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June 9, 2011


Too Must Angst About Biotech; Is Glyphosate Safe? Benefits and Worries; Atomic Gardening; One Hungry Planet


* Benefits and worries about biotech in ag - Prof. Drew Kershen
* Way Too Much Angst About GMO Crops
* Studies on the Safety of Glyphosate
* Atomic gardening: Day of the irradiated peanuts
* Scientists create low-acrylamide potato lines
* Southern African Nations United in Policy on Genetic Crops
* A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself
* A Scientific ‘Merger’
* Searchable Database of Approved GM Crops
* Fears based on misinformation
* Video: It starts with a seed!
* Video: One Hungry Planet


Biotech: Benefits and worries about its use in agriculture - Interview with Prof. Drew Kershen

- Zenit (Italy), May 31, 2011

Transgenic plants spark great interest in the Church for their potential to increase yields, improve foods and reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. If the benefits (real and potential) are great, also great are the worries among Catholics, especially in missionary circles, that transgenic plants may cause developing countries to be newly enslaved to great multinational corporations.

For these reasons, ilsussidiario.net is pleased to host an interview with Professor Drew Kershen, an expert in the legal issues of biotechnology, agriculture and intellectual property rights. This interview was originally done by Professor Piero Morandini, Department of Biology, University of Milan, Italy, for the Italian site of the international news agency Zenit.

The general perception is that only large corporations produce transgenic plants. Consequently, farmers would be forced to pay large and ever increasing royalties to multinational companies. Is this scenario a reality or a myth?

- Multinational corporations do have a significant presence in the creation and in bringing to the market of transgenic plants. But it is a myth that large corporations are the only creators and developers of transgenic plants. Public sector scientists in universities and national agricultural research institutions also have a significant presence in modern scientific breeding, including transgenic plants. Brazil, China, India, and the Philippines (to name just four relevant countries) have many scientists with substantial financial and physical resource devoted to the genetic improvement of numerous plant species. These public sector programs have done excellent work to benefit farmers in their own countries and elsewhere.

With respect to public sector research, farmers will benefit from these improved crops (be they obtained through transgenic- or conventional means) through the agricultural extension programs existing in each nation. The public sector crops are developed for the public good and for agricultural development.

With respect to multinational corporations, farmers purchase these transgenic crops because they see now the benefits agronomically, socially, economically, and environmentally in their own fields. In 2010, 15.4 million farmers - 14.4 million small resource farmers - grew transgenic crops. These farmers did so because these crops improved their lands and their lives. They did so voluntarily because they wanted improved seeds. Farmers easily calculate their advantage from these improved seeds, taking into account the purchase price including any royalty. If farmers do not think they will benefit from a particular seed, farmers will not purchase the seed.

The facts show that farmers do want these improved seeds. Farmers planted 148 million hectares of transgenic plants in 2010; since the first commercial release of a transgenic plant in 1996, farmers have planted more than 1 billion hectares of transgenic plants. This is the fastest adoption by farmers of an agricultural technology in history. Farmers know their fields and their own self-interest.

I am in full agreement with the Statement of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Study Week that concluded, "Given these scientific findings, there is a moral imperative to make the benefits of GE (genetically engineered) technology available on a large scale to poor and vulnerable populations who want them and on terms that will enable them to raise their standards of living, improve their health and protect the environment."

The science of molecular breeding and the experience of fifteen years of growing transgenic crops prove that there are no unique or different risks from transgenic seeds and crops than from conventional and organic crops. There has been no negative health or environmental impact from transgenic crops on the 1 billion hectares grown for the past fifteen years. By contrast, science and experience establish that transgenic crops have provided and will provide significant agronomic, social, economic, and environmental benefits for the food security of the growing population of the world.

Science and experience show that poor resource farmers receive the greatest benefits from the cultivation of transgenic crops.

Catholic social doctrine urges science and societies to choose options for the benefit of the poor. Transgenic crops have proven to be an option for the poor because through them poor resource farmers can improve and have improved their personal lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of their fellow citizens in the wider communities.

