Today in AgBioView, February 25, 2011, www.agbioworld.org
* Scientist Letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack Possibly a Fraud
* Poor Nations May Bear Brunt of EU GMO Policy, Says U.S. Official
* Technological Intolerance Threatens Global Food Security
* Science of Genetically Modified Crops Very Different From Politics
* Gene Correction Therapy for Plants Developed at Saudi Arabia
* Bt: A response to the article by Pushpa M. Bhargava in Microbiology Today
* Bibliography on Bt Brinjal
* Can Science Be Used As A Diplomatic Tool?
Scientist Letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack Possibly a Fraud
- Fred Gerendasy, Cooking Up Story, February 24, 2011
Yesterday, Cooking Up a Story referenced a letter purportedly sent from Dr. Don M. Huber, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University, and coordinator for the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens committee of the American Phytopathological Society, to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. In that letter, Huber announced the discovery of a dangerous new pathogen that may be associated with the use of glyphosate based herbicides, such as Roundup, calling for the temporary moratorium on the recent decision to deregulate roundup ready alfalfa until further safety studies could be conducted that would either uphold the RR alfalfa decision, or direct a different course.
Cooking Up a Story now has reason to believe that letter may be a fraud.
Peter Goldsbrough, professor and head of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Purdue University where Dr. Huber had taught prior to his retirement 3 years ago, indicated by phone his skepticism over the authenticity of the letter, and most of the information contained within it.
Professor Goldsbrough stated that he, and the colleagues in his department, "are not aware of any new pathogen that has been identified". The letter states in part: "A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings" .
Goldsbrough explained, not only would it be highly unusual for a single pathogen (within the same species) to pass across multiple species' barriers, its claims about the deleterious effects of glyphosate on the production of certain crops, he and his fellow colleagues also found to be suspect. The letter goes on to say:
" It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders."
Professor Goldsbrough stated, "There are claims made that the use of Roundup and glyphosate, and the roundup ready system is causing significant declines in yield to some crops, and an increased incidence of diseases in some crops. The pathologists that I work with in this department, have no evidence for those claims." He went on to say, "this organism that is claimed is a complete mystery, and many of these other things claimed to be connections between this organism, the use of roundup, the use of roundup ready crops, are completely unsubstantiated, and I'm not aware of any evidence for these claims"
A call to the USDA Office of the Executive Secretariat (OES) was unable to locate any letter of correspondence, or email, from Dr. Don M. Huber to Secretary Vilsack since December of 2010. Within this time frame, the Secretary of Agriculture did not receive correspondence from Dr. Huber.
As of yesterday, an email to Dr. Huber's last known address to confirm the authenticity of the letter, and for his comment, have gone unanswered.v
More on this from Purdue University
And, Response from Monsanto
Poor Nations May Bear Brunt of EU GMO Policy, Says U.S. Official
- Dow Jones Newswires, Feb. 25 2011
Emerging nations could be hit by new European Union policy on genetically-modified crops if they are expected to shoulder extra costs of compliance, a senior U.S. official in Brussels said Friday.
EU officials this week moved to raise the threshold for unauthorized GMO material in feed imports in a bid to ease the passage of cheaper supplies from the U.S. and South America.
Member states will now allow shipments to include traces of GMOs of up to 0.1% in feed imports, but the material must already be authorized in the exporting country and must be pending approval in the EU.
Maurice House, agriculture minister-counselor of the U.S. Mission to the EU, told Dow Jones Newswires there are moves underway by some anti-GMO groups to ensure the costs of checking shipments are transferred to exporting countries, many of which are emerging nations.
If this happens, it could effectively bar exports from developing countries which grow GMO crops, like Brazil and Argentina, as the costs of checking each shipment would be prohibitively expensive, he said. "Some people are saying that [traces of GMOs in imports] will still be above the level defined in this new solution" of 0.1%, he said.
"There is a strong movement going saying that if we can't change these rules we'll put the onus on someone else. The logical conclusion is that these pressures will be exported and I'm very concerned that these will be exported to developing countries," he said.
