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August 14, 2006


High Priests of Disinformation; Africa Must Move On; German Greens Rage Over Gene-Maize; Genetic Illiterates


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - August 14, 2006

* Africa Doesn't Need Labels on GM Food
* Africa Must Give Serious Thought to Biotech
* High Priests of Disinformation
* GM Crop Consultation
* The Battle Over Gene-Maize
* One-third of all Gene-Maize is Destroyed
* Gene Wheat Threatens the Inheritance of Mankind?
* Scandal Rocks Schmeiser as 'GM-Free Ireland' Attempts Cover Up
* Should We Make a Fuss?
* Australia: Risks to Tassie in Missing GE Train
* Liberalization, Biotech & Seed Sector: India's Cotton Seed Market
* What’s Your Genetic Literacy Score?

Africa Doesn't Need Labels on GM Food

- James Wachai, GMO Africa Blog, August 13, 2006


It's sometime amusing to watch and listen anti-biotech activists moralize about food issues. They purport to be God-anointed custodians of our health. It's like we're so naïve to take care of ourselves and that we are handicapped in deciding which food is healthy for us.

Who can really entrust his/her health to activists? I pose this question out of reports that Michael Hansen, an avowed critic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), is in South Africa drumming up support for the labeling of genetically modified food.

For starters, Mr. Hansen works for the U.S.-based Consumer Policy Institute, a division of Consumer Union, a fervent opponent of genetically modified food.

The Consumer Policy Institute, after failing to prevail upon the U.S. government to demand that all GMOs products be labeled is now shifting its spotlight on poor countries that are struggling to embrace modern agricultural biotechnology.

South Africa, which has made tremendous progress in genetic modification, is one of the countries the Consumer Policy Institute, through Mr. Hansen, is spotlighting on.

Mr. Hansen is demanding that manufacturers label GMOs products in all South African supermarkets "…so that consumers can decide for themselves whether they want to buy them or not because firms are being given free rein to carry out whatever genetic experimentation they want to without fear of any response from the public."

Africa doesn't need the likes of Mr. Hansen to preach to it about food issues. Perhaps, he and his sponsors should redirect the millions of dollars they are spending on food label campaigns to expedite the transfer of modern agricultural biotechnology from developed nations to poor countries.

Africa's food problems are unique and would not be solved through the activism of Mr. Hansen and others like him. Tangible efforts aimed at alleviating chronic food shortages are what Africa now needs. Africa needs agricultural technologies that have revolutionized the economies of rich countries. Africa wants to stop relying on rich countries for food handouts.

It is irresponsible on the part of Mr. Hansen and his ilk to claim GM food must carry labels because biotech firms behave irresponsibly in the conduct of their scientific work.

Mr. Hansen is a well-educated and informed American, and he knows pretty well that biotech companies work under stringent regulatory rules. He is alive to the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would not tolerate biotech firms that don't adhere to established rules of scientific research.

And then there is the U.S National Academies of Sciences that enforces code of conduct in clinical trials. Biotech-related research, just like any other scientific enquiry is subject to laid-down scientific ethics. Biotech companies adhere to these ethics.

GMOs have proved beneficial to farmers in countries where they are cultivated. It's Africa's turn to cultivate and trade in GMOs without inhibitions.

Africa Must Give Serious Thought to Biotech

- James Wachai, August 2, 2006 http://www.gmoafrica.org/2006/08/africa-must-give-serious-thought-to_02.html

The African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) have been holding meetings to explore how biotechnology can contribute to Africa’s development.

The latest of these meetings took place in Kenya last week. Participants, who included experts in biotechnology and policy makers from all over Africa, produced a draft report, which tacitly acknowledges the importance of biotechnology in sustainable development.

Entitled, Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa’s Development (PDF file), the report is a major milestone in the debate about modern biotechnology. It will go a long way in galvanizing support towards biotechnology in the entire African continent. The report will be submitted to the annual summit of African heads of state in January 2007. This is a good opportunity to give the report more weight.

African leaders must adopt this report and then ensure its implementation as a matter of urgency. Africa urgently needs biotechnology.

The continent is yet to reap the fruits of modern biotechnology mainly due to petty politics. There are those who have made a career from trumpeting lies about modern biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in particular. Some wrongly claim that multinational biotech companies seek to use GMOs to dominate Africa’s agriculture. And one is tempted to ask, why hasn’t this happened in Asia, Latin America and Europe where GMOs are readily grown?

Those opposed to biotechnology need to be reminded that the panel that produced this latest report on the potential of biotechnology in Africa’s growth comprised of both proponents and opponents of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Dr. Tewolde Egziabher, the director-general of Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EEPA) and a lead author of this report, for example, is a well-known critic of GMOs. But he seems to concur with such advocates of biotechnology as Prof. Calestous Juma, and Dr. Florence Wambugu of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) that Africa will ignore biotechnology at its own peril. This attests to the fact that there is growing consensus on GMOs.

