Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : May 22, 2006
* How to Defame Biotech
* Polish Geneticists Oppose GMO Research Restrictions
* Cotton Industry Running Down Myths and Misinformation
* Biotech Plants Have Many Health Benefits
* Label Food Based On Its Content
* Irish Farmers Association Finally Take A Stand
* Juma and Martienssen Elected to British Royal Society
* Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development
* Brazil Farmers: "Greenpeace Activists Are Terrorists"
* Greenpeace: "These Farmers as Thugs"
* Pesticides Turn Killers in India
* ... While Vandana continues her attack on a pesticide-reducing-technology
* Penn and Teller Bullsh!t Video: Episode on GM Food
* Blog: GM Sucks?
* GM Crops - Understanding the Technology
* Testing Golden Rice Ad infinitum
How to Defame Biotech - Part I
- Theseus, BioNuclear Bunny, May 12, 2006
Wild Duck Review, a publication of "Literature, Necessary Mischief, & News," dedicated its October 2000 issue, Made Not Born: The Troubling World of Biotechnology to, "extend[ing] the critique of new, transformative technologies beyond issues of safety, efficacy, and rights."
The editor of Wild Duck Review, Casey Walker, wrote the Letter from the Editor for that issue, in which she stated: "even if each new engineering technique were proven safe to all donors, recipients, and succeeding generations; even if each were guaranteed to do its jobprecisely and accurately; and even if all concerns for democratic process and equal rights were met and approved by a unanimous, global culture, still such standards would not in themselves prevent the creation of a world devoid of human or wild nature-the creation of a technohive in a technosphere." http://www.wildduckreview.com/editorials/tenpoints-biotech.html
Who wants to live in a technohive!? A technosphere doesn't sound so bad, though - does it come with indoor plumbing? I've kind of grown to like indoor plumbing, personally.
It would appear that Ms. Walker will not be persuaded by scientific evidence of safety or proofs of the efficacy of transgenic crops, and will not consider persuasive arguments concerning the intellectual property rights of the scientists who create transgenic organisms. It's not about such things anymore. It's about power - the power to instill fear through emotional rhetoric.
Let's take a look at some of Ms. Walker's rhetoric. Her editorial, Ten Points to Introduce Biotechnology, is a bizarre, abstruse polemic that is more of a lamentation with numbered paragraphs (verse numbers would have been handy) than a "list."
Here is chapter -- that is, paragraph -- one:
"I. Biotechnology creates living things. It is not like any other technology - automobiles, nuclear energy, computers, or satellite telecommunication."
- This is completely false - on several levels. Ms. Walker, as we will witness repeatedly throughout this canard, is gifted at squeezing an amazing amount of sophism in every sentence.
First of all, biotechnology does not "create" life, it uses recombinant DNA technologies, such as Biolistics or Agrobacterium tumefaciens bacteria, to insert a desired gene sequence into target cells where it will hopefully integrate with the cells' DNA and be expressed - that is, produce the desired protein, etc.
Second, biotechnology is not some alien magic that is completely different than all other technologies. It uses techniques that have been shown by careful observation and experimentation to effectively and efficiently accomplish a specific, practical goal - usually as part of a larger commercial initiative. All technologies work this way.
Just because biotech involves the manipulation of living organisms, this doesn't make it "not like any other technology." What about medical technology - just because it alters living organisms is it also, "not like any other technology?" Nuclear engineering involves the manipulation of radioactive substances -- does this one unique trait make it "not like any other technology?"
Of course not. This is just a transparent attempt to single out biotech for non-rational (i.e., non-factual/emotional) treatment because it is "not like any other technology."
For a definition of Transgenic plants, see What Are Transgenic Plants? http://cls.casa.colostate.edu/TransgenicCrops/what.html
For a description of the process of recombinant gene splicing technologies, see How Do You Make A Transgenic Plant? http://cls.casa.colostate.edu/TransgenicCrops/how.html
This issue of Wild Duck Review was brought to you by the letters F E A R M O N G E R I N and G, and by a grant from the JENIFER ALTMAN FOUNDATION, who want to remind us that, "it is not a bad thing, we believe, to focus our grantmaking on efforts to end this Age of Extinctions and to help bring the birth of a new Age of Interbeing, to borrow an expression from the great Buddhist teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh, in which a deep consciousness of the interdependence of all life will fundamentally transform the primitive death-dealing technologies that we thoughtlessly deploy today into fully conscious technologies that support and sustain the tree of life rather than weaken it."
More to come....
Polish Geneticists Oppose GMO Research Restrictions
- Polish Business Digest, May 17, 2006
Polish geneticists oppose the restrictions on research of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in a letter sent to the Polish Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, it was reported on May 16, 2006.
Scientists from the Polish Genetics Society (PTG) have stated that imposing restrictions on GMO research and development and the ban on using GMO by the Polish state authorities, based on scientifically unjustified reasoning, may cause a decline in Polish science and economy.