The U.S. is the world's largest grower of GMO crops, with 66.8 million hectares planted. As a major exporter of feed grain to the EU, which buys in nearly 80% of its feed needs, the EU's anti-GMO stance has long been a bone of contention between the two.
Cables from the U.S. embassy in Paris in 2007, released by Wikileaks, show then-ambassador Craig Stapleton advised Washington to launch a trade war against several anti-GMO EU states in response to French moves to ban a Monsanto Inc. (MON) corn variety.
A report released this week by the pro-GMO ISAAA found the use of biotech crops is also growing fast in the EU's other major corn and soybean suppliers, with Brazil now planting GMO crops on 25.4 million hectares, up 19% on year, and Argentina on 22.9 million hectares.
"Developing countries see the potential of this technology," said House. "These are countries that went from no telephones to cell phones because it was easier; they are better at adapting to technology than we are."
Policy-makers have come under pressure to relax the EU's zero-tolerance on GMO as grain prices have risen. Many European farmers face making a loss this year as feed prices, which account for up to 60% of input costs, have doubled from last year while meat prices have failed to keep pace.
Experts also argue dramatic changes will be needed to methods of production if the world is to cater for the changing tastes of its rapidly-expanding population. S-Network Global Indexes said world meat consumption is expected to rise 2% a year until 2015, requiring a corresponding 14% increase in grain output.
Technological Intolerance Threatens Global Food Security
- Calestous Juma, Des Moines Register, Feb 19, 2011
Modern biotechnology is an important force in global agriculture. But it continues to be challenged by those wanting to limit its spread under the pretext of preserving the purity of organic farming. This is being done despite worrying evidence of rising food prices and the associated political unrest.
In a historic decision, the U.S. secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, recently ruled that genetically modified (GM) alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa. USDA has since then allowed farmers to resume cultivation of GM sugar beets. The government is also reviewing other cases that include GM trees and salmon.
The alfalfa decision reverses his earlier proposal to ban the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa within five miles of any organic seed breeder.
Technology is widely used
Since their introduction in 1995, U.S. farmers have made GM crops the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history. GM varieties are grown on more than 150 million acres in this country alone and account for nearly all U.S. corn, soybeans and cotton.
But organic farmers, whose fields make up just one-half of 1 percent of U.S. cropland, have long complained that GM crops jeopardize their own production through cross-pollination. Such cross-pollination could destroy their biotech-free status.
It is recognized that seed breeders should be responsible for protecting the genetic composition of seed. For example, breeders must protect sweet corn from cross-pollination by the unpalatable field corn varieties fed to livestock. Similarly, they must prevent canola from being cross-pollinated by rapeseed, which contains a potent natural toxin.
But there are a number of simple and flexible agronomic techniques, such as isolation distances and buffer zones, which breeders can use to preserve the identity of their seeds.
For alfalfa, the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies requires buffer zones of just 165 feet to maintain the genetic integrity of certified seed and 900 feet for so-called foundation seed. That's sufficient to prevent most cross-pollination.
Conventional farmers further volunteered to extend buffer zones up to one or two miles from non-biotech seed breeders. The organic industry rejected that offer. Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, said "there can be no such thing as coexistence" with biotechnology.
Such zero-tolerance runs counter to the organic industry's own rules concerning unwanted inputs, which are based on process not outcomes. As long as organic growers do not intentionally plant biotech seeds or apply synthetic pesticides, the unintentional cross-pollination by GM plants or the drift of a neighbor's pesticide onto their fields does not cause the crops to lose their organic certification.
World is following lead of U.S.
The USDA decision has come at a time when much of the world is warming to biotech. Farming giants like China, Brazil and India have embraced biotech crops. And even the European Commission (EC) is acknowledging that existing GM crops do not carry any unique risks.