Perhaps, Africa must heed the words of Prof. Juma who repeatedly says that people who say biotechnology is being forced on Africa have a limited view of what is taking place in the biotech industry.


High Priests of Disinformation

-- Jonathan Gressel -jonathan.gressel.at.weizmann.ac.il, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

Regarding the news item below, to the best of my knowledge, all Jewish and Muslim theologians who have studied the issues have endorsed transgenics - indeed the Jewish theologians do not consider animal DNA, including that of a pig, in another organism as being an animal product, unless the other organism is an animal. They even do not consider pure enzymes from animals to be animal products (e.g. rennet used in cheese making, or purified pig insulin in the old days), but prefer it when made transgenically in a non-animal. They are quite realistic in making religious risk-benefit analyses for their constituents.

The only fundamental religions that may have the problems stated by the disinforming activist are organacism and vegetarianism, who have highly paid, high priests.

> GM Demo Ends In Bunfight at Shopping Mall - Karyn Maughan, The Star (South Africa), August 10, 2006 http://www.int.iol.co.za/

> According to Hansen, South Africa is one of the six countries in the world - including the US and Argentina - that does not use labels to alert consumers to the presence of GM ingredients. About 15 percent of the maize and over 95 percent of the cotton produced in South Africa is genetically modified.

> "At the moment, firms are being given free rein to carry out whatever genetic experimentation they want to without fear of any response from the public. The implications of continued non-labelling include vegetarians, Jewish people and Muslims inadvertently eating products that contain animal DNA. People who suffer allergic reactions to GM foods may experience problems in trying to identify the source of that allergy."

From Prakash: See also
"Playing God or Improving Human Lives? Religious, Moral and Ethical Perspectives on Food Biotechnology" http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/religion/index.html


GM Crop Consultation

- The Scotsman August 11, 2006 http://thescotsman.scotsman.com

Last month, the Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs issued a public consultation on "Proposals for managing GM, conventional and organic crops". It showed the government proposes to "facilitate choice between conventional, organic and GM crops" by aiming "to minimise any unwanted GM presence in non-GM crops so that it is below 0.9 per cent".

In other words, crops cross-pollinated with a neighbouring GM crop will still be classed as non-GM, or organic, even though they may have nearly 1 per cent GM present.

We can look forward to the erosion of our rights to GM-free food as GM contamination creeps in if these proposals go ahead. However, those who oppose DEFRA's plans can object by responding to the consultation process.

- Pete Riley, Campaign director, GM Freeze, White Lion Street, London

Readers' Comments

1. How can a crop cross-pollinated with a neighbouring GM crop have less than 1% of GM present? If each gamete contributes exactly half its DNA one would expect each single pollination event with a GM pollen grain would produce a new seed that was 50% GM. (Of course when individual stretches of DNA are considered this might be considerably lower)

1% of GM from a cross-pollinating GM crop would suggest that there are at least 50 other sources of pollen diluting out the GM input.

Therefore considering there are no commercial releases of GM crops in the UK the possibility of anywhere near 1% total "GM contamination" seems hugely improbable! Therefore Mr Riley is starting (or restarting) a scare campaign about something which cannot happen and in any case has not been shown to have any adverse effect on human health

It seems to me that DEFRA have set a reasonable and practical level that can be measured and monitored. Secondly, on a practical note, how does Mr Riley want to police his zero-limit GM contamination limit?

All methods of detecting inserted "GM" DNA will produce false positives - would Mr Riley have tonnes of "contaminated grain" destroyed for this reason.

2. Neil, Glasgow / 12:11pm 11 Aug 2006

Mr Riley cleverly phrase his position as being for "our rights to GM-free food". In fact what he is demanding is that nobody else have the right to inexpensive UK grown food.

As Mr Riley & indeed anybody else of the Luddite Tendency will, if being honest, confirm here is that there is no evidence (zero, zilch, nada) that GM has ever harmed anybody (which is more than one can say of milk).

By this standard - there being no evidence whatsoever that breathing the same air as medievalists is harmful, I should have the right to adopt the precautionary principle that it might be & have Mr Riley & his comrades removed from these isles. Fortunately for them I am more solicitous of their rights than they are of mine.

3. Andy, Edinburgh / 12:40pm 11 Aug 2006

The point about GM is not whether it is dangerous, but the fact that if we discover it was dangerous *after* it has been released into the environment, then it will be too late. It is a huge open-air experiment. Has our society not yet learned from past mistakes about messing about with the environment? Cane toads in Australia, Giant Knotweed all across Edinburgh - once it is out there, it is too late.

