Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - July 6, 2005
* Biotech Crops: Safe, Sustainable
* The Gray Lady and Biotech Crops
* Syngenta Sees Development of Vitamin-Rich GM Rice
* Biotech Firms Fight Pollution With Plants
* DuPont Donates $4.8 Million Technology to Africa
* New Hopes For Genetic Engineering In Europe
* Toxicity of Genetically Engineered Foods
* Too Much Coffee?
* Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution
* The Story of GM Papaya Success in Hawaii
Biotech Crops: Safe, Sustainable
- Alex Avery, Grand Forks Herald, July 4, 2005
It seems that anti-biotech activists never can get their facts
straight when it comes to biotech crops. Todd Leake's piece from June
27 is a case in point.
Leake claims Japan rejected shipments of U.S. corn containing
"Syngenta Corp.'s BT-10 corn, an unapproved variety suspected of
health problems." Wrong. There are no health problems suspected with
this variety and Syngenta is proceeding with an application for
Environmental Protection Agency/Food and Drug Administration approval
to quell any lingering doubts - approval that nearly everyone expects
Even now, Japan has proposed a 1 percent Bt-10 allowance. Can Leake
name one suspected health problem from Bt-10, compositionally
identical to the widely grown and long-approved Bt-11 variety?
Leake then proceeds to claim that Monsanto is trying to suppress an
internal report indicating one of its biotech corn varieties caused
"disease in rats." Wrong again, which is why European Union, Canadian
and U.S. health safety regulators collectively yawned when asked
about the concocted controversy after Greenpeace "leaked" the
supposedly damning report.
Every agency said they were fully aware of the report and all stood
behind their decisions to approve the MON863 corn variety.
Finally, Leake tries to imply that it is a scandal that farmers are
growing more herbicide tolerant biotech crops that allows them to
practice low- and no-tillage farming - cropping systems that the Soil
and Water Conservation Society say are the most sustainable in human
Is it really a scandal when farmers now have the tools to prevent
millions of tons of topsoil from eroding away, when streams are
protected from sediment pollution, when soil quality is improving and
millions of gallons of tractor fuel are not burned tilling weeds?
The truth is exactly as Skogan stated: After a billion acres and 10
years of experience, not even a hiccup can be blamed on biotech
crops. The only real hype being spewed in this debate is coming from
the hysterical anti-biotech side.
Avery is director of research at the Hudson Institute's Center for
Global Food Issues.
The Gray Lady and Biotech Crops
- Ronald Bailey, reason.com, June 15, 2005
The editors at the New York Times evidently believe that genetically
enhanced crops will help poor farmers in developing countries.
Hooray! Perhaps some of their readers who buy only organic at Zabar's
will take note.
However, the Times' editors need to get down on the farm a bit more.
The editors condemn biotech companies for creating genetically
modified seeds that can't be replanted. In actual fact, most of them
can be replanted; it's just that modern farmers in industrial
countries sign contracts agreeing not to replant them. Why? Because
modern farmers (dismissed as "agribusiness") generally want to get
the latest improved varieties each year so they don't save seed
But where the Times' editors go most wrong is that corn (maize)
farmers in rich countries have not been saving seed since hybrid
varieties were developed in the 1930s. Before hybrid corn, US farmers
produced around 30 bushels per acre; today they produce over 150
bushels per acre. Of course better fertilizers, pesticides and land
cultivation techniques contributed to this increase, but
hybridization was critical. Farmers don't save hybrid seed because
they don't breed true.
The Times' editors are right that subsistence corn farmers probably
do need to save seed for the time being, but they seem to believe
that poor farmers will "subsist" forever. The boost in productivity
that biotech crops will give poor farmers will also boost their
incomes which leads to a path away from subsistence toward ever more
modern methods of high yield farming. To achieve even higher jumps in
their crop productivity, once poor farmers will eventually choose to
buy hybrid seeds each year just the way that their rich country
competitors do today.
One final observation: why is "profit" apparently OK for newspapers,
but not for biotech companies? And just where do the editors think
the Rockefeller and Syngenta Foundations got the money to fund
research in the first place?
See the readers' response to this posting at
Syngenta Sees Development of Vitamin-Rich GM Rice
- Melody M. Aguiba, Manila Bulletin, July 5, 2005http://www.mb.com.ph/
The development of a genetically modified (GM) rice rich in Vitamin A
is seen to be accelerated by a more advanced genetic "transformation
event" being donated by plant breeder Syngenta which uses corn
(maize) as source of pro-Vitamin A betacarotene.
Dr. Antonio A. Alfonso, plant breeding and biotechnology chief of the
Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI), said PRRI is collaborating
with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the
development of GM rice fortified with Vitamin A using a
transformation event to be donated by Syngenta to the Golden Rice
Humanitarian Board (GRHB).
A transformation event involves the transfer of a gene with the
desired trait (in this case, betacarotene enrichment) into a plant
targeted to be transformed with this desired characteristic.
