Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : December 1, 2005
* Charles Benbrook: Please Explain
* Blast from the Past: Chris Preston Answers Benbrook
* Alex Avery's Previous Posting on Benbrook
* What Consumers Say and Behave About GM Food
* Thuggery with a Green Gag
* Eat to Live: Get Used to 'Frankenfood'
* Technology Aids Fight Against World Hunger
* Biofortified, Iron-Rich Rice Improves the Nutrition of Women - Cornell
* Critics Decry GM Rule in Iraq
Charles Benbrook: Please Explain
- Rick Roush
Dear all: As you may recall, Charles Benbrook is currently touring
Australia under the sponsorship at least of several organic foods
interests and the small activist group GeneEthics. GeneEthics is
promoting Benbrook's tour with the headlines that "GE Crops are a
Flop in the USA". Benbrook's specific claims along these lines have
been much discussed in the past on these pages.
However, Benbrook has also been promoted by GeneEthics as "a renowned
US agricultural economist" and "A TOP POLICY ADVISER to the US
government for 20 years". Apparently believing these claims, the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has described Benbrook as
"A former agricultural adviser to US presidents.. Dr Charles
Benbrook, who advised presidents Carter, Bush senior, Reagan and
To some, this may suggest scenes of Chuck standing next to a
President on the White House lawn, or at a meeting in the Oval Office.
I am writing this note as an open invitation to Benbrook and his
supporters to clarify his background and the nature of advice offered
to Presidents, or to anyone else in government. I'll add that I
wrote to Chuck (and his wife) about this 4 days ago, but have not yet
had a reply.
One might forgive a bit of artistic license about one's biography,
and we all know that overzealous anti-GM activists exaggerate, and
journalists often get the facts wrong. Further, it must be said that
Chuck has written some interesting reports on pest management, even
if they have not been very influential (and in the case of one
project on better pest management for potatoes in Wisconsin, I have
already suggested to Chuck that he was misled by farmers into giving
them extra credit for things they were doing anyway.)
However, in Canberra on Tuesday, 29 November, at Australian
Parliament House, Chuck was reported to have said at a press
conference "I'm an independent agricultural policy analyst". This
does not seem to square with the fact that he has been listed for at
least a year and a half now as the science director or Chief
Scientist of the Organic Center
(http://www.organic-center.org/about2.htm), which "works to
accelerate the consumer switch from conventional to organic products"
(http://www.organic-center.org/about4.htm), which is a project of the
Organic Trade Association. The OTA is a business association that
focuses on the organic business community in North America, with a
mission to promote the growth of organic trade (www.ota.com). Given
that the organics industry has funded much of the criticism of GM
crops, and funds Benbrook, it's hard to see that Benbrook is truly
independent. Further, Benbrook has been recently funded by other
anti-GM organizations such as Greenpeace
Peter Andren, MP (Independent, Member for Calare) was Benbrook's host
in Canberra and introduced him at the media conference by saying
"He's an agricultural agronomist and senior government advisor on
agricultural policy - I think to Clinton and Reagan administrations
(Chuck added: "various administrations, yes") on agriculture policy,
science and regulatory issues.."
We need to look at just what the claim of "senior government advisor
on agricultural policy to" "various administrations" really means.
At the Organic Center website, Benbrook's biography is given as:
"Dr. Charles Benbrook worked in Washington, D.C. on agricultural
policy, science and regulatory issues from 1979 through 1997. He
served for 1.5 years as the agricultural staff expert on the Council
for Environmental Quality at the end of the Carter Administration.
Following the election of Ronald Reagan, he moved to Capitol Hill in
early 1981 and was the Executive Director of the Subcommittee of the
House Committee on Agriculture with jurisdiction over pesticide
regulation, research, trade and foreign agricultural issues. In 1984
Benbrook was recruited to the job of Executive Director, Board on
Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, a position he held
for seven years. Several influential NAS reports were done in this
period on the need for and aspects of sustainable agriculture. In
late 1990 he formed Benbrook Consulting Services. Chuck has written
many reports, books, and peer reviewed articles on agricultural
science, technology, public health, and environmental issues."
Is "working in Washington DC" the same as being a "senior government
advisor" or adviser to US presidents (as the ABC put it) or "A TOP
POLICY ADVISER to the US government for 20 years" as GeneEthics
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) maintained a staff of
about 40 people in 1979-80, attorneys, economists, and support
personnel and, like many other agencies, reported to but was not
located at the White House
The next phase of Benbrook's career seems better described by a
biography at the Pew Charitable Trust, presumably also drafted or
reviewed by Benbrook himself
"With the election of Ronald Reagan, he moved to Capitol Hill and was
the Executive Director of the Subcommittee of the House Committee on
Agriculture with jurisdiction over pesticide regulation, research,
trade and foreign agricultural issues, and oversight of the USDA. He
worked for the late Congressman George E. Brown", who was a Democrat.
After working for a democratic administration under Jimmy Carter,
does working for a Democratic Congressman make you a senior advisor
to a Republican administration or President like Ronald Reagan (or
George Bush)? Not likely.
