Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : December 13, 2005
* The Irrationality Precedent
* Reassessing the Environmental Risks of GM Crops
* Bollworm Resistance to Bt Cotton in India
* ... Bt for Better Times?
* Kellogg Will Use New Soybean Oil to Cut Fat
* Gene Genie
* Is The European Attitude to GM Crippling African Development?
* Anti-GMO Group Loses California Food Fight
* Journal of Public Affairs - Special Issue on GM Foods
* Activists' Destruction of GM Crops Was Justified: French Court Gone Nuts
* UC Davis Life Sciences Building Vandalized
* Is a Bumper Crop Too Much of a Good Thing? - Damned if you do...
* Scientific Facts on Genetically Modified Crops
The Irrationality Precedent
- Reviewed by: John Hodgson, Nature Biotechnology v23, p1483, Dec.
2005. www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the
permission of the editor.
>"The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech
Revolution- by Henry I. Miller & Gregory Conko, Praeger Publishers,
2004, 269 pp. hardcover, $39.95, ISBN 0-275-97879-6"
Publishing, even electronic publishing, is much too slow a process
for the life sciences and their applications in biotech. In a
keystroke, tomorrow's experimental design is today's data and
yesterday's barely cited paper. A unique business opportunity now is
a mere competitive edge next week and, by the next partnering
meeting, patented intellectual property will have been commoditized.
In such a world of Red Queens running, it is faintly reassuring to
know that there is one aspect of the life sciences that remains more
or less constant. The complaints that Henry Miller and Greg Conko
make in The Frankenfood Myth about the regulators of genetically
modified products are as germane today as they were a year ago when I
was first asked to review this thought-provoking book, or a decade or
more ago. Initial misplaced regulatory zeal and subsequent
entrenchment have meant that wrong-headed views of biology in general
and recombinant organisms in particular are now enshrined in laws
across an increasing proportion of the globe. But the most
unsatisfactory aspect of the genetically modified (GM) crops debacle
is that an international precedent for regulatory irrationality has
been set. What price logic in stem cell biotech or nanotech?
Miller and Conko document the history of genetic modification of
plants and animals and the public and regulatory response to it. With
its sharp reminders of the hundreds of instances where 'we'--the
biotech community--went wrong, the book will be an agonizing read for
anyone who has been directly involved or who objects to the erosion
of the scientific process.
The take-home messages distilled from the pages of The Frankenfood Myth would probably be these: regulators act in a self-serving way unless nagged into acting rationally;
regulators respond to politics and social mood as much as to science;
the public is open to believing anything that does not conflict with
its own direct experience; the public attributes additional value to
scientific information but it doesn't know how to recognize it.
The mobilization of public opinion is where a great deal of
regulation has its genesis. In an era when gods still apparently
instruct world leaders to wage wars and where Dan Brown is regarded
as a great author of nonfiction, all things are clearly believable.
We must be politically correct and respect beliefs, no matter how
unsupported they are by evidence. Apparently, activists have a right
to claim that milk from cows given recombinant BST will cause breast
cancer in women who drink it. Or that antibiotic resistance genes in
plants significantly increase the chance of antibiotic resistance
emerging in gut flora. Or that the poisonous effects of a potato are
due to the process of genetic engineering itself rather than to the
poison that was added.
Activists are terrorists of the mind: they are extremists who depend
on the sanctuary they find in the unquestioning attitude of
sympathizers. That they can get away with claims like those above
relies somewhat on the fact that their audience knows little about
recombinant DNA, or BST, or cancer, or antibiotic resistance. But it
has much more to do with the fact that their audiences are also
pretty fuzzy about the constitution of milk, the origins of domestic
cattle or almost anything to do with plants. In addition, in a world
shrunken by communication in which everyone is your neighbor, people
have an increasingly poor appreciation of risk and hazard.
However, as Miller and Conko point out, science does still retain
sufficient kudos that even those who think unscientifically want to
don its mantle. The public looks for scientific affirmation of its
instincts, and the nonscience organizations wheel out their
pseudoscientist to provide it. And then two sets of credentials can
battle it out, while the public and regulators can choose whom to
believe. Despite what we in science think, it isn't that easy to work
out who are the good guys. Who but the cognoscenti can distinguish
the National Academy of Science from the Union of Concerned
Scientists; the Open University from UCD; the Foundation on Economic
Trends from the Hoover Institution.
Like Mae West, the leading journals used to be Snow White, but on the
issue of GM plants they have certainly drifted. Not often, but in key
points in the debate, reputable publications have severely erred.
Professional scientists may differentiate papers that are
journalistic puffery, preliminary communications, opportunities to
air the issues and peer-reviewed findings, but the public doesn't.
