Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 11, 2005
* Biotech Crops Reduce Pesticide Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions
* Anti-Biotech Film a 'Crockumentary'
* Mexican Maize Transgenes Issue Examined
* Land-mine Detecting Plants Created
* That's The GameŠ.
* New Zealand: Don't Put it all at Risk
* Bollworm Pest Remains Beaten
* Bt: Substantial Equivalence of Transgenics and their Isogenics
* Quietly, Invisibly, Ominously Getting Healthier and Healthier
* UCS's Margaret Mellon: Roundup herbicide is "Public Trust"
* GMA Conference on the Future of Food
* NABC Newsletter and next meeting in Ithaca (2006)
Biotech Crops Reduce Pesticide Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Pgeconomics.co.uk, London, Oct. 12, 2005
'Planting of these crops generates additional US$27.5 billion in
global farm income'
vAfter just nine years of commercialisation, biotech crops have made
a significant, positive impact on the global economy and environment,
decreasing pesticide spraying and reducing the environmental
footprint associated with pesticide use by 14 percent, according to a
study released today.
"Since 1996, adoption of biotech crops has contributed to reducing
greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and decreased pesticide
spraying," said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics, and one of
the authors who conducted the study. "While greatly enhancing the way
farmers in 18 countries produce food, feed and fiber, biotech crops
have reduced the environmental footprint associated with agricultural
practices. This study offers the first quantifiable global look at
the impact of biotech crop production."
The study, "GM crops: the global socio-economic and environmental
impact -- the first nine years 1996-2004," reported that biotech
crops contributed to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions
from agricultural practices. This reduction results from decreased
fuel use, about 1.8 billion litres in the past nine years, and
additional soil carbon sequestration because of reduced ploughing or
improved conservation tillage associated with biotech crops. In 2004,
this reduction was equivalent to eliminating more than 10 billion kg
of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or removing 5 million cars --
one-fifth of the cars registered in the United Kingdom -- from the
road for one year.
Biotech crops have reduced the volume of pesticide spraying globally
by 6 percent since 1996, equivalent to a decrease of 172.5 million
kg, according to the study. That's equivalent to eliminating 1,514
rail cars of pesticide's active ingredient. The largest environmental
gains from changes in pesticide spraying have been from biotech
soybeans and cotton, which have reduced the associated environmental
footprint by 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively. The global
pesticide usage savings in 2004 were equivalent to about one third of
total pesticide active ingredient used on European arable crops.
According to the study, the industrialised nations of the United
States and Canada, as well as the developing nations of China, South
Africa and Argentina, experienced the greatest reductions in the
environmental impact of crop production. "As the world is
increasingly focused on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,
it is clear biotech crops are already making an important positive
contribution to achieving this goal," Brookes said.
In addition to environmental gains from biotech crops, substantial
net economic benefits at the farm level have been realized. Since
1996, global farm income has increased by a cumulative total of $27
billion derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and
efficiency gains. This increase in farm income is equivalent to
adding 3 percent to 4 percent to the value of global production of
the four main biotech crops. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans have
generated the greatest gains at more than $17 billion in increased
income, while biotech cotton farmers improved their income by $6.5
billion in the past nine years.
Growers in the United States and Argentina have reaped the greatest
rewards, each gaining approximately $10 billion in the past nine
years, while farmers in China have experienced a $4 billion income
increase from planting biotech cotton. In addition to the significant
measurable benefits, valuable indirect benefits that are more
difficult to quantify can be credited to biotech crop adoption. These
include increased management flexibility, facilitating reduced
tillage practices, reduced production risk and improved crop quality.
"The EU is currently missing out on these environmental and economic
benefits. As a European citizen, I find it difficult to see why we
are denying ourselves a clear opportunity to improve our environment
and to improve the incomes and efficiency of our agricultural
sector." More than 8.25 million farmers in 18 countries around the
world have adopted biotech crops, and 90 percent of those are
resource-poor producers located in developing countries. ###
A full manuscript of the report is available at
http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk . This study was compiled based largely
on extensive analysis of existing farm-level economic impact data on
biotech crops and additional primary analysis of the environmental
impact from base data. A shorter version of the report has been peer
reviewed and published in the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management
and Economics (AgbioForum. www.agbioforum.org). PG Economics are
independent consultants specialising in the economic and
environmental impact of technology in agriculture.