"Syngenta is donating the transformation event to the Humanitarian
Board to IRRI which will share this with us," Alfonso said in an
interview. PRRI and IRRI have earlier been working on GM rice
endowed with Vitamin A using a transformation event, also donated by
Syngenta, that inserted the gene of Vitamin A rich daffodil into rice.
But the insertion of a daffodil gene into rice will definitely
involve more complications in getting approved by the National
Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) and the entire
Philippine GM regulatory body since daffodil, a flower with yellow
petals, is not food. "The use of maize will hasten regulations
because the issue of allergenicity and toxicity will no longer be
delved very stringently because daffodil is not being eaten, but
maize is food," he said.
What is good about the use of corn gene is it has raised betacarotene
level to 37 micrograms (MG) per gram compared to only 1.6 MG per gram
betacaro-tene content in daffodil. "That's an increase of 23 times,"
Alfonso said who explained that scientists have shifted to inserting
gene with betacarotene gene in rice instead of a gene with Vitamin A
since human intake of excessive Vitamin A is known to lead to
On the other hand, when taken by human, excess betacarotene is only
disposed of by the body rather than poisons it. "Even if you eat
lots and lots of fruits and vegetables with betacarotene, the excess
is just eliminated," he said.
With food safety known in corn, Alfonso said the completion of for
the GM rice tstings, also called "Golden Rice" for its yellow color,
may come sooner. "We already have the F1 progeny, the cross between
the popular inbred rice variety and the golden rice. We'll still
cross it many times, (but) we project within three years we'll have a
stable line (in a contained laboratory)," he said.
Instead of using highyielding hybrid rice varieties (a
cross-pollination of two parents with superior characteristics) for
the betacarotene enrichment, PRRI will use an inbred
(self-pollinating) variety prevalent in Vitamin A deficiency areas.
"The idea is to use inbred so that farmers planting in Vitamin A
deficient (VAD) farflung areas in Visayas and Mindanao who only
depend on subsistence farming won't need seeds everytime," he said.
Unlike inbred seeds that can be used repeatedly, hybrid seeds are
used only once or they lose their yield vigor. PRRI is specifically
crossing the golden rice with inbred PSBRC 82 which yields an already
high five metric tons (MT) per hectare.
Since regulatory testing is done in the field, Alfonso said multi
locational testings (required in propagating a GM crop) may done
simultaneously with regulatory requirements for the commercialization
of GM rice after PRRI's development of a stable line in three years.
Alfonso noted though that an important test has to be done on the GM
rice - an efficiency test which determines if this rice will indeed
raise Vitamin A level in man. But this study, he said, may already be
undertaken by the GHRB and IRRI rather than by the PRRI.
Alfonso said that it is known that since all living things - plants
and animals - have certain common genes, it does not actually matter
where the gene will come from for as long as it contains the traits
desired. However, he said that genetic engineering experts found that
among the betacarotene-endowed gene used, among these were tomato,
pepper, daffodil, corn, and another rice variety, corn had the
highest betacarotene content.
VAD is said to be inflicting 100 to 200 million children worldwide
and is causing one to 2.5 million deaths in preschool children. In
the Philippines, VAD is inflicting two in very 10 pregnant and
lactating women and four in every 10 children aged six months to five
Biotech Firms Fight Pollution With Plants
- Associated Press July 3, 2005
On the site of a former hat factory in Danbury, Conn., a stand of
genetically altered cottonwood trees sucks mercury from the
Across the continent in California, researchers use transgenic Indian
mustard plants to soak up dangerously high selenium deposits caused
by irrigation of the nation's bread basket.
Still others are engineering trees to retain more carbon and thus
combat global warming. The gene jockeys conducting these exotic
experiments envision a future in which plants can be used as an
inexpensive, safer and more effective way of disposing of pollution.
''Trees are really made for this ... we just have to trick them to do
what we want them to do,'' said Richard Meagher, whose University of
Georgia students went to Danbury in 2003 as part of the most
advanced, open-air experiment in the United States involving trees
genetically engineered to eat pollution.
Biologists for decades have been trying to exploit the genetic
mechanisms that let microscopic bugs survive in polluted places where
most living things die.
Indeed, the 1980 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed the
so-called ''patenting of life'' that launched the biotechnology
industry centered on bacteria genetically engineered to clean oil
But simply dumping engineered bugs on polluted sites has its dangers
and drawbacks. Elements like mercury can't be broken down into
harmless bits like oil, so researchers have turned to engineering
plants to draw pollutants out of the ground.
Meagher uses genes from E. coli that enable the common bacterium to
live amid mercury. He's spliced them into a variety of plants in the
laboratory, where he says his results are dramatically positive.
But proving genetic engineered plants work outside the lab is the
real challenge -- and Danbury, which at the turn of the last century
reigned as the hat-making capital of the world, was a natural
destination for his team.
Animal pelts in the town's many factories were softened in mercury
baths, and the resulting waste was dumped outside. Only later did
residents understand how mercury attacks the central nervous system.
