Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : July 1, 2005
* Science & Africa: A Message to the G8 Summit
* One in Six Countries Facing Food Shortage
* GM Foods and Trade: The Luddites Make Ground
* Brazil: Now It's 'Tractorization' Time for OGM
* The UN's Silent Scandal
* New Nutrient-Rich GM Crops Get Funding from Gates Foundation
* GM Foods Are Not More Allergenic Than Their Counterparts
* ABIC 2006 Down under: Ag Biotech International Conference
* Developing Countries May Not Get Benefits of GM Food
* Trust in Ingenuity
* A Corporate Group In Panic
* Activism Could Be Put to Better Use
* How to Poison Your Spouse The Natural Way
Science & Africa: A Message to the G8 Summit
- Nature 435, 1146-1149; June 30, 2005. www.nature.com
'Africa's scientists tell industrialized nations what they need to
When the G8 leaders meet in Scotland next week to discuss how to help
Africa's poorest nations, they are unlikely to hear the chants of the
protestors -- an 8-kilometre fence around their luxury hotel will see
to that. But the activists have, to some extent, already been
listened to: a debt-relief package has been signed by the group of
eight industrialized countries and a hike in aid is also on the
cards. But when it comes to spending this extra money, one question
is whether the voices of Africa's scientists will be heeded.
On the following three pages, Nature presents those voices. They need
to be heard, as science and technology are more of a priority for aid
agencies than ever before. African universities, for example, are the
subject of a new focus by the World Bank. Africa's leaders have also
singled out science and technology in their continent-wide political
strategy - the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
The comments that follow make for challenging reading. Every area
seems to require immediate attention, from disease and climate change
to a lack of access to education and sanitation. But themes emerge
nonetheless. Solutions must factor in the needs of local communities
and environments. Projects should be run as far as possible by
Africans, not the donors. And Africa needs long-term backing from
rich nations, not an uncertain future in which aid waxes and wanes.
If science and technology projects are to help shape Africa, these
are the strategies that should shape them.
* South Africa: John Mugabe, Adviser on science and technology to
NEPAD, based in Pretoria. Helped to establish the partnership's
African Forum on Science and Technology for Development (AFSTD).
I spend most of my time working with governments and donors to ensure
that scientific knowledge is incorporated into African skill sets,
policies and strategies. We need more capacity for African countries
to apply science to their problems, focusing on health, water,
agriculture and the environment, and to generally increase economic
A big part of this will be technological innovation. You can never
say when you have 'enough' technologies. There are many technologies
available to manage water supply, for example, but few to improve
water quality. The hope of every country in the world is to have more
scientists. But for us in Africa it is difficult. There is not just
the task of training more scientists, we also need to create solid
institutions and ensure that our scientists have specific,
well-resourced projects to work on.
Debt relief will help, but developed countries need to ensure that
the money is going to benefit productivity in Africa. Knowledge needs
to be shared better between developed countries and Africa, to enable
African countries to improve their technologies. But in the short
term, we want to see a commitment from the G8 to put together an
African science fund that would be available to countries on a fairly
flexible basis to address their problems -- not necessarily without
certain minimum conditions. That will be a better way for African
scientists to get the relatively small amounts of money they need to
work on projects that will benefit Africa.
* Kenya: Florence Wambugu. CEO of A Harvest Biotech Foundation
International, a Kenyan organization dedicated to promoting
sustainable agriculture through the use of biotechnology.
We cannot develop Africa without biotechnology. Enormous numbers of
people suffer from malnutrition in some regions, and this is where
biotechnology has huge potential.
One example is NERICA (New Rice for Africa), a variety developed by
the West Africa Rice Development Association in Bouaké, Ivory Coast.
The rice was created by conventional breeding and combines high-yield
Asian strains with drought-resistant African ones. It is a good
example of the research and development we can do when there is
partnership between scientists in Africa and abroad.
But we have to take a holistic approach -- we also need to address
other issues such as soil fertility, water management, human
infrastructure and capacity development. The problem is that there is
a disconnect between high-level international research and the
perspectives and priorities of African leaders. Most research here is
donor-funded. There is an urgent need for African countries to fund
their own research so that they have a stake in the results. That way
the results will be more relevant and can be linked to local
Involving rural people is crucial. The poverty in Africa is in the
villages. We need education and training for farmers so that they can
make use of opportunities such as improved seed banks. That will
You can't just give them an agricultural innovation and leave them to
it. I believe in science and technology, but the way it is
implemented is very important. For example, genetically modified (GM)
crops have a major role to play in Africa, especially in tackling
problems such as pests, drought and malnutrition. To succeed, GM
technology must be implemented in a way that gives Africans true
ownership. Although there is room for many different players,
including the private sector, researchers and agricultural
organizations, greater emphasis should be placed on collaborations
with countries outside Africa. When it comes to staple crops, the
possibility of royalty-free technologies must also be explored.
One in Six Countries Facing Food Shortage
- John Vidal and Tim Radford, The Guardian (UK), June 30, 2005
One in six countries in the world face food shortages this year
because of severe droughts that could become semi-permanent under
climate change, UN scientists warned yesterday.
In a stark message for world leaders who meet in Gleneagles next week
to discuss global warming, Wulf Killman, chairman of the UN food and
agriculture organisation's climate change group, said the droughts
that have devastated crops across Africa, central America and
south-east Asia in the past year are part of an emerging pattern.
"Africa is our greatest worry," he said. "Many countries are already
in difficulties ... and we see a pattern emerging. Southern Africa is
definitely becoming drier and everyone agrees that the climate there
is changing. We would expect areas which are already prone to drought
to become drier with climate change."
