Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : May 31, 2005
* Anti-biotech Brigade's Modus Operandi
* Australia: Greenpeace Trades On Fear Again
* Traceability and Labeling of Biotech Crops
* Re: Malaysian PM's comments
* Global Biotech Battle Heats Up In Montreal
* Scientists Trace Corn Ancestry from Ancient Grass to Modern Crop
* Transgenic Crops - Hands-on Lab Course
* Food Mostly Chemical-Free, Study Shows
Anti-biotech Brigade's Modus Operandi
- Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, LLC, Ellicott City,
RE: New Anti-GM Scare is Born: Apropos Dr. Vivian Moses commentary on
new anti-GM scares, I hasten to add that Prof. Moses is unduly
optimistic. But, there is no need to be pessimistic either. All the
old scares have not really died. They have just disappeared from one
part of the world, and have appeared in another. All the old scares
still make rounds from time to time in Asia and Africa. It is really
tiring to keep warding them off.
One must realize that the anti-GM brigade is entrenched in their
positions and are not about to yield an inch. The anti-GM brigade
cannot and will not give up on their crusade. If they ever as much
as even think of giving into scientific truths, facts and figures or
even begin to understand the established scientific approaches as it
is practiced by the scientific establishment, then they will have no
case against GM and will have to look for another cause (milking
cow!). Finding another globally appealing cause is not that easy
these days. They will latch on to their anti-GM cause as long as it
will last, and will move on only when they find something more
I just finished reviewing all the publicly available record on the
safety data and dossier on MON863 and have read the regulatory review
opinions of four major regulatory authorities using my fifteen year's
of regulatory experience at USDA. I am convinced that there is no
other conclusion other than to come to a reasonable conclusion that
MON863 is as safe as any other GM or non-GM corn on the market. One
can question and quibble about this or that data, but the overall
conclusions are that MON863 is safe. This is what they are trying to
do with the some alleged abnormalities observed in kidney and blood
pathology of MON863 fed rats. Several scientific panels that were
privy to the confidential business data and this 90 day rat feeding
data have certified that whatever abnormalities observed falls within
a low noise to signal ratio, and there is no cause for any safety
concern. We need to take their verdict on its face value and surely
monitor to see if any problems would arise in due course of time.
That is the only way to manage and minimize safety risks.
That kind of reasonable approach is not what is acceptable to the anti-GM
lobby. They want to invoke the precautionary principle and stop this
technology in its track until all safety data is obtained even if it
takes 50 to 100 years. The honorable thing to do for these
anti-biotech crusaders is what an honest to good consumer
organization would do. Keep a close watch on the product in the
market place, gather high quality scientific data and bring any kind
of negative data to the attention of the authorities so that
appropriate action can be taken to protect the public.
One cannot imagine that in this day and age of raging public debate
on GMOs, a company like Monsanto having invested millions of dollars
in the GMO business would risk by deliberately hiding any dastardly
negative and dangerous data about the safety of its product and risk
everything they have struggled for by unleashing an unsafe product on
the public. It would be really astounding if all the scientific and
regulatory experts who have reviewed the MON863 dossier would not
have asked scientifically rigorous questions about the data and
allowed it to be commercialized. Everyone must know that regulatory
agencies all over the world are under close scrutiny and cannot gloss
over obvious problems with GMO applications. I see nothing but very
deliberative approach on the part of all the regulatory authorities
for reviewing the MON863 dossier including the report containing
confidential business information. If anyone really cares, there is
plenty of information on MON863 in the public domain and they can
satisfy themselves as to the safety conclusions of regulatory
agencies. If the regulatory authorities have accepted that, then all
of us should accept their decision under advisement and vigil.
What the anti-biotech brigade is doing with MON863 is what they have
always done with GMOs. Latch on to anything that is remotely
negative to GMOs and flog it to death. Reasoned analysis and
understanding the current methods of risk assessment and tons of
scientific data available to show the effectiveness and safety of
GMOs is not what they want. They work towards their goal of beating
GMOs with anything they can get and see how far they can push the
public opinion with it. In so many ways, they have done an effective
job of it in many parts of Europe and have delayed implementation of
GM technology. They are also having some effect in Asia and Africa
by delaying it. They certainly have succeeded temporarily by denying
good quality GMOs to the starving people of Zambia and Angola. But,
this won't last for ever. Truth will triumph in the end, but we will
need tons of patience for that.
> A New Anti-GM scare is Born - and Dies?
