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June 1, 2012


To Label or Not to Label; Stop worrying & start growing; MSS and Eggplant; Rothamsted Protests


Campaign to label biotech foods a waste of time and money

Sign the Petition in Support of Biotechnology and Opposed to Mandatory Labeling of GE Foods

Stop worrying; start growing

M. S. Swaminathan and the Rejection of Bt Eggplant in India

The GM debate is growing up

Rothamsted GM crop-trial website taken down by cyber-attack

The battle over GM: a noisy distraction

GM wheat trial protected by High Court injunction

British Nobelist Speaks Out on Genetic Modification, Synthetic Biology,

Embargo On Bt Brinjal A Great Disservice to India Says Academician

Full text of his talk at

The Biosafety Scanner

Video: Appeal to Protestors from UK Scientists


Campaign to label biotech foods a waste of time and money

- Richard Cornett, Western Farm Press, June 1, 2012

Occasionally you just have to stop and ask yourself what the public has against scientific progress; especially when it comes to feeding a burgeoning world at affordable prices while keeping food safe, abundant and affordable for everyone.

I honestly don’t get it – this reluctance to eat genetically modified (GM) foods. I have been working in the agriculture industry for nearly seven years now and I can’t tell you how many stories that I have read, and how many times I have been told, genetically altered foods are dangerous, unpredictable, “unnatural,” toxic and poison and just you wait – soon the earth will be stricken by a universal pandemic that threatens to end life as we know it; all caused by those horrible “Frankenfoods.”

Just as you think you’ve lived long enough to have heard it all, along comes another silly campaign endorsed and supported by environmental coalitions, organic-only consumers and at least one questionable donor who want to add yet more words to already long and cluttered ingredient labels now on store shelves that the majority of us don’t read anyway. That’s right, you now need to know that you have been eating foodstuffs over the past many years that contain – (drum roll please) – genetically engineered fruits and vegetables! Ahh, the callousness and inhumanity of it all!

The initiative is known as the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act and is currently being evaluated to determine if the adequate amount of voter signatures has been collected to place it on November’s ballot. No other state in the union requires these types of labels on food.

And these wise proponents of GM labeling, when asked what they have against gene-altered plants in our food chain, frequently offer up the answer of “No one really knows the threat. But beware, in a few short years health problems will develop on a global basis that will be traced to GM foods as the source.” Plus, of course, there’s “the possibility of creating brand new allergens.”

This is simply unadulterated hogwash. It’s like saying we shouldn’t heat our food with electromagnetic radiation because we just can’t be certain about the long-term health effects of microwave ovens. Many of us didn’t grow up with these tools in our kitchens, but they aren’t exactly an unproven technology.

This so-called GM food threat isn’t how some globally respected organizations see it: The American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, the Research Council of the National Academies of Science, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization all agree that GM products are safe and nutritious. FDA officials say there’s no need for the federal government to require labeling because there is no material difference between genetically modified and unmodified food.

In the United States, more than 170 million acres of biotech crops were planted in 2011, according to the nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. We’ve been growing GM crops for almost a generation, all over the world. Farmers have harvested billions of acres of them. People have eaten trillions of servings of food derived from these sources – all this without even as much as a reported tummy-ache.

Bring on the ambulance chasers

Figures compiled from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 88 percent of the corn, 94 percent of the soybeans and 90 percent of the cotton planted in the U.S. last year were biotech varieties. Other biotech crops grown in the U.S. include alfalfa, canola, sugar beets, squash and papaya.

Opponents of the food labeling initiative point out that 80 percent of the processed food sold in U.S. grocery stores is reported to contain biotech products, so unless food processors want to label all their products, they will need California-only packaging.

Now here’s the kicker. The initiative would ban foods from being labeled or marketed as “natural” if they have been processed in any way – even if they contain no biotech ingredients. That includes foods that have been dried, roasted, smoked, pressed, cooked, fermented, milled, frozen or canned. Think about that one. Rice and wheat are milled. Olives must be pressed to make olive oil.

It gets worse. The measure would allow anyone to sue, claiming a food company, grocer or farmer has violated its labeling provisions – even when they have no proof of any damages. Bring on the ambulance chasers! Farmers who don’t use biotechnology would be affected the most, as they would have to keep special records and track every ingredient of every product they sell in California in the event they are hit with a lawsuit. Sadly, the measure doesn’t do anything in terms of adding extra security for nutritional or health concerns for the consumer.


The long and short of it is that consumers who wish to avoid biotech foods already have the option to buy foods that have been certified organic by the USDA and other third-party entities. Agriculture needs to bring a full-court press upon the proponents of this labeling measure and tell enviros that it’s had enough – that we are not going to suffer even harsher burdens by a group of uniformed fellow citizens and self-interest groups who are against modern-day farming technology for apparently no good reason.

(Director of Communications, Western Plant Health Association)


Sign the Petition in Support of Biotechnology and Opposed to Mandatory Labeling of GE Foods


Like the overwhelming majority of scientific and medical experts and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, we believe that foods made with the benefit of modern biotechnology are safe and that labeling them as “genetically engineered” would mislead consumers by creating the false impression that foods containing GE ingredients are less safe than foods made without the benefit of biotechnology. Mandatory labeling can only be scientifically justified when based on the characteristics of the food product, not on the processes used in their development.

We also believe that modern biotechnology offers important tools to help increase agricultural productivity, protect crops from insects, pests and diseases, reduce the use of pesticides and water and increase the nutritional benefits of certain foods.