So are the potential (and irreversible) side effects worth it for the very limited commercial gain for a few multi-national companies? GM crops are not being produced for altruistic-let's-help-the-third-world reasons, but so that farmers everywhere are tied in to continually buying seeds, fertilizers and pesticides from massive companies like Monsanto.

We do have the right to GM-free food. I want to eat food that has stood the test of time, evolution and traditional agriculture - not something produced in a science lab with side effects that will only become apparent when it is far too late, like Thalidamide, which scientists said was perfectly safe!

4. Neil, Glasgow / 4:32pm 11 Aug 2006

"The point about GM is not whether it is dangerous"


The point is that even though there is agreed to be absolutely no basis for claiming it is dangerous this does not prevent the Luddites from doing so. If honestly making a comparison with thalidomide (sic) you would also have mentioned that the anti-progress lobby would have been equally quick to ensure that polio vaccine wasn't used thereby killing 10s of millions. Luddites tend to be careless about who pays for their demands as long as it isn't them.

Equally the suggestion that you not be allowed to eat "traditional" food is rubbish. Eat anything you want as long as its microbes aren't contagious & you don't want it subsidised. Just don't prevent the rest of us doing the same.


The Battle Over Gene-Maize

- Jens Blankennagel, Berliner Zeitung August 10, 2006 (Translated by Andy Apel) http://www.berlinonline.de/berliner-zeitung/print/brandenburg/576047.html

After a protest on a farm field, police arrest 20 Greenpeace activists

BRUNOW. In the beginning, everything was supposed to be done quickly. Nobody was supposed to catch them - the targeted location had been kept a closely guarded secret. And so yesterday morning, 20 activists of the environmental protection organization Greenpeace drove a rental truck and three cars through northern Brandenburg. Their goal: a four-hectare field with genetically modified maize near the village of Brunow in Märkisch-Oderland county.

Many residents of the village looked on in surprise as the column of vehicles with Hamburg and Berlin registrations rushed through. The drivers continued through a nature preserve - next to it stood the gene-maize. "We want to make a symbolic statement against the cultivation of gene-maize," said Greenpeace expert Alexander Hissting.

Second action in ten days

Each of the activists donned white overalls with hoods, rubber boots, and breathing masks. It set quite a scene: It looked like the aftermath of a disaster at a chemical factory. "We will harvest a small section of the field of gene-maize and deliver it to the Heilbronn headquarters of the Campina dairy company", Hissting said. The vast majority of Germans reject genetically manipulated food. However, gene-maize is being grown on a field owned by a farmer who supplies milk to Campina, one of the three largest German milk-processing companies. The company also promotes its products as "earth friendly." "Gene-maize and gene-soy are grown for these products," said Hissting. "The companies don't care about what consumers want. Campina and other large milk processors must forbid their suppliers to use gene-maize as feed."

With this protest action, Brandenburg became a battleground in the conflict over the cultivation of gene-plants for the second time in ten days. On July 30, 100 members of the national protest network "Out With Gene Trash" destroyed about 1,000 square meters of a gene-maize field near Zehdenick. The environmental activists return again and again to Brandenburg, because about half of the nation's gene-maize is grown there.

Yesterday, Greenpeace activists armed with sickles ran into the field, lopped off 50 square meters gene-maize, and stuffed it in 30 yellow garbage cans they had brought with them, which were labeled "Gene-maize is Hazardous Waste", or into giant home-made yoghurt cups. When they loaded the containers into the truck, William Manzel confronted them - the head of the agricultural cooperative which was growing the gene-maize. "Stop immediately!" he shouted. Tractors blocked the escape route of the environmentalists, and the police moved in.

After that, everyone had lots of time on their hands. The police took statements, the activists and farmers argued about genetic engineering. Manzel said that the cooperative was only testing whether gene-maize is actually resistant to a parasite. "We promised Campina that we would not feed gene-maize to our cows. We supply it to a feed manufacturer," he said. A Greenpeace representative asked: "If you won't use the maize as feed, why grow it?" He explained that last year, another farmer in Brandenburg had also promised not to feed gene-maize to his cows, but did so anyhow.

"We farmers are only the last link in the chain, but we are treated like criminals," Manzel said. "Why don't you protest with the companies or feed manufacturers?" Hissting replied: "That's exactly what we want to do - with your gene-maize in front of company headquarters."

The activists wanted to pay for the maize, in order to be able to keep it. Greenpeace estimated the damages to be worth, at most, ten euros. The farmer, however, said that at least 100 euros was due. Therefore, the matter was treated as more than a simple prank. "You are under arrest," said the leader of the police team. The 20 activists were fingerprinted at the police station. The truck with gene-maize was seized.