> - Vivian Moses, CropGen, London, May 26, 2005; www.cropgen.org
> Every now and again a new anti-GM scare starts up, usually on the
>flimsiest of evidence, and duly dies away when no support is
Australia: Greenpeace Trades On Fear Again
Jeremy Taeger's emotional response to my letter ("Human genes are fit
for rice" - 19th May) is typical of what we have come to expect from
Greenpeace, a multi-national, fund raising organisation whose main
stock in trade consists of fear-mongering, claims that have no basis
in science, and staged publicity events aimed at garnering further
The Life Sciences Industry, far from being out of control is the most
heavily regulated industry in the world, is accountable for its
actions, and the consequences of any errors are devastating to its
future business. Greenpeace has to date been accountable to no-one,
and their frequent brushes with the law reflect their total lack of
discipline. Consider just two examples from a long list:
* Lord Melchett, as head of Greenpeace, U.K., was taken to court for
the wilful destruction of GM canola field experiments;
* In October 2001 Greenpeace activists in Paris chained themselves to
chairs at the Cine City Bercy and prevented their co-founder Patrick
Moore from addressing the European Seed Association. Moore had
resigned from Greenpeace because they had lost all scientific
As a lawyer with no formal training in genetics Taeger clearly does
not understand the first thing he read in my article, and
demonstrates an appalling ignorance of the fact that, as we learn
more about the genetic make-up of a wide range of plant an animal
species, we are finding that there are a large number of genes in
common. If the Japanese work I cited were to ever be utilized in
Australian crops at some future date, it will take at least ten years
of testing and food safety evaluation before a new product can enter
the marketplace. It will be a competent, independent organisation
(FSANZ - Food Standards Australia - New Zealand) that will determine
product safety, not Greenpeace - and it will also be the farmers of
Australia who determine whether the technology makes sense on their
farms, not Greenpeace.
If we allow new technology to be summarily dismissed on the basis of
unsubstantiated claims, we may equally well succumb to other peddlers
of unreason who endanger the future progress of a tolerant society.
Greenpeace testified in the House of Lords, England that "It is a
permanent, and definite and complete opposition" (to GM crops). Let's
see them for who they are - they do not seek to understand, they are
totally opposed to GM technology. Yes, Greenpeace will be held to
account - they have already cost the developing world dearly through
GM fear-mongering in African countries facing starvation and
requiring food aid; they have attacked 'Golden Rice' with enhanced
beta-carotene; and they are now interfering in China's adoption of GM
Ian Edwards, PhD; D.Sc
Chairman - AgBio Advisory Group; AusBiotech (Australia's
Biotechnology Industry Organisation)
Traceability and Labeling of Biotech Crops
- Ross Korves, Truth about Trade, May 27, 2005
As worldwide acreage of biotech crops continues to increase at double
digit annual percentages and government regulators approve more
varieties of biotech crop, increasing attention is being paid to
international trade and public policy issues on traceability and
labeling biotech crops and consumer products. Consumers will not
receive the full benefits from biotechnology until food producers,
processors and retailers and government regulators in major countries
have adopted a system of traceability and labeling that is cost
effective and meets the needs of consumers.
The USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century
Agriculture released a report in early May titled "Global
Traceability and Labeling Requirements for Agricultural
Biotechnology-Derived Products: Impacts and Implications for the
U.S." that serves as a good starting point for further consideration
of the issues.
The seriousness of these issues should not be underestimated. Some
insurance carriers for grain processors have chosen to discontinue
coverage for liability associated with unauthorized
biotechnology-related presence in non-biotech crops. Labeling
requirements have led processing companies to choose to exclude
biotech crops as ingredients so a biotech label is not required.
Markets that had become increasingly unified over the past 30 years
are now becoming fragmented to the disadvantage of producers,
processors and consumers.
The report begins by noting that the U.S. government has consistently
argued that there is no scientific justification for imposing
mandatory labeling requirements on biotech crops based solely on the
process by which the products were produced. At the same time, USDA
has also worked to provide tools and services related to product
testing and process verification to help market participants meet
consumer demands. Government regulatory actions need to be based on
sound science, but consumers ultimately rule in a market system, and
market forces remain the best way to sort out labeling and
Labeling and traceability and related issues like testing,
segregation and identity preservation are not new to the food
industry. Beginning at the farm, hard red winter wheat is kept
separate from soft red winter wheat because they have different uses
and values for millers and bakers. Retail food labeling laws have
continued to be broadened in recent years in response to various
health claims and concerns. Processors of baby foods have developed
product tracing systems so the source of raw ingredients and
pesticides used in production are fully known. Even ominous phrases
like "adventitious presence", used to refer to the presence of
biotech proteins and DNA in what is thought to be non-biotech crops,
has also been used to refer to low levels of unintended hybrids in
hybrid seed corn and foreign material in wheat.