Benbrook was recruited to the job of Executive Director, Board on
Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, in early 1984. It
was during this period that I met and worked in passing with Chuck
when I served on a National Academy committee on pesticide resistance
in 1984-86. What Benbrook's biographies given above don't tell you
is that Benbrook was sacked from this position in 1990 ("NAS Expert
Sacked", Science vol. 250, page 1202, Nov. 30, 1990).
With respect to the claims that Benbrook is a "renowned US
agricultural economist" and "A TOP POLICY ADVISER to the US
government for 20 years", a standard measure of "renown" is refereed
publications or evidence of major policy impacts. I have looked for
these on google over the last couple of days, but I can't say that
I am aware of either, except that Benbrook may have had some impact
on limiting the adoption of GM crops. I note in particular from his
website that he did work to persuade the Zambian government to reject
food aid (http://www.biotech-info.net/zambian_statement.html) at or
close a time when the news media reported that some Zambians were
starving. The substance of Benbrook's claims here, as in many other
cases, have been hotly disputed by scientists.
Errors happen in the media, but I think it is incumbent on Dr
Benbrook to make some effort to correct them and I call on him to do
so. Otherwise, many people in the country I consider to be my home
will be misled.
Sincerely, Rick Roush
Blast from the Past: Preston Answers Benbrook - from Two Earlier
Comment on Benbrook's latest Technical Paper
- Chris Preston" , Jan 31, 2005
Charles M. Benbrook's latest technical paper Rust, Resistance, Run
Down Soils, and Rising Costs - Problems Facing Soybean Producers in
Argentina (available from Greenpeace at
analyses the soybean industry in Argentina and paints a bleak picture
of its future. Benbrook claims that major setbacks or even the
collapse of the Argentinean soybean industry is nigh and shafts much
of the blame home to adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans.
Benbrook claims there are problems with yields, grain quality,
competitiveness, economic stability, land use changes, food security,
nutrition, herbicide use, soil microbial communities, rusts all
because of the widespread adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans. No
doubt, this document will be cited often as compelling evidence that
GM crops are failing in the US and Argentina. Many of the claims made
are related to the adoption of soybeans in general; however, Benbrook
does point to some specific issues to do with Roundup Ready soybeans.
Several of these claims are work examining.
Yields. Benbrook has claimed for many years that Roundup Ready
soybeans have a yield drag. However, the evidence that this yield
drag is at all important is fairly slim and based on a limited number
of selectively quoted examples. There are a few important issues to
consider when comparing yields of different varieties with herbicide
tolerance. In a farming system, there are weeds and herbicides used.
Both can have impacts on yields, in some cases quite significant
impacts. These need to be considered.
Benbrook uses crop variety trials to support his argument. One source
of information is an analysis by Oplinger et al. (available at
http://www.biotech-info.net/soybean_performance.pdf) that compares
variety trials across the US conducted in 1998. This comparison found
on average that Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 4% less than
convention varieties, with site means ranging from 86 to 113% of
conventional yield for Roundup Ready types. A second study by Elmore
et al. (Agronomy Journal 93: 408-412) made a comparison between
sister lines with or without the Roundup Ready trait. Elmore et al.
reported an average 5% reduction in yields of four Roundup Ready
lines compared to their conventional sister lines. However, comparing
the yields in the absence of weeds is inappropriate, as herbicide
tolerant varieties are adopted as part of a farming system that
involves using a herbicide regime not available to growers of the
conventional crop. Therefore, growers may not obtain this 4 to 5%
increase if there are greater reductions caused by uncontrolled weeds
or herbicide damage. Equally, the yield differences may be greater if
the herbicide tolerant crop herbicide regime leaves more weeds or
causes increased crop damage.
Plenty of information is readily available with various comparisons
of Roundup Ready soybeans and conventional types of soybeans with a
range of appropriate herbicide regimes that Benbrook could have
examined. A number of such papers have been published in journals
over the years and I was able to easily obtain examples by looking
through two years of back issues of Weed Technology. There are likely
to be many more studies. Reddy and Whiting (Weed Technology 14:
204-211) found no significant difference in soybean yields between
the best herbicide program (dimethenamid, imazaquin, acifluorfen and
bentazon) for conventional soybeans compared to Roundup Ready with
two applications of glyphosate, although the latter program yielded
9% higher. Culpepper et al. (Weed Technology 14: 77-88) found no
significant difference in soybean yields between the best herbicide
program for conventional soybeans (dimenthenamid, imazaquin and two
applications of chlorsulfuron) and Roundup Ready with two
applications of glyphosate. The latter program yielded 12% higher in
the first year and 5% lower in the second year.
Both studies reported better financial returns for the Roundup Ready
compared to the conventional system. Shaw et al. (Weed Technology 15:
676-685) compared yields in conventional soybeans and Roundup Ready
soybeans. The former had a variety of herbicide programs depending on
site and year, whereas the latter had two applications of glyphosate
at all sites in all years. At a dryland site there was no significant
difference between yields of conventional and Roundup Ready soybeans,
although the latter yielded between 4 and 13% lower depending on
year. At one irrigated site, there was again no significant
difference in one year where the Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 8%
higher. At the other site, yields of Roundup Ready soybeans were
significantly lower (by 40%) due to poor hemp sesbania control with
glyphosate. These three examples simply illustrate that yield
comparisons can be quite variable between sites and years depending
on a number of factors including weed pressure and varietal tolerance
to herbicides, but frequently the differences between conventional
and Roundup Ready types are not significant.