One-third of all Gene-Maize is Destroyed

- Märkische Oderzeitung, August 11 2006 (Translated by Andy Apel) http://www.moz.de/index.php/Moz/Article/category/Berlin_Brandenburg/id/149995

Frankfurt (Oder) "We hope that there is still some gene-maize standing when harvest comes." In three attacks within four weeks, opponents of genetic engineering have destroyed 1.5 of the 4.8 hectares of gene-maize planted in Wölsickendorf (Märkisch-Oderland), according to William Manzel, managing director of the agricultural cooperative Höhe in Steinbeck. At the same time, the experiment was worth the effort: the European Corn [maize] Borer [Maiszuensler] parasite invaded and clearly damaged 260 hectares of maize, while no similar damage was seen among gene-maize.

Manzel does not understand why his business has become "the target of choice", but there are larger issues. Shortly after the 20 Greenpeace activists had chopped down plants on Wednesday, even more gene-maize was removed from the field during the night. For police spokeswoman Doerte Drehmel it is "a very large coincidence" that, just like a few hours before, maize had been cut with a sickle, gathered, and removed.

It was not Greenpeace this time around, according to Greenpeace gene-expert Alexander Hissting. There was discussion on Thursday with the management of the Heilbronner headquarters of Campina, during which gene-maize from Wölsickendorf was handed over. In order to denounce how the company processes milk which comes from cows fed with gene-maize. Campina agrees with the ecological risks.

However, Manzel and Drehmel agree that the maize Greenpeace cut down was confiscated and sequestered. Within the environmental protection organization, it is said, there is dissent about the attack. This doesn't make friends among farmers, who should become sensitive to the risks of gene-maize. Apparently, Greenpeace does not want to be associated in an obvious way with the "Away With Gene-trash" initiative.

Campina believes Manzel's claim that the gene-maize is sold, and not fed. "The gene-maize is not grown for us," said spokeswoman Sabine Simon. But: "maize is certified by the responsible authorities. It is not our place to condemn the farmer."


Planned Environmental Release in Gatersleben: Gene Wheat Threatens the Inheritance of Mankind

- Linke Zeitung ["Left Newspaper"] (Germany) August 7, 2006 (Translated by Andy Apel) http://www.linkezeitung.de/cms/content/view/856/40/

For the first time since 2004, there is in Germany once again an application for open-air field trials of genetically manipulated wheat. A formal request has been filed by the Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Research [Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung (IPK)] in Gatersleben with the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety [Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit]. The location of the field trial is in close proximity to fields used by the Gatersleben gene bank in Sachsen-Anhalt. There, hundreds of old wheat varieties are stored, which for preservation must be replanted again and again in the open.

Genetic pollution of this inheritance of mankind, either by the flight of pollen, or carried by animals, would result in an irreplaceable loss for future breeding efforts. That is because old varieties, so-called "heirloom" varieties, contain many resistances against different diseases and growing conditions such as drought or salt. For these reasons, experts call it the "life insurance of mankind". Andreas Bauer, a genetic engineering expert and agrarian scientist with Umweltinstitut Munich, has this criticism: "So far, all field trials of gene wheat in the Federal Republic of Germany [Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD)] failed because of the resistance of environmental organizations. Wheat is one of the main food plants for the world's population. Because of widespread oppostion by the people, it is impossible to sell gene-wheat anywhere in the world."

The wheat plants, which are to be set free in Gatersleben, were manipulated genetically in such a way that they exhibit, among other things, an increased protein content. Allegedly, this is to improve their value as animal feed. Harald Nestler, a member of the executive committee of the Munich Environmental Institute [Umweltinstitut München], believes that the attempt for a field trial is merely to open the door: "If that is allowed, it is only a matter of time before gene-manipulated wheat shows up in our bakeries. Federal and state funding supports the IPK, and others look to the IPK for crop development, but taxpayers should not subsidize a risky technology like genetic engineering," Nestler asserts.

There is strong criticism of other features that have been engineered into gene-wheat. The plants were made resistant to Basta(r), a broad-spectrum herbicide produced by a Bavarian company. Herbicide-resistant gene plants have a negative influence on the biodiversity. In addition, they quickly increase the use of pesticides in farm fields, since they promote the development of herbicide-resistant weeds.

In addition, the genetically altered wheat plants contain genes that encode antibiotic resistance to ampicillin and streptomycin, which are used in human health. This is done in order to select among modified plants in the laboratory. Even the genetic-engineering-friendly European Food Security Authority (EFSA) has demanded that these antibiotic resistance genes not be used after 2009. This is because the antibiotics might become ineffective as a result of consuming the genetically altered plants.

According to the application filed by IPK, which the Munich Environmental Institute has received, the application for environmental release has a starting date in the autumn of 2006 and will continue through 2008. The Munich Environmental Institute is calling for a widespread protest against the cultivation of gene-wheat. Female and male citizens can download sample objections from http://www.umweltinstitut.org/genweizen

Anyone and everyone can object, and being a resident of Gatersleben is not required. On September 13, the Munich Environmental Institute will collect the signatures, which will be handed over to the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety.