Anti-Biotech Film a 'Crockumentary'
- Steven Milloy, Fox News, Oct. 6, 2005, http://www.foxnews.com
The biotech scare is back - or, at least, a new movie is trying to
bring it back. Playing in small movie houses, "The Future of Food"
dusts off, and presents in ominous fashion, all the Greens'
long-discredited arguments against agricultural biotechnology.
Produced by Deborah Koons Garcia, the widow of the Grateful Dead's
Jerry Garcia, the movie's overriding themes are allegations that
biotech crops and food are unsafe and that a government-industry
cabal is foisting dangerous products on an unwitting public.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Biotech crops and foods are among the most thoroughly tested products
available. No other food crops in history have been so thoroughly
tested and regulated. Before biotech products are marketed, they
undergo years of safety testing including thousands of tests for
potential toxicity, allergenicity and effects on non-target insects
and the environment.
"The Future of Food," for example, dredges up the 2000 scare
involving a biotech corn that had not yet been approved for human
consumption but that was detected in Taco Bell taco shells. A few
consumers, egged on by anti-biotech activists, alleged the corn
caused allergic reactions. But the movie glossed over the fact that
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested those
consumers and reported there was no evidence that the biotech corn
caused any allergic reaction in anyone.
Another long-buried myth excavated by Garcia was that biotechnology
harms biodiversity. But so far it doesn't appear to represent any
greater risk to biodiversity than conventional agriculture and it
actually seems to have some demonstrable beneficial impacts on
An infamous biodiversity scare featured in the movie involved Monarch
butterflies. The scare occurred during 1999-2000 when the media
trumpeted alarmist results from two laboratory studies reporting that
biotech corn might harm Monarch butterfly larvae. Subsequent field
studies soon debunked the scare, reporting that Monarch larvae
actually fared better inside biotech cornfields than in natural areas
because of less pressure from predators. Needless to say, Monarchs in
biotech cornfields also did much better than those in conventional
cornfields sprayed with insecticides.
The movie claims that once biotech crops are planted, control over
them is lost and they "contaminate" non-biotech or organic crops.
This is misleading since 100 percent purity has never been the
reality in agriculture. Biological systems are dynamic environments,
meaning that regardless of the method of production -- conventional,
organic or biotech -- trace levels of other materials are always
present in seed and grain. Since all commercial biotech traits are
fully approved by U.S. regulatory agencies, their presence -- in
large amounts or trace amounts -- is fully legal and safe.
With respect to organic farmers, the Department of Agriculture's
rules for organic products specifically say that the certification of
organic products is process-based -- meaning that if the proper
processes are followed, the unintended presence of non-organic or
biotech traits doesn't disqualify the product from being labeled as
To date, biotech crops haven't harmed organic farmers. The
coexistence of biotech, conventional and organic corn, soybean, and
canola has been effectively working since 1995, when the first
biotech crops were introduced. During that period, in fact, both
biotech and organic farming have grown remarkably.
Garcia wants movie viewers to overlook the fact that U.S. regulators
-- including the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection
Agency and the Food and Drug Administration -- have established a
robust framework and rigorous process for evaluating biotech product
safety. Developers spend years generating data for one product to be
submitted for approval.
A major take-home message of the movie is that consumers should
demand labeling of biotech foods. But this would only increase the
cost of food production while failing to provide any meaningful
information to consumers. Biotech crops have been determined by
regulators to be essentially equivalent to those of conventional
crops. Corn is corn, in other words, no matter what anti-biotech
activists would have us believe.
While emphasizing "scare," the movie overlooks biotechnology's
advantages. Biotech crops require less tilling. This reduces soil
erosion; improves moisture retention; increases populations of soil
microorganisms, earthworms and beneficial insects; and reduces
sediment runoff into streams.
The movie mocks biotechnology's potential value to the developing
world, characterizing the argument as one designed for public
relations use. But biotech crops such as "golden rice" could help
with the severe Vitamin A deficiency that afflicts hundreds of
millions in Africa and Asia, including 500,000 children who lose
their eyesight each year.
