Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : Nov 1, 2005
* Measure M will Damage Sonoma County's Ag, Biotechnology
* GMO Sides Sharply Divided Over Impact On Medical Vaccine
* No on M: Measure is More About Ideology Than Facts
* Scary Grapes
* Mexican Government Studies on Transgenes in Mexican Maize?
* Scientific Papers on GM Feed Safety (with abstracts)
* CAST Commentary on Safety of Foods Produced Using Biotechn
* The Promise of Biotechnology - US State Dept. E Journal
* GM Crops, Segregation and Liability in Australian Agriculture
* Legislated Thresholds for Accidental Presence of GM Canola in Australia
* Julie Newman Responds to Chris Preston
* On the Performance of Bt Cotton in India: Theatre of the Absurd!
* Studies of GM Potatoes Demonstrate Substantial Equivalence
* Lysenko Lives On
* Edible Rice-Based Vaccine May Combat Hay Fever
Measure M will Damage Sonoma County's Ag, Biotechnology
- North Bay Business Journal (California), October 24, 2005
http://northbaybusinessjournal.com (Forwarded by Rick Roush).
Perhaps the two most important impacts of Measure M on the Sonoma
County ballot Nov. 8 are the least discussed: the damage that could
be done to the region's promising biotech industry and potentially
high costs to the county to enforce a ban on genetically modified
Set aside for a moment the silliness of attempting to block something
as pervasive as genetically engineered substances within the
boundaries of any single county. Next we will command that computers
or cell phones stop at the county line.
Still, environmentalists and other supporters of Measure M are hoping
to use Sonoma County as a test lab for their scientifically
unsubstantiated claims of the dangers of genetically modified
In fact, genetically modified plants and foods that are disease and
drought resistant can and are significantly reducing hunger and
helping poor nations grow their own crops. An estimated 80 percent of
the food in a typical grocery store contains some kind of genetic
Much more could be done. Simple genetic modifications to rice across
the Third World could save millions of children from devastating
blindness and death. Yet the anti-GMO forces have thrown up roadblock
Sowing confusion and costs. In Sonoma County, Measure M is certain to
sow confusion if it is passed, and many observers on both sides say
it will be left for the courts to decide what it allows and what it
doesn't. Meanwhile, the county could be saddled with a stringent and
potentially costly enforcement process.
A judge already has ruled that the measure's supposed exemption for
live vaccines to treat diseases in humans and pets is too vague. It's
also unclear whether Measure M would impose a new requirement for
expensive high-level clean rooms for medical and biotech research.
And will dairy farmers who use affordable genetically modified feed
for their herds to compete with huge Central Valley cattle farms no
longer be able to do so?
At the very least, passage of Measure M would put Sonoma County's
economy from wine grape growers to dairy farmers to biotech companies
at a competitive disadvantage relative to their neighbors.
At the worst, Measure M and its anti-science philosophy could crush
growth not just in agriculture but in the county's biotech industry
of the future.
THE BUSINESS JOURNAL recommends a no vote on Sonoma County Measure M.
GMO Sides Sharply Divided Over Impact On Medical Vaccine
- Lindsay Riddell, October 24, 2005
Sonoma County - The two sides of a controversial measure on
November's ballot are in stark disagreement over whether the measure
could potentially limit the distribution of medical vaccines in
Measure M bans the "raising, growing, propagation, cultivation, sale
or distribution of most genetically engineered organisms" in Sonoma
County. Residents vote whether or not to adopt Measure M in the Nov.
8 special election. Under that language, some types of vaccines could
be considered "genetically modified organisms," opponents contend.
But according to the primary author of the study, the measure's
intent is to limit genetically modified crops - such as soy beans
that contain genes making them resistant to pests - from
contaminating non-genetically modified crops, not to hamper the
distribution of medical vaccines.
"Our intent and the way we designed the initiative is it would not be
preventing genetically modified drugs and vaccines," said Dave
Henson, director of the GE-Free Sonoma campaign and lead author of
the initiative. "For a very specific reason, it only prohibits
living, reproducing genetically engineered organisms, where
genetically engineered strain is conferred to the next generation in
the environment. So we wrote that very intentionally."
But some aren't convinced. The largest veterinary group in Sonoma
County is opposing the measure because the group believes it would
limit the use of vaccines it uses for animals. And, though they are
wary to speak publicly, officials from area hospitals have quietly
expressed concern about the measure's implications for medicine.
Other similar measures in Mendocino and Marin counties that have been
adopted include specific exemptions for medical treatments. Measure M
is not as clear.
Judge refuses to strike language. For instance, a Sonoma County
Superior Court judge has refused to strike opponents' language on the
ballot that states the measure "provides no exemption for medical or
veterinary vaccines or life saving treatments for cancer, heart
disease or other illnesses."
