Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : July 26, 2005
* Ten Years of Biotech Cropping Has Passed So Fast
* We Need to Move Past Scare Stories in GM Debate
* What's So Scary About Rice?
* GM Foods: Popular Myths
* Biotech - Opportunity to Develop Sustainable Future
* Australia: Expert Forum Maps Impediments to GM Crops
* Public Sector Biotechnology Research in Africa
* GM Plant Produces Non-GM Watermelon
* Extreme Agendas Harmful - Environmentalists Have Lost Their Way
* Let Them Eat Canned Tomatoes
Ten Years of Biotech Cropping Has Passed So Fast
- Richard Keller, Aberdeen American News (South Dakota), July 26, 2005
Just how vital is agricultural biotechnology to America's farmers?
The fact is that today, after reaching the milestone of 10 full years
of proven biotech crop production, a majority of farmers in the
United States would likely have to rethink, if not relearn, how to
economically grow row crops without this valuable farming tool.
Survey results show farmers choose to grow biotech crops for two main
reasons to increase yields through improved pest control and to
decrease pesticide costs. That's great for the environment, good for
farmers' bottom lines and, because far fewer hours of field work are
required, biotechnology even helps boost the time that farmers can
spend with their families. Given the choice, it's doubtful that many
would return to the old way of doing business.
Planting biotech crops usually also means reduced tillage and less
erosion, farmers better distributing their seasonal workload, reduced
environmental impact from crop protection products, improved overall
work safety and, not least of all, higher quality food and fiber
harvested. It is no wonder that this 10th year of biotech crops is
being marked as a historical event.
Industry estimates are that 80 percent of soybeans and 40 percent of
corn acres in the United States were planted with biotech seed
varieties in 2004. Trends indicate biotech cropping in the United
States will continue to increase.
Soybean production is the first and biggest example of how biotech
has completely changed the landscape. Genes were bio-engineered into
seed beans to allow spraying herbicide over the top of any size
soybean plant ETH without harming the soybean plant but killing
almost all emerged weeds and grasses. This truly revolutionized
Before herbicide-resistance soybeans, farmers had to pick which
combination of products would give them the best weed control at the
most economical price for their specific soil types.
Before biotech earned its spot in America's fields, companies
marketed new and traditional pest control tools, without ever finding
"the silver bullet," or near-perfect product. Today, however,
farmers' expectations are growing due to the outright success of
crops produced through biotechnology.
Before biotechnology, farmers frequently combined the use of three or
more pesticides, which, to be effective, often had to be applied a
couple of times over several weeks to knock down a number of
different weed pests. Under that regime, they incessantly worried
about the weather limiting product performance.
There were always too few days to treat every field exactly when
needed, and when factoring in the human element, it frequently meant
that application and timing was far from perfect. Today a large
volume of conventional seeds are still being planted and conventional
pesticides are still being applied, but due to the proven staying
power of biotechnology, there isn't as much strain on farmers to
stretch the equipment and manpower to meet the fieldwork needs during
key windows of opportunity.
Some farmers say it feels much longer than 10 years during which
biotech crops have been planted in the United States. That is
probably because the praises of biotech were professed years before
the first field crop was planted.
The expectation that farmers would largely switch to biotech crops
has been borne out today, and earlier this month it is believed that
the world's one billionth acre of biotech crops was planted, most
likely in a field in the United States.
Ten years of biotechnology cropping have resulted in major changes in
farming, and the sky's the limit for the future. Undoubtedly, the
next 10 years will result in many more amazing changes for crop
production, and biotechnology will continue to lead the way.
-- Richard Keller, Director of news services for the American Farm
American Farm Bureau Federation's Biotech Conference
The AFBF Biotechnology Conference will be held July 29 at the Indiana
Farm Bureau headquarters in Indianapolis. "The conference is
appropriate for anyone with an interest in the current biotechnology
situation in the United States and around the world, as well as the
outlook for agricultural biotechnology," says Mark Maslyn, AFBF
executive director of public policy.
There is no registrations fee for this national conference, but those
wishing to attend should email Donna Jackson at email@example.com
Scheduled speakers include Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for
Biotechnology Regulatory Services under the Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service of the Agriculture Department; Bobby Richey,
deputy director of the Foreign Agriculture Services Biotech Group at
USDA; Paul Green, international trade consultant; Barb Glenn,
director of animal biotechnology with the Biotechnology Industry
Organization; Michael Dykes, vice president, government affairs at
Monsanto; Jeff Stein, director of regulatory affairs at Syngenta
Seeds; and Mark Janis, professor of law at the University of Iowa
College of Law.
In general, topics being covered during the conference include
government regulations, non-food and feed uses for agricultural
biotechnology, animal biotechnology, ag biotechnology and trade,
technology fees and products in the pipeline.
We Need to Move Past Scare Stories in GM Debate
- Joyce Tait, Scotsman (UK), July 26 2005
Debates about GM crops continue, refreshed from time to time by new
claims of risks or benefits, sometimes backed up by scientific
evidence. In the latest example, an announcement from the Centre for
Ecology and Hydrology in Dorset, reported yesterday, led to renewed
claims that GM crops have created a "superweed".
This idea is neither new nor surprising. I first became involved in
such discussions in the late 1980s when there were heated discussions
among scientists about whether GM crops would be fit enough to
survive in the natural environment, and whether they would be able to
hybridise with wild relatives.
