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December 9, 2010


GM food is Sharia Compliant; Blaming Jairam Ramesh; Dr. Oz’s Bias; Popular Misconceptions; Environmental Subterfuge


* GM Food is Sharia Compliant: Islamic Scholars
* Sharad Joshi blames Ramesh for no to GM crops
* Dr. Oz Talks to a noted scientist and two activists
* Dr. Oz asks who can we trust when it comes to Genetically Engineered Crops?
* Alleviating World Hunger: GM Crops - YouTube
* The Environmental Impact Subterfuge
* Popular Misconceptions: Agricultural Biotechnology
* Demand for regulatory services, an African challenge
* Are GM Crops Africa's Path to Food Security?

GM Food is Sharia Compliant: Islamic Scholars

- Workshop Resolutions and Recommendations, International Workshop for Islamic Scholars & Experts of Modern Biotechnology “Agribiotechnology: Shariah Compliance; Penang, Malaysia. Dec, 1-2, 2010

The world population has almost tripled since 1960 and the percentage of undernourished people has also increased steadily. Besides being net importers of food and agricultural products, Muslim countries [members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)] are mostly least developed countries, characterized by rampant hunger and extreme poverty whereby close to 2.7 billion poor people spend 80% of their income on food. Food availability and accessibility for the Muslims should therefore be addressed to identify strategies to solve this problem in the midst of increased population, food and energy demand, decreasing food production resources and climate change.

Crops developed through modern methods of plant breeding termed as biotechnology (biotech) or genetically modified (GM) crops such as soybean, corn, canola and cotton with improved quality and quantity traits available in the market (biotic stress and herbicide tolerance) have been accepted and being cultivated globally in 25 countries (in 2009) and are being used as food and feed in a majority of other countries. The efforts for improvement of crop plants with tolerance to abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity (which are more relevant to the needs of OIC countries) are also ongoing. Records show that almost all members of the OIC have been importing these commodities from the large GM crop producing countries. In continuing promotion of global acceptance of biotech crops, OIC

Members and Islamic scholars should be aware of genetic modification, GM crops and their benefits to accept the biotech agricultural products as Halal for the society.
With a focus on alleviating the existing food problems and poverty, the International Workshop of Islamic Scholars and Experts in Modern Biotechnolgy on “Agri-biotechnology: Shariah Compliance” held in Penang, Malaysia on 1-2 December 2010, agreed upon the following resolutions:

1. Islam and science are complementary and Islam supports beneficial scientific innovations for mankind. Modern biotechnology and genetic engineering are important developments that merit promotion in all OIC Members. Regulatory measures should facilitate the acceptance and use of GM products particularly by Muslims. Genetic modification and GM products are Halal as long as the sources from which they originate are Halal. The only Haram cases are limited to products derived from Haram origin retaining their original characteristics that are not substantially changed.

2. Modern biotechnology and genetic engineering are methods of plant improvement and intrinsically are not different from other plant improvement techniques from the shariah point of view.

3. In ensuring food security, our Islamic obligations require us to urge all Muslim countries, governments, international organizations and research institutions, to support research and development and use of modern biotechnology, genetic engineering and their products.

4. Because of their positive impacts on agriculture and the urgency of food security for Muslim Ummah, promotion of modern biotechnology and genetic engineering are considered "Fardhu Kifayah" (collective obligation) and should not be neglected from the shariah point of view.

5. Public awareness and education on modern biotechnology and genetic engineering, demand continuous interaction between the Islamic scholars, scientists and the general public.

6. Transparent and complete scientific information should be available for the interested stakeholders for informed decision making.


Sharad Joshi blames Ramesh for no to GM crops

- Press Trust of India, December 09, 2010

Blaming Environment minister Jairam Ramesh's "predisposition due to politics" as the reason behind government's no to GM crops, a pro-biotech crops group led by farm leader Sharad Joshi today advocated allowing farmers to cultivate genetically modified agri produce.

Joshi and others cited demonstrable benefits of Bt cotton in support of their pro-biotech crops argument.

"Over 25 countries including USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and many European nations are successfully cultivating biotech crops...There is no scientific logic in government resistance to GM crops citing health hazards," Joshi told reporters.
Besides Joshi, Director National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) P Anand Kumar, Plant Molecular Physiologist I S Dua and Director National Seeds Association of India (NSAI) N K Dadlani also spoke during the press meet.

The meet was organised by ABLE (Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises), the collective face of Indian Biotech Industry. Joshi, founder of Shetkari Sanghatana, attributed the government disapproval to the GM crops to Jairam Ramesh's "predisposition guided by politics".

Indian government had in mid-February this year issued a moratorium on the development of GM aubergine (Bt Brinjal, as it is known locally).

Joshi, former Member of Parliament, said the opinion (on adoption of latest agri technology especially biotech crops) is mixed even in the principal opposition party BJP. "While a group of new breed of leaders within BJP are in favour of adopting latest farm technology another one represented by Murli Manohar Joshi and Hukumdeo Narain Yadav (both MPs) favour old agricultural practises," he added.

Joshi and others highlighted merits of biotech crops which they said have no negative impact on environment and human health. "GM technology helps in mixing seed faster than hybridisation process and can help in developing drought-resistant crops," Joshi added.