As pointed out by Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, now a
vociferous critic of the activist group, "Greenpeace activists
threaten to rip the biotech rice out of the fields if farmers dare to
plant it. They have done everything they can to discredit the
scientists and the technology.
"A commercial variety is now available for planting, but it will be
at least five years before Golden Rice will be able to work its way
through the Byzantine regulatory system that has been set up as a
result of the activists' campaign of misinformation and speculation,"
Moore said. "So the risk of not allowing farmers in Africa and Asia
to grow Golden Rice is that another 2.5 million children will
probably go blind."
Garcia's "The Future of Food" is steeped in the Greens' tragic
campaign of misinformation. Many long-time anti-biotech campaigners
helped her make the movie, in which not a balancing thought or
counter-opinion is presented.
The "Future of Food" purports to be a "documentary" - a movie that
sticks to the facts. It doesn't. Hollywood will need a new Oscar
category for this one. How about "crockumentary"?
Mexican Maize Transgenes Issue Examined
Since 2000, several studies have been undertaken in Mexico to track
the presence of transgenes in the local conventional maize crop.
Findings, however, have been mixed. In "Transgenes in Mexican maize:
Desirability or inevitability?" Peter H. Raven of the Missouri
Botanical Garden offers his opinion on these studies. His essay is
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Raven underscores the importance of monitoring the presence and
frequency of transgenes, but asks what social significance the
results of such studies may have, both in the region concerned and in
the world. He puts forth statements on decades-long studies of
genetically modified organisms (GMO 's), which have hitherto been
found to pose no threat to human health and the environment.
He goes on to state that "the principles of population genetics
certainly do not indicate that [the transgenes] would 'disrupt' the
germplasm of the maize populations they might enter," and concludes
that the introduction of transgenes presents no danger to maize
populations in Mexico, or to the people of Mexico in general.
Raven also criticizes the lack of dissemination of agronomic
information amongst farmers regarding GMO's, where not enough
education has been given on the potential benefits of planting
biotech crops "with the view of achieving higher levels of food
- From CropBiotech Update 23 September 2005: Contributed by Margaret
Smith, Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics via Plant Breeding News
Land-mine Detecting Plants Created
- Gizmag Emerging Technology Magazine, Oct. 10, 2005 Via
Danish scientists have made a scientific discovery with significant
humanitarian and environmental potential. They have shown that it is
possible to produce plants which change colour in the presence of
specific compounds within the soil, opening the way for the first
bomb and land-mine detection plant.
Danish Company Aresa Biodetection has been working on the plant for
several years but has now developed the plant to the stage where it
is a becoming commercially viable biodetection system and can change
colour from green to red within 3-5 weeks of growth.
This technology is being developed to detect explosives present in
landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in soil, as well as to detect
and remove heavy metals in polluted soil. The invention may
significantly speed the removal of landmines and UXO in cultivatable
areas to permit the subsequent use of cleared areas for agriculture
to maximize socio-economic benefits. The plants will be tested and
gradually introduced in landmine and UXO removal operations as the
The landmine is one of the most insidious devices ever created by
human hands. There are more than 100 million landmines buried and
active in the world today. Another 100 million are stockpiled and ten
million are produced annually. More than a million people have been
killed or maimed by landmines since 1975. Half of all adults who
stand on a mine die before they reach hospital. Children, being
smaller, are more likely to die from their injuries, though there are
still more than 300,000 children alive who have been severely
disabled by landmines.
Clearing mines is a dangerous and very costly job. Mines can cost as
little as $3 to produce yet the necessary care involved in clearing a
landmine costs more than US$2000 a mine. Even then, one accident
occurs for every 1800-2000 mines cleared. For every one hour spent in
laying mines, over 100 hours are spent de-mining to remove the same
number of mines. If we stopped laying mines NOW and continued
clearing at current rates, the world would be free of mines in the
year 3100. One estimate of the cost of clearing the world' landmines
is US$33 Billion. Unfortunately, mines are being laid 25 times faster
than they are being cleared.