A second line of evidence cited by Benbrook is that yield improvement
in soybeans has been essentially nil since 1995 and that this is due
to the high adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans. In evidence, Benbrook
cites a presentation by Eliason and Jones at the Midwest Soybean
Conference in 2004 (go to
http://wwwiasoybeans.com/whatnew/msc04/proceed.html and click on the
link). In this presentation, Eliason and Jones contend that per acre
soybean yields peaked in 1994 and have been effectively flat ever
since. In 1994 there was the highest ever per acre soybean yield,
whereas 2003 was the lowest yielding year for a decade. A second
presentation at the same conference (J.E. Sprecht. Is soybean yield
improvement stagnating? Perception and perspectives.
http://wwwiasoybeans.com/whatnew/msc04/proceed.html and click on the
link) examined the same problem. Sprecht showed that plateaus in
soybean yields could be seen at various times since the 1970s and
suggested what has happened in the last decade is not new.
Soybean yields in Nebraska have mirrored soybean yields over the
whole US, with no apparent yield improvement since 1995. However, a
number of droughts have occurred in Nebraska over the past decade.
Sprecht showed that while yields in dryland soybeans had not
increased since 1995, yield improvements, with no significant
reduction in rate of improvement, had occurred in irrigated soybeans.
Benbrook has simply ignored Sprecht. It is clear from Sprecht's
analysis and other data presented at the same conference that weather
conditions rather than Roundup Ready are responsible for the apparent
lack of yield improvement in the US. Indeed, as Benbrook shows, per
hectare yield increases for soybeans have continued to occur in
Argentina despite the extensive adoption of Roundup Ready technology
with 2002/2003 being the highest yielding year ever. Instead Benbrook
uses a single anecdotal comment to support his contention that yields
of Roundup Ready are lower in Argentina.
Quality. A second claim Benbrook makes is that Argentinean soybeans
are of inferior quality because they are GM. In support, Benbrook
cites data on crude protein published by Karr-Lilienthal et al.
(Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52: 6193-6199). The data
of Karr-Lilienthal et al. that Benbrook cites are from a single 750 g
sample collected from each of 5 countries. It is risky to draw
conclusions like Benbrook does from a single sample. Karr-Lilienthal
et al. refuse to do so and point out that other studies on soybeans
from the US, China and Brazil had variable protein contents (see
Grieshop and Fahey Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 49:
2669-2673; Grieshop et al. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
51: 7648-7691). Crude protein of soybeans clearly varies within a
country and between years. In addition, Karr-Lilienthal et al. report
on three samples of soybean meal from each country. The crude protein
content of soybean meal from Argentina was not different to that from
China and only slightly lower than that from Brazil. Meal from the US
and India had the highest crude protein contents. Again, it seems
that Benbrook has selectively cited the data and one must conclude at
the moment that there is no evidence to support a contention that
Roundup Ready soybeans have lower quality than other soybeans.
Herbicide Use. Benbrook has written before about Roundup Ready
soybeans increasing herbicide use over conventional soybeans. In
Argentina, it is clear there has been a significant increase in
glyphosate use coincident with the introduction of Roundup Ready
soybeans. However, it is important to remember that it is not just
the adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans that is driving this increase,
but also the adoption of no-till agriculture. No-till agriculture
automatically requires more glyphosate use than conventionally tilled
systems as the latter use cultivation for early season weed control.
Trigo and Cap (AgBioForum 6:87-94) point out that the drivers for
adoption of no-till in Argentina are: to reduce tillage induced soil
erosion and to enable wheat-soybean double cropping. According to
Trigo and Cap, the area double cropped had increased to 3 million
hectares by 2000. In all there were over 9 million hectares no-tilled
in Argentina in 2000 rising from 300,000 hectares in 1991. It should
be no surprise then that glyphosate use has increased in Argentina.
Glyphosate use will continue to increase for Roundup Ready soybean
growers as they continue to adopt no-till as has happened in the US.
What is really important about herbicide use is the type rather than
total tonnage of active ingredient that is used. Herbicides that have
soil persistence can affect subsequent crops. Herbicides that leach
can move off farm and affect the environment and water quality.
Glyphosate, because it is bound tightly to soil and is not active and
doesn't leach, is relatively benign and has little environmental
impact. Qaim and Traxler (cited by Trigo and Cap and also by Traxler
ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/ae063e/ae063e00.pdf) reported that
glyphosate use in soybeans had almost eliminated the use of more
toxic herbicides. The other comparison that could be made is between
cultivation and glyphosate. Cultivation is clearly more damaging to
the environment, both on and off farm than glyphosate applications.