"Seeds developed through GM technology can survive in extreme climate (over 48 degree celsius and below zero degree celsius)", he said.

Ravichandran, a farmer from Tamil Nadu, citing success story of Bt cotton made a strong case for biotech crops. "Indian farmers are intelligent enough to judge if genetically modified crops are beneficial or not," he said.

Joshi and others said Bt cotton has helped India become second largest producer and exporter of cotton in the world.

'Jairam Ramesh to blame for no to GM crops'
- Indian Express, Dec 09 2010,


Dr. Oz Talks to a scientist and two activists. Watch the 3 videos at http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-1

Are genetically engineered foods safe? Dr. Oz leads an investigation to find out. See how you can protect your family.

You can also watch the video in one segment at

You are probably eating genetically modified foods and don’t even know it. As much as 80% of all packaged foods contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms). You have the right to know what you’re serving your family. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about GMOs and what they mean for your health.

For years, scientists have been cross-breeding plants and animals to create the most desirable traits for our food. For example, the Golden Delicious apple is merged with the Kid's Orange-Red breed of apple to create the particular flavor and heartiness of the Gala apple. For over a century these practices were limited to combining the traits of organisms only within the same species.

Today, due to advances in biotechnology, that is no longer the case. Scientists can now genetically engineer different species so that they share the same genetic material. They do so by extracting DNA from one species and injecting it into another. These genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are commonly used in the food industry to create plants and seeds that are not only resistant to certain insects and pesticides, but can be grown in less than favorable conditions.

GMOs are highly controversial, but there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the debate.

Heavily Tested: There have been a great number of studies tracking the effects of GMOs on animals. Overwhelmingly, these studies indicate that GMOs are safe to consume.

Impact on Farming: GMOs allow plants to be modified to grow in environments that would be normally inhospitable.

Cheaper Food: Easier farming means more food which, in turn, means less expensive food. This is not only beneficial for the average consumer, but it can have global implications: less expensive food makes it easier to feed hungry populations around the world.

Increased Nutritional Value: GMOs can be modified to have greater nutritional value than the organism would have naturally. For example, scientists, hoping to eliminate the need for post-harvest processing, have genetically modified rice to contain significantly higher amounts of vitamin A. This “golden rice” is not yet legal in most countries, but experts expect it to be within the next few years.


Dr. Oz asks who can we trust when it comes to Genetically Engineered Crops?

- Pamela Ronald, December 7, 2010 8:20 PM, by

Click here to see the Dr. Oz show on GE crops with yours truly. I tried to provide a science-based perspective to the audience.

It was a tough go, though, because one of the other panelists (Jeffery Smith, a former Iowa political candidate for the Natural Law Party with no discernible scientific or agricultural training) believes that eating GE crops causes infertility, organ damage and endocrine disruption. Of course, the scientific evidence for these statements is about as strong as saying that looking at carrots will give you brain tumors.

Can the audience glean that from the information presented on the show? I am afraid not.

What we do know is that after 14 years of consumption there has been not a single instance of harm to human health or the environment (and many indisputable benefits).

I did my best to refute the worst "woo woo pseudoscience" but it was difficult. I asked the producers (who were very nice by the way) to remove the scary graphics and bullet points but no luck. I argued that showing that stuff would tarnish Dr. Oz's reputation and harm his viewers (who are now probably terrified- I can just imagine my mother-in-law taking note on all the "points" made).

I had a chance to plug some great science-based, academic, non-profit sites (bioforitifed,org, ucbiotech.org and academicsreview.org) but all of my case specific examples (reduced insecticide use in GE cotton fields, enhanced biodiversity, disease resistant papaya, Golden rice) were cut from the TV version. I guess the producers did not want to mix too much scientific evidence in there with the fantastical stuff.

The show demonstrates yet again that as scientists, we cannot dismiss the general anxiety about genetic engineering, and the distrust of science and scientists in general.

So how can we help the public understand the scientific process and learn to distinguish high-quality scientific research that has stood the test of time and can largely be relied on from simple assertions or unsubstantiated rumors?

This is one of the reasons Raoul and I wrote our book. We included a chapter describing how non-scientist can distinguish between fact and fiction. As an example of psedoscience riddled with conflicts of interests and errors, just take a look at Smith.

To "demonstrate" that genetic engineering is dangerous, Smith cites the experiment of a seventeen-year-old student who fed mice genetically engineered potatoes. According to the referenced Web site, " . . . [the mice] fed GM ate more, probably because they were slightly heavier on average to begin with, but they gained less weight." In addition, " . . . marked behavioral diff erences" were observed though, the boy admitted, "these were 'subjective' and not quantitative." Smith argues that this experiment demonstrates that GE food may have negative effects on the "human psyche" and concludes that the boy "has put the scientists to shame." The implication is that the public can trust this experiment carried out by a student, unhampered by scientific training but not those of peer-reviewed research. Smith ignores the fact that this experiment conducted by a teenager was not subjected to the rigorous methods that are inherent to the scientific process.