Accordingly, the Danish discovery is of immense humanitarian value
and rates as one of the most important scientific discoveries of
recent years and is already being recognized as such. Geir Bj'rsvik,
the Senior Advisor on Landmines for humanitarian aid group, Norwegian
People Aid, said of the discovery, 'this is a promising development
in the efforts to find a safe and cost effective solution to detect
mines, and is likely to be a very welcomed addition to current
methods if successfully passing further testing in areas of
The technology is based on genetic engineering of the plant Thale
Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). This plant has several advantages in
developing this system. For example, it is naturally selfpollinating
and the plants developed by Aresa are conditionally fertile such that
they are male-sterile enabling the growth of these Biodetection
plants to be strictly controlled.
'This is a pioneering example of how we will see genetically
engineered plants applied for humanitarian and environmental purposes
in the future', says professor John Mundy, Department of Plant
Physiology, University of Copenhagen. Our team has set out to
develop a technology with large potential benefits all around the
Aresa Biodetection CEO PhD Simon 'stergaard said of their new system,
'in time we may contribute to clearing land in large scale projects
much faster than is possible today, and reduce the number of people
getting injured or killed by landmines.'
That's The GameŠ.
- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, Oct. 7, 2005
You see a lot of lopsided scores in college football, especially
early in the season when powerhouse teams play out-of-conference
games against smaller schools.
But a billion to nothing?
That's the score in the debate between farmers, researchers and
consumers who support agricultural biotechnology and the anti-biotech
crowd who oppose it.
A billion is a very big number--it's the American way of saying a
thousand million. It starts with a one and has nine zeroes after it.
This week, a farmer harvested the world's one-billionth acre of
biotech crops. We don't know exactly where it took place, but we do
believe the milestone was reached in the northern hemisphere on or
about October 2, based upon officially reported statistics. It could
have been a soybean farmer in Kansas, a canola producer in Ontario,
or a corn grower in Spain. Maybe the commodity was cotton, harvested
in California, China, or India.
What we do know, however, is that the billionth acre of biotech crops
was planted earlier this year--on May 9, by our calculations--and
that the time has come to reap what we sowed.
It took ten years to get here. A decade ago, biotech crops were
commercially available for the first time. Farmers around the world
adopted them very quickly because they increased yields and lowered
costs. They're also conservation-friendly, reducing pressure to
convert wilderness into farmland. Anybody who believes in saving the
rainforests knows how important that is, especially as global
A billion acres is a lot of land--an almost incomprehensible amount
of it. Just how big is a billion? Think of it this way: A billion
seconds ago, it was 1964. A billion minutes ago, it was roughly 100
A.D.--the Roman Empire was still around and the Bible was still being
written. And a billion hours ago, it was the Stone Age.
So one billion acres of harvested biotech crops is an awful lot of food.
While farmers have been growing genetically improved crops and just
about everybody has been eating it, extremist groups like Greenpeace
have gotten hoarse screaming about "Frankenfood."
But what do they have to show for their efforts? Absolutely nothing.
The enemies of biotechnology would love to uncover a tiny hint of
evidence showing genetically enhanced crops to be bad for your
health. They've searched high and low for any indication of this, but
like those people who roam the Sierras looking for signs of Bigfoot,
they simply can't find any.
The latest research, just published in the Journal of Allergy &
Clinical Immunology, confirms what scientists have said for years at
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, and the National Academy of Sciences:
Biotech enhanced food is no different from any other kind of food we
put on our dinner tables.
That won't be true for long, because soon biotech food actually will
be better for you. In the first ten years of its commercial life,
biotech crops primarily have contained "producer traits." In other
words, farmers have been the ones who first recognized the
advantages. In the not-too-distant future, however, biotech food will
boast consumer traits as well. Heart-healthy soybeans are here today
- one of many crops that has been in the research-and-development
pipeline, promising to become a staple of the American diet.
Now that biotech crops have reached the billion-acre milestone, we
continue to say in total confidence: This is a proven technology.
It's not experimental or risky. Instead, it's the latest form of the
breeding methods that have allowed farmers over thousands of years to
turn wild plants into domesticated crops. The miracle of
biotechnology is that now we'll make faster progress.