Industry is also hugely culpable in cementing many of the after rules
surrounding genetically modified products. The Frankenfood Myth gives
us a nice US example of industrial self-interest working against GM
products. The North American Millers' Association argued that there
should be zero-tolerance for the presence of industrial or
pharmaceutical crops in agricultural products intended for food or
feed. They called for all developers of plant-based drugs to have
mandatory liability coverage or to indemnify all downstream
processors and handlers of food products against the potential
impacts of gene flow. Such a call might make sense from an industry
that was whiter-than-white-flour and twice as wholesome. However, as
Miller and Conko point out, milling itself is rather prone to
adventitious agents--"highly toxic fungi, rodent droppings, and
insect parts"--none of which are really intended for food use either.
In Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, individual large
companies and their industry associations accepted that the whole
area of GM crops needed regulating. Once the regulations were in
force, the argument went, it would be easier for the barriers to the
market to be dismantled. The greatest unscientific gaffe of this
lamb-like stance was the acceptance that because GM crops can be
distinguished, they should be. Of course, it was never the intention
to treat GM products differently (just as it was never the intention
for black people to get the raw end of the deal in the apartheid
regimes of southern Africa).
But once the special GM status was enshrined in legislation,
regulators who were 'just following orders' introduced all sorts of
unjustified measures. A grossly misshapen form of public opinion was
used as a stick to beat a trail of submission through retailers, food
processors and farmers--all the way back to the plant breeders and
the research groups on whose results they drew.
Europe's regulations on GM are only 'science-based' in that people in
white coats conduct the uninstructive tests that the law now
requires. Europe has a strong GM testing industry, but no homegrown
John Hodgson is editor-at-large for Nature Biotechnology
Reassessing the Environmental Risks of GM Crops
- Les Firbank, Mark Lonsdale & Guy Poppy; Nature Biotechnology 23,
1475 - 1476, Dec. 2005. www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView
with the permission of the editor.
To the editor: A decade has now passed since the first commercial
releases of genetically modified (GM) crops, a period marked by great
controversy over the potential ecological effects of this technology.
As a result, the procedures for environmental risk assessment and
monitoring have developed rapidly to become formalized within
scientific and regulatory frameworks, such as the Cartagena Protocol
and the European Commission's (EC's) Directive 2001/18. In practice,
these have tended to focus upon risks that can be researched at the
small scale, at the expense of assessing the much larger scale risks
and benefits of changes to the farming system.
Ecological risk assessments of GM crops have tended to focus upon
gene flow to wild relatives and upon effects on species that use the
crop as food, either directly or indirectly. Such trials are
essential for novel traits. For traits already widely commercialized,
studies of gene flow to wild relatives confirm again and again that,
given the opportunity, genes will indeed flow, albeit at low
frequencies. Yet the ecological consequences of such gene flow are
not obvious, especially when compared with the effects of gene flow
from conventional crops. One potential consequence is that the gene
may make wild populations more invasive, especially should the GM
trait confer a selective advantage.
However, all the evidence we are aware of suggests that this does not
happen. In any case, it is very difficult to detect rare events using
a screening program; decision theory suggests that it may be a waste
of effort trying unless the potential for beneficial effects is very
low and the risks are very high and can be identified very
accurately6. Indirect effects of GM crops on wild species through
changes to the diet are also widely researched. Certainly, there are
effects of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin crops on the crop pests
themselves. Although effects on nontarget organisms can be observed
in the laboratory, such experiments are not suitable for
extrapolation to the field, where evidence for effects is much less
widespread. Indeed, we have surprisingly little evidence of
environmental risks to nontarget organisms arising directly from the
use of current GM crops.
By contrast, much larger environmental effects of GM crops have been
observed when mediated through indirect, larger changes to the
farming system. Thus, in the UK's Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of
herbicide-tolerant crops, no direct effect of the GM trait was
observed on weed and invertebrate abundance, whereas the different
herbicide regimes associated with the GM and conventional varieties
often resulted in fivefold treatment effects on individual taxa. Yet
the overall effects on biodiversity were less than those resulting
from the choice of crop species. At the landscape level, there is the
potential for large-scale ecological impacts of GM crops through
changes to rotations and cultivations, and to the area and
distribution of the crop.