Full interview here


Way Too Much Angst About GMO Crops

- Steve Savage, Applied Mythology via Biofortified, June 9, 2011


From what I read on various blogs and comment streams, there is way too much angst out there about GMO crops. Too much angst because every significant panel of scientists that has reviewed this technology has concluded that it is as safe as any other domesticated food crop. Too much angst because the reality is that only a small number of crop species will ever be genetically engineered for commercial use. There are four main reasons why this is the case:

1. Brand protectionism
2. Unfavorable economics
3. Other ways to achieve the same goals, and
4. Anti-GMO activism

4. Anti-GMO Activism
Plant genetic engineering has been the most carefully thought-through new technology introduction in history. I remember attending major scientific conferences on the safety and environmental questions at least 10 years before the first commercial seeds were planted. We talked through everything with ecologists, botanists, sociologists, economists, molecular geneticists, food industry experts. But none of this influences the “environmental” groups who have seized on this issue to raise funds and draw attention. The activist’s task is made easier because molecular genetics is a fast-moving science that few consumers understand. The press has also been unwilling to take the time to understand this to the extent that journalistic standards would require and so many have not helped to counteract the fear-mongering. This is the only way I can explain some activist-driven rejections.

Steve Savage is an agricultural scientist (plant pathology) with >30 years of experience in agricultural technology.


Extensive Database of Studies from Multiple Sources Supports the Safety of Glyphosate

- Eric Sachs, Monsanto Company, eric.s.sachs@monsanto.com, June 9, 2011

A collaboration calling itself the Earth Open Source issued a report this week, “Roundup and birth defects – Is the public being kept in the dark?” that alleges Roundup/glyphosate at concentrations lower than those used in agricultural formulations causes birth defects in animal tests, and that the European Commission has ignored this and other adverse health findings.

The report by Antoniou et al. is intended to draw attention to allegations of glyphosate impacts and to a lawsuit against the European Commission.
“… shortly after the Commission was notified of the latest research showing that glyphosate and Roundup cause birth defects, it quietly passed a directive delaying the review of glyphosate and 38 other dangerous pesticides until 2015. This delay is being challenged in a lawsuit brought against the Commission by Pesticides Action Network Europe and Greenpeace.” Page 5, emphasis added, at:

The claim that “that glyphosate and Roundup cause birth defects” relates to research performed by Carrasco and colleagues (Paganelli et al., 2010) in systems involving immersion of 2-cell frog embyos in a glyphosate- based formulation and the injection of glyphosate into one or both cells of the frog embryos and a glyphosate-based formulation into chicken eggs. There are many issues with the quality and interpretability of this work, which was rejected by the German regulatory authority and which has been the subject of published criticism

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/tx200077h http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/tx100452k http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/tx200086y

While Carrasco et al. attempts to extrapolate from these in-vitro systems to effects in mammalian species and to link this hypothesis to a purported increase in birth defects in humans, these allegations are not supported by the evidence. First, glyphosate data from six sets of reproductive and developmental toxicity studies have been submitted by multiple registrants for review by authorities and there were no teratogenic effects in the animal studies, and second, there is no evidence provided to support the allegations of increased birth defects in humans.

The extensive database on glyphosate is unique because there are multiple primary registrants that have submitted multiple, data sets for regulatory review. Antoniou et al. did not examine all these studies but rather choose individual findings, such as the cardiac findings in one study provided by Feinchemie (1998), to support an argument for adverse effects. However, any individual result can be misleading if it is not reproducible and is taken outside of the context of the weight of scientific evidence. The cardiac findings were not reproducible and did not occur in multiple studies of glyphosate with similar or higher dosing.

In addition, Antoniou et al. highlight supposed teratogenic effects based on a study by Dallegrave et al. 2003 where the authors state, “We may conclude that glyphosate-Roundup is toxic to the dams and induces developmental retardation of the fetal skeleton.” A teratogen in animal studies is defined as an agent that induces malformations. Malformations are permanent structural changes that may adversely affect survival, development or function. Experts know that most any compound provided at very high doses may induce maternal illness, and that this can result in the kind of delayed and altered ossification patterns seen at high doses with maternal toxicity in studies of glyphosate. This response to high doses of glyphosate is not evidence of teratogenic effects.

There are extensive datasets to support the safety of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicide products. While non-industry studies have not, historically, been included by industry in regulatory dossiers, this information is widely available. Regulatory agencies can search for relevant information and consider information submitted by other organizations – the Paganelli et al. publication is one example.