"We don't know which genetically engineered vaccines would or
wouldn't be banned in this ordinance, and that's one of the problems
with the measure, that the language is not clear and concise," said
Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau
responsible for the "No on M" campaign. "And the initiative, its
language needs to be clear and concise so you don't have to rely on
the courts or litigation to make interpretations about what will or
will not apply."
However, Mr. Henson and other proponents of the measure and some
scientists say none of the vaccines used now or those being developed
would be affected by the measure.
Ignacio Chapela, Ph.D., an associate professor of mircrobial ecology
at University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement given to
the GE-Free campaign, "in my understanding Measure M would not affect
any existing or foreseen vaccines," with one exception.
In his four-page statement, Dr. Chapela explains why he believes
seven types of vaccines would not be affected by the measure, ruling
out each type because it either doesn't reproduce outside of the host
or is incapable of reproducing. To be classified as genetically
modified, organisms must be live and reproduce.
"Because Sonoma County's Measure M refers exclusively to organisms
that can reproduce in the environment, ('transmit their DNA' in the
language of the Measure), any vaccine conforming to the basic
principle of non-infectiousness is clearly excluded from
consideration," Dr. Chapela wrote. The only vaccine type that would
be clearly affected by the measure is the "production of DNA for
vaccine use in plant hosts, under open-air field conditions,"
according to Dr. Chapela and Mr. Hansen.
But even Dr. Chapela concedes the class of vaccines that includes
polio, rabies, smallpox and measles mumps and rubella could be
subject to "some difference of interpretation ... with those who
consider replication of the virus in the individual patient as a form
Another scientist who has studied the measure and has not taken a
formal position said language in the measure is vague, and it is
unclear whether some traditional vaccines could be considered
genetically modified organisms.
"I don't think the intent was to include human medicinal things under
this or to stop diagnostic things from being done," said Alison Van
Eenennaam, Ph.D. "The problem is that once it's written into law, you
can't say we didn't mean that."
Vaccine challenge 'frivolous' Mr. Henson said he doesn't believe
anyone would challenge the use of vaccines. "In this case, the remedy
is very clear," he said. "You can't sue and make money off of this.
If you file a frivolous lawsuit, you're liable for costs of the other
side. A judge would be very clear it doesn't ban vaccines."
No on M: Measure is More About Ideology Than Facts
- Lex Mccorvey, October 24, 2005
Measure M is bad for agriculture, our environment and public health.
Measure M bans an entire technology that has caused no one any harm.
It has only been used for good things like increasing food production
to prevent starvation around the world, finding cures for illness or
disease and reducing pesticides. Here are three reasons to oppose
Agriculture: Every major agricultural organization in Sonoma County
opposes the initiative because it is based neither on true science
nor the facts of farming. Measure M will reduce sustainable
agriculture and prohibit local farmers from utilizing a highly
beneficial technology. It will leave them at a competitive
disadvantage with farmers in other counties or states who can use the
technology. Unable to fairly compete with their peers, farms will
begin to wilt under the cloud of higher costs. Farms will wither and
stagger into economic despair, choosing to flee the county or quit.
Measure M prohibits field testing, such as testing grapevines that
could be developed to resist pests or diseases. Federal regulations
require field testing before regulatory approval. The ordinance also
stifles medical and agricultural research by placing thresholds far
in excess of federal and international standards. These restrictions
would send a signal that Sonoma County is not a friendly environment
for the emerging biotechnology industry.
Environment: GE technology is good for the environment. In 2001, the
National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy revealed that GE
crops resulted in a 46 million pound decrease in pesticide
applications in the U.S. Local farmers who have been growing GE corn
for their dairy cows have experienced similar results and have touted
the environmental benefits.
Already, GE technology is being used to reduce soil erosion from low
till farming. It has resulted in lower fuel use and reduced air
emissions. GE technology has increased biodiversity of insects and
wildlife by targeted pest control.
Public Health: Measure M represents perhaps the first time voters
have ever gone to the ballot box to decide whether to limit their
access to health care. Measure M has no exemption for medical uses.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C.
representing 1,100 biopharmaceutical companies said: "There are
several products, including genetically engineered recombinant DNA
vaccines, that would technically be banned in Sonoma County." In
addition, the group said that at least 12 commercially available
transgenic vaccines protecting horses from West Nile Virus, cats from
feline leukemia and dogs from distemper, rabies, parvovirus and para
influenza would also be outlawed here.
The American Medical Association states said it "recognizes the many
potential benefits offered by genetically modified crops and foods
[and] does not support a moratorium on planting GM crops and
encourages ongoing research." The Redwood Empire Veterinary Medical
Association and California Veterinary Medical Association oppose
Measure M because of concern over negative health impacts for pets
More than 80 percent of processed foods consumed have GE ingredients.