It seems to us that the risks of irreversible harm to ecosystems
resulting from gene flow from GM crops with well-researched traits of
herbicide-tolerance and Bt are most likely to be confined to
situations where a wild relative found in the receiving environment
is of conservation value. In other cases, the risk of a harmful
direct ecological effect is so low, and so hard to detect, that the
additional information gained by screening may not be worth the
We suggest that case-by-case assessments drawing on small plot and
laboratory experiments are unlikely to provide useful data for traits
that have already been widely commercialized in other crops and/or
other receiving environments. To have gained approval, such crops
will have been studied in great detail in a multitude of small-scale
trials. Instead, there is a strong case to re-assess environmental
risks using a small number of large-scale, appropriately powered
field studies on a trait-by-trait basis, to determine which signals
can be tested for in the laboratory and can show whether the new crop
conforms to the typical behavior of its trait.
What would such a trial look like? Like the FSEs, it might focus on a
single trait in a variety of crop species under a realistic range of
field management conditions. Measurements would be taken of variables
that help relate crop characteristics to larger scale effects, for
example, expression of Bt toxicity in the plant to changes in
invertebrate populations. Such studies would be both cost effective
and scientifically rigorous as they would show under what
circumstances the introduction of the trait might trigger large-scale
effects, enabling more effective regulation and mitigation.
Large environmental effects are more likely to be triggered through
changes to land use (e.g., cropping versus grazing) and to farm
management systems (e.g., tillage practice). Such processes are not
irreversible and can be easily monitored in the early
post-commercialization phase by collecting data on crop distribution
and management and appropriate indicators of biodiversity and
landscape at an appropriate scale. Such systems could be designed for
any potential change in land use, whether technology or policy
driven. Monitoring systems should engage stakeholders throughout,
partly to build trust and legitimacy, but also to ensure that the
goals and trigger points of monitoring are consistent with their
In short, for well-known traits, we need to move away from a model of
assessing risk to one of assessing the degree to which the new
technology improves, or detracts from the delivery of social,
economic and environmental aspirations. Relationships between
characters of the traits and landscape-scale impacts need to be
informed by appropriate large-scale monitoring, experimentation and
modeling, whereas impacts need to be interpreted on the basis of a
clear understanding of what people want from the agricultural
The use of environmental risk assessment (ERAs) which involve the
development of conceptual models outlining assessment and measurement
endpoints could offer a powerful framework for us to move forward and
allow larger scale studies to start receiving the attention they
Bollworm Resistance to Bt Cotton in India
- Keshav R. Kranthi, Nature Biotechnology 23, 1476 - 1477, Dec. 2005.
www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with the permission of
To the editor: I am writing in response to a letter of correspondence
from Govind Gujar in the August issue (Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 927-928,
2005) and a news story by K. Jayaraman, Jeffrey Fox, Hepeng Jia and
Claudia Orellana in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology (23,
158, 2005) that refer to research in my group describing a stochastic
model to predict the emergence of resistance in the cotton bollworm
Helicoverpa armigera to cotton varieties containing the cry1Ac gene
encoding Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin1. The former article
contains serious factual errors and the latter misrepresents the
implications of our work.
In his letter, Gujar points out that we predicted that Bt cotton will
fail in India with in the next 3 to 4 years. We never said anything
of the sort, either in our paper or elsewhere.
First of all, he presumes (incorrectly) that 70-80% of Gujarat was
under Bt cotton cultivation for the past 3 years. On this basis he
goes on to ask: "Given that the Bt crop in Gujarat covers the
requisite area and is already in its fourth year of cultivation, why
have we not witnessed the failure of Bt cotton due to resistance
development in the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera?" The reason
is that Gujar's calculations and assumptions of the requisite area of
Gujarat under Bt cotton cultivation are simply wrong.
In fact, the 100- to 200-km radius area of Bt cotton cultivation
modeled in our paper represents 7.8-31.4 million acres-about 100-200
times greater than the acreage he calculates. He compounds his error
by assuming that 70-80% of this area (77,628-155,256 acres by his
reckoning) was used to grow Bt cotton. This is subsequently used as a
basis to argue that because resistance has not yet been detected in
Gujarat (despite 70-80% of the area being under Bt cotton
cultivation), "the effectiveness of insect resistance management
strategy is likely just one of several factors that will determine
the effectiveness of Bt cotton in suppressing bollworm populations."
Because his presumptions are wrong his subsequent assumptions are
invalid. Realistic estimates of the area in Gujarat cultivating
authorized Bt cotton hybrid are 22,500 acres in 2002, 130,000 acres
in 2003 and 330,000 acres in 2004. Even if the area under unapproved
illegal Bt cotton were five times (it could actually be only 2-3
times) that of the area cultivating authorized Bt cotton, it would
still have been only 4% of 3.75 million acres in 2002, 16% of 4.12
million acres in 2003 and 33% of 4.98 million acres in 2004. Farmers
in Gujarat have been cultivating Gossypium herbaceum diploid cotton
'Wagad' varieties on saline soils, which are unsuitable for hybrid
cotton, in about 50% of the area under cotton cultivation over the
past several years. Thus, in all likelihood the area used to grow Bt
cotton would not exceed 50% of the total cotton area in the province.
