Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : May 23, 2005
* Monsanto Defends Results of Rat Studies
* Monsanto Response on Mon 863 Maize 90-Day Rat Feeding Study
* India: Hybrid Cotton: Go-ahead for Monsanto
* The Dogs Bark but the Caravan Moves On!
* More to Case Than Meets The Eye [Schmeiser]
* Give Hairy Nutters A Spell In Pokey
* Plant Pest Resistance Boosted
* Tenure Granted to Ignacio Chapela
* ... Anti-Biotech Crusader Wins Tenure On Appeal
* GM Plants As Weapons of Bioterrorism?
* The Farce Be With You
Monsanto Defends Results of Rat Studies
- Reuters, May. 23, 2005
Monsanto Co. on Monday discounted as insignificant European reports that the company's internal research had found variations in the health of rats fed Monsanto's biotech corn.
The furor concerns a type of corn that has been genetically altered to protect itself against corn rootworm. The Monsanto study found that rats fed the biotech corn had smaller kidneys and blood composition different from rats not fed the corn.
But Monsanto said the research, which has sparked alarm among some European scientists and government officials, is not evidence of any hidden dangers in its technology. The study reflects only inconsequential differences in kidney size and blood composition in the animals used, the company said. "This is not a health and safety issue," Monsanto spokesman Chris Horner said.
Monsanto, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is the world's leading developer of genetic modifications for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. The company's technology enables crops to become resistant to insects and tolerant of weed killers. U.S. farmers have largely embraced the developments, particularly in soybeans.
But other countries, notably in the European Union, have been slow to approve the products because of questions about how genetic changes in the plants affect humans and animals.
And some U.S. critics have been vocal as well. "The study showing problems... is just one of many such alarming results that have been distorted, denied, or covered up," said Jeffrey Smith, the author of a book about Monsanto and its development of biotech crops. "Other GM (genetically modified) rat studies revealed liver problems, potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, inhibited organ development, stomach lesions and unexplained deaths," he said. "The technology of inserting genes into crops... is fraught with dangerous, hard-to-detect side-effects."
Monsanto spokesman Horner said the anomalies are not outside of a normal statistical range expected in these types of studies. "All the relevant European authorities have looked at this research," he said. "The questions were surrounding statistical issues, not anything substantial to the health of rats."
Monsanto has requested approval to import the biotech corn for use in processed foods and derived food products, but the EU's 25 governments are deadlocked over the issue. Critics of biotech food said there are numerous studies beyond Monsanto's internal research that show health concerns tied to those products.
Monsanto Response on Mon 863 Maize 90-Day Rat Feeding Study
Monday, May 23, 2005 Monsanto's information about its MON 863 maize, which was sent to the Independent on Sunday many weeks ago, is available here.
The full "rat study" has not been released because it contains confidential business information which could be of commercial use to our competitors and exploited by others for commercial advantage, if made available. This is why EU regulations contain data confidentiality provisions for commercially sensitive information. Equally, under these regulations, certain data may NOT be treated as confidential information, but this does not extend to technical reports containing research results.
So, the full study has been used by the competent regulatory authorities and EFSA, whose report from last year is available at http://www.monsanto.co.uk/search/display.phtml?uid=8322.
All the relevant safety information from that study is included in the summary which is also available on the American Monsanto web site at http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/content/sci_tech/prod_safety/ratstudy.pdf
These two documents help to explain why those best qualified to assess the safety of these products have been satisfied.
Media Backgrounder - provides information on MON 863, the EU regulatory process and the relevant information regarding the rat feeding study and expert conclusions.
Response to Pusztai Report - reinforces the methodology and quality of the rat study.
In conclusion, five independent experts have reviewed the data and confirmed that MON 863 maize does not adversely affect the health of rats.
The overwhelming opinion of expert authorities is that MON 863 is safe for human and animal consumption.