In a recent study, the EC has found that GM crops are at least as safe for consumers and the environment as conventionally bred plant varieties, and sometimes safer. It also concluded that GM crops could help developing countries meet their food needs while addressing the challenges of climate change in a sustainable way.
African countries such as South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt have adopted GM crops. Other countries such as Kenya and Tanzania are preparing to start field trials.
The United States has been a world leader in biotech because it uses a science-driven regulatory system. The rest of the world needs this demonstrated leadership now more than ever. Caving in to the forces of technological intolerance would erode U.S. leadership in agricultural innovation and undermine global food security.
Calestous Juma Is Professor of The Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School.
Science of Genetically Modified Crops Very Different From Politics
- Robert Wager, Vancouver Sun, February 19, 2011
Members of Parliament did a great service for Canadian farmers by recently voting down Bill C-474. This bill would have allowed critics to introduce an endless series of potential objections to any and all new genetically modified crops.
With 48 per cent of certain commodity crops grown in Canada being genetically modified, this bill could have done a great deal of damage. Ed Schafer, president of the Canadian Canola Council, said: "The changes proposed in Bill C-474 would have only added ambiguity and uncertainty to our seed system, with the result being a loss of innovation and competitiveness for farmers."
First, it must be made clear that genetically modified crops are as safe as or safer than any other type of food production. Decades of research have demonstrated the safety and sustainability of genetically modified crop technology.
A few months back, the European Union released a report called A Decade of EU-funded GMO research 2001-2010. They concluded: "There is no scientific evidence associating (genetically modified organisms) with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and animals."
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences released a 2010 report on GM crops and sustainable agriculture It contains documentation of the first 15 years of GM crop contribution to sustainable agriculture These documents deal with the science of genetically modified crops. The politics of genetically modified crops are very different. While European science agrees with the rest of the world on the safety of GM crops and food, their politicians do not. Europe has been very reluctant to allow GM crop imports. In fact, only 17 out of 120 applications to import GM crops have been approved.
Some of the applications have been held up for over a decade. To date, only two GM crops are allowed to be grown in Europe. Bill C-474 would have moved our crop regulatory system much closer to that of Europe.
The European GM policy (best described as a non-tariff trade barrier) is an excellent example of how socio-economic considerations have been used to stymie trade. To suggest the introduction of the same socioeconomic considerations would help Canadian trade, as suggested by the backers of Bill C-474, is simply false.
The world is adopting GM crop technology. As of 2009, more than 130 million hectares of GM crops are grown globally, with an annual increase of greater than 10 per cent. More than 70 countries have active GM crop research programs. It has been estimated that by 2015, half of all new GM crops will come from national programs in Asia and Latin America.
In 2007, Europe further restricted trade by adopting a zero-tolerance policy for imports of non-approved GM crops. This means, even if trace amounts of an unapproved GM crop are detected, the entire shipment is rejected. Coupled with the extremely slow approval process, this policy has led to extreme hardships for European farmers. Feed price increases of 400 to 600 per cent have hit European pig and chicken farmers.
Canada has just recorded another record year for trade. Why would we want to introduce legislation that would reverse this economic news?
Clearly, the goals of the Europeanstyle Bill C-474 were not to protect Canadian farmers, but to advance a particular anti-GM ideology For decades, the critics of GM crop technology said there was not enough science. The science is now clearly siding with development of GM crops.
This has caused the critics to move to political means to try to stop the technology Fortunately, our elected representatives saw Bill C-474 for what it was, another attempt to block the development of safe, sustainable GM crop technology.
--Robert Wager has been a faculty member in the biology department at Vancouver Island Unversity in Nanaimo for 16 years.
Gene Corrections Therapy for Plants Developed at Saudi Arabia
THUWAL, Saudi Arabia, February 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have developed a novel technology that could improve the quality, yield and disease resistance of current crop varieties. The implications for agricultural science are profound.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, USA (PNAS) Jan 24th, 2011, Dr. Magdy Mahfouz and the research team discuss a new way of genetically engineering plants to tolerate aggressive environments. Regions where water quantity and quality are limiting, such as Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, could benefit by growing crops engineered for stress tolerance, which would not only address the problem of the nutritional needs of a growing population but could pave the way for surplus crops to be exported to GM-restrictive markets like Japan.