Comments from Dave Wood (UK) - agrobiodiversity.at.btopenworld.com

It's another of the 'genetic pollution of genebanks' stories which started with the supposed 'contamination' of the CIMMYT genebank in Mexico.

Gatersleben is in the former East Germany. There is no reason why this 'genetic heritage of mankind' cannot be stored further west in the high-tech seed store in FAL Braunschweig, securely locked in sealed containers for ever (with duplicates in the proposed Nordic genbank on Spitzbergen).

And if wheat seed has to be renewed in the field, it could be done anywhere - not necessarily in Gatersleben. This is a common management decision. In Colombia we multiplied the global common bean collection all over the country. For cross-pollinators, screen houses can be used. There is need for there to be any problem whatever with supposed 'contamination'.

The major problem with multiplying seed of species for storage is exactly the opposite of genetic contamination. Most seed has seed-borne diseases such as virus and there is always a far greater danger of disease cross-contamination taking the lot out during seed multiplication. I have a photo of me standing folornly in our bean multiplication plots in Colombia when more than half the samples were taken out by virus. We had to try again next year and pile on the insecticide to prevent virus transmission. This is several magnitudes more damaging to our 'genetic heritage' that any GMOs could be but has been ignored by the antis.

Again, there are management tools to limit disease spread. Imported seed is grown under close glasshouse quarantine, and then bulked-up in isolated, irrigated fields well away from commercial crops. There is no reason whatever why this separation cannot be used if there is any doubt whatever about unintended transmission of pollen. But these people don't want a solution, they want a tub-thumping problem.

This 'contamination of our heritage' claim is spreading: for example, in the recent South African fuss over sorghum, and by the 'usual suspects' (RAFI/ETC), who are trying to stop any GMOs being grown in centres of crop diversity. This is certainly intended to prevent developing countries - where most of crop diversity still exists - from actually developing and exporting crops in competition with developed countries. In their last available accounts half of RAFI's income came from the `Friends of ETC Group' registered as a 501(c)3 charity in the US.

This is all part and parcel of EU attempted bans on North American GM exports and wider protectionism such as the sick 'Food Miles' campaign in the UK where we are told not to eat Kenya green beans nor to import soybeans for animal feed from 'The Amazon'. These are excuses to protect national crop production, and not valid reasons.


Scandal Rocks Schmeiser as GM Free Ireland Attempts Cover Up

Links at http://www.gmoireland.blogspot.com

A scandal exposed in Ireland has resulted in Percy Schmeiser issuing legal threats in a desperate attempt to save face. It has also left Irish organizers of an anti-GM food conference scrambling to quietly doctor websites and meeting proceedings to hide their previously made false claims.

On July 2, 2006 it was exposed on this blog that Percy Schmeiser was been falsely presented to the Irish public as a "former member of the Canadian Parliament".

Organizers of the anti GM food conference (GM Free Ireland) published several web posting and even conference proceedings that clearly stated that Percy Schmeiser was a "Former member of the Canadian Parliament". Since been exposed as false, these publications have now been changed overnight without explanation or an apology. Despite the scramble to hide these falsehoods by GM Free Ireland (Michael O'Callaghan), the original postings claiming Percy as a "Former Member of the Canadian Parliament" are still available below as they are cached by Google:
Original GM Free Ireland Post 1
Original GM Free Ireland Post 2
Original Conference proceedings

Contrary to the documents linked above Percy Schmeiser has NEVER held a seat in the Canadian Parliament which is located in Ottawa (the federal capital of Canada) and represents over 32 million people.

Maybe the confusion stems from Percy's attempt to pass off his 1967 to 1971 seat in his local, very rural provisional assembly of Saskatchewan as something bigger than it was. Saskatchewan has a population of less than a million people (less than Dublin), a mere 3% of the total Canadian population.

However, Percy is on record as claiming he was a "Member of Parliament" in his speech in Ireland even when this term is exclusively reserved as the legal title for members of the Canadian Parliament (MP). The correct legal and political term for a member of the Saskatchewan assembly is "Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA)". Within Canada this is a VERY clear distinction (as clear as the difference between MP and MEP in the UK).

It is very unlikely that Percy Schmeiser, as a current local politician and a former MLA himself, was not aware of this important and clear distinction. So did use the incorrect term in attempt to mislead the Irish public?...because he clearly did misled, as even his fellow anti-GMOers subsequently made the claim he was a "Former member of the Canadian Parliament" in conference proceedings...... but now have changed this claim.

It should also be noted the Saskatchewan assembly has never been officially called a "Parliament" and the single house of the provincial legislature was named the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan in 1905. Here is an example of a current Saskatchewan MLA's website showing clearly the correct title – Website of Jason Dearborn MLA
When wee little David turns into Goliath.....