The food and agriculture organisation and the US government, both of
which monitor global food shortages, agree that 34 countries are now
experiencing droughts and food shortages and others could join them.
Up to 30 million people will need assistance because of the droughts
and other natural disasters such as the Asian tsunami.
The worst affected countries include Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Malawi,
Eritrea and Zambia, a group of countries where at least 15 million
people will go hungry without aid. The situation in Niger, Djibouti
and Sudan is reported to be deteriorating rapidly. Many countries
have had their worst harvests in more than 10 years and are
experiencing their third or fourth severe drought in a few years, the
Climate change could also trigger the growth of deserts in southern
Africa. A report published in Nature today predicts that as
greenhouse gases fuel global warming, the dunes of the Kalahari could
begin to spread. By 2099, shifting sands could be blowing across huge
tracts of Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe and western Zambia. Much of the
region was covered by shifting dunes more than 4,000 years ago.
"Dunes are composed of soft sand. If you sift away their protective
vegetation cover, and there is enough energy in the wind, then that
sediment has the potential to move, especially if it is dry," said
David Thomas, of the University of Oxford.
"In western Zambia there are quite a lot of these ancient sand dunes.
They were quite active 4,000 years ago, which isn't long in
geological terms. There have been plenty of times when it has not
been a great place to live."
Severe droughts have also badly affected crops in Cuba, Cambodia,
Australia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Morocco, Guatemala, Honduras and
Nicaragua. According to the UN's famine early warning system, 16
countries, including Peru, Ecuador and Lesotho, face "unfavourable
prospects" with current crops.
In Europe, one of the worst droughts on record has hit Spain and
Portugal and halved some crop yields. Both countries have applied to
the EU for food assistance. In Morocco the same regional drought has
devastated farming and the government fears an influx of people into
Researchers are reporting a general drying of the land and growth of
desertification in the Mediterranean region. "The 20-year average
clearly shows a dramatic increase of desertification and drought,"
said a leading agricultural economist, Professor Giovanni Quaranta,
of the University of Basilicata in southern Italy.
Henri Josserand, the UN's famine early warning system director, said:
"In southern Africa especially, there is no question that drought has
become much more frequent in the past few years. There has been a
sequence of drought years for four or five years. What is unusual is
the repeat patterns".
The situation in Malawi and Zimbabwe is giving particular cause for
In Malawi, where a government report suggests more more than 430,000
tonnes of maize will be needed to avert the second food shortage in
three years, one in three people are expected to need help by the end
of the year following poor rains. Thousands of people died in 2002-03
in what became known as a "hidden famine", which affected the poorest
and remotest people.
"It's going to get rapidly worse and we will have to move substantial
amounts of food very fast," said one non-governmental group working
in the worst-hit southern region of Malawi.
In Zimbabwe, where the effects of drought have been exacerbated by a
deteriorating political situation, 4 million people may need help
this year, the US government's famine early warning system showed.
"In all rural districts of Zimbabwe, crop production was poor and
well below normal," said a report last week.
UN sources suggest that getting food to the country will not be
difficult because neighbouring South Africa had a surplus this year,
but distribution in the politically volatile circumstances may be
A report by Britain's leading development and environment groups this
week backed the UN studies that suggest Africa will most feel the
effects of drought and desertification under climate change, and will
experience continued food shortages.
"Africa is more exposed to the impacts of climate change than many
other regions in the world. Climate change is happening, and it is
affecting livelihoods that depend on the natural environment, which,
in Africa, means nearly everyone," said Andrew Simms, spokesman for
the World Development Movement.
GM Foods and Trade: The Luddites Make Ground
- The Economist, U.S. Edition, July 2, 2005
'The EU is to let some countries persist with national bans on GM food
Great news for Luddite greens; a big blow to the biotech seed firms;
one more obstacle to transatlantic trade co-operation. That was what
the environment ministers of European Union (EU) countries achieved
on June 24th when they rejected an effort by the European Commission
to force open a few national doors to a few genetically modified (GM)
Despite deep public suspicion of GM in Europe, the balance, for over
a year, had been quietly shifting in GM's favour. In 1999, the EU had
imposed a moratorium on any new GM approvals. By 2003, GM maize and
soya were widely grown in the western hemisphere, and the big
exporting countries were fed up. That August, America, Argentina and
Canada took the EU to the World Trade Organisation.
But the EU had already side-stepped that threat. In place of the
moratorium, it brought in complex rules on the labelling of GM
content in food and animal feed. To critics, the remedy looked as bad
as the disease. But it did, in theory, allow more imports, and the
spread of GM farming in Europe. Some GM maize was already grown in
Spain, for instance. And chinks in the door have been widening,
thanks to the EU's curious decision-making procedures.
Suppose, say, Monsanto or its Swiss rival Syngenta want authorisation
for some GM variety of grain. The commission, the EU's central
bureaucracy, consults the European Food Safety Authority. If that
body is in favour, the commission puts the proposal to a committee of
national experts. If they cannot agree, it goes up to the Council of
Ministers-environmental ministers, in this case-representing the EU's
national governments. If they reach a view, within a three-month time
limit, that is that. But if not, the matter goes back to the
commission, to decide as it pleases.
Little by little, that has been happening. In November 2003, the
commission approved the import of a Syngenta sweetcorn called Bt-11
after the council failed to come to a decision. The same happened
early last year with NK603, a Monsanto maize for animal feed. A
Monsanto oilseed rape (canola) is now in this process. Under a
different regulation, another Monsanto maize, MON810, last September
got EU authorisation.