Such questions are best answered by scientifically-based research and
the latest development comes from an initiative involving sixteen
projects set up by BBSRC, NERC and DEFRA, looking into Gene Flow in
Plants and Micro-organisms. Stakeholders and the wider public were
consulted on the scope of the programme before it was set up and the
results were reported back to them on the 23 June.
The "superweeds" described here have picked up genes from GM oilseed
rape that make them resistant to one or more herbicides. If this
herbicide resistance makes them fitter to survive than other members
of their species they will be able to multiply and spread widely. But
this will only happen on the farms where herbicides are used.
Herbicide resistance will not give an advantage to plants in wild
areas where herbicides are not used.
The phenomenon of resistance is everywhere, whether natural or
brought on by human activity. Humans are sometimes able to become
resistant or immune to diseases, but in the early 1900s infections
killed large numbers of children and adults. The development of
chemical antibiotics greatly reduced the death-toll of several major
diseases, but also inevitably set in train the emergence of
antibiotic resistant disease organisms. Should we have banned
penicillin and streptomycin in the 1950s in case they led to
Insect pests in agriculture also develop resistance to the chemicals
we develop to kill them. In fact the history of the pesticide
industry has evolved around it. Insect resistance was one factor
opening up new markets for more advanced, and often less
environmentally damaging, insecticides as they emerged from the R&D
cycles of the industry.
A side-benefit for the agro-chemical industry was that the new,
advanced pesticides could be sold for higher prices than the older
ones which were by that time no longer patented, justifying the
expensive investment in the development of new pesticides. However,
at the same time there was also investment in agricultural strategies
to delay the onset of resistance to insecticides, as has also been
the case with antibiotics.
Resistance is thus an important driver of innovation and contributes
to the competitive advantage of companies. In natural ecosystems,
including those dominated by humans, it contributes to the
competitive advantage of all species. It is a fact of life which we
regard as positive if it occurs in a species we humans wish to
protect, and negative if it occurs in one that harms us.
How big is the problem and what should we do about it?
"Superweeds" would clearly be a problem for farmers who would find it
more difficult to control weeds using herbicides. If it was
widespread it would also be a problem for agro-biotechnology
companies in that farmers would stop buying their product. Organic
farmers would presumably not suffer if any of these weeds were to
stray onto their land as their non-chemical methods of weed control
would still be effective. On uncultivated or unmanaged land,
herbicides are not used and resistance to herbicides is not an issue
However, because GM crops have the potential to reproduce beyond our
control we should take such concerns very seriously, as the research
programme funded by the UK government has already done. The research
has so far drawn attention to several unresolved questions related to
our ability to control such "superweeds" - how frequently will the
herbicide resistance genes be transferred to other non-crop species,
how fit to survive will the hybrids be and how rapidly will they be
able to spread?
So we should indeed take the potential problem of superweeds
seriously, but what should we do about it? Those opposed to GM crops
use the research results to reinforce the case for a continuing ban
on the introduction of GM crops in Europe. However, this will
continue to deprive European farmers of the undoubted benefits of GM
crops at a time when subsidies are being withdrawn and they are
increasingly having to compete in global markets. The farmers who
were involved in the UK GM crop trials would very mu
able to continue using this technology. It is also becoming
increasingly clear from experience in other parts of the world that
some GM crops, including herbicide resistant crops, do have
environmental and human health benefits in that they can
significantly reduce the levels of pesticide use. These benefits
should be weighed against the potential risks.
We should be looking to broaden our range of approaches to dealing
with the potential, unproven hazards of new technology. We Europeans
are capable of being much cleverer than we have been so far in the
context of GM crops - there are management techniques that can
contribute to minimising negative effects; we can change the way we
develop the technology or add to the sophistication of the
technology, rather than banning it.
The debate about GM crops may rumble on but it is time it moved on to
a higher level of sophistication, rather than reinforcing tired old
Professor Joyce Tait is director of the Innogen Centre at Edinburgh
Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?
- Irish Independent, July 25, 2005 http://www.unison.ie/
Bad science peddled by campaign groups is creating widespread
paranoia about our food and health. Aideen Sheehan, Agriculture and
Food Correspondent, reports on a new book that debunks the myths
Could the ban on the pesticide DDT have been responsible for as many
deaths as Hitler and Stalin? Could a new generation of children be
plagued by measles because of hysteria against immunisation?
From obesity to overdosing on salt, barely a week goes by without
another food or health scare creating the impression that we live in
a world fraught with ever-growing danger and leading to shrill calls
for the state to protect us.
Now in a new book called Panic Nation a collection of eminent
scientists and doctors aims to debunk modern myths about food and
health. The authors argue that organised paranoia, especially post
9/11, has become our society's defining characteristic. This
propensity to panic, fueled by campaign groups, has lead to
ludicrously extravagant reactions to minor threats such as SARS,
where whole cities were quarantined and people wandered around in
useless paper masks, a "modern equivalent of the medieval amulets
used to ward off evil".
This is more than just harmless over-reaction, they say, because the
prevailing mood of risk-aversion is becoming mankind's major barrier
to social, scientific and technological advance. "Risk is seen not as
something we can handle or perhaps even turn into opportunity, but as
something that we suffer from and must be guarded against."