In the case of the boy and the mice, I found that the reference given for the boy's work was to another Web site, and that that web site referred to even another Web site (which is now defunct as far as I can tell). It turns out that the only documentation of this "experiment" was a chance meeting with the boy's mother, who was the source of the "scientific information." "Mum Guusje is very proud of her son. . . ."

Why would someone cite a conversation with a boy's mother as science? Either Smith lacks a basic understanding of the scientific process, or he simply does not care, or both (or something even more sinister--). But he should care; for this kind of deception only confuses and frightens people.

Most people would agree that a mother usually believes the best about her son. Therefore, a mother's recommendation represents a clear conflict of interest in such a case. Studies tainted by such undisclosed conflicts of interests are a major concern in the debate about genetic engineering. If the only peer-reviewed data on the benefits of GE crops were supplied by parties whose primary concern is not the public good but private interest, then the public would have reason to question the integrity of the research (which is why I try to cite only non-profit peer-reviewed research). Similarly, if a person with a strong stance on the use of GE in agriculture is an employee of a for-profit biotechnology or organic industry, such employment should be disclosed because a conflict of interest may exist.

(Full disclosure: All the research in my lab is funded by non-profit sources. The salaries of Raoul and I are paid by UC Davis and government grants. Neither of us are paid by biotechnology companies or the organic industry).

See all Readers comments including this one

Well, I’m speechless. The cards were even more stacked against you than I thought. I have written and sent the following to Dr. Oz.

Dear Dr. Oz,
On your genetically-modified foods segment today (12/7/2010) you promoted pseudo-science and manipulated your interview to disregard evidence from the scientific community, peer-reviewed research, and rational discourse. You allowed claims by guests who are not scientists to go unchallenged by you (who has a scientific background), and you did not allow your audience to hear compelling evidence from a nationally and internationally recognized and highly esteemed scientist.

What do you win by appealing to the lowest common denominator? We in this great nation have lost yet another opportunity to understand a scientific process: one that in combination with sustainable, organic agriculture (terms which also, by the way, need more specific definition) may solve many of our nation’s long-term challenges concerning our health and the availability of nutritious foods for our families.

I challenge you to host scientists on yet another show to review what genetic engineering involves – more than a simplistic change of the color on the rungs of two ladders – and to seriously discuss the subject. I believe that your audience deserves this and can understand far more than you or your staff has given them credit for.

I await your response.

Respectfully, Virginia Powers; Posted by: Ginny Powers | December 7, 2010 9:26 PM


Alleviating World Hunger: Genetically Modified Crops and Developing
Countries (video, 4:06)

YouTube Video by Parker Teufel Dec. 7, 2010


A visual essay calling for the increased used of Genetically Modified
crops to help alleviate world hunger in developing countries. (Thanks, Andy!)


The Environmental Impact Subterfuge

- Gregory Conko & Henry I Miller, Nature Biotechnology 28, 1256–1258 (2010) doi:10.1038/nbt.1730

In August, a federal judge revoked the USDA's approval of Roundup Ready sugar beets, which represent 95% of the crop now grown in the United States.

The latest weapon used in the misinformation war against recombinant DNA technology and its agricultural applications is an obscure environmental law from the seventies. Green activists and organic farmers are exploiting the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) to convince courts that inconsequential paperwork oversights by regulators at the US Department of Agriculture warrant the revocation of two final approvals for recombinant DNA–modified crop varieties and of the issuance of permits to test several others. At least one more case is pending.

Under NEPA, all US federal government agencies are required to consider the effects that any “major actions” they take may have on the “human environment.” Agencies can exempt whole categories of routine or repetitive activities but most other decisions—such as the issuance of a new regulation, the location of a new bridge or the approval of a new agricultural technology—trigger the NEPA obligation to evaluate environmental impacts. If the agency concludes that the action will have “no significant impact” (a legal term of art), it issues a relatively brief Environmental Assessment explaining the basis for that decision. If significant effects are likely, though, the agency must prepare a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which typically requires thousands of hours of work, details every imaginable effect and runs to hundreds (or even thousands) of pages.

Time for NEPA reform
Remarkably, because the NEPA obligation is purely procedural, US courts are not permitted to consider the fact that recombinant DNA–modified herbicide-resistant crop varieties have offsetting benefits to farmers, consumers and the natural environment. The mere fact that the USDA did not properly document its evaluation of potential negative effects is sufficient grounds for revoking the approval.

The only function of NEPA is to ensure that agencies do in fact consider whether their actions may harm the environment. This is a laudable goal, but it is manifestly not the intention of most NEPA litigation. Instead, the statute has been hijacked by environmental activists to slow down or prevent government agencies from taking actions the activists do not like. Because the law requires agencies to consider almost any conceivable impact, the statute offers fertile ground for bad-faith, obstructionist litigation no matter how meticulous the agency is in preparing an Environmental Assessment or EIS.

NEPA is therefore a recipe for stagnation, a particular problem for 'gatekeeper' regulatory agencies that must grant approvals before a product can be tested or commercialized. Something must be done to change the system. But what? Short of substantive reform of the underlying statute by Congress—the preferable and definitive solution—agencies themselves can take some minor steps to mitigate the Act's worst effects.