This learning process would be much less complex were it not for two
issues: the unfounded image of "Frankenfoods" spread by anti-biotech
groups and the goal of some people for absolute zero biotech crop
adventitious presence in non-biotech crops. A small amount of corn in
soybeans or soft red winter wheat in hard red winter wheat does not
make a significant difference in the value of the products. A goal of
absolute zero would not be cost effective. Science says the same
thing about a small amount of biotech corn in non-biotech corn. But
the fear of "Frankenfoods" has made what the report refers to as an
"acceptable zero" unacceptable in the quest for absolute zero.
The search for absolute zero is further complicated by the fact that
in some processed products the detectible protein or DNA has been
broken down to the point that the biotech product is no different
than the non-biotech one. If the end products look exactly the same,
the only way to distinguish between the two is to develop elaborate
tracing systems so that the products can be process verified. The
only countries that do not exempt these processed products from
labeling are the EU, Brazil and China.
The report highlights the need to establish international testing
standards. The commercial risks for the grain processing industry is
extremely high because grain that meets the established standard at
point A using test number 1 and again at point B using test number 2
may then fail at point C using test number 3. Has the grain become
commingled at some point, or is it the same grain with a different
sampling error, or is test number 3 measuring something that tests 1
and 2 did not measure? The current system lacks predictability which
All of these uncertainties must be sorted out by governments or the
private trade or some combination of the two. Governments have met
for several years under Codex and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
and to a lesser extent under the International Plant Protection
Convention and the WTO without major breakthroughs. Part of the
problem is that groups pursuing the "Frankenfood" image and absolute
zero adventitious presence do not seek solutions based on sound
science or reasonable costs.
That leaves the market as the best hope for initial breakthroughs. As
the report points out, participants in the grain markets assume
substantial liabilities as they seek to meet the needs of consumers.
They have the financial incentives to find real solutions to real
problems. The task is made more difficult by the lack of a single
test that can detect all biotech events.
Once market participants begin to rally around standards or
guidelines, they can then begin to encourage government regulators to
move international discussions toward reasonable approaches to
labeling, traceability and testing. In many countries the regulatory
frameworks are still in the formative and implementation stages and
open to reasonable arguments about the best approach to regulations.
Re: Malaysian PM's comments
- Denis Murphy, University of Glamorgan, UK
re: Malaysian PM's comments that the Netherlands was the world's
second largest food exporter after the United States.
This is of course not accurate - countries like Brazil & Argentina
massively outstrip the Netherlands. However, the Netherlands is the
world's second largest exporter of seed & seed products after the
United States Also, the Netherlands (like Hong Kong) is a major
re-exporter of shipping produce to the rest of Europe, most via
Finally, in terms of the total value of exported agricultural
commodities, the Netherlands may be 2nd to the USA due to its high
value-added products like glasshouse grown soft fruits and cut
So there is a measure of veracity in the PM's words, if not the
Global Biotech Battle Heats Up In Montreal
- Food Production Daily 23/05/2005 http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/
A transatlantic trade dispute over genetically modified food will
come to the fore over the next 10 days in Montreal, Canada, where
government, civic and business representatives are gathering for a
second round of international negotiations on biotechnology. Ahmed
About 800 representatives from around the world are due for the
second round of negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety,
from 25 May to 3 June. Among them will be representatives of the food
processing, shipping and the agricultural sectors. The main
decision-making meeting begins on 30 May.
Biotechnology lies at the centre of debates on the future of world
agriculture, on international trade relations, on how to protect
biological diversity, on the role of multinational corporations,
globalisation, and, in the end, on whether consumers can have
confidence in the food they eat. It means multinational food
processors will have to walk carefully and carry a lot of lawyers
when venturing into this new world, because all of the restrictions
being put into place exposes them to risk and liability.
Proponents say biotech advances will help alleviate world hunger,
give developing countries the chance to become competitive
agricultural exporters and be better for the environment by reducing
the need for herbicides and pesticides. They say biotechnology, in
particular genetically modified (GM) food, is not harmful to human
health and is safe for the environment.
Critics, who include some of the proponents of biotech, say not
enough study has been done on genetically manipulated food and that
its introduction into the food chain may destroy biological diversity
on the planet. Civic critics also claim that biotechnology will give
multinationals too much power over farmers.
