Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





February 6, 2006


Bracing for Landmark WTO Ruling; Tryptophan Myth Debunked; Coevolution of Technology; Don't Swallow GM Statistics


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 7, 2006

* WTO May Reject EU Biotech-Import Policy in 'Bellwether' Ruling
* Trade Ruling is Expected to Favor Biotech Food
* EU Braces for Landmark WTO Ruling on Biotech Ban
* Show GM Benefits
* Re: Africans Must Only Use What They Invent?
* Wheat Farmers Need to Embrace Biotech
* Letter to Biotech Advisor, U. S. State Dept -by Indian 'Real' Farmers Federation
* New Papers on AgBioForum
* Coevolution of Technology and Social Institutions
* New FDA Study Debunks A Favorite Activist Scare 'Tryptophan - Biotech Link'
*.. Diagnosis of GM tryptophan hazard: Alternative Medicine is the culprit
* Don't Swallow Genetically Modified Statistics


WTO May Reject EU Biotech-Import Policy in 'Bellwether' Ruling

- Warren Giles, Irish Sun Feb. 6, 2006 http://story.irishsun.com/

World Trade Organization judges may decide tomorrow that the European Union illegally keeps genetically engineered seeds by Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co. off shelves and out of fields.

The confidential ruling isn't likely to force open the European market, where some governments are already fighting EU- wide rules. Still, it's being closely watched by countries such as India, Japan, China and Australia for clues about how the WTO views rules that distinguish modified from traditional crops.

"This will be the bellwether case throughout the world of how biotechnology is going to be regulated,'' said Christian Verschueren, director general of CropLife International of Brussels, which represents companies such as Monsanto. "Other governments will be watching, and hopefully this will send a strong signal that measures have to be based on science.''

The WTO ruling stems from a 2003 complaint about EU policies by the three of the biggest biotech crop growers, the U.S., Argentina and Canada. The judgment, initially scheduled for March 2005, has been delayed six times and is expected to contain several hundred pages of analysis.

With 98 million hectares (242 million acres) under arable production in the EU, second only to the U.S., the 25 nations grow less than 1 percent of the world's genetically modified crops. Global biotech sales in 2006 will amount to $5.5 billion.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, says new laws since 2004 already allow the products to be planted, traced and labeled. It blames the some EU governments for continuing to block approvals against a background where more than half of the EU's 450 million consumers are convinced gene-engineered foods are "dangerous,'' according to an EU poll in June.

The commission has separate cases under way against Austria, France, Luxembourg and Germany for refusing to lift bans on gene- altered products, including Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta AG's Bt11 pest-resistant corn.

At stake is the future of the crops in China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia, which all have regulations stipulating strict consumer labeling of goods containing bio-engineered ingredients, says the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, which campaigns for labeling and testing of the food technology. Switzerland, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Algeria, Ghana, Benin, Zambia and Georgia are among countries that have banned planting of genetically engineered crops.

Higher Yields
GM varieties are engineered to resist specific herbicides or pesticides, letting a farmer spray his field with products that kill everything except his crop. Some have genes that act as insecticides, prevent fungal growth or withstand drought.

Advocates say the technology boosts yields and cuts the number of times chemicals must be sprayed, meaning the soil is less compacted and limiting rainwater run-off and erosion.

The U.S. accounted for 55 percent of the global area planted to biotech crops last year, or 49.8 million hectares, Argentina 19 percent and Canada 6 percent, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Brazil became the third-biggest grower last year with just over 10 percent of the total area and worldwide, sowings rose 11 percent to 90 million hectares.

Opponents say there are no proven health or environmental benefits to GM crops. They argue that they're no cheaper, nor have they helped alleviate hunger in Africa, because the crops are mostly for animal feed. They also say that engineered genes can't be contained, once released into the environment,

Sending Signals
The crops have increased the use of herbicides and pesticides over the last decade, environmental group Friends of the Earth says, and have contributed to deforestation and soil erosion.

"The biggest worry for the WTO case is the signal it sends beyond the EU's borders, because developing countries may not even bother to try to put a legislative regime in place,'' said Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner against biotech crops for Friends of the Earth in London.

The EU halted gene-engineered product approvals in 1998 to review its practices. Since the system resumed in 2004, the commission has approved just three varieties, including Monsanto's MON863 corn, for import. Because there's no majority among EU governments either to approve or dismiss new approvals, the commission can make decisions unilaterally.