Under the NEPA statute, every agency may establish a set of 'categorical exclusions' that exempt whole classes or types of activities from the EIS obligation. These may include routine or repetitive actions that, on the basis of past experience, do not involve significant impacts on natural, cultural, recreational, historic or other resources; and also those that do not otherwise, either individually or cumulatively, have any significant environmental impacts. Because they fall into those categories, APHIS has already categorically excluded most small-scale field trials of recombinant DNA–modified plants.

The exclusion stipulates that all large-scale field tests, as well as any field release of recombinant DNA–modified organisms involving unusual species or novel modifications, still generally require an Environmental Assessment or EIS. But the list of excluded or included activities can be modified through notice-and-comment rulemaking, in which the agency sets forth the complete analysis and rationale for excluding the activity. At the very least, APHIS should consider categorically excluding some of the classes of recombinant DNA–modified crops with which it now has more than two decades' worth of precommercial and commercial experience, including herbicide-tolerant varieties of common crop species.

The most rational and definitive approach, however, would be to eliminate the agency action that triggers the NEPA obligation initially—namely, case-by-case reviews of virtually all field trials and the commercialization of recombinant DNA–modified plant varieties. That would offer the dual advantages of relieving the USDA's NEPA difficulties and also making regulators' approach to recombinant DNA technology more scientifically defensible and risk based. As the scientific community has explained for over two decades, the decision to subject recombinant and conventional organisms to different regulatory standards cannot be justified scientifically. The increasing prevalence of obstructionist litigation now shows that doing so is also wholly impractical.

Recent NEPA lawsuits have prevented the marketing of products that offer palpable, demonstrated benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment. Nuisance litigation intended to slow the advance of socially responsible technologies are abusive, irresponsible and antisocial. And so are those who file them. It is long past time for NEPA's burdensome paperwork requirements to be lifted from such an important and beneficial technology.
Gregory Conko is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.


Popular Misconceptions: Agricultural Biotechnology

- Alan McHughen and Robert Wager, New Biotechnology Vol. 27, No. 6, December 2010 www.elsevier.com/locate/nbt1871-6784/$

Agricultural biotechnology, especially genetic engineering or genetic modification (GM), is a topic of considerable controversy worldwide. The public debate is fraught with polarized views and opinions, some are held with religious zeal. Unfortunately, it is also marked with much ignorance and misinformation. Here we explore some popular misconceptions encountered in the public debate.

This dichotomy between medical and agricultural applications of the same technology likely contributed to a common belief in scientific circles that public skepticism of agricultural biotechnology (but not medical biotech) is largely driven by ignorance and that ‘if only we can teach them the science, the public would accept agbiotech as readily as they do medical biotech’. But this is facile, and often incorrect, thinking.

As eloquently articulated by Mohr and Topping [1] in a recent review of consumer behavior, the scientific community should not assume consumer skepticism of agbiotech is owing to sheer and simple ignorance. Clearly, not all antibiotech sentiments are based on the ignorance of agriculture or of the rDNA technical mechanisms; the motivation in at least some cases seems based primarily on commercial and/or socioeconomic factors, not on health or environmental risk. Such players will cite, for example, concerns such as increased domination of the food supply by private corporations, or the likelihood of benefits of GE crops accruing disproportionately to large rich farmers at the expense of smaller, poorer farmers, or of disrupting the international trade dynamic. Although these issues may be legitimate points for discussion and debate, they are not borne of technical ignorance and they are not scientific risk based threats to health or environment.

Other skeptics are indeed simply ignorant, and the ignorance is not solely of molecular genetics or recombinant technologies. Instead, it is ignorance of basic biology and ordinary agriculture and food systems, reinforced by misinformation (so readily available on the internet, where many people now seek information) compounding the problem. The abundance of

Genetic modification (GM) technology is an esoteric field, requiring considerable training to be able to comprehend the capabilities – as well as the limitations – of GM applications in agriculture. Compounding this is the fear factor, a certain level of anxiety and awe of any powerful new technology. It is understandable, then, that the nontechnical public has legitimate concerns and questions: Is it safe? What are the benefits? What are the costs not only in economic terms but also to society and the environment?

Such questions as they relate to plants and crops have been discussed and debated since 1983, when the first plants were reported genetically modified using recombinant DNA technologies at the Miami Winter Symposium. Those and similar questions were also investigated in the professional scientific community, with a steady stream of biosafety investigations into the risks of GM technology conducted by, among others, the US National Academy of Sciences, The American Medical Association, The French Academy of Medicine and the UK Royal Society. Almost invariably, the general conclusion from studies conducted by professional medical and scientific societies was that GM was not entirely risk free, but carried the same kinds of risks as traditional means of genetic improvement.

Although the initial questions and concerns over the risks associated with agricultural biotechnology have largely quieted in scientific circles, the emotional and polemic rhetoric continues in the public debate. Why, if the scientific community is now (mostly) comfortable with the relative safety of GM technology, is the public debate stuck on the same questions and fears raised a quarter century ago? As public scientists and educators, we are struck and deeply concerned by the poor state of scientific literacy among the wider community. Of course, molecular genetics is an arcane and complex field, requiring specialized training to comprehend fully. But the same rDNA technology when applied to medical advances or modern drugmaking engenders little to no public concern at all. If there were something inherently hazardous with the process of recombinant DNA technology, then those GM medical and pharmaceutical products would be just as suspect, perceived as just as hazardous. But they are not. Misinformation leads to a plethora of misunderstandings and misconceptions about agbiotech, which in turn lead to unnecessary anxiety and fear.