In a Monsanto-like attempt to silence the scandal Percy has reverted to heavy handed intimidation by threating legal action via email….MY COMMENTS ARE IN CAPS...

From Percy Schmeiser Wed Aug 9 12:34:59 2006
shane.morris@rogers.com ; Wed, 09 Aug 2006 12:29:39 -0700
Date: Wed, 09 Aug 2006 13:34:59 -0600
From: Percy Schmeiser
Subject: False allegations and malicious statements
To: shane.morris@rogers.com, percyschmeiser@yahoo.ca

Dear Mr. Shane,

I have in the past several days received information of the false allegations that you are making against me. I believe that these statements are malicious, derogatory, and slanderous. At this time I do know the reason why you are making these statements.
Who are you?
Are you an employee of Monsanto?
because some of Monsanto's employees were making the same statements. Some of the statements that have been attributed to you are:

1. That I was never a member of our provincial legislature (member of parliament) which is a false statement by you.

2. All charges that were laid by a formal member of council against me were withdrawn and the courts ordered all the costs against them.

3. The employee who made the initial statement also signed a statement that it was false what she had said in the first place.
"There is little doubt that Percy Schmeisers conduct towards the Town administration staff had been abusive in varying degrees prior to the 1996 Resolution".


4. It was noted that the lawyer who represented these people was also a lawyer who was from a firm that also represented Monsanto in court. SO WHAT?

5. Your false statements are a deliberate attack on my credibility and personality.

6. I have discussed this matter with my lawyer, and possible legal action will be taken against you.

7. If I receive a retraction of your statements and an apology in your web blog I will not perceive (sic) with legal action against you.


8. If you decide not to retract your statements please send me the name and address of your legal council so the various legal documents can be forwarded to them.

As mentioned above I do not know who you are and why you are promoting all these lies. I am expecting a response from you in the near future so that I know what actions to take.

Sincerely yours,
Percy Schmeiser

Given that GM Free Ireland has subsequently removed the statements claiming Percy was a "Former Member of the the Canadian Parliament" from their website, one is left to wonder if this claim had not been false as suggested by Percy, why did the Irish anti-GMOers feel it appropriate and necessary to make the changes on their website?......




Should We Make a Fuss?

- Henry I. Miller & Gregory Conko, Nature Biotechnology - 24, 899 - 900 (2006)

To the editor: An endorsement of ethical responsibility in science is difficult to oppose. The challenge, however, often is to ascertain what constitutes an ethical or wise course of action. In their commentary, Beckwith and Huang1 allude specifically to a "stirring of the scientific conscience" in the 1960s, including "concerns about the potential dangers of genetic engineering." This example is worth some scrutiny.

In 1974, a small group of scientists requested that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, Maryland, USA) and the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) appoint a committee to study the safety of recombinant DNA research, which led the NIH to create the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) later that year2. In 1975, this group convened an historic conference at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California, at which participants called on the NIH to oversee the use of the new research methods more formally3.

The conclave focused on the potential risks of recombinant DNA technology, many of them highly speculative. The discussions of risk assessment and management were as much influenced by the brouhaha the meeting provoked in the national media as by a legitimate scientific debate about the likelihood of biosafety problems. There was rampant speculation about laboratory creations run amok, and talk of Frankenstein's monster and Andromeda Strain scenarios enlivened the news (Jurassic Park had not yet been written). Some of those assembled believed that the risks were negligible but that the public needed reassurance in the form of stringent regulation, a recurring (but dubious) theme that persists to this day. Many of the scientists at the meeting appeared to be intoxicated with their unaccustomed celebrity.

According to James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA and a co-convener of the Asilomar conference, many scientists left the meeting fearing that their colleagues "had compromised their better judgment as scientists just to be seen by the assembled press as 'good guys' (and not as potential Dr. Frankensteins)." The press, in turn, exaggerated even those already inflated fears, arguing, "if scientists themselves saw cause for concern, then the public at large should really be alarmed."4

In the end, the Asilomar participants called on the NIH to develop a formal 'biosafety' system to provide guidance to researchers about the safety precautions needed for various kinds of research (including the absolute prohibition of certain classes of experiments) and to ensure that laboratories using the new techniques were properly equipped to prevent inadvertent release of organisms modified by recombinant DNA techniques. In response, the NIH promulgated the first version of its Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules5. This move sent a powerful message that the scientific community and the federal government were taking the speculative risk scenarios seriously, a message that has affected—and afflicted—biotech regulation worldwide ever since.