But approval from Brussels is not the last word. Several EU states
have a national ban on sundry GM varieties. Last week, the commission
had asked the council to strike down five such bans. It got a shock.
With Finland and Sweden abstaining, only the British and the Dutch
gave it support. By large majorities, the bans remain in force.
Still worse for the biotechies, the commission said, publicly, that
the voting sent "a political signal". Of what? In the commission's
version "that member states may want to revisit some aspects of the
existing system". In plainer English, a signal to itself: the days
when it can count on discord among national governments and go its
own way on GM foods are over.
That will not worry Europe's GM-fearing consumers, nor therefore the
supermarkets or food producers that supply them. But it is bad news
for EU farmers, increasingly subject to real-world prices and
competition from rivals who, above all in soya and maize, are rapidly
seizing on the cost-cutting benefits of GM varieties.
And it may be bad for trade relations. The EU's transatlantic
suppliers cannot defy its new labelling rules: much of the soya they
send to the EU (3.5m tonnes from America, 8.4m tonnes from Brazil,
last year) is GM and is duly labelled, even though most goes only to
animals. But they are angry. They sabotaged a United Nations attempt,
at Montreal at the end of May, to get global agreement on a tough
labelling regime. They will see the EU's readiness to let member
states prolong private bans on GM as yet another backdoor way, in the
name of health or the environment, to prolong protectionism.
Brazil: Now It's 'Tractorization' Time for OGM
- Gazeta Mercantil Online (Brazil)July 1, 200
Sao Paulo - The cotton growers should do a "tractorization for
transgenics," according to a suggestion by researcher Luis Carlos
Barreto de Castro, former president of the National Technical
Committee on Biossecurity (CTNBio). The proposal, presented yesterday
during the 11th Fiber Club, was accepted by the Brazilian Cotton
Producers Association (Abrapa).
"It will be our priority to approve planting transgenic cotton," said
Abrapa president Jorge Maeda. According to him, the cultivation of
genetically modified organisms is the only way for the sector to
regain competitiveness, since the big fiber producers and exporters
of the world use this technology. Maeda said he believes in cutting
at least 15% of production costs by planting transgenics. Farmer
Gilberto Goellner, of Pedra Preta (Mato Grosso), is eager to begin
cultivating genetically modified cotton.
About one-third of his production costs, estimated at US$1,750 per
hectare, is spent on applying agricultural chemicals to the crop.
There are approximately 15 applications. If he uses transgenics,
there will be three. "If we have no prospect of using the technology,
we are crippled in competition," said Goellner. With the commodity's
low prices and the high costs of production, he imagines that many
farmers are going to reduce the area planted in the next crop. "If
there is no change, it will drop 20%," he estimated.
Marketing the transgenic cotton in Brazil depends on the government's
agility. Last year, CTNBio authorized use of the technology with some
conditions: the establishment of areas of exclusion, 20% cultivation
of non-transgenics, the use of agronomic conversation practices and
the use of a methodology to detect transfers to other crops.
Monsanto, which holds the technology, is "negotiating the transfer of
information to the government," according to Geraldo Berger, Monsanto
manager of Biosecurity and Seeds. Besides these conditions, which
should be defined by the Agriculture Ministry, companies that plan to
use the Monsanto technology in seed production should seek a
For ministry Biosecurity coordinator Marcus Ninicius Coelho,
commercial release does not depend on enabling legislation for the
new biosecurity law. Despite this, the sector should lobby for fast
regulation of the law so that the new CTNBio can be formed and the
release of other experimental and commercial crops be authorized.
(Neila Baldi, Gazeta Mercantil)
The UN's Silent Scandal
- Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, National Post (f/k/a The
Financial Post) June 29, 2005 (Canada)
The United Nations is being accused of all manner of criminality and
corruption these days, ranging from sexual assaults by peacekeepers
in Congo to self-dealing in the Iraq oil-for-food program. But an
even greater scandal at the UN is receiving less publicity: For
years, the agency has systematically promoted policies that block the
use of safe, effective new technologies that could help solve some of
the world's most pressing public health and environmental problems.
One example is the UN's involvement in the excessive regulation of
biotechnology -- also known as gene-splicing, or genetic modification
(GM) -- which has slowed agricultural and pharmaceutical research and
development. Ultimately, GM products could alleviate famine and water
shortages for millions, and even lead to the development of vaccines
incorporated into edible fruits and vegetables.
During the past decade, delegates to the UN-sponsored Convention on
Biological Diversity have negotiated a "biosafety protocol" to
regulate the international movement of gene-spliced organisms. A
travesty against sound science, the document is based on the
so-called "precautionary principle," which dictates that every new
product or technology must be proven completely safe before it can be
An ounce of prevention is certainly desirable, but because nothing
can be proven totally safe -- at least, not to the standard demanded
by activists and regulators -- the precautionary principle has become
an impediment to the development of new products.
Other UN agencies have gotten into the act. In 2003, the Codex
Alimentarius Commission, the joint food standards program of the
World Health Organization and its Food and Agriculture Organization,
singled out only food products made with gene-splicing techniques for
Yet scientists worldwide agree that gene-splicing is merely a
refinement, or improvement, over less precise and predictable genetic
manipulation techniques that have been used for centuries. Thousands
of greenhouse and field studies, as well as widespread
commercialization in a half-dozen advanced countries, have shown that
the risks of gene-spliced plants and foods are minimal. Globally, the
adoption of gene-spliced crops has reduced pesticide use by tens of
millions of pounds annually, and saves millions of tons of topsoil
Another example in the same vein is the 2001 United Nations
Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention, which stigmatizes the
insecticide DDT as one of the world's worst pollutants, and makes it
exceedingly difficult for developing countries -- many of which are
plagued by malaria, West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases
-- to use the chemical.
