Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 27, 2006
* Fedoroff Responds to David Schubert (of Salk Institute)
* Pusztai's Potatoes – Is 'Genetic Modification' the Culprit?
* More on Pusztai Research from 'Pandora's Picnic Basket'
* WTO and Biotech Food: Who Really Won?
* Dissenting Prince
* Stop Blaming Biotech Companies
* Empty Rhetoric Has No Place In Biotech Debate
* Public Underestimates Real Food Risks but Overestimates GMO Risk
* New EU Report - Co-existence of GM and Non-GM Crops and Seeds
* Strategy of Coexistence
* GM Potato No Threat to Health, says EFSA
* Genetic Modification Technology Safely Applied in China
* Marxists Support GM Food, But...
Response to David Schubert (of Salk Institute)
I read your recent opinion piece on science fraud. I respectfully suggest that you dig a bit deeper for your facts before you publish such completely unfounded allegations about the biotechnology industry and GM foods.
It is unconscionable to use your position as an academic to propagate such junk. Should you be interested, I'm attaching the material that I developed on the Pusztai affair when I was writing a book on GM foods (Now posted at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/pusztai-potatoes.html - excerpt below).
If you have the patience to read through it, I think that you will understand that there are no heros or villains in this story -- certainly the biotech industry had little to do with the debacle and Puztai is not blameless.
Kind regards, Nina
Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff, Willaman Professor of Life Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Prof. Fedoroff is the co-author with Nancy Marie Brown of "Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food"
> David Schubert article at
Pusztai's Potatoes – Is 'Genetic Modification' the Culprit?
- Nina V. Fedoroff, Pennsylvania State University http://hils.psu.edu/lsc/fedoroff.html
Excerpt below.... Full document at
On August 10th, 1998, Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland appeared on the British TV show "World in Action." In the course of the interview, he announced that his experiments showed that rats fed a diet of potatoes expressing a gene coding for a snowdrop sugar-binding protein showed stunted growth and reduced immune function. He is further quoted as saying that he would not eat GM food and that he found it "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs" .
The study made headlines around the world. According to Science's Martin Enserink, the Rowett Institute was flooded with calls from reporters even before the show aired. He quotes Rowett director Philip James saying that the Institute was faced with "a megacrisis we didn't remotely anticipate." James is said to have examined the experiments and found them a total "muddle." Pusztai's laboratory was sealed, his notebooks were turned over to an audit committee and Pusztai was put on indefinite leave - he was out of a job. The audit committee's report, released in October of 1998, concluded that Pusztai's data did not support the conclusion that the transgenic plants had a deleterious effect on growth, organ development, or immune function in rats.
Unfortunately, Pusztai's analyses of the chemical composition of the transgenic lines were rather superficial. And his quick leap to the conclusion that the variation he observed was attributable to the fact that they were transgenic was simply unwarranted. This mistake has proved costly to Pusztai himself. And unfortunately, the expertise battle that sprang up around the experiments has obscured the importance of carrying out well-designed experiments to evaluate the food qualities of transgenic crop plants expressing proteins that have the potential of affecting human health. Lectins are clearly in this category.
Pusztai has been criticized severely for the quality of his experiments. His experiments have been attacked for their small sample sizes, the use of inappropriate statistical procedures, and the fact that a diet of raw - or even cooked - potatoes is a bad diet for rats (people too), even when supplemented with a bit of extra protein. But oddly enough, in all that has been written about these experiments, no one seems to have seen their central flaw, which was that he did not use appropriate controls. A "control" is the part of an experiment that allows the researcher to examine the consequences of just the change (in this case) or the treatment (in the case of a drug) under study. In Pusztai's experiments, the control potatoes had a different history than the transgenic potatoes and, in particular, that history included a culture procedure that induces somaclonal variation.
The likeliest source of the variation he detected - and of the differences he attributed to the fact that they contained foreign DNA - was the culture procedure itself. In order to be able to attribute the deleterious effects of the transgenic potatoes to the newly introduced gene or to some other part of the introduced DNA, he would have had to make a comparison between potatoes that had the very same history, but either had or lacked the transgenic construct. This can be done, but the study that Pusztai participated in was simply not designed for such a test.
Read full document at
More on Pusztai Research from 'Pandora's Picnic Basket'
- Alan McHughen, University of California, Riverside, CA
The Royal Society report at the time on the Pusztai matter was clear that the central flaw was a lack of proper controls. Here is Pandora's Picnic Basket text (pp.141-143) on the matter:
No small potatoes: The importance of experimental controls
Dr Pusztai at the Rowett Institute provides another example of the trouble we can get into when trying to cut corners. Shortly after appearing on TV to tell the world of his findings, he was drawn and quartered by his employers. In an effort to defend himself, Dr Pusztai posted his version of the experiments and data on the web, appended as an 'alternate' report to the official Rowett Institute web page (http://www.rri.sari.ac.uk/press/).