EU governments have given no new permission to plant modified crops since 1998 and 27 applications for approval of gene-altered feed and food by companies such as Bayer AG and Monsanto are pending in the EU process.

Monsanto Approvals
A GM corn variety developed by Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont Co., the third-largest U.S. chemical maker, and Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., the country's biggest, are pending final approval.

In August, the commission gave Monsanto, the world's No. 1 developer of biotech crops, a 10-year authorization to import a rapeseed known as GT73 that resists one of the St. Louis-based company's herbicides. It also approved three kinds of Monsanto corn on Jan. 13, two for food and one for animal feed.

In the meantime, Austria is appealing a European Court of Justice ruling against the country's planting ban and Greece is resisting a commission order to allow Monsanto's MON810 corn, approved before 1998, for sowing.

Unless the EU wins the WTO case, "the shockwaves will be global,'' said the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, an EU-U.S. consumer alliance that advocates labeling and testing of GM products.

The U.S. may win the battle "but it is losing the war,'' said Rhoda Karpatkin, who represents the Washington-based U.S. Consumers Union. A WTO victory for the U.S. will increase consumer mistrust of the technology, she said, and ``can be seen as a preemptive effort to chill'' policies for regulating GMOs.


Trade Ruling is Expected to Favor Biotech Food

- Andrew Pollack, New York Times, Feb. 6, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com/

The battle over agricultural biotechnology could reach a tipping point this week, when the World Trade Organization is expected to render its verdict on charges by the United States that Europe is illegally restricting imports of genetically modified crops.

Even if the United States wins -- that is the prevailing rumor -- genetically modified foods would not flood Europe because citizens there remain wary of them. But the American government and the biotechnology industry hope a ruling in their favor would sound a warning to other nations not to follow Europe's lead in restricting farm biotechnology.

''It's pretty clear the U.S. had to draw the line so it didn't get worse around the world,'' said Craig Thorn, an agricultural trade consultant in Washington whose clients have included the biotechnology industry.

An American victory could help developers of genetically modified crops, including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical, as well as the European companies Syngenta and Bayer. American farmers growing genetically modified crops might also benefit from increased exports. Trade officials in Washington say they expect a preliminary decision from the three-person panel tomorrow. But the decision has been put off numerous times since the complaint was first filed in 2003, so another delay is possible.

In its complaint, the United States, joined by Canada and Argentina, said that European officials placed a moratorium on approving new biotech varieties in 1998. That violated a global treaty on standards for food, which requires governments to act without ''undue delay'' and to base decisions on scientific risk assessments, not political expediency.

Europe counters that there was no moratorium. Decisions just took time, it said, because it needed data from the biotech companies and because it was revising its regulations. Europe said the crops posed legitimate risks to health and the environment that had to be weighed with ''a prudent and precautionary approach.''

Since biotech crops were first planted widely 10 years ago, their use has increased steadily. Last year, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grew the crops on 222 million acres, although the United States accounted for more than half the total acreage, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. The crops are mainly soybeans, corn or cotton containing bacterial genes that provide resistance to either herbicides or insects.

But consumer opposition and restrictions by various governments have clearly slowed the adoption of the technology and its application to other crops like wheat, rice and potatoes. In the United States, where most soy and half the corn crop is genetically engineered, most processed food, from corn flakes to salad dressing, has an ingredient in it from a biotech crop. But in Europe, genetically engineered foods are hardly found.

The direct economic impact of the halt in approvals has been fairly small. American farm interests say that about $300 million a year in corn exports to Europe have dried up since 1998. In contrast, W.T.O. cases involving American steel tariffs and tax subsidies to exporters, both of which the United States lost, involved billions of dollars a year.

Even before approvals stopped, Europe accounted for only 4 percent of American corn exports. Soybeans are still exported to Europe because the only genetically engineered bean was approved before 1998. Even if Europe loses, it will argue that the findings are moot because it resumed approving biotech crops in 2004.

American officials say those recent approvals are a grudging response to the trade complaint and that decisions are still not coming fast enough. Even if approvals do accelerate, specialists do not expect large exports to Europe of either genetically modified corn or food containing biotech ingredients.