By then, many longtime factory workers had suffered from the
Meagher's team planted about 45 engineered cottonwood trees in a
polluted lot. The trees are expected to treat the mercury as a
nutrient and draw the toxic element for the soil with their roots.
Some of the mercury is expected to vaporize into the air while most
is stored in the tree. After several years of growth, the trees will
be cut down and incinerated.
Meagher expects to see results from the Danbury experiment later this
year. He figures hundreds of trees per acre would need to be planted
to be effective. But if his removal method works, the cost of
cleaning an acre of mercury-laced soil will plummet from about $2
million to $200,000, Meagher estimates. Meagher agrees with critics
who argue that his solution isn't ideal -- but he says the trees beat
the current clean-up method of digging out contaminated sites and
dumping the tainted soil in toxic dumps.
Meagher said he's also hoping to someday deploy genetic engineered
trees in northern India and Bangladesh where arsenic poisoning is
rampant. Drinking water throughout the region has been contaminated
by soils polluted naturally and by spills and drainage from factories.
Still, some potential allies are wary. The Sierra Club and others
fret that grime-busting plants and their unnatural,
industrial-strength cleaning genes will contaminate naturally growing
relatives. Promises that researchers are engineering sterility into
trees don't calm their concerns.
''I'm a pediatrician and I can tell you birth control doesn't work
100 percent of the time,'' said Dr. Jim Diamond, the Sierra Club's
biotechnology expert. ''I don't see it working in trees either.'' The
criticism sows seeds of public uncertainty and makes it difficult for
researchers to fund and apply their work. Meagher is operating on
about $1 million in grants, mostly from the Department of Energy,
which is saddled with polluted weapons sites.
Meagher also says he's hindered by political apathy and commercial
disinterest. A company he helped launched to bring his technology to
market is struggling for financing. ''It's not as sexy as trying to
cure cancer or give you an erection,'' Meagher said.
Nonetheless, scientists are increasingly joining this once obscure
branch of biotechnology.
Researchers at Purdue University are engineering trees to retain more
carbon in an effort to combat global warming. Applied PhytoGenetics
Inc., the biotech company Meagher helped launch, also has planted its
modified trees at a polluted site in Alabama.
Another example is the work of University of California-Berkeley
researchers who are tweaking the genes of the Indian mustard plant to
clean up selenium deposits in the California's Central Valley.
They've planted small plots of their creations near Fresno last year,
and say the results are promising.
Selenium is naturally occurring but becomes toxic when high-density
pockets form because of water flow. Selenium poisoning can stunt
growth and cause brain disorders, among other health risks. ''This is
a really good way to bring new resources to solve environmental
problems,'' said Berkeley scientist Danika LeDuc. ''But first, we do
have to increase public confidence in the technology.''
Meagher's lab: http://www.genetics.uga.edu/rbmlab/
Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/biotech.asp
DuPont Donates Technology Valued At $4.8 Million to Africa
Nutritionally Enhanced Sorghum Project
- www.pioneer.com July 1, 2005 Via Agnet
We are very pleased that Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation
International has been selected for a grant of $16.9 million for the
project, Nutritionally Enhanced Sorghum for the Arid and Semi-Arid
Tropical Areas of Africa, by the Grand Challenges in Global Health
"Partnering with Africa Harvest, we are excited to be the scientific
lead on this project and will donate the initial technology valued at
$4.8 million," stated Dean Oestreich, president, Pioneer Hi-Bred
International, Inc. "This project promises to help improve the
nutritional value of sorghum and fight malnutrition in parts of
The $4.8 million in-kind donation represents the intellectual
property rights, materials and know-how for creating sorghum with
improved nutritional value for human consumption. The initial
donation is a transgenic biofortified sorghum that contains 50
percent more lysine compared to traditional sorghum. Lysine is an
amino acid and a key component of protein.
DuPont, through its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred, will also host
scientists from Africa at its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa,
beginning Fall 2005. The visiting scientists will develop the next
generation of African biofortified sorghum (ABS) and learn about key
technologies, which is expertise that they will further develop when
they return to their home countries. In developing the next
generation of ABS, scientists will explore the inclusion of a highly
fortified product with improved essential amino acwid composition,
protein and starch digestibility, iron and zinc availability, and
elevated levels of select vitamins, including Vitamin E.
"Today marks the beginning of an innovative approach toward
addressing tragic malnutrition issues in areas of Africa," Oestreich
said. "Our scientists are anxious to work with the African scientists
on this project to explore the potential of sorghum through this
unique opportunity provided by the Grand Challenges initiative. We
fully appreciate the opportunity that the initiative has provided."
For additional information, visit Grand Challenges in Global Heath,
New Hopes For Genetic Engineering In Europe
- Handelsblatt Siegfried Hofmann, July 4 , 2005; Translated by
Fabiana Rotundo, Checkbiotech
FRANKFURT - The chance of a change in government in Berlin may allow
the seeds and agrochemical businesses to breathe freely again. Its
hopes rest on an election victory for the CDU and FDP, which would
possible to drastically improve the outlook for the so called, green
genetic engineering. Both parties are regarded as advocates in this
field of biotechnology.