Our surveys in 2004 showed that the area under Bt cotton cultivation
in Gujarat was 60-70% of the area under hybrid cotton, which would
constitute about 30-35% of the total cotton area. With a scenario
such as this, our model predicts insect resistance will evolve under
field conditions not for at least another 10 years. And if resistance
management strategies are implemented, it will take much longer. On
the basis of the model output, our paper suggested strategies
appropriate for Indian conditions that have the potential to delay
resistance up to 45 years, even with the complete hybrid cotton area
converted to Bt cotton. Our statement in the paper (which was
misquoted by Gujar) says "it is likely that some regions may develop
into 'hot spots' of resistance within 3-4 years of introduction of
the technology, if the area under Bt cotton hybrids increases beyond
70-80% of the total acreage under cotton." Development of hot spots
contributes to the spread of resistant alleles in the region through
migrant moths and does not necessarily cause control failures at the
The views of Tabashnik support our model predictions and highlight
the importance of refuges as a key factor in contributing to the
delay in insect resistance development, despite the cultivation of Bt
cotton and Bt corn in more than 90 million hectares worldwide since
Though Jayaraman and his associates interpreted our results to state
that "Indian Bt gene monoculture" was like a "potential time bomb,"
our aim was never to create panic by predicting resistance through
stochastic modeling. We strongly believe that the Bt technology is
the best eco-friendly tool available for cotton pest management in
India. We wanted to integrate all factors that influence development
of insect resistance to the toxin, through stochastic modeling, so
that appropriate strategies can be devised to ensure the
sustainability of Bt cotton under Indian farming conditions. We had
clearly stated in our paper that "model outputs cannot be treated as
predictive. They assist in the identification of parameters that have
the largest effects on resistance development. Once the critical
factors and conditions responsible for rapid development of
resistance are properly identified through simulation, it would then
enable the development of proactive resistance management
strategies." Thus, our model integrates ecological, genetic and
biological factors to understand which factors contribute most toward
the development of resistance.
Our results clearly show that insect resistance management strategies
indeed hold the key to sustainable use of a technology such as Bt
cotton. Indian farmers have always overused good technologies to the
point that they are rendered useless, as was the case with good
varieties and insecticides such as pyrethroids. What India needs is a
set of resistance management strategies that are scientifically
sound, compatible with Indian farming conditions and are acceptable
to the Indian farmer. Our attempt was precisely to do that and we
hope to succeed.
Crop Protection Division, Central Institute for Cotton Research,
Nagpur 440 010, India. krkranthi.at.satyam.net.in
Bt for Better Times?
- Sourav Mishra, Down to Earth (India), Dec 15, 2005. Full story at
Whatever the Bt cotton experience for farmers in other parts of
India, it seems that it has given their counterparts in Punjab a new
lease of life. After being plagued by continuously declining
productivity and escalating input costs for years, farmers had been
going off cotton in a big way. But Bt cotton is bringing them back,
if the 2005 crop is any indication. And it's happened mainly because
of better harvests and substantial savings on pesticides.
That doesn't mean all's well in the Bt universe. Illegal seeds from
Gujarat, new diseases, violation of bio-safety norms in trial plots
and the need for more water are serious problems. Also worrying is
the impact on small farmers; one farmer has committed suicide after
failing to sell his produce.
Even then, the total area under cotton cultivation in Punjab this
year has been about 580,000 hectares (ha) compared to 509,000 ha in
the 2003-04 season. According to the Union ministry of agriculture,
the area under cotton in Punjab is up 81,000 ha this year, though
cotton area in the country has fallen by 37,000 ha. Jasbir Singh
Bains, joint director (cotton), ministry of agriculture, Punjab,
calls this the Bt factor. Bt cotton is being grown in almost 200,000
ha in the state, approximately 30 per cent o
cotton, he calculates.
Kellogg Will Use New Soybean Oil to Cut Fat
- Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times, December 9, 2005
CHICAGO, Dec. 8 - The Kellogg Company is set to announce on Friday
that it will become the first major food maker to use a new type of
soybean oil to reduce trans fats in its baked foods. Food
manufacturers, responding to the growing demand for food that does
not contain heart-clogging trans fats, are turning to oil made from
special types of soybeans.
