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September 20, 2010


When Our Friends Lie; Indian Super Potato; EU Tome on Regulation; FDA Versus Africa; Salmon Safe?


* When Our Friends Lie
* Transgenic Indian superspuds pack more protein
* The EU Legislation on GMOs An overview
* The FDA Versus Africa
* Plant Science Industry Establishes The Compact
* How Safe Would Genetically Modified Salmon Be to Eat?

When Our Friends Lie

- Kevin Folta, BioFortified, Sept. 19, 2010

Last night I woke up in a fog, face down on the couch, fully dressed with my work clothes on. It was 3:44 AM and the artifacts around me described the scene. A partially eaten salad, my glasses crooked on my head, a laptop with an exhausted battery and the television running an infomercial led me to the conclusion that I closed my eyes for a minute while eating dinner and drifted off to sleep.

Fumbling with the remote, I clicked through a few middle-of-the-night stations. Theres a vibrating weight to firm womens arms. Click. A guy with a tie on a news station says that climate change is a hoax. Click. A woman on the next channel lost fifty pounds in a month eating just cookies. Click. A former playboy playmate says that vaccines are dangerous. Another channel has a person claiming evidence that the terrorist attack on 9-11 was an inside job.

I turn off the television, put on my jammies and head off to bed, my dog Stinkie following behind. The claims of kooks go in one ear, rattle around for a moment and then leave out the other.

We are bombarded with junk science, all the time, every day. I dont get mad, I consider the source and let it go. They have an agenda, they have to appeal to viewers, and if subscribing to anti-science or abject untruth is their method then so be it. Financial and political gains are there to be had if you can fool enough people.

Later that day I was writing in my blog and my eyes were attracted to an active link in the browser. It said something about anti-GMO, and being an educator specializing in plant biotechnology I clicked the link. It took me to the website of an organic farm, an organic farm that has substantial market share and products in every supermarket. Ill leave out the name because I dont paint them in a favorable light from this point. Whats the anti-GMO link all about?

I was really disappointed. Reading along in their website reminds me that they too are just another brand of sales pitch, using lies, fear and deceit to sell a product. Their website says:

there is evidence that GM foods have an increased risk of causing allergic reactions, and uncontrollable cross-pollination depletes crop diversity which has resulted in resistant super-weeds and super-pests. Its clear that the primary benefits of GM seeds are to the seed and pesticide companies, not to growers or consumers. And many risks are as of yet unknown.

Wow. Scary huh? Either someone drank the Kool-Aid (undoubtedly Organic Red flavor) or I missed a whole bunch of critical science reports. The same website goes on to say that it is in the mission of the company to fight the use of GMO foods. Just like the goofballs on mid-night television and syndicated radio, they resort to stretching and bending the truth to advance their cause. Rather than rest on the merits of their product, they attack a proven science with bogus assertions to increase sales.

This makes me really sad. I like organic farms and their mission to raise healthy food with fewer agricultural inputs. Im all about the environment and worker health. No problem. Theres a great place for that and its niche is growing. So why taint a good idea by perpetuating boldface lies, attacking science?

For contrast, White Wave, makers of Silk soy products simply states that their products are non-GMO and that they are rigorously screened to ensure NOP standards. Thats fine. They dont attack the sound science of GMO crops, they just say that they dont use them. Sure, the implication is that GMOs are evil and substandard, but they dont come out and say it. Like non-alcoholic beer or decaf, there is a market for products lacking certain ingredients and I think that it is fine to state it that way.

My objection is when a company that wants to do the right thing falls victim to using lies, distortion and hyperbole to sell their products. They dont want to inform the consumer, they want to scare the consumer. It is like when someone doesnt buy the extra ten minutes at the psychic and she says, I cant be responsible if anything bad happens because you left too soon. Those inclined to believe the psychic plunk down ten bucks. The same with the people that dont want to take that GMO chance because many risks are yet unknown. Jenny McCarthy says the same thing about vaccines.