Some popular misconceptions
One of the most commonly stated concerns about GM is that it is unnatural, in that GM invariably transfers genes from one species to a different species, thus violating the natural ‘species barrier’, which, according to the belief system of some, does not occur in Nature or by conventional breeding methods. Furthermore, GM is believed to be hazardous because it is ‘fundamentally different’ from traditional breeding, and traditional breeding to them is limited to cross-pollination, which only works between plants in the same species. In contrast, GM involves violent human mediated random insertion of DNA into the crop plant’s genome, an unnatural disruption of the plant’s DNA, in unpredictable, uncontrollable and with potentially hazardous unknown consequences.

In another misconception, organic farmers are told that if a pollen grain from a neighbor’s GM crop floats into the organic crop, the farmer may lose organic status, followed quickly by the company owning the patent on the GM crop claiming legal ownership of the organic farmer’s crop. Another popular misconception, regarding herbicide tolerant (HT) GM crops, holds that GM crop farmers are able to ‘douse’ the HT crops to kill all weeds, leaving the GM crop to thrive [2]. Implicit in this belief is that HT crops are immune to any dose of any herbicide, and that HT crops can only be created by GM technology. Popular media embellish and perpetuate this fear, for example citing GM ‘---superweeds, resistant to herbi- cides, are spreading almost every- where modified crops are grown, often because they have acquired genes though cross-pollination’. [3].

In addition to these globally distributed misconceptions, some are more localized to particular regions. * In 2004 in America, voters in MendocinonCounty, California, banned the cultivation of GMOs in the county and at the same time legally redefined DNA as a protein. * A Judge in the Philippines asks just how strolling through a GM cornfield can cause a man to become gay. * The sident of Zambia rejected food aid for his country (in the midst of a terrible famine) as he was counseled that the GM corn food aid was poisonous. None of these misconceptions are true, in
spite of some people’s sincerely held belief that they are true.

Explanations and refutations
Fortunately, most of the misconceptions are easily refuted, if only to those willing to challenge their cherished beliefs.

Many of those who cite the ‘species barrier’ as a basis for rejecting GM technology will persist in their beliefs even after being shown how genes do indeed cross this ‘barrier’, both by Mother Nature and by the hand of humans conducting traditional plant breeding. An obvious example is bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), an ancient (and natural) hybridization of three different species. More recently, human hands, using conventional breeding techniques, created Triticale, a stable hybrid crop (used mostly for feed) composed of the genomes of rye (Secale cereal) and wheat (T. aestivum), which are not only different species, but different genera and even have differing chromosome numbers. The genomes of many crop species,
when analyzed, show remnants of DNA originating in other species, so the concept of an inviolable ‘natural species barrier’ is demonstrably, flatly, unequivocally, wrong. Of course, conventional breeding cannot effect pollen-mediated hybridization between, say, a tomato plant and a fish. But that is not because the DNA of each is somehow unique or incompatible. This is why it is misleading to talk about a ‘tomato gene’ or a ‘fish gene’, as it perpetuates the misconception that there is something proprietary about fish or tomatoes having distinctive DNA and imparting ‘ownership’ over their respective genes. We know from genetic homology that most genes are shared anyway, with, for example, the human insulin gene being over 90% identical to the insulin gene of a rat [4]. While such homology may not convince skeptics, it will sway many, especially those diabetics who previously controlled their disease by injecting bovine insulin (before the availability of human insulin produced, incidentally, from GM bacteria genetically engineered with inserted human DNA!). But even the skeptics may be surprised to learn that plants can also carry a gene highly homologous to insulin [5], even
though plants have no need to control blood sugar.

Furthermore, GM gene transfer is not invariably interspecific, in that it is possible to transfer genes from one plant to another plant of the same species (called ‘cisgenics’). Why would anyone use controversial and highly regulated rDNA methods when noncontroversial and unregulated traditional crossing could transfer the useful traits? Sometimes desirable genes are located in proximity to undesirable genes that get carried along like unwanted baggage in conventional crossing, and GM allows the breeder to circumvent such ‘linkage’ problems by transferring only the useful gene. However, the use of GM for intraspecific gene transfers has not appeared to placate many skeptics or regulatory agencies.

The concern over GM’s random insertions of DNA into the genome is borne of ignorance of ordinary biology. The plant’s genome is not naturally stable and immutable, but constantly undergoing changes on a far greater scale than a simple insertion of a relatively small piece of DNA. Nature provides genomic disruptions via unpredictable, uncontrollable and with potentially hazardous unknown consequences from such natural events as spontaneous mutations, transposable elements and chiasmata (meiotic crossing over), all at apparently random loci and often with much greater disturbance to the plant’s genome.