Because of the public confusion and sometimes contradictory information emanating from Dr Pusztai and the Rowett Institute, The Royal Society conducted a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the incident, eventually publishing the report on their web site (http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk). The Royal Society sent a set of ‘all available’ data and documents to six impartial reviewers with combined expertise in statistical analysis, physiology, nutrition, genetics, immunology and clinical trials. The reviewers and the panel from the Royal Society concluded the research was faulty because:
* The experiments were poorly designed, the nutritional comparability of the GM and non-GM potatoes was uncertain,
* Different diets were enriched without adequate controls,
* Too few rats were tested and were given non-standard control diets,
* Data analysis was improper and a failure to account for inconsistencies in results between experiments.
Overall, the Royal Society cautions the work is 'flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis and that no conclusions should be drawn from it.' They conclude 'We found no convincing evidence of adverse effects from GM potatoes'. In effect, they said Dr Pusztai's experiments lacked the appropriate controls and replications to draw any conclusions. The stated objective of Dr Pusztai's experiments was to determine the effect of feeding GM potatoes to rats, but the experimental design did not alloIw that objective to be addressed because there were no suitable controls.
For example, the GM potatoes and their respective non-GM parent potatoes were analyzed raw, boiled and baked. This is an important point, because potatoes are normally eaten after cooking. Cooking destroys many common food toxins, and the background data provided by Dr Pusztai shows this for the GM lectin. Raw GM potatoes have between 12 to 25 micro gram of lectin per gram of potato, boiled are less than 5 micro gram/g, and baked less than 0.1 micro gram/g. These values vary according to the specific line of potato and where they were grown.
Ordinary potatoes, of course, have no GNA lectins, but they do normally produce their own potato lectins and other antinutritional factors. Dr Pusztai also provides some of the data on other nutrient composition. Unfortunately, only some of the measurements were recorded. Dr Pusztai’s team neglected to compile some of the compositional data, particularly on the baked, non-GM parent potatoes. No meaningful comparisons can be made without these baked non-GM controls measured in the same way as theI experimental group. By measuring only half of the sample, the results can only be described as, well, half-baked.
The experimental treatments included regular potatoes, regular potatoes spiked with additional lectin and lectin-producing GM potatoes. How hard would it have been to include a group of rats fed on a diet of potatoes genetically modified with non-functional DNA? Even with this additional treatment, though, the experiment would have to be repeated several times to generate meaningful valid data. Any indication that the problem was due to the GM would later have to be specifically challenged.
If only one benign GM potato line was used, we wouldn’t know if the problem was due to the genetic modification process or, perhaps, the nature of that one GM line. Perhaps the introduced DNA had been inserted into the recipient potato DNA is such a way as to interfere with normal potato functions. Alternatively, perhaps that original potato line happened to be an off type, or a spontaneous mutant.
Another alternate explanation might be that the GM potato caused problems because of somaclonal variation occurring during the transformation process, as is known to occur irregularly. This possibility was raised by Dr Pusztai himself, but seemed to forget it when he drew his conclusions. In order to validly control for these factors, several different lines of GM potato would have to undergo feeding trials. But only if there was an indication the GM process itself was at fault. There wasn’t. At best, his controls seemed more appropriate for assessing the effects of lectin on rats, but even that was questioned and rejected.
Prof. Alan McHughen is the author of "Pandora's Picnic Basket : The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods"
Alex Avery chips in....
Forgive me, but Schubert isn't convincible and is pushing a political agenda, not trying to rein in political- or junk-science. Sending him reasonable analysis defending biotech will achieve NOTHING.
Evidence? His claims that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a program to "notify neighborhoods they are being exposed to dangerous toxic waste" signals a total willingness to abandon reasonable scientific principles of toxicology for political ends.
WTO and Biotech Food: Who Really Won?
- Gregory Conko and Henry I. Miller, TCS, Feb 27, 2006
The long-awaited World Trade Organization decision on biotechnology applied to agricultural products, finally released earlier this month, elicited a great deal of buzz throughout the business, financial and biotech communities. Most analyses scored it a resounding victory for the United States and its co-complainants, and a stinging defeat for European protectionism.
The reality is that it is a partial and largely hollow victory. For not having achieved a more complete and meaningful success, the United States, Canada, and Argentina, which jointly filed the complaint, have only their own unscientific, excessively risk-averse regulatory policies to blame.
Details of the 1,000-plus-page decision are still largely confidential, but a leaked copy of the conclusions and recommendations section makes clear that the WTO bluntly scolds the EU for denying it had imposed a moratorium on biotech food approvals from 1998 to 2004.
That finding was a foregone conclusion. Until the WTO case was filed, European politicians freely admitted that a moratorium existed. Although anti-biotechnology activists hailed it as a sign of European moral superiority, in 2001 then-EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström acknowledged that the moratorium was "an illegal, illogical, and otherwise arbitrary line in the sand." When it came time for a WTO defense, the Europeans flip-flopped by attempting to deny that a moratorium had ever existed -- but still, they argued, if it had existed, it would have been perfectly legal. This strategy is reminiscent of the lawyer who claims on behalf of his client: "My client denies that he was at the scene of the crime, but even if you can prove that he was, he denies that he was responsible. And if you can prove that he committed the crime, he didn't mean to. And he promises never to do it again."
