Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 25, 2005
* Gordon Conway: We Must Learn to Love GM Foods
* Understanding the Anti-GM Propaganda
* Science of GMOs
* Would 'Land-mine Detecting Plants' Work?
* Re: GM Crop Approvals in India
* A-Maize-Ing Evolution: Seven Millennia in the Making
* Assessing the Transfer of GM DNA from Feed to Animal Tissues
* Food Doesn't Have to be Organic to be Safe, Healthy
* Myth of Pesticide-free Organic Food Continues
* Bt Crops Pose Little Threat to Non-Target Organisms
* Biotech Cotton 8: Bugs 0
* America's Heartland - New Public Television Series
* Communicate to the Public
* Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference
Gordon Conway: We Must Learn to Love GM Foods
- John Sutherland, The Guardian (London), October 24, 2005
'The ideas interview: Gordon Conway. Are we facing a future of death
and famine? No, but we must learn to love GM foods, hears John
Sir Gordon Conway is, by background, an applied ecologist. By
profession, however, he is a pragmatist, a philanthropist, but, above
all, an optimist. He lives and works on the upside of things. Not for
him the headlines of the past few weeks, with doom everywhere. If the
climate change don't get you, the avian flu must. The world, he
insists, has got better and will get better still.
"I've been in the development business all my adult life," says
Conway, who joined the government's Department for International
Development (DFID) as its chief scientific adviser in January. "I
went to Borneo in 1960 and and I've seen countries like that
transform themselves. I first went to Indonesia in 1968, just after
the enormous uprising and the slaughter. It was a terrible place
then. You go there now and it's got to the point now that the DFID
won't be funding it because it sees Indonesia as a middle-income
country. I've also worked a lot in Thailand and I've seen that
country transform over time. But you've got to talk in terms of 10 to
20 years for a country to really progress."
His job description in his last post, as president of the Rockefeller
Foundation, the US-based philanthropic giant that seeks solutions to
global poverty? Something not often seen in the classifieds: "The
well being of humanity throughout the world."
For Conway, that means, principally, feeding the world. At the
Rockefeller Foundation he was derided by anti-GM campaigners for his
belief - backed by the foundation's money - that the best way to do
this was through biotechnology. He has described as "naive" those who
believe there is enough food in the world and that we simply need to
redistribute it. But he also turned heads by telling the board of
Monsanto they had generated the anti-GM backlash themselves by
failing to pay attention to legitimate concerns about bioengineered
food. Hence Fortune magazine's description of him as "the global food
fight's leading centrist".
Does his new employer have an official view on genetic modification?
"We support biotechnology in general, but you need to make a
distinction between that and genetic modification, which is just one
application of biotechnology. A good example of what we support are
the new varieties of rice and bananas in Africa, which are produced
from tissue culture. Both crops are spreading rapidly and producing
results. GM probably will deliver results but it'll take time."
In this job, Conway firmly believes, "one can begin to make a
difference to the lives of millions of people." But the stress is on
"begin". Money is needed but, even more crucially, so is time.
"That's one of the things I think people don't fully understand.
There are no magic bullets. It takes time." That is something the
media, with its love of apocalyptic headlines, rarely reflects.
Is Conway worried about a world population of 6 billion and growing?
Have industrialisation, the green revolution and the efforts of such
bodies as DFID merely done what motorways do to cars on our roads -
increased numbers to bursting point?
"I don't think that's the right interpretation," he says, patiently
(it's clearly the most frequent of FAQs). "I think that from
everything we know, if you improve the lives of poor people, if you
give them food security and access to health, they have fewer
children. That works all the time with some few exceptions. The
fertility rates start to come down."
It doesn't seem to be kicking in all that fast in India, though. "In
some places it has," he points out. "It's come down faster than
anyone expected in Bangladesh."
He concedes that, even if things go as planned, world population will
stabilise at a big number. What is that big number? It's slippery.
"You've got to factor in technology, which is hard to predict. The
interconnectedness of the modern world is another compli- cation. In
one sense, it brings people into contact with each other; they can
learn from each other, train each other, solve problems collectively.
But in another sense, it introduces all kinds of threats - such as
Interconnectedness is also, as Conway sees it, the solution to those
old Malthusian "checks" - war, famine, disease. "In the United
States," he says, "I was chairman of one of the largest affordable
housing projects in the country which was put together by a whole lot
of private foundations working together." At the DFID, Conway sees
the public-private partnership as the way to handle, for example,
vaccine research on HIV/Aids for the third world, or the growth of
higher education in Africa, or - at a more practical level (he's a
very practical man) - supplying insecticide-impregnated bed-nets to
east Africa, where they have brought down infant mortality rates
The future well being of mankind requires, as Conway sees it,
effective co-operation between three very big players: governments,
private foundations, and NGOs. He also believes strongly in the need
for science to have a voice in policy-making in developing countries,
something else he believes requires cooperation, a point he made to
the House of Commons select committee on science and technology
earlier this year.
Few of us are charged with responsibility for the long-term fate of
our species. Is he, through and through, an optimist? Or is there an
inner Sir Gordon Conway who looks into the mirror from time to time
and thinks perhaps not?