As others have noted, over the last few decades, millions of lives
have been lost to mosquito-borne illnesses -- lives that might have
been saved with DDT. The UN must be regarded as a co-conspirator in
the deadly campaign against the chemical's use.
Another example: Last month in Geneva, at the 58th World Health
Assembly -- the World Health Organization's policy-making body -- a
resolution was adopted that supposedly reflects concern about
potential bacterial contamination of powdered infant formula.
According to the WHO, two low-weight babies died last year in
hospitals in France and one in New Zealand, supposedly from formula
contaminated by bacteria. The stories are tragic, surely, but hardly
an epidemic, even if true.
The resolution notes that infant formula is not sterile and "may
contain pathogenic micro-organisms" such as Enterobacter sakazakii or
Salmonella, which are thought to have been a cause of infection and
illness in pre-term and low birth-weight infants, and "could lead to
serious developmental [damage] and death." The resolution calls for
health care workers and parents, particularly those caring for
infants at high risk, to be informed about the "potential for
introduced contamination" and the need for safe preparation, handling
and storage of infant formula. Also, "where applicable," this
information should be "conveyed through an explicit warning on
packaging." Finally, it concludes that babies should be breast-fed
exclusively for six months and calls for precautions in preparing
formula for those at high-risk, such as pre-term, low birth-weight or
But infant formula already carries explicit information about
storage, preparation and handling. The main effect of any new warning
label about dangerous pathogens will be to simply discourage the use
of formula in situations where it is needed. In truth, the resolution
appears not to have been motivated by any actual concern for the
product in question, but rather by the anti-corporate bias that
pervades the UN. This same bias, along with the perks of becoming the
world's "bio-police," motivates the anti-GM crusade.
Taken in isolation, none of these examples might qualify as a UN
scandal on par with oil-for-food. But the overall effect is indeed
appalling. The United Nations, a body supposedly dedicated to
bettering the lives of people everywhere, is systematically
discouraging the use of products and technologies that can do just
New Nutrient-Rich Crops Get Funding for Development from Gates
- Dominique Patton, Nutra Ingredients, July 1, 2005
More than $30 million has been allocated to scientists on four
different projects seeking to develop new nutrient-rich staple crops
that could improve the nutrition of the world's poor, reports
The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, backed by a $450
million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well
as $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust, and $4.5 million from the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), aims to create health
tools that are inexpensive to produce and easy to distribute and use
in developing countries.
This week it offered 43 grants totaling $436 million to a range of
innovative research projects involving scientists in 33 countries,
including four projects targeted one of the project's key goals, to
create a nutrient-rich staple plant.
These projects included the development of bananas with increased
levels of pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, and iron being researched by
James Langham Dale at Queensland University of Technology in
Australia, a genetically modified cassava that would offer higher
amounts of key micronutrients and endure longer storage time
investigated by Richard T. Sayre at Ohio State University, and new
varieties of golden rice being developed by Peter Beyer at
Albert-Ludwigs University in Germany.
The Kenya-based Africa Harvest, working with Dr Paul Anderson of
DuPont Crop Genetics Research, has also gained a grant for a
genetically engineered variety of sorghum with higher levels of
pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, zinc, amino acids, and protein. A
prototype, containing increased levels of the amino acid lysine, has
already been successfully developed.
Genetically Engineered Foods Are Not Potentially More Allergenic Than
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education, Bangalore, India; krao.at.vsnl.com.
Risk of allergy from genetically engineered (GE) foods has been made
a major biosafety issue, based on two, but now defunct cases.
A gene for the Brazil nut protein was introduced into soybean to
increase the content of methionine, an essential amino acid. The
serum from people allergic to Brazil nuts cross-reacted with extracts
of transgenic soybean and not with extracts of its isogenic. Though
no one actually developed allergy by eating the transgenic soybean,
since the transgenic is likely to affect people who are allergenic to
Brazil nuts, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the developer of the
product, did not proceed with it, an example of self-regulation.
The Bt Cry9 protein in the Aventis Starlink Bt corn is more stable in
simulated digestion than other Bt proteins, and so it was thought
that it might be allergenic. The United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA) cleared it for use as both food and feed, but the
US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) took a precautionary measure
and approved this corn only for animal feed, as animals do not
generally suffer from food allergies. When subsequent studies have
shown that Bt Cry9 protein is not allergenic, the EPA too cleared it
as food. Bt Cry9 protein was never demonstrated to be allergenic.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested 17 alleged samples of
blood from people claimed to have developed allergenic reactions to
Starlink and found that none of the blood samples showed
cross-reactivity to Cry9 Bt protein. The Cry9 gene is not deployed in
any commercial product now. Since transgenic products approved as
only feed may get into the food products, as has happened with
Starlink Bt Cry9 corn that appeared in Taco Bell taco shells, no
transgenic is now approved exclusively for use as feed. This shows
that the regulatory regime is in fact functioning effectively.
Ignoring the scientific background and the fact that the two
transgenes are not deployed in any product, these cases are repeated
ad nauseam to make the world believe that all GE foods are allergenic.
The term allergy is used very carelessly and most people do not seem
to have an idea of what it actually implies. True allergy involves
the immune system. Often food allergy is not differentiated from
other types of adverse non-immunological reactions to food. Since
the public fear allergy, it was is being exploited to whip up fear
against GE foods.