Benbrook highlights the problems of over reliance on a single
herbicide. In this case he is correct. Over-reliance on glyphosate
will inevitably lead to the appearance of glyphosate resistant weeds
in Argentina just as it has in orchards in Chile and Brazil. Of
crucial importance is the level of over reliance on glyphosate, which
is not clear from Benbrook's analysis. Experience elsewhere has
demonstrated that if glyphosate is being used every year the risks of
resistance evolution are real. If glyphosate is being used less
often, the risks decrease. Whether resistance becomes a serious issue
in Argentina will depend on the use pattern and the willingness to
take steps to reduce the risk.
Soil problems. Benbrook makes a number of claims about the effects of
Roundup Ready soybeans on soils. Some of the key claims are easily
dispelled. For example, Benbrook claims that there is increased soil
compaction with no-till Roundup Ready soybeans. I suspect that every
no-till farmer in the world will raise their eyebrows (if nothing
else) at this claim. It is well known that no-till, because of the
reduced traffic and reduced soil damage, decreases compaction
compared to other farming systems. Likewise claims about soil organic
matter. As no-tillage also means more stubble retention, no-till
systems often increase soil organic matter compared to conventionally
tilled systems. In fact, reduced soil compaction and increased
organic matter are two of the reasons driving farmers to adopt
Benbrook makes an elaborate claim about how glyphosate application
might be toxic to microorganisms and allow pathogens like Fusarium to
proliferate. Benbrook cites only two pieces of evidence to support
his claims and indeed has cited no other studies in his other
writings on this subject. One is work by King et al. (Agronomy
Journal 93: 179-186) who examined the effect of glyphosate treatment
on nitrogen fixation and nitrogen content of Roundup Ready soybeans.
King et al. found that using 5 treatments of 1.68 kg/ha of glyphosate
decreased N content of soybean roots in 3 of 5 cultivars. Reductions
in N content were more likely to be observed soon after glyphosate
application, but plants generally recovered. They also found that
treatment with three applications of 1.68 kg/ha of glyphosate
decreased acetylene reduction in three experiments, but increased it
in a fourth. Reductions in acetylene reduction due to glyphosate
application were more likely to be found under drought stress
conditions. The second piece of evidence is a press release from the
University of Missouri reporting a study by Donald and Kremer, who
found increases in Fusarium populations on the roots of soybean
plants shortly after glyphosate application, but reported there was
no effect on yields.
These two studies indicate that glyphosate application to soybeans
can affect the roots of the plants. This would be expected as the
plants, although resistant, are not necessarily immune to glyphosate.
There are likely to be flow on effects from minor glyphosate damage,
such as temporarily reduced nitrogen fixation and other impacts.
However, neither of the studies quoted provide any evidence that
glyphosate application in Roundup Ready soybeans is having any
negatively effects on soil organisms. There is simply no evidence to
back the claims made by Benbrook.
A number of Benbrook's claims, such as run-down soils, lack of
increase in yield potential and reduced quality are not supported by
current evidence and some are simply wrong. It seems that Benbrook,
like all good activists, has selectively used the information
available to support the case he wants to make and on occasions
ignored the conclusions made by the authors of studies so he can put
is own spin on the story. There may indeed be some problems ahead for
the Argentinean soybean industry as it is rare to get such rapid
changes in agricultural practices without some problems occurring.
However, the evidence presented by Benbrook to support some of his
claims is selective, flimsy or simply non-existent.
Dr. Christopher Preston, University of Adelaide
Benbrook on Grain Quality in Roundup Ready Wheat.
- Christopher Preston" Sep 2, 2005
In his latest offering: "Harvest at Risk: Impacts of Roundup Ready
Wheat in the Northern Great Plains" (available from www.worc.org),
Benbrook makes the claim that the quality of Roundup Ready wheat is
not as high as conventional wheat. In support of his claims, Benbrook
relies heavily on his analysis of a paper by Obert et al. (2004) The
composition of grain and forage from glyphosate tolerant MON 71800 is
equivalent to that of conventional wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In his comments, Benbrook
not only claims that the composition of grain from Roundup Ready
wheat is not equivalent, but that the differences are significant
enough to be of concern.
In support of his arguments, Benbrook has created a table where he
has extracted information from the paper on comparisons between
several components of the grain. Benbrook has selected 10 such
comparisons and makes the claim that "In nine out of 10 cases
reported in table 6, levels were lower in the RR wheat than in the
There are two major problems with Benbrook's approach, both of which
suggest a deliberate distortion of the evidence by Benbrook. While
the numbers reported by Benbrook are correct, the method of display
of the values has been deliberately organised to mislead the reader.
Firstly, in the paper by Obert et al., there were a total of 57
comparisons made in 1999 and 62 comparisons made in 2000 to give a
grand total of 119 comparisons. Of these, Benbrook chooses only 10 to
display. Benbrook appears to have selectively chosen the comparisons
so he could state that in 9 out of 10 cases, levels were lower in the
RR wheat. This was clearly done to leave an impression that RR wheat
has lower levels of many or most nutrients. Looking through the data,
of the 119 comparisons made, the mean value for the conventional line
was only higher than the mean value for the RR line in 41 of the
comparisons. This is less than 4 out of 10 cases! Most importantly,
none of these differences was statistically significant.