"No. If you asked my family they'd say the optimism goes right
through. I get very depressed when I see suffering and tragedy -
whether it be New Orleans or Islamabad, or the countries ravaged by
the tsunami. In all three cases we could have done a better job in
protecting people. We know how to build buildings that are earthquake
proof. New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen. If warning
systems had been in place there would have been many fewer people
killed by the tsunami. So I don't get depressed, I get angry. I know
there are answers. The world is very slow to respond but, in time, we
usually put the answers in place" *
Gordon Conway . . . 'One can begin to make a difference to the lives
of millions of people. But it takes time and that's one of the things
I think people don't fully understand. There are no magic bullets'
Understanding the Anti-GM Propaganda by Activists
- Sivramiah Shantharam
I would like to echo the sentiments of Prof. Tom DeGregori regarding
the vicious discrediting of any positive report on biotechnology by
the anti-GM lobby all around the world. For them, there is nothing
good about GM crops and would like to banish them from the surface of
the planet and they will stop at nothing to discredit the technology
by attacking any positive report, peer reviewed or not, and more
viciously character assassinate the people who produce such reports.
DeGregori mentions a fact that most of the reports published by the
anti-GM lobby are not peer reviewed which is true. But, that does not
stop them from berating their chest to say their studies are
"independent" and "scientific", whatever they mean in their parlance.
One thing for sure is that they are free of scientific rigor. They
don't care for the kind of peer review that we are all used to, and
in fact, they do not acknowledge that the established peer review
system is any good as it is made up of "peers" who have sold their
soul to industry and institutional biases.
Ever since the dawn of GM crops controversy, there has been a
constant attack on the scientific establishment and the credibility
of scientists who speak or write in favor of biotechnology. They have
developed a bitter contempt for science and scientists working in the
area of biotechnology. They dismiss the peer review system as a self
serving concoction of a scheme owned and operated by industry
controlled hacks. According to them the established peer review
system is closed circle of back scratchers who approve or clear one
another's research work and keep funding coming to support the
Instead, the anti-GM lobby have created their own peer review system
in which all they pat each others back for their reports on the
unmitigated failures of GM crops all over the world. Case in point is
the alleged failures of Bt cotton crop in India. NGOs have been
constantly putting out reports year after year saying that Bt cotton
is a failure and to some extent have succeeded in creating an image
in the minds of the public that there is something wrong with Bt
cotton. They even got a state government to ban some varieties of Bt
cotton. Not one of these reports is capable of withstanding
scientific scrutiny, and not one of these groups will present their
findings in a scientific meeting where knowledgeable experts to can
examine them. Of course, they will never submit their findings to a
peer reviewed journal for publication. For them, their reports are
considered independent scientific enough because they did it.
Clearly, some of the reports carry the names of so called scientists
with ostensible PhD tags. For them, anyone with a Ph.D. or having a
bachelor's or master's degree is a scientist. This is not to cast
aspersions on countless bachelor's, and master's degree holders who
have proven themselves to be far superior scientists than many PhDs.
Ph.D. tag has guaranteed that all those who have a Ph.D. are great
scientists, but at least they have a modicum of scientific training
that should stand in good stead for them to do correct things.
The world of science is moving at the speed of light and hard enough
for the scientists too keep pace with it, what to speak of anyone who
has not set foot in a laboratory or conducted a decent filed research
in decades. That is why a sound peer review system acts as a
continually improving system of checks and balance to ensure quality
of research work done. They also conveniently ignore peer reviewed
publications that are positive of Bt cotton technology, but will jump
to seize on any negative report from the same peer review system,
which is usually quoted out of context just to score their political
Another case in point is the work of Professor Traavik on the health
effects of Bt corn on some farmers in The Philippines, a couple of
years ago. He refused to submit his data for scientific peer review.
Instead, went to the COP-MOP meetings in KL and addressed a large
group of anti-GM lobby members who cheered him for his reports on the
negative effects he had observed. They were his peers and their nod
was good enough for him. Some, it seems remarked that here are our
peers and this is the kind of peer review we want. There you have it.
One kind of a peer review for them and one for the rest of us. Each
one to himself or herself!!! Both are peer review systems, alright!
Who cares for your peer review system when I have my own? Who is to
say which one is the best? They go to their peers and we all continue
to slog within our peer review system. No one should be surprised if
Greenpeace bank rolls a scientific journal of its own to publish
their own peer reviewed scientific reports about GMOs.
If there is a peer reviewed negative paper on GM crops, then the
entire anti-GM lobby latches on to it, and if there is a positive
paper, then it must be from a corrupt industry paid scientist(s).
This kind double standards is the hall mark of this anti-GM movement,
and it is a real shame. I agree with Tom DeGregori that it does not
matter who publishes what, but it must stand scrutiny of peers and
must follow standardized scientific methodology. But, that is neither
the intention nor the purpose of the anti-GM lobby. They just want to
score points based on political ideology and keep themselves occupied.
Nobody says that peer review system is perfect, but that is the best
thing happening for the vibrant scientific enterprise as we know
today. One can debate the strengths and weaknesses of the peer review
system and one can even point out to shoddy and outright false
scientific publications that have passed through the cracks in the
system, but I know of no other method by which the voluminous output
in science can be subjected to quality control other than the peer
review system that the scientists themselves have established. It is
a fair guess that almost 99% of all published papers are indeed of
high quality and stand the test of times. It is this peer review
system that has promoted the self-correcting system in science and
bad science is discarded and good science promoted. At least, I have
not seen a self-correcting anti-biotech NGO that has demonstrated
that it is capable of self-correction in the face of facts and truths.