If I sat down with the owners of the organic farm that employs these methods, wed likely find that we have more similarities than differences. Wed probably listen to the same radio stations, vote in similar patterns and subscribe to similar social philosophies. Wed share similar concerns about the environment and sustainable food production. Wed probably trade some CDs and compliment each other on our sandals.

So as their friend, shouldnt I hold them extra accountable for their misgivings? I think so. I can write climate science letters to Glenn Beck all day and never get an answer, but will the kinder, gentler organic farmers want to start a real scientific dialogue? I decided to write a letter to the company. I asked them to substantiate their claim with peer-reviewed science.

To their credit, I received a polite reply from their customer service person, but geez, was she ever duped. She provided non-refereed opinions on the harm of GMO, links to the Huffington Post and at best non-replicated studies in poor-quality journals. Anything she gave me from a legitimate journal was cherry picked and it was clear that she never read the actual article.

We traded emails for a few days (me being gentle and scholarly always) before she stopped responding. Clearly she had made up her mind and didnt want to be bothered by evidence. Certainly evidence stands counter to their non-scientific claims that pander to their consumer, and if they come clean and halt the anti-GMO rhetoric they can lose market share to someone that will. Lies are a part of their advertising.

Im going to continue to monitor websites, parse labels, and hold them accountable for facts. I urge you to do so too. These folks are on my side, I want to support them, and as their ally I owe them the input of my expertise. He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help, it was once said.

Like the late night huckster that sees dollars when he spews half truth, this company too will probably defend their use of distorted facts and lies if it means scaring concerned people into buying their products. Funny, I just buy them because I appreciate their quality and like to support small farms and low-input ag.

You dont have to be a dupe of the anti-GMO machine to share that opinion.

Kevin Folta is an Associate Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Armed with a fist-full of genome data and the molecular toolkit to put it to work, his goal is to exploit technology to its fullest to feed more people, more nutritious food, with less environmental impact. Unfortunately, well-meaning science deniers stand to obstruct this mission. Wielding the steely sword of science and the velveteen fist of rhetoric, Kevin seeks to win their hearts and change their minds so that we can advance the cause of using biotechnology to feed more people with less harm to our planet.


Transgenic Indian superspuds pack more protein

- Debora MacKenzie, Sept. 20, 2010 New Scientist

A genetically modified (GM) potato has been created that makes up to 60 per cent more protein per gram than ordinary potatoes. But even with that help spuds don't contain much protein, so that's not the most interesting part: in a surprise result, the GM crop also yielded more potato per hectare. This is the first time that a simple genetic modification has increased yield.

Potatoes are an increasingly popular way to increase food production in India, China and other developing countries. The tubers are mainly carbohydrate, but they also contain a little protein: a medium (150-gram) spud contains 3 grams of protein, about 6 per cent of the US recommended daily allowance. The GM variety's extra 60 per cent raises that to 4.8 grams nearly 10 per cent of the recommended amount.

Subra Chakraborty and colleagues at India's Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla created the high-protein "protato" in 2003 by giving potatoes a gene from the grain amaranth, a South American plant widely eaten across the tropics, including India. The gene codes for a "storage" protein in amaranth seeds, but in the protato it was linked to a DNA code that turns on production of the storage protein in tubers.

The team has now spliced this gene into seven commercial potato varieties, and field-tested them for several seasons. This is crucial, as GM crops often behave differently in the lab and the field.

Some tubers contained almost twice as much protein as the prototype, with increases in several essential amino acids. Tests in rats and rabbits revealed no toxic or allergic effects. However, the plants also photosynthesised more, and produced 15 to 25 per cent more potatoes per hectare by weight the only time this has ever been reported for a plant with just one extra gene.