Allergy (or hypersensitivity) is neither new nor universal and it is
not an infection that may spread. Every one of us suffers from one
or the other kind of allergy for a certain time in our lives. Most
allergies disappear as mysteriously as they appear.
Walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, soybeans, some
varieties of rice and wheat, cucumbers, mushrooms, fish, shellfish,
eggs, milk, etc., as also certain drugs like penicillin, cause true
allergy in certain individuals.
Mammalian systems produce different classes of immunoglobulin (Ig)
antibodies to most proteins, in an effort to ward off infections
(visit www.fabe.org, for a detailed article on Immunology and
Immunotechnology). The IgM antibodies form first, but both the
quantity and importance of the later formed IgG antibodies is far
greater. IgA antibodies are involved in the defense of the oral
cavity. The function of IgD antibodies is not well understood.
For some unknown reasons, our immune system also produces another
class of antibodies, the IgE, in response to a few proteins, leading
to allergenic reactions, manifesting as skin rashes, intestinal
inflammation and cramps or respiratory disorders.
Some non-protein compounds, such as penicillin, may cause severe
allergies, and these are called haptens. But haptens must bind to
an endogenous carrier protein to cause allergy.
Repeated exposure to an allergen results in higher and higher titres
of IgG antibodies, which neutralize the allergen before it had a
chance to elicit IgE antibodies. This is how we overcome allergies
naturally or allergies are clinically treated. Nevertheless, the best
way to avoid allergy is to avoid contact with the allergen, basing on
each individual's experience.
Tests for allergy are based on models of known allergenic proteins.
Certain short stretches of amino acids (the components of proteins),
and not the whole protein, trigger the production of IgE antibodies.
Data have been gathered on more than 200 food proteins with such
allergenic sites, but there is no consensus on the allergenic
sequences of amino acids in them.
If a gene product in an isogenic were an allergen, it would be so in
the transgenic as well. Proteins that are normally not allergenic
will not suddenly become allergens in a transgenic plant. The risk
of allergy needs to be considered when a GE food or drug contains new
protein(s), coded by the introduced genes, but not present in the
isogenic variety. For example, the Bt protein in the Bt potato tuber
is new. Now this protein is known to be safe for human consumption.
Similarly, the iron carrier protein ferritin, whose gene from bean or
soybean is being introduced into rice to enhance its iron content, is
A protein that is degraded before reaching the intestine is very
unlikely to cause an allergy. This has been a basis to investigate a
protein further for its allergenic potential.
It is near impossible to test for all the antigens and haptens in a
product for the potential of allergy. Even so, scientists have not
been complacent-every new protein in a transgenic food or feed is
examined for allergenicity. In fact, among all the foods we
consume, the GE foods are the most thoroughly tested for
allergenicity and toxicity.
While there are no reliable data on food allergies in the developing
countries, in the US 5 to 8 per cent of the children and 1 to 2 per
cent of the adults are prone to true allergy to some foods. These
people avoid the foods they are allergic to.
Food and drug based allergies cause several deaths every year. In
highly sensitive individuals even 1/44,000 of a peanut kernel may
cause anaphylaxis. Nevertheless, there never was even a simmer of
protest against marketing any of the non-GE foods established as
Concern for public safety is very essential, but spreading fear on
political compulsions, exploiting ignorance, is undesirable. What we
need is a rational attitude with concern for the larger benefits for
the larger sections of the society and not irrational blanket bans.
ABIC 2006: Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference
- August 6 - 9, 2006, Melbourne, Australia http://www.abic2006.org/
Unlocking the potential of agricultural biotechnology: Agricultural
Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) is the major global
conference for agricultural biotechnology. First held in 1996 in
Canada by the ABIC Foundation, Melbourne Australia will host the
first conference to be staged in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Victorian State Government as Principal Sponsor and Host State
and AusBiotech, as the Host Industry Body invites you to join the
ABIC Foundation at ABIC2006 from 6 - 9 August 2006.
ABIC2006@tourhosts.com.au; Ph: +61 2 9265 0700; Fax: +61 2 9267 5443
Developing Countries May Not Get Benefits of GM Food
- Madeleine Brettingham, British Medical Journal 331:11, July 2, 2005
Developing countries that do not adapt quickly to new developments in
genetic modification technology face missing out on potentially huge
health benefits, a report published by the World Health Organization
says. The report argues that genetically modified foods can help to
combat hunger and malnutrition in the developing world but that
market forces mean that developing countries are in danger of missing
out on the benefits.
A new type of rice, known as golden rice, is one of the crops that
the authors say has great potential. The rice, currently only at the
development stage, contains high quantities of vitamin A and may help
to tackle the eyesight problems and infant mortality caused by a
deficiency in many parts of the developing world. Rice rich in iron
may confer similar nutritional benefits.
But the organisation warns that the biotechnology industry will not
necessarily deliver innovation to those who need it most. The
concentration of research in the private sector means that companies
are unlikely to tailor products to the needs of poorer countries if
they will see little financial return, they say. In addition, poor
countries may not have the infrastructure needed to assess new
products for health and safety.
Genetically modified crops have been on the market since the
mid-1990s, and now cover an estimated 4% of global arable land. Crops
farmed include soybeans, maize, rape, and cotton. WHO hopes that the
rise of genetically modified crops, including those with added pest
and weed resistance, will help provide new sources of food for the
If population predictions for the next 25 years are correct, grain
production will need to increase by 26 million tonnes a year, the
organisation says. Genetically modified foods offer the possibility
of developing crops that are more resistant to extreme conditions and
have a longer shelf life, allowing farmers to preserve staple crops.