The strategy of the anti-GM lobby is clear. Just keep on discrediting
the GM technology all against facts and figures. Keep repeating lies
and lies repeated hundreds and thousands of times becomes the truth.
The sad things is nobody is challenging them on equal footing in the
activist mode through mass media and this is more evident in Asia
than anywhere else. Scientists in Asia and Africa must brace up and
not be cowed down by false propaganda.
Science of GMOs
- Bleys W. Rose, The Press Democrat (California), Oct. 24, 2005
'Voters looking to research for guidance on Measure M will find
Scientific researchers are at war over basic questions about
genetically modified organisms - whether they are safe in food,
spread to crops in other fields and actually reduce use of pesticides
Voters looking to science for answers about the proposed GMO ban on
the Nov. 8 ballot will find ample ammunition amassed on either side
of the argument. And both sides in the Measure M campaign are hurling
conclusions from research studies as authoritative sources for their
"There is a lot of selective citation going on in the GMO debate,"
said Rick Roush, an entomologist at UC Davis and director of the
university's integrated pest-management program. "They cite one study
that supports their view and ignore the one that refutes it." He
said: "I'd say voters should look at where the preponderance of
scientific views is gathered."
Since genetic engineering in crops was introduced for commercial
production in 1996, scientific research has centered on three key
Are GMOs safe for human consumption? The bulk of research says yes,
but critics say the data is tainted by biotech-industry funding and
risks are rarely studied.
Do GMOs spread from one field to the next through pollination?
Possibly, but the studies are as controversial as they are
Do GMOs reduce pesticide and herbicide use? Initially yes, but nature
takes its course as fields become more productive yet also less
resistant to weeds and pests.
Those are precisely the questions facing voters who will decide
Measure M, an initiative that would place a 10-year moratorium on
GMOs in Sonoma County. Although such a ban would initially affect
only a handful of farmers who grow corn for animal feed, it has great
symbolic impact and could have implications for the use of human and
animal vaccines, as well as biotech protection for vineyards.
Across the United States, GMOs have worked so well to increase
acreage productivity and boost profits that more than 106 million
acres of GMO crops - mostly corn, soybeans, canola and cotton - have
been planted. In 2004, 45 percent of corn acreage, 85 percent of
soybean acreage and 76 percent of cotton acreage was in genetically
modified varieties, according to the Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology, a nonpartisan research project.
Many major food and scientific organizations endorse GMO crops,
especially as a means to solve the world's hunger problem. Perhaps
the most comprehensive review was conducted by the European Union,
which examined the work of 400 research groups and found GMOs present
no risk to human health or the environment when compared with
conventional plant breeding.
"The important point to take away is that GM crops are substantially
equivalent to others being grown. They are no better or worse," said
Allen Van Deynze, a plant genetics researcher at UC Davis. "They may
be different in resistance to insects, but the rest of the traits are
Van Deynze is principal investigator on a UC Davis project trying to
improve the yield of a tomato plant by introducing a gene found in a
plant in the mustard family that is commonly found growing in Bodega
Bay sand dunes. If successful, tomatoes would use less fertilizer and
By genetically grafting a specific gene from one organism to another
in order to obtain a desired trait, scientists can produce new
varieties of plants that tolerate herbicides and require less
pesticide application. This allows farmers to spray their fields to
eliminate weeds without damaging their crop, and pests like borers
and worms encounter a toxic protein when they munch into plants.
Environmentalists, however, argue that there have been precious few
studies assessing the environmental and health risks of such GMOs.
They point to research that turned up evidence that modified
organisms had spread to nearby fields, which creates a serious risk
for organic farmers and those using traditional farming methods that
don't rely on chemicals.
"Our experiments revealed that the transgenic DNA is turning up in
unpredictable places," said Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist at
UC Berkeley whose research found GMOs had invaded traditional Mexican
maize. "If you look in the valleys, areas of industrial agriculture,
you find more, closer to the roads you find more."
Chapela, who was in Sonoma County last week to address a Measure M
fund-raiser at Benzinger winery, acknowledged that voters are likely
to be confused by conflicting scientific research. "There is a herd
effect in GMO research with funding stampeding toward product
development," Chapela said. "Nobody's funding risk-assessment studies
that might find problems and resolve contradictions."
Chapela's research in the corn fields of Oaxaca, Mexico, is cited by
Measure M proponents as a prime example of scientific research
against GMOs, along with research done by Charles Benbrook, director
of the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center.
Benbrook's research of GMO crops showed herbicide usage dropped from
1996 to 1998, but substantially increased through 2003 as they grew
more tolerant of herbicides like Roundup.
Both studies came under attack.
Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace founder who was in Sonoma County earlier
this month to speak against Measure M, criticized Benbrook's studies
for incorrectly concluding that more herbicide tonnage was
necessarily bad. Tonnage of the herbicide glyphosate had increased,
Moore said, but "that's good because it is a benign one and not a
nasty one, although it is heavier and therefore bound to drive up the
Meanwhile, Chapela encountered a furious attack from within his own
school's biology department when the results of his research were
published in 2001 in the magazine Nature. Later, Nature took the
unusual step of disavowing the research.