Hungry millions
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 925 million people will suffer chronic hunger this year. "Despite promises that GM crops could make a significant contribution to achieving global food security," Chakraborty and colleagues write, such crops have so far mostly been used for industry or fodder, not for boosting human nutrition. The researchers hope their potatoes will change that.

Merideth Bonierbale, head of crop improvement at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, says her organisation has chosen to develop potatoes with high levels of iron and zinc, because their lack is a severe problem in many countries and just a little more in potatoes could make a big difference in people's diets. The International Potato Center's potatoes are made without genetic modification.

Chakraborty says the team is applying to Indian regulators for permission to sell the potato. As to whether the GM spud tastes different, he says: "Our data suggests better cooking, processing quality and palatability."

Original paper at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/09/13/1006265107


The EU Legislation on GMOs An overview


It gives an overview of the EU regulatory framework for GMOs related to release into the environment, food and feed use, authorisation procedures, traceability and labelling, GMO detection, updated coexistence guidelines and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.


The FDA Versus Africa


Hysteria over genetically modified crops hampers solutions to diarrhea mortality.

Since May, cholera has killed nearly 800 people in Nigeria and Cameroon alone, and the World Health Organization has recorded nearly 4,000 cases in the Lake Chad Basin. Inadequate access to clean water means that waterborne diseases like cholera spread rapidly, causing extreme diarrhea and deadly dehydration if left untreated. The U.N. estimates that diarrheal diseases kill 1.8 million people every year.

So you might take it as good news that American company Ventria Bioscience says it has hit on an improvement to existing rehydration therapies, which could mean another tool in the fight against diarrhea deaths. Ventria's product consists of a genetically modified rice strain from which it cheaply extracts two proteins also found in human breast milk. After a panel of food, medicine, immunology, child nutrition and health experts had declared its product safe, Ventria in 2004 submitted it as a food supplement to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The company waited, and heard nothing. Ventria re-submitted the product with still more data on its safety and efficacy, and then waited some more. Ventria CEO Scott Deeter tells us that in March this year, "when it became clear that the final approval letter was not forthcoming," the company withdrew its submission.

Technically, Ventria doesn't need the FDA's approval to market its product as a food supplement. In the real world, however, it does. "The first question we get from potential partners and customers in the U.S. and around the world is 'has the FDA responded to your product's submission with a 'no further questions' letter?'" Mr. Deeter explains. Without that letter, the financial risks of producing and marketing the product become prohibitive. Nor has the FDA been of much further assistance. "The FDA never gave us any kind of roadmap," Mr. Deeter adds, saying his company is now "trying to determine the best approach."

The FDA has declined to specify why it never gave Ventria the all-clear. But an FDA spokesman told us that "a company that markets its substance without receiving FDA review of the basis for its GRAS [Generally Recognized As Safe] determination runs the risk of FDA enforcement action if the agency finds that the intended use of the substance is not truly GRAS."

At the root of Ventria's problems is the hysteria over genetically modified crops, fanned by groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Though millions of Americans have been ingesting genetically modified produce for years with no discernible harm, the World Health Organization and the European Commission continue to call for caution, citing risks such as contamination of other crops and damage to human DNA.

"This is a laymen's fallacy, but at the same time, I understand where the regulators are coming from," says Somen Nandi, who previously worked for Ventria and now serves as managing director of the Global HealthShare Initiative at the University of California Davis's Center of Excellence in Nutritional Genomics. "The perception problem is a very complex one," he adds. "The regulators don't want to take a risk, and the political pressure on them is high, so they move very slowly."

Beyond Ventria, genetic engineering promises still more help for African health. We spoke recently with Hiroshi Kiyono, a professor at the University of Tokyo's Division of Mucosal Immunology, where researchers are developing an oral cholera vaccine using genetically modified rice, dubbed "MucoRice." Mr. Kiyono says one of MucoRice's advantages over existing cholera vaccines is that it can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration, which would make it a practical option in the developing world. The Japanese team aren't yet at the stage where they have to convince regulators of their product's safety. "But we do have to be aware of those sensitivity issues, it is very important for trying to explain and convince people," said Mr. Kiyono.