The National Academy of Sciences and every other major food health
organization around the world have affirmed that to date no adverse
health effects have ever been attributed to genetic engineering in
the human population.
The GE Free campaign is not about food safety as they portray in
their literature with statements like "don't let our children become
their guinea pigs" or "GE food isn't proven safe." If it was, they
would have banned GE foods, which they did not. This GE Free campaign
is about political activism and ideology. As a fourth generation
Sonoma County rancher, I'm not about to have our public health and
safety, agricultural economy and environmental well being hijacked by
a group of self-serving political activists.
I hope you will join me and every major agricultural and business
organization in defeating measure M.
Lex McCorvey is executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau;
- Ted Sheely, Truth About Trade & Technology, http://www.truthabouttrade.org
Is there anything more unnatural and frightening than a seedless grape?
Something tells me that if today's anti-biotech activists had been
around in the 19th century, when William Thompson introduced seedless
grapes to California, they would have called his wonderful innovation
a scary example of "Frankenfood."
That's exactly the kind of rhetoric they're now deploying in Sonoma
County, where voters will decide on November 8 whether to approve an
initiative banning genetically modified crops.
Unfortunately, "Frankenfood" isn't merely a term for Halloween
treats. It's an insult hurled at one of the most important
developments in modern agriculture.
There really shouldn't be anything controversial about this
technology. In the United States today, more than 85 percent of our
soybeans, 75 percent of our cotton, and half our corn has been bred
to fight off harmful bugs and weeds. Here in California, about
250,000 acres of biotech enhanced cotton and another 340,000 acres of
biotech corn were planted and harvested this year. And despite the
hand-wringing of some, there's simply no scientific evidence
suggesting that gene-altered crops have caused anybody so much as to
sneeze. Authorities as diverse as the National Academy of Science and
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have endorsed
Yet anti-biotech agitators have rallied against it. Because they've
experienced no success at the federal or state level, they've
recently refocused their political energy on California counties, in
the hope of creating a regulatory patchwork that will inhibit farmers
from using this technology, ultimately putting us at a competitive
disadvantage. Since the start of 2004, three California counties have
banned gene-altered crops: Marin, Mendocino, and Trinity. Sonoma has
been targeted to become the fourth.
Yet the enemies of biotechnology have failed as often as they've
succeeded. Last year, voters in the counties of Butte, Humboldt, and
San Luis Obispo rejected anti-biotech initiatives. They understood
the practical problems of a ban, including the important question of
who pays the expensive cost of enforcing it.
Banning biotechnology helps nobody. Up to now, farmers have seen most
of the benefits associated with agricultural biotechnology, in the
form of higher yields and more efficient and economical use of our
resources. However, it has become increasingly clear that biotech
crops aren't merely good for farmers and acceptable to
consumers--they're actually becoming preferable to eat, as
researchers figure out ways to produce crops that add essential
vitamins and nutrients to our diets. The first wave of heart-healthy
soybeans is here. And that's just one example of many crops in the
research-and-development pipeline that promise to become a staple of
the American diet. Before long, "biofortification" will reinvent the
ways we think about keeping ourselves healthy.
Biotech crops are good for the environment. In a comprehensive new
peer-reviewed study, British scientists Graham Brookes and Peter
Barfoot report that genetically modified plants reduced
greenhouse-gas emissions last year by more than 22 billion
pounds--the equivalent of removing 5 million cars from the road for a
year. That's because farmers who grow biotech crops have decreased
their fuel use by taking less trips across a field (the fuel
efficiency of a tractor makes an SUV look good) and allowing more
carbon to be stored in the ground due to less plowing.
Sonoma County itself may benefit from customized solutions to its own
farming challenges. There's no such thing as a commercial biotech
grape right now, but in the years ahead perhaps we'll have grape
vines that defend themselves against Pierce's disease, a bacterial
infection spread by leafhopping insects. A ban on biotech would stop
Sonoma's farmers from using it--but of even more concern to me and
other farmers, a ban might convince seed companies not to invest in
this technology in the first place.
There was a time when it was possible to say that genetically
modified crops were a new technology. But now they're a proven
technology with a long track record. In the last ten years, farmers
around the world have harvested more than a billion acres of biotech
crops. Every year, they chose to plant more than they did the year
before. In the United States alone, Americans have consumed a
trillion servings of food with biotech ingredients (according to
Henry I. Miller of Stanford's Hoover Institution).
A generation ago, the Green Revolution transformed agriculture
practices all over the world and helped us keep pace with a growing
human population. Today, a Gene Revolution promises to continue this
Sonoma County voters must decide whether they want to embrace the
future--or fear it.
Ted Sheely raises cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios and garlic in
the San Joaquin Valley and lives in Lemoore, California. He is a
board member of Truth About Trade and Technology, a national
grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, Iowa, formed by
farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology
Mexican Government Studies on Transgenes in Mexican Maize?