Although the EU's position was weak, it is reassuring, nevertheless, to see both its illegal practices and mendacity acknowledged.
The WTO decision also makes clear that existing national bans on certain biotech foods in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg are blatant violations of those countries' treaty obligations. When the United States filed its initial complaint in 2003, European politicians insisted the move was unnecessary. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy boasted, "We are confident that the WTO will confirm that the EU fully respects its obligations." But then, as now, the European Commission was famously impotent in persuading its rogue members to conform to EU policies. That those violative national bans all still exist argues the need for intervention by the international community. (Ironically, reflecting Europe's ongoing game of bureaucratic musical chairs, the current WTO Director General is none other than Pascal Lamy.)
The most important victory for the United States and its partners is the WTO's judgment that the EU failed to abide by its own regulations and has violated the provision against "undue delay" -- a significant term of art -- in its voting on applications for the marketing of twenty-five agbiotech products. The culprit here is the European Commission's highly politicized, sclerotic, two-stage approval process: Each application first must be cleared for marketing by various scientific panels, and then must be voted on by politicians.
Significantly, the WTO assumed the validity of "the conclusions of the relevant EC scientific committees regarding the safety evaluation of specific biotech products." Although all twenty-five product applications already had been approved by EU scientists, for transparently political reasons rather than concerns about consumer health or environmental protection, the EU Regulatory Committees and Council of Ministers repeatedly refused to sign off on the final approvals.
In this context, it is important to recall, as discussed further below, that these are superior products made with a state-of-the art technology. In 2003, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs David Byrne acknowledged that the official European Commission position was that currently marketed, gene-spliced crop varieties pose no greater food safety or environmental threat than the corresponding conventional food varieties. The safety and usefulness of the technology have been endorsed by dozens of scientific bodies around the world, including the French Academies of Science and Medicine, UK Royal Society, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, and many others.
The good news, then, is the WTO panel's chastisement of the European Union for failing to follow its own regulatory rules. The bad news is the absence from the panel report of any condemnation of those rules themselves, in spite of the fact that they are blatantly unscientific and clear violations of the trade treaties enforced by the WTO.
Under the various WTO-enforced treaties, member countries are free to enact any level of environmental or health regulations they choose -- with the stipulations that (1) every so-called sanitary or phyto-sanitary regulation must be based on the results of a risk analysis showing that some legitimate risk exists, and (2) the regulation must bear a proportional relationship to that risk. Every risk analysis performed by countless scientific bodies worldwide has shown that the splicing of new genes into plants, per se, introduces no incremental risks, and a report summarizing the conclusions of 81 different EU-funded research projects spanning fifteen years concluded that because gene-spliced plants and foods are made with highly precise and predictable techniques, they are at least as safe, and often safer, than their conventional counterparts.
Thus, in the EU's regulatory approach, not only is there not a proportional relationship between regulation and risk, there is actually an inverse relationship between degree of risk and amount of regulatory scrutiny. This is both absurd and illegal.
It is disappointing that the WTO did not condemn the clearly illegitimate European policies, but the WTO's actions were limited by the fact that the complainants did not even challenge them.
How can that be? Simple -- the United States, Canada, and Argentina didn't challenge those policies because they use the same flawed basic approach as the EU. Their regulations all discriminate against the products of gene-splicing.
At American regulatory agencies, for example, the approach to regulation is both internally inconsistent and also incompatible with the official overarching federal policy, which stipulates that oversight of biotechnology products should be "risk-based," "scientifically sound," and focused on "the characteristics of the biotechnology product [but] not the process by which the product is created."
In other words, products with more risk should have more regulatory scrutiny, which is only common sense. But confounding official policy, scientific consensus, and logic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture have crafted exactly the opposite: regulation that has an inverse relationship to risk (where have we heard that before?), and that is triggered by the use of more precise and more predictable gene-splicing techniques. This is like imposing extra regulation only on those cars that have disk brakes and radial tires -- and then limiting them to 20 miles an hour on the freeway.
The compulsory case-by-case review and costly field test design requirements have made biotech plants disproportionately -- and unnecessarily -- expensive to develop and test. In the United States, a field trial with a gene-spliced plant may be 10-20 times more expensive than the same experiment performed with a plant that has identical traits, but that was modified with less precise and less predictable genetic techniques. The main difference between the EU and the nations that lodged the WTO complaint is that in the latter, biotech products move through the regulatory gauntlet and are approved -- albeit slowly and at a hugely inflated cost.
It's no wonder then, that the United States and its partners didn't mount a broader challenge to EU policies. They would have been laughed out of Geneva for challenging a regulatory approach not fundamentally different from their own.
The European regulations are, however, far more discriminatory and debilitating than those in the United States, Canada, and Argentina. For example, capitulating to green activists, the EU now requires those few biotech foods that are allowed on the market to be labeled in such a way that every ingredient can be traced back to the farm on which it was grown. This is hugely expensive, utterly gratuitous, and except for stigmatizing food that contains gene-spliced ingredients, accomplishes nothing.