The move comes as seed companies like Monsanto and the Hi-Bred
International unit of DuPont, are planting hundreds of thousands of
acres of new soybean varieties. Both are planning for new rules on
Jan. 1 that will require nutritional labels to list whether foods
contain trans fats.
David MacKay, Kellogg's president and chief operating officer, said
in an interview on Thursday that his company had determined through
extensive testing that a soybean oil known as low-linolenic was the
best alternative to partially hydrogenated oils, which are high in
trans fats. At first, Kellogg, which is based in Battle Creek, Mich.,
will mainly use an oil made by Monsanto.
"This is the only solution we have found where we take trans fats out
and minimize the amount of saturated fats," Mr. MacKay said. "We need
to encourage growers and processors to make more of this oil."
But a shortage of the oil - brought on by heightened demand - will
slow Kellogg's plans to reduce trans fats in its products.
Mr. MacKay said Kellogg planned to introduce some products
reformulated with the new oil including cereal bars and most of its
cracker products by early next year. Availability of the oil will
determine when the rest of the snack products and other baked goods
like cookies will be free of trans fats. "Some of our foods will have
trans fats until we are in a position to remove them," he said.
The new soybean oils reduce the need for partial hydrogenation, so
that fewer trans fats are produced during processing. The oil is
stable enough to replace hydrogenated oils and did not show any
statistical difference in taste and shelf life in Kellogg's testing,
Mr. MacKay said.
But the new soybean oil is not stable enough to withstand the high
temperatures required in the cooking of fried foods like McDonald's
French fries, said Dave Stark, vice president for consumer traits at
Monsanto. "There are still too many polyunsaturated fats," he said.
"We are still at least a few years off" from a soybean oil that could
serve as a substitute. McDonald's has been widely criticized for the
high trans fat content in its fries.
Food manufacturers are searching for alternatives to partially
hydrogenated oils that have been the food industry's cooking oil of
choice for decades. Studies show that trans fat has the same
heart-clogging properties as saturated fat, but unlike saturated fat,
it reduces the good cholesterol that can clear arteries.
The Food and Drug Administration has declared that there is no
healthy level of trans fats in the diet and it ordered food companies
to disclose trans fat amounts on food labels by January.
Food companies could choose to substitute tropical oils like palm or
canola oil, which also reduce trans fats, but those oils raise
saturated fat levels. The demand for the new soybean oil presents an
opportunity for farmers, who are being paid a hefty premium for
growing the specialized beans. Grain elevators are paying some
Midwest farmers 40 cents a bushel more than for regular soybeans,
said Desiree Fletcher-Hayes, a spokeswoman for DuPont.
Gene Genie is an Australian online resource created to provide
information about genetically modified (GM) food and crops. The aim
of the site is to encourage discussion about GM food and crops as
well as to provide current science-based information about GM food
and crops and all related issues.
The site includes open discussion forums covering a number of topics
and issues. Gene Genie also features a large number of supporting
documents and articles, including reports of recent scientific
developments, brief research reports and commentaries on the social
implications of GMO technology, book reviews, news articles,
announcements, frequently asked questions and letters to the editor.
Gene Genie aims to deal with the myths about GM food and crops and to
provide the facts to enable users to form an unbiased, informed view
on the issue. It welcomes all parties in the debate to present their
tangible arguments, helping Australia to deal with this technology.
Gene Genie is a privately funded project and is not associated with
the biotechnology industry or any other organisations.
Is The European Union's Attitude to GM Suffocating African Development?
- Press Release, Dec. 12, 2005
The European Union's (EU) negative stance towards GM crops has
contributed to food shortages currently plaguing Southern Africa, an
Australian study has found. Southern Africa is in the grip of its
third serious drought in five years. In Zambia, the government has
declared a state of emergency and appealed for foreign food aid, as
more than 1.2 million people face famine in the country, in addition
to nine million in neighboring nations. In 2002, the Zambian
government refused food aid containing GM crops from the United
States, citing health and environmental concerns.
The new analysis published in the journal Functional Plant Biology
suggests the decision to reject GM food aid was based on sometimes
misleading information from activist organisations combined with fear
that European markets would close to Zambia's agricultural produce
should GM food aid be accepted.
The study found horticultural exports and field crops are vital to
the economies of many African nations. Zambia even exported corn to
the EU during the 2002 drought when three million people were facing
The article's author, Australian National University PhD student Greg
Bodulovic said he hoped that people in southern African nations
especially Zambia would not starve because of the irrational
rejections of GM crops by African governments and the EU. "The
current situation is another example of the third world suffering at
the expense of the first. There is a risk that the people most in
need of this technology will be unable to derive its benefits," he
Greg Bodulovic said that pest- and drought-resistant GM crops could
play an important part in the future improvement of agricultural
productivity and hence the food supply in Africa. However, they are
only part of the solution. "African farming practices need to be
improved, and irrigation and fertilisation of soils needs to be
addressed. New farming techniques including GM crops must be made
available to African nations to curb the cycle of malnutrition,
starvation and ultimately, poverty," he said.