Dr. Mahfouz works at the Plant Stress Genomics Research Center at KAUST, directed by Professor Jian-Kang Zhu. This latest research is exactly in line with its founder's expressed desire that KAUST should bring the benefits of novel research and the accompanying economic development to the region, with the promise of benefits worldwide.
Dr. Mahfouz has developed a "repair tool" (molecular scissors) made out of protein that does two things: it finds the exact place on the genome where it is to be cut using a genetic "postcode" and then deletes, adds or edits the gene with great accuracy and precision.
Dr. Mahfouz's work has the potential for much broader applications including human health. This new technology could enhance the technique that may be used to substitute "good" genes for bad, or to cut out or silence the defective genes that cause disease.
Commenting on the research, KAUST Provost Stefan Catsicas saw the technology as a scientific breakthrough and, if the patent is eventually successful, having potentially promising revenues.
Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Professor of the Life Sciences at Penn State University, said the Mahfouz paper "shows the practicability of creating DNA-cutting enzymes tailored to cut a desired target sequence with very high specificity. This is an excellent step forward toward creating very specific genetic improvements in crop plants, while avoiding the potential risks many are concerned about with more conventional genetic modification strategies. Moreover, the paper gives the first evidence that this particular strategy will work in plants." Professor Federoff is "delighted to see such cutting-edge contributions emerging from a university as young as KAUST!"
Dr. Bengt Norden, Professor of Physical Chemistry at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and former Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry commented "that it is very pleasing to see that KAUST has now produced a breakthrough contribution in the field of life science. The work by Mahfouz has great impact and connects with early discoveries by Nobel Laureate Sir Aaron Klug that DNA-recognizing zinc finger proteins connected with a nuclease function may be exploited to create, highly selectively, double-strand breaks in
DNA which initiates recombination-catalyzed insertion of an oligonucleotide sequence with surprisingly high efficacy. The possibility to take this DNA manipulation into clinic for "gene correction therapy" is thus no longer only science fiction.
Bt-brinjal is an important tool for the control of fruit and shoot borer : A response to the article by Pushpa M. Bhargava in Microbiology Today, August 2010 (pp. 174-177).
- Kameswara Rao, Shantharam & Moses, Pushpa Bhargava , MICROBIOLOGY TODAY FEB 2011, 60-61
THE ARTICLE BY BHARGAVA (Bhargava, 2010) ignores well-documented facts about the efficacy and safety of Bt-brinjal and the benefits it would bring to farmers and consumers (Chaudhary & Gaur, 2009; Kameswara Rao, 2009a, b, 2010). The points in Bhargava's article depart widely from recorded data.
Bt-brinjal, developed in India by Mahyco (7 hybrids), Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (4 varieties) and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (6 varieties), has been thoroughly tested for product efficacy and biosafety, with the data evaluated by two Expert Committees. On that basis, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) recommended the commercial release of Bt-brinjal, and several surveys have affirmed the benefits of Bt-brinjal (Kolady & Lesser, 2005, 2006, 2008; Krishna & Qaim, 2007).
In 2010, the Indian Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF) imposed an indefinite moratorium on Bt-brinjal, overriding the approval of the GEAC for its commercial release. The MoEF's decision was not based on scientific or environmental concerns, but on political expediency (Kameswara Rao, 2010). The public consultation process conducted by the MoEF did not provide opportunity for the scientific community to express their opinion, as it was orchestrated in such a way as to support the MoEF's decision (Kameswara Rao, 2010).
Biosafety data for the Indian Bt-brinjal were not provided by Monsanto (Bhargava, 2010), but by the Indian developers, supported by several public sector institutions (Chaudhary & Gaur, 2010; Kameswara Rao, 2010).