Partly to reassure the public that sufficient oversight was in place, and partly because no one thought to seek the viewpoints of critical scientific and medical specialties (e.g., infectious diseases, immunology, toxicology, oncology and endocrinology), the guidelines ended up being overly risk averse. They used what has proved to be an idiosyncratic and largely invalid set of assumptions that exaggerate the potential risks associated with the process of gene transfer and with recombinant DNA-modified organisms. These erroneous assumptions and overly conservative guidelines have left a quarter-century's legacy of misapprehensions, excessive risk-aversion and unscientific public policy.

Within a year after the Asilomar meeting, many of the scientists who had been there recognized that the restrictions they proposed made little sense. In a 1977 article for The New Republic, James Watson expressed regret for supporting the meeting. In retrospect, he called it "an exercise in the theater of the absurd," and argued that the scientific community's initial trepidation about recombinant DNA technology was "a massive miscalculation in which we cried wolf without having seen or even heard one."6 But the damage had already been done. The world had already heard from many leading scientists that the fears were legitimate, and no amount of remorse or retraction could un-ring the bell.

Today, the world is burdened with a regulatory apparatus that still is based not on the scientific knowledge accumulated during the past 30 years, but on the largely groundless fears that were expressed by scientists before any substantive analysis was performed and that have been exaggerated by activists and the news media ever since. The result is that experiments that use recombinant DNA technology and many products developed with it are much more costly, and we have been deprived of much of its potential. Is this 'social responsibility'?

1. Beckwith, J. & Huang, F. Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 1479–1480 (2005).
2. Berg, P. et al. Science 185, 303 (1974).
3. Berg, P. & Singer, M.F. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 92, 9011–9013 (1995).
4. Watson, J.D. DNA: The Secret of Life (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003).
5. Anonymous. Fed. Reg. 41, 27902–27943 (1976).
6. Watson, J.D. In defense of DNA. The New Republic, p. 11 (25 June 1977).


Australia: Risks to Tassie in Missing GE Train

- Bruce Mounster, August 11, 2006 Tasmanian Country (Australia)

Overseas scientists are pouring billions of dollars into genetic engineering research and Tasmanian farmers will not be able to ignore GE for much longer. That is the opinion of Conara farmer Ian MacKinnon, who raised the subject at a National Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology forum in Launceston last month.

Mr MacKinnon is a former Grains Research and Development Corporation advisory board chairman. He said GE was no less significant than the development of superphosphate, sub-clovers, herbicides such as Roundup, and break crops in the advancing agriculture.

''This technology is coming our way and we cannot stand outside that,'' he said.

Mr MacKinnon sees GE technology rolling out in stages, the first being the improvement of agronomic traits. Over the next 10 or 20 years could come biological factories for the production of products such as plastics, nutriceuticals and fuels.

Mr MacKinnon said the strategy of keeping Tasmania GE free so industries could tap into markets that were anti-GE wouldn't pay, because most of those markets were in Europe, which was too far away for shipping most produce.


Liberalization, Biotechnology and the Private Seed Sector: The Case of India's Cotton Seed Market

- Milind Murugkar, Bharat Ramaswami, Mahesh Shelar, January 2006; Discussion Paper 06-05, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi , India.

* Full paper at http://www.isid.ac.in/~planning/workingpapers/dp06-05.pdf

Abstract: Liberalization, stronger intellectual property rights laws and the commercialization of biotechnology have led the private sector to become an important supplier of varietal technology in agriculture in developed and developing countries. The departure from the public sector driven Green Revolution model has given rise to new concerns about competition in the seed market. India's cotton seed market exemplifies these new developments. This study examines the evolution in its market structure and the factors that underlie the changes.

The study finds that while the private sector has grown rapidly in the last decade (when these policies and technological developments were operative), their dominance of the market cannot be ascribed directly to any of the conventionally cited factors. Furthermore, despite more than a decade after the removal of FDI restrictions, the presence of foreign majors is limited. The rapid growth has been driven by domestic firms.
The growth was not accompanied by greater consolidation in the industry. As the proprietary market has grown, more private players have come into the market eating away at the share of the market leaders. However, the leading brands do possess some market power which at the retail level is shared with the seed dealer.

With Bt cotton, the seed industry encompasses a seed market as well as a technology market. To some extent, biosafety laws have protected the monopoly of the incumbent which has received a significant first mover advantage. However, the market structure is not frozen because of diffusion from illegal seeds, competition from alternative gene suppliers and changing regulatory practices.

Introduction and Plan of Study: As subjects of study, seed markets in developing countries have been on the fringes of the literature on agricultural development. The reason is not difficult to seek. For most crops, farmers are themselves the principal source of seed. The task of agricultural development has been seen as primarily one of delivering new technologies to farmers via the public sector, whether in the form of seeds, chemicals and production practices. Thus, issues such as the choice of R&D strategies, the adoption of new technologies by farmers, and the welfare gains from such dissemination have been prominent in the literature. Lipton and Longhurst (1989) is a comprehensive survey of the Green Revolution experience in developing countries.