Additional information regarding the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup-branded herbicides, can be found on the Monsanto website at:
Regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate is not a reproductive toxin or teratogen (cause of birth defects) based on in-depth review of the comprehensive data sets available.

Monsanto’s statement concerning the Earth Open Source report may be accessed at:


Atomic gardening: Day of the irradiated peanuts

- Cian O'Luanaigh, New Scientist, June 2011

(Image: Frank Scherschel/Time & Life/Getty)

One March day in 1959, in the sleepy British seaside town of Eastbourne, a nuclear enthusiast decided to feed her dinner guests irradiated peanuts and potatoes that had been preserved with radioactive sodium. While Muriel Howorth's guests were unsure about their repast, the unusual dinner was the start of an unforeseen chain reaction that led to the birth of one of the quirkiest horticultural collectives there has ever been: the Atomic Gardening Society.

The society encouraged members to grow plants under radioactive conditions so that beneficial mutations would arise. The idea might sound strange, even dangerous, now - but back in the 1950s it was part of a broader trend. The movement was part of a concerted effort in the US and Europe to find beneficial uses for atomic energy after the destruction caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In his 1953 "Atoms for Peace" speech to the United Nations general assembly, US President Dwight Eisenhower highlighted a turning point in attitudes to nuclear power when he stated that it should be "constructive, not destructive". He also proposed the International Atomic Agency be set up, where "experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine and other peaceful activities".

In "gamma gardens" run by national laboratories in the US, plants growing in concentric circles were bombarded with radiation from a central source - such as cobalt-60 - elevated on a pole. The pole could be lowered below ground when people were tending the plants. Plants nearest the centre tended to die, a little further out they developed tumours and developmental problems, but the plants furthest out sometimes developed potentially beneficial mutations. It was hoped the treatment could, for instance, produce colour changes in flowers, disease resistance in wheat and increased sugar content in maples.

"If you think of genetic modification today as slicing the genome with a scalpel, in the 1960s they were hitting it with a hammer" says nanotechnologist Paige Johnson of the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who researches garden history in her spare time.

Johnson discovered the Atomic Gardening society while studying atomic motifs in gardens. She was quite unprepared to find this literal expression of the power of the atom in the garden. "When I first heard about atomic gardening I thought it was a joke," she says. "It sounded like something out of the B movies of the 1950s - giant ants and that sort of thing."

Giant ants maybe not, but the peanuts to which Howorth subjected her atomic dinner party guests had been bombarded with18,500 roentgens of X-rays - that's 37 times the dose that would kill a person in 5 hours. The peanuts originated in the lab of Walter Gregory of North Carolina State University, who would select beneficial mutants from the plants he zapped - those which produced larger or more numerous peanuts than usual. His thick-hulled "North Carolina fourth-generation X-rayed" (NC4x) strain was the size of an almond (Crops and Soils, vol 12, p 12), and it was one of these that he sent to Howorth.

Gregory called the NC4x as "a milestone in crop breeding". When a NC4x Howorth planted germinated in a quick four days, it was hailed by garden writer Beverley Nichols as: "the most sensational plant in Britain... It is the first 'atomic' peanut".

The media attention brought new members to the society and allowed Howorth to conduct an early crowdsourcing experiment. She imported irradiated Atomic Energised seeds from entrepreneur C. J. Speas of Tennessee and distributed them to members of the society, who looked for changes in their seeds and reported them on progress cards. These were then analysed by retired geneticists and plant biologists.

It would be easy to dismiss atomic gardening as a naive and overzealous attempt to somehow make up for the ills of nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy seemed to promise not only free electricity but the eradication of famine - and the atomic gardeners had no qualms about releasing irradiated seeds into the environment. "They thought they were changing the world, and they weren't very self-reflective about that," says Johnson.

The legacy of the atomic gardens can still be seen today. Working gamma gardens exist in Japan, and varieties descended from irradiated plants - such as the Rio red grapefruit - stack our supermarket shelves. 70 per cent of the peppermint sold in the US is descended from a mutant in a neutron-irradiated source. Even if atomic gardening was a misguided experiment, it has thrown up some unexpectedly tasty results.

In 1963 Muriel passed the Atomic Gardening Society on to Thomas E. Grey. If anyone has any further information about him, or was a member of the society, please get in touch with Paige Johnson, who gave a talk on the Atomic Gardening Society at the Garden Museum in London yesterday.