If the same precautionary approach had always been in place
scientists could never have made a huge range of breakthroughs from
aspirin to X-rays. Yet the fact that we're living longer, healthier
lives than ever before thanks to these and other discoveries seems to
be no consolation for the prevailing mood of suspicion and fear.
The 1960s campaign against DDT is given as an example of misguided
environmentalism. Malaria deaths in Sri Lanka rocketing from just 17
in 1963 to an astounding 2.5 million in 1968 after the pesticide was
banned over unsubstantiated fears it caused cancer and hepatitis.
Panic Nation makes for fascinating and provocative reading. But the
authors, though immensely well-qualified, aren't always as
independent as you'd like. For example, while Dr Sandy McNair makes a
strong case against the prevailing wisdom of lower-salt diets, a
Google search reveals he was Medical Advisor to the Salt
The moral of the story: moderation in all things and don't swallow
anything you read whole.
Debunking Some Of The Myths
Genetically modified food is dangerous With 'Frankenstein foods' have
long been public enemy number one for the environmental foodie
brigade. But the anti-GMO campaign sometimes reaches levels of mass
hysteria when GM food is portrayed as not just undesirable but
actually 'evil'. The level of fanaticism even led famine-struck
Zambia in 2003 to reject GM food aid from America because, in the
words of a government spokesman, "we would rather let our people
starve than feed them toxic food".
Eminent scientist Sir Peter Lachmann argues that millions of people
have been eating GM food worldwide for years without any ill-effects.
One headline-grabbing study suggesting that rats fed GM potatoes
contracted immune-system damage was comprehensively repudiated. And
fears of breeding lethal super-viruses in GM crops are a
scientifically unlikely fantasy, says Sir Peter.
Instead, he argues, GM technology enhances the nutritional quality of
crops and in the future could slash world hunger by boosting yields,
enabling plants to grow on arid, salty land. By potentially
increasing photosynthesis levels in plants we could feed the whole
world and meet all our energy needs.
Organic food is better than 'pesticide-filled' normal produce
'Organic food good, pesticide-filled conventional produce bad' goes
the modern dictum. Anxious mothers flock to farmers' markets to buy
high-priced organic veg for their children. But are we really dosing
our bodies with dangerous toxins if we don't go this route?
The reality is that the maximum amount of pesticide which is
permitted in any EU food is stringently monitored. It is based on
calculations of its effects on human and animal bodies, taking the
dose level safe for the most sensitive species - then reducing it
100-fold to get an Acceptable Daily Intake.
The separate Maximum Residue Level (MRL) of pesticide that can be
left on crops after spraying is less than this Acceptable Daily
Intake. Consultant Toxicologist Dr Lakshman Karalliedde says this
means that even in the occasional cases where the MRL is exceeded,
consumers have nothing to fear because it will still be less than
one-100th of the amount that causes even a slight reaction in the
most sensitive species.
Dr Stanley Feldman argues that the reason people pay up to 50% more
for organic food is brought on by rose-tinted nostalgia for those
hazy days of our youth when the sun always shone and the tomatoes
In fact, blind tasting has failed to reveal any consistent difference
between organic and non-organic supermarket produce. And organic
producers have been frequently forced to retract untrue claims their
produce is healthier, although the conventional food industry could
do themselves some favours by making sure fruit and veg is ripe and
tasty when it goes on the shelves.
What's So Scary About Rice?
- Arlene Weintraub, Business Week, August 1, 2005 http://www.businessweek.com/
In the heart of America's rice industry, a fight has broken out
between the King of Beers and a tiny biotech company. On one side is
Anheuser-Busch (BUD), which uses Missouri-grown rice as an ingredient
in beer. On the other side is Ventria Biosciences, which is moving to
Missouri with plans to cultivate transgenic rice containing human
genes. The genes prompt the plant to make two proteins normally found
in breast milk, tears, and saliva. The biotech company intends to
turn the substances into therapeutic food products to treat stomach
Anheuser-Busch executives seem to have been struck with indigestion
at the thought that human proteins might conceivably crop up in
bottles of Bud. Although highly unlikely, such a scenario isn't
unheard of: Bioengineered seeds have often turned up in places they
don't belong. So Busch vowed to boycott all Missouri rice last April,
prompting Ventria to temporarily shelve its plans in the state. "We
want to make sure rice growers in Missouri have a good relationship"
with one of their biggest customers, concedes Ventria CEO Scott
Deeter. Meanwhile, on June 28 the U.S. Agriculture Dept. approved
Ventria's application to plant in North Carolina instead.
The strange saga of Ventria and its alien rice casts a pall on a
potentially promising area in biotech. Stretched by unprecedented
demand for new drugs, biotech companies have been searching for
alternatives to traditional manufacturing methods -- an expensive
process of growing drugs in delicate hosts, such as cells from
Chinese hamster ovaries. Plants such as rice and corn may be ideal
substitutes because they naturally churn out proteins by the bushel.
Getting them to make human varieties is simply a matter of replacing
pieces of their genetic code with human genes -- just as technicians
get hamster cells to produce protein drugs. Then, to ratchet up
production, you just plant more acres.
The economic benefits are enticing, too. A traditional biotech
factory might cost Ventria CEO Deeter $125 million. With rice, he can
get the same output for $4 million -- and he intends to pass the
savings to consumers. Several other biotech startups are
experimenting with drugs grown in plants, and giant Dow Chemical Co.
