EU only
declined in 2004 because of fears among buyers of legal action. Even
then China more than compensated for the shortfall.
* GM technology can increase yields:
- Biotech crops can increase yields where previously there had been
problems with insect damage and weed proliferation as they allow
better weed and insect control.
* GM crops are not inherently risky to the environment:
- There is no evidence, other than extrapolations of hypothetical
risk, that GM crops are more risky' to the environment than
conventional or organic equivalents.
* GM crops offer a number of environmental benefits:
- They have led to huge reductions in pesticides', which is likely to
have a positive impact on biodiversity. Herbicide tolerant crops
enable farmers to adopt conservation tillage techniques - no-till at
the extreme. No, or very limited, ploughing saves soil, provides
wildlife habitats, reduces phosphorous and nitrogen run-off and
reduces CO2 emissions from the soil by 88 per cent.
In the US, the chemicals used with GM crops encourage farmers to
leave field margins. Because of this farmland wildlife is up in
counties with GM crops. The UK field scale trials were wrong to only
measure wildlife inside fields, as most lives on the margins.
* GM food does not harm people:
- There have been no verified links of biotech food causing any harm.
GM crops are making food safer by reducing pesticide use and, in the
case of Bt corn, reducing mycotoxin contamination. The world's
leading scientific organisations have declared GM food as safe, if
not safer, than conventional food.
* Biotech crops benefit developing countries and small farmers:
- One third of the world's biotech acreage is now in developing
countries, where it gives greater yields and allows dramatic
reductions in the use of dangerous chemicals. Small farmers are often
the beneficiaries of GM crops.
Public Research and Regulation Initiative
Dear colleagues, The Steering Committee of the Research and
Regulation Initiative is very pleased to give you the following
update on our initiative.
The Public Research and Regulation Initiative continues to enjoy
increasing interest from public sector scientists all over the world.
The number of our Forum members, i.e. people who wish to be informed
about and involved in our activities, has passed the 100 a while ago
and is still growing. The list of Forum members is available on
http://www.pubresreg.org, under 'Forum'.
The number of areas in which the Research and Regulation Initiative
is asked for assistance is also growing. Our initiative started with
a focus on the Biosafety Protocol, but over the last few months we
have been asked to also help public sector scientists to be involved
in other issues under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the
Aarhus Convention as well as assistance with preparing requests for
field trials and reviewing of biosafety legislation. To keep the work
manageable, we have decided to establish a number of working groups,
which are driven by volunteers from our list of Forum members. Soon
we will place on our website information about these working groups
and their contact persons.
50 public sector scientists participated in an introductory seminar
for the participation of public research scientists in the Second
meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of
the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP2). This
seminar was held on 3-4 March, 2005, at the Donald Danforth Plant
Science Center, USA. The program, the participants list, background
documentation and presentations etc are available on
www.pubresreg.org, under 'events'.
Over 30 public sector scientists from all over the world will
participate under the umbrella of the Public Research and Regulation
Initiative in MOP2 to the Cartagena Protocol, from 30 May - 3 June
2005 in Montreal, Canada. In the weekend prior to MOP2, the Research
and Regulation Initiative will hold a preparatory meeting.
Documentation for this preparatory meeting and for participation in
MOP2 is available on www.pubresreg.org, under 'events'. During MOP2,
the Research and Regulation Initiative will also hold two side
events, which are aimed at updating the negotiating officials about
the ongoing work in the public research sector. Attached is a draft
note that outlines our side events. If you have any suggestions to
help completing this draft note, please send an email to prof. Klaus
If you have suggestions regarding input of the Research and
Regulation Initiative in the discussions on any of the topics that
will be discussed during MOP2, please send me your input by email
If you wish to know more about the participation of the Research and
Regulation Initiative in MOP2 please contact Kim Meulenbroeks
(firstname.lastname@example.org, see below for contact details).
The Research and Regulation Initiative has also participated as
observer in a working group under the UN-ECE Convention on Access to
Information, Public Participation in Decision making and Accss to
Justice in Environmental matters (the 'Aarhus Convention') in
February 2005. The Public Research and Regulation Initiative will
participate as observer in the Second Meeting of the Parties to the
Aarhus Convention, which will be held from 22 - 27 May, 2005, in
Almaty, Kazachstan. Attached is a draft for a statement on behalf of
the Research and Regulation Initiative. You are kindly invited to
send any suggestions you may have regarding this statement to the
coordinator of our Working Group, Dr. Sylvia Bursens
(Sylvia.Burssens@UGent.be), with a copy to me
(email@example.com). If you agree with the attached draft
statement, we urge you to share it with the representatives of your
country in the MOP2 of the Arhus convention.