The debate at this meeting will focus on the costs and logistics
involved in the handling, transport, packaging and identification of
genetically modified (GM) food and agricultural exports. A related
point of friction is the issue of segregating GM from non-GM
commodities during storage and transport, a task which shipping
companies claim is impossible or too costly.
The battle mainly pits the US, which mainly does not want any
restrictions placed on exports of GM foods, against the EU countries,
which have the toughest requirements in the world controlling their
movement and identification. The US and food producers in both North
America and the EU contend the restrictions are unenforceable since
the tests to detect GM products are not reliable to the degree
required and are onerous to traders.
It means multinational food processors will have to walk carefully
and carry a lot of lawyers when venturing into this new world,
because all of the restrictions being put into place exposes them to
risk and liability from regulators and the public.
The US remains the last major holdout on signing the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety, a part of the Convention on Biological
Diversity that became effective in September 2003 and has been
ratified by 120 countries. China, one of the largest importers of GM
crops, signed the protocol last week, giving added political momentum
to the issue.
China is the world's largest soybean importer with 2004 imports
amounting to 20.2m tonnes, of which Greenpeace says more than 70 per
cent is thought to be genetically modified. China is also the world's
largest GMO cotton grower.
The Cartagena Protocol applies to the transboundary movement,
transit, handling and use of all living modified organisms (GMO) that
may adversely affect biological diversity and human health. The
protocol requires exporters to give detailed information to recipient
nations about GMO products. It also gives importers the right to
reject GMO imports or donations - even without scientific proof - if
they might pose a danger to traditional crops and indigenous
Such restrictions run contrary to agreements signed under the World
Trade Organisation (WTO) treaties, say the US and Canada, two of the
largest exporters of GM products. Canada signed the protocol in 2002
but has no plan to ratify it. The US has not signed the protocol and
has no plans to do so. The US, Canada and Argentina have filed cases
against the EU's requirements with the WTO.
With economic and political considerations clouding the debate, the
EU's go-slow policy contrasts with the US' eagerness to put products
on the market. The US is the largest trader in GM foods and it wants
to develop the market. EU countries, with their powerful farmers'
unions and activist consumers, want to restrict the use of GM seed,
food and products, or at least have it clearly labelled.
The EU requires that all food be tracked and labelled if it contains
0.9% or more traceable GM content, along with derivatives such as
paste and ketchup from a GM tomato. Products derived from GM
processing aids, such as GM enzymes or yeast, are not affected.
Meanwhile cheese, wine and beer derived from GMOs are not affected by
the labelling, products which are top EU exports, note critics of the
One main strand of the debate concerns the identification and tracing
of plant parts in food, especially products made from a wide mix of
ingredients. The technology and a reasonable logistics system is in
place to tag and trace the movement of animals. However tracing the
genetic origins of a plant is much more difficult.
New labelling rules on GMOs entered into force in the EU last year,
propelling an end to the moratorium on GM ingredients. Since then
only two products have been cleared for import: a GM sweetcorn
supplied by Swiss biotech firm Syngenta and Monsanto's MON810 biotech
maize, engineered to be resistant to the European corn borer. Last
week, food and feed experts from EU member states voted against
allowing Monsanto to import Mon 863 maize to the bloc.
The US contends that testing systems are not reliable enough to
detect such a low percentage of GMO in a food product and that
exporters will be exposed to risk and liability in selling to the EU.
To say the debate is political as well as economic would be an
understatement. The US claims the EU restrictions worsen world food
hunger and holds back the development of biotech products.
The EU counter-accuses the US of using world hunger to further its
own commercial interests in biotechnology and argues that many
developing countries share the EU's reservations regarding GMOs. The
EU claims that its new regulations are in line with the Biosafety
Protocol and the recommendations of Codex Alimentarius, the UN food
safety body. GM technology is also the target of a global protest
movement including non-governmental organisations, civic associations
and international bodies.
Meanwhile developing countries remain caught between the two debates,
on one hand needing the increased crop yields and higher nutritional
content that biotechnology promises, on the other, wary of being
caught in the grip of the multinationals who produce GM seed.