A team led by scientists from Ohio State University examined the same
territory in Oaxaca in 2002 and 2003, finding no evidence that
genetically modified corn had invaded maize.
"There is no simple explanation why research differs, Roush said. "I
am baffled about what happened. For a lot of scientists it raises the
question whether there was any problem to begin with, or whether GMOs
did not persist. It has left us scratching our heads."
ON THE WEB
Pew Initiative on Food & Biotechnology: Found U.S. accounts for 63
percent of world's GMO crops, mostly corn, soybeans and cotton.
http://pewagbiotech.org. Search site for "Genetically Modified Crops"
report Aug. 2004.
UC's Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Links to
published GMO research. http://ucbiotech.org. See resources section.
Charles Benbrook's study: Found pesticide use decreased after GMOs
introduced, but usage increased later.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service study: Found
pesticide use decreased and profitability increased in GMO corn and
cotton crops, but not in soybeans.
Ignacio Chapela's study: Found genes from GMO corn had "contaminated"
traditional Mexican maize.
"Trans-genic DNA Introgressed into Traditional Maize in Oaxaca,
Mexico," by D. Quist & I.H. Chapela, Nov. 2001. Vol. 414.
European Commission review of GMO research: Review of 400 studies
found GMOs present no more risk than conventional plant breeding.
Would 'Land-mine Detecting Plants' Work?
- Jonathan Gressel
Did I miss something?
I can just envisage how this will be done. First one will have to
plow and disc the land-mine infested field so that puny Arabidopsis
can compete with the indigenous vegetation (or will they run a spray
rig across it with herbicide? - statistically safer), then drill in
the Arabidopsis, which is hopefully herbicide resistant so other
species won't overgrow it, spray herbicide to prevent this problem
and then you have to get down on your knees and crawl through the
field to see if the Arabidopsis changed color. A great way to clear
land-mines with a plant. Luckily I am red-green color blind, so I
In the old days, the engineer who designed a bridge stood under it
when the first overloaded cargos were sent across to make sure it met
specifications. For their sake, I hope the genetic engineers who
designed this plant will not try to meet that type of challenge.
> 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.
Re: GM Crop Approvals in India
- Anand Halli
It is heartening to know that newer biotech crops are going to be
introduced in India ('GM Crops Move Forward in India' By Sivramiah
Shantharam in AgBio views). I am sure it boosts the production of
food grains and subsequently economy of farming community. During the
course of evaluation of safety of introduction of any biotech crops
stringent rules have to be followed. Having seen the Indian
bureaucratic loopholes I find a very bleak chances of this happening.
There should be thorough quality control systems set by Government.
If we take Bt cotton, more than 50% of the Bt cottonseeds in the
market are spurious. How many farmers can test quality of seeds at
genetic level when they buy the seeds? I hope both policy makers and
scientists consider all possible loopholes and come out with
stringent guidelines that ultimately help farmers.
A-Maize-Ing Evolution: Seven Millennia in the Making
- Ellen Bridget Mckeown, The Daily Cardinal, Oct. 25 2005
The development of genetically modified plants has allowed people to
change certain traits in crops, but humans have been influencing the
genetic makeup of crops for thousands of years. Maize took more than
7000 years to descend from a tropical, small-eared plant to the
modern crop grown on farms today.
Changes in plants happen through plant breeding, in which humans
artificially select and grow the plants most beneficial to them. The
maize everyone knows today exists because of thousands of years of
selective breeding, which left modern corn with four or five changes
in gene expression, altering certain key characteristics.
"Modern maize would never have existed without humans," said Irwin
Goldman, a professor of horticulture at UW-Madison.
Plant breeding is as old as agriculture itself. The major gene
changes in maize began about 7,000 years ago and humans bred it to
have large ears with soft kernels, making it nutritious and easy to
eat. In fact, maize barely resembles its progenitor, a tropical plant
called teosinte that has several branches with small, practically
Maize looks so much different from its precursor that it was not
until about 25 years ago that scientists officially accepted the
teosinte as its ancestor, said Bill Tracy, a professor of agronomy at
UW-Madison. The changes to the plant's exterior have made maize look
more like a distant cousin to teosinte than a direct descendant. One
of the most significant changes was the loss of the hard outer shell
of the kernel, called a fruit case, which allowed humans to use it as
a food source.
According to a study published in the August issue of Nature,
appearance of the fruit case is controlled by a single gene. Genes
dictate which amino acids (which add up to proteins, the "building
blocks" of life) are produced--the final order and type of a chain of
amino acids determines the final trait. The Nature study said that
only one amino acid change within this gene's instructions might have
caused the disappearance of the fruit case.
Humans have also bred maize over time to adapt it to the cooler
climate and longer days of the Midwest, where it is now the principle
crop of several states. Although the changes were drastic, they
occurred over a long period of time. A plant's genetic structure can
change, but only after a lot of effort and concerted breeding will
the desired changes remain. "It was literally selection over
thousands of years to get the big-eared modern day corn," Tracy said.
Even several hundred years ago, corn looked different than it does
today. When European settlers arrived in New England, the corn they
found was small and robust--an adaptation that resulted from having
to cope with the cold climate--while the corn in the warmer south was
more full-bodied. "When Europeans moved into the Midwest they
brought both kinds of corn and by accident, they crossed," Tracy said.