- Roger Morton, AgBioView, www.agbioworld.org, Nov 1, 2005
The PNAS paper of Peter Raven (2005, vol. 102 p13003-13004)
reproduced in Oct 18, 2005 issue of AgBioview quotes two references
to indicate that "Mexican government confirmed the presence of
transgenes in Oaxaca in 2000 and 2001". The first of these references
is Kaplinski et al Nature 416, 601 2002. However, this is the paper
criticising the original Quist and Chapela paper. The title is "Maize
transgene results in Mexico are artefacts" (see
This paper does not give any results of "Mexican Government research".
The second reference is "Evidence of Gene Flow from Transgenic Maize
to Local Varieties in Mexico" by Exequiel Ezcurra and Sol Ortiz both
of Instituto Nacional de Ecología, SEMARNAT and Jorge Soberón Mainero
from Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad
(CONABIO) This paper was published as LMOs and the Environment,
Proceedings of an International Conference, ed. Roseland, C. R.
(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris)
pp289-295 It can be found here
The abstract to this paper states "Our preliminary data suggest that
the frequency of transgenic constructs in the field might be low,
although the geographic dispersion seems to be widespread. Further
analyses will help to corroborate this pattern." The discussion in
this paper states "These preliminary results present provocative
evidence suggesting that the amplification of the 35S sequence and
the T-NOS are due to the introgression of transgenic sequences into
Mexican traditional maize populations. However, because our analysis
was done through PCR amplification, the possibility of false positive
results cannot be totally ruled out. If these results are
corroborated by a series of other analyses currently in progress, the
presence of transgenic elements planted in Mexico will be definitely
confirmed in spite of a national policy that has put into place a
standby moratorium on the planting and cultivation of transgenic
maize in the country."
So by the authors own admission the results are preliminary and they
are conducting "a series of other analyses". It is interesting to
note that in these studies seedlings were grown and DNA was extracted
from thee seedlings for PCR analysis. This, should have made it
posible for putative transgene positive plants to be analysed by the
more reliable Southern blot method. No such data is presented.
Recently there has been a publication "Absence of detectable
transgenes in local landraces of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico (2003-2004)"
by two of the same authors who published the preliminary data. [S.
Ortiz-Garcia B. Schoel, F. Acevedo J. Sobero and A. A. Snow Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 102, 12338-12343] In this paper however, they do
not appear to present any further analysis of the samples they
collected in 2000. They refer to their previous work thus:
"To confirm the possible presence of transgenic maize in Oaxaca, the
National Institute of Ecology and the National Commission for the
Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity sampled grain from landraces grown
in Oaxaca and harvested in 2000 and commissioned molecular analyses
from two independent national laboratories in Mexico. Both
laboratories used standard PCR-based methods and reported the
presence of the 35S CaMV promoter sequence in some of the sampled
material." and quote the LMOs and the Environment paper as the
There is now no mention of the preliminary status of this work. They
go on to acknowledge that "although no peer-reviewed reports of the
Mexican government studies have been published in scientific
journals, the presence of transgenes in Oaxaca was widely
acknowledged (e.g.,refs. 4, 9, and 10)."
Reference 4 is Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North
America (2004) Maize and Biodiversity-The Effects of Transgenic Maize
in Mexico: Key Findings and Recommendations, Article 13 Report (North
American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Montreal).
Reference 9 is Wisniewski, J.-P. et al Between myth and reality:
genetically modified maize, an example of a sizeable scientific
controversy Biochimie 84, 1095-1103 and is a review article.
Reference 10 is Butler, D. Alleged flaws in gene-transfer paper spark
row over genetically modified maize (2002) Nature 415, 948-949 -
published in the news section.
The 2005 paper continues "Assuming that transgenes were present
before, several mechanisms may have prevented them from persisting at
detectable frequencies in the sampled seeds."
Hang on. Why are Ortiz-Garcia et al assuming that transgenes were
present before? The authors admit that no has really proved that
transgenes are present in mexican maize but that a few people in the
odd review, news article or commision report have said that they are
there. The authors had PCR results that they thought might prove that
the transgenes were there 4 years ago. They said they were working on
further analysis to prove once and for all that the transgenes were
present. However, now they have done some more work on samples taken
in 2003-2004 and they did not find any transgenes. Where is the
promised further analysis of the 2001 data. If the transgenes were
present in 2000 and the authors grew seedlings then they should be
able to produce Southern Blot data to prove introgression of
transgenes into Mexican maize did actually occur durring 2000.
Instead they feebly stick to their preliminary findings and offer up
various implausible explanations as to what happened to theses
transgenes. Why not admit the introgression most likely never
happened in the first place?