The score won't remain a billion to nothing for long, because farmers
are going to keep on planting and harvesting acres of biotech crops.
And it won't take a whole decade to do it a billion more times.
Folks, this game is over. At some point, we're going to have to
invoke the mercy rule.
Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American
Farm Bureau. He chairs Truth About Trade and Technology
(www.truthabouttrade.org) a national non-profit based in Des Moines,
IA, formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and
advancements in biotechnology.
New Zealand: Don't Put it all at Risk
- NZBio Report, Sept/October 2005
As New Zealand's political parties begin their post-election
negotiations, we are left wondering what in science is at
risk. Genetic modification was hardly mentioned in the run-up to the
election but it is not off the agenda. A newspaper photograph of a
smiling Jeanette Fitzsimons standing in front of a "GE - keep it in
the lab" sign reminds us that this was an issue the Greens did not
At the Royal Commission and in its aftermath we argued that genetic
modification was a modern tool of biology essential for our
scientists, doctors and, in the future, our farmers. The Commission
said New Zealand's regulatory system must be based on science and
that we should proceed with caution. The Government agreed.
It is worth noting the results of market research conducted at the
time of the 2002 'Corngate' election, which revealed that more people
who considered GE an important issue voted against the Greens than
Since the lifting of the moratorium anti-GE activists have advocated
for strict liability, tightening of the import procedures for crops
and control of GE at the local Government level. They have not been
successful on any of these fronts and only two weeks ago GE free
Northland quietly dropped a case it was pursuing against the Far
North District Council for not including GE controls in the district
There have been no applications for release of a GMO since the
moratorium was lifted - a combination of very high regulatory hurdles
and commercialised overseas GM crops having no real advantage here.
An enabling regulatory environment is critical to encourage research
and development which will benefit us in five to ten years time.
The Greens recognise this and have stated they want "progress" on the
GE issue if they are to help Labour to the treasury benches. In
reality, they will push for more bureaucracy and controls to effect a
de facto moratorium. Strict liability is likely to be the top of
their list to "prevent socialising the risk of GM". This is of course
nonsense since without development society will miss out on any
benefit. Where would modern medicine be if we hadn't socialised the
risk of penicillin?
Science drives our national development but it is also a vital tool
in risk analysis. No New Zealand government can afford to move away
from science-based risk analysis - an argument which has stood us in
good stead as we battle to get our products into protected overseas
Genetic modification is only one frontier for the anti-science
brigade. Others include animal experimentation, immunisation,
pesticides, modern fertilisers and fluoridation. Under an overly
strict regulatory regime our ability to use science to improve our
health, environment and standard of living would be threatened.
Labour's campaign slogan said "Don't put it all at risk", and Labour
must stand firm if science is to prosper in New Zealand. Biological
science is too important to be sacrificed on the alter of political
Bollworm Pest Remains Beaten
- Tom Simonite, Nature Online, October 10, 2005
'Genetic study confirms insects are still not resistant to Bt toxin.'
Cotton that has been genetically engineered to be toxic to pests
remains effective after nearly a decade in the field, scientists have
announced, defying predictions that insects would evolve to tolerate
them. Widespread planting of genetically modified (GM) cotton across
the southern United States has not increased the incidence of
resistance in the major insect pest, pink bollworm.
Cotton varieties genetically modified to produce a natural
insecticide, the Bt toxin, borrowed from the bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis, have been planted commercially in the United States
since 1996. Many experts predicted that pests would evolve to resist
the toxin within a few years.
But research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences today shows that this has not yet happened1. A survey of
pink bollworm in Arizona, where Bt cotton makes up more than half of
the cotton grown, shows that genes for Bt resistance have not become
more common since 1997.
"Ten years ago many experts were predicting resistance within three
years," says Bruce Tabashnik, lead author of the new research, which
was partially funded by the company Monsanto. "If I had made a
prediction, I would have said it would be maybe four to eight years
until resistance evolved." Tabashnik and colleagues were surprised in
2003 when they found little evidence of resistance in pests2 (see
'Resistance to Bt toxin surprisingly absent from pests'). Two years
on, their genetic study confirms those earlier results.