(DOW) is mulling the idea as well. Consulting firm Frost & Sullivan
Inc. predicts the first plant-manufactured drugs will hit the market
next year and sprout into a $2.2 billion-per-year industry by 2011.
That's if fears about food safety don't cause plant-grown
pharmaceuticals to die on the vine. Consumer and environmental
advocates worry that pollen from genetically engineered plants could
drift into fields containing food crops and produce contaminated
hybrids. But that's not a worry with rice, Deeter insists, because
the plant is self-pollinating -- each seed contains everything it
needs to produce another plant, so there is no risk of transplanted
genes leaking to other plants. Still, environmentalists say, there's
nothing to prevent a bird from gobbling up the bioengineered seeds
and then depositing them, intact, in a field hundreds of miles away.
"It's virtually certain this stuff will make it into food-grade
rice," says Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment
program for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.
Such certainty is backed up by one particularly horrifying breach
that still haunts the food industry. In 2002 drug-producing corn made
by ProdiGene Inc. somehow began sprouting in soybean fields near its
Nebraska and Iowa sites. The USDA seized 500,000 bushels of soybeans
and charged ProdiGene nearly $3 million in fines and disposal costs.
Any further gaffes could threaten some $1.3 billion in annual U.S.
rice sales to foreign countries, many of which are still queasy about
biotech crops -- even those tweaked to produce tastier food.
What's needed, Ventria's critics argue, is a tighter regulatory
framework to ensure pharma crops stay out of the food supply. As it
stands, the USDA is the only federal agency that tightly regulates
drug-producing plants grown in outdoor test sites. The Food & Drug
Administration generally steps in later, when it's time to decide if
the drugs themselves are suitable for human consumption.
Since part of the FDA's mandate is to protect food, critics blast the
agency for failing to get involved in biotech plantings from the very
beginning. "It's a convoluted process," says Joseph Mendelson, legal
director for the Center for Food Safety in Washington, one of many
groups calling for the FDA to provide additional oversight on drugs
made in plants. An FDA policy adviser says several agencies are
looking at whether the system should be changed.
Some biotech outfits have dodged the protesters by avoiding food
crops altogether. St. Louis-based Chlorogen Inc. is developing a way
to make drugs in tobacco, which grows well in greenhouses, adding an
extra barrier against genetic leaks. CEO David N. Duncan says he's
not surprised that ProdiGene's mistake continues to reverberate, as
Ventria and others manipulate crops that form the very staples of the
human diet. "When you start messing with corn flakes and beer, you're
going to get in trouble," Duncan says.
Ventria can't seem to escape the controversy. Founded in 1997 in
Sacramento, the company planted several small fields of pharma-rice
in California. Despite an endorsement from California regulators,
some environmentalists and traditional rice farmers cried foul.
Earlier this year, Ventria decided to uproot itself and move to the
plant-science incubator at Northwest Missouri State University.
Deeter says he isn't being chased out of California, but rather he
feels Missouri offers more favorable economics for large-scale
It may be a while before Deeter can realize his dreams of amber waves
of humanized grain. In April, Anheuser-Busch lifted its boycott
threat after Ventria agreed to move its planned 200 acres from the
southeast corner of Missouri to the northwest region of the state --
120 miles away from food-grade rice. "We believe Ventria is now
sufficiently away from commercial rice producers," says Francine I.
Katz, spokesperson for the beer giant. But by the time the compromise
was reached, Ventria had missed prime planting season, forcing the
company to wait until next year to apply for a USDA permit to plant
there. Meanwhile, Ventria planted 75 acres of rice in North Carolina
in June, despite threats from the Center for Food Safety, which is
considering a lawsuit to curb the company.
Deeter is undeterred. "We fed the world with American agriculture,
and now we want to improve the world's health with it," he says. As
for those trying to stop him: "They have yet to find a single
stomachache as a result of biotech." Perhaps, but unless companies
like Ventria and the agencies that regulate them work harder to allay
the world's food-safety fears, farmlands won't be fertile ground for
GM Foods: Popular Myths
- Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc, July 25, 2005. Via Checkbiotech
In this article on genetically modified (GM) foods, DietDoc takes a
look at some of the most persistent myths that do the rounds - and
the actual facts.
The information has been sourced from a report based on a publication
released by the New Zealand Royal Commission on genetic modification.
This report was the result of 14 months of consultation with
proponents and opponents of GM. The Commission functioned as an
independent review panel created to report to the New Zealand
government on the options available to deal with GM. This report
represents the first of its kind in the world.
Among many other aspects, the Commission examined some of the most
popular myths relating to GM and investigated the actual facts:
Myth: "GM potatoes had toxic effects on rats that may also affect humans"
Dr Arpad Pusztai, a senior scientist at the Rowett Institute in
Aberdeen, Scotland caused consternation when he announced to the
media that rats eating GM potatoes suffered from depressed immunity
and experienced changes in the structural lining of their intestinal
Investigation showed that the rats in the trial conducted by Dr
Pusztai had been fed raw potatoes. Since rats don't like to eat raw
potato, they stopped eating and the trial had to be abandoned after
67 days because the rats were starving.
Starvation is known to alter the intestinal lining and both the rats
fed raw GM potatoes and those fed raw standard potatoes had similar
changes in their intestines. The Commission also pointed out that
other potato toxins found in raw potatoes could have caused the
changes. In addition, the tests that Dr Pusztai had used to test
immunity in the rats were not standard, accepted tests.