At end April 2006 Poland's parliament endorsed regulations to exclude genetically modified varieties from the national seeds register, thus prohibiting them from trade and cultivation in the country. There are no such restrictions in other countries, the president of PTG said. According to the geneticists, the regulations will impede for many years research on new technologies in medicine, molecular biology and agriculture in Poland. The molecular biology will suffer the most, as its a new field of genetic science, Wegrzyn added.
There is no scientific evidence that GMOs are more dangerous for humans, than natural organisms, Wegrzyn said.
Cotton Industry Running Down Myths and Misinformation
- Elton Robinson, Delta Farm Press, May 18,2006 http://deltafarmpress.com
The numbers didn't look right, but there it was in black and white. A Web site for a major U.S. retailer stating that 200,000 garments made from organic cotton saved enough pesticide to fill two jumbo jets. Could that be right?
A few quick calculations and a minute or two on the Internet allows this comparison. If a jumbo jet's fuel tank capacity is 40,000 gallons and each gallon weighs roughly 6 pounds, then the total weight of fuel comes to 240,000 pounds. Two of the big jets would carry roughly 480,000 pounds of fuel.
Hence, it took almost 2.5 pounds of pesticide to produce each outfit. If each product used a pound of raw fiber, the cost of the pesticide would far exceed the price that the farmer received for his pound of cotton. Or maybe that was two mini-vans?
According to Cotton Incorporated this is one of many examples of the flow of misinformation about cotton going out over cyberspace, the airwaves and print media. For example, the aforementioned mugging of conventional cotton occurred on a Wal-Mart Web site in the fall of 2005 as a result of information it received from the Organic Exchange.
This is another conclusion from the same retailer regarding the sale of the garments: "One example of what we can achieve came from experimenting with organic cotton. We introduced organic cotton outfits to 290 stores this year, and our customers bought virtually all of them in just 10 weeks ? that's 190,000 units. So, we expanded our organic practice to include select bath, bed and baby products.
"From just these few orders in a limited number of stores, the Organic Exchange has informed us we will have saved more than 500,000 pounds of pesticides and herbicides from being used, and have become the largest single purchaser of 100 percent organic cotton products in the world. We see these as encouraging steps in the right direction and are already planning to expand these types of practices into other business units and merchandise areas."
Again, the math doesn't work, according to an analysis by Cotton Incorporated. If 1 pound of fiber was consumed for each unit sold, then 190,000 pounds of fiber were used to produce the organic outfits. When you divide 190,000 pounds of cotton into 500,000 pounds of pesticide, you get 2.6 pounds of pesticide per pound.
At an average yield of 750 pounds of cotton yield per acre, this would imply on average, that 1,950 pounds of pesticides are used per acre on a commercial cotton operation.
The economic suicide and environmental disaster of such an astronomical application aside, in reality only about 1 pound of insecticide and 2.3 pounds of herbicides are applied to the cotton crop per acre during the season, according to Roy Cantrell, vice president, breeding, genetics and biotechnology, Cotton Incorporated. The Wal-Mart calculations contain an error of 500X.
"A lot of these myths get recycled whether it's the amount of pesticides that are used or the amount of water that's used and labor required. The latest cycle is somewhat different because we are in a global sourcing economy. Cotton is moved all over the world. The environmental angle gets mixed with other political angles and fair trade. It almost becomes a lethal mix when you combine enough misinformation. It almost becomes fact in the minds of the retailers and brands."
Another myth reported as fact is that cotton accounts for 25 percent of all pesticide use in the world and that it takes 6 ounces of pesticides to grow cotton for one shirt. In reality, notes Cantrell, "Cotton accounts for 8.5 percent of the world's use of pesticides. In the United States, where data are available, about 0.038 ounce of pesticides are used to grow enough cotton for a t-shirt. They're off by a factor of 150X."
Cantrell notes that biotechnology has allowed U.S. producers to decrease pesticide applications and increase yields, both of which have significant environmental benefits.
But the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture doe sn't think so. Here is a comment from its Web site: "The rapid spread of genetic engineering in agriculture poses grave threats to family farmers and sustainable agriculture. Transgenic manipulation has emerged as a strong component of industrial agriculture, boasting unsubstantiated promises of increasing food production for the world's hungry masses and solving disease and pest problems.
"However, genetically engineered crops do not increase yields, but rather, result in a tremendous increase in pesticide use, pose potential health threats for consumers as well as serious environmental impacts, and serve to significantly consolidate corporate control. "Moreover, genetically engineered agriculture products have had a negative economic impact on many sustainable and organic family farmers, in part due to lost export markets in Europe and Asia."
While Cotton Incorporated is quick to stress that no one in the cotton industry is slamming organic cotton, it's not the worldwide solution to sustainability as some insist, according to Berrye Worsham, Cotton Incorporated president and CEO. He noted that organic cotton production comprises only about 115,000 bales globally out of a 110-million bale world market, or less than 0.1 percent. All global organic cotton production in 2005 would fit on a single average size cargo ship.