"Clearly, it would be a change for the positive, which might spread
out also on the European level", said Heinz Müller, an agricultural
expert of the DZ-Bank. Representatives of the seeds-industry assume
that a CDU/FDP-government would revise some of the particularly
restrictive laws regarding genetic engineering. Furthermore, they see
the chance that the issue will in the future be discussed in a more
factually relevant and less ideological level. "With respect to
consumer acceptance, this means important progress", according to
Georg Folttmann, spokesperson of the leading, German seed company KWS.
Seeds industry wants more liberty in cultivation. Green biotechnology
aims to improve the quality of useful plants in doing purposeful,
restricted genetic modifications. Such genetically modified plants,
including rapeseed and corn, which are resistant to herbicides or
pests, have been cultivated in America on a large scale for many
In contrast, in Europe the advancement was never able to gain a
foothold, due to restrictions on admissions and a lack of acceptance
by consumers. The situation in Germany makes things particularly
difficult, as the new law on genetic engineering has been tightened
during the last year.
Above all, its liability regulations for the cultivation of
genetically engineered varieties seem to be - as the seed trade
unions see it - a prohibition. Further regulations are angrily
criticized, which dictate that the slightest genetic transfer from
research plants would render conventional seeds unfit for sale.
The number of field tests has decreased by two thirds in the EU, as
well as in Germany, since the end of the 90's. "This development on
the other hand, would possibly endanger the so far strong basic
research in this field in the mid-term", fears Hans Knast, chief of
BASF Plant Science.
A change in Berlin is likely to have a positive impact on the
European level, according to the assessment of several experts. "As
far as genetic engineering is concerned, many other countries
primarily look to Germany", says DIB manager Ricardo Gent.
Toxicity of Genetically Engineered Foods
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education, Bangalore, India; krao.at.vsnl.com
Genetically engineered (GE) products are the most extensively tested
for safety among all feed and foods and their safety has been well
established. The livestock and people of the US are the living
testimony for the safety of GE products. Not even a single case of
toxicity from GE products was ever proved. Nevertheless, the issue
of toxicity of GE feed and foods is a potent weapon in the armoury of
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins do not get into the cotton
fibre, which is most used. Nor into the seed oil, but may be present
in small quantities in the seed cake used as livestock feed. The
critics often claimed that the levels of Bt protein in the Bt plants
fall drastically so as to be ineffective against the bollworm, after
such short periods as 100 days. Yet, when convenient, they also
claim that the seed is toxic to all life.
The question of toxicity of GE products is raised in even very
improbable, ridiculous and absurd situations. The latest is the
report in the The Hindu (June 25, 2005), that "at least 12 peacocks
died today after consuming Bt cotton seeds possibly in a field near
Mamidalapalli village, about 80 km from here (Karimnagar)" Andhra
verdict is out even before the post-mortem was conducted to determine
the cause of death of the birds. The report has no other details
such as how the birds came to eat Bt cottonseeds or if someone fed
them the seed. The peacocks could not have picked the seed from
plants in the cotton field as it is not yet the fruiting season and
last season's cotton has already been marketed. Was feeding the
birds a mischief or the reporting itself? Peacock is a protected and
much romanticized National Bird of India and it is so easy to whip up
strong emotions about it in the masses.
Whole cottonseed is too large for many bird species and birds can eat
only ginned cottonseeds, as the cotton fibre on the seed is a
protection against bird picking. The seed coat of both Bt and non-Bt
cottonseed contains gossypol, which may have been toxic to the
peacocks, but not instantly. Were peacocks ever safely fed on
(non-Bt) cottonseed, earlier?
Many studies were conducted to determine the toxicity of Bt protein
on several species of farm birds, both that eat the insects and/or
the seed, but no toxicity was ever demonstrated. But the scientists
never imagined that Bt toxicity to the Indian peacock would become an
issue. Even so, there is no reason to believe a) that Bt cottonseeds
contain enough protein to kill peacock, and b) that it was toxic to
these birds at all. If it is, it is the first such incident in the
toxicology of Bt proteins in over 60 years of use of Bt.
The argument that genetically engineered (GE) products are toxic
erupted with Professor Arpad Pusztai's interview on a British TV
show, 'World in Action', on August 10, 1998, where he stated that GM
potatoes produced worrying biological changes in rats. A similar
charge, adverse effects on rat kidneys and blood, is being currently
circulated in Europe, about the Bt event MON 863 in corn.