- Piet van der Meer
For further information:
Kim Meulenbroeks, Secratriat of the Public Research and Regulation
Initiative, The Netherlands
Phone: +31-15-212-7800; Fax:+31-15-212-7111; firstname.lastname@example.org
Australia A Scientific Backwater Without GMOs, Group Warns
- Mark Thornton, Food Chemical News, May 17, 2005
A government-funded research group has warned Australians that their
nation will become a cultural and scientific backwater if they
continue to ban genetically modified foods. The Rural Industries
Research and Development Corporation said in a report that state bans
on GMOs risk stifling research and will likely force scientists
"Australia's biotech industry ... will be held back the more
Australia limits production of GM crops, and as a result many
scientists may migrate to more stimulating research environments
abroad," the report said.
The reports authors at RIRDC, an independent organization set up by
the federal government 15 years ago to find and fund promising rural
initiatives, said that even with the current European Union ban on
GMOs, Australia would be better of by A$ 20 million a year if it
adopted GM crops.
This would rise to $ 37 million a year if the EU lifted its ban. The
authors Kym Anderson and Lee Ann Jackson said production costs in
countries that have adopted GM crops have fallen more than 5%,
lowering livestock feed-grain costs.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization plant
industry deputy chief T. J. Higgins agreed with the report, saying
any brain drain of Australian scientists would not only affect GM
research but also conventional breeding practices because new
knowledge about genes affects all agricultural research, not just
that focusing on GM.
"We have the safety mechanisms in place with very good regulatory
authorities and we have the scientific capability to do this,"
Higgins said. "Australian farmers will be less competitive if plant
breeders are restricted to older technology."
However, GeneEthics Network director Bob Phelps told Food Chemical
News the report ignored the fact that most consumers have rejected GM
foods and have done so consistently in a number of different surveys
over five years. "The assumptions on which the authors base their
study are biased and wrong and therefore the answers they get are
biased and wrong," Phelps said.
Greenpeace Prefers Genetic Purity Over People (Who's Afraid of the
- Joe Beck Eco Blog;
Almost everyone knows of Greenpeace. In 2003 they expended 86 million
dollars on environmental campaigns. $7.6 million of that was devoted
to fighting against the adoption of genetically engineered crops.
Greenpeace is arguably the most powerful non-governmental
organization fighting that technology.
When I say they are fighting against genetic engineering, I don't
just mean the GM corn grown by farmers in Iowa. I also mean the crops
to be used by subsistence farmers in Africa and Asia. I refer
specifically to the case of golden rice.
Golden rice is a genetically modified rice that contains so much
vitamin A that it appears orange (similar to the naturally vitamin A
loaded carrot). This was accomplished by inserting three extra genes
into the rice genome. Two of these genes come from daffodil and the
third comes from corn. The hope is that golden rice consumption will
lessen vitamin A deficiency in Asia and Africa, which kills hundred
of thousands of children and causes even more to go blind EACH YEAR.
Since local farmers can simply pass around the seed and replant it
year after year, this solution might avoid distribution problems.
Sounds good, doesn't it? This is just the type of thing the UN
Development Programme was calling for when its 2001 report stated
"These crops (genetically modified crops in general) could
significantly reduce malnutrition, which still affects more than 800
million people worldwide, and would be especially valuable for poor
farmers working marginal lands in sub-Saharan Africa"
Apparently, Greenpeace fears that widespread adoption of golden rice
might enhance the image of genetically modified foods in general. So
Greenpeace has gone on the attack. Unfortunately for Greenpeace,
golden rice is hard to attack. The plan is that golden rice will be
given FREELY to impoverished farmers, so it's not possible to attack
the profit motive. The genetically engineered plant contains genes
from daffodil and corn, so it's hard to pretend that it's some sort
of chimeric monstrosity. It was developed by non-profit organizations
(the Swiss government and the Rockefeller foundation) so Greenpeace
cannot credibly play the "evil-transnational-corporation" card. So
what options does Greenpeace have left?