Europe approved new rules in 2003 that require foods with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled and the ingredients to be traceable to the farm on which they were grown. Food companies in Europe and America, worried that such a label will turn away consumers, avoid biotech ingredients.

''The traceability and labeling scheme puts a black mark on any biotech product,'' said Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents big food companies like Kraft and Kellogg. The grocery manufacturers and other American industry groups are urging the government to file a new W.T.O. complaint against the labeling and traceability rules. United States officials say that is under consideration.

Opponents of biotech food say that a ruling in favor of the United States need not dissuade other countries from regulating genetically modified crops, because the American complaint was not against Europe's regulations per se, but rather about delays in applying the regulations.

Still, Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at the Consumers Union, based in Yonkers, said such a ruling would set a bad precedent. ''Safety and health regulations should not be second-guessed by trade officials,'' she said.


EU Braces for Landmark WTO Ruling on Biotech Ban

- Jeremy Smith, Reuters, Feb 6, 2006

Brussels - The European Union could be forced to open itself to more genetically modified products this week when a world trade panel rules whether its strict policy on biotech foods and crops amounts to protectionism.

Diplomats and industry watchers say the EU may come off worst in the case brought by Argentina, Canada and the United States, where they claim its unofficial 1998-2004 moratorium on GMO approvals hurt their exports and was not based on science.

The World Trade Organization verdict, keenly awaited on Tuesday by the world's biotech industry which would like to ship far more GMOs to Europe, is expected to run to some 800 pages.
Already delayed several times, the ruling may be the WTO's longest and certainly one of the most complex to decipher.

Europe's shoppers are known for their wariness toward GMO products, often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods." Opposition is estimated at more than 70 percent, a stark contrast to the United States where they are far more widely accepted.

U.S. farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while it was in effect since many U.S. agricultural products, including most U.S. corn, were effectively barred from entering EU markets. Despite the moratorium ending in May 2004 with a rubberstamp EU approval of a canned modified sweetcorn, plus a trickle of authorizations since then, the three complainants say Europe's biotech approvals process is still not working properly.

EUROPE SCEPTICAL. While the WTO is unlikely to issue a clear-cut condemnation of EU policy, it may well criticize areas like the string of national bans on specific GMO products in several EU countries. These products had already won EU-wide approval but several governments used a legal exemption clause to enact national bans -- a particular annoyance for the three complainants and specifically cited in their original WTO complaint in 2003.

Most observers believe the EU will come in for criticism. "It's unlikely the WTO would tell the EU that it should be more restrictive on GMOs," one EU diplomat said. "Irrespective of the way the WTO rules, it will be a reminder that the EU has to make its decisions on the basis of evidence."

Green groups said the pressure of the WTO case was making Europe take a much more pro-active stance on GMOs than warranted by its poor consumer demand for the foods. A ruling against Europe would merely increase that skepticism, they say. "Opposition to genetically modified foods is likely to increase if the WTO decides that European safeguards (national bans) should be sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations," said Adrian Bebb, GMO Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

"The WTO, the U.S. administration and biotech firms should stop their bullying and let Europeans decide what food we eat."

TOUGH LAWS. The European Commission, which administers and instigates legislation for the EU-25, says the EU has put in place tough but fair laws since 1998 to ensure a smooth approvals process, so there is no reason to change them -- whatever the WTO says.

It insists that the case is not about Europe's GMO policy as such but what happened between 1998 and 2004. All applications for GMO approvals will continue to be processed and approved on a case-by-case basis using scientific criteria, it says. "Whatever happens in the panel, our system aims to guarantee the unity of the internal market and complete safety for human health and the environment," a Commission official said.


Show GM Benefits

- New Scientist, No. 2537, page 25 Feb. 4, 2006 http://www.newscientist.com/

You quote Peter Riley of GM Freeze as saying of genetic modification of crops that "most people remain sceptical because the industry has failed to convince them that there are benefits and it's safe" (21 January, p 10). A well-fed and largely unscientific European public makes a ready target for doomsday portrayals of GM research as a greedy conspiracy to engulf the countryside in a tide of "contamination" with the sole purpose of increasing corporate profits. Evidence-based debate gets no headlines in an emotional and largely uninformed conflict between songbirds and GM rapeseed.