Developing countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt,
India, Mexico, and South Africa are at the forefront of biotechnology
research, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO). The report covers both GM crops and non-GM
biotechnologies, and indicates developing countries will soon have
new crops available, such as virus-resistant papaya, rice tolerant to
abiotic stresses (salinity and drought), and soybeans with improved
Several developing countries have been conducting research on a wider
range of crops, such as banana, cassava, rice, and sorghum, and on
traits relevant for food security, such as abiotic stress tolerance
and quality. About 85% of GMO research in developing countries is
concentrated in Latin America and Asia. About 35% of research
projects cover pathogen-resistant crops, 20% are concerned with pest
resistance and 16% are on quality traits and herbicide resistance.
Most of the GMOs commercialised so far in developing countries have
been acquired from developed countries and focus on a limited number
of traits, mainly herbicide tolerance and insect pest resistance, and
crops such as cotton, soybean and maize, the FAO report found.
Biotechnology, in its technical sense, refers to plant and animal
farming techniques that alter living organisms to make or modify food
products. There are many possible products from transgenic plants,
plant parts, and processed foodstuffs, including highly refined
substances such as vegetable oil containing little or no detectable
transgene-derived protein or DNA.
Under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, governments will signal
whether or not they are willing to accept imports of agricultural
commodities that include GMOs by communicating their decision via an
Internet-based Biosafety Clearing House.
According to news reports Canada has also taken the step of refusing
an entry visa to Africa's leading expert on GM foods so he can attend
the meeting in Montreal, the headquarters for the UN Convention on
Biological Diversity. Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, from
Ethiopia, is Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol.
With all the contending parties gathering this week, the debate in
Montreal is sure to be heated. In the battle for the consumer, food
processors and producers are watching closely.
Scientists Trace Corn Ancestry from Ancient Grass to Modern Crop
- May 27, 2005 http://www.physorg.com/news4301.html
Researchers have identified corn genes that were preferentially
selected by Native Americans during the course of the plant's
domestication from its grassy relative, teosinte, (pronounced
"tA-O-'sin-tE") to the single-stalked, large-eared plant we know
today. The study revealed that of the 59,000 total genes in the corn
genome, approximately 1,200 were preferentially targeted for
selection during its domestication.
The study, by University of California, Irvine's Brandon Gaut and his
colleagues, appears in the May 27 issue of the journal, Science.
Understandably, a primary goal of teosinte domestication was to
improve the ear and its kernels. A teosinte ear is only 2 to 3 inches
long with five to 12 kernels-compare that to corn's 12-inch ear that
boasts 500 or more kernels! Teosinte kernels are also encased in a
hard coating, allowing them to survive the digestive tracks of birds
and grazing mammals for better dispersal in the wild. But, for
humans, the tooth-cracking coating was undesirable so it was
selectively reduced?and reduced?and reduced?unti l all that remains
is the annoying bit of paper-thin, translucent tissue that sometimes
sticks between the teeth when one munches corn on the cob.
To analyze the genes of modern corn and its ancestral teosinte, Gaut
and his coworkers used relatively new genomic techniques to determine
the DNA sequence of 700 gene bits in the two plants and used
"population genetics," the study of genetic variation, to compare
"These results will provide important insights to modern corn
breeders in their quest to establish hardier, higher-yielding corn
plants," said Gaut. "The scientific approach will also be useful in
the study of other domesticated organisms, plants and animals alike."
This work generally confirms the idea that corn went through a
"population bottleneck," or a period when a significant portion of
corn's genetic diversity was lost, which typically marks a
domestication event. Calculations using these data reveal that fewer
than 3,500 teosinte plants may have contributed to the genetic
diversity in modern corn.
Between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, Native Americans living in what
is now Mexico began domesticating teosinte, or the "grain of the
gods," as the name has been interpreted to mean. Scientists cannot
yet say how long this domestication process took, but they do know
that around 4,500 years ago, a plant recognizable as today's corn was
present across the Americas.
So, thousands of years before Gregor Mendel postulated his theories
on genetics and heredity, indigenous Americans were breeding corn to
select for desirable traits. By selectively breeding each generation,
ancient farmers drastically changed teosinte's appearance, yield,
grain quality and survivability-culminating in today's "corn." In
fact, teosinte is so unlike modern corn, 19th century botanists did
not even consider the two to be related.
"This is a very exciting finding," said Jane Silverthorne of the
National Science Foundation's (NSF) biology directorate, which funded
the project. "We are beginning to have a much clearer picture of what
happened to the genes responsible for the structure of today's corn
A broad understanding of the genes present in modern-day corn will
provide a foundation for improving it as well as its cousin cereal
crops. Target goals include yield increases, improved insect and
pathogen resistance, enhanced environmental adaptability, and
improved nutritional value. To that end, sequencing the entire genome
of corn is also critical to improving the crop and its value in human
subsistence. To that end, sequencing the entire genome of corn is
also critical to improving the crop and its value in human
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 12
billion bushels of corn were harvested in the United States in 2004,
which will be used for a diverse array of products including
livestock feed, ethanol and plastic consumer items, as well as food.