Genetically modified crops with inbuilt pest and weed resistance have
already been shown to reduce harmful effects from fertilisers and
"Insect resistant cotton in China is a clear example," said Sandy
Thomas, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, who welcomed
the report. "There has been a significant reduction in the amount of
pesticides used by Chinese farmers and this has shown a 60% reduction
in the number of farmers suffering from toxic effects. There is also
likely to be less environmental danger."
The organisation remains generally sceptical of the health concerns
surrounding genetically modified crops. "[Genetically modified] foods
currently available on the international market have undergone risk
assessments and are not likely to present risks to human health in
any other form than their conventional counterparts," reads the
report. However the organisation admits, "Very little is known about
the potential long term effects of any food."
Modern Food Biotechnology, Human Health and Development: an
Evidence-Based Study is available at www.who.int/en.
Trust in Ingenuity
- South China Morning Post, July 1, 2005
Contrary to what Markus Shaw of the WWF asserts ("For the greater
good", June 29), the philosophy of conservation harms, not helps,
people's livelihoods. If we take such philosophy to its logical end,
then men cannot clear land for homes or kill wild beasts to protect
themselves from harm. Indeed, green resistance to DDT and genetically
modified food costs millions of lives a year.
Since the Luddites, conservationists have tried to stop development
with a plethora of made-up scary scenarios such as "sustainable
development". However, the human mind is the greatest resource and it
constantly finds new ways to provide, both for now and the future.
With technology and free enterprise, life expectancy has risen to
over 70 in the west and America has gone from a population of 2
million to almost 300 million. Further known reserves of minerals and
fossil fuels continue to grow as men discover new ways to extract
Unlike environmentalists, some such as myself take human life, not
privation, as the proper standard of moral value. As such, the
governing principle is that we must continue to reshape our
environment to continue to thrive and prosper.
- Simon Patkin, Quarry Bay
A Corporate Group In Panic
- Christian Schwägerl, http://www.weltwoche.ch/ June 30, 2005;
Translated by Katharina Schoebi, Checkbiotech.org
'More dangerous than genetically altered foods are the fears
Greenpeace is spreading. A call for the cease-fire.'
The demonization of genetic engineering is one of the greatest
marketing success stories of our times. As soon as the identification
code "gene" appears on any food product, alarms go off in the minds
of the consumer, regardless of whether in Switzerland, Germany or
Great Britain. The fear of consuming anything unhealthy or harmful to
the environment is great. The notion of deliberately serving one's
own children genetically modified food is, for most people,
absolutely absurd. Among many farmers, there is such a deep fear of
the consumer's fear, they prefer to do without technology and its
Meanwhile, the deionization goes to such lengths, that
non-genetically engineered food is automatically declared "healthy".
Recently, the German agricultural politician, Ulrike Hoefken, became
upset because inspectors had found traces of soy protein, that
orginated from genetically engineered plants, in Doener meat.
"What is soy doing in Doener meat?" she asked in a press release.
Virtually, soybeans and tofu as vegetarian protein sources are icons
of the green alternative culture. Furthermore, Doener is not known
for its health-promoting effects. As an expert, Hoefken could surely
not have forgotten that. However, her phobia of genetic engineering
Pellet gun vs. precise weapons
Greenpeace could be considered the leading producer of widespread
fear of genetically modified food. On the one hand, Greenpeace is an
environmental organization with a history rich in legends, and on the
other hand, it is a multinational company with agencies in 40
countries and well represented brands. It is not a council consisting
of ecologists, but rather a group of marketing experts who decides,
which of the worldwide environmental problems Greenpeace will take up
and publish in its campaigns.
Just as Nike managed to train our brains to recall images of quick
and beautiful bodies upon hearing the name, while BMW wraps itself in
an aura of power and solidity, and Starbucks became a symbol for the
modernized coffee house culture - the environmental organization has
a dominant message, an image. The conservation of primeval forests
and the protection of whales have taken a back seat. Today, the
loyalty of its clients, donors and sympathisers, is chiefly
cultivated as Greenpeace makes them believe that it will save them
from the dangers of genetic engineering. The organization sells them
fear and deliverance in a combined package.
However, everything could have been different. Those who visit
geneticists in their labs could have the idea that they work on
behalf of environmentalists or "greens". Nobody denies that
constantly new sorts of plants have to be generated to cope with
pests, cultivation conditions and economic necessities. ETH
researcher Ingo Potrykus, who created "golden rice", rich in vitamin
A for developing countries, likes to point out maps which are marked
to display how classic and molecular plant breeding vary.
Even though many consumers would not believe it, conventional plant
breeding, whose products end up in health-food shops, work with very
startling methods. To create new properties, such as resistance
against harmful insects, plants are radioactively irradiated or
exposed to aggressive chemicals. The progeny of the plants of these
hazardous experiments are cultivated and tested, to see if they are
resistant or more productive. However, the genetic material of plants
is extremely damaged by the irradiation and the chemicals. One even
could speak of a genetically engineered attack - just with a
rusted-out gun. However, what exactly happens to the genes and the
metabolism they control is an open and as yet unexplored question.
In contrast, the genetic material is disrupted less if genetic
engineering in the narrower sense is applied. It allows increasingly
precise and pre-planned intervention in the genetic material and
thus, its effect on the metabolism is better known - albeit not yet
completely. Those genetic engineers that are demonized by Greenpeace
are breeding plants with a precise weapon. There is hardly a new sort
of plant, whose properties are better examined than genetically
engineered plants. There are some tests regulated by law, to which
conventionally bred plants exempt. As a result, negative health
consequences have so far been avoided.