In recent years, the private sector has become an important supplier of varietal technology in agriculture. Although the trend is most prominent in the developed countries, the retreat of the public sector from seed distribution and seed production is noticeable in developing countries too (Morris, 2002). In developing countries, while a private seed sector has always existed in some form (Pray and Ramaswami, 1991), their working has received much more public attention in recent years.

As part of WTO commitments, developing countries have introduced plant breeders rights and product patents in the last decade. The pros and cons of this debate have highlighted the response of private sector to intellectual property rights. While the proponents of intellectual property rights (IPRs) have stressed how it would lead private firms to invest more in agricultural research, the opponents have emphasized how private firms will use the monopoly power granted by IPRs to the detriment of farmers. This debate has gained additional salience with the advent of plant biotechnology. Unlike conventional plant breeding, the private sector has pioneered the commercialization of plant biotechnology products.

What do these developments mean for small farmers? In particular, would the industry become monopolised and would that lead small farmers to be priced out of the market? Such fears have been expressed by civil society organizations and academics. For instance, a fairly typical comment is that "The Indian seed industry is rapidly moving into a phase of ‘corporate control over seeds’ with the introduction of transgenic crops" (Shiva, Emani and Jafri, 1999)

In this paper, we study India's cotton seed market to examine the evolution in its market structure and the factors that underlie the changes. The Indian cotton seed market is an excellent case to examine the impact of liberalization, IPRs and biotechnology on market structure. With about $250 million in sales, the Indian cotton seed sector is one of the largest cotton seed markets in the world. It has also been growing rapidly, doubling in value within a short period. While products of public sector breeding traditionally dominated this sector, it is private seed companies that now account for the bulk of value.

These dynamics are paralleled by a sea change in the business environment over the last decade and a half. The economic reforms of 1991 lifted barriers to investments by foreign firms as well as by large Indian firms. The introduction of plant breeders’ rights through the Plant Variety Protection Act and the commercialization of plant biotechnology products also seem to enhance the advantages of large firms (whether foreign or domestic) with formidable marketing and technological capabilities.

In terms of value, the cotton seeds market is the largest among the crops where the private sector has a presence (other important markets are maize, sorghum and pearl millet). Furthermore, this is the sector that has also seen new products based on genetic engineering. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that this is the sector where changes in market structure are likely to have been the most important.

Conclusions: Three phases have marked the growth of the hybrid cotton seed market in India. The first phase, beginning in the early 1970s and upto the early 1990s, was the period of public sector hybrids. The second phase ending around 2003, was when the proprietary seed market established itself. The third phase which is just beginning and which has yet to play out, is one where the market is being shaped by transgenic cotton.

The proprietary seed market was dominated by a few firms in its early days. However, as the hybrid seed market consisted largely of public hybrids, market power was unlikely to have been large. As proprietary seed market grew, concentration fell and by widely used criteria, the proprietary seed market is highly competitive in 2004/05. Furthermore, we saw that the set of market leaders has changed over the period 1996/97 to 2004/05 because of entry and exit from this set. When market leadership is examined regionally, we see that over the four principal markets, there are as many as 9 firms that are among the top 5 firms in each of these markets.

Therefore, whether judged by concentration indices, the entry and exit among market leaders or regional variation in market leadership, the evidence is solidly in favour of the hypothesis that the hybrid seed market is competitive. The market may not satisfy the text book definition of competition as it is likely some of the firms possess market power because of differentiated products. However, the market is highly contested and it therefore seems unlikely that monopoly profits are being earned.


What’s Your Genetic Literacy Score?

- Ker Than, Live Science, August 14, 2006 http://www.livescience.com

I wrote about a paper appearing in Science today that compares public acceptance of evolution in the United States versus other countries http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060810_evo_rank.html.

As part of the study, the researchers reviewed surveys in which adults were given 10 True or False statements (listed below) to test their understanding of basic concepts from genetics.
Each correct answer was worth one point. The median score for American adults was 4. How do you fare?

1. Ordinary tomatoes do not have genes, whereas genetically modified tomatoes do.
2. Genetically modified animals are always larger than ordinary animals.
3. Cloning is a form of reproduction in which offspring result from the union of sperm and egg.

4. Today it is not possible to transfer genes from humans to animals.
5. If someone eats a genetically modified fruit, there is a risk that a person’s genes might be modified too.
6. All plants and animals have DNA.

7. Today it is not possible to transfer genes from animals to plants.
8. Humans have somewhat less than half of the DNA in common with chimpanzees.
9.. It is possible to extract stem cells from human embryos without destroying the embryos.
10. All humans share exactly the same DNA.

Answers at http://www.livescience.com/blogs/2006/08/10/whats-your-genetic-literacy-score/