The brinjal shoot and fruit borer (SFB) Leucinodes orbonalis is almost entirely monophagous and no variety of brinjal is resistant. The brinjal farmers suffer 50American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) also causes significant damage to brinjal fruits. Both pests on brinjal were shown to be effectively controlled by the Bt-gene Cry1Ac leading to a 133% average increase in yield and 77% reduction in pesticide application (Chaudhary & Gaur, 2009), very sound reasons for introducing and chemical exposure to people working in brinjal fields.
The report of development of resistance by a cotton pest in parts of the Gujarat State in India (Bhargava, 2010) actually refers to the pink bollworm (not targeted by Cry1Ac) and not the American, which has not developed any resistance to Cry1Ac protein. Bhargava (2010) also contends that GMOs have caused multiple deleterious effects, none of which have been substantiated by any credible scientific evidence.
Bhargava's assertion that the yields from organic cultivation are comparable to the yields obtained using Bt plants (Bhargava, 2010) does not fit the empirical data. Contrary to his assertion, the excellent performance of Bt-cotton has made India the second largest exporter of cotton (Chaudhary & Gaur, 2010).
Bhargava insists that the GEAC should have 25 tests done on Bt-brinjal. The GEAC's Expert Committee critically reviewed those 25 tests in 2009 and con-sidered only five of them relevant to the Bt-brinjal issue, which had already been conducted. Bhargava later raised the bar to 30 tests (Bhargava, 2010). None of his proposed safety tests appear to have anything to do with assuring the safety of Bt-brinjal.
India is not the origin of brinjal, but is the centre of its diversity and, except in the eyes of activists, there is no reason why a genetically engineered crop cannot be grown in the country that is the centre of its origin or diversity, as exemplified by maize in Mexico.
Bhargava (2010) objects to the presence of antibiotic resistance gene markers in Bt-brinjal. These markers pose no threat (Ramessar e t al., 2007); the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the lateral transfer of antibiotic marker genes to bacteria is unlikely and has not been demonstrated either in the laboratory or in nature, where they are abundantly present in all environments.
Moreover, many scientific societies, including the American Society for Microbiology, have clearly endorsed the safety of the antibiotic resistance genes as marker genes in transgenic crop development. There has been no evidence of gene flow between brinjal or Solanum (Kameswara Rao, 2010). Farmers have grown these crops in neighbouring fields for centuries without a reduction in quality. If there were gene flow in brinjal, it would also happen with organic brinjal, affecting the Bt-brinjal crop in the neighbouring fields.
People certainly have a right to know what they are eating, as emphasized by Bhargava. He contends that 90% of UN member countries have strict labelling laws or do not permit transgenics for human consump-tion; that is not correct. Labelling a product 'contains no GM ingredi-ents' as in the UK, is intended to exploit a market opportunity by demonizing transgenic foods. Meanwhile, more than 350 million Americans have been safely con-suming transgenic foods for more than 14 years, constituting the largest human experiment on the safety of genetically engineered foods.
Also, Bhargava's fears about the enhanced toxicity of Bt-brinjal are scientifically unfounded; GM foods now have a long history of safe consumption and there is no evidence of any transgenic food being more toxic than its non-transgenic counterpart. Further-more, transgenic crops have not been projected as the only way to meet food requirements in the future. They are regarded as a major tool for securing sustain-able food production in the coming years.
Transgenics help in preventing the current enor-mous pre-harvest losses, enhanc-ing product recovery. They are not projected as high-yielding alternatives since there are no transgenes that increase yield per se. Green revolution practices have reached a plateau and current agricultural practices, including organic farming, cannot match the potential of transgenic technology in ensuring higher crop productivity or recovery.
On the issue of the Bt-brinjal moratorium, Bhargava (2010) remarked that the MoEF has the support of only two people, the Prime Minister and the President of the Congress Party; that in itself is overwhelming evidence that the majority of the Government of India does not share the MoEF's reservations about the efficacy, safety and need for Bt-brinjal.