Secondly Benbrook totally ignores the variation associated with these
measures. Indeed in the statistical analysis reported in the paper,
statistically significant differences were found for only 3 of the
119 comparisons for grain composition. These differences were for
isoleucine, behenic acid and magnesium in samples harvested in1999.
All of these components were higher in RR grain than in the sister
line, but values were not outside those that might be expected in
grain. Not only has Benbrook cherry-picked the data in an attempt to
mislead people into believing RR wheat is inferior in quality, he has
failed to acknowledge that the differences he reports and dwells on
were not statistically different and could all have occurred by
Unfortunately, the believers in the evils of GM crops will find
affirmation in this article by Benbrook. We can expect a cascade of
citations on the on the lower nutritional quality of Roundup Ready
wheat and expanding to other GM foods. This despite the fact that the
evidence used to support such a contention shows almost no
- Dr. Christopher Preston, University of Adelaide
Comments on Benbrook's letter to Zambian Delegation from the Center
for Global Food Issues
- From Alex Avery, Posted to AgBioView on March 16, 2005
In the past, we at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food
Issues have had many disagreements with Dr. Benbrook. While these
disagreements may have been strongly felt on both sides, a
professional decorum has always been maintained on both sides.
However, the letter that Dr. Benbrook apparently sent last Fall to
the Zambian delegation on so-called "GMO" foods moves beyond
professional disagreement into morally reprehensible
misrepresentation. It is shockingly tragic and leaves Dr. Benbrook
with the blood of starvation victims on his hands.
Dr. Benbrook claims that the humanitarian "crisis" in Southern Africa
has been "engineered by those looking for a new source of traction in
the evolving debate over [ag biotech]", and, further, that there "is
no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by
public and private donors." Yet in the same letter, Benbrook
acknowledges that the "system to certify that [corn] was not produced
from GMO seeds" is "costly, and indeed even the United States has not
been able to do so."
Thus, I ask Dr. Benbrook: Where is the abundance of non-GMO corn that
could be offered to Zambians? Dr. Benbrook is well aware that a
long-standing US law requires food aid to be given in the form of
US-held commodity stocks. Even in the U.S. -- by far the largest
single food aid donor in the world, with ~60% of food aid donated
thus far in this humanitarian crisis -- there simply isn't near
enough "organic" corn available to meet Zambia's needs. Dr. Benbrook
offers a false hope to the Zambians, one that he knows cannot be
fulfilled to his standards.
Dr. Benbrook asserts, without any evidence whatsoever, that "movement
of transgenes" into "Zambian land races" is likely to "create some
unexpected, and under certain circumstances damaging, physiological
growth problems, or perhaps impairment of natural plant defense
mechanisms." Dr. Benbrook's blatant fearmongering -- to call it
"informed speculation" would be charitable -- is clearly designed to
scare the Zambian delegation. Such fearmongering in a time of hunger
crisis is morally abhorent.
Finally, Dr. Benbrook asserts -- again without any supporting
documentation -- that regulatory authorities "would NEVER have
approved" biotech corn if the authorities "felt that a sizeable
portion of the populations of people consuming [it] would eat it
directly. . . [or if] the corn might make up as much as half or
two-thirds of daily caloric intake".
There is no evidence whatsoever that responsible regulators would
have rejected any biotech crop based on the type of speculation
engaged in by Dr. Benbrook. In fact, US regulators are responsible
for ensuring the safety of all consumers -- including those in the US
whose diet IS comprised of a high proportion of corn. There are many
populations in the United States whose diets are comprised of a high
proportion of minimally-processed corn, especially African American,
Hispanic and Native American populations in the South and Southwest.
Dr. Benbrook has zero evidence of any risks posed by biotech corn or
other approved biotech crops. Again, this is blatant fearmongering on
the part of Dr. Benbrook.
When all are more or less well fed, society can "afford" some level
of unsubstantiated speculation of the type now part-and-parcel to the
anti-biotech activists community, of which Dr. Benbrook is a leader.
In times of real human misery and need, such as that occuring in
Zambia and Southern Africa, this sort of unsubstantiated speculation
is not only fear mongering, it is death mongering.
Dr. Benbrook owes the starving citizens of Zambia a profound apology.
The citizens that recently liberated 230 tons of US corn from locked
warehouses owe Dr. Benbrook their contempt. For those that have
already died, humanity owes them a vow to keep political agendas out
of crisis policy and responses.
- Alex Avery, The Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues
> Comments to the Zambian Delegates
> - Dr. Charles Benbrook, Northwest Science and Environmental Policy
>Center, Sept. 13, 2002
What Consumers Say About GM Food is Not Always How Consumers Actually Behave
- Seedquest, Nov. 23, 2005 http://www.seedquest.com/
Australian Government agency Biotechnology Australia has today
released the report What you really need to know about what the
public really thinks about GM foods aimed at increasing understanding
of consumers' complex attitudes towards genetically modified (GM)
crops and food.