Scientists create low-acrylamide potato lines

- Nicole Miller, UW-Madison, June 9, 2011 by

What do Americans love more than French fries and potato chips? Not much-but perhaps we love them more than we ought to. Fat and calories aside, both foods contain high levels of a compound called acrylamide, a potential carcinogen.

First discovered in foods in 2002, acrylamide is produced whenever starchy foods are fried, roasted or baked, meaning it's found in everything from doughnuts to coffee beans. But fries and chips are relatively high in acrylamide compared to most starch-based snacks, and potato processors are eager to change that.

University of Wisconsin-Madison plant geneticist Jiming Jiang, a professor of horticulture, has a solution. As described in the current issue of Crop Science, his lab has developed a promising new kind of potato that helps cut acrylamide, an innovation he created with support from USDA-ARS plant physiologist Paul Bethke, an assistant professor of horticulture. As a bonus, those potatoes also could help producers significantly reduce food waste.

The problem starts with storage. Because fry and chip processors need potatoes year round, most of the fall harvest goes into storage, where low temperatures can cause simple sugars to accumulate in the tubers, a phenomenon known as "cold-induced sweetening" in the industry. During cooking, those sugars react with free amino acids to produce acrylamide. The same reaction also causes fries and chips to turn dark brown during processing, making them unsalable.

Jiang's solution is to insert a small segment of a potato's own DNA back into its genome. The extra DNA helps block a single gene — the vacuolar acid invertase gene, which codes for an enzyme — that's responsible for converting sucrose into glucose and fructose, the sugar culprits that cause both acrylamide formation and browning. Through this process Jiang has created a number of potato lines that produce very little acrylamide when cooked.

"Regular potato chips can have acrylamide levels up around 1,000 parts per billion," says Jiang. "Ours are down around 200." Jiang's process, potentially of enormous use to the food industry, is now being patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.


Southern African Nations United in Policy on Genetic Crops

- Hopewell Radebe. Business Day (South Africa) June 6, 2011

Farming unions in Sadc countries sign common policy framework on genetically modified crops and called on their governments to harmonise policies in the region.

MORE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries could soon be planting genetically modified crops after the farming unions in 12 of the 14 member countries signed a common policy framework on the crops and called on their governments to harmonise policies in the region.

Farming communities in the region, where genetically modified crops are generally not allowed, are feeling left out as their counterparts who are using these crops in SA, Egypt and Burkina Faso are improving productivity and incomes.

Uganda recently allowed controlled research into genetically modified organisms with the intention of developing seeds suitable for local crops.

The Southern African Confederation of Agriculture Unions (Sacau), which is represented in 12 of Sadc’s 14 member countries, adopted a common policy framework on genetically modified organisms last week in which it called for "political will" to speed up the harmonisation of policies on genetically modified organisms in the region.

Frustrated by the reluctance of most Sadc governments to debate and legislate on genetically modified organisms, Sacau has argued that governments in the region should urgently establish "a bio-safety framework for the region", to create an enabling regulatory and a responsible development environment for genetically modified organisms.

The policy framework emanated from a conference in Vereeniging last month when farmers engaged with researchers and leading experts around issues of genetically modified crops in agricultural development in Southern Africa.

CEO Ishmael Sunga, of the Sacau secretariat, said in a statement that the conference believes genetically modified technology is one of the options that increased production, generates and improves income for farmers, and contributes to food security challenges in the region.

The document also calls for more research and development, as well as the widespread dissemination of the research results to empower farmers to make more informed decisions about genetically modified seeds and planting methods.

The document also advocates that farmers be granted rights to choose to be involved in research and development programmes in genetically modified organisms, and in related standards setting processes and structures.

It also advances the idea of a cost- benefit analysis associated with the non-adoption of genetically modified crops by countries to make it possible for governments to keep records of any potential losses in delaying the planting of genetically modified crops.

The framework agreed by stakeholders recognises the need for evidence-based decision-making processes, and that the right of consumers to choose whether to use products based on genetically modified organisms must be respected.

Mr Sunga said he would release the organisation’s decisions and position statements on genetically modified organisms to the respective governments.

Signatories of Sacau’s framework include the farmer unions of Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, SA, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are not yet affiliated.