Some demonstration of potential clear-cut environmental benefit seems to be the only means of restarting reasoned public debate. Could crossing nitrogen-fixing legumes with wheat or other crops fill that need? Just publicising some research into this might go a long way towards disarming emotive jibes about "Frankenstein food".

Graeme Doody, St Agnes, Cornwall, UK


Re: Africans Must Only Use What They Invent?

- Bob MacGregor

Prakash got a good start with his comments* about Chinsembu's essay, but I wanted to add a couple of more observations. *See http://www.agbioworld.org/newsletter_wm/index.php?caseid=archive&newsid=2474

Chinsembu wants to go back to the old days, but doesn't put forward a strategy to reduce the African population to a level that would be sustainable under "old ways" technologies. I was also struck by his mention of the cassava-maize-bean rotation. It is interesting that two of the three components of this rotation are not native to Africa; does he suggest that Africa reject these interloper crops in favour of the old ways?

This sounds like somebody who has a comfortable job in the city where he can afford to create an idealized, utopian vision of the way things were and should be.


Wheat Farmers Need to Embrace Biotech

- Terry Wanzek, Omaha World Herald, February 3, 2006

As diplomats from the United States and the rest of the civilized world wonder how to confront the emerging nuclear threat of Iran, American wheat farmers are left with a question of their own: How did this repressive and backward country beat us to biotechnology?

A new report indicates that Iran has just joined the Gene Revolution. Last year, several hundred of its farmers planted about 10,000 acres of genetically modified rice. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a nonprofit group that publishes a comprehensive study of GM crops each January, Iran might harvest 50,000 acres of gene-enhanced rice by the end of this year.

Don't get me wrong, I welcome gene-enhanced rice. I would love to see the Iranian president drop his hateful campaign against Israel and instead devote his energies to agricultural biotechnology. There are tens of millions of rice farmers around the world, and together they already provide humanity with nearly half of its caloric intake.

Reduction of costs and an increase in yields for these farmers would strike a major blow against world hunger. The next big step is China's adoption; analysts believe its formal acceptance of biotech rice may come at any moment.

I also would like to take advantage of biotechnology on my farm, where I grow about 2,000 acres of wheat each year. But I can't, because it simply isn't available in wheat.

If wheat farming is to flourish in the 21st century, this will have to change. And change will come only if wheat farmers send a clear signal that they're ready and willing to embrace biotechnology. Last year, Monsanto Co. pulled the plug on its efforts to develop biotech wheat. Science had nothing to do with it.

We already know that with further research and testing, seed companies will be able to produce a form of biotech wheat that fights scab disease. With conventional products and practices, we lack a truly effective means of fighting this fungus. Over the last decade in North Dakota alone, scab has cost farmers more than $3 billion.

Will consumers accept biotech traits? They already have with many products. Despite this, many wheat farmers fear that they won't accept it, especially in the overseas markets that buy so much of what we grow.
Anybody who has studied GM crops, however, knows that they're perfectly healthy and safe. If they weren't, the world wouldn't be rushing to adopt them.

The ISAAA report says that farmers planted 222 million acres of GM crops in 2005. That's an increase of 11 percent from the previous year and a 50-fold increase from just 10 years ago. Most of the corn and virtually all of the soybeans grown in the United States have been genetically improved.

Even before I heard about Iran, it felt like wheat farmers were a decade behind corn and soybean growers. Now we're at a tipping-point moment: Unless we send a clear signal that we want biotech wheat, we're going to fall even farther behind not just our fellow farmers but also the ayatollahs.

The good news is that we have an excellent opportunity to send a positive signal. Starting on Saturday, the North American Grain Congress will gather for several days in San Antonio.

Although much of the talk will focus on the usual things - prices, weather and the Super Bowl - biotechnology may dominate the convention's official proceedings. Resolutions will be offered, and wheat farmers will have a chance to voice their opinions.

If we don't embrace the commercialization of biotech wheat, we risk earning a reputation as a group of people who don't want what modern science can give them. This would have a chilling effect, as young researchers looking for careers and experienced investors looking for opportunities would conclude that wheat won't ever change.