But there is no question of Bt cotton being indefinitely effective,
Tabashnik adds. "I would say we might see resistance in maybe five
additional years," he says.
Refugees. The researchers used a mathematical model in an attempt to
explain how and why the insects have not developed resistance.
Farming practices are one reason, they conclude. The US Department of
Agriculture requires that farmers growing Bt cotton plant at least 5%
of their crop interspersed with 'refuge' zones of non-Bt cotton.
Mixing of insects from within the refuges, which do not gain an
advantage from the resistance genes, with insects from the GM crops,
is intended to dilute the concentration of resistance genes. The
latest research shows that this strategy seems to work.
But there are additional factors at play. Bt-resistant insects do not
survive as well in refuges as non-resistant ones, the researchers
note. And the genes for resistance are recessive, so that only
insects carrying two copies have the trait.
Not over yet. Despite the findings, researchers continue to be
concerned that resistance will one day be a problem. "Compared to
conventional insecticides, Bt crops have done extremely well, but
it's inevitable that resistance will evolve," says Graham Moores, a
senior research biochemist at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, UK.
Moores recently contributed to work that found a novel kind of Bt
resistance in cotton bollworm bugs from GM fields in Australia3. If
these insects have a different kind of resistance mechanism, then
others could too, he says; so there could be genes for resistance out
there that behave differently from the one studied in Arizona. "The
existing management strategies have been successful, but we cannot
rest on our laurels," says Moores. Bt cotton is grown on a large
scale in China, South Africa and Australia.
One hope that the evolution of pests resistant to Bt cotton can be
delayed further lies with the second generation of the GM crop. These
plants carry another bacterial gene and so produce two Bt toxins. In
Australia, the government allows only this variety to be grown, and
it is also becoming more popular in the United States. These crops
are safer because it is less likely that pests could evolve to be
resistant to both toxins. "Two-toxin cotton should last longer, at
the very least twice as long, and it could be much more," says
1. Tabashnik B.E., et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences of the United States of America
2. Carrire Y., et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
of the United States of America, 100. 1519 - 1523 (2003).
3. Gunning R.V., et al. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71.
2558 - 2563 (2005)
Transgenic Bt Technology: 5. Substantial Equivalence of Transgenics
and their Isogenics
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education, Bangalore, India
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely and stringently
used the Principle of Substantial Equivalence (PSE) for decades to
assure the public of the safety of foods and drugs. This criterion
refers only to the product and not the process of its production. On
account of the high standards of FDA's regulatory oversight, most
other countries generally approve drugs and pharmaceuticals on the
basis of FDA's approval.
PSE is now being applied to products from GEOs, in order to assure
the consumer that the product is 'substantially equivalent' (SE) to
its conventional counterpart and so is safe for human consumption.
In the context of GEOs, PSE is frequently an issue for serious
The FDA has long considered GE crops to be substantially equivalent
to conventional varieties and required no other regulatory review.
However, using the 'provision for voluntary consultation', biotech
companies in the US seek independent SE certification by FDA, of all
GE varieties and their products that are marketed in the US.
The policy of the FDA did not result in any health concerns but
invited criticism on account of, a) the FDA itself has a mandatory
process for approving transgenic animals, and b) the US Environment
Protection Agency (EPA) and the US States Department of Agriculture
(USDA) have a mandatory and open process for evaluating the biosafety
of transgenic plants.
Products from transgenics of such crops as soybean, tomato, corn,
cotton, etc., on the US markets have been tested extensively and
judged substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts.
Some products may contain miniscule quantities of one or two
additional proteins, which are usually broken down during processing
or digestion, or some others may contain some compounds not occurring
in the counterparts but at below threshold levels. Such products are
categorized as 'Generally Recognized As Safe' (GRAS).
The presence in the GEOs, of new genes that would code for fats,
proteins or carbohydrates, that may be toxic or may cause allergies
or may change the nutritional value of the product
certification as SE or GRAS, without appropriate and adequate testing.
While in the US no labeling as SE or GRAS is mandatory, it is not so
in several other parts of the world. This leads to considerable
confusion and to needless controversies. Suggestions were made for
the application of PSE to all products of genetic engineering,
including livestock feed and GE crops, which raises certain questions.