It is unlikely that WTO's slap on the wrist will induce any major change in EU policy. At a "background" briefing on February 8, an "EU official" lashed out at the WTO decision: "It is nevertheless clear, beyond any doubt, that the EU will not have to modify its GMO ["genetically modified organisms"] legislation and authorization procedures and that the main thrust of the panel's conclusions concern the past . . . It is therefore not clear, and it never was, why the complaining parties brought this case forward in August 2003 when they were fully aware that the new EU regulatory system was to be applicable only a few months later." (In other words, we deny that we committed the crime, but if it can be proved that we did, we promise not to do it again.)
As long as these defiant pronouncements and unscientific policies remain, Europe will continue to foster a hostile legal environment for biotech products. Even if the EU does approve some of the twenty-five pending biotech products, because uncertainty is anathema to R&D -- especially in a sector in which most new products are low-value-added -- few companies are likely to risk the tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs to pursue new ones. Even worse, the less developed nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which once anticipated that agricultural and food biotechnology could provide them a brighter and more self-sufficient future, will continue to be shut out of the important European market by policymakers' callous obstructionism.
The limitations of the WTO decision are not the fault of the organization, but of national regulatory policies worldwide that defy sound science and common sense.
The only winners from such wrong-headed public policy are European and other government regulators, whose bureaucracies will remain fat, happy and gratuitous; and anti-science activists, who rejoice at excessive, unscientific, stultifying regulation.
The biggest losers are the rest of us, who systematically will be denied access to safer, more nutritious, and affordable products.
Gregory Conko is director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. Barron's selected their book, "The Frankenfood Myth...," as one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.
- The Times Feb. 23, 2006 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ (via Vivian Moses)
Sir, The Prince of Wales was described in court as "working against the prevailing political consensus" (report, Feb 22). In politics, where opinions vary, there may be merit in being a dissident, although whether a Royal should take on such a role might be debatable.
However, in his statements on GM crops the Prince was working against not a political but the prevailing scientific consensus. For there is no doubt that his oft-expressed views were in conflict with the great majority of independent scientific experts, from whom the Government sought impartial advice.
The worlds of science and politics are different and work to different rules.
Going against the accepted scientific consensus may sometimes be justified for the maverick genius, but Prince Charles is not in that class. In the case of GM foods the Prince offered shallow arguments fed by ill-informed prejudice. Perhaps he should stick to politics in future.
- Professor Joe N. Perry, Broome, Norfolk
Stop Blaming Biotech Companies
- James Wachai, February 19, 2006
Much of the debate about genetically modified food centers on the role of multinational biotech companies. Critics contend that biotech companies' sole motive is to enrich themselves at the expense of poor farmers. Exploitative profit, to critics of genetically modified food, is what drives biotech companies. This is far from the truth.
True, biotech companies - and this applies to every business concern - are not philanthropic entities, there to dole out technologies as freebies. They must have return of investment. This, however, has never overshadowed their desire to solve the world's food problems. If such was the case, American, Canadian, Mexican, South African, Indian, Chinese and Argentinean farmers, who cultivate genetically modified food, would be the worst of the wretched of the earth.
In conjunction with world governments, the biotech industry has fed hitherto hungry populations and invented vaccines to once untreatable diseases such as cancer and malaria.
To downplay the role of biotech companies in sustainable development is to miss the point. Governments don't innovate, companies do. It's the private sector that's endowed with resources to engage in high-tech biotech research, and not governments. In most developed countries, investments in agricultural biotechnologies are concentrated in the hands of the private sector. Resultant benefits, however, have been transmitted to entire populations.
Corn or soybean farmers in these countries do not view biotech companies as profiteers. Instead, they see them as partners in development. Biotech companies supply farmers with high yielding quality planting seeds. Farmers are always guaranteed of high yields. This is, perhaps, the single-most lesson developing countries need to learn.
Government /private sector partnership is critical in enhancing food security. Governments can't, by themselves, fight hunger and malnutrition. They must enlist the support of the private sector. Developing countries seem not to appreciate this fact.
Most developing countries are yet to acknowledge the important role that the biotech industry can play in enhancing food security. This might explain why they perceive biotech companies as profiteers, and not key players in emancipating poor farmers from decades of hopelessness and emptiness.
China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina have made tremendous progress in agricultural biotechnology. They are classic examples of what government/private sector partnership can achieve. There is need for other countries to follow suit for the war against hunger and malnutrition will never be won through lone-ranger tactics.
Empty Rhetoric Has No Place In Biotech Debate
- James Wachai, February 26, 2006 http://www.gmoafrica.org/2006/02/empty-rhetoric-has-no-place-in-biotech.html
I have just finished reading an article entitled, "The hidden agenda in push for genetically modified foods," in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper. The article attempts, in vain, to whip up emotions against genetically modified food, using the much discredited argument that Africans are mere pawns in a wider scheme to enrich biotech companies.
The article claims that multinational biotech companies in cahoots with the U.S. government seek to force-feed Africans with genetically modified foods. The aim, the article's author argues, is to goad the rest of the world to embrace genetically modified crops. Essentially, the article depicts Africans as guinea pigs in GMOs research.
It's regrettable how anti-GM critics struggle to concoct lies about GM foods, for purely selfish gains. Instead of engaging in constructive debate about the place of genetically modified foods in today's world, anti-GMOs critics have resorted to scaremongering tactics. They peddle lies as millions continue to die of hunger and malnutrition. It's, particularly, perfidious to claim that poor countries that embrace genetically modified crops effectively subject themselves to American imperialism.
Politicizing food issues is a dangerous game. The thesis associating genetically modified crops with imperialism is utterly defective. Since the commercialization of the first genetically modified crop, a decade ago, militarily and economically mighty countries such as Canada, Spain, Mexico, India, and China have integrated genetically modified crops in their farming. Were they coerced to plant GM crops under the barrel of the gun by mighty America? The answer is NO. By embracing genetically modified crops, did they become colonies of the U.S.? Again, the answer is a resounding NO.
These countries will tell you that their decision to cultivate genetically modified crops was purely voluntary and meant to serve their respective national interests. And they have achieved a lot. Now, they can feed their people and export surplus yields.
Africa stands to gain, immensely, from novel agricultural technologies such as crop biotechnology. This, however, won't happen as long as pedestrian arguments are allowed to overshadow existing scientifically verifiable evidence to the effect that genetically modified crops hold the key to food security.
Those claiming that genetically modified food is the new American weapon to subdue the world are economical with truth. Surely, they don't have the welfare of millions of people dying of hunger and malnutrition at heart. Why can't they tell the world how they plan to deal with chronic food shortages in hunger-stricken countries such as Kenya, Niger, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique instead of creating unnecessary fear? Fear-mongering won't feed the hungry and malnourished.
James Wachai, a Kenyan native, recently graduated from Wichita State University, Kansas with a master in communication and media studies. He believes that public understanding of science and technology is the cornerstone of economic development.
Public Underestimates Real Food Risks While Overestimating GMO Risk
- Ahmed ElAmin, Nutra Inagredients, Feb. 27, 2006. Full article at
The public's understanding of food risk issues is skewed towards under estimating the danger from common pathogen contamination, according to a research survey. The survey results could help companies and experts develop communication strategies aimed at ensuring the public understands the various risks posed by food borne diseases and hazards.
The survey researchers concluded that food safety experts have a key role in communicating food risk and thus their perceptions will influence how food risk issues are communicated to the public. The survey, published in the Journal of Food Safety, is based on the responses of 400 food safety experts in Ireland.
The survey asked them what they think about the public's understanding and knowledge of food risk issues, including factors such as what they think contribute to this knowledge as well as the gaps in understanding, and how they feel this could be rectified. "Public perception of risk is very different from scientists' understanding of risk, hence the meaning and response to 'risk' differs between the public and scientists," the researchers stated.
The vast majority of experts surveyed in the new study believed that the public should be most concerned about microbiological hazards such as E. coli, Campylobacter and Listeria. Experts thought that while the public has a fairly accurate idea of the risks associated with the well-known hazards, Salmonella and E. coli, they believe that they are considerably underestimating the risk associated with the lesser-known microbiological hazards, Listeria and Campylobacter. This finding is a real cause for concern as Campylobacter in particular is both a common and increasing cause of food poisoning on the island of Ireland, the researchers stated.
In addition to underestimating certain risks, the experts are clearly of the opinion that the population on the island of Ireland are over-assessing certain other risks that are much less serious from a scientific point of view such as BSE and GMOs. There was a general feeling that the public reacts more to novel risks rather than to established ones, they stated.
They noted that the level of education and age were important determinants for the level of understanding of risk issues and messages, but also were of the view that the media tend to communicate information that is misleading.
The experts surveyed suggested that early intervention via school curricula is the best method to improve understanding of food risk messages in the long term. Because the media has the ability to improve awareness and knowledge on these issues, these experts would be interested in training on how to interact with the media.
"The findings indicate that most experts surveyed have little confidence in the public's understanding of food risk issues, their assessment of food risks, their ability to deal with scientific information and their food safety practices," according to an abstract of the paper. "Experts are of the view that the public under-assesses the risk associated with some microbiological hazards and over-assesses the risk associated with other hazards such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy."
The reaction would suggest that the public makes decisions on food intake, food storage and food preparation that are less than ideal from a health and safety perspective, the researchers stated.
"It appears that in the public's mind “taking” a risk is of a completely different cognitive order than being subjected to a risk, even if these two poles are rarely clear-cut in reality," they stated in quoting previous studies. "For example, in the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), recent research suggested that many people in the UK feel that biotechnology has been smuggled 'through the back door' without appropriate public consultation in the decision-making process."
In the case of the public fears raised by BSE, it appears to be mobilised not only by the threat of death, but by the degenerative nature of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), graphically illustrated by media images of stumbling livestock and vegetative humans.