Wheat producers simply cannot let the biotech revolution pass us by. The costs would be tremendous. Even the Iranians can see that. They're not going to watch the future pass them by again. We shouldn't watch it pass us by, either.
The writer, a former North Dakota legislator, grows corn, soybeans and wheat on his family farm in North Dakota. He serves as a board member on Truth About Trade and Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by American farmers that supports free trade and agriculture biotechnology.---


Letter to Biotech Advisor, U. S. State Department

- Prof. Dr. O.S. Reddi, Ph.d., Scientific Advisor, Indian Farmers Federation, Hyderabad, India; Feb. 6, 2006; indian_farmers_federation.at.yahoo.com

Ms. Madelyn E. Spirnak, Senior Advisor, Agricultural Biotechnology, U.S. Department of State

Dear Ms. Spirnak: I would like to congratulate you for the excellent exposition of the present of state of affairs in GM technology at a time when more confusion is being created in the minds of public by the self-styled proponents of anti-GM Technologies without any scientific basis. As you are fully aware that any new introduction technology, there is bound to be an apprehension because of inherent human fear of unknown, which disappears on all scientific facts are made public and field trials conducted with high transparency.

As you have rightly stated Bt cotton crop has not failed and the only failure is the understanding of the basis, events and fallacies in the management of crop system. Eventually, the people who decide about the utility and safety of the crop are the farmers themselves and not others who are not at all involved in this venture. The very fact the acreage under Bt cotton in India has accelerated from 500,000 hectares in 2004 to 1.3 million hectares in 2005 speak the truth for itself, which reflects the trust and confidence and commitment of the farmers.

When the government regulatory system clears the safety of the crop for field trials, it is meaningless to further probe and try to invent lacunae for fears. With regard to for the apprehension of developmental resistance of pests and herbs all the scientific facts clearly prove that it is baseless. The most often repeated noise in the media about the failure of Bt crops is that mandatory stipulations of management practices are not followed in isolated cases and it is not definitely due to any defect in the transgenic crop.

The analogous situation in human medicine is that microbes develop resistance when antibiotics are used indiscriminately and hence new drugs continue to be developed. Similarly, when the resistance is developed after a few decades it will be met by an appropriate interventional system.

The impending need is to have nutritional balanced quality foods to feed the hungry and malnourished and trivial issues like resistance to pesticides and herbicides are being projected. The first priority is to arrest the present disaster of tragic hunger and malnutrition.

U.S.A. is forging ahead with the development of new biotech crops evolved to tolerate environmental stresses like high temperature, high intensity of light drought and salinity that have a very high potential globally.

With regard to labeling to GM crops, your reply is based on scientific data. As and when the final product of GM food is substantially equivalent to the conventional product, there is no need or necessity to label. Labeling is a marketing issue. On the other hand any products that enhances nutrition or contains allergens or toxins have to be labeled. This leads to inescapable conclusion. When the product does not differ substantially from the conventional one by virtue of production process, the quality remains unaltered. I once again express my thanks for your fine exposition in the press that has brought to the attention of people of India, one of the most sensitive issues in modern times.

Kind regards, Yours sincerely, O.S. REDDI


New Papers on AgBioForum

http://www.agbioforum.org - Volume 8, Number 4, 2005

* Determinants of Corn Rootworm Resistant Corn Adoption in Indiana - C.E. Alexander & T.V. Mellor
* Will Developing Countries be the Early Adopters of Genetically Engineered Forests? - R.A. Sedjo
* Trust, Bias, and Fairness of Information Sources for Biotechn Issues - G.J. Wingenbach & T.A. Rutherford
* Differential Effects of Perceived and Objective Knowledge Measures on Perceptions of Biotech - A.J. Knight
* Social Acceptance of Plant-Made Vaccines: Indications from a Public Survey - D.D. Kirk & K. McIntosh
* The Farm-Level Impact of Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans in Romania - G. Brookes


Biotechnology in a Globalizing World: The Coevolution of Technology and Social Institutions
- Calestous Juma, BioScience: Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 265272.

Major debates about the safety of biotechnology for human health, the environment, and socioeconomic systems have marked the introduction of genetically modified foods into the global economy. Since their advent in the early 1970s, techniques for gene splicing and recombination have provided the basis for biotechnology's revolutionary promise to transform economic systems in unprecedented ways. The fact that this transformation is done by modifying living organisms has inspired awe as well as fear.

Biotechnology is closely linked with globalization, and advances have influenced its diffusion and the corresponding social responses in mobility (of people, goods, and ideas), connectivity (through communications technologies), and economic interdependence (through global value chains and trading networks) (Narula 2003).