The Commission concluded that, "Within the scientific community there
is general agreement that the results of Dr Pusztai's experiment are
inconclusive insofar as there were flaws in the process and the
project was incomplete. Extensive testing carried out by Chinese
researchers, similar to that described by Dr Pusztai and Ewen, has
not replicated their results."
Myth: "L-tryptophan produced from GM bacteria caused death of humans in the US"
In the 1980s, L-tryptophan, an amino acid that is found in proteins,
became a popular treatment for insomnia and depression. This amino
acid is usually produced with tryptophan-producing bacteria via
fermentation. The bacteria used for such fermentations can either be
standard bacteria or GM bacteria.
In 1989, individuals using L-tryptophan in high doses started to
develop eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), a new illness associated
with painful, swollen muscles, rashes, digestive problems and
increased white blood cell counts. Thirty-seven people died in the
USA, 1500 were disabled and about 5000 were affected.
Intensive investigation found that the Showa Denko company, which
produced the L-tryptophan that caused these harmful effects, were
using GM bacteria for their fermentation process. However, of greater
importance is the fact that this company had started using a
different purification process that utilised less charcoal than
normal to clean the L-tryptophan.
When the L-tryptophan produced by the Showa Denko company was
analysed, 60 contaminants were identified, of which six were
responsible for causing EMS. These six toxins were identified as the
agents that caused EMS and their presence in the L-tryptophan was due
to an inefficient purification process, not the use of GM bacteria in
the fermentation process.
The Commission concluded, "The United States courts decided that the
manufacturing process rather than genetic modification was at fault".
Other tryptophan products were available on the market that had been
produced by GM bacteria and these did not cause any health problems.
Myth: "The increase in phyto-oestrogen levels in herbicide tolerant
soybeans can cause breast cancer"
In Switzerland, the Basle Appeal Against Genetic Engineering
published a letter in February 1997 in which they stated, "We fear
that the Roundup Ready soybean produces large quantities of
pseudo-oestrogens when it is sprayed with Roundup herbicide. Today,
it is assumed that oestrogen hormones play an important role in the
emergence of breast cancer."
It is a well-known fact that soya beans contain compounds called
phyto-oestrogens and that these compounds can have both positive and
negative effects on human health (refer to the article "Soya -
healthy or harmful?" published on this website on 6 June 2005).
Investigations found that the study the Swiss anti-GM group were
basing their evidence on had been carried out in 1988 - at which time
the Roundup Ready soybeans did not exist!
The Commission concluded, "Some plant-protection agents contain
pseudo-oestrogens although Roundup herbicide, by contrast, contains
none at all. This fact has been confirmed by the Freiburg Ecological
Myth: "Bt corn threatens the existence of Monarch butterfly populations"
GM has been used to produce Bt-corn (maize), which is toxic to corn
borer, an insect pest that is a member of the Lepidoptera family.
Moths and butterflies, such as the Monarch, are also members of the
Lepidoptera family and Bt-corn strains are thus also toxic to these
The larvae of Monarch butterflies feed exclusively on the leaves of
milkweed plants, which are commonly found in and around cornfields.
Pollen from nearby corn can theoretically be blown onto the leaves of
the milkweed and eaten by the Monarch larvae.
Because there has been a decline in the Monarch populations in recent
years, the GM corn crop was blamed.
Intensive investigations showed that there is no overlap in the
breeding time of the butterfly and the time when pollen is shed by
the corn. In addition, it was found that any Bt effect was restricted
to an area of 5 metres surrounding the cornfields and that this
occurred very rarely.
The Commission deduced that, "These findings indicate that, outside
cornfields, Monarch larvae exposure to Bt-corn pollen is minimal, and
that, within fields, Monarchs will have a low probability of
encountering a toxic level of pollen. The report also suggests that
the elimination of pesticides through the use of Bt-corn can be
beneficial to Monarch butterfly populations, and concludes that there
is not sufficient evidence to support the belief that there is
significant risk to Monarch butterflies from Bt-corn use."
These examples of GM myths, and the actual scientific facts that
disprove the myths, are just a small sample of the many instances in
which the media or the anti-GM lobby have instigated scare stories to
frighten the public and discredit GM foods.
There are many other examples, but if the Royal Commission of New
Zealand were able to conclude that these ideas and stories are myths
and not facts, then it should help the public to view GM food scare
stories in a sensible light.
Biotech - Opportunity to Develop Sustainable Future
- Ellinghuysen, July 22, 2005 http://www.ellinghuysen.com/
The implementation of a system to enable a sustainable platform for
the future should be given high priority in society. This means
developing biotechnology and genomic tools to enable the development
of crops with specific traits that are optimized for biofuels and
bioenergy. So says James McLaren of the StrathKirn Inc. in an article
in the journal TRENDS in Biotechnology.
McLaren said that a combination of specifically designed biomass with
new approaches to bioprocessing might provide the best opportunity to
create this sustainable future. Such biomass may include grains,
tubers, oilseeds and lignocellulosic products.
The author added that biotechnology has a new toolset that can be
used to design and optimize the capture of solar energy through
crops. The better understanding of genome sequences, gene function,
gene expression, protein interactions and metabolic control
mechanisms will enable a sound scientific basis for further
applications of biotechnology tools in renewable primary production
and in bioprocessing.