Traditional breeding can entail far more than simple cross-pollination, as assumed by so many. Plant breeders over the many years have acquired a substantial tool box of various means to alter the genetic makeup of a plant, of which cross-pollination is just one. Others include, but are not limited, to selection out of a population, somaclonal variation, and even mutation breeding using ionizing radiation to disrupt the DNA in myriad ways, all unpredictable, all uncontrollable and all with potentially hazardous unknown consequences. And none of the resulting new crop varieties are regulated for safety. Even the organic industry allows organic farmers to grow crop varieties developed using ionizing radiation to mutate the DNA of the (previously) ‘natural’ crop. But the mutant organic crops are not even labeled to allow consumers skeptical of ionizing radiation as a breeding method to avoid them.

Many organic farmers fear the mere presence of any GM material in their organic crops jeopardizes the organic status. But the rules, at least in the USA, are clear.
ww Orga status is based on a method of farming, so as long as the organic farmer follows the organic procedures, the organic status is not threatened, even if some prohibited material finds its way into the otherwise organic crop [6]. It is curious the organic industry has generous allowances for the presence of all manner of otherwise prohibited materials, usually on the order of 5%, but there is zero tolerance for intentional presence of GM material. Curiously, this ‘zero tolerance’ for GM was established within the organic industry itself, not by any open or democratic process. Yet now the organic industry wants democratic civil societies to enforce the fiat of a group of unelected partisans on everyone. But even this
pr blem is readily solved. All of the friction between organic and conventional or GM farmers would dissipate if the organic industry would adopt a reasonable tolerance for GM materials, as they have for other undesired products.

The fear about a company claiming ownership of a farmer’s crop based on the inadvertent presence of GM pollen grain or seed is also widespread and equally unfounded. The usual cited source for such fears is the 2001 Monsanto versus Schmeiser litigation, in which the company sued Mr Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, for growing their Roundup Ready canola without an appropriate license. As his defense, Mr Schmeiser claims Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola turned up on his farm due to either cross-pollination from ‘---wind or insects, seed blown from passing trucks, or dropping from farm equipment, or swaths blown from neighbours’ fields’ [7].

In any case, Mr Schmeiser claims he was entirely innocent of the charges and in fact Monsanto’s seeds have ‘trespassed’ and contaminated his own canola. When the trial judge ultimately ruled in favor of Monsanto, word spread that Mr Schmeiser lost the case even though he was the innocent and wronged party. The court record shows, however, that it was not just a few seeds from a passing truck, but that Mr Schmeiser was growing a crop of 95–98% pure Roundup Ready plants, a commercial level of purity far higher than one would expect from inadvertent or accidental presence. The judge could not account for how a few wayward seeds or pollen grains could come to dominate hundreds of acres without Mr Schmeiser’s active participation, saying ‘. . .none of the suggested sources could reasonably explain the concentration or extentof Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality evident from the results of tests on Schmeiser’s crop’. [7].

HT crops are certainly among the most successful GM crops commercialized and among those attracting the most attention from skeptical public. But those who believe GM farmers relish being able to douse their fields with any herbicide to kill all weeds while the crops flourish are mistaken on several points. First, few farmers are profligate with pesticides, including herbicides. They are expensive, among the highest input costs for most farmers, so farmers use them as sparingly as possible. Also, most farmers recognize that all chemicals can be hazardous if abused and so need to be treated with respect. Second, HT crops are made resistant only to a specific herbicide, and gain only a limited immunity (usually double the normal lethal dose). That is, a plant made tolerant to, say glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundupTM) is still fully susceptible to glufosinate, or 2,4-D, or bromoxynil, or any other herbicide that would control the non-GM parent variety. And a sufficient dosage of the relevant herbicide will still kill even the HT plants. Finally, not all HT plants are exclusive to GM technology. All plants are naturally tolerant to at least some herbicides (otherwise there would be no selective herbicides), and some ‘modern’ HT crops were developed using traditional breeding methods. Triazine tolerant canola, popular in Australia, arose from a non-GM mutant line, for example, and Clearfield HT soybean and canola varieties are non-GM mutations. Such HT crops have been grown by farmers for years, without any popular outcry, although if there is any risk with GM HT crops, the same risk is carried by non-GM HT crops.

All over the biosphere of Planet Earth, DNA is a nucleic acid. Everywhere except Mendocino County, California, where the power of democracy has legally redefined DNA as a protein. The legal definition in force in Mendocino, under Ordinance Title 10A is clear: ‘(B) ‘‘DNA’’ or ‘‘deoxyribonucleic acid’’ means a complex protein that is present in every cell of an organism and is the ‘‘blueprint’’ for the organism’s development.’ [8].

Durbing a conference on Science and Law conducted by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, a national judge, obviously an educated and (otherwise) intelligent man, asked how a GM cornfield would cause a man to become gay. During a divorce trial, he heard an argument that the husband’s (apparently deno o) homosexuality was caused by his strolling through a GM cornfield, and granted the divorce on that basis. His question at the conference was not whether it was true, but instead to satisfy his curiosity on the technical mechanism by which GM cornfields caused the now-ex-husband’s homosexuality [9].

The president of Zambia rejected food aid from the US for his country (in the midst of a terrible famine) as he was counseled that the GM maize food aid was poisonous. ‘Simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health’ said Zambian President Mwanawasa [10]. It is most unfortunate that this leader believed the misinformation. He seemed unaware that this ‘poisonous’ food was the same stuff 300 million Americans had been eating for years, with still not a single documented case of harm attributable to the GM material. As well, the European Commission sponsored 81 research projects over 15 years covering all areas of concern and determined [agricultural biotechnology] ‘. . .has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make then even safer than conventional plants and food’ [11].

In an open letter to Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests and at the time deliberating giving final approval for commercial release of the GM Bt Brinjal in India, Bharat Mansata [12] pleads with the Minister to reject the GM eggplant, asserting in his argument that ‘. . .once the terminator seeds are released into a region, the trait of seed sterility can pass to other non-genetically- engineered crops and plants, making most or all of the seeds in the region sterile!’. This invasive sterility feature of GM crops appears to be a fairly common misconception worldwide, at least among people who do not question how the sterility can spread if the seed cannot even sprout. And it is not known whether Minister Ramesh holds this belief, but it is known that he rejected the approval for the Bt Brinjal in spite of the overwhelming support for approval from both the Indian and international scientific communities based on safety data.
Con clusions
In the examples, a combination of technical ignorance and misinformation gives rise to a truly informed and vital public debate. Some problems are due to sheer ignorance of simple facts, such as the biological ubiquity of genes and DNA. When Europeans [13] and Americans [14] were asked (in separate surveys) if they agree with the statement: Ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, while genetically modified tomatoes do, only 35–40% of respondents knew enough to disagree. Such basic ignorance among even the planet’s most wealthy and well-educated people does not engender optimism for a vital and informed debate [15].

If they cannot get even simple basic facts right, it is not surprising they cannot comprehend more complex conceptual abstractions. Distinguishing the concept of product versus process is lost on many concerned but misinformed consumers ignorant of the salient facts, as they believe the process of GM itself may be hazardous, while the scientific and regulatory communities recognize that hazards, when they arise, are invariably associated with specific products. Skeptical but misinformed consumers may also fail to reconcile absolute and relative risks, believing that encountering any detectable amount of a toxin is hazardous, and furthermore that all chemicals are equally hazardous (believing, for example, that a kilo of glyphosate herbicide is just as damaging as a kilo of paraquat herbicide) when experts recognize relative toxicity and dosage as paramount. Finally, anti-GM sources are notorious for emphasizing concerns about potential problems with GM products but neglect to mention that conventional versions of the same products carry the same (of greater) problems [11,16]. For example, some skeptical consumers worry that scientists do not guarantee that GM crops and foods are absolutely safe, failing to realize that scientists cannot make such guarantee for any crops or foods.

Popular misconceptions might be considered amusing if they are held only by a small ‘fringe’ group. But sometimes the misinformation and fear can become infectious and pathogenic, instigating bad public policy, with substantial negative consequences to everyone. In 2009 alone, several shipments of grain from USA and Canada to Europe were refused unloading at European ports because authorities detected trace amounts of GM material. Several soybean shipments from America were turned back because GM corn dust residue – from a previous cargo – was detected in the ship’s hold. The European Union enforces a ‘zero tolerance’ of any detection of any amount of GM material they themselves have not approved for the EU, even if the offending GM material had been approved elsewhere. The European Commission June 2007 report on ‘Economic Impact of Unapproved GMOs on EU Feed Imports and Livestock Production’ states: ‘EU legislation does not provide for any tolerance threshold for the accidental presence of unapproved GMOs that have received approval in other countries’ [17]. All of the cargoes turned back, including soy, rice and flaxseed shipments, carried barely detectable trace amounts of GM material, on the order of less than ten GM seeds (or equivalent in dust) per 10,000 regular seeds in the cargo. The

EU itself knows the lack of a reasonable tolerance for low level presence of GM material is an intractable problem, as a recent report from the EU’s own Joint Research Centre predicts an increase in such trade problems as more and more GM crops are cultivated in more and more countries worldwide [18]. In addition, as the sensitivity of detection assays increases, from the current level of one GM seed in 10,000 to, say, one GM seed in 20,000 non-GM seeds, the problem will become even more acute, as that level of seed purity is virtually impossible to guarantee in commodity grain, even using the most stringent channeling or identity preservation (i.p.) systems.

Meanwhile, as the EU focuses exclusively and absolutely on even minute trace amounts of GM materials in shipments, they seem to show no concern for a greater amount of arsenic and other known toxins and contaminants in the cargo. By focusing all of their biosafety resources on products never known to have caused harm, they ignore real threats to health and environment. This scientifically indefensible misplacement of priorities puts the European public and environment at risk, while unnecessarily increasing food and feed costs for European consumers [19].

Fortunately, there is hope. The European Commission recently approved cultivation of a GM potato (Amflora, with a modified starch profile), the first such approval in 12 years, along with import approvals for several GM maize varieties. As well, there are signs European officials are finally starting to listen to their own scientific experts in EFSA and elsewhere and may soon ease the rigidly enforced and unscientific zero tolerance policy for low level presence (LLP) of GM material in imported commodities ([ http://www.gmo-compass.org/ ]http://www.gmo-compass.org/ eng/news/494.docu.html).