"Organic is not sustainable in the sense that you can ramp that production up to meet the total needs of the market. Sustainability is not just about organic cotton. It's about good production practices that are good for the environment."
Biotech Plants Have Many Health Benefits
- Duluth News-Tribune (Minnesota), May 19, 2006 http://www.duluthsuperior.com
I was disappointed to read "Biotech upsets just about everybody with its diarrhea treatment," an Associated Press article posted on the News Tribune's Web site Sunday. The story failed to discuss the strong federal regulations in place to protect consumers and U.S. trade partners from "biopharmaceutical crops" -- or protein-producing plants. These biotech plants are able to produce therapeutic proteins that could be used to combat life-threatening illnesses, such as ovarian cancer, heart disease, cystic fibrosis and cancer.
While all new technologies carry with them some risk, it's important to recognize that with pharmaceutical made from plants, safety concerns are significantly reduced because of strict federal and state regulations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, with strong support from industry, strictly regulates the production, harvesting and transport of these biotech plants to ensure that there is no opportunity for commingling with plants intended for food. Plants producing pharmaceutical proteins are grown in rfield trials under strict permit conditions set forth by federal and state governments. These requirements are science-based and take into consideration the type of plant, the protein being produced, the location of the intended production area and crop-handling practices. Field sites are subject to at least five federal inspections throughout the growing year, and personnel are specifically trained in USDA-approved programs.
It is a shame that millions of patients worldwide may be denied greater access to the life-saving drugs and treatments they need because of misinformation and ignorance. The bottom line is that every precaution is being taken with regard to potential risks. With strict industry and federal oversight, there is no reason these plants should not be grown in the United States, and why patients should be denied new cures.
- Sean Darragh, Washington, D.C.; The writer is executive vice president of Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington
Label Food Based On Its Content
- The Ottawa Citizen May 20, 2006 (Via Agnet)
Robert Wager of Nanaimo, B.C. writes regarding, Time to get serious about food safety, May 18, to say we have a system that labels food based on what is actually in the food. We have regulations that demand labelling (for example, known allergens such as peanut content).
Greenpeace would like us to change our labelling system to be based on how food crops are created in the first place. Wager wonders if it understands that such a policy shift would require many organic foods to be labelled, "made with ionizing radiation mutagenesis?" The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has an excellent website http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/sci/biotech/labeti/labetie.shtml that explains why we label food based on what is in the food.
Wager encourages everyone to read it to gain better understanding of our safe, effective food labeling system.
Irish Farmers Association Finally Take A Stand
- Shane Morris, May 20, 2006 http://www.gmoireland.blogspot.com/
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) is the largest and most powerful farming organization in Ireland. With over 85,000 farming families making up it membership it is an exceptionally powerful and important organization both agriculturally and politically. Traditionally it has held sway over the large political parties in Ireland and is known to have a political machine second to none in Brussels. (photo shows Irish Farmer in typical Irish farm field)
In recent years the IFA have not always been very clear on GM crops and food. Insights offered by the Irish Farmers Journal has led folks to believe they were supportive of GM technology yet nothing definitive was ever stated. However all this lack of clarity changed this month!
The IFA has now clearly outlined their support of GM crops on P. 35 of their larger recent policy submission to the Irish Government. Policy document available at
IFA's strategy on GMOs states as follows: As the decisions on the use and release of GMO products, and the safeguard regulations, are taken at EU level, Ireland cannot adopt an independent national position. Clearly Irish regulatory authorities, including the EPA, have a crucial role to play in implementing these safeguard regulations in order to reassure consumers on the safety of the products.
Provided that the use and release of GMOs meet all the detailed regulatory requirements, IFA's assessment of GM technology is that, like science and technology generally, it can have many positive implications for agriculture and food production. These include: control of animal and plant disease, reduction of costs and improved productivity.
EU legislation must ensure that plant and animal varieties shall not be patentable. The use of farm saved seed must be allowed. The key issue currently facing the EU Commission and the member states is the regulatory arrangements for the co-existence of conventional, organic and genetically modified crops. COPA and COGECA, on behalf of EU farmers and co-operatives, have adopted a position as follows. Firstly, a pre-condition for co-existence is that the sector must be economically viable under the constraints applied to it. Secondly, harmonised EU legislation on co-existence, which would be compulsory on all member states, must be put in place. Thirdly, as regards conventional agriculture, the 'adventitious' (i.e. non-intended) presence of GMOs is unavoidable due to imports and trade, and realistic thresholds must be set before compulsory labelling is triggered.
This long over due policy statement will likely do two thing in the Irish political arena:
1. Strenghten the current governments supportive policy on GM crop trials.
2. Make if difficult for Labour and Fine Gael to go against such a policy. This is important in the run up to elections in Ireland where a possible coalition of these two parties is the likely preferred alternative to the current government. Fine Gael, the largest of these two parties is traditionally very closely linked to the IFA.