Read the full paper on "Crop biotechnology provides an opportunity to
develop a sustainable future" in the Vol. 23, No. 7 July 2005 issue
of TRENDS in Biotechnology or email James McLaren at
Australia: Expert Forum Maps Impediments to GM Crops
- Media Release July 22, 2005
The main impediment to the introduction of new GM crops in Australia
will be market acceptance, according to an expert forum that met in
Canberra today. A majority of participants at the forum believe that
research on GM crops should continue.
Over 100 representatives from farmers' organisations, industry,
researchers and government met to discuss the introduction of two
hypothetical, but potentially real, GM crops: rust-resistant wheat
and lucerne that can grow in acid soils.
Organised by the Australian Government agency, Biotechnology
Australia, the forum aimed to map the views of those for and against
the technology and develop models that could be applied for the
introduction of any future GM crops.
According to Mr Craig Cormick, the Manager of Public Awareness for
Biotechnology, "The meeting also sought to improve the quality of
debate between the polarised extremes of attitudes that we see in
relation to GM crops. It was very worthwhile for all players to sit
down and listen to each other's points of view."
The meeting examined five hurdles for the two crops: segregation,
unintended presence, pollen drift, liability and market access, and
listened to speakers arguing for and against each topic. "At the end
of the meeting participants were asked to rate the hurdles, and what
the largest obstacles to commercialisation would be," Mr Cormick said.
For GM wheat participants considered the largest obstacle it had to
face was consumer acceptance, with only 13 per cent of the
participants believing end users would currently accept GM wheat. And
for the GM lucerne, 45 per cent of the participants felt end users
would accept GM lucerne, with the largest obstacle being unintended
Participants at the forum represented most key agricultural players
in Australia, included state farmers federations, the CSIRO, the
Australian Wheat Board, the Network of Concerned Farmers, Australian
Grain Harvesters and several state governments.
A report on the forum will be produced. Participants welcomed the
holding of the forum and called for this type of dialogue to continue
to assist the GM debate in Australia.
Public Sector Biotechnology Research in Africa
- Ross Korves, Truth About Trade and Technology, July 22, 2005
The economic problems of Africa were recently highlighted by the Live
8 concerts and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the G-8 Summit of
world leaders seeking debt relief for Africa. The International Food
Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently released a study on the
efforts of Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe to develop public
sector biotechnology research to improve agricultural output.
Groundwork has been laid for biotechnology use, but the research has
not resulted in crops in the fields of small farmers.
The study, "Putting GM Technologies to Work: Public Research
Pipelines in Selected African Countries," was authored by Dr. Idah
Sithole-Niang, a molecular biology and virology professor at the
University of Zimbabwe and a biochemistry PhD from Michigan State
University, Dr. Joel Cohen, Director of IFPRI's Program for Biosafety
Systems, and Patricia Zambrano, IFPRI Research Analyst. IFPRI's
mission is to provide policy solutions that cut hunger and
The study is a look at two pairs of countries. Egypt and South Africa
have substantial resources for biotechnology research. South Africa
already allows commercial production of privately developed biotech
yellow and white corn, cotton and soybeans. It has seven crops in the
public sector development pipeline. Egypt does not currently have
biotech crops in commercial production, but has worked with private
companies to improve local crops and has eight crops in development.
Zimbabwe and Kenya have much more limited resources, with Zimbabwe
having three crops in development and Kenya two crops. Maize (17%),
potatoes (13%), sugar cane (11%) and tomatoes (11%) are the crops
with the most biotech modifications.
The research is focused on local genetic materials used by
smallholder, resource-poor farmers. For the four countries, 72
percent of the genetic material is local public material, 17 percent
is local and foreign private genetic material, 9 percent is foreign
private and 2 percent is from local public/private partnerships.
African research is targeted on disease and insect resistance. Of the
biotech modifications, 49 percent deal with disease resistance and 20
percent with insect resistance. Drought and salt tolerance are
addressed by 15 percent of the modifications and quality and
nutrition by 9 percent. Only 7 percent of the modifications are for
Despite the research, none of these products have made it to
commercial production. In the four countries combined, 38 research
efforts in the pipeline are in the lab/greenhouse stage and 15 are in
the confined field trial stage. None are in the scale-up or
commercial release stages.
This is where Dr. Cohen and IFPRI's Program for Biosafety Systems is
important. The biosafety program is an international consortium to
enhance regulatory policy and development in Africa and Asia. Cohen
has authored several peer-reviewed papers on regulatory, biosafety
and environmental aspects of genetically modified crops and has
served on biotechnology advisory committees for the Asian Development
Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. IFPRI and
other groups have recognized that research in biotech crops will not
help feed Africa until regulatory structures exist to deal with
safety concerns raised about biotech crops. Implementation of the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety has added to the challenges. Even
relatively advanced countries like Egypt and South Africa have not
yet been able to overcome the regulatory hurdles.
Previous analysis by IFPRI shows the importance of getting this new
technology into the hands of small-scale farmers in Africa. They
account for over 90 percent of Africa's agricultural production and
65 percent of Africans rely on agriculture as their primary source of
income. Agriculture accounts for 30-40 percent of Africa's GDP (gross
domestic product) and nearly 60 percent of its total export earnings.