The researchers were based at the University College Cork Ireland and the UK's University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
New Report Considers Co-existence of GM and Non-GM Crops and Seeds
Europa, February 24 2006, http://europa.eu.int
Brussels - The European Commission's Joint Research Centre is publishing case studies to identify how farmers can reduce the "adventitious" - unintended and unavoidable - presence of GM material in non-GM harvests. The objective of the report is to provide a science-based reference to support any future design and implementation of coexistence measures within the EU. The case studies covered crop and seed production of maize, sugar-beet and cotton. The report also examined the feasibility of producing conventional seeds in Europe under different thresholds for the presence of GM seeds.
The study examines the issue at a regional scale through simulations using data on European agricultural landscapes, weather conditions and agricultural practices, rather than just the field-to-field analyses that have been done so far. It concludes that crop production at the 0.9 % threshold set by the EU is feasible, with few or no changes in agricultural practices, if adventitious GM presence in seeds does not exceed 0.5 %b. The production of seed up to 0.5% GM seed would be possible with little or no change in current seed production practices.
The research carried out by a consortium led by the Commission's in-house scientific service, DG Joint Research Centre, examined the issue of adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM crops. The term adventitious refers to an unintended and unavoidable presence under current farming practices. The EU legal framework for traceability and labelling of GMOs and GMO-derived products defines a threshold of 0.9 % for the adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM food and feed and provides a baseline for coexistence measures in agriculture.
Based on simulations and expert opinions, the report finds that coexistence in crop production at the 0.9% threshold is feasible with few or no changes in agricultural practices. For maize, additional measures are needed for some fields particularly affected by cross-pollination due to their shape, size and relative position with respect to winds and neighbouring GM fields. The report looks in detail into the effectiveness and feasibility of such measures, for example the introduction of isolation distances between GM and non-GM fields; sowing a non-GM maize buffer strip around GM fields; and using GM varieties with different flowering dates compared to non-GM varieties.
The report concludes that conventional (non-GM) seed production in Europe with adventitious GM presence not exceeding 0.5% is feasible with few (maize) or no changes (sugar-beet and cotton) of current seed production practices. For maize seed production, such changes would build on existing practices (namely the implementation of larger isolation distances than those currently used to separate maize seed and maize crop production fields). In addition, lowering the seed threshold to 0.3 % would require additional measures (for example arranging GM and non-GM seed plots in the farm in a way that takes into account dominant winds). Finally, guaranteeing that maize seeds will contain no more than 0.1 % adventitious GM presence is not possible if co-existence measures are limited to action on individual farms or coordination between neighboring farms.
While previous studies looking at the coexistence of GM and non-GM harvests were based on field-to-field analysis of cross-pollination, this new report moves the study of coexistence to a regional level. This has been made possible by running novel models, designed to address the spread of genes from GM crops to non-GM crops, with digitized versions of actual European agricultural landscapes, regional meteorological conditions and agricultural practices. This has allowed the estimation of levels of adventitious GM presence in non-GM harvest resulting from cross-pollination from multiple fields and other sources, and over extended time periods.
In July 2003, the Commission published guidelines to help Member States develop strategies to ensure the effective co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic crops. A number of Member States have since notified legislation on co-existence.
The Commission will shortly publish a report on the measures taken across the EU, which will be fed into a conference to discuss the issue, co-hosted with the Austrian presidency, to be held in Vienna on 5-6 April. Following the conference, the Commission will decide if any further action needs to be taken at EU level.
The full version of today's report is available at the following website: http://www.jrc.es
 Consortium formed by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC)-Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS); Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA, France); University of Applied Sciences of Weihenstephan (Germany); Desarrollo Agrario y Pesquero (DAP; Spain)
 Thresholds for the adventitious presence of GM seeds in conventional seed lots may be defined in accordance with Directive 2001/18/EC as well as with the crop specific Directives on the marketing of seeds. However, such thresholds have not yet been set and are still under discussion. This implies that currently all seed lots containing detectable traces of GM seeds have to be labelled as GM.
New Case Studies on The Coexistence of GM and Non-GM crops in European Agriculture
A. Messean et al. European Commission Joint Research Centre, EUR 22102 EN, January 2006; (via Vivian Moses); Full paper at
The Strategy of Coexistence
Europa, Rtd Info (No. 47, P. 20-22) January 2006 Full doc at http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/rtdinfo/47/article_3431_en.html
The latest Eurobarometer survey on science and technology shows that a third of Europeans are hostile to GMOs, another third are favourable and the rest do not know what to think. Faced with this divided public opinion, neither a radical ban nor total freedom without a safety net is the answer. Hence the EU's democratic option of giving the consumer freedom of choice. For this to be a real choice, however, there must be contained but transparent coexistence of the 'genetically modified' and 'conventional' Vagri-foodstuff chains. This is the challenge researchers on the Co-ExTra project are currently seeking to meet. (1)
Co-ExTra is a four-year project involving over 200 scientists from 18 countries with a budget of €24 million, €14 million of which comes from the European Commission. Coordinated by Yves Bertheau of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA - France), this is the latest in an already long line of European GMO research projects.(2) Its aim is to develop a rigorous approach to supply chain separation as this is an essential condition for the coexistence of genetically modified organisms and othVer products. Unfortunately, it is an almost Herculean task.