These strict guidelines are not only important for building up
confidence, but also because of course, genetic engineering is not
automatically good. However the consequent judgement with which
Greenpeace denounces any genetic engineering - although meanwhile the
technology is used for ecological purposes - can only be explained by
concerns about the marketing impact of a simple and radical "no"
message. A more differentiated message would be a harder sell.
Cheers for the designer poplar
Some projects in genetic engineering that by all means could have
been conceived by Greenpeace, if the strategists in former times
would have decided otherwise, include the following: at the
University of Freiburg im Breisgau, some researchers develop designer
poplars for the cleaning of contaminated industry areas in East
Germany and Russia. The trees draw the harmful substances out of the
soil and make them ready for disposal. Multiple research teams have
manipulated the metabolism of plants in such a way, that they produce
hydrogen or energetically optimised biomass, and thus alternatives to
At other institutes, researchers shift small sections of the genetic
material from grains, in order to make the plants more able to resist
penetrating fungi. This inhibits the formation of cancer-causing
fungi spores that otherwise would reach the food chain. Biological
substances are being researched that would - with increasing
precision - only harm herbivores of certain crops. With the aid of
genetic engineering, their construction manual can be integrated into
the genetic material of plants.
As a signal of global environment protection, there is the intention
to get valuable essential fatty acids from of plants instead of fish.
Furthermore, researchers want to make the native rape accessible as
an alternative source of proteins to soy. Thus, the over fishing of
the oceans and the deforestation for the cultivation of soy could be
slowed down - once a main objective of Greenpeace.
Several institutes use genetically engineered plant breeding in order
to prepare agriculture for the climatic changes. Their research is
focused on the genetic material of ancient plant sorts or other
species, which help to resist drought, moisture or salt accumulation.
Time is short for acclimating crops to conditions as they occur in
Green genetic engineering" is not a magic bullet, but neither are
objections per se to an ecological agriculture. There are some
questionable projects, such as the development of crops resistant to
pesticides, which can completely kill the remaining flora on the
land. This is a danger to biodiversity. However, genetically altered
plants are not per se a risk for the environment, even when they
distribute their pollen like other plants do. Therefore, the
governmentally sanctioned law for labelling in its form today is
questionable. Actually, it does not contain any information, but only
triggers blanket fears.
The words "genetically modified" say as little about quality and
environmental friendliness as "driven by petrol" says about the
comfort and ecological efficiency of cars. If labelling should make
sense, it should explain in much more detail which form of genetic
engineering was used. The consumer should than be informed enough to
know the differences.
However, surely we will become dependent on evil, multinational
groups, if genetic engineering becomes accepted? The risk of
monopolization is mostly acute, if Greenpeace and the European Greens
are going on like they have up to now. Paradoxically, the "greens",
of all people, promote the concentration of knowledge and force in
the hands of the biggest agricultural affiliated group they
For globally working agencies it is comparably easy to test their new
plants out from Europe, in Latin America or North America. The
government-paid genetic engineers and the middle-class plant
breeders, as there are in many European countries, are not or just
barely able to escape.
Only government-supported research assures, that the most effective
and environmentally friendly plants of the future are not monopolised
by patents and agency lawyers, but are instead broadly accessible. If
more money is invested in genetic engineering at universities, the
knowledge of the researchers can be shared with fellow researchers at
universities in Asia and Africa and the small farmers as part of a
modern development-politic. To get into a differentiated discussion,
Greenpeace activists should pack up their ridiculous
gene-corn-costumes and horror antics, with which they not only
terrify children with their antics, but also generate publicity,
which - if sold - would cost millions of euros. There is no question
that this is not as easy.
However, those who talk about the responsible consumer should think
about the concept: in the future, the "organic" quality of food
should be determined by taste, quality and ecological efficiency and
not by the technology used. Yet, the logic of the fear-economy and
its great success work against it. But who knows, maybe someday it
will be labelled as "Oko"-food: "Molecularbiologically refined".
Christian Schwägerl, who wrote this article for the Weltwoche, is a
biologist and works as a Feature- and Science correspondent for the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Activism Could Be Put to Better Use
- Steven Milloy, www.junkscience.com June 28, 2005
Bob Geldof's Live 8 concerts scheduled for July 2 will spotlight the
problem of global poverty ahead of the July 6-8 G8 summit in Scotland.
But like Geldof's 1985 Live Aid concert, Live 8 it is a noble idea
that, unfortunately, isn't likely to make any significant or lasting
progress toward reducing poverty in Africa.
What Africa needs is genuine economic development that can be
sustained over time, a goal that has been continually thwarted by the
environmental policies forced upon developing nations by groups such
as Greenpeace - an organization publicly supported by many of the
Live 8 performers.
One necessary step toward economic growth in Africa, for example, is
eradicating the continent's crippling famine and perpetual epidemics
of disease. Yet, Greenpeace's successful campaign against the use of
pesticides such as DDT has resulted in millions of deaths from
diseases like malaria that pesticides could have prevented.
If Geldof and the other Live 8 performers really wanted to help
Africans, they would rock-and-rail at their Greenpeace friends rather
than at the G8 leaders.
Live 8 consists of rock concerts in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome,
Toronto and Philadelphia and features dozens of mega-stars including
U2, Elton John, Sting, Paul McCartney, and Madonna.