In addition it is a massive blow for the concept of a "GMFREE Ireland"
Also see http://gmwatchbullshtt.blogspot.com/
Juma and Martienssen Elected to British Royal Society
AgBioWorld Congratulates Prof. Calestous Juma (Harvard University) and Prof. Rob Martienssen (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) for their selection as members of the prestigious Royal Society (UK).
"Forty-four scientists have been recognised for their exceptional contributions to science, engineering and medicine with their election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society the UK national academy of science it was announced today (Friday 19 May 2006).
Following in the footsteps of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, the new Fellows have been elected from the UK and Commonwealth countries for their scientific excellence. They come from a wide range of fields including neuroscience, tropical medicine, astrophysics and quantum optics."
Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development
The Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development (EJSD) is a new interdisciplinary journal that will publish peer-reviewed articles addressing policy, scientific, economic, technical and legal issues pertaining to "sustainable development" (e.g. human well-being, economic growth, environmental quality, natural resource use and management, environmental regulation, technological change).
The EJSD is co-published by the University of Buckingham and International Policy Network and will be freely accessible at the website www.ejsd.org. The EJSD will be co-edited by Indur Goklany (Assistant Director for science and technology policy at the US Department of the Interior) and Julian Morris (Executive Director of International Policy Network and a Visiting Professor at the University of Buckingham).
The EJSD will cater to, and draw its authors from, a multi-disciplinary audience that will include policy analysts, professionals, academics, and other researchers. The journal will publish peer-reviewed articles, as well as reviews and commentaries that have not previously appeared elsewhere. Peer review will in general be done via a "double-blind" process, i.e., neither the reviewers nor the authors will know each other's names.
Peer-reviewed sections of the journal will include: Articles; Syntheses of existing knowledge that would provide broad overviews of current issues related to sustainable development; Critical Reviews; Commentaries; Policy Forums; Reviews of books, magazine and other non-peer reviewed articles; Letters, on material previously published in the EJSD.
We are now accepting submissions of articles on the theme "The nature of sustainable development" for our first issue, which is due to be published at the end of 2006. Submissions should follow the Chicago Manual of Style and be sent to editor(at)ejsd.org no later than 31 August 2006.
Brazil's Farmer Leader Calls Greenpeace Activists as "Terrorists"
"Adinor Batista, chairman of the Farmers Union ......has called Greenpeace activists "terrorists who do not respect the Brazilian sovereignty" and said the invasion of the port has been "a clear demonstration of violation of international rules, which Brazil has subscribed.""
Greenpeace Activist Responds by Calling Brazil Farmers as "Thugs"
"Perhaps what I've found most surprising in the last couple of days is how organized these thugs are, how fast they can respond and ...." --- Belinda Fletcher works for Greenpeace. She is Greenpeace UK forests campaigner.
India: Pesticides Turn Killers
- Deccan Chronicle, May 21, 2006 http://www.deccan.com/home/homedetails.asp
Warangal, Andhra Pradesh: Poisonous pesticides have taken the lives of over 40 sprayers in the district, but their deaths have gone unnoticed. Unlike in the case of farmers, families of the pesticide 'victims' have got no compensation or ex-gratia from the government.
Jannu Suraiah, 43, collapsed and died after spraying pesticide in an agriculture field owned by a landlord at Hasanparthy recently. He prided himself on his ability to spray pesticide over large stretches of land quickly and was therefore in great demand. "But we never thought he would die of pesticide exposure one day," says Jannu Prameela, his wife.
Suraiah died of excessive inhalation of the poisonous pesticide. Like many other sprayers of the district, he did not wear any protective gear such as a facemask or full clothing. "My husband did not know anything about safety measures," says a distraught Mrs Prameela, who has to feed two children with her meagre wage as agricultural labourer.
Similarly, Sidhuri Mukunda Rao, 40, sarpanch of Rajupally village in Shayampet mandal, died last month after inhaling pesticide fumes. He, too, was considered a ‘top sprayer’ and did not take any precautions.Though the district has witnessed many such deaths, authorities have not bothered to create awareness among sprayers about safety measures.
"The victims are blamed for the not taking proper precautions but the government and pesticide companies have to share the blame too," says Mr Murali Ramishetty, noted environmentalist and the founder of Modern Architects for Rural India. MARI, in association with the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, conducted a study on the issue and found out that 40 farmers and agriculture workers had died of exposure to poisonous pesticides.
Following this, CSA approached the National Human Rights Commission, which asked the State to furnish details on pesticide exposure deaths in September last year. "The pesticide companies should provide face masks to farmers and dealers and retailers should enlighten consumers on the dangers involved in spraying," says Mr Pallepadu Damodar of the Sarvodaya Youth Organisation.
"Pesticide enters the body through skin pores and eyes, as well as through inhalation," points out Dr Nehru Naik of Mahabubabad Area Hospital, who has treated several such cases. "It directly affects the central nervous system and the patient will feel dizzy and fall unconscious."