- Monsanto has met all regulatory data requirements in the European Union and responded to all supplemental requests for information from regulatory authorities. - Monsanto contracted the 90-Day Rat Feeding Study, as required by European regulatory authorities, and subsequently updated the submission to fulfill the new 2001/18/EC requirements. - All qualified experts concluded that the observed small numerical decrease in rat kidney weights is not biologically meaningful, and the weights are well within the normal range of kidney weights for control animals. - In the case of the MON 863 rat study, there were no corresponding microscopic findings in the relevant organ systems, and all MON 863 blood chemistry and organ weight values fell within the "normal range of historical control values" for rats. Thus, the experts concluded that there were no effects on the functioning of kidneys in rats fed a diet of MON863 corn.
Source: Monsanto UK
India: Hybrid Cotton: Go-ahead for Monsanto
- The Hindu, May 21, 2005
NEW DELHI: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests on Friday granted permission to Monsanto-Mahyco for seed production and large-scale field trials of various varieties of hybrid cotton in South and Central zones.
The GEAC meeting, scheduled for June 8 earlier, was advanced on request from the agriculturists from South and Central India to consider their cases as the sowing in these areas would not be possible if the decision was taken next month.
According to a Ministry spokesperson, Monsanto-Mahyco was granted permission for large-scale field trials and seed production of MRC-6355 BG -I. It was also given a green signal for seed production of MRC-7341 BG-II, MRC-7347 BG-II and MRC-7351 BG-II varieties of cotton in South and Central zones.
Also, permission was given for commercial release of Bt cotton hybrids NCS-145, `Bunny' Bt, NCS-207 "Mallika" Bt by M/s Nuziveedu Seeds for Central and South zones. M/s Ajeet Seeds Ltd has also been allowed to conduct large-scale field trials and seed production of ACH-155-1, Bt cotton hybrids in South zone.
The Dogs Bark but the Caravan Moves On!
-Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD
There you have it. GEAC met at an emergency session on May 20, 2005, and approved more Bt cotton varieties (above). By the latest count, India's cotton farmers now have access to unprecedented 20 new Bt-cotton hybrids. Outstanding Bt hybrids containing Bt genes will now be available in the market, and farmers can pick and chose what they want. Not all these varieties may perform as well as expected in all places. But, farmers will surely decide the winners and the losers, as always. Jai Kisan!!! (Hail to the farmer).
Not withstanding the negative campaign by NGOs, India's cotton farmers are demanding Bt cotton seeds in that same district of Warangal from where all the past "bad" "poor" and "failed" performance reports came out. Even that same district agricultural officer Mr. Lakshman Rao who wrote about the poor performance of Bt cotton is now saying that his district will need more Bt cotton seeds this planting season. This is perplexing! is not it? Scientists and technologists always knew that Bt cotton technology would work as it has all over the world. Performance could vary as it always does with different varieties and every self-respecting plant geneticist or breeder knows about it. GM crops will not be stopped anywhere in the world and certainly not in India at this rate. It is just a matter of time. Those who witnessed green revolution technology implementation know how it took decades before farmers would accept to grow high yielding varieties, and GM crops are following the same path.
More to Case Than Meets The Eye [Schmeiser]
- Robert Wager, Guelph Mercury (Canada), May 19 2005
It is hard to know what to believe about genetically modified food.
I have followed the Percy Schmeiser/Monsanto case for years, and know well that genetically modified foods are very misunderstood. This is primarily because there is a great deal of misinformation circulated by opponents with other agendas. The Percy Schmeiser/Monsanto story is a case in point. If one listens to public statements by Schmeiser one gets a very different opinion then by reading the court records of his battle with Monsanto.
There appear to be missing facts that add considerable context to this story. According to the court records, Schmeiser admitted to spraying three acres of his canola field with Roundup and then saved the seed from the canola that did not die. He then planted that saved seed over 1,000 acres the following year. This is why all three levels of the court system found him guilty and why the judge said, "he knew or ought to have known" he was propagating Roundup ready canola.
Ever since he was found guilty, he has been touring the world campaigning for groups opposed to food biotechnology. If anyone doubts this, perhaps they should ask Schmeiser how many countries he has visited and who paid for all that travel? It seems far more likely he stopped farming because he has found a new career as an advocate for the anti-biotechnology industry.