Select Scientific Papers (Peer-Reviewed) on GM Feed Safety (with
abstracts) now posted at
CAST Releases New Commentary on Safety of Foods Produced Using Biotechnology
- Ames, Iowa; October 31, 2005 http://www.cast-science.org
When used to describe food-crop production, the terms
"biotechnology-derived," "genetically modified," and "genetically
engineered" increasingly have become controversial and often divisive
labels. In response to public concern about the use of biotechnology
in crop production and the resultant safety of the food supply,
effect on the environment, and potential for further
industrialization of agriculture at the expense of biodiversity, The
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) today is
releasing a commentary, Crop Biotechnology and the Future of Food: A
According to Task Force Chair Dr. Bruce Chassy, Professor of Food
Microbiology, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition,
University of Illinois, "Over the last decade, 8.5 million farmers
have grown transgenic varieties of crops on more than 1 billion acres
of farmland in 17 countries. More than 7 million of these farmers are
small-holders in developing countries. The crops have been consumed
by humans and animals in most countries, so a prodigious amount of
data and observation is available on which to judge their safety and
usefulness." And, adds CAST Executive Vice President Dr. John M.
Bonner, "This commentary weighs hypothetical hazards voiced by
activist critics against available scientific evidence and experience
with transgenic crops."
The full text of this Commentary (QTA 2005-2) may be accessed without
charge on the CAST website at http://www.cast-science.org along with
many of CAST's other scientific publications. CAST is an
international consortium of 37 scientific and professional societies.
It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based
information regionally, nationally, and internationally to
legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector,
and the public.
The Promise of Biotechnology
- An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department of State. October
2005. Full journal issue at
New technologies, whether they are in medicine, industry, or
agriculture, often initially generate public skepticism. Nowhere is
this currently more evident than in biotechnology, where issues of
health and environment are hotly debated.
"Bioconservative intellectuals are fully cognizant of the tendency
for our species to be suspicious of the new and the strange, and they
clearly want to harness that suspicion as a strategy to restrain
biotechnological progress," writes author Ronald Bailey in his 2005
book Liberation Biology.
But as Bailey points out, public opinion is highly changeable, and
the benefits from technological progress are not always well
understood. He cites in vitro fertilization and optical laser
technologies as just two examples where the public had fears and/or
doubts but now broadly supports the technologies and appreciates the
huge gains from them.
This issue of Economic Perspectives explores some of the most
promising applications of biotechnology, from microorganisms
engineered to produce hydrogen gas from organic waste and bacteria
engineered to break down environmental pollutants, to crops that add
vitamins to what we eat and novel drugs for treating human diseases
such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.
As National Science Adviser John Marburger writes in the introduction
to this publication: "Our aim is not simply to understand disease,
but to cure it; not only to consume whatever edible we find, but to
make it safer, more nutritious; not just to harvest nature's random
products for our manufacturers, but to make them stronger, safer, and
more adapted to our needs."
We hope that readers will take the time to review each of the
articles and gain from them a greater understanding of the tremendous
potential that biotechnology offers for improving the quality of life
for all people throughout the world.
Plant Biotechnology: Advances in Food, Energy, and Health
- Richard Hamilton, Richard B. Flavell, and Robert B. Goldberg; E
Journal USA, Oct 2005
The world will need to produce more food, feed, and fiber during the
next 50 years than in the entire history of humankind. The
technological revolution created by genomics provides a unique
opportunity to achieve this goal. Genetically engineered herbicide-
and insect-resistant crops are delivering benefits through more
affordable food, feed, and fiber that require fewer pesticides,
conserve more soil, and provide for a more sustainable environment.
And contrary to criticism, biotech crops have proven to be as safe
as, or safer than, those produced by conventional methods. In the
future, advances in agricultural biotechnology will result in crops
that have improved tolerance to drought, heat, and cold; require
fewer fertilizer and pesticide applications; produce vaccines to
prevent major communicable diseases; and have other desirable traits..
Full article at http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/ites/1005/ijee/hamilton.htm
Managing GM Crops in Australia - GM Crops, Segregation and Liability
in Australian Agriculture - October 2005
Download at http://www.avcare.org.au/default.asp?V_DOC_ID=1609
Legislated Thresholds for Accidental Presence of GM Canola in Australia
- Roger Kalla, Australia
The Australian State and Federal Ministers for Agriculture have
decided to take action in response to the trace levels of Round up
Ready and Liberty Link GM canola found in some of this years non-GM
canola seed stocks that have already been planted by Australian
canola farmers over 1 million hectares. In theory, the farmers that
planted the seed in good faith could be in breach of the existing
legislated moratoria, in place in the major canola growing States,
against cultivation and marketing of GM canola.
