Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : August 16, 2005
* My Favorite Things or What's in the Biotech Pipeline?
* Letter to Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group
* Bt Cotton Study Doesn't Raise Doubts Over Its Effectiveness
* 'Current Science' Paper on the Expression of Bt Gene in Indian Cotton
* GMO Crops Have Proven Safer
* A Food Revolution Beckons, But Few Show Up
* German Ag Biotechnology Liability Law - Need Help
* Gene Differences?
* Australia: Greenpeace Anti-GM Campaign Doomed
* Rome Meeting on 'Improving Plant Production Under Drought Stress'
* No: Much of It Is Risky to Eat and -Gasp- Produced by Big Corporations Anyway
* Please Be Careful - - Europe's Precaution
My Favorite Things or What's in the Biotech Pipeline?
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology,August 12, 2005
"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is
possible he is almost certainly right," said author Arthur C. Clarke
in 1969. "But if he says that it is impossible it is almost certainly
When Clarke wrote those words a generation ago, how many people
thought that in the early years of the 21st century farmers would
routinely plant genetically-enhanced crops? The thought certainly
never entered my mind. Perhaps one of Clarke's fellow science-fiction
novelists predicted it.
Whatever the case, what once seemed impossible isn't merely
possible--it's downright routine. Nothing is more ordinary than
biotech food these days. We eat it every day. Earlier this year, a
farmer somewhere in the world planted humanity's one billionth acre
of biotech crops. In the coming weeks, that acre will be harvested.
Biotechnology has transformed our lives. The transformation will not
only continue but the pace of change will actually quicken. Here are
a few of my favorite potential developments, culled from newspaper
clippings in recent months:
Weeds that detect land mines: As many as 20,000 people are killed or
maimed by land mines each year. Many of these victims are children
who have the misfortune to wander across unmarked fields. Clearing
these hazards is a moral imperative, as well as an economic
necessity--a lot of farmland is now abandoned because of land mines.
Getting rid of them is slow, expensive, and dangerous. But now Danish
scientists have produced a genetically modified version of
thale-cress, a small flowering weed. Their version turns red when it
encounters nitrogen oxide, a gas commonly found in explosives. If it
proves effective, farmers and others could spread the seed in a
suspect field and wait a few weeks to see what happens. "The
symbolism couldn't be more lovely," commented the New York Times,
"the brutality of land mines quelled by a humble flower."
The soybean club for men: Japanese researchers say they've designed a
soybean that fights hair loss. First, they discovered a substance
found in an amino acid compound that occurs naturally in egg whites.
Then they figured out a way to produce it in soybeans. Finally, they
shaved a bunch of mice. Those that consumed their concoction grew
back their hair at a noticeably faster rate. "If we can confirm the
safety of the soybean, we may be able to promote hair growth or stop
hair loss just by eating them," said a scientist at Kyoto University.
Healthy tobacco: Perhaps smoking won't ever be healthy--but
biotechnology may make it less deadly. An American company, U.S.
Smokeless Tobacco, says that it has discovered a tobacco gene that
carries the code for an important nicotine-related enzyme. If
scientists learn how to suppress this enzyme through biotechnology,
they may eliminate one of tobacco's carcinogenic properties.
Plants vs. pollution: In Connecticut, genetically modified cottonwood
trees extract mercury from the ground of a former factory site. In
California, genetically altered mustard plants suck selenium from the
soil in places where irrigation has left large and potentially
poisonous deposits. At Purdue University, scientists are breeding
trees that retain more carbon--a characteristic that might prove
effective in combating global warming.
Medical milk: A group in New Zealand wants to create a genetically
enhanced dairy herd that produces milk containing a special protein
that stimulates the immune system and fights disease. It occurs
naturally in mother's milk, but through biotechnology it may be able
to find a place in the ordinary gallons we keep in our refrigerators.
Vaccines: One of the great growth areas for plant biotechnology is in
producing vaccines to treat and ultimately fight terrible diseases.
People are already talking about pharmaceutical farming, also known
as "pharming." In Arizona, researchers say they've developed a potato
that combats hepatitis. Scientists elsewhere hope they can use tomato
plants to produce a vaccine against the virus causing SARS.
I'm tempted to say that I'd be happy if just one or two of these
concepts becomes a reality. But perhaps that's too conservative. As
Arthur C. Clarke might say, never bet against the impossible.
Letter Sent to Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group
- Dr Roger Kalla, Korn Technologies, Australia
Dear Silvia: I read the response from the ETC group on the vanishing
GM maize contamination reported by Mexican and US researchers in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA) .
I for one agree with the conclusion by the authors and supported by
you that a negative result is not conclusive and certainly doesn't
prove that all of Mexico or the States of Oaxaca or Puebla are 100 %
However, likewise the initial positive results by the Mexican
scientists and Chapel and Quist should be treated by a healthy degree
of caution due to the technical difficulties in measuring close to
zero presence of GM accidental presence.
Essentially my argument that I has put forth due to the furore here
in Australia created by GM canola 'contamination' and the 'GM free'
stance taken by our State Governments to protect our exports is that
zero tolerance towards any non -toxic ingredient accidentally present
in food feed or seed doesn't make scientific or economic sense.