C. KAMESWARA RAO
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, No 1, Gupta's Layout, Southend Road, Bangalore 560004, India
SHANTHU SHANTHARAM Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE), Agricultural Group (AG), G-45 Lajpat Nagar, Part III, New Delhi 110024, India
VIVIAN MOSES Division of Nutritional Sciences, King's College, 150 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NH, UK
Bhargava, P.M. (2010). The story of Bt-brinjal in India: why it is not required. Microbiol Today 36, 174-177.
Chaudhary, B. & Gaur, K. (2009). The development and regulation of Bt-brinjal in India. ISAAA Brief No. 38. Ithaca, NY: ISAAA.
Chaudhary, B. & Gaur, K. (2010). Bt-cotton in India: a country profile. ISAAA Series of Biotech Crop Profiles. Ithaca, NY: ISAAA.
Kameswara Rao, C. (2009a). Bt-Brinjal: technology and biosecurity regulation. www.plantbiotechnology.org.in/issues.html (November 2009, accessed 7 November 2010).
Kameswara Rao, C. (2009b). Bt-brinjal: an activist designed imbroglio. www.plantbiotechnology.org.in/issues.html (November 2009, accessed 7 November 2010).
Kameswara Rao, C. (2010). Moratorium on Bt-brinjal: a review of the order of the Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of India. Bangalore: FBAE. www.whybiotech.com/resources/tps/Moratorium_on_Bt_ Brinjal.pdf (accessed 7 November 2010).
Kolady, D. & Lesser, W. (2005). Adoption of genetically modified eggplant in India - an ex ante analysis. Paper presented at the American Agricultural Economic Association Annual Meeting, Providence, Rhode Island, July 24-27, 2005.
Kolady, D. & Lesser, W. (2006). Who adopts what kind of technologies? The case of Bt-eggplant in India. AgBioForum 9, 94-103.
Kolady, D. & Lesser, W. (2008). Is genetically engineered technology a good alternative to pesticide use: the case of egg plant in India. Int J Biotechnol 10, 132-147.
Krishna, V.V. & Qaim, M. (2007). Estimating the adoption of Bt-eggplant in India: who benefits from public-private partnership? Food Policy 32, 523-543.
Ramessar, K., Peremarti, A., Gómez-Galera, S., Naqvi, S., Moralejo, M., Muñoz, P., Capell, T. & Christou, P. (2007). Biosafety and risk assessment framework for selectable marker genes in transgenic crop plants: a case of the science not supporting the politics. Transgenic Res 16, 261-280.
In response to the letter of Kameswara Rao, Shantharam & Moses, Pushpa Bhargava makes the following points.
MAHYCO, the Indian com-pany referred to in the letter, has 26% of its shares owned by Mon-santo, and according to Indian Company law, has the veto right on the board. Furthermore, the Indian Universities mentioned have been supported by sources with a vested interest in developing Bt-brinjal.
The recommendation of the commercial release of Bt-brinjal by GEAC on the basis of a report of the Expert Committee was criticized widely as members of GEAC had little time to examine it; it was subsequently found to be scientifically deficient on most counts (see PDF resource at www. sgm.ac.uk/pubs/micro_today/ current.cfm).
o state that the moratorium was based on political expediency is absurd. The Minister instigated the moratorium in spite of poli-tical favour. More than a dozen States, representing all major poli-tical parties, stated that they will not permit Bt-brinjal; this cannot be called political expediency. It is also totally incorrect to say that, in the public consultation process, opportunities were not provided to the scientific community to express their opinion. I attended one of the consultations and there were a large number of scientists who also spoke. Those who sup-ported the release of Bt-brinjal had nothing to say publicly in their defence.
It is also not true that the brinjal farmers suffer 50-70% loss due to pest infestation. Further-more, my assertion that yields from organic cultivation are not lower than yields obtained with Bt plants is based on data which are readily available and have been verified by the Government repeatedly.