Greenpeace has tried to say that golden rice would provide too little
vitamin A to be effective. From their website dated March 16, 2005:
"GE golden rice is fool's gold because an adult would have to eat at
least 12 times the normal intake of 300 grams to get the daily
recommended amount of provitamin A." Greenpeace then shows a picture
of a youth with perhaps 10 kilograms of cooked rice on her plate.
This argument wasn't really believeable from the start. Greenpeace
was assuming that 100% of the US recommended daily allowance is
needed to achieve the health benefits. That's obviously not true. If
it were, then half of even the developed world's junkfood gobbling
teenagers might require seeing-eye dogs. On the contrary, the
inventor of golden rice believes that just 10% of the daily
recommended amount of vitamin A would solve most vitamin-A deficiency
problems. To make matters even worse for the Greenpeace argument,
last month in Nature magazine, researchers at Syngenta reported that
a new version of golden rice has 20 times the vitamin A as the old
version. We're not talking 300 grams. We're talking between 2 and 15
Greenpeace's last method to demonize this invention will be to insist
that golden rice is not needed since there are other methods of
preventing vitamin A deficiency. Also from their website: "Since
Golden Rice was presented in 2000, solutions such as increased food
diversity, vitamin supplements and home gardening have proven to be
working solutions for Vitamin A deficiency. While Vitamin A
deficiency is still a serious problem in countries such as
Bangladesh, these solutions helped to virtually eliminate Vitamin-A
related blindness in children. There are also traditional rice
varieties that could combat Vitamin A deficiency." These are all
great options, but those approaches have not been enough.
For more than a decade WHO has been actively advocating the
distribution of vitamin A to children and breast-feeding mothers, but
supplementation regimes are expensive tasks and they suffer from
distributions issues. "Increased food diversity" is obviously a good
idea, but its tough to accomplish for people subsisting on less than
a dollar a day. "Home gardening" sounds like a good idea too until
one realizes that in many of these countries more than half the
population are farmers, yet there still isn't enough nutritious food
available. Obviously a problem of this magnitude must be attacked
FROM ALL SIDES.
For Greenpeace to callously attack a promising tool for helping the
starving is unconscionable.
What's Future of Biotechnology?
- David Bennett, Delta Farm Press, May 17, 2005
During the recent session of the Arkansas legislature, competing
bills were introduced to regulate plant-made pharmaceutical crops in
the state. The first, Senate Bill 318 (SB318), called for a ban, with
rare exceptions, on growing plant-made pharmaceuticals. It didn't
make it out of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The second, House
Bill 2574 (HB2574), was more lenient toward such crops. After several
weeks of debate, HB2574 passed the legislature.
At the time, there was much speculation that agricultural researchers
in the state had been closely involved with HB2574. Bill Reed,
Riceland Foods vice president, confirmed that in a mid-March
interview. "The industry - Farm Bureau, Arkansas Rice Producers, the
Southern Crop Production Association, the university research
divisions, the Arkansas Plant Board and others - put together a bill
we believe provides a balanced approach to this situation."
While safeguarding the economic viability of the food-grade rice
crop, Reed said, the legislation would protect research for "input or
output traits." That may seem an innocuous claim, but there's plenty
"Our interest, for a long time, has been to produce pharmaceuticals
in plants," said Tim O'Brien. "The reason is very simple: the medical
school has a fairly significant portfolio of technology - perhaps 250
patents. We're also responsible for about 20 startup companies here.
So our goal is to create new industry, a new economic sector in
O'Brien, a man whose words carry an Irish accent, is director of the
Little Rock-based Biomedical Biotechnology Center. Established by the
College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical
Sciences in 1994, the Biomedical Biotechnology Center is an umbrella
under which research and industry huddle. The Biomedical
Biotechnology Center is also responsible for a business incubator,
Arkansas BioVentures, opened in 1997.
Recently, O'Brien spoke to Delta Farm Press about biotechnology and
how it could help Arkansas producers. Among his comments:
On plant-made pharmaceuticals... "Part of our effort, because we're a
medical school, is to produce pharmaceutical products. Several
companies are interested in developing both vaccines and diagnostics.
These are proteins derived from viruses or from the human genome -
proteins expressed in tumors or cancer cells. People could be
vaccinated to eliminate or prevent cancer.
"Therefore, we have a significant interest in how such products are
produced. Traditionally, these products would be produced in yeast,
bacteria or in cells of culture. Another way to produce them, though,
is inside plants. "Of course, Arkansas has a strong history of
agriculture, and there is great expertise in the field. That
expertise is tied to certain crops: rice, soybeans, cotton and winter
wheat spring to mind.
"So, clearly there are potential ways to configure these plants and
products at a significantly lower cost than from other methods. We
see the capacity to produce high-value products by relatively small
farmers as a way to enhance the agricultural potential of the state.
"Small farmers could do well with this because you don't need 1,000
acres to produce the products. A farmer could do well with 10, 20 or
On canola and rice as plant-made pharmaceuticals... "The issue became
'What are the ideal plants for producing the proteins for therapeutic
uses?' "We looked at several candidates, beginning with canola.
Canola isn't commonly grown in Arkansas, but there are varieties that
do well here. "We, in fact, have done early experimental work with
canola, all of it in containment in collaboration with the University
of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
"We also have evaluated rice. Ventria and others are in this business
because rice is a very good candidate crop for producing the
proteins. Rice can store many of the proteins, which allows a higher
production rate. And the technology to introduce the products into
rice is well-established.
On market opinion... "We also recognize the potential of market
opinion in introducing the proteins in rice. As a result, we've
focused on plant varieties that aren't big commodities. More
recently, we've been focusing on cowpeas as our main vehicle. "We're
redeveloping technology because much of it was brought along through
canola and rice. Now, we must rework it for cowpeas.
"We think cowpeas will work well because they're self-pollinating,
they have large seeds that are workable and containable. We believe
cowpeas can be grown and managed in a way that would be very valuable
to small farmers. "If we're prevented from doing that in Arkansas,
we'll have to look somewhere else. Inevitably, the pharma-industry
will settle where it's most economical to produce these proteins."
You mentioned a couple of things that are close to fruition. Please elaborate.
"We have diagnostics and vaccines in clinical trials. If they go
through the trials successfully and become a commodity we can use in
the population for therapy, then the demand for the product will go
up significantly. We would like to be in a position at that time to
produce it in reasonable quantities. "To do that, we would probably
need to grow these products in quantity within the next two years.
That means we hope to have initial production in an experimental
system hopefully this year. That, in turn, will help expand the seed
base so we'll be able to have enough when the project moves forward
in two years."
On how genes are placed inside plants...
"There are several manners. First, there's the 'gene gun' where gold
particles with DNA on them are 'fired' into plant cells. There's also
a bacteria used - normally part of the nitrogen fixation process in
certain plants. "You do initial work in tissue culture and then use
certain media that encourage root growth or stem growth. You take the
resulting plantlets and grow them. Those are then screened and if any
good ones are discovered, you continue working with them."
How close are we from seeing real plant-made pharmaceutical benefits
to the world? Are we 10 years away?
"No. In some cases, we're very close. The human genome has been
sequenced and we understand the genes and what regulates the disease
processes and normal support processes for well-being. We're now
finding what can be produced that will help us maintain a normal
metabolism and how to prevent disease. "As we do that, the whole
pharmaceutical industry is moving away from chemistry-based to a
biologically-based focus. That simply means instead of chemicals
modifying cell behavior they're looking at proteins. The capacity to
produce these proteins will be in incredible demand and expanded over
the next five years. The opportunities for farmers, therefore, will
develop very fast."
On marketing GM and plant-made pharmaceutical crops to the world...
"The truth is we haven't done a great job in educating the public as
a whole about biotechnology. We should have been explaining the
benefits and acknowledging the questions regarding any risks or
downsides. "There are risks to anything, of course... Everyone should
agree that, if produced, (plant-made pharmaceuticals) need to be
contained and not part of the general population of plants. I think
that's very important, so we need plans and regulations that must be
complied with. But I think it's clear that these proteins are going
to be produced. If done properly, they can be highly beneficial to
Have any economists looked at how much this would benefit the state
and farmers? What's the monetary potential for this?
"There are estimates out there. I don't want to blow up the
importance. But from an economic development standpoint, there is
significant and important potential with this industry. Very small
acreage can produce a high-value crop. "The great question facing us
in Arkansas is, 'How do we design systems that are risk averse and
contained properly that provide opportunities for the small farmer?'
That's what I want to see us accomplish.
"We can do this! This is an industry that's just beginning. We can be
in the forefront of how the industry is crafted and how we want the
state to participate and we should spend time figuring out how best
to do that."
Editor's note:for more information, visit http://www.uamsbiotech.com