To take testing of GM 'contamination' of non-GM canola and Maize to
the same levels of refinement and sensitivity as when these
technologies are used in providing forensic DNA evidence in criminal
court cases is a massive waste of resources.
I would like to extend the call I have made in relation to the 'GM
free' stance taken by Australian State Governments to the State
Governments of Oaxaca and Puebla in Mexico. There is little to gain
to turn the local maize cultivation and marketing into a Crime Scene
Investigation requiring expensive DNA testing methodology to detect
inconsequential trace leveles of accidental presence of GM.
There are no dead bodies, no victims, no economic losses neither here
in Victoria nor in Oaxaca.
We don't need repeat episodes of CSI : Melbourne or CSI: Oaxaca all
over the world. What we need are threshold levels for seed purity
that makes economic and scientific sense.
The major seed purity certifying organisation in Australia, the
Australian Seeds Federation, accepts 0.5 % accidental presence of
allowed GM Canola in certified non-GM seed.
I trust that the ETC group is aware of the EU regulations that allow
for 0.9% accidental presence of GM in non-GM. The motivation for this
threshold I find particularly relevant to the calls for zero
tolerance to allowed GMOs.
'Accidental presence is largely unavoidable and can occur during
cultivation of the crops, their handling, storage, transport and
processing. Such trace levels of unintended materials in a food
product is not a problem unique to GMOs. In the production of food,
feed and seed, it is practically impossible to achieve products that
are 100% pure'.
(EU Regulation 1829/2003 on GM food & feed; and 1830/2003 on the
Traceability and Labelling of GM food & feed)
Unrealistic demands of 100% purity is not possible to police using
todays technologies without destroying the whole maize crop in Oaxaca
and Puebla in the process of screening every seed of every maize cob.
In the place of a largely discredited policy of zero tolerance to
accidental presence of GM we are left with determining what are
threshold levels for purity that make scientific, economic and
I trust the citizens of Puebla and Oaxaca like Australian farmers and
consumers are great pragmatists. Most of all food needs to be
affordable, healthy and nutritious.
Would be interested in your informed opinion on these issues,
- Regards, Dr Roger Kalla, Director, Korn Technologies, Australia
(Note from Prakash: Roger has not heard back yet from the ETC group)
> Industry exploits new study on GM contamination in Mexico
> - ETC Group August 11, 2005 www.etcgroup.org
> The Genetic Shell Game, or, Now you see it! Now you don't! Industry
>exploits new study on transgenic maize in Mexico Biotech proponents
>are using a new scientific study - which finds no evidence of DNA
>contamination from genetically modified (GM) maize in one area of
>one Mexican state (Oaxaca) - to claim that Mexico's native maize was
>never threatened, and even if it was at one time, the issue has now
>miraculously evaporated. One representative of agribusiness in
>Mexico, eagerly concluded that, "this study paves the way for the
>commercial pl anting of GM maize in Mexico."
Bt Cotton Study Doesn't Raise Doubts Over Its Effectiveness
- Hindu Business Line, August 12, 2005 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/
NEW DELHI - Entomologist, Mr Keshav Kranthi at the Central Cotton
Research Institute (CCRI) in Nagpur has said that - contrary to
reports - his study on Bt cotton "has not raised any doubts about the
Bt toxins ability to kill bollworm."
A research paper by Mr Kranthi and his colleagues in the July 25
issue of 'Current Science' had triggered a controversy over Bt
cotton. His finding that the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin in
genetically engineered cotton is unable to kill the bollworm 110 days
after sowing was interpreted by the media to mean that Bt cotton is
A non-governmental organization in Delhi had threatened legal action
on the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) for permitting
the cultivation of Bt cotton ignoring detrimental data from the
Government's own institute.
According to Mr Kranthi the interpretation of the findings of his
study was unfortunate. "The strength of the technology outweighs the
minor lacunae pointed out in the paper," Mr Kranthi said. He said
that blaming GEAC was also unjust as "the data were not available
before the commercial releases were authorised by the GEAC."
Mr Kranthi said that he did not think that even if the results had
been available to GEAC, its decision would have been any different
because the technology is inherently capable of reducing pesticide
use and thereby increase yield.
Keshav Kranti's 'Current Science' Paper on the Expression of CryA1C
Gene in Commercialized Indian Bt Cotton
- Shanthu Shantharam, Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD.
Comments of Keshav Kranti, the lead author of the Current Science
paper (July 25, 2005) in the August 12, 2005 Hindu Business Line
(above) seems most appropriate and logical and should put to rest
some of the furor caused by misinterpretation the paper's data out of
context. Hindu Business Line, perhaps, is the first newspaper to
contact the author who understands a thing or two about the topic for
his views and comments on the contents of the paper. Almost all
bylines on the topic in the print media on the topic never bothered
to contact either the authors or any other knowledgeable scientist to
gather informed views and opinions on the Kranti's paper.
As Kranti himself says, it is unfortunate that his paper has been
misconstrued and is being interpreted to score anti-GM political
points. Anyone remotely versed with published literature on the
molecular biology of gene expression and regulation would know that
all genes express varyingly depending on the organs, tissues, cells
and other environmental conditions. Almost all published and
unpublished literature on the expression of Bt genes show certain
degree of variation and will not offer 100% protection against the
target pest. There must be reams of data with the purveyors of the
technology showing differential expression of Bt gene. I have seen
thousands of such data sets when I was a regulator over a decade at
What Bt plants are expected to do is to confer a significant degree
of protection (70 to 80 per cent) thereby cutting down on the
application of pesticides by more than 50% on an average, and
specifically the bollworm pesticide. That in itself provides
significant benefit to the growers and to the environment. Cry A1c
gene is specific to cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa) and has no effect
on pink bollworm and other secondary pests of cotton. Growers must
spray for other non-target pests. Pink bollworm usually starts after
100 days of plant growth. The track record of Bt cotton's performance
around the world and its durability without any evidence of field
based resistance to bollworm since its commercial debut in mid 90s is
the proof of it. The rampant growth of illegal and legal Bt cotton in
India speaks volumes about its desirability by farmers.
Kranti's paper's basic conclusions that Cry A1c gene varies several
fold in different parts of the plant body and that it declines after
110 days due to senescence (aging) was and is well known. It just
confirms what was well established. Such information was known to all
regulators in all countries where Bt cotton has been commercialized.
Kranti's paper must be read, not in isolation, but in the context of
overall protection against bollworm conferred by Bt cotton under
diverse growing conditions. There is no correlation that expressions
of Bt cotton guarantees 100% kill of the target pest under field
conditions. Bt cotton approvals for commercialization is based on
overall efficacy data under a variety of field conditions which is
why ICAR conducts coordinated field tests of GM crops under a variety
of agro-climatic conditions and gathers data about its overall
performance before granting approval. No newly introduced variety GM
or non-GM intended for whatever purpose is known to perform uniformly
all the time in all sorts of farmer's field conditions throughout the
All the same, there are some methodological defects in Kranti's paper
where in his results solely depend on immunological detection kits
that are based on polyclonal anti-sera as opposed to purified IgG
antibody, expressing Bt toxin protein on a fresh weight basis as
opposed to total protein fraction, and not discounting for the trauma
caused but tissue injury during the excision of plant parts during
the destructive assay. Moreover, use of polyclonal antibody detection
kits in quantitative assay is not reliable. Detection kits are
designed primarily for quick and dirty detection under field
conditions when large number of samples is involved, but more
rigorous and reliable confirmatory tests must be applied to pin down
the quantitative data. His experiments must be repeated with more
rigorous experimental protocols by couple of other labs to confirm
his findings. More than likely, his major conclusions about the
variance of gene expression will bear true.
It is alleged that Kranti's data was available to GEAC which they
ignored or hid while granting approvals for Bt cotton, but Kranti
himself says that was not the case and even if GAEC had the data, it
could not have been used to make decision. It is also alleged that
Kranti's data is supposed to be government's own data which GEAC has
ignored just because Kranti is employed by ICAR. But, Bambawale et al
(also government scientists) publication in the same Current Science
in June 2004 showed superior performance of MECH varieties of Bt
cotton. It must be emphasized that both the papers must not be read
in isolation, but proper perspective of overall efficacy of the crop
in question. Commercial acreage keeps on increasing along with a
flourishing illegal Bt cotton industry that conclusively vindicates
this technology. Growers are the best judges, and the moment they
realize that there is no use of this Bt crop, they will drop it like
a hot potato and no one can stop them.
Any attempt to use Kranti's paper to reverse previous approvals or
deny future approvals must be resisted as there is no scientific
basis. Also, Kranti's experimental data bears no relation to any
alleged failures of Bt cotton under field conditions reported from
all sorts of nefarious sources in India.
GMO Crops Have Proven Safer
- Daily Express News (East Malaysia), August, 13 2005
Kota Kinabalu -- Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are "safer if
not more safer", said speakers at the seminar on "Current Issues on
Genetically Modified Organisms", here, Thursday.
This is in contrast to the view of leaders of Consumers Union
International who insisted at the Codex meeting on GMO labelling here
last May that they were not against genetic engineering per se but in
face of many unknowns, the precautionary principle was their best
"These (GMO) crops have proved time and again are safer than
conventional crops," asserted Dr Sujatha Sankula, Director of
Biotechnology Research, National centre for Food and Agriculture
Policy, Washington DC, US. "We have shown these benefits are real,
in terms of improvement in production and reduction in pesticide use,
and is good for the environment," she said.
Asked which GMO crops are "safer than conventional crops" as asserted
by her, she said: "Pretty much all the crops in the market." On the
other hand, Consumers Union International officials had argued that
since GMO food producers claim their products are safe, they should
not be afraid of mandatory labelling which would give international
consumers the informed choice whether to buy or not to buy GMO foods.
Lawyers representing the Argentinian delegation at the Codex meeting
said they objected mandatory labelling because currently there are no
proper internationally validated standards that could accurately
assess GMO food safety or risks. Argentina, US, Australia, Thailand,
Philippines, Paraguay, etc, were among a minority which voted against
mandatory labelling, out of more than 50 countries at the meeting.
But the second reason cited by Consumers Union for mandatory
labelling was to make sure GMO food producers are accountable in the
event their products prove to give health problems many years down
the road, in light of the Trypophan case in the US.
Prof. Dr Bruce Chassy said ever since the allergenecity controversy
surrounding the Brazil nut cast adverse publicity for GMO, the
industry had decided they would not commercialise any GMO products
that are proven to be allergens and secondly, never to use animal
genes in crops. "I think the scientific community has worked very
hard to find applications of technology that are safe and beneficial.
Governments around the world have actually acted quite responsibly
looking at these products before they could be allowed to be put on
the market place and I think this is something consumers have the
most to benefit from and the least to fear," Prof. Chassy opined.
On safety fears of GMO, he asked: "Who planted those fears?" "What
the literature said and what actual studies in the field had shown
the reality in the last 10 to 20 years. And there is a bunch of
people travelling and spending millions to plant fears but what we
ask is where's their evidence, how can they support what they are
saying. It's time for the consumers to really think about the quality
of the information," Chassy argued.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's approach to the GMO issue is guided by Prime
Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's thinking on the matter,
said K. Nagulendran, Principal Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of
Natural Resource and Environment. Speaking at the seminar,
Nagulendran quoted Abdullah as saying: "While Malaysia is aware
biotechnology holds much promise, we are also concerned biotechnology
should not pose any threat to the environment, human health and
He said the Malaysia Bio-safety Bill passed by the Cabinet pending
passage in Parliament must be seen in that light. The Bill
simplifies entry of GMO for research and development purposes but
anyone who brings in GMO into the country needs approval while GMO
for field trials needs to meet strict regulations.
The idea is to complement and not impede the country's biotechnology
agenda, especially not to rush into it before Malaysia has the
capability of managing the GMO dynamics which are expected to change
rapidly over the next 10 years. "We are open to GMO, but if we are
going full steam to biotechnology, we have to ensure the safety of
our products," Nagulendran explained. "But so far, Malaysia has no
commercialised genetically modified crops in the field," he said.
Dr Michael Wong, a molecular scientist at Universiti Malaysia Sabah,
said since GMO crops look no different from conventional crops, they
cannot be detected by sight except through molecular techniques.
Studies had shown GMO food exists in the Klang Valley but no studies
had been done to detect such products in Sabah.
Meanwhile, UMS is in the process of putting in place a "Transgenic
Plant Containment" research facility, probably within three years,
said Prof. Dr Datin Ann Anton, Head of the Biotechnology Institute,
UMS. "We'll follow very strict procedures. There are building
guidelines and we will abide by all rules and regulations set by
GEMAC, such as mesh size so that pollens won't escape," she said.
"Sabah can create a lot of wealth if we can harness all the natural
resources we have," she said.
Research materials are likely to include wild native orchids. "We'll
try to look at improving colours, flower size," she said. But to
turn its biodiversity into a source of wealth, Anton said the State
must not lump biotechnology and biodiversity conservation under the
same roof, that is, the Sabah Biodiversity Council.
"Biotechnology and biodiversity are entirely different and,
therefore, it shouldn't be one body for both. I would like to see a
separate body, one for conservation, one for money making," she said.
What Sabah needs now is to create a conducive environment to
encourage the creation of biotech entrepreneurs, she said.
A Food Revolution Beckons, But Few Show Up
- Peter N. Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor August 15, 2005
It's the kind of breakthrough scientists often dream about. They have
unraveled the complete genetic blueprint for rice - the staple for
more than half of the world's population. The development - a key to
future genetic blueprints for other cereals and grains - should make
it far easier to engineer better, more nutritious crops that could
trigger a second "green revolution," whose predecessor - using more
traditional farming and breeding approaches - is said to be running
out of gas.
There's just one problem. It's not clear the world is ready for
another food revolution if it involves splicing foreign genes into
crops. "The initial expectation that this technology would be rapidly
adopted turned out to be a bit optimistic," says Michael Rodemeyer,
executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
"We're in a stall in the development of new GM foods."
To be sure, farmers are producing more bioengineered crops every
year. Farmers have found many of these genetically modified crops
quite useful. GM soybeans are cheaper to grow; GM papaya has saved
Hawaiian growers from a virus that had made their traditional crop
unmarketable. But these remain first-generation GM varieties with
only indirect consumer benefits. The next generation - offering
consumers better-tasting, more nutritious, or longer-lasting food -
is taking longer than the industry's optimists expected, Mr.
Outside the United States, public reluctance and activist campaigns
citing everything from environmental concerns to the extensive clout
of multinational corporations have slowed the introduction of GM
crops. This resistance led Monsanto last year to shelve the first
commercially available genetically engineered wheat. US wheat growers
worried that GM-wary global customers would buy elsewhere.
Within the US, where farmers plant more than 167 million acres of GM
crops, public unease has been less evident. But some analysts expect
that to change as companies genetically engineer crops to make them
more nutritious or harness crops to produce compounds for drugs.
Second-generation GM crops also pose a tougher scientific challenge
than the first-generation did. The traits researchers want to enhance
are likely to involve several genes and complex interactions between
the plant and its environment.
In this political and scientific environment, rice is poised to
become the latest "crop célèbre" in the ongoing debate over
conventional and genetic-engineering approaches to feeding the world.
The new rice genome, pulled together by researchers worldwide under
the umbrella of the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, was
completed three years ahead of schedule. Researchers say much of the
credit for the speed goes to Monsanto for making available the rice
data it had. Scientists picked rice as the first cereal crop to
sequence because of its genome's relative simplicity. Other, more
complex cereals share rice's genes, often in the same positions in
long DNA assemblies known as chromosomes. Thus, rice has the
potential to become a Rosetta stone for reading other key cereal
"That's one of the exciting aspects" about having the rice genome in
hand, says Sally Leong, a research chemist with the US Department of
Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service lab in Madison, Wis. And
the international nature of the project has helped build capabilities
within some key developing countries.
Now comes the tricky part, scientifically associating the genes or
gene combinations with specific plant traits and processes. As that
information becomes available, traditional breeders can use it to
identify useful genes and then trace their movement through several
generations. By using seedlings alone, researchers speed up
traditional breeding. Rice genetically engineered by inserting
foreign genes, however, may face a tougher challenge.
Several charitable foundations and international research institutes
are working to enhance the level of "micro- nutrients" - trace
minerals such as zinc and iron - as well as vitamin A in rice. The
enhanced rice could help in the fight against malnutrition.
Yet golden rice so far has languished, partly because of
environmental concerns. Some of the countries that could most benefit
have imposed regulatory barriers that are too costly for the public
project, says Jorge Mayer, golden-rice project manager at the
University of Freiburg, Germany.
In the US, meanwhile, a California biotech company proposing to grow
GM rice on a 200-acre plot in Missouri was sent packing in April. The
rice had been modified to produce two synthetic human proteins for
pharmaceuticals. Anheuser-Busch, worried about contamination of
conventional rice, threatened to boycott all Missouri-grown rice used
in its brewing activities if the project was approved.
In the quest to ease global malnutrition, too much emphasis is being
placed on genetic engineering without a sufficient look at the risks
and alternatives, says Doreen Stabinsky, a geneticist by training who
serves as a science adviser to Greenpeace. "We need a realistic
assessment of what the technology can and can't do."
German Agricultural Biotechnology Liability Law - Need Help
- Prof. Drew Kershen, University of Oklahoma College of Law
I am looking for any English-language commentaries (governmental
reports, scoping papers by NGOs or Industry, law review articles)
that focus on the German agricultural biotechnology liability law
that was passed in late 2004.
I would appreciate a response to me personally with the document(s)
as an e-mail attachment or the URL where I can find the document(s)
myself. Thank you to anyone who can be of assistance to me
- Bob MacGregor
I recall reading somewhere that there is a significant difference in
the number of genes from one soybean variety to another. This got me
wondering to what degree this was true of other species. Obviously,
there is a lot of allelic difference, but, for example, what is the
range of variability in number of genes in humans (eg, 29,873 to
30,212)? I realize the genome has not likely been researched enough
to give this kind of detailed, exact answer, but we should at least
know by now if some people have genes that others do not.
One of the reasons this interests me is that opponents of genetic
engineering seem to be very absolutist about the sanctity of intact
genomes.They treat species in a very theological way (if I may use
that term) as though any given species has always existed and is
uniform in its basic characteristics. To them, adding one gene
violates the basic character of that whole species... However, if
numerous genes can be show to be absent from some individuals that
are clearly present in others, this undermines that absolutist
(remember "purity of essence" in Dr. Stranglove?) viewpoint.
Anyway, I'd be happy to hear from readers who might be able to
enlighten me on the issue of intra-specific differences in numbers of
Australia: Greenpeace Anti-GM Campaign Doomed
- Dr Jennifer Marohasy, The National Forum, August 14, 2005; Via Agnet
Greenpeace campaigning has, according to this story, resulted in bans
on the commercial planting of new genetically modified (GM) canola
varieties by Australian farmers. So all Australian-produced canola
should be GM-free. Last month, however, Bayer Crop Sciences confirmed
that minuscule, but detectable quantities, of GM material were
present in Victorian canola ready for export to Japan. A few weeks
later Western Australian canola was found to be also contaminated
with GM material.
It is unclear how the Australian canola became contaminated. Bayer
has field trials of GM canola in Victoria. However, the contaminant,
Topas 19/2, is not in the GM canola currently grown in the Bayer
trials. A more likely source is one of the many current conventional
canola breeding programs that exchange germplasm with overseas
companies. It is possible through this exchange that the Topas 19/2
was accidentally introduced.
Topas 19/2 includes a gene from a soil bacteria that confers
herbicide resistance. The same gene, known as the pat gene, has been
used as a marker in a wide range of research in a variety of crops
around the world.
Greenpeace campaigner Jeremy Tager, however, claimed, "this is the
most serious genetic contamination event that Australia has ever
faced ... and the response from state governments in the coming days
will determine their commitment to upholding Australia's GE free
status". (GE is the Greenpeace acronym for 'genetically engineered'
another name for GM.)
What is so serious? There are no human health risks and no serious
environmental risks. At risk is the GM free status of our cano la
exports. But it is unclear what benefits the GM free status actually
confers. Australian farmers are competing in international markets
against Canadian producers growing superior yielding GM varieties. A
Melbourne University study (pdf file 109KB) has indicated that if
Australian farmers were able to grow GM canola they would reduce
costs, increase productivity and be using an environmentally safer
At most risk is the Greenpeace campaign to keep Australia GM free.
But this campaign was doomed fr om the start. While food icon
Margaret Fulton repeated the "keep Australia GE free" theme at the
launch of the Greenpeace "True Food" campaign in 2003 supermarket
shelves were already stocking (pdf file 54KB) GM.
The Greenpeace "True Food: website confirms our GE status: Currently
in Australia, the GE ingredients in our food are derived from four
main crops: imported canola, corn (or maize), and soy, local and
imported cottonseed products.
Last Sunday Craig Cormick from Biotechnology Australia speaking on
ABC radio made the following comment about GM in our supermarkets:
According to the supermarket chains, although they are often on the
receiving end of anti-GM campaigns about their foods, there has been
little to no diminution in sales of those foods that are labelled as
containing GM ingredients.
Could this be put down to consumers simply not being able to find the
fact that the food has a GM ingredient on the label? Perhaps. But at
the deli counter in Woolworths, all across Australia, there are
usually two or three types of sliced chicken loaf that is clearly
labelled "contains genetically modified soy" on a plastic label,
standing up by the meat. It is clear and prominent, and I make it a
habit of always asking the person in the deli, wherever I travel,
whether anybody comments or complains abount the GM ingredients.
Invariably I'm met with a blank look and the response that nobody
seems fussed about it.
I checked Cormick's claim by visiting my local Woollies. The deli
does stock chicken loaf, but there was no GM soy written on a plastic
label. So I asked if I could have some chicken loaf with GM soy. On
hearing my request the young man behind the counter immediately
called the store manager. She arrived with a large red folder.
"What do you want to know about chicken loaf?" she asked.
I said I wanted to buy some chicken loaf that contained GM soy. She
found chicken loaf in the folder. "There is no GM soy in our chicken
loaf," she said. "Do your donuts contain GM?" I asked.
The store manager rummaged through the folder again. While reading
from a page of small print she announced with some pride, "Yes,
genetically modified soy is a listed ingredient of the donuts that
come in the six-packs with icing sugar". "Do you get many requests
for GM products?" I asked "No," she replied, "What is it?"
"How long have you been managing this store?" I asked. "Three
months," she replied, again with some pride.
I reckon, that if Greenpeace can't get a Wool lies store manager
interested in their campaign, they have more or less lost it. Then
again Greenpeace could never honestly claim to have been running a
"Keep Australia GE free" campaign because there has been GM product
on the supermarket shelves for longer than the campaign has been
Greenpeace campaigning has, however, successfully and significantly
reduced the competitiveness of Australian canola growers. Indeed GM
crops offer the only real solution to continued high agricultural
productivity and cost competitive food and fibre production. The
ideological opposition to the commercial production of GM food crops
is extremely damaging to our farm sector.
I can buy donuts made from GM soy at my local supermarket and I can
be sure that the soy is imported - that I am not buying
It really is time for Greenpeace to move on and accept the
opportunities presented by the new GM technology - accept that their
campaign is doomed.
I would join Greenpeace in a campaign for a new Australian GM beer. A
large Australian brewer already has the technology to produce a
special low calorie GM beer. If I could drink diet beer, I might feel
less guilty eating the six donuts.
Dr Jennifer Marohasy is Director of the Environment Unit at the
Institute of Public Affairs. You can read her blog at
Integrated Approaches to Sustain and Improve Plant Production Under
- Rome, Italy, September 24-28, 2005 http://www.plantstress.com/id2/
Despite the importance of drought as a major constraint in food
production world-wide, there has, surprisingly, been no other major
and dedicated international symposium since that first INTERDROUGHT
meeting which has brought together such a wide range of world class
expertise to identify practical avenues for improving crop
performance under drought-prone conditions.
The objective of INTERDROUGHT-II is to serve as a platform for
presenting and debating key issues and strategies relevant for
increasing the yield and stability of crops under drought conditions
by genetic and crop management approaches. Great advances were made
in recent years in understanding the molecular basis of plant
response and plant tolerance to drought stress. Hundreds of drought
responsive genes were identified and the function of some has been
resolved at the cellular level. However, there is a huge gap between
the molecular level science and the interpretation and application of
this knowledge at the whole plant level in the field.
This meeting is especially concerned with the poorer developing
countries that confront an increasing problem of food production with
less water and under drought-prone conditions. This meeting will
strive to address such problems with an appropriate participation of
experts and students from such countries.
The US National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., has provided
limited funding for US junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows and
students to attend Interdrought-II. Applicants must be US citizens or
permanent residents to be eligible. Write today to Dr. Hans Bohnert
No: Much of It Is Risky to Eat and -- Gasp -- Produced by Big
- Alan Mchughen August 15, 2005 Duluth News-Tribune (Minnesota)
BODY: Many organic supporters are willing to pay exorbitant costs for
organic foods. They claim that organic food is worth sometimes double
the regular price because it is, among other things: "Natural," grown
without pesticides or antibiotics; Better tasting, fresher;
Nutritionally superior, and Grown in an environmentally sustainable
But is there scientific proof from independent,
nonorganic-food-industry-funded studies to support these claims?
Let's investigate some of the popular organic folklore.
Most organic crop varieties are no more "natural" than conventional
crop varieties. They are bred using many of the same mechanisms of
genetic breeding that produce conventional crops, including ionizing
radiation to mutate and alter the DNA.
Organic supporters draw a fundamental distinction between manmade and
"natural" chemicals. But Mother Nature doesn't. University of
California scientist Bruce Ames says "99.99 percent" of consumed
chemical pesticides occur naturally in all foods. So consumers of
organic food still are getting a full dose of toxic pesticides
provided by Mother Nature herself.
Although the organic industry likes to equate organic with
sustainable agriculture, many organic methods are, in fact,
environmentally harmful. For example, weeds in organic crops are
controlled mainly using tillage, which depletes more energy, uses
more water, and causes soil erosion compared to modern weed control
Organic agriculture also uses much more land to produce any given
amount of food -- hardly a sustainable practice with increasing
populations and diminishing farmland.
But don't take my word for it. The next time you hear the claim that
organic food is invariably superior, demand scientific proof from
independent studies, not funded from the organic industry, and
published in real scientific journals. Then decide whether it's
really worth paying extra.
Organic started as a "family farm" alternative to corporate
agriculture, providing quality fresh, locally grown produce. But now
much of the organic industry is itself corporately owned, and much
organic food is shipped from overseas.
The romantic dream of better, organically grown food coming
exclusively from a local family farm is just that -- a dream, an
Alan Mchughen is a biotechnology specialist and geneticist at the
University of California at Riverside.
Please Be Careful
- Gary E. Marchant And Kenneth L. Mossman, Legal Times, August 15, 2005
'The spread of Europe's precautionary principle could wreak havoc on
economies, public health, and plain old common sense'
Killer cranberry juice? Toxic corn flakes? Hazardous energy drinks?
Only under a loose concept known as the precautionary principle,
which has swept across Europe.
This precautionary principle gives regulators broad authority to err
on the side of safety and puts the burden of proof on the proponents
of a technology to prove its safety. The European Union officially
adopted the precautionary principle in 1992 as a binding legal
requirement for all health, safety, and environmental regulatory
decisions. Most recently, the French Parliament in February
incorporated it into the French national constitution.
The concept of the precautionary principle may sound relatively
innocuous. Who can argue against being safe rather than sorry? But
the idea is flawed in theory and practice, and the enshrinement of
the precautionary principle sets Europe down a path that will wreak
havoc on the economy and public health of not only itself but also
its trading partners.
For example, the European Union and its member nations for the past
six years relied on the precautionary principle to justify a de facto
moratorium on the approval of any new genetically modified foods -- a
moratorium that has only recently, slowly, and grudgingly begun to be
relaxed. Even though its own scientific advisers had found that
genetically modified foods have no known risks and are probably safer
than conventional foods, the European Union prohibited genetically
modified foods based on the precautionary principle.
The U.S. government says that this EU ban costs the United States
$300 million per year in lost food exports, and it has filed a legal
action against the moratorium under international trade laws. The
World Trade Organization is expected to issue an initial ruling by
the end of this year.
FLAWED BY DEFINITION
More generally, the precautionary principle suffers from at least
three major intellectual flaws.
First, there are dozens of formulations of the principle promulgated
by regulators, courts, academics, and nongovernmental organizations
in the European Union and elsewhere. These formulations differ in
important details, such as whether and how costs should be
considered, whether all risks or only "serious and irreversible"
risks raise concerns, and what steps a product manufacturer must
undertake to satisfy the principle. There is no single or official
version of the precautionary principle.
Yet the European Union purports to apply "the" precautionary
principle. The Treaty of the European Union, as amended in 1992,
states simply that "community policy on the environment . . . shall
be based on the precautionary principle." The ambiguity resulting
from this failure to specify which version of the principle is to be
applied opens the door to its arbitrary application.
Second, most versions of the precautionary principle fail to give
adequate weight to scientific evidence or consideration of costs and
trade-offs. Some precaution is prudent and indeed essential for all
environmental, health, and safety regulation. But too much
precaution, especially if it ignores the financial costs, opportunity
costs, and risk trade-offs of excessive regulation, can result in
unreasonable decisions that do more harm than good.
Finally, the precautionary principle provides no limits on the
application of precaution, in that it provides no risk targets or
safe harbors that could exempt a product from further precautionary
action. As such, the principle could theoretically be applied to
prohibit any or every product or activity, since it is impossible to
prove zero risk for anything. Yet, obviously, the precautionary
principle will not be invoked to ban every product.
So it ends up being applied in an unprincipled and arbitrary manner.
In some cases, economic protectionism seems to be the deciding
factor; in others, officials appear to be bowing to irrational public
ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS
The precautionary principle has already unleashed a wave of absurd
and arbitrary risk decisions since the European Union adopted it in
We recently analyzed more than 60 decisions by EU courts in the
1995-2004 period, in which the precautionary principle was cited.
(The results are explained more fully in our 2004 book, Arbitrary and
Capricious: The Precautionary Principle in the European Courts.) We
found that despite using the precautionary principle to decide
several important cases, the EU courts failed to define or articulate
the specific requirements or meaning of this principle. They simply
invoked it as a wild card that justified whatever decision they
wanted to make.
In some cases the courts acted quite sensibly to overturn regulatory
decisions by individual nations where the precautionary principle
lacked any scientific justification. For example, Denmark relied on
the precautionary principle to ban cranberry-juice drinks because the
added vitamin C could potentially be harmful to some unusually
susceptible individuals. The EU Court of First Instance initially
upheld this ban, writing that "a plausible public-health risk is
enough, according to the precautionary principle." But the appellate
European Court of Justice overturned the ban in 2003, holding that,
notwithstanding the precautionary principle, an EU member nation that
seeks to ban a product must demonstrate a "real risk" that is
"sufficiently established on the basis of the latest scientific data."
Similarly, an EU court in 2001 overturned a decision by Norway to ban
corn flakes fortified with several essential vitamins -- a ban that
the Norwegian government had justified under the precautionary
principle because "the fortification in question might be a health
hazard when eaten in uncontrollable and unforeseen amounts." Yet
another court decision in 2004 overturned a regulation by France
banning caffeinated energy drinks because the caffeine could
potentially harm pregnant women. The courts concluded that these
regulations based on the precautionary principle were unjustified
departures from reasoned decision-making that lacked any credible
NO FAIR NOTICE
Certainly the EU courts have not always seen through weak
precautionary principle arguments, choosing instead to join
regulatory agencies in applying the principle in unreasonable ways.
For example, the Court of First Instance in 2002 used the
precautionary principle to uphold the EU ban on using virginiamycin
-- an antibiotic widely sold by Pfizer -- in animal feed even though
the product had been used for 40 years without showing any signs of
danger. The court's opinion started reasonably, stating that even
under the precautionary principle, the European Union's proposed feed
ban must be based on "as thorough a scientific risk assessment as
possible" to ensure that regulations are "founded on objective and
sound scientific findings." But the court then found that the ban was
justified by a risk assessment made by a scientific advisory
committee, even though that committee had "firmly" concluded that
there would be no risk from the continued use of virginiamycin while
further studies on the safety of the antibiotic were completed.
The court held that under the precautionary principle, the European
Union was justified in departing from the expert scientific opinion
"on the ground that it was in the interests of human health
protection." The perplexing outcome of this case: While EU
regulations require a valid, scientific risk assessment, the European
Union can adopt a regulation directly contrary to the conclusions of
that assessment by invoking the precautionary principle.
In another case, the European Court of Justice in 2000 held a company
criminally liable for producing a hazardous waste that did not even
meet the European Union's own regulatory criteria for a hazardous
waste. Although the applicable EU rules explicitly stated that a
company could be held liable only for hazardous wastes that met the
regulatory criteria, the court decided that the precautionary
principle justified ignoring statutory construction, due process, and
fair-notice concerns. The court's decision upheld the opinion of its
advocate general, who argued that "determining in advance and in a
limitative manner the circumstances requiring the intervention of
public authorities to avert a specific risk to the environment" would
be contrary to the precautionary principle.
In still other cases, EU courts dismissed the precautionary principle
as an insignificant and irrelevant provision that added nothing to
the pre-existing statutory requirements. For example, in one 2001
decision rejecting France's attempt to block imports of British beef
based on fears of mad cow disease, the European Court of Justice
stated that France's invocation of the precautionary principle to
justify its import ban "added nothing" to its argument.
In short, depending on the inclinations of individual judges, the
precautionary principle can vary anywhere from an absolutist, extreme
measure that mandates zero risk to an empty concept that has no
substantive effect on decisions.
OPEN TO IRRATIONALITY
Thus, the track record of the precautionary principle in Europe is
not good. Given its inherent flaws and ambiguity, the principle
cannot be sustained in the long run. As the EU courts' advocate
general warned in one opinion, "The precautionary principle has a
future only to the extent that, far from opening the door wide to
irrationality, it establishes itself as an aspect of the rational
management of risks, designed not to achieve zero risk, which
everything suggests does not exist."
Yet despite this troubling empirical record, there seems to be no
letup in the proliferation of the precautionary principle around the
world. Courts in Canada, India, Australia, and New Zealand have
recently endorsed this principle. Several international environmental
treaties, such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic
Pollutants, expressly incorporate the precautionary principle.
San Francisco recently became the first U.S. city to officially adopt
the precautionary principle, requiring by ordinance that "All
officers, boards, commissions, and departments of the City and County
shall implement the Precautionary Principle in conducting the City
and County's affairs." Several other U.S. cities are reportedly
considering following suit.
Decisions about regulating risks involve a complex interaction of
science, public policy, values, economics, incentives, precautions,
and uncertainty. Attempting to replace the admittedly difficult and
messy steps needed to reach the best possible risk decisions with a
simplistic slogan like the precautionary principle is inconsistent
with fundamental tenets of democracy. The inherent ambiguity and
arbitrariness of the principle give regulators unfettered discretion
to adopt unreasonable regulations, contrary to the greater principle
that we have a government of laws, not men.
The precautionary principle is an open invitation for nations to
impose protectionist restrictions on trade, for regulators to write
burdensome rules based on bias or emotion, and for companies to lobby
for unfair restrictions on their competitors. Moreover, because the
principle does not provide a meaningful foundation for making risk
decisions, the true basis for these decisions is kept hidden,
undermining the transparency and public accountability critical to
democratic government. In short, the rapidly proliferating
precautionary principle is bound to inflict a lot more damage around
the world before it finally and inevitably collapses upon itself.
Gary E. Marchant is a law professor and executive director of the
Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology at Arizona State
University. Kenneth L. Mossman, who is also affiliated with the
center, is a professor of health physics at Arizona State University.
They are the co-authors ofArbitrary and Capricious: The Precautionary
Principle in the European Courts(AEI Press, 2004)