The study also noted that crops suited to African conditions are not
being developed by the biotechnology industry, due to difficulties in
recouping research and development costs, given the lack of positive
interest in GM crops. The United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) has predicted that global food production must
increase by 60% to feed a projected population of 8.4 billion by
2035. Currently, 842 million people do not have enough to eat, while
billions suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies due to an inadequate
The article can be found on the CSIRO Website
http://publish.csiro.au/issue/955.htm and on the Gene Genie Website
Greg Bodulovic's research is funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence
for Integrative Legume Research. (gregor.bodulovic.at.anu.edu.au)
Anti-GMO Group Loses California Food Fight
- Marla Dale Hall, Food Safety & Security at Kansas State University,
Dec. 12, 2005; Via Agnet
Somewhere in Marin County, California, a dairy producer just finished
the morning milking. Earlier this fall he harvested the corn silage
he uses to feed his prized Holstein dairy herd. Next May he will
plant another corn crop. Unfortunately for him that corn crop cannot
be genetically modified. Three California counties--Mendocino,
Trinity, and Marin--have banned genetically modified organisms
(GMOs). In Vermont, 83 townships have also adopted resolutions
banning the growth of GMOs. Each local ordinance varies slightly; one
ordinance has exclusions for medical research purposes. However, all
of the bans limit producer choice by outlawing genetically modified
One California county got it right. Thankfully, a proposed 10-year
ban on growing, selling, or distributing transgenic organisms was
defeated earlier this month in Sonoma County, California. The county
ordinance, entitled Measure M, would have prohibited "any person,
corporation, or legal entity to engage in the propagation,
cultivation, raising, growing, sale or distribution of transgenic
organisms in Sonoma County."
According to supporters, Sonoma County needed the ordinance to
protect its residents whi le providing time to study the effects of
GMOs. Efforts to pass Measure M focused on fear; supporters claimed
that the government has not required basic health and environmental
safety studies. On the contrary, a 2004 National Research Council
study stated, "No adverse health effects attributed to genetic
engineering have been documented in the human population." Three
agencies within the U.S. government regulate genetically modified
crops: the Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug
Adminis tration, the Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Collectively these three agencies ensure that genetically modified
crops are as safe as conventionally produced crops.
Anti-GMO groups frequently argue that GMOs are unnatural and
therefore unsafe. But many natural organisms are unsafe. Consider the
AIDS virus, the influenza virus, mycotoxins, and anthrax. These are
all naturally occurring; however, I don't want to ingest any of them
even if properly labeled as all natural. Just because it's natural
doesn't mean it's safe. Current USDA organic certification prohibits
the use of gene tically modified crops. Organic producers worry that
the pollen from their neighbor's genet ically modified crop will
drift over the fence and contaminate their organic crop. Although
scientifically possible, this would not destroy the producer's
organic certification. Organic certification standards are based on
production processes and not outcomes. To be certified organic,
producers must only certify that they did indeed plant
non-genetically modified seed.
Organic producers and consumers are missing the big picture. Crops
that are genetically modified to be resistant to diseases and pests
will be systemically resistant to diseases and pests. These crops
will not need to be sprayed with fungicides or insecticides. Not even
once. Now that's organic. Organic farmers should be first in line to
welcome the opportunities provided with genetically modified crops.
Organic food should not have to be GMO-free. The two methods can and
should co-exist. The public needs to be educated about genetic
modification and life sciences in general. The Mendocino County
ordinance, passed in 2004, erroneously defines DNA as a protein. DNA
is not a protein; it is a nucleic acid. DNA contains the information
needed for the production of proteins. Spreading fear and erroneous
information wrongfully criticizes a technology that can solve real
Genetically modified crops offer many benefits to producers. Crop
producers enjoy more productivity from higher yields with fewer
inputs. A recent economic impact study estimates that the adoption of
genetically modified crops in the U.S. from 1996-2004 has increased
farm income by $10 billion. Utilizing GMO technology also facilitates
the adoption of reduced-tillage or no-tillage cropping systems. These
cropping systems reduce soil erosion problems and improve general
soil health. Flexible crop management decisions and more pest
control options are additional producer benefits of GMOs. Future GMO
traits will include more benefits, not only for producers but for
consumers as well.