Most of the corn that is now grown in the United States is the end
result of thousands of years of selective breeding and accidental
crossbreeding. Without any modern methods of genetic modification,
humans took the humble teosinte plant and transformed it into robust,
delicious ears of corn.
Assessing the Transfer of Genetically Modified DNA from Feed to Animal Tissues
- Raffaele Mazza et al., Transgenic Research, October 2005 (Forwarded
by D J Murphy
Abstract: In Europe, public and scientific concerns about the
environmental and food safety of GM (Genetically Modified) crops
overshadow the potential benefits offered by crop biotechnology to
improve food quality. One of the concerns regarding the use of GM
food in human and animal nutrition is the effect that newly
introduced sequences may have on the organism. In this paper, we
assess the potential transfer of diet-derived DNA to animal tissues
after consumption of GM plants. Blood, spleen, liver, kidney and
m4uscle tissues from piglets fed for 35 days with diets containing
either GM (MON810) or a conventional maize were investigated for the
presence of plant DNA. Only fragments of specific maize genes (Zein,
Sh-2) could be detected with different frequencies in all the
examined tissues except muscle. A small fragment of the Cry1A(b)
transgene was detected in blood, liver, spleen and kidney of the
animals raised with the transgenic feed. The intact Cry1A(b) gene or
its minimal functional unit were never detected.
Statistical analysis of the results showed no difference in recovery
of positives for the presence of plant DNA between animals raised
with the transgenic feed and animals raised with the conventional
feed, indicating that DNA transfer may occur independently from the
source and the type of the gene.
From the data obtained, we consider it unlikely that the occurrence
of genetic transfer associated with GM plants is higher than that
from conventional plants.
Food Doesn't Have to be Organic to be Safe, Healthy
- Buffalo News (New York) October 22, 2005
My wife and I enjoy Lisa Earle McLeod's weekly column, but being
involved in agriculture, I must call "fowl" on her Oct. 16 column,
"No fast solution to raging food fight." She did a great job
acknowledging the time constraints we all face and the impact that
has on our food choices.
However, she paints the production of most food as "hormone-injected,
Franken-food" and implies that only organic food is healthy and the
only way to achieve safe and proper nutrition is by eating organic.
That is simply not true and ignores the hard work and dedication of
the thousands of producers who are not organic growers.
American consumers enjoy one of the most plentiful, safest and least
expensive food supplies in the world. Unfortunately, agriculture does
not spend as much money telling the truth as the animal rights and
environmental groups do spreading inaccuracies and playing on
Consumers drive the products that are stocked at the store and what
they want are packaged foods that they can cook quickly with little
or no preparation. One of the main problems in the raging food fight
is that everyone is an environmentalist, conservationist and farming
romantic until they get to the checkout line. Then they just want it
cheap. Consumers need to realize that their choices at the checkout
drive production practices on the farm.
- Andrew Wormuth, Elba
Myth of Pesticide-free Organic Food Continues
- Guelph Mercury, October 24, 2005; Via Agnet
Robert Wager, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, B.C., writes
regarding, 'New pesticides report drawing fire' (Guel ph Mercury,
Oct. 12), to say that once again, he reads a misleading statement by
an advocate of organic food. In the story, Ann Clark stated: "There
are other ways to produce food without pesticides." This seems to
imply organic farmers do not use pesticides. This is not true.
Organic farmers can and do use a variety of pesticides, just
naturally derived ones.
The United States Department of Agriculture National Organic Program
has a set of rules for what can and cannot be used in organic food
production. Thes e rules appear to be well on the way to adoption
here in Canada as well. The list, at
http://www.ams.USDA.gov/nop/NOP/standards/ListReg.html, includes an
assortment of pesticides, chemicals and even antibiotics that are
permitted. Some of the natural pesticides include pyrethrum, rotenone
and ryanodine, all of which are considered potential human
food is grown without pesticides is indeed a "red herring."
Unfortunately, few of the general public know the real story, and the
myth of chemical and pesticide-free organic food production continues
New Research Shows that Bt Crops Pose Little Threat to Non-Target Organisms
- Environmental Entomology, Oct. 2005, V. 34, No. 5;
http://www.entsoc.org/pubs/periodicals/ee (via Agnet )
Lanham, Md.-Environmental Entomology, an Entomological Society of
America journal has just published the results of 11 field studies of
the impact of Bt crops on non-target organisms. These field studies,
published in 13 research papers in the October issue of the journal,
represent the most comprehensive, long-term scientific assessment of
this issue to date.
The effect of Bt technology on non-target organisms has been one
aspect of the wide-ranging debate over transgenic cr ops. These
crops, which have been in commercial production since 1996, are
protected from specific insect pests with insecticidal proteins
derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
The results of the new studies provide extensive data to support the
conclusion reached by regulators when these crops were first
commercialized--that Bt cotton and Bt corn pose little, if any,
threat to organisms not targeted by the Bt proteins. These studies
also bear out one of the environmental benefits of Bt crops--the
reduction in the use of insecticides with broad-spectrum activity.