Pusztai and his colleague Professor Stanley Ewen fed rats with GE
potatoes containing an insecticidal lectin (GNA, Galanthus nivalis
agglutinin) from the snow drop plant. Lectins are a kind of proteins
with an affinity to specific carbohydrates. Lectins are present
throughout the biological world performing several diverse functions,
including fighting pests and pathogens. Most of the plant foods we
regularly and safely consume contain lectins. GNA is known to be
non-toxic. But Ewen and Pusztai claimed that the GE potatoes with the
gene for GNA stunted the growth of experimental rats, produced
unacceptable changes in the gut and adversely modified their immune
The Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, where the two
researchers worked, was not amused at the adverse publicity the
Institute attracted by the controversial TV interview. An audit
Committee appointed by the Institute concluded in October 1998 that
Pusztai's data did not support his conclusions.
In a letter published in the national press in February 1999, 19
Fellows of Britain's Royal Society were highly critical of Pusztai's
conclusions. In May 1999, the Royal Society published a partial
'peer review' of Pusztai's then unpublished research, concluding that
the results were based on poorly conducted experiments. Unmoved,
Ewen and Pusztai submitted their final paper to the medical journal
Lancet, which published it after its own customary peer review. A
Committee of the Royal Society protested against the publication.
The Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council of the
United Kingdom called Lancet 'irresponsible'. In June 1999, the
Royal Society published a report of a Committee, which stated that Dr
Pusztai had produced no convincing evidence of adverse effects from
GM potatoes on the growth of rats or their immune function.
The Committee concluded that Pusztai's experiments were poorly
designed, the statistics he used were inappropriate and his results
were inconsistent. It further stated that 'the only way to clarify Dr
Pusztai's claims would be to refine his experimental design and carry
out further studies to test clearly defined hypotheses focused on the
specific effects reported by him'. Subsequently, in another report,
the Royal Society stated that 'studies on the results of feeding GM
sweet peppers and GM tomatoes to rats, and GM soya to mice and rats,
have now been completed and no adverse effects have been found'.
The controversy affected Pusztai's position at the Institute, and
resulted in the scientific community itself being divided, for and
against Pusztai, not on the validity of his results, but on the
treatment he got from his Institute, which he served for very long.
Recently again, 30 of Britain's leading scientists, including two
Nobel Laureates, accused Lancet of scare mongering and of causing
harm to health and wasting millions by publishing unfounded stories
on such issues as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, hormone
replacement therapy, and GM crops (http://www.gmwatch.org, June 21,
2005; http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=113; The Times, June
A lot of research was conducted on the toxicity of GE products using
appropriate models and controls, and none have supported Ewen and
Pusztai's findings. Nevertheless, Pusztai is the darling of the
anti-biotech campaign involving toxicity of GE foods even today.
Currently he is reviewing Monsanto's data on the toxicity of Bt 10
maize containing their MON 863 event. Early this week he stated
that, from the data "It cannot be presumed that the damage to the
rats' inner organs and the animals' blood picture are based on
chance. The documents also show that the set-up for the experiments
was inadequate and evaluation of the data incorrect. Further
investigations are absolutely necessary." (http://www.gmwatch.org,
June 22, 2005). Familiar sentences, though they came from different
The controversy over GM potatoes does not belittle the great service
Arpad Pusztai rendered in the cause of science for over 35 years.
Pusztai worked on a lectin and not on Bt proteins, both of which were
shown to be safe in feed and food. The Indian anti-biotech
arguments repeatedly invoke Pusztai's now largely unproven work, in
the context of GE products, edible or not, and no matter what
transgene they contain. One should not be surprised if the peacock
story is used to tell the world that all GE products are poison.
Too Much Coffee?
- New Scientist, June 25, 2005, page 27; issue 2505
In your report on the disruption of the genetically modified coffee
trial in French Guiana you state, "they chose French Guiana for the
trial because no coffee grows there, avoiding any possibility that
the GM variety could contaminate existing plants" (28 May, p 14).
In the next paragraph, however, you say: "the attack on the trial was
not altogether surprising", because "smallholders, who make up the
majority of coffee-growers, fear that GM strains will enable richer
farmers who can afford the technology to put them out of business."
Forgive me, but if your reporter Andy Coghlan considers it not
altogether surprising for crops to be attacked by a non-existent
group of coffee-growers, he's taking way too much valium.
- Bob Cowley Oxford, UK
Andy Coghlan writes: Fair point, but smallholders and even activists
in French Guiana can be sympathetic to coffee-growers elsewhere. And
obviously someone had a motive to do it.
Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution
- New book by Ron Bailey, Prometheus Books, 2005, 310 pages; $18.48,
In his new book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case
for the Biotech Revolution, Reason's Ronald Bailey examines the
scientific and ethical controversies surrounding everything from stem
cell research to therapeutic cloning to longer life spans to
genetically modified food. Bailey writes, "The benefits of
biotechnology are well known-the cure of diseases and disabilities
for millions of sufferers; the production of more nutritious food
with less damage to the natural environment; the enhancement of human
physical and intellectual capacities-and all can be easily foreseen.
It is the alleged dangers of biotechnology that are, in fact, vague,
ill defined, and nebulous."