The Reality in the Field
Europa, RTD INFO (no. 47, p. 23) 2006-02-25 Full doc at http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/rtdinfo/47/print_article_3432_en.html
Much of the 'militant' opposition to GMOs has focused on the impact of transgenic crops on other agricultural productions and on the natural botanical environment. This raises the all-important question of the tools available to prevent this genetic contamination in the field. RTD info takes a close look at the European SIGMEA project, leading research investigating a very complex issue.
There are many possible strategies for minimising gene flows. Pollen traps or barriers could be erected on the edge of fields, or the effective isolation distances defined. Another possibility is to co-cultivate only those varieties whose flowering seasons do not coincide, thereby preventing GMO pollen from fertilising non-GMO pistils. Particular timetable strategies for the sowing of seeds are needed for the latter solution. However, that still leaves the question of deciding which solution is best for whVich site.
To study coexistence in the field, researchers on the SIGMEA project are drawing in particular on the impressive quantity of experimental data already produced by European gene flow research. "That is why we are working with 44 partners from 12 European countries, which means almost all the groups that have studied these questions on our continent," explains Jeremy Sweet of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in the United Kingdom, the SIGMEA administrative coordinator. "This will enable uVs to compile a kind of super European database." The EU is supporting the project to the tune of €2.5 million.
Studies have already been carried out on many subjects, such as the distance travelled by pollen, effects on related plants, strategies to reduce pollen flows, etc. Researchers will also be looking at work carried out in Australia, Canada and the United States - although these have very different agricultural systems to our own and their results do not therefore always lend themselves to extrapolation.
GM Potato No Threat to Health, says EFSA
- Anthony Fletcher, Nutra Ingredients, Feb. 27, 2006
A genetically modified potato product with altered starch composition poses no threat to human health, according to an EFSA panel ruling.
BASF Plant Science's GM potato, EH92-527-1, has a higher amylopectin:amylose ratio. Amylopectin starch potatoes are mainly used for the production of starch for industrial purposes, and the potatoes are not intended for direct human consumption.
However, the applicant has concluded that it cannot be excluded that the GM potato and some products of the starch processing may be used as, or be present in food. The ruling comes after a recent summit in Parma on scientific and procedural issues relating to the risk assessment of GM food. Herman Koter, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)'s acting executive director, addressed fundamental issues such as the scientific approach and EFSA's selection of experts, while a number of NGOs expressed their concerns.
The meeting, hailed by EFSA as a positive step forward towards achieving a better understanding on the various positions surrounding GM, also highlighted significant fears within Europe over the introduction of the technology.
The recent WTO ruling backing the US, Canada and Argentina in their efforts to open Europe to GM imports has increased the likelihood of GM food proliferating. The scientific assessment included examination of the DNA inserted into potato EH92-527-1, the nature and safety of the modification in protein expression in the plants with respect to toxicology and allergenicity. Furthermore, a comparative analysis of agronomic traits and composition as well as the safety of the food/feed was evaluated.
Both nutritional and environmental risk assessments, including monitoring plan, were undertaken. Molecular analysis shows that potato EH92-527-1 contains two partial copies of the DNA fragment, i.e. the insert, including the flanking region, was duplicated in reverse orientation and joined tail-to-tail. This is present at a single locus in the nuclear genome of the GM plant.
The GMO Panel is of the opinion that bioinformatic analysis of the DNA insert and flanking regions indicates no cause for concern, and that sufficient evidence for the stability of the insert structure was provided.
In conclusion, the GMO Panel considered that the information available for the potato addresses the outstanding questions raised by the Member States and considers that the potato EH92-527-1 is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment in the context of its proposed uses.
The potato EH92-527-1 is derived from the cultivar Prevalent. Potato leaf discs were transformed by Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer technology. The modification involves inhibition of the expression of granule bound starch synthase protein (GBSS) responsible for amylose biosynthesis.
As a result, the starch produced has little or no amylose and consists of amylopectin (branched starch), which modifies the physical properties of the starch. A gene conferring kanamycin resistance (nptII) was used as a selectable marker.
Official: Genetic Modification Technology Safely Applied in China
- Xinhuanet, www.chinaview.cn, FEb. 27, 2006
China applies Genetic Modification (GM) technology in a safe way, an official with the State Forestry Administration said here Monday. Zhuo Rongsheng, director of the Wildlife Department with the State Forestry Administration, said at a press conference that China has attached great importance to research on GM technology and conducted studies on genetically modified timber and flowers.
Zhuo said all the studies were carried out in strict accordance with biological safety requirements and the research findings are used to cultivate genetically modified timber and flowers instead of producing food. "In the meantime, the research findings go through ecological safety tests, so they are absolutely reliable," Zhuo added.