Much of the material on this debate has appeared mostly in the popular literature available on the Internet. The picture that emerges from a review of recent books on the subject is one of complex interactions between technological innovation and institutional change, interactions that defy deterministic interpretations. Advances in biotechnology continuously lead to adjustments in social institutions (defined here as the perceptions, practices, and rules that govern the relations and interactions between individuals and groups). In turn, social institutions influence the pace and direction of technological innovation. This article explores these interactions in fields such as environmental and safety regulation, ethics, socioeconomic considerations, intellectual property rights, international trade, and agriculture in developing countries.

Read on at http://www.bioone.org/bioone/?request=get-document&issn=0006-3568&volume=055&issue=03&page=02


New FDA Study Debunks A Favorite Activist Scare 'Tryptophan - Biotech Link'

- Alex Avery, aavery.at.rica.net

Some scientists at FDA CFSAN have authored a review article further debunking claims that tryptophan from biotech bacteria caused EMS.

http://scholar.google.com/url?sa=U&q=http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi%3Fcmd%3DRetrieve%26db%3DPubMed%26list_uids%3D16307217%26dopt%3DCitati on

A heretofore undisclosed crux of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome: compromised histamine degradation

- Smith MJ and Garrett RH; Inflamm Res. 2005 Nov;54(11):435-50

Division of Natural Products, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, College Park, Maryland 20740-3835, USA. mitchell.smith.at.cfsan.fda.gov

In contrast to early epidemiological evidence offering links between eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) and microimpurities of L-tryptophan-containing dietary supplements (LTCDS), this account shows why reliance on a finite impurity from one manufacturer is both unnecessary and insufficient to explain the etiology of EMS. Excessive histamine activity has induced blood eosinophilia and myalgia (Greek: mys, muscle + algos, pain).

Termination of the multiple actions of histamine is dependent on particular amine oxidases and histamine-N-methyltransferase. Histamine metabolism is rapid when these degradative reactions are operative. The latent effects of incurred histamine can be potentiated and aggravating when these mechanisms are impaired. Overloads of tryptophan supplements cause - among other relevant side-effects - an increased formation of formate and indolyl metabolites, several of which inhibit the degradation of histamine. Moreover, (non-EMS) subjects with hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation have also manifested greatly increased sensitivities to incurred tryptophan and histamine. A final common pathway for syndromes characterized by eosinophilia with myalgia is now evident.

Comments from John Cross

Now that I've read the full text, I'm even more impressed. This article demolishes with a single blow what has been one of the most devilishly difficult-to-refute arguments that genetically engineered crops for human food are inherently suspect. That position was so difficult to refute because it implied that low-level impurities, even previously unknown ones with no toxicological dossier, could render GMO foods toxic.

Investigation of the Showa Denko process had previously suggested that changes in processing might be the cause, rather than the engineered microorganism, but nothing could be proven one way or the other because of missing evidence. Smith and Garrett's paper makes these arguments moot. Die hard opponents of GMOs will likely continue to argue that such an scenario might still occur, but their prime candidate example has been effectively erased.

It certainly doesn't diminish from the force of the paper that the lead author is a US FDA scientist.


Big shift in diagnosis of GM tryptophan hazard: Alternative Medicine is the culprit


By a strange twist of fate, GMO Pundit is ideally placed to alert readers to a real hazard - excessive tryptophan intake in the wrong circumstances - that is widely misunderstood in the community, and is a previously falsely diagnosed risk.

The main point of this posting is to help people avoid ill health - that is avoid generalised muscular pains (myalgia, called EMS) - that might be caused by ill-advised self-medication with tryptophan, or excessive intake of foods rich in tryptophan. Such intake is commonly taken because it is perceived to help overcome mental depression caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Pundit also wants to get over the message that false information itself can cause harm by the distractions it creates that become red-herrings, obscuring which are the effective and most important safety precautions to be taken.

Tryptophan Risk confusion.
Tryptophan is an essential nutrient for humans - used for instance to make proteins and to generate the brain chemical serotonin. The hazard in question is the side effects of excessive tryptophan intake in the diet.

The Pundit did research on genetic engineering methods to make tryptophan in the 1970s. The reason that many people add extra trytophan to their food is connected with internal imbalances in brain serotonin chemical levels, a chemical that is made in the body from tryptophan. The Pundit knows such unbalanced people all too well.

Why these people get sickfrom EMS is only recently been related to alterations in another body chemical, histamine, and Pundit himself suffers from histidine related ill-health. Much of the confusion about this problem comes from the irrelevant and false advice about tryptophan risks made by anti-GM activists. GMO Pundit is an expert on that.

Take my advice: if you have a health issue of this sort, see a qualified medical practioner first and listen to their advice.

Diet Fads to Avoid.
Temptations to take nutritional supplements are common, but often inadvertantly include safety misinformation:
NUTRAingredients.com: Novel method for food-grade tryptophan production

04/02/2005 - Food scientists at NIZO have developed a new process for producing the amino acid l-tryptophan, which they claim could remove some of the safety risks associated with the standard method of manufacturing the ingredient, reports Dominique Patton.

L-tryptophan is mostly used in the animal feed industry but it also has a number of food applications, including clinical nutrition and supplements designed for bodybuilders.

Current production is through fermentation however this method has been linked to safety issues in the past.

The NIZO team used the milk protein alpha-lactalbumin as the starting material for their new process. A-lactalbumin contains more tryptophan residues in its molecule than any other dairy protein.

However the resulting product can be considered safer than one produced through fermentation.

"We start with food grade materials and use food-grade enzymes," explained Dr Olieman.

He added that the issue with l-tryptophan is not "so much the purity but the nature of the impurities. Food ingredients that are enriched with peptides containing tryptophan might fulfil equally well the needs [of the food industry]," he said.

The safety statements in this news item are mostly misleading in light of recent medical science, but they require thorough knowledge of medical literature for the errors to be identified. Fortunately a comprehensive November 2005 medical review by M. J. Smith and R. H. Garrett covers this topic with all the necessary expert knowledge.

Their article explain how many mistakes and confusions have until now made the cause of the EMS illness obscure.

It documents how over 20,000 Americans were seriously affected by myalgia distress (EMS) in the 1980s, symptoms which were accompanied by presence of large number of acid-staining white blood cells (eosinophilia), and the acronym EMS was coined to describe the disease. Nearly 400 deaths from EMS occurred at that time.

The surprise from this 2005 review article is that the disease caused people to take tryptophan, and that other factors such as anti-depressant drugs helped cause the disease, rather than the converse as has previously been assumed, namely that trytophan caused the disease .

Under these circumstances the common speculation that using GM technology to make tryptophan is to blame becomes worse than irrelevant - it patently obscures accurate risk communication

The common thread in EMS disease is elevation of histamine chemical levels: indeed taking tryptophan in the diet can elevate histidine, but there are also several other factors that can promote the same disease process.

Excessive histamine activity induces both blood eosinophilia (E) and myalgia (M, Greek:mys, muscle + algos, pain) that patients with EMS get. Termination of actions of histamine is dependent on particular oxidases enzymes that are impared by tryptophan and several common drugs, including anti-depressants.

Smith and Garett document thoroughly how earlier evidence linking EMS and microimpurities of tryptophan-containing dietary supplements is simply wrong.

Most tellingly, they remind us the reason that millions of people took tryptophan in the 1980s is that it was popularised as a natural cure for depression. He mentions that high rates of EMS were found in people undergoing psychiatric treatment and taking drugs similar to Prozac. These are the main causes of EMS, not tryptophan manufacturing methods or trytophan impurites, which have never been conclusively linked to EMS.

The NUTRAingredients.com story cited before show this new message about tryptophan risk management still needs to be circulated widely. Take the Pundit's advice, ignore the red-herrings about GM and tryptophan, stay away from from Prozac if you can - and from similar trytophan related drugs, and even if you hear titivating rumours that it improves your sex-life, go easy on boosting tryptophan levels in your diet.

But by all means, if you really want to read all the fine print on tryptophan toxicity, go to The Full Monty on tryptophan hazards by simply clicking the hyperlink.

(For original heads-up, thanks to R Roush, A. Apel, and A. Avery.)


The presumption that toxic contaminents in tryptophan pepared by GM bacteria is central to many concerns about GM technology used to make food. For example the book Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith takes this line. Very interestingly, Jeffrey Smith is immediately dismissing the implications of the Smith Garrett tryptophan article. It does ruin one of the stories in his book.


Don't Swallow Genetically Modified Statistics

- Stephen Strauss CBC News (Canada), Feb. 3, 2006

I hold in my hand a document which if true likely spells economic decimation for the Monsanto Company - if not every other agribusiness who ever shuffled a gene around inside a plant.

But before going on, let me underscore the qualifier again in italicized capital letters: IF TRUE.

The document is a draft paper sent to me by Russian brain researcher Irina Ermakova which describes a rat/soy experiment. In addition to their regular food, she gave some female rats Monsanto's genetically modified soybeans before mating, during mating, during pregnancy and while they were nursing.

She gave a second group non-genetically modified soy and a third bunch of rodents ate plain old rat chow. When the rats gave birth, 55 per cent of the offspring of the animals fed genetically modified food died within three weeks as opposed to about seven per cent of the control animals, and nine per cent of the animals fed unmodified soy.

As well, a very large number of the GM-fed rat pups were severely underweight. Ermakova believes is that the bacterial genes in the GM soy had somehow made their way through the acid turbulence of the rat's stomachs and into some of the developing fetuses. Once in the fetus, the genes proved deadly.

Ermakova's findings are quite troubling but curiously they haven't made it into the world's general consciousness via science's usual, high banked channels.

Other scientists didn't look at the methodology, try to pick holes in the results, and if they couldn't then agree that it was worth being published.

Instead Ermakova presented her research last October at a meeting of a Russian environmental organization which later put a summary of the findings up on the web. The fact that it hadn't been reviewed by scientists has stopped newspapers in England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the Philippines from describing the results, often under inflammatory headlines such as "GM could harm your unborn baby."

You will by now have a couple of other questions. Why publish via the internet? Happenstance, according to Ermakova. She says she ran out of money before she could complete a larger study, and while awaiting her new funding, decided in the interest of the general good to report what she had already found.

She swears she is going to submit the final project to a peer reviewed publication.

Why would a brain researcher do research on soy beans? The simplest answer seems to be that Ermakova has become, as they say in French, parti pris. Specifically she has moved from being a sort of disinterested brain wiring scientist into the greenest and most anti-GM of environmentalists.

In addition to the rat/soya work, she has recently one paper suggesting that genetically modified organisms somehow will cause climate change and another that they will induce "mental and genetic degradation."

It's not that she isn't entitled to these opinions it's just that when someone with them produces such a remarkable study you want to immediately call the impartiality police. The purpose of a peer review is that if should pronounce: These true results transcend the fierce politics of their initiator.

Having said that, a casual scan of the unpublished paper doesn't reveal any obvious winces.

The rat mothers came from the same genetic stock, were impregnated by the same males, were offered the same amount of food which seems nutritionally to be similar, yet produced dramatically different progeny.

Why the die offs, then? Well all the external evidence suggests either that this result was either an aberration, or that someone is cooking the data. Worse than cooking, boiling it.

The external evidence is a kind of unscripted animal GM experiment that has been going on. A huge proportion of the soy that is fed to cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry in North America, Brazil, Argentina and some other places has been genetically modified. If the six-fold increase in death was real, many farmyards today should resemble a dead baby battlefield.

Why hasn't that been happening, I e-mailed Ermakova. She responded that she heard from someone that 25 American farmers reported similar problems but "also I think that most of farmers are under the pressure of transnational companies. And scientists also: many of them refused to perform these kinds of experiments."

Oh, yeah if GM soy was killing more than half a farmer's animals and leaving many others looking like pig or chicken anorexics, the first thing on his mind is how can I keep this terrible, terrible news from those nice people at Monsanto. And of course there wouldn't be a single scientist in the world interested in understanding such a barnyard holocaust.

What's wrong with Ermakova's numbers is that they are simply too big to be true. A 15 per cent increase in mortality, yeah, well, maybe. A six-fold jump in corpses, would have already turned into a class action suit the size of Alberta.

This is a study which I predict will never, ever pass peer review, because all the external evidence says this is that worst of all scientific results a bogus one.

Stephen Strauss wrote articles, columns and editorials about science and technology for the Globe and Mail for more than 20 years. He has also authored three books, several book chapters, and for his efforts received numerous awards. Through all his time in journalism, he still remains smitten by the enduring wisdom of the motto of Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Say what is.