Bailey, whose work was featured in The Best American Science and
Nature Writing 2004, makes the case that science can, and will, help
us live longer, healthier, and happier lives, without creating human
clones or designer plagues. Liberation Biology dispels many myths
spread by a small faction that hopes to control medical and
scientific research (why we won't be seeing a cloned,
half-sheep/half-human creature, for example); demonstrates why
scientists and doctors, not politicians, should confront the
uncertainties that come with biotechnology in the same way they
confronted uncertainties about the ethics of X-rays, birth control
pills, bypass surgeries, and in vitro fertilization when they were
first used; and why patients and families should ultimately have the
freedom of choice to embrace stem cell and biotech benefits or reject
them for personal reasons.
"In Liberation Biology, Ronald Bailey's mastery of the arguments and
his roster of the best people to talk to are second to none. He is
very up-to-date with all the latest thinking about biology. He writes
with great fluency and in a way that engages the nonscientific
reader. But above all, he makes a clearheaded and brilliant case for
an optimistic attitude to the marvelous future biotechnology offers,
in a field that is still dominated by ill-informed pessimism." - Matt
Ridley, author of Genome, Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and
What Makes Us Human and The Red Queen: Sex and Evolution of Human
"Ron Bailey is an eloquent, persuasive, informed voice in today's
debate about the promise of biotechnology. The question now before
us--whether we will continue to embrace the possibilities of the
future or will turn away from them, leaving their exploration to
other braver peoples in other braver lands-could not be more
critical. Bailey neither minces his words nor shrinks from a good
rumble, and that is what makes Liberation Biology so engaging and
powerful." - Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans: Our
Inevitable Genetic Future
"There has been a tremendous amount of hand-wringing in some quarters
about where developments in biotechnology may be taking us in the
future. However, rhetoric and passion are not substitutes for sound
reasoning and insightful argumentation. Ron Bailey in this book
provides the closely reasoned analysis that, rather than emotions,
bias, and preconceived ideas, ought to guide public policy with
respect to biotechnology and bioengineering." - Arthur Caplan,
Emanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics, chair of the
Department of Medical Ethics, and director of the Center for
Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania
"In the end, I disagree with almost all of what Ron Bailey has to say
about the coming world. But he says it straightforwardly, and he
doesn't shy away from the gnarly heart of the argument--hence it's a
real help to spurring on what must become a central debate in our
politics and culture. " Bill McKibben, internationally recognized
biotech critic and author of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered
Age and The End of Nature
Excerpt from Liberation Biology : The Scientific and Moral Case for
the Biotech Revolution
"Clearly, contemplating some aspects of modern biotechnology has
unhinged the imaginations of some of our prominent policy
intellectuals and political leaders, linking current biomedical
therapies in their minds with some of the ghastly technologies
described in Brave New World....
Liberation Biology will show that the bioconservative fears are
vastly exaggerated, that their ethical objections to biotechnological
progress are largely misconceived, and that rather than diminishing
human dignity and liberty, the biotech revolution will instead
enhance and enlarge them. In the twentieth century, liberation
theology was a spiritual movement aimed at helping humanity to
overcome political and economic oppression. In the twenty-first
century, liberation biology is the earthly quest to overcome the
physical and mental limitations imposed on us by nature, enabling us
to flourish as never before.
The true Brave New World toward which humanity's growing
biotechnological prowess is aiming is not one populated by regimented
clones, but one in which more and more individuals can exercise
enhanced intellectual, creative, and physical capacities while being
liberated from the immemorial curses of disease, disability, and
early death." -- from the preface
'The Story of GM Papaya in Hawaii'
Genetically Modified Crops - Statement of Mr. Delan Perry President,
Hawaii Papaya Industry Association; Federal Document Clearing House
Congressional Testimony; US Committee on House Small Business
Subcommittee on Rural Enterprise, Agriculture and Technology; June
I am honored to be given a chance to testify on what we call our
Papaya Story. This is story of the spread of a disease fatal to
papayas to the major production area of Puna in 1992
For decades, papayas have been grown in Hawaii and have come to be
accepted as a basic part of Hawaii's tropical experience and diet.
Papayas are grown in abundance on all the islands and pineapples are
the only fruit that is produced in larger volume in Hawaii. Papayas,
in contrast with Pineapples, are primarily grown on hundreds of
family farms. Papayas have achieved this place in our diet and
economy because they are not only sweet and flavorful, but very high
in Vitamins C and A, and have many folk uses such as easing
digestion, good early food for babies, good food for recovering from
upset stomach, and good food for regularity.
Papayas have been exported out of state for nearly 50 years after
quarantine treatment for Fruit flies.
The papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) was discovered in Puna in 1992 where
95% of Hawaii's papaya was grown. Previously, PRSV had decimated the
growing areas of Oahu, and a small outbreak on Kauai had been
eradicated. In 1995 the PRSV was widespread in Puna and the total
Hawaii papaya production fell from a peak production of 58.2 million
lbs in 1993 to 35.6 million lbs in 1998, a decrease of 39%., but the
decrease in Puna was greater at 52%. During the period between 1992
and 1998 Puna growers used several strategies to survive: Rogue out
infected trees by cutting them down (This worked in areas that had
limited disease pressure and were isolated); move to new areas far
removed from Puna's traditional growing areas (This worked for about
two years until PRSV found its way to the new areas, but quality and
yields due to different soils and climates was decreased.); give up
and find new crops or jobs ( In the job market at that time, many
farmers were severely impacted. From my personal perspective, I took
a job as a co-op manager and didn't plant papayas for two years). One
result of the moving echoed the experience of growers in Thailand,
Brazil and many other areas: marginal land, sometimes in native
forests, were cleared, only to become infected in a short time, often
within the first crop cycle of 3.5 years. The effect on our growers
had a significant impact on the economy of the whole Island and the
State. Papayas had been the biggest business in Puna. Luckily for the
Papaya Industry, visionary scientists had begun looking at new
biotech ways of developing disease resistant plants. The transgenic
papaya developed by Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, then at Cornell University
and currently at the Hilo US Department of Agriculture Pacific Basin
Agriculture Research Center (PBARC), and University of Hawaii
researchers, Richard Manshardt and Maureen Fitch, was released in
Puna in 1998. The transgenic papaya was transformed in 1991 but it
took seven years to get through the US regulatory system and into the
fields. During the pre-commercialization period between 1991 and
1998, the groundwork was laid for the cooperative effort that led to
1) licensing of the intellectual properties;
2) deregulation with USDA, EPA, and FDA;
3) production of seed;
4) demonstration to both growers and the wider community of the
efficacy of the technology;
5) development of a distribution plan;
6) development of a marketing plan.
When the licensing issue came up in 1991, the University of Hawaii
turned the process over to the Papaya Administrative Committee (PAC).
The PAC was a Federal Marketing Order founded in 1971. The PAC,
helped by the mandatory assessment program, and the Hawaii Papaya
Industry Association (HPIA), which had preceded the PAC and remained
primarily engaged in education and lobbying, both understood early on
that this technology was a potential solution to the anticipated
spread of PRSV. Both of these Statewide associations worked hard to
support the research projects and take the information to growers and
the community. PAC identified, first by itself and later with the
help of a patent attorney, just who had the underlying patents and
should be approached for licenses. Fortuitously, the four entities
that were identified turned out to be very generous in the conditions
deemed necessary for granting licenses. Certainly, the unique
position of a small agricultural industry meeting a local problem
with a local disease, utilizing research provided by land grant
universities was to our benefit. PAC subsequently developed sub-
licensing agreements of growers and homeowners primarily to insure
good resistance management and prohibit export of seed outside Hawaii.
Deregulation of the transgenic papaya in the United States, and later
in Canada and Japan, fell to the same group of researchers who had
developed the transgenic papaya. While the licensors had much of the
data for the underlying genes, the many safety and horticultural
aspects specific to the Papaya were researched and data submitted by
what still remains our mostly voluntary research team.
The PAC undertook contracting out seed production with availability
corresponding to the date all licensing and deregulation issues had
been resolved. The industry was dying, and timeliness of seed
availability has a high priority. Initially, under the marketing
order, all seed was deemed already paid for by growers and
distributed free, in a complex formula to ascertain fairness of
access, to all growers. Upon turnover of this function to the HPIA in
2002, seed cost to growers was closely tied to seed production cost,
and represents 1-2% of first year planting costs for members in good
A critical part of our successful commercialization of Transgenic
Papaya, was the openness of the development of the technology, first
to growers through the PAC and HPIA, and later to the wider community
and State. There was no secret that there was a serious disease
problem and that the impacts on both growers and consumers would be
significant. Many media stories, meetings, and field trips,
de-mystified the technology, often in the most practical ways.
Growers were believers when they could see, touch, and taste the new
varieties. Hundreds visited the very successful field trial
.Consumers acted much the same way.
The development of a marketing plan flowed from those early
experiences. See it, touch it, taste it: it was hard to resist buying
it. Whatever the breeding technology used, it was very clear that
this was still very much a papaya. Consumer acceptance was as quick
as grower acceptance. Early on after transformation, the papaya
industry knew that the end product needed to be a yellow flesh
papaya. Hawaiian papayas were seen in the US marketplace as yellow
flesh. Since the transformed variety ended up to be a red flesh
variety (Sunup), our research team came up with what turned out to be
an excellent hybrid cross, later named Rainbow, that was a light
orange flesh similar enough to the traditional yellow flesh "Kapoho"
that it fit the correct flesh color expectation. Additionally, the
new hybrid blended the characteristics of it's parents to produce a
variety much better that either of it's parents
Unlike most other genetically modified foods , Fresh Papaya is a
whole food. While there is no blending, varietal segregation is very
important. Certainly, in non-deregulated markets such as Japan, at
present, segregation is critical. HPIA has developed, with the Hawaii
Department of Agriculture, a certification program for Identity
Preservation (IPP). This very effective program with over 800 acres
certified for several hundred growers has been responsible for
complying with the zero tolerance for non- deregulated foods in Japan
for over 2 years. From the marketing standpoint, keeping varieties
segregated means broadening consumer demand by supplying a taste for
every palate, much like the Apple industry has succeeded in doing.