Many pesticides banned in developed countries like Edifenphos, Monocrotophos and Oxydementon-Methyl are being sold in AP. Curiously enough, deaths caused from exposure to poisonous pesticide are not considered eligible for compensation by the government
.... While Vandana Shiva continues her attack on a technology that cuts down pesticide use by shiploads.. Her latest outrageous spin which is as usual baseless? - 'Bt cotton driving farmers to suicide'
Penn and Teller Bullsh!t Video: Episode on GM Food
Watch Alex A. Avery, Norman Borlaug, a Raw Foods chef, Terri Lomax, Charles Margulis and Leah Walton (Greenpeace) in this hilarious presentation by this master magicians that aired on Showtime a couple of years ago.
Blog: GM Sucks?
- Vroops, May 20, 2005 (Thanks to Andy Apel for sending the link) http://spaces.msn.com/vroops/blog/cns!2A98D0336AB1B7DC!146.entry?_c11_blogpart_blogpart=blogview&_c=blogpart#postcns!2A98D0336A
.... today I thought I'd give a shot at promoting something (hopefully in a logical way as well) many of you would probably have your prejudiced brains set on "EVIL". GM. No not General Motors, they just suck cos their American. I am talking about genetically modified food.
So you're saying "How can GM foods possibly be any good? Are you saying some genetic engineer is superior to GOD?" to which i reply "get away from me you leecher, of course I am saying that". Currently the goal of GM foods is to do these things: Make crops pest resistant, weather resistant, need less water/fertiliser, bigger/more nutritious, grow faster (except those obviously superior Americans who are attempting to make blue apples in order to make fruit appeal to New Yorkish kids. Wont work though, maccas with just make their big Macs blue to counteract it. Mmmmm, wouldn't mind one of those).
From the above we can see that you effectively have two options: Eat food that is high in pesticide/herbicide or eat GM. Eat food to which loads of fertiliser was added or eat GM. Eat crappy boring foods that look uninviting and tasteless or eat giant oranges the size of you head (im kidding, they're really grapefruits). I dont do the household shopping, but if I did there would be one reason that I would buy GM over normal foods, and that is price. Because not adding all those chemicals saves money, GM is a bit cheaper. w00. 10c off per kilo of flour. I don't know, that kinda s@#t would make my mum happy.
Another reason is yield, GM food can reach a significantly higher yield than normal crops and especially organic crops. Stupid organic crops, tsk tsk. Will they ever learn. Planting organic crops in this day and age is a pretty selfish thing to do. With yields so low (crappy little apples the size of golf balls, assuming insects don't get to them first) the land they are planted on is wasted. Overall food production drops, and people starve. Not in this country however, because we are lucky enough to have enough money to buy our food if need be, buy it from hungrier people. Who then in turn will starve. So by logical arguments, if you support organic crops you support starvation in Africa you sick freak.
Now many of you might be taking another viewpoint and saying that farmers are losing out in GM crops, all the profits go to the genetic engineer companies. And that is true, what corporate body wouldn't rip off an honest worker and haul in major profits while people around them burn in economic hell. I think thats the definition of capitalism. So blame democracy (I know I do) and those companies, not GM foods which is just the brilliant product. Its like blaming all TV's when Panasonic wont repair a broken set (inside warranty period) those cheap f#@kheads.
So by now I think your useless brain should be reprogrammed, if not feel free to leave your counter arguments and eat your pathetic golf apple at $5 each.
GM Crops - Understanding the Technology
- Professor David J James, The Fruit Grower (UK), May 2006,
In the March Issue of the Fruit Grower an article appeared by Stephan Timmermans from Lucel Horticulture entitled "GM Crops May Destroy Soil".
In this right to reply I would like to take issue with many of the claims made by Mr Timmermans and to show that none of his claims have any scientific credibility and more importantly any scientific evidence to back them up. The 'factoids' used to support the case and the witnesses called even turn out to be 'own goals' as I will show later.
Although now a recently retired government scientist I led a large research team to investigate GM as a complementary fruit breeding technology from 1983 to 2003. In conjunction with the rest of the Fruit Breeding team at East Malling this work was carried out with the long term aim of using plant breeding to make the UK fruit industry more competitive, suffering as it does from high import loads. The GM research work was paid for entirely by the taxpayer with no support from industrial sponsors. All the work we published on the subject was assessed by independent peer review in leading international plant science journals.
The opening paragraphs of the article concerning pest and disease management seem to imply that breeding for resistance to plant pests and diseases is a complete waste of time since 'the key thing here is nutrition not genetics' (sic). I'm sure the breeders at East Malling and elsewhere in the scientific community will appreciate that remark. Whilst no one would deny that soil nutrition is important the role of plant breeding has been monumental in helping to feed the world population in recent decades. One only has to look to the work of the 92 year old plant breeder Normal Borlaug (Nobel peace Prize Winner) the mastermind behind the Green Revolution. This saw millions saved from starvation by the implementation of his cereal breeding programmes that improved yield considerably.