A 10 percent increase in agricultural productivity is estimated to
result in a 7.2 percent reduction in poverty.
The regulatory challenges remain large. The authors note, ".many
countries have only interim guidelines or regulations in place, most
of which do not allow for commercial approvals. Other countries, with
commercial approval abilities, often lack confidence in their
Kenya and South Africa have some basic estimates of costs to fulfill
safety requirements. A 2002 Kenyan cost estimate for an insect
resistant corn was US$160,000, mostly for the cost of containment
structures. A 2003 South African study put the total cost of
biosafety regulatory compliance for virus resistant potatoes at
US$830,000. Costs should decline over time as more countries complete
regulatory studies and agencies have greater confidence in their
ability to assess concerns.
The authors make some observations on existing policies and
activities that could be copied by other countries. South Africa
requires that research proposals be linked to industrial applications
or development partners so efforts are relevant to end users. Egypt's
public programs are focused and targeted because they have
collaborated with private groups. Countries like Zimbabwe that have a
functional private seed development and delivery system have a method
to move biotechnology crops to the farm level.
The biggest challenge of all may be that the slow moving, or not
moving at all, regulatory systems can reduce the effectiveness of
existing research as disease pressures change and more productive
varieties are released. The products in the pipeline will have fewer
payoffs as each day passes. Paying for biotech research while having
no impact on food production productivity is a luxury that African
countries cannot afford.
GM Plant Produces Non-GM Watermelon
- Wagdy Sawahel, SciDev.Net, July 26, 2005
A combination of genetic modification and traditional plant grafting
techniques can help watermelon crops resist a potent plant virus
without introducing foreign genes into the fruit, say researchers.
The method could be applied to other crops, such as cucumber and
melon, which the virus can also damage.
Instead of genetically modifying an entire watermelon plant, the team
of Korean biotechnologists modified only the 'rootstock', a kind of
underground stem, to which seedlings of commercial watermelon
varieties are grafted. This produced fruit that contained no foreign
genes, avoiding some of the often-controversial issues relating to
genetically modified crops. The findings were published online in
Plant Cell Reports on 15 June.
Seedlings of commercial watermelon species tend to be grafted to
hardier, wild watermelon rootstocks that are better able to resist
infection. But even robust rootstock is vulnerable to a virus found
in soil, called the 'cucumber green mottle mosaic virus'. The virus
causes the plant's leaves to turn yellow and makes the fruit rot.
The researchers say that because genes conferring resistance to the
virus do not exist in nature, traditional plant breeding cannot solve
the problem. To create a resistant plant, they inserted a viral gene
into watermelon rootstock. One in ten of the modified rootstocks were
resistant to infection.
The researchers say that it is unclear how the inserted viral gene
protects the watermelon. One potential mechanism is 'gene silencing',
in which the production of a viral protein in the modified plant
stops it being made in the virus. As a result, the virus cannot
Fernan Lambein, of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology for
Developing Countries in Belgium, told SciDev.Net that the study
supports the use of grafting to grow plants that are susceptible to
this type of infection. Lambein added that although grafting is
time-consuming and requires substantial technical experience,
developing countries such as Brazil, China, Egypt and Mexico must
give the technique more attention if they are to keep their position
in the international watermelon market.
He also said the technique is economical for poor farmers in
developing countries as they do not have to buy chemicals to kill the
virus, an expense that can be as high as US$875 per hectare. In
addition, the technique uses less fertiliser, increases yield and
produces high-quality fruit. Lambein said small-scale farmers who are
unable to graft their own seedlings could use pre-grafted seedlings.
Extreme Agendas Harmful - Environmentalists Have Lost Their Way
- Patrick Moore, The Denver Post, July 24, 2005
In 1986, I broke ranks with Greenpeace after 15 years as a founder
and full-time environmental activist. While I also had personal
reasons, it was on issues of policy that I found it necessary to move
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Greenpeace - and much of the
environmental movement - made a sharp turn to the political left and
began adopting extreme agendas that abandoned science and logic in
favor of emotion and sensationalism. In contrast, I became aware of
the emerging concept of sustainable development - the idea that
environmental, social and economic priorities could be balanced. I
became a convert to the idea that win-win solutions could be found by
bringing all interests together around the same table. I made the
move from confrontation to consensus.
Since then, I have worked to develop an environmental policy platform
based on science, logic and the recognition that more than 6 billion
people need to survive and prosper, every day of the year. Much of
the environmental movement, however, favors political correctness
over factual accuracy, stooping to scare tactics to garner support.
Many campaigns now waged in the name of the environment would result
in increased harm to both the environment and human welfare if they
were to succeed.
So we're faced with environmental policies that ignore science and
result in increased risks to human health and ecology. Among them:
Genetic enhancement: Activists persist in their zero-tolerance
campaign against genetically enhanced varieties of food crops when
there is zero evidence of harm to human health or the environment,
and the benefits are measurable and significant. Genetically enhanced
food crops result in reduced use of chemical pesticides, higher
yield, and reduced soil erosion. Golden rice, genetically modified to
produce vitamin A when consumed, could prevent blindness in 500,000
children per year in Asia and Africa if activists would stop blocking
its introduction. Other varieties of food crops will contain iron,
vitamin E, enhanced protein and better oils. No other technology can
match the potential of genetic enhancement to address the nutritional
deficiencies of billions of people. The opposition campaign seeks to
deny these environmental and nutritional advances by using
"Frankenfood" scare tactics and misinformation campaigns.