A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself

- Justin Gillis , The New York Times, June 4, 2011

The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.

Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.

Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.

Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change.

Decades ago, the wheat farmers in the Yaqui Valley of Mexico were the vanguard of a broad development in agriculture called the Green Revolution, which used improved crop varieties and more intensive farming methods to raise food production across much of the developing world.

When Norman E. Borlaug, a young American agronomist, began working here in the 1940s under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Yaqui Valley farmers embraced him. His successes as a breeder helped farmers raise Mexico’s wheat output sixfold.

In the 1960s, Dr. Borlaug spread his approach to India and Pakistan, where mass starvation was feared. Output soared there, too.

Other countries joined the Green Revolution, and food production outstripped population growth through the latter half of the 20th century. Dr. Borlaug became the only agronomist ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1970, for helping to “provide bread for a hungry world.”

As he accepted the prize in Oslo, he issued a stern warning. “We may be at high tide now,” he said, “but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts.”
Promises Unkept
At the end of a dirt road in northeastern India, nestled between two streams, lies the remote village of Samhauta. Anand Kumar Singh, a farmer there, recently related a story that he could scarcely believe himself.

Last June, he planted 10 acres of a new variety of rice. On Aug. 23, the area was struck by a severe flood that submerged his field for 10 days. In years past, such a flood would have destroyed his crop. But the new variety sprang back to life, yielding a robust harvest. “That was a miracle,” Mr. Singh said.

The miracle was the product not of divine intervention but of technology — an illustration of how far scientists may be able to go in helping farmers adapt to the problems that bedevil them.

“It’s the best example in agriculture,” said Julia Bailey-Serres, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, who has done genetic work on the rice variety that Mr. Singh used. “The submergence-tolerant rice essentially sits and waits out the flood.”

In the heyday of the Green Revolution, the 1960s, leaders like Dr. Borlaug founded an international network of research centers to focus on the world’s major crops. The corn and wheat center in Mexico is one. The new rice variety that is exciting farmers in India is the product of another, the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

Leading researchers say it is possible to create crop varieties that are more resistant to drought and flooding and that respond especially well to rising carbon dioxide. The scientists are less certain that crops can be made to withstand withering heat, though genetic engineering may eventually do the trick.

The flood-tolerant rice was created from an old strain grown in a small area of India, but decades of work were required to improve it. Money was so tight that even after the rice had been proven to survive floods for twice as long as previous varieties, distribution to farmers was not assured. Then an American charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stepped in with a $20 million grant to finance final development and distribution of the rice in India and other countries. It may get into a million farmers’ hands this year.

The Gateses, widely known for their work in public health, have also become leading backers of agricultural projects in recent years. “I’m an optimist,” Mr. Gates said in an interview. “I think we can get crops that will mitigate many of our problems.”

The Gates Foundation has awarded $1.7 billion for agricultural projects since 2006, but even a charity as large as it is cannot solve humanity’s food problems on its own. Governments have recognized that far more effort is needed on their part, but they have been slow to deliver.

Yet the leading agricultural experts say that poor countries cannot solve the problems by themselves. The United Nations recently projected that global population would hit 10 billion by the end of the century, 3 billion more than today. Coupled with the demand for diets richer in protein, the projections mean that food production may need to double by later in the century.

Unlike in the past, that demand must somehow be met on a planet where little new land is available for farming, where water supplies are tightening, where the temperature is rising, where the weather has become erratic and where the food system is already showing serious signs of instability.

“We’ve doubled the world’s food production several times before in history, and now we have to do it one more time,” said Jonathan A. Foley, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. “The last doubling is the hardest. It is possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”


A Scientific ‘Merger’

- Consumer Freedom, June 7, 2011

It turns out that carefully engineering new plant strains to take advantage of specific genetic traits isn’t a modern idea after all. Yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, a Japanese research team published evidence that early humans were practicing “artificial selection” of plant genes as early as 10,000 years ago. It’s going to be decidedly more difficult from now on for opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to position themselves as vanguards of biological purity. (There’s a word for people whose views of technology pre-date cavemen: Neanderthals.)