In the application of PSE, the comparison is between the GE variety
and its isogenic, which is the basic variety into which a transgene
was inserted. The certification is to the effect that the GE crop
variety is substantially equivalent to its isogenic, in genotype,
marked characteristics and performance, but for the transgenes and
their anticipated characteristics. If the isogenic were safe, the
transgenic would be equally safe, provided that the newly introduced
transgenes do not exercise any adverse effects by themselves or
through altering the expression of any other genes of the isogenic,
in the transgenic environment. Such an assurance requires
scientific evaluation of the crop variety first, and then of its
products. This involves additional efforts, time and expense, raising
All US agricultural biotechnology companies submit to the FDA,
voluminous dossiers on the safety and risk analysis of the GEOs and
their products developed by them, before the products are on the US
markets. Such a voluntary mechanism should be global. If such
testing procedures in different countries were uniform, what is
considered safe in one country would be so in other countries. This
will eliminate the need for repeating the same and every test in
At no time, transgenics are substantially equivalent to their
isogenics in their entire genotypes. Even to start with, members of
the same population are not entirely genetically identical. In
addition, mutations occur naturally and randomly, involving different
genes. Lethal mutations are naturally eliminated. Mutations of the
genes of the desired characteristics are eliminated in the process of
selection, but those that do not affect the desired characteristics
escape attention and accumulate. After a certain number of
generations, a critical genetic analysis will contravene SE, although
SE can be established for the genes of the desired characteristics.
Such a situation would cause problems in some countries, where the
regulatory authorities apply the principle more in letter than in
spirit, and a lot more strictly than in other countries.
The official European consensus is that SE should only be used to
guide to inform safety assessments. Codex Alimentarius sees it
(www.codexalimentarius.net, CXG045e) as a starting point in the
regulatory process rather than an end point. However, in the US, SE
still plays a significant role in the regulation and
commercialization of GE foods
Notwithstanding the importance given to PSE, it has been criticized
as vague, ill defined, flexible, malleable, open to interpretation,
unscientific and arbitrary (Ho, M.W. and Steinbrecher, R. (1998);
On account of such concerns, PSE should be re-examined, and for
re-defining its applicability to GE crop plants and their products,
laying emphasis on a reasonable application of the principle,
addressing only those genes and their products that are relevant to
the objectives of developing a particular transgenic variety or
product. There is also a dire need for a uniform and harmonized
international policy. At the moment, SE does not adversely affect Bt
transgenics or their products.
Quietly, Invisibly, Ominously Getting Healthier and Healthier
- Thomas R. DeGregori, ACSH FActs and Fears, Sept. 30, 2005. Full
article at http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.645/news_detail.asp
Modern life has buffered us from so many of the constant dangers of
pre-modern life that few of us fear them. Unfortunately, the removal
of the constant threat of disease and starvation seems to cause us to
fill in the vacuum with new fears. Instead of fear-mongering, though,
the happy story of the last half-century should be told in terms of
the cancer epidemics or other dark, unseen forces that didn't strike
The story is often told of the famous Harvard economic history
professor who would tell his students -- many of whom no doubt took
the comfort of modern living for granted -- to look to their left and
to their right and then consider that had it not been for the
Industrial Revolution, two out of every three of them would not have
been alive. Based on the research of Kevin M. White and Samuel H.
Preston (1996), I do the same in my classes, informing them that if
1900 birth and death rates had prevailed throughout the century, half
of them would not be here. Or for students from the developing world,
that without the changes in mortality in just the last half century,
one quarter of them would not be alive (Heuveline 1999).
Stated differently, most of us are the beneficiaries of life-saving
forces that have emerged over the last century that are to a large
degree imperceptible. We now take factors such as clean water and
immunization for granted -- except when scares arise about their
alleged dangers. Our children can be immunized with up to eleven
injections at an age that they can no longer remember when they
become adults -- thus making most of them unappreciative or even
unaware of the resulting benefits. It is the imperceptible absence
of micro-organisms from our food or water (or at least concentrations
of them too low to be life-threatening) that allows us to safely
partake of the food and drink that sustain our lives. Carcinogenic
smoke no longer fills our homes because we are not cooking and
heating with open wood fires. In other words, our lives are
sustained by all the things that are unseen because they are no
longer there or life-saving items such as immunization and
antibiotics that are not always visible.