Forestry: Anti-forestry activists are telling us to stop cutting
trees and to reduce our use of wood. Deforestation is nearly all
caused by clearing forests for farms and cities. Forestry operations,
on the other hand, are geared toward reforestation and the
maintenance of forest cover. Forests are stable and growing where
people use the most wood, and are diminishing where they use less.
When we use wood, we send a signal to the marketplace to plant more
trees and produce more wood. North Americans use more wood per capita
than any other continent, yet there is about the same forest area in
North America today as there was 100 years ago.
Trees, and the materials they produce, are by far the most abundant,
renewable and biodegradable resource in the world. If we want to
retain healthy forests, we should be growing more trees and using
more wood, not less. This seems lost on activists who use chilling
rhetoric and apocalyptic images to drive us in the wrong direction.
The prognosis: Environmentalism has turned into anti-globalization
and anti-industry. Activists have abandoned science in favor of
sensationalism. Their zero-tolerance, fear-mongering campaigns would
ultimately prevent a cure for Vitamin A deficiency blindness,
increase pesticide use, increase heart disease, deplete wild salmon
stocks, raise the cost and reduce the safety of health care, raise
construction costs, deprive developing nations of clean electricity,
stop renewable wind energy, block a solution to global warming, and
contribute to deforestation.
How sick is that?
PATRICK MOORE is the Co-founder of Greenpeace; chairman and chief
scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada Has the
environmental movement lost its way?
Let Them Eat Canned Tomatoes
- Julie Powell, The New York Times/The International Herald Tribune,
July 23, 2005
Don't get me wrong: I love a big, ugly tomato as much as the next
girl. I buy my fair share of pencil-thin asparagus and micro-greens,
and I'm sure if ever I were to stand in an orchard and taste a peach
picked during one of its two days of succulent perfection, I would
find it one of life's greatest joys.
Perhaps one day I will if I move to California, where life is
apparently just one great organic cornucopia. But even in that
exceedingly unlikely event, I'll remain a bit suspicious of the cult
Through the work of passionate chefs and food advocates like Alice
Waters, our anxieties about Frankenfood and rampant obesity have been
transformed into a positive movement of pleasurable eating, based on
a menu of local, organic foods and a strong support of sustainable
The key principle of the movement is to "treat fine ingredients with
respect." A worthy goal, surely, as is providing healthful food for
children and resistance to genetic engineering, antibiotics and
It seems churlish and wrong-headed to mock this dedication; it's like
sneering at puppies or true love or democracy. And yet, as admirable
as these efforts are, there remains buried in this philosophy two
things that just get my hackles up.
The first and most dangerous aspect is the temptation of economic
elitism. Of course, food has always been about class. In his classic
meditation "The Physiology of Taste," first published in 1825,
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin suggested a series of three
"gastronomical tests," menus designed to expose the culinary
sensitivity or lack thereof of one's dining companions.
These are organized according to economic status: You can expect your
wealthy friends ("Presumed income: 30,000 francs and more") to
salivate at the sight of "a seven-pound fowl, stuffed round as a ball
with Perigord truffles"; while your stevedore buddies will be
perfectly satisfied by good sauerkraut.
This sort of garden-variety condescension is eternal, and relatively
harmless. What makes the snobbery of the organic movement more
insidious is that it equates privilege not only with good taste, but
also with good ethics.
Eat wild Brazil nuts and save the rainforest. Buy more expensive
organic fruit for your children and fight the national epidemic of
childhood obesity. Support a local farmer and give economic power to
responsible stewards of sustainable agriculture. There's nothing
wrong with any of these choices, but they do require time and money.
When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating
penury with immorality. Is the woman who buys her children's food at
the place where they take her food stamps therefore a bad mother?
For the newer generation, a love for traditional fine cuisine is cast
as fussy and snobbish, while spending lots of money is, curiously,
considered egalitarian and wise.
I object to this equation. Shopping is the province of the
privileged; fine cooking is not. Indeed, great cuisine arose from
privation. The techniques of smoking, drying, salting and roasting
were all developed to preserve foods past the "perfect peach" stage,
past the day the vegetable was harvested or the animal butchered, to
save for a time of less bounty. (Not to mention that salted fish and
smoked meats made possible the ocean voyages that, for instance,
introduced Europeans to California.)
Classic French sauces were conceived to ennoble less-than-prime beef.
A burrito is nothing more than a delicious disguise for inelegant
leftovers. With his gastronomic tests, Brillat-Savarin sought to find
others like himself, of whatever economic status, who truly enjoyed
It's easy to do the same today, but the method isn't to assume that
everyone at the lavish Whole Foods Market is wise and everyone at
low-end supermarkets like Western Beef benighted. Instead, look in
their carts. Some shop at Western Beef for nothing more than diet
cola and frozen bagels; some at the Whole Foods for premade sushi and
overdesigned bottles of green tea. These people have much in common.
So, too, do the professorial types poring over the sweet corn and
dewy blueberries at the greenmarket and the Honduran family at the
discount grocery, piling their cart high with rice and dried beans
and canned tomatoes and all the other stuff you need to make
something out of nothing much.
Julie Powell is the author of the forthcoming "Julie and Julia: 365
Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen."