Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 2, 2005
* Benbrook on grain quality in Roundup Ready Wheat
* Organic and GMO coexistence survey
* Modern enemies of reason
* No allergy problems from GM corn or soy: study
* FINDINGS ON MEXICO MAIZE RELEASED
* ARABIDOPSIS LENDS SALT TOLERANCE TO POTATO PLANTS
* GHANA FORMULATES BIOSAFETY FRAMEWOR
* CALL FOR BIOTECH DEVELOPMENT IN BANGLADESH
* GM seeds have their place
* Greenpeace ship protest 'caused public nuisance'
Date: Fri, 2 Sep 2005 05:08:38 +0930
From: "Christopher Preston"
Subject: Benbrook on grain quality in Roundup Ready Wheat.
Benbrook on grain quality in Roundup Ready Wheat.
In his latest offering: "Harvest at Risk: Impacts of Roundup Ready Wheat in the Northern Great Plains" (available from www.worc.org), Benbrook makes the claim that the quality of Roundup Ready wheat is not as high as conventional wheat. In support of his claims, Benbrook relies heavily on his analysis of a paper by Obert et al. (2004) The composition of grain and forage from glyphosate tolerant MON 71800 is equivalent to that of conventional wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In his comments, Benbrook not only claims that the composition of grain from Roundup Ready wheat is not equivalent, but that the differences are significant enough to be of concern.
In support of his arguments, Benbrook has created a table where he has extracted information from the paper on comparisons between several components of the grain. Benbrook has selected 10 such comparisons and makes the claim that "In nine out of 10 cases reported in table 6, levels were lower in the RR wheat than in the controls."
There are two major problems with Benbrook's approach, both of which suggest a deliberate distortion of the evidence by Benbrook. While the numbers reported by Benbrook are correct, the method of display of the values has been deliberately organised to mislead the reader. Firstly, in the paper by Obert et al., there were a total of 57 comparisons made in 1999 and 62 comparisons made in 2000 to give a grand total of 119 comparisons. Of these, Benbrook chooses only 10 to display. Benbrook appears to have selectively chosen the comparisons so he could state that in 9 out of 10 cases, levels were lower in the RR wheat. This was clearly done to leave an impression that RR wheat has lower levels of many or most nutrients. Looking through the data, of the 119 comparisons made, the mean value for the conventional line was only higher than the mean value for the RR line in 41 of the comparisons. This is less than 4 out of 10 cases! Most importantly, none of these differences was statistically significant.
Secondly Benbrook totally ignores the variation associated with these measures. Indeed in the statistical analysis reported in the paper, statistically significant differences were found for only 3 of the 119 comparisons for grain composition. These differences were for isoleucine, behenic acid and magnesium in samples harvested in1999. All of these components were higher in RR grain than in the sister line, but values were not outside those that might be expected in grain. Not only has Benbrook cherry-picked the data in an attempt to mislead people into believing RR wheat is inferior in quality, he has failed to acknowledge that the differences he reports and dwells on were not statistically different and could all have occurred by chance.
Unfortunately, the believers in the evils of GM crops will find affirmation in this article by Benbrook. We can expect a cascade of citations on the on the lower nutritional quality of Roundup Ready wheat and expanding to other GM foods. This despite the fact that the evidence used to support such a contention shows almost no differences.
Dr. Christopher Preston
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management
University of Adelaide
From: "Alex Avery" View Contact Details
Subject: Organic and GMO coexistence survey
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 2005 12:58:29 -0400
I found an interesting survey of organic farmers from 2003 conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation. http://www.ofrf.org/publications/survey/GMO.SurveyResults.PDF
In this survey you’ll find that 46% of organic farmers thought the “risk of exposure and contamination” of their organic farm products by GMOs was low to very low, 8% didn’t know, and 46% thought the risk was moderate to very high. The fact that 54% either didn’t know or thought the risk was low, explains why 52% of organic farmers surveyed carried out NO measures to protect their crops from “GMO contamination.”
Of those that did take measures in response to “GMO contamination” risks:
24% “communicated with neighboring farmers about GMO risks to [their] farm
19% “increased size of buffer zones to neighboring farms
18% “discontinued use of certain inputs at risk for GMO contamination
15% “adjusted timing of crop planting”
13% “altered cropping patterns or crops produced”
9% “changed cropping locations”
2% “other – Careful consideration of seed sources”
1% “changed processors or processing procedures”
As for testing for “GMO contamination”, 73% reported no incidences of buyer or certifier requests for GMO testing and only 17% reported that any of the farm’s seed or other products be tested for GMOs. Of these, 11% reported a “positive” test result, or 2% of respondents. Thus, 92% reported no costs related to GMOs.
Surprisingly, 1% of 938 respondents (9 farmers) reported loss of organic certification due to the presence of GMOs in organic products, despite the fact that the USDA says unintentional presence of biotech materials is NOT a legal basis for loss of organic status and that it is not aware of a single instance of an organic crop or farm loosing organic certification due to “GMO contamination.”
Me thinks that the survey respondents are exaggerating or that their certifier is ignorant of the USDA organic rules.
Director of Research
Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute
PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421
(540) 337-6354, or -6387
Modern enemies of reason
- SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, by Mike Moore, September 2, 2005
Proving that genetically modified foods are safe is a bit like proving the existence of the Loch Ness monster: it's hard to prove something is not there when fanatics want to believe. It is embarrassing to see environmentalists being suckered into using dubious European slogans such as the "precautionary principle" - which the rest of the world realises is sophisticated protectionism for their privileged, subsidised farmers. This is just another example of Europe losing the plot. What once gave Europe, and cultures of European extraction, the edge? What allowed their societies to flourish and expand, giving their economies the opportunity to explode with creativity and become the dominant global force for the past few centuries? The answers: the separation of church and state, freedom of religion and, more importantly, freedom from religion.
Given freedom, enlightenment was sure to follow, philosophers argued. "Have the courage to use your own reason," was the motto of the Enlightenment. People began to refuse to outsource their consciences to clerics, or accept privileges conferred by a sovereign.
So who are the modern enemies of reason, tolerance and freedom? Fundamentalist religious fanatics rage against modernity: their most evil expression of powerlessness is terrorist attacks.
But even in open societies, intolerant forces gather, march, and claim to know a truth that everyone else must live under. These enemies of reason normally align themselves on the political right.
There are, however, enemies of reason who pose as progressives and, like others, claim to be saving the world. The environment is their vehicle of power. Fundamentalists oppose stem-cell research, which offers ways to treat some of mankind's most devastating diseases and injuries. But pharmaceutical research is moving out of Britain due to rabid activists who last year were responsible for over 300 attacks on research facilities and staff.
The FBI, in a recent report to a US Senate committee, warned that eco -militants are the new terrorist threat: fire-bombing SUV dealers in opposition to gas-guzzlers; burning so-called insensitive housing developments, causing US$ 70 million in damage; and so forth. Yet, it is in the name of animal rights that the most violent exchanges have taken place in many countries. One animal-rights activist recently said that they were not bound by law, and their cause was like the anti-slavery campaign.
Where the fundamentalists and environmental militants join hands against science is in the arguments against GM foods and stem-cell research. Genetically modified foods offer us the opportunity to feed a hungry world. It is hard to see how we will provision the world and lower the use of dangerous insecticides and fertilisers without enlisting the new forces of science.
Of course we must be prudent, cautious and seek high standards, because science can move faster than our moral, ethical or legal capacity to cope. But those who wish to destroy science have as their forefathers those who burned so-called witches, not the heroes who freed the slaves.
These small groups, which exaggerate the dangers to a gullible media, represent pre-Enlightenment thinking. It is, however, a good way to grab the headlines and raise funds.
Mike Moore is a former prime minister of New Zealand and was director-general of the World Trade Organisation
No allergy problems from GM corn or soy: study
- Truth About Trade, September 2, 2005
New York - Despite concerns from some critics of genetically modified crops that the foods may raise consumers' risk of allergic reactions, a new study finds no evidence that this is the case.
The study, by researchers in Portugal, adds to evidence that several widely used strains of GM corn and soybeans do not promote food allergies.
All of the products -- three corn strains engineered to resist certain crop-ravaging insects and a soybean variety that tolerates a common weed killer --have been on the market since the 1990s. The new study looked at a group of allergy-prone adults and children who had consumed products containing the biotech foods at some point since their approval in Europe.
The researchers, led by Rita Batista of Portugal's National Health Institute in Lisbon, gave 77 study participants allergy tests to see whether they reacted differently to the GM corn and soy than they did to conventional varieties.
None of them did, according to findings published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.
Much of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. is transgenic, meaning a gene or genes has been inserted into the genome of the plants to give them a desired trait.
European countries have been much slower to embrace the technology, as consumers there are far more wary of what some call "Frankenfoods." One of the concerns some critics have raised is the potential for allergic reactions to the foreign proteins in GM foods; if a gene were transferred from an allergenic source, that could make the resulting GM food more likely to trigger allergies.
The products tested in the current study included two manufactured by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, a corn variety known as MON 810 that is engineered to resist certain insects, and Roundup Ready soybeans, which are designed to tolerate the company's Roundup weed-killer.
The researchers also tested two pest-resistant corn varieties made by the Swiss firm Syngenta and one herbicide-tolerant strain manufactured by Germany's Bayer Crop Sciences. None of these products, the study authors note, contain genes derived from sources known to trigger allergies.
Batista and her colleagues used skin prick tests to place protein extracts from the corn and soy strains under participants' skin. They found that though adults and children with a history of sensitivity to corn and soy had skin reactions to the extracts, their reactions were the same to GM and non-GM varieties.
"The transgenic products under testing seem to be safe in terms of allergenic potential," the researchers write. They do, however, call for routine postmarket testing to monitor the possibility of allergic reactions to GM foods.
FINDINGS ON MEXICO MAIZE RELEASED
- Crop Biotech Update, September 2, 2005
Sometime in 2000, scientists released research findings that stated that they had found evidence of genetically modified corn in maize landraces grown in Oaxaca, Mexico. This was significant, because transgenic maize has never been approved for cultivation in the country.
Five years later, S. S. Ortiz-García and colleagues publish their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their article, “Absence of detectable transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003–2004),” is published in the journal’s latest electronic edition.
Researchers worked on 70 plants in 125 fields and 18 localities in the state of Oaxaca during 2003 and 2004. They performed the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on DNA samples from 153,746 sampled maize seeds, screening for the 35s promoter of the cauliflower mosaic virus and the nopaline synthase terminator from Agrobacterium tumefaciens, with the PCR reaction optimized to detect at least 0.01% transgenic material. One or both of the transgene elements are present in all transgenic commercial varieties of maize.
PCR could not detect any transgenic sequences in the seeds sampled, and authors conclude that transgenic maize seeds were absent or extremely rare in the sampled fields. They, however, caution readers about the limitations of their research. For instance, their seed sampling may not have been thorough, and the samples could be less than representative of the local maize crop. They also caution readers from extrapolating the findings to other regions of Mexico, or from considering the current situation likely to remain unchanged.
For more information, download the article at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/102/35/12338.
ARABIDOPSIS LENDS SALT TOLERANCE TO POTATO PLANTS
- Crop Biotech Update, September 2, 2005
Plant cells accumulate proline when under drought and salt stress, as it can protect cellular structures from drying out. The gene for pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthetase (P5CS) has been found to increase proline production. Once introduced into rice, wheat, and carrot plants, the gene has also been found to increase tolerance to salt stress.
Aida Hmida-Sayari and colleagues work on another crop this time, as they report that the “Overexpression of ?1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthetase increases proline production and confers salt tolerance in transgenic potato plants.” Their research appears in the October issue of the Journal of Plant Science.
Researchers transferred the Arabidopsis P5CS gene to potatoes through Agrobacterium transformation, and found that the transgenic potato plants accumulated proline and grew in high salinity conditions. They also found that the high salt stress lowered tuber yield and weight by as much as 63% in non-transgenic potato lines, while tubers from transgenic lines were not as greatly affected.
Subscribers of ScienceDirect or the Journal of Plant Science can read the article at:
GHANA FORMULATES BIOSAFETY FRAMEWORK
- Crop Biotech Update, September 2, 2005
Christine Churcher, Ghana's Minister of Environment and Science, recently launched the country’s National Biosafety Framework in Accra, Ghana. This framework is meant to ensure an adequate level of production in the field of safe transfer, handling, and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.
“By the accession,” Ms. Churcher said, “We affirm our position for the safe use, handling, and transportation of genetically modified organisms that might find [their] way to Ghana.” She assured Ghanaians that all GMOs will pass through rigorous inspection to ensure that they conform to the country's regulations and standards.
Edward Nsenkyire, Chief Director of the Ministry of Environment and Science, stressed that Ghana's position on the issue is strictly based on the precautionary principle, and that every effort will be made to ensure safety in the use of GMOs. Professor Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Chairman of the National Biodiversity Committee, said that with the national framework in place, wildlife and other organisms in Ghana would be adequately cared for and protected.
With reports from http://allafrica.com/stories/200508180613.html and http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=88180.
For more information on the framework, visit http://www.unep.ch/biosafety/partcountries/GHcountrypage.htm. Download the a copy of the document at
CALL FOR BIOTECH DEVELOPMENT IN BANGLADESH
- Crop Biotech Update, September 2, 2005
Bangladesh has to focus on capability building in both public and private sectors to encourage biotechnology development in the country. This was stressed by Dr. M.A. Halim Khan, Vice Chancellor of the BSMR Agricultural University, who served as chief guest during the workshop on “Reporting biotechnology: Issues and opportunities for the news media” held at the BRAC Centre, Dhaka.
Abdul Awal Mintoo of the East-West Seed Co. in Bangladesh said that his company was committed to spend TK20 crore or more to develop a modern biotechnology laboratory in Bangladesh. Biotechnology experts who spoke during the workshop called for efforts to create greater public awareness on biotechnology particularly with regards the issue of safety. It was announced that while biotech crops are not yet commercially planted in Bangladesh, seeds of Golden Rice have already been brought into the country for experimentation at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. Biosafety guidelines have been set and are awaiting approval.
The two-day workshop was organized by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Bangladesh Office, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. More information about the workshop can be obtained from KM Nasiruddin, ISAAA Bangladesh country coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GM seeds have their place
- Rutland Herald, September 1, 2005, By Dudley Baker
From Matt Gardner's porch, you see one of the best views in all of Vermont. You are at the foothills of the Green Mountains looking over the Pownal Valley with the Taconic Range in the distance. Matt thinks one of the best ways to preserve this view is to grow organic products. His 100 cows produce organic milk, which he sells to the Horizon Dairy operation. He is pleased with his operation since he uses no commercial fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides. He says, "The key to raising feed corn is crop rotation."
Down in the Pownal Valley, Henry Strohmaier is a believer in the conventional way of raising feed corn. He admits that he has to use a lot of chemicals; (i.e., fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides). But it works well for him in producing milk for sale at local stores. "Why change?" he says. He does not believe in the organic method and does not want to "ruffle feathers" with genetically modified (GM) seed.
At another spot in Bennington County, John White (not his real name) is a believer in the GM method. He says that conventional corn silage crops use four times the amount of chemicals that he does. In addition, John feels that Round-Up Ready seed saves him time and produces "a better crop." Reports from other sources say yields have risen 30-50 bushels per acre with GM seed. If the GM seed method uses a lot less chemicals and produces a more abundant crop with less time expended, why is it not used more often? To try to find answers, let us compare the three methods of raising corn for cattle feed: organic, conventional and using GM seed.
Organic means food grown with no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, or genetic engineering. These methods, proponents say, preserve the land; traditional growing methods have a negative environmental impact, they say. Proponents believe organic methods "mimic nature." The problem is that consumers of organic food pay a premium for "responsibly" raised food. For example, a free-range-grown organic egg can cost three times that of the standard egg.
Conventionally grown corn for silage uses all the above "unnatural" chemicals to control weeds and insects. It has been used for decades. These farmers admit that the feed they give to dairy cattle contains some of these chemicals, but they feel that they are in such low amounts that they are harmless. Organic people, of course, strongly disagree.
The farmers that use GM seed see the benefits of increased productivity (more food per unit area). It is a considerable benefit to low profit margins that most farmers have. GM farmers rely on the USDA, FDA and EPA to tell them that they are not causing harm to the environment.
Transferring a specific gene to corn seed from a bacterium that results in a seed resistant to the popular weed controller Round-Up is not a difficult task. It certainly helps the farmer control weeds. The problem GM opponents say is that even though it is admitted the GM method uses much less chemicals, the risk of pollens drifting into a non-GM field is definitely present.
There are many heated arguments against the use of GM products, but there has been no scientific basis as yet to these claims. The GM proponents say that even though pollen may drift into the environment, it has been used for decades, and there is no evidence that damage is occurring to the ecosystem such as a reduction in biodiversity.
In order to protect organic farms from possible contamination, corn should be planted at a significant distance from any organic field (usually 400 meters is given as the adequate buffer zone). GM methods are highly regulated by federal agencies such that GM companies have to spend many years in testing before a product becomes available to the public.
From my interviews with the three farmers, I suggest that these three methods will continue for some time. The three groups respect one another and probably will in the future.
In 10 years or so, I can envision going to the supermarket and seeing a milk section with three types of milk — organic, traditional, and GM brands. Organic will cost twice as much as traditional, and the GM milk (because of the improved productivity) will cost 30 percent less than traditional.
What is the average consumer to make of this debate? What food is safe? Since it is so complicated a subject, I would suggest visiting the Web site of the respected American Council on Science and Health (http://www.acsh.org). Use the available tools and decide for yourself. In the end, however, maybe we should worry less about the safety of our food. The food we eat may be healthier than we are. What we should worry about is that few of us exercise on a regular basis and that a diet with moderation and variety is not too common. We should also worry about the future of our Vermont farms.
If Vermonters will accept progress and act sensibly in reference to genetically modified crops, the spectacular view of the Pownal Valley with its many successful active farms can be preserved. Farmer White might even feel safe to use his real name.
Greenpeace ship protest 'caused public nuisance'
- Western Mail, Paul Carey, Sep 2 2005
A GROUP of Greenpeace protesters appeared in court yesterday charged with causing a public nuisance after boarding a ship carrying GM crops off the South Wales coast.
The 10 men and three women boarded the MV Etoile in the Bristol Channel to prevent it unloading a cargo of genetically-modified animal feed.
Cardiff Crown Court heard the 123,000-tonne Etoile set sail from the US in June 2004 bound for Amsterdam then Bristol.
Five members of the group boarded the ship preventing pilots from leading her safely into dock, the jury heard. The remaining eight protesters were involved in ferrying activists to the Etoile and organising the logistics of the raid.
The Etoile was forced to turn around to find deeper water in the Bristol Channel and the protesters on board were arrested after a police helicopter landed on the deck. Others were arrested in support vessels in nearby Penarth Marina.
Prosecutor Jervis Kay QC said the protest was executed methodically and professionally.
"But these were foolhardy acts which constituted a public nuisance."
Edward Rees, defending, said the Greenpeace action was justified under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
He said, "We will submit that the importers were carrying GM organisms which have not been approved by the European Union. This is a crime in itself."
Seven of the protesters are from London and two from Derbyshire. The others are from Norfolk, Kent, Gloucestershire and Belgium. They all deny causing a public nuisance.
The trial continues.