While there is no doubt that Bt-cotton has performed well in some areas, it has not performed well in all areas. In Punjab, there is an increase in the incidence of attack by mealy bugs. In Gujarat, the pests that are attacking Bt-cotton are resistant to the Bt gene, a fact conceded by Monsanto itself. With regard to the adverse effects of GMOs, Jeffrey Smith's Book 'Genetic Roulette' documents the health risks of genetically engineered food with over 1,000 references. What is concerning is that the supporters of GM crops doubt the credibility of every study on the possible or proven adverse effects of GMOs, whilst accepting every study supporting GM crops, regardless of their scientific quality.
There are sound scientific reasons as to why a GM crop should not be grown in the country that is the centre of its origin. There is an internationally accepted covenant to this effect. Growing maize in Mexico is a good example. This was done surreptitiously and was criticized by scientists the world over. That antibiotic resistance markers do not pose any threat is not true - there are many references to this effect in the literature. Today, we have technologies for developing GM varieties that do not use antibiotic resistance markers. Why were these technologies not used for Bt-brinjal?
PUSHPA M. BHARGAVA Nominee of the Supreme Court of India on the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee of the Government of India;
Bibliography on Bt Brinjal
- Professor Klaus Ammann, Ask Force, Feb 2011
Can Science Be Used As A Diplomatic Tool?
- Talk of the Nation, NPR, Feb 18, 2011
Listen: [12 min 24 sec]
How valuable is science in the diplomatic sphere? Biologist Nina Fedoroff, former science adviser to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, talks about her time in Washington.
Dr. FEDOROFF: I choose to keep working on it because that's all I can do. I think it's enormously important for us to be better educated in science. I do what I can, and all of my colleagues do what they can. It's hard not to get discouraged, but it's important that we not get discouraged.
So if you want to come back to the question of science diplomacy and of - I mean, one of the things that I did when I was in the State Department, because of my background as a plant biologist, was talk a lot about genetically modified organisms to people all over the world.
FLATOW: They don't accept it very well all over the world.
Dr. FEDOROFF: It depends on where you go. When I went to Brazil, the farmers - the farmers actually pushed the government into approving it. India's getting pretty close to approving its first GM food crop -cotton, GM cotton has taken off in India like crazy. China's getting there.
And, you know, we've been doing it. We've been growing - commercially growing GM crops for 15 years now, and so far, nobody's even gotten a headache from them. So dispelling the rather peculiar urban legends around them is a really important thing to do.
FLATOW: But there are cases where these crops have, so to speak, leaked out of the farms where they were started, or the fields, and gone to other places no one thought they would go to.
Dr. FEDOROFF: Crops don't leak out. We have domesticated crops over a very long period of time, like tens of thousands of years. And crops get - seeds get carried. Sometimes, if they're very small seeds, they get scattered off trucks. Pollen travels.
FLATOW: That's not leaking? That's what I would call leaking out.
Dr. FEDOROFF: But they're still the same plants. And they're domesticated plants. They're not wild plants. So you can talk about it as leaking, but I don't know what that helps. It doesn't - it's not like agricultural plants take over the...
They're not weeds. They're not invasive weeds. They're highly domesticated crop plants. So they - in some cases, if you've got last year's crop that comes up in the field when you don't want it to come up, it's called a volunteer. It's a management problem. It's not an ecological problem.
FLATOW: Nothing to worry about?
Dr. FEDOROFF: No. In fact, I would say that - point out that the European Union - in Europe they're not very well-accepted. People really turn up their noses at GM crops.
EU has spent hundreds of millions of euros on 25 years of research, and the summary sentence in the recently issued report is: After 25 years of research, 500 independent research groups, there is no more risk associated with genetic modification than other forms of crop improvement.
FLATOW: And there's the last word, Dr. Fedoroff. Thank you again, and good luck with your new appointment at the AAAS and the meeting this week.
Dr. FEDOROFF: Thank you.
FLATOW: Nina Fedoroff is the incoming president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Thanks to Andy Apel for links to many stories above
Compiled by C. S. Prakash
Write to him at prakash(at)tuskegee.edu
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