The Papaya Industry is presently developing a marketing plan for
Rainbow in Japan. Here the situation will be somewhat different
because there will be a labeling requirement. We have hired a
marketing specialist and are working closely with FAS to expand our
market with a new papaya taste in Japan.
The technology used is based on the concept of Pathogen Derived
Resistance (PDR), that holds that by incorporating a small particle
of, in this case, the coat protein of the PRSV in the DNA of the
papaya, resistance is conferred. This had been shown earlier on
Squash. This method was chosen because there were no papayas any
where that had resistance to PRSV. In fact PRSV is widespread in the
tropical and subtropical countries of the world and has devastated
production in many countries.
--1992- PRSV discovered in Puna where 95% of Hawaii's papaya was grown
--1995- PRVS widespread in Puna
--1998- Transgenic papaya (Rainbow and SunUp) released in Puna
--2002- Decline in production adverse weather , disease and reduced marketing
There is no doubt that the transgenic papaya saved the papaya
industry in Hawaii and now constitutes about 60% of all papayas grown
in Hawaii.. Oahu is also recovering from the PRSV disaster that
started for them in the 1940's. That virus problem had led to the
growth of the Papaya Industry on the Big Island. Furthermore, these
transgenic papaya have been used as a genetic source to produce new
varieties that are especially suited for growing on Oahu.
Currently, the transgenic papaya can be marketed to Canada and the
mainland USA. However, it cannot be marketed to Japan, which is a
major market for the Hawaiian papaya. Japan represents a premium
market and presently takes about 5 million pounds of non transgenic
Kapoho a year. We estimate that upon deregulation, the Japan market
will grow to 10 million pounds a year within 3 years. The Japan
market pays the kind of premium which makes up for the higher labor
and other growing costs found in Hawaii. Thus, efforts to get the
transgenic papaya deregulated in Japan were taken up by the Hawaii
papaya industry with the aid of local scientists that had developed
the transgenic papaya. Although progress had been made in obtaining
information for getting the transgenic papaya deregulated in Japan,
some key areas in sequencing of the transgenic papaya were required,
and needed to be done in a timely manner. Recent breakthrough efforts
by the University of Hawaii Center for Genomics, Proteomics and
Bioinformatics Research Initiative (CGPBRI) and the Hawaii
Agriculture Research Center (HARC) in sequencing of the genome of the
transgenic papaya will provide indispensable technical information
for deregulating the transgenic papaya in Japan. If all goes well the
deregulation will be completed by the end of this year.
The efforts to sequence the papaya genome and deregulate the
transgenic papaya will benefit Hawaii in a number of other practical
ways. First, it adds essential technical information for the
deregulation process leading to marketing transgenic papaya in Japan.
Second, after the approval of the transgenic papaya in Japan, Hawaii
needs to develop sound and expanded marketing strategies for Japan.
Third, mainland China has already expressed keen interest in
importing the Hawaiian transgenic papaya. However, like Japan, the
transgenic papaya needs to be deregulated in mainland China. The
necessary information to get the transgenic papaya deregulated in
mainland China will be quickly obtained by the ability of the
Hawaiian consortium (UH CGPBRI, HARC) of scientists to get the
necessary sequencing and other information that is required. Korea
and Europe are also potential markets for the Hawaiian transgenic
papaya. The Hawaii Papaya Industry must develop these and other
premium markets if it is to grow. This interest in the scientific
community is one of the additional benefits that our successful use
of agricultural biotechnology has brought to further build our future.
Today, the Hawaiian transgenic papaya is the only commercially
available transgenic papaya in the world. The transgenic papaya is a
interest to the US government in marketing 'minor' transgenic
products outside of the US. In many ways, it is a test case for the
US. The success of Hawaii's efforts will certainly be a very positive
example of how a state as small as Hawaii and a small industry can
lead the way in such an important field of biotechnology development
and marketing. The benefits to Hawaii will be enormous in attracting
local and out of state students to come to Hawaii to study this
exciting field. The benefits of such an influx of intellectuals are
self-evident. The ability for Hawaii to attract major grants in
biotechnology and commercial partners will also be of great benefit
to the economy of Hawaii.
Lastly, a major goal of the scientific efforts that will have a long
term impact to Hawaii and the world is the study of the genomics of
the papaya. HARC has related the papaya to such fundamental
discoveries of incipient sex chromosome evolution development in all
species has the interest of the entire world . The excitement that
these major discoveries will create will make Hawaii a major player
in the field of functional genomics which can hardly be measured and
will open the entire field. The application of compounds discovered
in the papaya genome can benefit fields as diverse as medical
research and food science.
It is indeed rare to have such a combination of basic science melding
with the practicality of a biotechnology product such as the
transgenic papaya located in Hawaii. Successes such as these will
bring untold benefits to Hawaii.