Mr Timmermans then takes issue with the plant breeder who was attempting to produce Botrytis resistant strawberries claiming that altering genes is not a sustainable solution. Mr Timmermans obviously has great problems with the whole idea of plant breeding for disease resistance. Resistance to grey mould (Botrytis) has not been found in fruit germplasm despite years of searching by plant breeders. Since not everyone is convinced that we can dispense with plant breeding the only way to attempt to address the problem of resistance in this case is to understand the role of flower and fruit development in affecting the progress of the disease.
As a result of this research laboratories around the world realised that a certain gene involved in ripening could help delay infection if it was expressed for long periods during ripening rather than the temporary period of expression observed in susceptible varieties. This is what the Dutch worker was attempting to do and in fact what joint research at East Malling showed. This strategy appears to have had some success under glasshouse conditions but the trials were halted because of loss of government funding and were never extended to field conditions, deemed necessary to measure real effects. If Mr Timmermans can avoid all this by understanding the soil structure then why are grower's crops around the world still suffering from the problem? Moreover his assertions that application of nitrates causes plant cells to become "large and watery" and that this allows Botrytis to enter the fruit more easily is just that, an assertion. There is no published scientific evidence that this is the case or even why it should be so.
Mr Timmermans then goes on to criticise the whole area of Genetic Modification. He starts with a definition that is incorrect. He states that GM "is the intentional forcible (sic) insertion of genes into a genome". The pathogenic bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Agrobacterium rhizogenes have been inserting their own genes naturally into plant DNA since time immemorial and long before Mr Timmermans or composted tea were ever thought of. This is a natural process that no one can stop. As soon as virulent bacteria are brought into contact with wounded plant cells it happens! The process is highly efficient and results in transformed tissue growing within the plant for the bacterium's benefit.
What GM has done is to use the natural process but replacing the disease causing genes with those that breeders know will be agriculturally or horticultural important in improving crop health and performance. Perhaps Mr Timmermans is referring to the use of the gene gun which uses compressed air to 'fire' genes into the plant cell. This methodology was introduced primarily for cereals since originally they were not susceptible to the use of natural gene transfer methods. Although there has been some successes with this method improvements in techniques have now permitted a range of cereal crops to be transformed using Agrobacterium. To suggest that all GM is about forcible introduction of genes is both incorrect and misleading.
Mr Timmermans then goes on to say that "when the gene is forced into the genome the theory is that only change that has taken place is the actual insertion". Not true Mr Timmermans. We have known for some time that the sites of insertion are variable and that there may be more than one copy per genome. But this is also true of Agrobacteria and its natural transfer process. Mr Timmermans seems to be concerned about the variable and random processes that go on during gene transfer.
But conventional breeding certainly produces far more randomness and variation than Agrobacterium ever could. This is the basis of natural selection and evolution. Nature is forever using variation in its gene transfer process to generate new genotypes that may or may not be better suited to survive in a given environment. Conventional breeding involves large scale changes in the original parental DNA during the formation of the pollen and egg cells. Chromosomes exchange lengths of DNA by translocations, inversions, random mutations and a host of other recombination events. It's the basis of life as we know it. None of these processes are affected by the presence of an introduced gene unless it is one that is deliberately targeted at modifying the actual process of recombination itself and as far as I know these have not been discovered.
If one wants to use pejorative language then all conventional breeding is 'forced' in that it only happens because the breeder decides it will. In other words the crosses made are decided by man not by Mother Nature. Since when has a paint brush or a breeders little finger as the agent of gene transfer been as natural as a bee or the wind?
If Mr Timmermans is concerned about where genes go to on chromosomes he has to be even more worried about mutation breeding and polyploidy induction (the artificial increase of chromosome numbers). These techniques have been used successfully for nearly 50 years to introduce desired characteristics into practically every species of crop plant known to man. The recent definition of what constitutes a GMO by the EU "as an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.". (Article 2(2) of Directive 2001/ 18/EC) means that this must include the thousands of crop plants that have been produced by these techniques since the 1960's. (See e.g. http://www-infocris.iaea.org/MVD/
As an example a third of Italy's current pasta is made from the durum wheat variety 'Creso' that came directly from a mutation breeding programme in the 1960's'. This means that the whole of Europe has been consuming GMO wheat for decades! The ramifications do not stop here however since most 'organically produced' plants have come from breeding programmes, in which mutation breeding and polyploidisation will have been included. The famous example would be the Organic beer called 'Golden Promise'. The name was taken from the malting barley used and the seed for this was irradiated in Winfrith nuclear reactor in the 1950's!