While the Federal Government has authorized the cultivation of these
two varieties of canola as safe from a public health and
environmental point of view State Governments thought, acting upon
advice from our grain marketers and other agricultural industries, it
would be worthwhile to keep the 'polite fiction' of Australia as 'GM
free' alive for a while longer and imposed legislated moratoria in
However, as I have argued in previous postings, the advances in
forensic DNA testing technology and the rapid uptake of GM crops
world wide has now made this 'polite fiction' unsustainable and the
States have had to back off from their policies to allow this years
canola harvest to go ahead without farmers risking to be prosecuted
as the result of non-scientific policies.
The decision from the meeting of the Ministerial Council was to
introduce one threshold for accidental presence of authorized canola
in grains for export at 0.9% and another threshold for seed that will
be used for subsequent plantings of 0.5% accidental presence of
allowed GM canola. These new thresholds will be in place for two
years in the first instance to allow for uninterrupted harvesting of
this years crop and planting of next years crop.
The Australian biotechnology and seed industry will come together
to map out the way forward for biotechnology crops in Australia
during this window of opportunity that has opened up for a more
realistic and science based view of the risk and benefits of these
crops in Australia at the upcoming Ausbiotech 2005 conference in
Perth Western Australia next month.
New GM contamination laws to protect growers
- ABC National Rural News, 27/10/2005.
State and federal primary industry ministers have moved to protect
growers from legal action for unwittingly growing
genetically-modified (GM) contaminated canola. They have agreed to
set a national GM tolerance level in canola grain of 0.9 of a per
cent and 0.5 per cent for canola seed.
While acknowledging a need for a national standards, Western
Australia and Tasmania intend to maintain their moratoriums on GM
crops and strive for zero tolerance. Federal Agriculture Minister
Peter McGauran says the agreement will provide surety for growers who
are not responsible for GM traces in their crops.
"There was a recognition a zero level was impractical, unrealistic
and unachievable and why not move to the international market level.
Europe, which is anti-GM, accepts 0. 9 and 0.5 per cent and these are
the standards the major states have adopted in Australia."
Julie Newman Responds to Chris Preston
- Network of Concerned Farmers, Australia; julie-at-non-gm-farmers.com
Comments: I would like to respond to Chris Prestons article regarding
yields of GM canola. The following statement is false: "Julie Newman
can confidently assert that "actual trials of GM canola have produced
yields of up to 20% less than non-GM varieties" (as cited on the ABC
20th September 2005). "
If Mr Preston cared to read the ABC transcript he would find I stated
that GM Invigor canola had 20% less vigour than non-GM hybrids which
is a direct quote from the OGTR document. I find it interesting that
vigour is given as the reason for higher yields but when used in
relation to lower yields than non-GM hybrids, it is disputed.
Mr Preston seems to miss the point that the Network of Concerned
Farmers support independent contained trials to collect accurate
performance data comparing existing common varieties. What we find
disappointing is that Bayer Cropscience and Monsanto are refusing to
participate. What are they so afraid of?
On the Performance of Bt Cotton in India: Theatre of the Absurd!
- Shanthu Shantharam, AgBioView, Nov. 1, 2005; www.agbioworld.org
(Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD, USA;
Ever since Bt cotton made its commercial debut in 2002, controversies
surrounding its performance continue unabated. If one goes by the
all and sundry reports from many non-governmental and government
organizations, and the purveyors of Bt cotton, it appears like the
theatre of the absurd. It seems it is a free for all to pontificate
on the performance of Bt cotton with or without authority. It is a
veritable jungle cry, and no one in authority seems to take
cognizance of any of these reports nor do they care to respond. The
scientific community pretends as if it is none of their concern, and
state agricultural authorities are simply acting like proverbial
three monkeys that don't hear, see or talk.
Some print media outlets carry news only from the NGO community (as
they are the only ones who talk to the media), and there is hardly
any response to them from any other quarter. The absurdity lies in
the fact thousand of hectares of Bt cotton is under cultivation with
increased sales of seeds year after year, and more and more private
seed companies are deploying the Bt gene in their proprietary hybrids
and are trying to capture their market share. With all the cries
about the alleged failure of Bt cotton in certain districts of Andhra
Pradesh, news reports had it that farmers there were demanding more
Bt cotton seed than the companies could supply for the past growing
season. On top of all this confusion, there is a flourishing trade
in illegal or unapproved Bt cotton seeds all over the country, a
proof of success of the technology, if anyone cares to believe it.