Buttressed by recent surveys showing increasing consumer comfort in USA [20] and also seeing a concordant drop in the fear of agbiotech along with a rise in technical knowledge and scientific literacy of European schoolchildren [21], we remain cautiously optimistic that this trend will continue, so eventually knowledgeable and critical thinking consumers will make informed choices whether to support or reject agricultural biotechnology, organic or other farming activities.


Demand for regulatory services, an African challenge

- Ghana Business News, November 30, 2010

Africa is faced with the challenge of demand for regulatory services which outstrips resources available whilst the political landscape also posed a serious challenge.
Biosafety regulatory systems are essential in realising the benefits of safe applications of modern biotechnology, Mr Samuel Timpo, Deputy Director of AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) said on Monday Speaking at a week’s study tour for African Biosafety regulators, in Pretoria in South
Africa, Mr Timpo said biosafety laws were critical for every functional regulatory system but most African countries that signed up to the Cartegena Protocol had not established regulatory systems.

“The absence of biosafety regulations, limited capacity and lack of access to accurate information, have been identified as the critical limitations to the growth of biotechnology”, Mr Timpo said. The study tour is being sponsored by the AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise and facilitated by African Bio, a non-governmental organisation on biotechnology.

It is attended by biosafety regulators from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
The tour is to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience between regulators from countries with new and emerging biosafety systems on one hand and industry practitioners in countries that are conducting field trials and have commercialising biotech crops.

In addition, it would create a network of regulators and practitioners to facilitate cross-learning and the sharing of lessons in future.

Mr Timpo noted that laws and institutions assisted in achieving acceptable and conflicting interest and that the AU-NEPAD High Level African Panel on modern biotechnology had recommended that biotechnology and biosafety should be co-evolved so that the technology and regulations would help promote innovations. Mr Timpo called for concerted efforts in biosafety capacity building and sustained collaborative relationships and the need to sustain collaborative relationships to move the agenda forward.

Dr Dave Keetch, Official of Africa Bio said millions of farmers around the world continued to accept and cultivate Genetically Modified Crops (GM) and 2009 alone recorded 14 million farmers planting 134 million hectares in 25 countries.
Out this figure, 13 million were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries.

GM crops mainly grown include maize, soyabean, cotton, canola, papaya, squash, and sweet pepper whilst GM soyabean continued to be most important crop of the global GM crop area followed by maize, cotton and canola.

Dr Keetch listed some of the benefits of GM crops as increase crop productivity, conserves biodiversity, promotes self-sufficiency, reduces environmental footprint of agriculture, increase stability of production, provide economic, health and social benefits and mitigate against some of the challenges of climate change. He said trends of events predicted that 20 million farmers would be planting 200 million hectares of GM crops in 40 countries by 2015 whilst GM rice and drought-tolerant trait would also drive the future adoption of the technology.

Dr Keetch noted that African agriculture was currently at crossroads where persistent food shortages were compounded by new threats from climate change and Africa had three opportunities that had the potential to transform its agriculture into a force for economic growth.

These, he listed as advances in science and technology, the creation of regional markets and the emergency of new leaders dedicated to the continent’s economic improvement. Dr Keetch urged African leaders to embrace the idea of biotechnology as one of the tools that would improve and turn round agriculture in Africa for the better.


Are GM Crops Africa's Path to Food Security?

- Aida F. Akl , Voice of America, Dec. 7, 2010

Full story link here

“Everybody else wants to make decisions for Africa without letting Africans make decisions.” - ISAAA's Margaret Karembu

For decades, Africa has suffered the ravages of an unpredictable climate, repeating cycles of drought, diminished harvests, hunger and poverty.
Now, proponents of genetic engineering see biotechnology leading the continent to a bountiful and prosperous future by genetically modifying crops to resist drought and pests, and fend off disease.

Margaret Karembu, Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications’ AfriCenter (ISAAA) in Nairobi says the benefits of biotechnology are clear in countries like South Africa, which was the first to commercialize biotech (BT) cotton, maize and soybeans in the 1990s, followed by Burkina Faso and Egypt. Other countries like Uganda and Kenya have also begun field test on GM crops.

Karembu says crops like South Africa’s insect-resistant cotton have reduced labor and harmful insecticides, increased yield, and registered farm income gains of about 24 percent.

According to ISAAA, the total crop production gain for soybean, maize, cotton and canola in South Africa was 29.6 million metric tons in 2008.

But Harvard University’s Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government argues that all technologies carry risks. The challenge, he adds, lies in reducing the risks while maximizing the benefits. “Not adopting new technologies carries its own risks,” said Juma.

Writing in his book, The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, Juma says African farm incomes and poverty rates were stagnant and in some cases worsened in the past four decades.

“Although 70 percent of Africans are engaged in farming, production is so low that nearly 250 million people, one-quarter of the population, are undernourished,” wrote Juma. “One-third of Sub-Saharan Africans are chronically hungry, while drought, soil degradation and disease appear endemic.”

Juma proposes that biotech seeds could dramatically increase yield and raise incomes. ISAAA’s Margaret Karembu agrees, saying preliminary studies have shown that in countries like Burkina Faso, farmers are getting benefits of up to 20 percent with biotech agriculture.

She says that does not mean abandoning conventional farming - only using new technologies, not just biotechnology, where appropriate.