The implied safety issue is a rouse. It is impossible to prove anything is "perfectly safe." We can only prove something is not safe.
However, history of safe use does generate confidence in the relative safety of products. Twenty plus years of research and 10 years of commercial use has demonstrated an exemplary safety record for genetically modified crops and food. The European Union did 15 years of research and concluded that food biotechnology "has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them (genetically modified foods) even safer than conventional plants and food." The International Council for Science, which represents over 100 scientific and academic associations around the world states: "Further, there is no evidence of any ill effect from the consumption of food containing genetically modified ingredients. And there is no evidence of any deleterious environmental effects having occurred from the trait/species combinations currently available."
The claim that genetically modified crops threaten the organic food industry does not hold water. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement states there should not be any threshold for cross-pollination between organic and biotechnology crops and does not advocate mandatory testing. There are no regulations that will remove organic certification from accidental cross-pollination, only intentional planting of genetically modified crops, as was the case (according to all three levels of th e Canadian court system) for Schmeiser. In a separate but related class action certification attempt by a small group of organic farmers purporting to represent all organic farmers in Saskatchewan, the judge ruled the organic farmers did not demonstrate economic hardship to organic canola growers from genetically modified canola. Simply put, there was not credible evidence of "contamination" damaging organic canola growers. The class action status was rejected after failing to meet any of the five criteria required for certification to proceed as a class action claim.
People can and have claimed many things about genetically modified crops and food, but the record is very clear. I encourage people to read the three court decisions against Schmeiser and the court decision rejecting the organic farmers' attempted class action suit against genetically modified crop manufacturers. Today, 70 per cent of Canadian canola farmers grow genetically modified varieties. Farmers are smart people and there is no way this level of use would happen unless the products perform. Around t he world, over 200 million acres of genetically modified crops are now grown in 18 countries and this number increases by more than 10 per cent each year. There are active research programs in over 70 countries. This is the fastest adoption rate of any agriculture product in history.
Agriculture biotechnology is not a panacea and genetically modified crops will not solve world hunger, but the incorporation of these technologies into world agriculture are essential to help deal with the pressures of an ever-increasing global population.
Robert Wager works at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo B.C. He wrote this piece in response to an article about Percy Schmeiser that appeared in the Guelph Mercury earlier this week.
Give Hairy Nutters A Spell In Pokey
- Western Gazette (UK), May 19, 2005 http://www.westerngazette.co.uk/
Yet another alarmist letter last week from single-issue zealots, this time the "Genetic Engineering Network"
Research on the internet shows that the company responsible for the Bt10 maize announced themselves that a minute quantity had got into the food supply - they were fined as far as I can ascertain not because the maize was dangerous but because it was unauthorised.
The amount planted (between 2001 and 2004) was 0.01 per cent of the maize crop in America. Of the total crop just over half is GM and of this total crop 18 per cent was exported world-wide. (I tried to work out half of 18 per cent of 0.01 per cent but gave up!)
They say that none was knowingly sent to Europe, no more is being grown, and tests have been put in place by the EU in America to prevent any being imported. The US Dept of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our own Food Standards Agency all state that there are no known human or environmental concerns with any GM food.
Our own beloved leader has campaigned for trials of GM to continue here, and even those arch nannies at the EU have recently instructed five members to lift whatever restrictions they have. Despite this, due to irrational intransigence, (according to Economist magazine), we are urged to believe that there is a Dr Strangelove out there intent on putting a triffid-like gene into the clematis so that it whips out a tendril and strangles your granny as she totters past with the secateurs.
Either that or by "interfering with nature" the world will come to an end as we know it. (How all medicine and medical research isn't "interfering with nature" I don't quite know.)
While the benefits of GM food are many and demonstrable the proven faults are not visible to the naked eye, yet we are urged to write to our MPs to further these daft views.
The only urging I would do would be to urge the judiciary to give the next lot of hairy nutters who destroy an experimental crop six months in the pokey.
- Ted Merry, Blandford.
Plant Pest Resistance Boosted
- Charles Q. Choi, The Scientist, May 17, 2005 http://www.the-scientist.com
'New technique increases activity of Bt toxin, but scientists caution it needs safety testing'
An international team of researchers has developed a new technique for increasing pest resistance in transgenic crop plants, they report this week in PNAS. The strategy, which boosts and broadens the activity of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins, targets previously impervious pest species and reduces by up to 1000-fold the level of toxin _expression needed, said coauthor Paul Christou at the University of Lleida in Spain.
Heavy use of Bt insecticides worldwide has raised concern that insects might evolve resistance to Bt crops. Strategies to avoid the evolution of resistance include expressing multiple Bt toxins at high doses or fusing Bt toxins together, with resistance in both approaches requiring the unlikely acquisition of multiple simultaneous mutations. Christou and colleagues in Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Britain instead devised a new strategy that increases the repertoire of toxin-binding sites a Bt toxin attacks.
They fused the sequence for Bt toxin Cry1Ac with that of the nontoxic B-chain subunit of ricin (RB) in a recombinant plasmid. RB is a leptin that binds with galactose- and N-acetylgalactosamine residues with high affinity, the latter of which are key components of Bt toxin-binding receptors. They then bombarded embryonic callus from mature maize seeds with this BtRB fusion.
"The Bt toxins currently in crops have a very narrow host specificity, which is good because it reduces negative effects on beneficial insects and other nontarget organisms, including people, but it limits the application of any particular Bt toxin to controlling relatively few pests. So when you combine Bt toxins together, you're limited to the host specificities of each toxin," said Bruce Tabashnik at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who did not participate in this study. "With this novel technique, you don't have that limitation-you're broadening the specificity of an existing toxin by modifying its binding domain, rather than mixing and matching."
The researchers tested their fusion toxin against stem borer Chilo suppressalis, a pest normally susceptible to Cry1Ac, and found that maize producing low levels of BtRB killed 75% of larvae, compared with 17% in Bt-only plants. Similar trials with the cotton leaf worm Spodoptera littoralis, which is resistant to Bt delta endotoxins, showed that after 4 days, nearly 78% of larvae died on BtRB maize, compared to less than 20% on Bt-only or nontransformed maize. In the leafhopper Cicadulina mbila, which like˙ other homopterans is ordinarily unaffected by Bt toxins, 95% of insects died by day 4 on BtRB maize, compared to 80% survival otherwise. In tests with the homopteran cereal aphid Rhopalosiphum padi, however, no toxicity was seen with BtRB or Bt-only maize.
Broadening the spectrum of species that Bt toxins attack could help control a wider range of pests, but "the potential negative effect is that you could increase toxicity to nontarget species such as humans or beneficial insects," Tabashnik told The Scientist.
Christou said his group was engaged in large-scale, collaborative experiments to determine exactly which insects are susceptible to these novel fusion proteins. "These results need to be validated repeatedly in multiple experiments, first in the laboratory, then in greenhouse experiments, and ultimately in controlled field experiments," he said. "If any of these experiments indicate toxicity to nontarget or beneficial insects, this toxicity needs to be studied, understood, and remedied before experiments progress forward."
Richard ffrench-Constant at the University of Bath in England, who did not participate in this study, cautioned that the increased toxicity of the fusion protein might instead be due to RB improving membrane insertion. "I'd like to see a Scatchard Plot of the binding of this fusion protein to brush border membrane preparations of different insect pests in order to confirm that activity against an increased range of insects is associated with altered binding," he told The Scientist.
Tenure Granted to Ignacio Chapela: 17 May 05 Berkeley
Dear friends, dear colleagues,
I. An announcement
I am proud to contact you with extraordinary news. Yesterday afternoon, the Dean of the College of Natural Resources at Berkeley communicated to me the intention of our new Chancellor to grant tenure to my position at Berkeley.
This decision is a clear message of vindication not only of myself, but also of the innumerable individual and collective efforts put into this process by all of you. You have generously added your voices to the many questions raised around my tenure review and demanded a process free of conflict of interest or undue influence, and for this I am thankful. I foresee no official recognition of your presence, but you should know that it was precisely that which in the end achieved this result.