Anti-biotech NGOs just don't believe that Bt cotton is either useful
or safe for Indian cotton farmers and they don't see anything good
coming out of this technology, and they produce a cornucopia of their
own "authentic" and "independent" reports and claim them to be their
own scientific studies. But, they dare not submit their reports for a
standard peer review in a scientific forum, and they will not present
their data in any scientific meeting or a conference or a workshop
where they can come under proper scrutiny. But, there are a few peer
reviewed scientific publications from established research
organizations of the national agricultural system, some showing
positive and some showing not so positive results. Those who believe
that Bt cotton is a failure based on their own assessment are quick
to draw support from any publication that show negative results,
especially if it is peer reviewed, but conveniently ignore other
equally peer reviewed publications that show positive results. They
do so because the positive publications do not support their
convictions or beliefs or ideologies.
Recently, a scientist of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research
system published a scientific paper in a leading scientific journal
published from Bangalore, showing differential expression of Bt genes
in certain commercialized varieties of Bt cotton. The NGOs who have
been crying hoarse about the failure of Bt cotton, seized on it to
claim vindication of their own "independent scientific" reports. It
is another matter that this scientific paper had no relation with
what these NGOs have been saying. If it comes in handy to go to
media for quick publicity, then so be it. The general public or the
media will never understand what this hullabaloo is all about and
shake their heads in dismay. The farmer's organizations will all
jump on the band wagon purely because of jingoism and false pride
about patriotism and the evil of multi-national corporations and
globalization or it simply provides another political cause for them
to take to the streets. Most farmer organizations have no
understanding of modern science and technology, are completely
mislead by the NGOs who make it their point to talk to them. Most
often, in this entire hullabaloo, facts and truths are completely
missing and usually no one bothers to set the record straight. Rancid
politicization of modern biotechnology goes on, and some might call
this democratization of biotechnology. The basic idea is not to
solve any poor farmer's problem, but have the political drama going
for self serving activism.
Fortunately, this time, and, perhaps for the first time, the author
of the scientific paper alluded to above stepped in and blew the
entire NGOs case out of water. He simply decried the misuse the
results and conclusions of his paper by activists to carry out
meaningless propaganda against GM crops. But, his revised
explanation of the spirit and intent of his scientific was quickly
challenged by NGOs. What will it take to settle the issue, will be a
statement from the competent regulatory authority on the facts of the
case, but that is not forthcoming. In the meanwhile, new varieties
of Bt cottons continue to be approved by authorities using their own
norms, most of which is unknown to the concerned public.
What is at stake in all of this theatre of the absurd is the very
future of agricultural biotechnology in India where the government
swears by its unflinching support to it, but does precious little to
dispel wide ranging confusions and public misunderstanding of the
risks and benefits of this much touted technology. All that India has
so far is just one GM crop, Bt cotton, and many stuck in the
pipeline. Agricultural biotechnology is really languishing without
much private sector investment in it, and the confusing scenario does
not do much for a future for this technology in India and other
developing countries. India has become a flash point in Asia for
green biotech revolution, but what most governments in Asia hear is
all this negativity without any clarification from the government,
and that is discouraging.
Most developing countries need all the scientific and technological
interventions to boost their agricultural productivity, but the way
things are going on in India and other Asian and African countries
does not inspire confidence in the development of modern
biotechnology that can be a sure engine for economic emancipation of
the rural poor. Modern biotechnology is too valuable to be managed
in such a careless manner. Authorities must do some serious
introspection about how they are going to bring about modern biotech
revolution in agriculture in a safe but expeditious manner. A
serious and effective public awareness to counter false propaganda is
the critical need of the day. Otherwise, lies repeated thousand
times ends up being the truth in the absence of any countering
mechanism. India cannot afford to take one step forward and two
steps backward as missed opportunity costs will turn out to be very
Studies of GM Potatoes Demonstrate Substantial Equivalence
- Christopher Preston, AgBioView, Nov. 1, 2005; www.agbioworld.org
(Sr Lecturer, Univ. Adelaide, Australia;
In the past 4 months there have been two major studies on the impact
of genetic modification of potatoes published. The first was
published in Plant Physiology in July 2005 - "Comparison of Tuber
Proteomes of Potato Varieties, Landraces, and Genetically Modified
Lines" by Lehesranta et al. (Plant Physiology 138, 1690-1699). The
second was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, USA in October - "Hierarchical metabolomics demonstrates
substantial compositional similarity between genetically modified and
conventional potato crops" by Catchpole et al. (Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, USA 102, 14458-14462).
These two papers used modern profiling techniques to detect
differences between potato varieties. The Plant Physiology paper
used a form of proteomics where plant profiles are compared, the PNAS
paper used metabolomics to compare metabolite profiles. Both studies
examined a range of commercial cultivars to compare to the
genetically modified potatoes as well as the parent varieties.