Polyploidy will automatically, at least double the number of every gene (and there are thousands) and this often causes changes in phenotype. I am sure Mr Timmermans is aware that commercial strawberries have eight copies of every gene and the crop has been bred over centuries from earlier plants that had much lower chromosome numbers. Why then does he eat strawberries if he is concerned about chromosome number or gene copy effects? Scientists are well aware that plants produced by GM can have varying copy numbers but these can easily be analysed under laboratory conditions and those with a single copy segregated from the rest if so desired. This is akin to what the conventional breeder does. His/her programme will constantly throw up deleterious mutations in whatever crop is being worked with. Selection of the superior phenotypes and discarding of the inferior lines is what breeding is all about. Often the inferior lines will have harmful mutations of the sort that Mr Timmermans appears to be so worried about.
Of course new technology, whatever it is, has to be regulated for 'unknown effects' and the regulations are far stricter for GM organisms than they are for any other 'bred' organism. Perhaps this as it should be but why are there no regulations covering food that is already known to be dangerous? There are a large numbers of food disasters that have already been documented from conventionally bred food plants and from organic food. Examples range from kiwi fruit to celery to potatoes to courgettes. There is even medical documentation showing that children have died from eating 'organic' food contaminated with pathogenic organisms. The precautionary principle did not apply then and still does not even though allergy related food problems are reported on a regular basis with no GM food on sale in the UK.
By contrast Mr Timmermans is presumably unaware of the recent published evidence in an independent economics based article by Brookes and Barfoot (2005) showing that GM technology has resulted in 172 million kg less pesticide use by growers and a 14% reduction in the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use. GM crops have also made a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 billion kg, equivalent to removing five million cars from the roads for a year. Mr Timmermans is very keen on matters pertaining to the soil but fails to mention that deep ploughing, much favoured by the Soil association is detrimental to both biodiversity and to the environment, a fact first realised by Faulkner (1943) author of the 'Plowmans's Folly. It has been calculated that one pass of the plough leads to an enormous 14 fold increase in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment (Reicosky and Lindstrom, 1995). By contrast recent work by Robertson (2000) has shown that no-till farming has 1/3 the global warming potential of organic agriculture. Reduced till agriculture combined with the use of regulated herbicides is now practiced on about 30% of US agricultural land because GM crops are permitted. Trewavas (2004) has pointed out in some detail the advantages of no till agriculture compared to organic and conventional fields. Yet none of this is mentioned in Mr Timmermans's article.
Finally Mr Timmermans's own goal. He has cited the infamous case of Dr Elaine Ingham of Oregon State University and the work in her lab with the bacterium Klebsiella planticola. This is an old story which involved some research in Dr Ingham's laboratory in the early 1990's on the use of GM bacteria to produce alcohol from waste plant material. The claim from the research was that in laboratory tests the GM bacteria caused the test plants to wilt and die due to excessive alcohol production whereas the unmodified bacteria did not cause this problem. Extrapolations were made by some that these sorts of changes would cause widespread environmental havoc leading to the end of life on earth (sic).
Dr Ingham made the false allegation that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had allowed the release of such organisms without proper testing. Later Dr Ingham had to withdraw these assertions when she proffered them to the New Zealand Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. Not only had she to agree her original assertions about the effects of Klebsiella p. in the environment were not supported by the evidence she cited (including falsified references to non existent publications) but she had to concede the allegations she made against the EPA could not be independently substantiated either.
The EPA specifically rejected all her assertions. Moreover the New Zealand Green Party made the mistake of relying on Ingham's evidence to try to establish their argument that there should be no field trials involving GMO's. Because Ingham's assertions were scientifically rebutted before the Royal Commission by three senior New Zealand and Australian scientists the Green Party was left with the humiliating responsibility of apologizing in writing for misleading the Royal Commission.
Perhaps the final word on this matter should come from the embarrassed editor of the 'Agribusiness examiner', the journal that had to publish a retraction about the Klebsiella affair and Dr Ingham.
"One of life's great lessons as one gets older and hopefully more wiser is not to stick your nose into an area of expertise you know little or nothing about and make judgments on the conduct of individuals in such subject areas. The lesson is a tough one for journalists as --- or at least they should be ---- by nature, curiosity seekers in the context of what is news and what news should be laid before the public for its information and enlightenment. Often, however, they find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle".
Perhaps this is more succinctly put by the venerable Mark Twain "News gets halfway round the world before the truth gets its shoes on" Wise words indeed; Mr Timmermans please note.
Brookes, G.,Barfoot, P. 2005. GM Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact—The First Nine Years 1996–2004; AgBioForum, 8(2&3): 187-196.
Faulkner, E., 1943. Plowman's Folly. Grosset and Dunlap, New York.
Reicosky, D.C., Lindstrom, M.J., 1995. Impact of fall tillage on short term carbon dioxide flux. In: Lal, R., Kimble, J., Levene, E., Stewsard, B.A. (Eds.), Soils and Global Change. Lewis publishers, Chelsea, pp. 177–187.