Perhaps when MucoRice's time for approval comes, scientists, politicians and regulators will have learned to brave activists' wrath in favor of empirical evidence. Until then, innovators like Ventria will remain justifiably wary, and options to lower diarrhea mortality will remain unavailable to those who need them.


Plant Science Industry Establishes The Compact

http://www.croplife.org/ ]http://www.croplife.org/

Industry-Developed Liability and Redress Arbitration Framework Is Commitment to Responsible Technology Use

Brussels, 15 September 2010 CropLife International today announced that The Compact, a clearly defined, efficient, and fair process for countries to file and process claims related to damage to biological diversity caused by living modified organisms (LMOs), is now in force. Members of the Compact include the six major plant biotechnology providers BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta.

The plant science industrys commitment to stewardship and the responsible development and use of living modified organisms has helped to ensure there has been no negative impact on biological diversity for over fifteen years of commercialization, said Denise Dewar, Executive Director of Plant Biotechnology at CropLife International. It is this dedication to rigorous science-based risk assessment, risk management and stewardship that has made plant biotechnology an essential tool for farmers as they work to increase crop productivity and reduce agricultures environmental footprint.

The Compact was first introduced in May 2008 to national governments and food value chain stakeholders as a first: an innovative private sector-established option to domestic and international liability laws that provides redress and financial security in the event of damage to biological diversity caused by LMOs. Since 2008, The Compacts founding members have developed the framework and guidelines for filing and arbitrating claims. The Compact defines a clear, science-based process for resolving claims alleging damage to biological diversity where binding decisions are made by independent commissioners and arbitrators under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), located in The Hague.

There is no doubt that the Compact is at the cutting edge of innovation in the resolution of transnational disputes, a 21st century solution which could hardly have been conceived of only a generation ago, said Jan Paulsson, President of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration. The prospect of neutral decisions, timely decision-making and reliable enforcement on the consensual basis established in the Compact is likely to generate emulation in other technologically advanced fields as well. One can only applaud The Compacts members, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the world community for forging a unique private-public arbitration regime to address claims of damage to biological diversity from the use of living modified organisms.

Today, biotech crops are grown on 134 million hectares in 25 countries, including several major agricultural exporting countries. Guidelines on the import, transfer, handling, and domestic use of living modified organisms, including how to address damage to biological diversity, can have significant impact on international trade. The introduction of The Compact provides States assurance of an objective and independent procedure for evaluating and arbitrating claims of, and remedying damage to, biological diversity. The implementation of such a framework supports smooth trade transactions in the agricultural community.


How Safe Would Genetically Modified Salmon Be to Eat?

Watch at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/video/module.html?s=news01s439dqf77

'questions over whether to allow genetically engineered animals in the marketplace.'

MARGARET WARNER: For salmon lovers, the choice facing them at the supermarket is now, fresh salmon or wild? But, soon, there may be another option: salmon that have been genetically modified to grow faster.

The Food and Drug Administration is holding three days of hearings this week on whether to permit the new breed to be sold. Though genetically modified crops are widely used in packaged foods, this salmon, if OKed, would be the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption.

Today's FDA advisory committee hearing pitted consumer and environmental advocates warning of potential dangers to the health of humans and wild fish against promoters like the CEO of the Massachusetts company, AquaBounty, which is seeking the approval.

The FDA must also decide whether to require the genetically modified salmon to be labeled as such.

For our own debate, we turn to Val Giddings, an independent biotechnology consultant to governments and companies. He's former vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Association -- Organization, which is advocating approval. He has also advised AquaBounty in the past on unrelated matters. And Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union and the publisher of "Consumer Reports" -- that is, Consumers Union is the publisher of "Consumer Reports." Both men attended today's FDA advisory hearing outside Washington.