Lehesranta et al. compared more than 1,111 proteins in 32 non-GM
potato varieties (including 8 landraces) and found significant
differences between varieties for 1,077 proteins. That is more than
96% of all proteins were significantly different in expression across
the 32 non-GM potato varieties. They then compared 10 GM potato
lines with their parent cultivar. These lines were transformed with
3 different types of constructs, with some containing empty vector
constructs. Across the 10 lines and the parent cultivar, 730
proteins were compared and only 9 showed significant differences
across the lines. That is genetic modification caused changes in the
expression of less than 1.3% of all proteins. The conclusion that
was reached was that genetic modification was specifically changing
the expression profile of a small number of proteins, and there was
considerably less difference between GM and non-GM plants than
between different cultivars.
Catchpole et al. compared the metabolite profiles of 5 non-GM potato
varieties and 6 GM lines transformed to express high molecular weight
inulin through the addition of one or two genes from globe artichoke.
The metabolite analysis compared 252 compounds. Of these, 6
metabolites associated with the fructan pathway were increased in the
GM lines. These were targeted changes of the genetic modification.
When these compounds were removed from the analysis, the GM lines
were indistinguishable from their parent line, but other cultivars
could be clearly distinguished on the basis of their metabolite
profiles. That is, other than the intentional changes, there was
significantly more variation in metabolite profiles among potato
cultivars than there was between the GM lines and the parent cultivar.
What these two studies amply demonstrate is that genetic modification
itself does not cause changes in protein expression or metabolites in
potatoes. In the case of these potatoes, changes occur due to the
action of the products of the genes.
The concept of substantial equivalence is widely used in food safety
assessment and is often attacked by anti-GM groups. These potato
studies demonstrate why substantial equivalence is used. There is
natural variation among cultivars of any crop for a whole range of
metabolites and proteins. Therefore, a simple cultivar by cultivar
comparison will turn up a whole range of differences that are likely
to be unimportant from a food safety point of view. Instead the
concept of substantial equivalence accepts that such variation exists
and looks for proteins or metabolites that are outside the range
expected for that species and known to be safe. Should there be
novel proteins or metabolites or concentrations outside the normal
range, these warrant further investigation on their safety.
What we often see from anti-GM activists is a concentration on minor
differences between GM and their non-GM counterparts that are still
within the normal range for cultivars of that species. We also see
fraudulent use of data where non-significant differences are
presented as major issues, as Charles Benbrook has done in his latest
expose on GM wheat. Despite the obvious sense that substantial
equivalence makes, there is a good reason for the attitude of the
anti-GM brigade to its use. Where such people to accept that
significant variation among cultivars exist, they would have to
accept that GM technology on its own is not dangerous.
Finally, the most striking outcome of these two papers is the
staggering amount of work that was done to demonstrate that GM
potatoes differ less from their parental cultivar than do other
cultivars of the same crop. This should be ample demonstration of
the precise nature of GM technology compared to "normal"
Sprit of Lysenko Lives On in Russia
- Henry I. Miller
Just goes to show that although Russian Communism may be dead, the
spirit of Lysenko lives on!
>Genetically-modified Soy Affects Posterity?
>- Christopher Preston
>The following story is starting to do the rounds of the anti-GM
>websites. The original report was published in a Russian online
>newspaper in mid-October, but is only now starting to do the rounds.
>The story can be found at a variety of places including
Edible Rice-Based Vaccine May Combat Hay Fever
- Amy Norton, Reuters, Oct 31, 2005
People who endure the seasonal misery of pollen allergies may one day
find relief in a bowl of rice, researchers reported Monday. In
experiments with mice, Japanese scientists found that an edible
vaccine produced in genetically modified rice was able to prevent the
immune response that triggers allergies. Mice that were fed the
vaccine showed a dampened immune reaction to pollen, and they sneezed
far less often than their non-vaccinated brethren.
The findings are published in the early online edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Immunotherapy, better known as allergy shots, has long been a
treatment option for certain allergies. Allergies arise from an
immune system reaction against a normally benign substance, such as
plant pollen. Immunotherapy is designed to help the immune system
develop a tolerance for the culprit substance, by exposing the body
to tiny amounts of it over time.
An edible, plant-based vaccine would have a number of advantages over
allergy shots, the most obvious being the lack of pain, Dr. Fumio
Takaiwa, the senior author on the new study, told Reuters Health. He
and his colleagues created their vaccine using small pieces of
certain allergy-related proteins found in Japanese cedar pollen, a
common trigger of hay fever in Japan. By inserting genetic material
from these proteins into the rice genome, the scientists were able to
cultivate rice that contained the pollen proteins.
They then fed a group of mice the rice-based vaccine every day for
several weeks before exposing the animals to Japanese cedar pollen.
The researchers found that compared with mice that did not eat the
rice, those that did showed far less of an immune reaction against
the pollen, produced less histamine -- the chemical that triggers hay
fever symptoms -- and sneezed less often. Takaiwa, a researcher at
Japan's National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, said he and
his colleagues have already developed a human version of the rice
vaccine that should be ready for safety testing in a few years.