These commonly used insecticides not only affect a wide range of
pests but also have been shown to be more damaging to tnon-target
The field studies, conducted in the United States and Australia,
focused on the longer-term assessment of potential non-target effects
of transgenic Bt cotton and corn. The research encompassed two
varieties of crops (upland cotton and hybrid corn) which collectively
produce five insecticidal proteins, and involved the evaluation of a
wide breadth of non-target arthropods. With one exception, studies
were conducted over a minimum of three site-years in either
controlled, moderate-sized research plots or int commercial fields
subject to typical grower production practices. The majority of
studies were conducted for three years or more.
Publication of these papers inaugurates a new subject area in
Environmental Entomology entitled "Transgenic Plants and Insects."
"This new subject area allows us to explore issues in agricultural
biotechnology," said Dr. E. Alan Cameron, the journal's
editor-in-chief. "In this inaugural section, we present a unique body
of research that shows that Bt crops have little effect on non-target
organisms, especially compared to the alternative use of insecticides
with broad-spectrum activity, which can be many times more damaging
to the non-target arthropod community."
"Future topics in this subject area will include all aspects of the
development, application, and assessment of transgenic technology in
pest management and its environmental impact,"Cameron added.
Biotech Cotton 8: Bugs 0
- Science Daily, Oct 24, 2005 http://www.sciencedaily.com
Biotech cotton has beaten back pink bollworm eight years running,
reports a team of scientists from The University of Arizona in
Tucson. The surprising finding is good news for the environment.
Arizona farmers who plant the biotech cotton known as Bt cotton use
substantially less chemical insecticides than in the past.
Insect pests sometimes evolve resistance to such chemicals in just a
few years, a fate that was predicted for biotech crops genetically
modified to produce Bt toxin, a naturally occurring insecticide.
"This is the most complete study to date for monitoring resistance to
Bt crops," said team leader Bruce E. Tabashnik, the head of UA's
department of entomology, a member of UA's BIO5 Institute and an
expert in insect resistance to insecticides. "We found no net
increase in insect resistance to Bt. If anything, resistance
decreased. This is the opposite of what experts predicted when these
crops were first commercialized." He added, "I'm definitely
Tabashnik, Timothy J. Dennehy, a UA Distinguished University Outreach
Professor of Entomology and extension specialist and a member of
BIO5, and Yves Carriere, UA associate professor of entomology, will
publish their research in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.
Bt cotton has been planted in Arizona since 1996. Now more than half
of the state's 256,000 acres of cotton fields are planted with the
biotech plants. Without the protection provided by Bt cotton, some
fields can have 100 percent of plants infested with pink bollworm
caterpillars, which live inside the cotton boll, destroying the crop.
Dennehy said, "In an extreme infestation, you can have every single
boll in the field infected." The caterpillars eat the seeds and
damage the developing cotton fibers. In contrast, when the
caterpillars eat Bt cotton, they die.
Before the use of Bt cotton became widespread, pink bollworm was one
of the top three insect pests of cotton in the Southwest. In 1995,
losses from pink bollworm in Arizona cotton were estimated to be
$8.48 per acre, totaling $3.4 million statewide. Cotton is grown in
eight Arizona counties: Cochise, Graham, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave,
Pima, Pinal and Yuma. "Moreover, the harsh insecticides used to
control pink bollworm resulted in a host of other insect pests
becoming more serious problems," Dennehy said.
Everything changed in 1996, he said, when Bt cotton and two other
"soft" insect control tactics replaced a large amount of the harsh
pesticides used on cotton crops. Spraying less chemical insecticides
means more beneficial insects survive, further reducing the need for
spraying. By 2004, pink bollworm losses had fallen to nearly half of
earlier levels, $4.34 per acre.
Tabashnik said, "Some of the other pests are not so much of a problem
because we're not killing their natural enemies with insecticides."
Dennehy added, "These soft toxins plus the good bugs acting together
have driven pesticide use to historic low levels ... this is a
wonderful success of integrated pest management."
Since widespread adoption of Bt cotton in 1997, insecticide use on
Arizona's cotton crops is down 60 percent, said Tabashnik. The
reduction in chemical pesticide use saves growers about $80 per acre.
According to the Arizona Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, the value
of Arizona's cotton crops for 2004 was estimated at $207 million.
The key to Bt cotton's continued efficacy is the use of refuges -
patches of traditional cotton intermingled with the fields of Bt
cotton. The refuges ensure that the few pink bollworm moths that are
resistant to Bt are most likely to mate with Bt-susceptible pink
bollworm moths that grew up in the refuges. The offspring from such
matings die when they eat Bt cotton.
In contrast, if all of Arizona's cotton was Bt cotton, only pink
bollworm caterpillars that were resistant to the Bt toxin would
survive. If resistant pink bollworm moths mated with each other,
their offspring would be resistant and could feed on Bt cotton. Bt
cotton would then become useless against pink bollworm.
The UA team used a combination of field surveys, laboratory testing
and mathematical modeling to determine if pink bollworm had become
resistant to Bt cotton. The team did find Bt-resistant pink bollworm
caterpillars in the field, but they were rare.
Tabashnik said that doesn't mean the insects won't bite back in the
future. "It's not that pink bollworm can't beat Bt toxin, but that it
hasn't beaten Bt toxin so far."