Genetic modification is the deliberate, controlled manipulation of the genes in an organism with the intent of making that organism meet certain requirements. To date, most of the effort ingenetic modification has been focused on agriculture.
The technology, however, has engendered heated controversy since the first genetically modified product came out in 1983. Some argue that these products pose threats to people's health and destroy biological diversity. Zhuo said that in the coming five years, China will carry out abiological technology innovation program aiming to cultivate improved species and try to minimize the impact they have on crude forests.
Marxists Support GM Food, But...
- Full diatribe at http://www.worldrevolution.org.uk/index.php?id=6,154,0,0,1,0
'GM Foods: How to feed the world, or how to destroy it?'
GMOs. Three letters on everyone's lips. What are they? Frankenstein food? Giant killer tomatoes? Cucumbers that hunt in packs? Er ... no. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms (animals and plants) with genes from other organisms inserted into their genetic material. The gene is the fundamental blueprint contained in the cells of all living things; genetic material (DNA: deoxyribonucleic acid) carries all the information about the way things grow, look and function as an organism.
The advance of biotechnology has enabled scientists to isolate certain genes and transfer them from organism to organism. The human race has genetically manipulated organisms through selecting the best seeds for next years sowing and cross-breeding livestock since the beginning of agriculture. Yet GMOs are seen as an "unnatural" extension of this.
There is a qualitative difference: for the first time it is possible to genetically alter a species by a transfer of genetic material between totally unrelated organisms, e.g. fish genes inserted into tomatoes to prevent bruising. But this does not mean that GMO technology is against nature or "wrong".
Problems Under Capitalism
Billions of $$$s have been pumped into an industry that is still in its technological infancy stage by both government and big business. Over $1 million was spent by Monsanto alone on a massive PR campaign to convince the public how great GM foods are!
Monsanto has also been involved in secret trials in India where they didn't tell the farmers that they were growing genetically modified cotton. There were no biosafety measures, no buffer zones around the fields, no fencing of any type (sic). As Monsanto knew, it is much less hassle to do field trials in India: much cheaper to bribe the government to turn a blind eye and much easier to play on subsistence farmers' need for cheap seed.
Nasty piece of work, but it gets worse. Monsanto is in the process of developing the "terminator" (technology protection system) seed. The terminator genetic engineering technique renders farm-saved seed sterile, forcing farmers to return to commercial seed market every year creating a cycle of dependency.
It's not just the individual companies that cloak the issues, but governments too. The US Department of Agriculture has ruled the terminator technology unacceptable for release in the US, yet OK for export. How could it be bad for the USA yet good for the rest of the world?
Tony Blair has put the multimillionaire Labour Party donor, Lord Sainsbury, on the government's GMO regulatory committee, despite the fact that he stands to make a mint out of the commercial development of GMO technology. Labour's legislation covering GMO trials is so lax and its fines for breaking the rules so minuscule that there is no incentive for industry to conduct proper trials. Governments and big business, whether in Britain or in India, work hand in hand.
People are getting angry. There has been a wave of protests against GMOs: burning fields of GM cotton in India, preventing the unloading of GM soybeans in Liverpool, trampling of GM crops at testing sites this summer, etc. There is a radicalised movement fighting back against the attempt to manipulate the global food market.
Revolution actively supports the attacks on unsafe testing sites and demands a moratorium on the commercial cultivation and licensing of new GM crops. We demand that all future tests be carried out under the control of working class organisations and scientific workers themselves.
Possibilities Under Socialism
It is important to remember that technology is not inherently good or evil. As Marxists, we support the development of the world's productive forces. Most importantly, we want to end starvation and malnutrition, which affects billions of people. If GMO technology can be harnessed to achieve this safely, good.
Obviously we cannot trust the capitalists - blinded by profit - to develop GMOs. But it is also reactionary to reject technological advances when the only context in which these advances have been seen is under the capitalist system and the push for profit.
Biotechnology has tremendous potential. For decades human insulin has been grown in GM yeast, transforming the lives of diabetics. More recently we have seen the development of transgenically grown biodegradable plastics (polyhydroxyalknoates PHAs), possibilities regarding xenotransplantation (part human organs grown in pigs) and the development of crops that are hardier, more nutritious and require fewer applications of pesticides.
Under socialism, all the giant food companies would be run and owned by the people and production planned to meet human need. there would be full disclosure from all field testing - everyone would have access to information. The trials would be completely safe, in controlled conditions to prevent any impact on the surrounding environment. With all the information available, people can make an informed decision on whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of pursuing this technology - and the peoples' decision, not Monsanto's or Lord Sainsbury's - will be final.
REVOLUTION fights for:
* Government-funded independent crop trials, under workers' control, with full access to all necessary scientific expertise. No to secret trials.
* A workers' and consumers' enquiry into the safety of GM foods. Open all the labs and files of Monsanto and co. to the public.
* Clear labelling of all products containing GM organisms.
* The nationalisation, under workers' control and without compensation, of all the agrochemical companies such as Monsanto.
* A world plan for food production to meet human need not private greed.