Of course, cross-breeding and laboratory GMO techniques aren’t exactly the same thing, but the main difference between the two isn’t fundamental; it’s just a matter of accuracy. In a nutshell, scientists today can pluck a single gene out of one plant and transfer it to another, which allows for far more precision than nature’s model of mixing 50% of one genetic profile with 50% of another. For example, the rice genome contains 390 million different base pairs of genes, which makes traditional cross-breeding little more than a roll of the dice compared to what a single lab-coated genius can accomplish.

To (grossly) oversimplify, it’s helpful to think of plant genomes like two companies that are about to join together. Consider what happened in February when AOL bought The Huffington Post. For its $315 million, AOL acquired all of the online media outlet: some parts it liked, and others it probably wasn’t too excited about.

We don’t know exactly what those undesirable traits might be. (The San Francisco Chronicle has taken a stab at identifying them.) But what if AOL had been able to acquire “HuffPo” selectively—annexing only the parts that made sense for its business, and leaving the rest to wither on the vine?

Now strike AOL, and insert rice (or potatoes, or beets, or soybeans, or corn). More and more of the world is coming around to the idea that GMOs are a blessing and not a curse because they allow us to pick and choose which characteristics are helpful—drought-tolerance or disease resistance, for example—and which ones are downright counterproductive. And it’s not lost on smart observers that of the most desirable plant traits can boost yields, producing vastly more food for an increasingly hungry (and growing) world.

Even Bolivian socialist strongman president Evo Morales joined the twenty-first century this week.

As recently as last year, Morales was promising that a five-year “transition period” would rid his South American country of GMOs. He even told a climate-change conference last year that eating GMOs caused baldness and homosexuality. (We’re not making that up.)

But yesterday Morales’s government announced that it will permit cultivation of bio-engineered crops in order to increase food production. We only wish Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Organic Consumers Association, the misnamed “Center for Food Safety,” and other food-scare groups would do a similarly decent thing.


Searchable Database of Approved GM Crops


Database of Biotech/GM crop approvals for various biotechnology stakeholders. It features the Biotech/GM crop events and traits that have been approved for commercialization and planting and/or for import for food and feed use with a short description of the crop and the trait.


Fears based on misinformation

- Rob Wager, Nanaimo News Bulletin June 1, 2011

To the Editor, Re: Chemicals do much more than kill weeds, Letters, May 28.

There is little doubt chemophobia is rampant in today’s society. That does not mean the fears are justified. The letter by Christel Martin is an excellent example of fear run amok. She starts her letter claiming all matters of ills from glyphosate (Roundup is a trade name).

I suspect the writer has never looked up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classification of glyphosate. It is level four, the lowest level of toxicity the EPA has for chemicals.

The story of blinding is pure fantasy, likely from some website that does not like Monsanto. This particular agricultural compound has decades of research and safe use. It has replaced the use of far more toxic compounds. It does not persist in the soil and its breakdown products are non-toxic.

The next target is DDT (referred to as a neurotoxin). It is sad that any person would criticize the safe use of DDT to reduce the terrible impact of malaria in many parts of the developing world.

The spraying of mosquito nets and the inside of huts in malaria endemic areas of the world is saving tens of millions of lives. Reading fantasy scare stories designed to block this safe, effective anti-malaria procedure is offensive.

Then Martin leaves all science behind with her attack on genetically modified food. There never was a fish gene put into a commercial tomato. This particular anti-GM fear story never goes away, even though it was completely debunked over a decade ago.

Further, genetically modified organisms have as much to do with Creutzfeldt-Jacobs Disease as bubblegum-flavoured ice cream and pogo sticks do.

GMO’s are the most highly regulated foods on the planet and after three trillion meals there is not a single documented case of harm from consuming them. Every single food safety authority in the world agrees with this fact.

Finally, it is a favourite tactic of the ‘anti crowd’ to suggest all manners of incompetence in any government department that regulates. However, almost without exception, there is little science to back up the criticisms.

People have often forgotten what life was like in decades gone by. One hundred years ago, disease took many of the young and 50 was considered old. Infant mortality is a fraction of what it once was and today’s average life expectancy is 80 years old.

Clearly things have dramatically improved. Government regulators have been instrumental in balancing the risk/benefits of modern science. People live longer, healthier lives thanks in part to better food, health care and disease prevention. Chemicals are central to all these improvements.= Low impact pesticides and GM foods are proven safe effective products of modern science.

Robert Wager, Vancouver Island University


It starts with a seed!



One Hungry Planet