The National Corn Growers Association reported that 2003 corn exports
were valued at $4.5 billion.
Supported by NSF's Plant Genome Research Program, this collaborative
project included Gaut and co-workers at the University of California,
Irvine, together with scientists from the USDA-Agricultural Research
Service, the University of Missouri and the University of Wisconsin.
NSF is part of an interagency program along with the U.S. Department
of Energy and the USDA that plans to support the sequencing of the
corn genome over the next three years.
[Image: Cultivated corn was domesticated from teosinte more than
6,000 years ago. During the process, corn lost the ability to survive
in the wild, but gained valuable agricultural traits. The suppression
of branching from the stalk resulted in a lower number of ears per
plant but allows each ear to grow larger. The hard case around the
kernel dissappeared over time. Today, we see just a few ears of corn
growing on one unbranched stalk and enjoy larger ears covered with
many, many rows of soft corn kernels. Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller,
National Science Foundation]
Transgenic Crops: Production, Evaluation and Applications
- Hands-on Lab Course in Plant Biotechnology - November 7-18, 2005,
New Delhi, India
A theoretical and practical course organised by the International
Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB).
Registration is limited to 16 participants and the deadline for
applications is 1 September. See
http://www.icgeb.org/MEETINGS/CRS05/Reddy.htm or contact
email@example.com for more information.
Participants must have a basic working knowledge of molecular biology
and must be directly involved in research covered by the Course.
Admission is limited to 16 participants. CLOSING DATE FOR APPLICATIONS
1 September 2005
FUNDING: Nationals of ICGEB Member States who are selected to
participate on an ICGEB grant will receive their accommodation (twin
share) and local hospitality for the duration of the Meeting; travel
is NOT funded. Please note that there is no registration fee.
CONTACT - Submit your participation form, curriculum vitae in English
and a short list of publications (if any) to: Mrs. H.S. Narayanan,
Chief of Administration, ICGEB - New Delhi Component, Aruna Asaf Ali
Marg, 110 067 New Delhi, India. Tel: +91-11-26167356; Fax:
+91-11-26162316; E-mail: shubhaicgeb.res.in
Food Mostly Chemical-Free, Study Shows
- Dennis Bueckert, London Free Press (Canada), May 30, 2005
OTTAWA -- Despite consumer concern about pesticide residue on fruits
and vegetables, the great majority of such foods contain no
detectable contamination, says a study based on federal data.
Eighty per cent of fresh food tested in 2003-04 was residue-free,
says the analysis done for Croplife Canada, a lobby group for
pesticide manufacturers. For processed foods, the residue-free
portion was 90 per cent. In foods that did have residues, nearly all
were within the safety guidelines set by Health Canada: only 0.7 per
cent of fresh domestic foods and 0.5 per cent of fresh imported foods
carried amounts above the guidelines.
But environmentalists say the study doesn't tell the whole story.
Julia Langer of World Wildlife Fund Canada said consumers have
legitimate concerns. "In terms of residues going down I don't see too
much difference," Langer said. "It is still too high. Finding
residues in 20 per cent of the food we eat . . . that is too high."
Sarah Winterton of Toronto-based Environmental Defence said research
should not focus solely on residue found on individual food products,
because people eat many different foods and the exposure adds up.
"You're getting these traces from many different sources and we don't
have a good handle on the impact on human health." She said the
Health Canada guidelines are also subject to debate, with some
scientists suggesting some chemicals are unsafe at any level.
The study is based on data provided by the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency as part of its extensive food testing program. Peter McLeod of
CropLife Canada says accurate information isn't reaching the public.
"I've heard statements that, you know, food is laced with pesticides
. . . and the data just doesn't back that up," he said.
A poll done for CropLife earlier this year found 81 per cent of
consumers are concerned about pesticides being used to grow fruits
and vegetables, and 77 per cent believe agricultural chemicals are
harmful to their health. "There's a huge disconnect between
perception and reality. There are so many misconceptions out there
among the uninformed."
One thing is sure: pesticide use in agriculture has dropped
substantially. A study by the Ontario Health Ministry concluded
agricultural pesticide use as measured by total active ingredient has
declined 52 per cent over the past 20 years.