As happened two years ago, when I received an important communication once I had decided to bring my office out into the street in front of California Hall, the tenure decision reached me while in the midst of another street intervention seeking to cast public light upon the newest incarnation of the bioengineering edifice. A small number of us have been using our bicycles all week to circulate messages about the hull of the bioengineering building on the Berkeley campus, which will soon reach completion. see http://www.pulseofscience.org
Anti-Biotech Crusader Wins Tenure On Appeal
- Michelle Locke, North County Times, May 20, 2005 http://www.nctimes.com
BERKELEY -- An anti-biotech crusader who sued claiming he was denied a permanent post at the University of California, Berkeley, because of his opinions has been granted tenure on appeal.
Ignacio Chapela had been turned down for a regular faculty post by former Chancellor Robert Berdahl last year following a negative recommendation by a five-member faculty board. Before that, colleagues in Chapela's college had voted to recommend tenure.
Chapela appealed his denial -- which had prompted protests that drew international interest -- and the school agreed to resubmit Chapela's tenure bid and allow him to keep teaching. In an unusual turnaround, the second faculty panel recommended tenure, said campus spokeswoman Marie Felde. Recently inaugurated Chancellor Robert Birgeneau agreed, and Chapela got the news Wednesday.
Chapela said Friday he was surprised and "a little overwhelmed." "I really was not expecting this. I didn't see much reason they would say yes after having gone through the whole process," said Chapela, calling his new status a "very clear message of vindication, of validation, and that's always very welcome." His attorney, Dan Siegel, called the reversal "a big victory and I think it's due to the tremendous support he had."
Chapela was an outspoken opponent of a five-year, $25 million deal Berkeley signed in 1998 with Swiss agriculture giant Novartis to do agricultural biotechnology research. In his lawsuit, filed in April, Chapela said he was denied tenure because of that criticism. Chapela, who was born in Mexico, also said he was discriminated against because of his national origin. Siegel and Chapela said it was too soon to say what would happen with the lawsuit.
Four years ago, Chapela co-authored a study published in the journal Nature that concluded that DNA from genetically engineered corn contaminated native maize in Mexico. The study was denounced by the biotechnology industry and Nature later said there wasn't enough evidence to justify publication of the paper.
Chapela, who teaches in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, has continued to question biotechnology. This week, he organized a protest focusing on Berkeley's bioengineering building, which is under construction. Felde said administrators aren't worried about having the controversial Chapela on the faculty. "I think a variety of opinions and viewpoints are what makes universities the kinds of places they are," she said.
GM Plants As Weapons of Bioterrorism?
'Harvest of Terror' - New Fiction by Oliver Chase , $19.95, Paperback, 330p, ISBN: 0-595-34964-1; Published: May-2005 (Thanks to Dr. Roy Chaleff for alerting this) http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-34964-1
"Mexican terrorist build and release a powerful new type of biological weapon, causing a deadly epidemic in the American Midwest."
A mysterious epidemic breaks out in the American Midwest, killing hundreds of thousands of people. In an ultimatum to the U.S. Government, a Mexican terrorist group claims responsibility for developing and releasing a new type of biological weapon of mass destruction (WMD) by means of genetic engineering. With panic and chaos engulfing the nation and the threat of a second attack looming, a massive manhunt is launched to track down the terrorists.
Written by a real scientist with authentic detail, this novel provides a chilling warning of the technical feasibility of building a powerful new type of biological weapon that has thus far been overlooked, but that is more easily constructed and delivered and yet more potent than any previously conceived weapon. But don't be terrified: For the time being at least, it's still fiction.
The Farce Be With You
- Shannon L Talton
This is a spoof on "Star Wars" that promotes organic food. see
The message is out-of-the-lecture-hall and lay-friend y. They certainly impart the erroneous idea that organic is better morally, healthier for the individual, and safer for the world. First, they get attention through emotion, then (un)educate the public with what they want them to believe. This works well.
What political ads or commercials do you remember? Do you remember the facts most, or the images and emotions evoked?