Researchers are currently exploring methods to improve nutritional
properties and eliminate harmful allergens in food. With the aid of
modern molecular biology, plant breeders have the capability to
develop improved crop varieties that are immune to major yield
limiting stresses. Future soybean varieties will carry immunity to
the devastating soybean cyst nematode. Future grape vineyards will
not be cursed with Pierce's disease, a bacterial infection of
grapevines common in California. Boundless other examples exist .
Advancements in genetic modification should be regulated to assure a
safe and nutritious food supply. Regulations and restrictions should
have scientific justification. Potential risks should be identified
beforehand and addressed prior to the release of each specific
genetically modified trait. Agriculture production practices and
genetic methods that limit gene flow exist, and these methods should
be utilized. Policy should promote research, not make it illegal.
Marla Dale Hall is a doctoral candidate in plant breeding at Kansas
State University. mdh9944.at.ksu.edu
Journal of Public Affairs - Special Issue on GM Foods
Some of your readers may be interested in the latest issue of the
Journal of Public Affairs, which is a special issue about GM foods.
Here is the web page for the journal with information about the
articles and their authors.
The articles are not yet available in PDF format. Interested readers
may, of course, either purchase the issue or the individual articles,
or they may contact the various authors (Look into the Abstract for
email) to obtain copies of the papers.
- Yours, Gale West, Ph.D., Centre de recherche en economie
agroalimentaire (CREA) Universite Laval Quebec, Canada
Activists' Destruction of GM Crops Was Justified: French Court
- Agence France Presse, December 9, 2005
ORLEANS, France - In a judgement expected to send a chill through
companies growing gen etically modified (GM) crops in Europe and
bolden their opponents, a French court Friday was cited as acquitting
49 activists who destroyed GM plants after ruling their actions were
The story says that the court in the central city of Orleans
dismissed the criminal charges of organised vandalism against the 49,
who had uprooted GM maize in the region planted by the US
biotechnology group Monsanto in two incidents, one last year and the
other in 2005.
The court was quoted as saying, "The defen dants have shown proof
that they committed an infraction of voluntary vandalism in a group
to respond to a situation of necessity," and that situation of
necessity "resulted from the unbridled distribution of modified genes
that constitutes a clear and present danger for the well-being of
others, in the sense that it could be the source of contamination and
The court, however, upheld the civil complaint against the 49,
ordering them to pay a total of 6,000 euros (7,000 dollars) to
Monsanto in damages and interest -- although that sum was a small
fraction of the 398,000 euros the US company had been seeking.
UC Davis Life Sciences Building Vandalized: Graffiti In Protest of
Genetically Modified Crops
- Keli Senkevich The California Aggie Dec. 9,2005
In protest of genetically modified foods, one or more vandals spray
painted the phrases "No GM" and "No to Frankenfoods" as well as peace
symbols in various locations throughout the Life Sciences Addition
building last week, the UC Davis Police Department said.
The vandals defaced various walls, doors and refrigerators in 20
identified locations throughout the building, according to UCDPD Lt.
Nader Oweis. The damage is very minor, he noted. Situated at the
corner of Hutchison and Kleiber Hall drives, the Life Sciences
Addition houses the College of Biological Sciences as well as various
departments and programs like the UC Systemwide Biotechnology
Research and Education Program, the graduate group in biochemistry
and molecular biology and the Center for Animal Behavior.
The phrases painted, such as "No GM," which refers to genetic
modification, suggests that the crime was motivated by an opposition
to genetically modified foods, police said. Along with the markings,
six glass beakers were broken and several plants were found
overturned An employee discovered the damage, which Oweis said
occurred some time between 5 p.m. on Dec. 1 and 7 a.m. on Dec. 2.
The building is typically locked after 5 p.m., but those working on
research projects have access to the facility after hours. Judy
Kjelstrom, director of the UC Systemwide Biotechnology Research and
Education Program, said she learned of the incident Thursday, adding
that she is disappointed that the individual or individuals resorted
to vandalism. "I am shocked," she said. "I thought we were over this."
University research relating to genetic engineering, which began in
the 1980s, has been the target of vandalism in the past. In 1999, a
group self-identified as "Reclaim the Seeds" destroyed research crops
in protest to the university's collaboration with Jackson Laboratory,
the largest distributor of genetically altered mice. Destruction to
UC Davis crops was among a string of attacks nationwide on crops at
research facilities carried out by anti-genetic engineering groups
during that period.
Police arrested three anti-genetic engineering protestors in 2003 for
hanging from ropes attached to the stair railing of the Life Sciences
Addition and the 48-foot-tall "Portrait of a DNA Sequence" model.
Another protestor locked himself to the railing with a bike lock.
Though protest against genetic engineering has happened in the past
at UC Davis, Oweis said this most recent case of vandalism is not a
typical occurrence. Various groups oppose the genetic modification of
crops for a number of reasons. Some, including those affiliated with
Greenpeace International, fear genetically modified foods are unsafe
for human consumption, calling such altered plants and fruits
Californians for GE-Free Agriculture do not object to the genetic
engineering research itself, according to employee Doug Mosel. Mosel
said it is "the releasing [of genetically modified crops] into the
open environment where a living organism replicates with unknown
consequences" that the group opposes. The coalition is committed to
assessing the risks associated with the genetic engineering of crops.
The UC Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program aims
to educate the public on the benefits and advantages of genetically
modified crops, Kjelstrom said. "What we hope to do from the
biotechnology program is to translate the message of what's happening
in research and take it to the public so people aren't as afraid,"
The goals of such genetic engineering research include reducing the
agricultural use of pesticides and herbicides, increasing a crop's
nutritional quality and, more specifically, lowering the levels of
fungal toxins found in crops such as corn. On campus, Kjelstrom said
most buildings, including the Life Sciences Addition, engage in some
form of biotechnology research.
She noted that the vandal or vandals who chose to express their
opposition by specifically targeting the Life Sciences facility
should have opted for an alternative outlet, noting that there is a
wrong and right way to protest. "I think we agreed in 1999, 'Let's
have an open discussion on campus if you have concerns,'" Kjelstrom
said. "Don't damage our property."
Is a Bumper Crop Too Much of a Good Thing?
- Alexei Barrionuevo and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times, December 9, 2005
WARSAW, Illinois - The first architects of agricultural subsidies
aimed to bail out farmers during bad harvests so that they would not
abandon the vital task of producing food for the nation. But these
days, not only are farmers overcoming droughts and floods,
agricultural technologies are ushering them into an era of surging
production that is likely to outstrip global demand for years to come.
This season's parched-earth conditions were supposed to spell doom
here for the Illinois corn crop. Instead, the country's
second-biggest corn-growing state harvested 16 percent more per acre
than expected, helping the United States produce its second-largest
The bountiful harvest, much of it likely to end up on world markets,
has only added to a fundamental problem facing the sector: too much
success for its own good. Despite the worst Midwest drought in 17
years, seed technology allowed farmers to continue their relentless
increase in production.
As a result, the Green Revolution, including most recently the use of
genetically engineered plants, is colliding with the international
trade system. Rising crop yields in affluent countries, even in years
with poor growing conditions, are producing more food than these
countries' populations can eat.
Rather than let the market sort out the winners from the losers,
condemning some less-efficient farmers to go broke or forcing them to
switch to other crops, governments continue to subsidize them
heavily. And the cost of these subsidies has spiraled higher with
"We don't see any signs that our ability to improve the yield of corn
is diminishing," said Marlin Edwards, global head of breeding
technology for Monsanto. Those kinds of predictions make farmers
like Mr. Zumwalt nervous about the prices their crops will fetch once
conditions improve. "We have just gotten too good at what we do, I
guess," he said.
Scientific Facts on Genetically Modified Crops
- Greenfacts.org, Nov. 15, 2005
We are regularly confronted with genetically modified foods, be it in
the news or on our plates.
In what way are GM crops different from conventional crops? What is
known about their possible risks for human health or the environment?
This study is a faithful summary of the leading scientific consensus
produced by the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization):
Read on at http://www.greenfacts.org/gmo/
Conclusions 8.1: Agricultural biotechnology can be seen as both:
* A scientific complement to conventional agriculture, aiding for
instance plant breeding programs, and
* A dramatic departure from conventional agriculture, enabling
transfer of genetic material between organisms that would not
Agricultural biotechnology has international implications and may
become increasingly important for developing countries. However,
research has tended to focus on crops important to developed
To date, countries where genetically modified crops have been
introduced in fields, have reported no significant health damage or
environmental harm. Moreover, farmers are using less pesticides or
using less toxic ones, reducing harm to water supplies and workers'
health, and allowing the return of beneficial insects to the fields.
Some of the concerns related to gene flow and pest resistance have
been addressed by new techniques of genetic engineering.
However, the lack of observed negative effects does not mean that
they cannot occur. Scientists call for a cautious case-by-case
assessment of each product or process prior to its release in order
to address legitimate safety concerns.
" Science cannot declare any technology completely risk free.
Genetically engineered crops can reduce some environmental risks
associated with conventional agriculture, but will also introduce new
challenges that must be addressed. Society will have to decide when
and where genetic engineering is safe enough." (FAO 2004)