Robertson, G.P., Paul, E.A., Harwood, R.R., 2000. Greenhouse gases in intensive agriculture: contributions of individual gases to the radiative forcing of the atmosphere. Science 289, 1922–1925.
Trewavas, A. 2004. A critical assessment of organic farming-and-food assertions with particular respect to the UK and the potential environmental benefits of no-till agriculture. Crop Protection 23; 757-781.
Testing Golden Rice Ad infinitum
Dr. Prakash: I agree with your semantic arguments. We are in a major medical center in St. Louis actively working on the human nutritional inputs from GM crops and I don't need another argument on how rapidly this rice strains should be introduced into the third world. Already number of countries have banned the GM crops being introduced, for e.g, at present only about 20 countries have GM crops being grown and you will prevent other countries from using this technology if you try 'in your face' type of hasty arguments to force them to adopt this new technology which I should say have great potential!
But we as scientists have to do the 'good' science and prove without any reasonable doubt that these genes are not harmful to man and environment. These take time and unfortunately we cant jump the gun and say that this new technology is the panacea for all our problems. For e.g. the night blindness and other diseases due to vitamin A deficiency will not be solved by just introducing golden rice: this is a simplistic solution to a complex problem in countries such as India where poverty and malnutrition are the major problems and not night blindness! also nutritional principles are more complex than putting plant genes into crops and saying that will solve the problem.
We have to do in depth studies on how these gene combinations and gene products will affect digestion of a varied diet in combination with other nutrients. In fact some studies have shown that Vitamin A absorption will be affected by other nutrients in your diet. It is may be possible that in Third world countries the high vitamin A content in rice will be nullified by the absence of other cofactors for absorption of vitamin A molecules by the gut epithelia.
It does matter what type of genes and new combinations of genes are introduced into the environment till they are proved to be harmless. A similar type of argument was given when farmers fed animal parts to cows just few years ago and what did we end up with: Mad Cow Disease!! Every thing we do in Science is connected and that is the first realization of a good scientist to acknowledge that and say that we do not know how this hasty introduction of foreign genes into crops will affect other biochemical and nutritional processes. Its the next generation that will have to do the dirty work as we saw in DDT, Thalidomide, Mad Cow Disease,etc.
It is very unscientific to say 'dont worry, nothing will happen, plant genetics will take care of you' because you very well know that the studies are not yet complete and have to be done in a future date. A good example is Golden rice. So you acknowledge that more work has to be done to get through regulatory organizations for their introduction for human consumption.
As I said before the gene constructs of Daffodils are presently in golden rice. Please acknowledge that they are foreign genes in Rice. A simple analysis of these genes will tell you that daffodil and rice through evolutionary time scale are completely different genes and possibly evolved at different time periods of earth's history. The argument is made here that they can we do gene slicing to get what ever gene combinations you want. That is obvious because both are plants and basic elements of the gene structure is the same, but that does not mean we can artificially shuffle these genes then around and get combinations of 'useful' genes and introduce them to other crops. There have to be a useful purpose and will have to be tested in stringent experimental studies, These are not 'mundane' arguments at any means! We do not have good scientific data to back up the claims of GM crops that they are safe to humans and the environment, period.
I would appreciate that you publish both of my letters so that all the readers are aware of the arguments I am making so that ultimately SCIENCE will win! You nor I have last word in this endeavor nor are the guardians of TRUTH. We obtain TRUTH through the scientific empirical world !!Time and good science will bare me out. Please publish my letters so that other scientists will also have chance to comment.
- Prof, Nihal DeSilva, Vice President (R & D), B & G Labs,Inc and Washington University Medical Centre,
Saint Louis, MO, USA
Response from Ingo Potrykus
Dear Prakash, Yes, our rice lines used in our development in India and elsewhere contain the maize gene.
Keep up your good work, and all the best,
Response from Andrew Apel -aapel(at)wildblue.net
I can't respond to Dr. DeSilva as a scientist, but I can point out that he is making some rather fundamental mistakes. The first is to apply to foods the same rigor applied to pharmaceuticals. The purpose of food is to deliver to the human body those substances which are known to provide nutrition. Unless you're starving, that's pretty ho-hum stuff.
The purpose of pharmaceuticals is to deliver to the human body novel compounds designed to alter the way they function. And that's only *after* these bodies are malfunctioning to the point where *novel* compounds are required. (Beta carotene doesn't count as novel to me, though it may to some.)
What we are doing with GM crops does not even remotely approach the novelty of pharmaceutical substances, so DeSilva's demands for rigor are excessive. He might want to take a look at the doctrine of substantial equivalence; he'd discover that rice is safe, that beta carotene is safe, and then devise a test appropriate to the degree of novelty we encounter when eating them together.
In fact, rigorously applying DeSilva's approach would suggest that the risks of rice with beta carotene are incalculably outweighed by the risks of toasted brown rice with red beans and lentils and a dash of soy sauce--one of my favorites. I highly recommend testing this, and government approval is not required!