There's a new variety Bt cotton now available that has two different
Bt toxins, he said. The team's next step will be to determine how to
best use that combination of toxins to stay one step ahead of the
pink bollworms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Arizona
Cotton Research and Protection Council, the Monsanto Company, and
Cotton, Inc. funded the research.
America's Heartland - New Public Television Series
Our nation's agriculture is a truly miraculous enterprise, a place
where only 2% of the population feeds, clothes, and fuels the other
98%, along with millions more worldwide. Farmers and ranchers of all
stripes contribute mightily to our quality of life, and as a result,
American consumers spend less to feed themselves than any other
country in the world. Our nation's very roots are in agrarian
culture, and over time we've lost the connection between our food and
those who produce it.
America's Heartland is a new weekly public television series, hosted
by Paul Ryan, which will celebrate our nation's agriculture.
Profiling the people, places, and processes of agriculture, the
series will tap in to-and strengthen-the ties that bind us all
together: the love of our land and the respect for the people who
live on and from it, a national fascination with food, curiosity
about unfamiliar places and ways of life, and the bedrock American
values of family, hard work and the spirit of independence.
Heartland crews have traveled to nearly 30 states, and the stories
are as varied as you can imagine: process stories from Louisiana
shrimp to Vermont maple syrup to Texas sugar cane. Crop stories that
feature Iowa soybeans, Maine potatoes, Washington cherries, Arizona
lettuce and sweet Georgia carrots. Places like the world's largest
Aloe Vera farm, an underground mushroom farm, and a historic Texas
cattle ranch that once employed an entire town. The series celebrates
the diversity of cultures that tended our agrarian roots, and are
still producing today, ranging from Basque sheepherders in the far
West, the German "Schmeckfest in South Dakota, Creoles in Louisiana
and the Pennsylvania Amish. Features include organic farms, seven
generations of homesteaders, and an African-American pig farmer
raising a new breed of hog while providing leadership for a new
generation of farmers. Popcorn, peanuts, Limburger cheese, rainbow
trout, and old Kentucky bourbon.
Watch the History of Ag in America
Farmers first put seed to soil more than 10,000 years agobut the
birth of the American farm and farmer is unique. Watch how hard work
and a pioneering spirit shaped our nation.
View at http://www.americasheartland.org/
Communicate to the Public
- Robert Derham, October 21, 2005 http://www.checkbiotech.org
As the early morning fog lifted last Wednesday in the French town of
Illkirch, during the BioValley Green Biotech Event, it might have
been a symbolic outlook for the future of genetic engineering in
Europe. Try as it might, the fog could not dampen a morning of
enthusiasm and accomplishment. Shortly after the morning
presentations began, the fog started to burn off.
With talk of genetically modified (GM) plants that would clean the
environment, produce plastics, have more vitamins, produce more
disease preventing antioxidants and act as the pharmaceutical drug
producing factories of tomorrow, there was reason for the sun to
The researchers were focusing on the second generation of transgenic
crops and foods - whose improvements would more directly benefit
costumers. The first generation of GM crops also benefited the
consumer, albeit indirectly. Farmers more directly benefited from the
first generation supported in part by the annual global increase of
GM crop plantings.
Despite the global increase, Europe is one region that has been
reluctant to adopt policies that favor transgenic agriculture. The
speakers' frustration with the status quo in Europe grew more evident
during the afternoon sessions.
Dr. Ralf Reski, professor at the University of Freiburg, spoke of how
his joint research project on moss has encountered road blocks at
times, but due to foreign support, it is moving forward. The overall
success of the moss research program at the University of Freiburg
has led to the identification of important genetic knowledge for BASF
Plant Science, and to the formation of a company called, Greenovation.
Greenovation uses uniquely designed moss plants to produce
pharmaceutical drugs. The moss plants are grown in special incubating
systems, which allow them to secrete the medicine of interest into
their surrounding. The resulting drugs can then be separated and
prepared for human use. Such a system is know as a bioreactor.
Considering the success of the moss research project, it could be
presumed that European funding sources would be jumping at the
opportunities to advance the field. Yet, when Dr. Reski looked for
funding in Europe to sequence the moss genome, he noted, "It took me
about two years to look for something in Europe, but no one would
sponsor such a project."
Dr. Reski then found an online advertisement for funding from a US
website, and decided to apply. Two and a half months later he
received a reply that his project would be granted funding, and it
should be carried out "with highest priority." "That is the
difference between Europe and the States [USA]," added Dr. Reski.
Greenovation ran into similar problems in Europe as it sought
potential investors and partners for their moss bioreactors. Dr.
Reski then came into contact with a Chinese investor, who after
learning about Greenovation's technology, emphatically stated, "I
want you to build your bioreactors in China." "As with the States,
here is the difference between China and Europe - forward thinking.
They see an opportunity and they go for it," suggested Dr. Reski to
From Golden to Danger
After Dr. Reski's presentation, the enthusiastic mood from the
morning started to change to serious reflection. There was even more
to contemplate as Dr. Peter Beyer, from the University of Freiburg
presented his second generation GM crop - and the first of its kind -
As Dr. Beyer noted, "The rice kernel - the mother of all foods - is
void of iron, vitamin E and pro-vitamin A." So he and co-inventor Dr.