Speaking at the AusBiotech Conference in Perth today, Manager of
Public Awareness for Biotechnology Australia, Mr Craig Cormick, said,
"Many consumer attitude studies have been conducted that provide a
simple understanding of public attitudes, such as the general
question 'will you eat GM foods', but the reality of public attitudes
has been found to be more complex."
"Industry needs to gain a better understanding of consumer attitudes
if it is to find a closer alignment between GM products that might be
produced and consumer needs. All too often decisions relating to GM
food and crops are based on perceptions of public perceptions, rather
than a solid understanding of what public perceptions actually are,"
Mr Cormick added.
A recent study, undertaken by Eureka Strategic Research for
Biotechnology Australia, highlighted the fact that consumer attitudes
are complex. For example, the study found there are many variables
that can change a person's attitude towards GM foods, such as the
type of food being produced, its price and whether the genetic
modification involves inserting a gene from a different species or
"It is also important to understand that attitudes seek affirmation,
so people will commonly seek out data that supports an existing
attitude, dismissing or denigrating any data that is contrary to a
set attitude," Mr Cormick said.
The five key findings of the Report are:
1 What consumers say in surveys is not always how consumers actually behave;
2. General attitudes towards foods are amongst the biggest predictor
of attitudes towards GM foods;
3. As a relative concern, GM food concerns are comparable to concerns
about artificial preservatives;
4. There is a poor understanding of what genetically modified
actually means, and what foods are genetically modified, with wide
belief that many fruits and vegetables in supermarkets in
Australia may be GM;
5. Attitudes to GM foods are also influenced by a hierarchy of values; and
6. GM foods have become a focus for various ideologies.
The report "What you really need to know about what the public really
thinks about GM foods" in PDF format:
The Eureka Strategic Research report Public Awareness Research 2005:
GM Food and Non-Food Products, can be accessed at
Thuggery with a Green Gag
- Oliver Kamm, The Times (UK)< Nov. 30, 2005 http://www.timesonline.co.uk
The intention of yesterday's Greenpeace protest at the CBI conference
was, the organisation's spokesman said, "to stop Tony Blair
delivering his speech". Not since the author of Tarka the Otter,
Henry Williamson, evangelised for the English landscape and wartime
fascism has British political debate seen a more explicit
identification of the ecological cause with contempt for democracy.
Some might be tempted to treat seriously Greenpeace's objections to
nuclear energy, or GM crops, while not necessarily endorsing its
tactics. That is misguided. Greenpeace's determination to shut down
debate is not aberrant hotheadedness but deeply held conviction. Its
is an obscurantist illiberalism more appropriate to a cult than a
Democratic politics recognises that the things we value, such as
liberty and justice, cannot all be attained and made compatible with
each other. In the words of Sir Isaiah Berlin, "the very idea of the
perfect world in which all good things are realised is
incomprehensible, is in fact conceptually incoherent". Economic
policy deals with the central fact of scarcity, and our need to
choose among competing claims to scarce resources. Most of us regard
environmental protection as an important use for resources, and some
rank it very high.
Greenpeace goes much further, believing that its own views on the
environment are not mere preferences but moral imperatives. It
short-circuits debate by declaring itself the winner, even in cases
-- such as its notorious campaign on the Brent Spar storage buoy --
where its heedlessness of facts is no longer in dispute. Whereas the
task of government is to trade off benefits against costs, including
the opportunity costs of choices not taken, Greenpeace selects the
benefits while paying no costs at all.
While all pressure groups are vulnerable to the charge that they
advocate policy while insisting someone else picks up the tab,
Greenpeace is a case apart. Its campaigning extends to vandalising GM
crops and now a thuggish disregard for free speech. Another
campaigning group, Fathers 4 Justice, neatly demonstrated, by hurling
projectiles at the Prime Minister and handcuffing a minister, that
some of its members were entirely unsuited to the responsibilities of
Greenpeace has likewise given definitive evidence that its voice
should be discounted and derided in public debate.
Eat to Live: Get Used to 'Frankenfood'
- Julia Watson, UPI Food Writer, Dec 1, 2005 http://www.upi.com/
However much opponents of "Frankenfood" (the gleeful nickname for
genetically altered foods) may wish to eliminate Genetically Modified
foodstuffs once and for all, it becomes increasingly clear that their
control of the battle is slowly seeping away.
A consultant at the International Rice Research Institute last week
said that with the struggle in Asia to feed a growing population,
opposition to GMO rice was likely to dissipate by the end of this
Gurdev Singh Khush, a consultant at the IRRI, believes its course has
been set by the example of GMO corn, which, despite strenuous
opposition from Greenpeace, was passed for commercial growth in the
Philippines in 2002.
A report commissioned by Agricultural Biotechnology Europe published
at the end of September asserted the European Union's strongly
anti-GM position was also unsustainable. In Britain, Iceland and the
Co-Op, two of the nation's leading supermarket chains, refuse to
stock any GM foodstuffs, while other supermarkets have special
shelves dedicated to guaranteed non-GM products. They also attempt to
keep GM ingredients as absent from their merchandise as they can.