Failure to Appreciate the Process that Makes It All Possible
Unfortunately, the foes of science will point to legitimate
disagreements about how best to implement plans such as folate
supplementation as evidence the benefits and risks are completely
unpredictable and unknown and thus that retreat from new advances is
the only option.
It may not qualify as an airtight scientific theory, but it is a fact
that we humans have obviously done something right in the twentieth
century. In the twentieth century in the U.S., we added nearly thirty
years of life expectancy and reduced infant mortality by over
90%. Other advanced countries did even better, in some cases much
better that we did. In developing countries, about twenty years of
life expectancy has been added in the last fifty years. Changes of
these magnitudes don't just happen for no reason at all. We must be
doing something right. We therefore have a right to ask critics of
modern technology whether or not they are opposing the very processes
that brought us these gains. We might ask them a couple related
questions: If, for instance, there is a problem such as an adverse
reaction to an immunization that is otherwise beneficial, are critics
who point this out seeking a solution to the problem or simply
demanding that we abandon the process, benefit and all? Do they have
an alternative that produces more benefit with less risk and what is
their evidence for it? In other words, we have as much right to
demand answers from the critics as the critics have to demand answers
from the rest of us.
It is comforting to believers to hear activists declare the entirety
of some aspect of modern life such as agriculture or pharmaceuticals
a "failure" and call for a "new paradigm" or "more holistic
understandings." In practical terms, such advocacy at best means a
return to older, less productive forms of agriculture or a variety of
herbs, tonics, or purgatives and other medical practices that were
associated with shorter, less healthy lives. One final question to
ask the critics is whether they are operating under the assumption
that we were better off in some prior time? If so, we have a right to
be more than a little dismissive of their advocacy.
Even the boy who cried wolf could on occasion be right, and even a
crackpot might make a lucky guess, but in a world of legitimate
competing demands on our time, we have every right to give such
critics low priority for our attention. Unfortunately, their skill at
public relations and fear-mongering forces us to respond and give
their claims vastly more attention than they deserve. This diverts
scientific talent and resources to the task of publicly refuting them
rather than to advancing knowledge -- through the silent and under
appreciated but life-enhancing advancement that undergirds all modern
References at http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.645/news_detail.asp
UCS's Margaret Mellon: Roundup herbicide so important should be
treated as "Public Trust"
- Alex Avery , Center for Global Food Issues,
Margaret Mellon of the anti-biotech (and anti-herbicide) group Union
of Concerned Scientists is now concerned about weeds becoming
resistant to Roundup. According to this St Louis Post Dispatch
article, "Growers and manufacturers should begin to guard it as a
public trust, she said."
Does this mean UCS will advocate for more herbicide development?
Bt Corn and Health
New paper in Environmental Health Perspectives detailing how
fumonisins caused an outbreak of neural tube birth defects (NTDs)
along the Texas-Mexico border. Fumonisins also cause a fatal horse
brain-wasting disease (equine leukoencephalomalacia, ELEM). Bt corn
radically cuts fumonisin levels, protecting against NTDs in people
and ELEM in horses.
Cheers, Alex Avery
GMA Conference on the Future of Food
Nourish your appetite for knowledge at the inaugural GMA Conference
on the Future of Food.
Join expert panelists in a provocative discourse on the future of the
food industry. Learn how health and wellness, market access,
regulation, emerging science and innovation are coming together to
form a world that revolves around consumers.
Four content tracks provide a cross-functional look at the supply
chain from seed to table:.
* Consumer Connections & Branding
* Health & Wellness
* Global Market Access & Regulations
* Emerging Food Science & Innovation
Fall 2005 National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC)
Newsletter is now at :
Mark you calendar for 'NABC 18: Agricultural Biotechnology: Job
Creation and Workforce Development' - June 12-14, 2006 at Cornell
University, Ithaca, NY
- National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC), Boyce Thompson
Institute, Ithaca, NY