Ingo Potrykus, from the ETH Zurich in Switzerland, worked together to
give rice the ability to naturally produce pro-vitamin A, which is
the root for its orange color and its nickname - Golden Rice.
Pro-vitamin A, also known as beta-carotene, can then be used by the
human body to make vitamin A. On its own, the body cannot produce
vitamin A, which leads to problems in many developing countries of
the world, since half of the world's population depends on rice for
their caloric intake, and of that 50 percent, 80 percent live solely
Commenting on the gravity of this global issue, Dr. Beyer stressed,
"A diet, based solely on rice, can lead to serious health problems,
such as: partial or full blindness, skin diseases, nervous system
problems, among others."
With the advent of Golden Rice, many of these health problems that
developing countries face could be eliminated, if Golden Rice can be
brought to the people in need. However, success is slowly progressing
and again, a familiar target resurfaced. "The danger zone is in
Europe," implied Dr. Beyer.
The "danger," to which Dr. Beyer alluded, stems from a growing
perception that new scientific advancements need to be absolutely
safe, to which he added, "This does not exist." "We need to look at
a risk-benefit analysis," noted Dr. Beyer, as he made reference to
scientific advancements. "Look for the benefit analyses [concerning
GM crops] in Europe and you will only find risk analyses."
This development has not been without repercussions. Europe is home
to the most extensive regulatory system for approving genetically
engineered agriculture. In order to import goods into Europe, many
other countries have enacted similarly strict regulatory guidelines
to ensure European markets remain open to their exports.
"The regulatory guidelines these days are undeniably exaggerated.
They are not based on science," and Dr Beyer's frustration is well
understood. No country is unstained from playing economic games with
regulatory laws to protect its country's markets.
However, Dr. Beyer's pro-vitamin A enriched rice is not about
economics - its about saving lives and improving the quality of
people's lives. That is why he has a plan. "We are now working on
giving Golden Rice ownership to the countries themselves. By doing
so, we hope to reduce the regulatory guidelines," or as he later
clarified, he hopes the countries will enact legal routes that will
allow humanitarian projects, such as Golden Rice, to face less
Despite road blocks, Dr. Beyer believes Golden Rice faces a bright
future, which was more optimism than Dr. Pascual Perez, from the
French-based company Biogemma, could offer. During his presentation,
Dr. Perez evidenced how Europe has a limited amount of farmland, with
a population that continues to rise.
The Pen vs. the Sword
Biogemma believes the solution to limited farm space can be found in
improving the genetic make-up of crops, so that they can produce
larger yields from the same amount of farmland. As their research
has translated into products, they have moved to undergoing field
trials to see how their yield-increasing crops measure up - however,
results have been difficult to come by.
Time and time again, individuals have deliberately destroyed their
field trials. In some cases, Dr. Perez highlighted, "These people,
who claim to be for the environment, have put salt on the fields,
thus making future plantings impossible," because high salt
concentrations act as a poison, thus rending the soil infertile.
When asked by a member of the audience what his company plans to do
to overcome this situation, Dr. Perez replied, "What can we do, if
the French Government does not act. We, as a company, are held to the
law, but they are somehow held above the law. Eventually, we may have
to do like everyone else - take our trials to the US." "This is
happening everywhere in Europe. The companies are relocating their
research to other places outside of Europe, like the US," an answer
that further damped the hopes of many in attendance.
Throughout the day, some of the most exciting and promising research
in the world was presented, though many were left wondering if the
work that they have heard about at the conference would ever benefit
the place they call home.
As the auditorium vibrated with proposals, while sub-discussions
broke out over topics that ranged from how transgenic research "was
being misunderstood," how politicians were not helping and how to
rectify the damaging flow of "brain drain" - the loss of Europe's
elite scientists to other countries in the world - none satisfied the
tumult until Dr. Jean Masson from the INRA in France, offered a
"You have to take the time to communicate to the public. If we don't,
the activists will." And with that, people settled back into their
chairs and side conversations almost immediately ceased - the fog of
doubt and disbelief had abruptly cleared the room.
Dr. Masson spoke from experience. INRA had sought permission for over
four years to undergo field trials with genetically modified
grapevines that can withstand the devastating Pierce disease, and in
the end, it was communication that finally convinced the public that
the study should continue.
However, recognizing a solution, such as better communication, and
being able to capitalize on it are two different things - especially
when dealing with scientists, whose attitude towards communication
might best generalized by the cliché, "let the facts speak for
Although many of Europe's best plant scientists convened at
Wednesday's BioValley Green Biotech Day to give the world a taste of
the future benefits that agricultural biotechnology has in store for
the world, it may have been the scientists who were handed the best
invention of the day - communication. However as with any great
invention, the greater task lies in ensuring that it can be put into
Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference
- Cairns, Australia, 2006 http://www.tcbc2006.com.au
The Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference 2006 will be held in
Cairns on the doorstep of some of Australia's world heritage natural
wonders from mountain rainforests to the great barrier reef. ...We
have assembled an impressive list of international speakers who will
present on the current state of progress in meeting the challenges
for science and delivery in the following fields:
* the potential for crops as biofactories in the production of
industrial biomaterials, renewable energy, functional foods and
pharmaceuticals; and * the molecular breeding of improved crops
through the application of genomics science in plant improvement,
including the development of stress-tolerant staple food crops with
enhanced nutritional value.