This is a difficult act given that GM soymeal and soy oil is widely
used in animal feed. An anti-GM stance is even more difficult to hold
in Europe when it comes to dairy products. A number of GM-derived
enzymes are used in bakery, dairy and other foodstuffs without the
knowledge of consumers because they are not, so far, required to be
named on labels as they have not been officially defined as additives.
In the United States, mandatory labeling of genetically engineered
ingredients is not required, unlike in the EU, Japan, China,
Australia and New Zealand, among others. Opponents of GM foods state
that with some exceptions, companies are not even required under
current Food and Drug Administration regulations to notify the agency
they are bringing new genetically engineered products to the market.
Since genetically engineered soy and corn are widely used in many
processed foods in the United States, it has been estimated that over
70 percent of such foods sold in the United States and Canada contain
genetically engineered ingredients.
The EU has taken a strong anti-GM position from the beginning. But
already it is beginning to give way, having passed approval for
oilseed, GM maize and one type of soybean. The problem, as with all
big-business enterprises, is rising costs. GM-free ingredients are
becoming increasingly uncompetitive in price, adding as much as 16
percent to basic costs.
The ABE report claims producers of margarine will fare the worst,
paying an extra 85 million euros to remain non-GM. About 75 percent
of EU margarine production is believed to be GM-free. The more the
growth of soybeans, which supply so many derivatives, is turned over
to GM production, the less the supply of non-GM soybeans. Brazil is
the latest nation to begin planting GM soy, with 23 percent of total
production in 2004 being genetically modified.
This has a dramatic affect on the price of meat. Feeding cattle and
pigs with GM soymeal can be as much as 13 percent cheaper than
feeding them with non-GM soymeal. And the price difference is
expected to rise as high as 25 percent in the next three years,
according to the report.
The diet of the First World has become so meat-centered, it is worth
remembering the nourishing place in Mediterranean diets and in Third
World countries of legumes like lentils, dried pulses and beans.
These are cheap to buy and to cook and so far appear to have slipped
under the radar of GM developers.
Technology Aids Fight Against World Hunger
- Billy Skaggs, Gainseville Times (Florida), Dec. 1, 2005
Hopefully, things will be changing for the better due to advancements
in agricultural biotechnology.
Currently, biotech applications in agriculture are in their infancy.
Most genetically enhanced plant varieties are modified for only a
single trait, such as herbicide tolerance or pest resistance. Rapid
progress may enhance plant breeding to help secure better and more
This would be of great benefit to those farming in historically
poor-producing areas throughout the world.
Today, nutritional and health benefits beyond those available in
foods are delivered via pharmaceuticals and vitamin supplements.
In the future, the potential exists to provide these benefits to a
greater part of the world, at significantly lower costs, through
Potential health benefits available from biotech foods include:
* Soybean, sunflower and peanut oils lower in saturated fats.
* Fruits and vegetables higher in beta-carotene and Vitamins C and E.
* Bananas that deliver oral vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis B.
* Strawberries with augmented cancer-fighting nutrients.
As you are probably aware, farmable land is depleted every day. The
most urgent need for agriculture is to create plants with the highest
yields possible. Another pressing need is in the area of animal
agriculture as relates to feed efficiency in poultry and livestock.
In Georgia, we are fortunate to have researchers with the University
of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Fort Valley State University working in
each of these areas. Each of these universities is at the forefront
in agricultural biotechnology and production efficiency work.
According to the United Nations, 800 million people worldwide are
malnourished. Through advances in agricultural biotechnology, farmers
will be able to, some day, meet this need.
So, the next time you hear something negative about genetically
modified crops, remember how many people in the world are in need of
these advances in food production.
Billy Skaggs is Hall County extension agent
Biofortified, Iron-Rich Rice Improves the Nutrition of Women - Cornell Study
- Susan S. Lang, Cornell University, November 30, 2005
For the past decade, plant breeders have been trying to boost the
vitamin and mineral content of rice and other staples through
traditional plant breeding and genetic engineering. But the foods
have never been tested to see if they actually improve the health of
the people who eat them.
Now, in the first study to test people who eat foods that have been
bred for higher-than-normal concentrations of micronutrients,
researchers have confirmed that conventional plant breeding can
affect human nutritional status. In a nine-month, double-blind study
-- the gold standard of research methods -- the iron status of women
who ate biofortified, iron-rich rice was 20 percent higher than in
women who ate traditional rice.
"Although this sounds like a modest increase, it means that instead
of 50 percent of women getting adequate iron, 71 percent of the women
who consumed the biofortified rice, while eating a traditional
Philippine diet, met the estimated average requirement for iron,"
said Jere Haas, the Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professor of Maternal and
Child Nutrition at Cornell University and the lead author of the
study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Nutrition
(Vol. 135:12). "The greatest improvements in iron status were in
non-anemic women who had the lowest body iron reserves at the
beginning of the study and in women who consumed the most rice and,
therefore, the most iron from rice," he said. "The beauty of these
findings is that using rice that is bred to be higher in iron has
great potential as a sustainable approach to reducing the
micronutrient deficiency problems so common in developing countries."