Geldof's vision is that the Live 8 shows will enable "ordinary
people" to "show [the G8] that enough is enough" and to "demand from
the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty."
"The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history," says
the Live 8 Web site. "By doubling aid, fully canceling debt, and
delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future
for millions of men, women and children," it states.
Despite the rhetoric, it's not at all clear how staging pop concerts
to pressure G8 leaders on policy options of debatable merit will
solve Africa's problems.
But many Live 8 performers - including Geldof, U2's Bono, Sting and
Elton John, to name a few, have long and close associations with
Greenpeace, from participating in protests to providing much-needed
financial support. Greenpeace often uses rock stars and other
celebrities in an effort to mainstream its anti-development,
anti-technology - and, consequently, anti-Africa - agenda.
Millions of lives could be saved and economic development could be
helped along if the Live 8's rock stars pressured Greenpeace to end
its senseless campaigns against the insecticide DDT and biotechnology.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT use in the
U.S. in 1972, the ban and its tenuous rationale was never intended to
be applied outside the U.S. Environmental groups, including
Greenpeace, nevertheless exported the ban, making control of
malaria-bearing mosquitoes in poor countries essentially impossible.
Every year, the ban helps cause hundreds of millions of cases of
malaria and tens of millions of resulting deaths in Africa and other
parts of the developing world.
Greenpeace is now trying to formalize a worldwide ban of DDT by
pressing for the United Nations' treaty on so-called "persistent
organic pollutants" (POPs). Although the treaty is careful not to ban
DDT outright, it makes DDT more difficult to use and so operates as a
"The POPs treaty could virtually eliminate the use of DDT, perhaps
the most affordable and effective pesticide and repellant in
existence," said Richard Tren of Africa Fighting Malaria, a nonprofit
health advocacy group.
The World Health Organization estimates that the deaths and illness
caused each year by malaria cuts the gross domestic product (GDP) of
African nations by 1.3 percent and costs them $12 billion in economic
losses. The Greenpeace-supported POPs treaty will only guarantee that
such health and economic devastation continues.
While discussing the African malaria problem at the World Economic
Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, in January, U2's Bono said that "no
one should die from a mosquito bite." Indeed. And now it's time for
Bono to put his influence with Greenpeace where his microphone is.
Greenpeace also campaigns against the use of agricultural
biotechnology, including "Golden Rice," which could help with the
severe Vitamin A deficiency that afflicts hundreds of millions in
Africa and Asia - including 500,000 children who lose their eyesight
Scientists developed Golden Rice using the gene that makes daffodils
yellow. The gene makes the rice rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to
But as pointed out by Greenpeace co-founder and former President
Patrick Moore, now a vociferous critic of the activist group:
"Greenpeace activists threaten to rip the biotech rice out of the
fields if farmers dare to plant it. They have done everything they
can to discredit the scientists and the technology.
"A commercial variety is now available for planting, but it will be
at least five years before Golden Rice will be able to work its way
through the Byzantine regulatory system that has been set up as a
result of the activists' campaign of misinformation and speculation,
" Moore said. "So the risk of not allowing farmers in Africa and Asia
to grow Golden Rice is that another 2.5 million children will
probably go blind."
Twenty years ago, Geldof's Live Aid concert raised $100 million for
Africa, but he acknowledges on the Live 8 Web site that "poverty,
famine and disease are still major problems in Africa." That result
isn't surprising. Although the $100 million raised by Live Aid sounds
like a lot of money, given the scope of the problem in Africa, it was
a futile drop in the bucket.
Perhaps Geldof, Bono, Sting and other celebrities could make a dent
in that problem by pressuring Greenpeace to stop its mindless
campaign against DDT and agricultural biotech.
How to Poison Your Spouse The Natural Way
- Barbara Weil, Times (NZ)< June 29, 2005
'Author: Jay D Mann Publisher: JDM & Associates Price: $24.95'
THIS book is proof that eating too much of some foods can be bad and
in extreme circumstances, fatal.
Jay D Mann, a professional plant biochemist tells us about the foods
we ought to fear but do not and the ones we worry about and don't
need to. Mann dispels the myth about Chinese restaurant syndrome and
the use of MSG and what may be the real reason for feeling unwell
after a pork chow mein.
Lurking in the greengrocer's shop are modest parsnips shy stalks of
celery, green beans and other vegetables that could be capable of
poisoning you. Many consumers assume they can avoid the risk by
reading labels that boast about what have been left out.
However foods that say what's been left out may be more risky than
protected products (preservatives for instance). Mann also points out
that genetically modified foods may be OK.
Apart from scientists not many people realise how competitive plants
can be. They have developed some amazing weapons to survive and some
are very toxic. Even people on picnics have died after using the
stems of oleander as shish kebab skewers. Then again, as Mann says,
many commonly used plants foods (potatoes and tomatoes for example)
were once treated with suspicion. However green potatoes are
poisonous. Parsnips may have enough of a substance called psoralen to
cause injury. Beans contain lectins which can cause serious stomach
ache, nausea and diarrhoea. Proper cooking will solve the problem.
I hope that all this is not putting you off food for life in the it's
illegal, immoral or makes you fat vein, but Mann does also have some
good news. You may have been fretting unnecessarily about some
foods. Mann tells it all -- in an easy to read format that even has
touches of humour. If you want to know more about what goes in your
mouth this is for you.
Jay D Mann retired from Crop and Food CRI in 1993. Since then he has
been a consultant, prepared reviews on topics such as lowering
Cholesterol, feedstuff composition, chicken flavour and industrial
use of enzymes.
He knows what he is talking about.