Haas and his colleagues tested the biofortified rice in the
Philippines, where they monitored the diets of 192 Catholic religious
sisters in 10 convents. Lack of iron is the most common micronutrient
deficiency in the world, afflicting more than 3.5 billion people,
particularly in developing countries, according to the United
Nations. During childhood and adolescence, iron deficiency impairs
physical growth, mental development and learning capacity. In adults,
it reduces the capacity to do physical labori. Severe anemia
increases the risk of women dying in childbirth.
"It is estimated that about 56 percent of women in developing
countries are anemic due mostly to iron deficiency," said Haas. "In
the Philippines, where this study was conducted, as many as 60
percent of the women may be iron deficient." The experimental rice
used in the study has four to five times more iron content than
commercially available rice in the Philippines.
Many women in developing countries cannot afford or do not have
access to commercially fortified foods, compared with women in
industrialized countries who commonly consume foods fortified with
vitamins and minerals.
Current methods to improve iron in diets in developing countries,
such as providing dietary supplements and fortifying the food supply,
have limitations, he said, or are not sustainable in countries where
resources are scarce.
"This study shows that developing new varieties of staple foods, such
as rice, maize, wheat, beans and cassava, by selectively breeding to
enhance nutritional qualities has merit for reducing micronutrient
deficiencies in the developing world," said Haas.
The biofortified rice was developed by the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.
Critics Decry GM Rule in Iraq
- Anne Harding, The Scientist, Nov. 30, 2005 http://www.the-scientist.com
'They argue policy allowing transgenic wheat could wipe out natural
varieties in the place where wheat was born'
Recent rule changes allowing farmers to use transgenic wheat species
in Iraq to help rebuild the region's agriculture have some critics
concerned that the new policy could help wipe out the natural hotbed
of diversity in Iraq, where wheat originated.
"Introducing transgenic wheat means replacing this diversity and
leaving it to extinction," warned Nagib Nassar, a professor of
genetics at the Universidade de Brasilia. "It will be replaced by a
monoculture with a very narrow genetic base. This is a problem. This
will be a catastrophe."
What's gotten people worried is Order 81, one of 100 orders enacted
by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Administrator L. Paul
Bremer. Issued in 2004, Order 81 authorizes the introduction of GM
crops as part of an effort to restore the nation's agricultural base,
and gives intellectual property rights to the developers of new seed
This isn't the first time Iraqi farmers have been exposed to genetic
modification. For thousands of years, Iraqi farmers have saved seed
from each year's crops, replanting and cross-pollinating varieties
for higher yields, better pest resistance, and other beneficial
traits. But Order 81 makes it illegal for Iraqi farmers to reuse
seeds from any crops planted using a patented seed variety. Farmers
who chose to use patented varieties would have to buy new seed every
Critics such as the non-governmental organizations GRAIN and Focus on
the Global South say US agribusiness pushed for Order 81 in hopes of
turning Iraqi farmers into cash crop producers. They fear a Green
Revolution-style overhaul of Iraq's ancient agricultural practices,
with trademarked crop varieties requiring plenty of fertilizer and
pesticide muscling out lower-yielding, but more dependable,
But officials on the ground in Iraq say such worries are overblown.
"I don't think there is any substantial information behind it,"
Tekeste Tekie, officer in charge in Iraq for the United Nations' Food
and Agriculture Organization, told The Scientist. "I don't think
there is anybody trying to push genetically modified crops onto
The FAO recently secured funding for a $5.4 million project to help
restore Iraq's seed industry, nearly destroyed by the war. The
project, developed jointly by Iraqi scientists and the FAO, will
include training of scientists and farmers, as well as restoration of
seed laboratories and seed multiplication centers. It is slated to
begin in 2006. Despite ongoing violence in parts of the country,
Tekie noted, 14 of 18 Iraqi governates are safe.
Iraq remains in dire need of assistance to rebuild its agricultural
capacity. While 5 million acres of wheat were under cultivation in
Iraq in 2003 before the US invasion, only 1 million are being grown
today, Sanjaya Rajaram, director of integrated gene management at the
International Center for Agricultural Resources (ICARDA) in Aleppo,
Syria, told The Scientist. And during that time, yields have dwindled
from two tons per hectare to a half-ton. Iraqi farmers are currently
only able to cover 4% of the coiuntry's demand for high quality seed.
Given the current state of Iraq's agricultural system, however, some
experts say the country is just not ready for GM crops. Any
introduction of genetically modified wheat into the region would have
to be done with extreme caution, after careful study, and Iraq simply
does not have the necessary infrastructure to make this possible,
Michael Larindi, a seed production officer at FAO, told The Scientist.
More immediate threats to Iraq's wheat heritage include the danger
that Iraqi farmers will toss out their old seed in favor of new
varieties, or that areas where wild wheat grows will be paved over or
otherwise developed, said Marilyn Warburton, a molecular biologist at
the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico City,
better known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT.
The solution, Warburton said, is to set aside protected land where
the wild varieties can grow, and to ensure seeds of old varieties are
safely banked. While Iraq's ancient seed stores have been decimated,
the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research is
holding some Iraqi seeds in gene banks in Syria and Mexico City.