Therefore, along with other scientists and medical professionals, we oppose the California ballot proposition and other similar measures that would ban the sale of thousands of perfectly safe, common food and beverage products unless they are labeled as “genetically engineered” or reformulated to remove any GE ingredients. Such measures would be enormously disruptive and costly to the food industry and to consumers, without providing any health or safety benefits.

As fellow academics and scientists, we encourage you to join us and sign this petition to provide consumers with the facts about biotechnology and mandatory labeling.


Roger N. Beachy, Bob Goldberg, Kent Bradford, Henry I. Miller, Pamela C. Ronald, Christine Bruhn, Kevin M. Folta, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, C. S. Prakash


Stop worrying; start growing

- Torbjörn Fagerström et al, EMBO reports advance online publication 11 May 2012; EMBO Open

‘Risk research on GM crops is a dead parrot: it is time to start reaping the benefits of GM’

Ever since the Asilomar Conference on ‘Recombinant DNA' in February 1975, regulatory policies relating to recombinant DNA technology have focused on the idea that this technology implies threats to human health and the environment [1]. As a consequence, the explicit goal of these policies is to protect society and nature from an assumed hazard, or, if protection is not possible, at least to delay the implementation of the technology until scientific evidence shows it to be harmless.

These policies were widely accepted at the time, as public concerns were, and still are, important. As time has gone by, the evidence for negative impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops has become weaker. However, the regulatory policies within the EU are still rigid enough to prevent most GM crops from leaving the confined laboratory setting; should some candidate occasionally overcome the hurdles posed by these policies, the precautionary principle is invoked in order to ensure further delaying in its use in the field. The reason for this over-cautious approach is widespread public resistance to GM crops, caused and amplified by interested groups that are opposed to the technology and invest heavily into lobbying against it.

Read on


M. S. Swaminathan and the Rejection of Bt Eggplant in India

- Paul Christensen, Seed In Context Blog, May 28, 2012

Bt Eggplant had been approved by the scientific establishment in India. Specifically it was approved in by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, GEAC, in late 2009. Acceptance of Bt eggplant (Brinjal in Hindi) was seen as important to the image of biotechnology globally. First, it was a food crop that would be directly consumed. Acceptance would indicate trust in the world’s scientific establishment on the safety of Bt technology. Second, Bt eggplant had been developed by a created by a consortium which included public and private plant science entities. It was not entirely associated with multinational companies. Third, it was developed to meet the needs small scale farmers. Bt eggplant did not fit the image of technology for large scale commercial agriculture.

Sometimes Resistance to Agricultural Biotechnology Refects Additudes to the Private Sector

Seed related policy in India is important for the seed industry not only because of the market for seed in India, but because of the play of ideas which takes place within its borders spills into international discussions. I have written previously about the importance of the Indian political discussion of plant variety intellectual property rights. India is also home to some of the most outspoken of the postmodern critics of the seed industry and biotechnology, such as Dr. Vandana Shiva. On the other side, India is one of the most striking examples of the success of the green revolution, and the impact of improvement of plant varieties which was at its core. That brings us to Dr. Swaminathan and the eggplant.


The Bt eggplant decision was not science-based, even though there are scientists like Dr. Swaminathan who supported the moratorium. In general, one can say that the objections of these scientists to the deregulation of Bt eggplant were based on ethical positions, not on science where their scientific expertise is recognized. In the case of Dr. Swaminathan, he is asserting an ethical objection to food safety science conducted by private industry and asserting that measures for the conservation of eggplant diversity should be linked to the food safety approval of Bt eggplant. These are ethical positions which can be debated, but from my perspective they don’t seem to reflect existing science or food safety law. The fact that the moratorium does not reflect current food safety law makes it capricious regulation of the sort that has in the past kept millions in poverty in Asia before 1980. Placing the moratorium in effect in the name of the morality of protection of the poor does not remove the fact that it is the wellbeing of the poor which is suffering while the technology remains unused.

M.K. Gandhi held that suffering was a virtue, but only when it was deliberately undertaken the cause of right. Giving up improved sales of eggplants to the local market is not what he had in mind in the movement of his time. He approved of putting morality above the law at times, but one of the troubling parts of his legacy is the question of how the village should choose which morality to put above the law. 15

Is the right of future generations to the conservation of eggplant germplasm to be compared to the right of democratic participation in government? At what point does the right of future generations to eggplant germplasm override the right of the current generation to make laws about due process in the evaluation of food safety? To me those are choices which belong in the scope of democratic law making. The best that can be said in favor the decision which Mr. Jairam Ramesh took about the moratorium in his capacity as Minister of Environment and Forestry is that it followed the administrative procedures and reflected real public concern. It does appear that the Minister acted within the legal scope of his authority to issue the moratorium, even though he could have done otherwise if he had made other judgments about food safety. The poor have the right to choose suffering, even when they do so for the wrong reasons…Don’t they?


The GM debate is growing up

Scientists on YouTube, Frankenfood out of the headlines: Rothamsted looks like a turning point

o James Randerson
o guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 May 2012 16.00 EDT
o Comments (287)

Take the Flour Back and other GM protest groups were thwarted at Rothamsted on 27 May, and the tone of the debate has changed. Photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters

'No GM spuds," proclaimed a banner wielded by protesters in opposition to a trial of genetically modified crops last weekend. The activists had planned to destroy the trial plots at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire but were thwarted by a low turnout and a well-prepared police presence.

But more interesting than their failure to vandalise the plants is the important turning point in the GM debate that this trial has revealed. Media reporting and comment has been mostly neutral and positive about the experiments, or actively hostile to the protesters – a far cry from the days of "Frankenfood" headlines. What has changed?
In the GM debates of the late 90s and early 2000s, the mega-agricultural companies pushing GM seemed to have a tin ear to legitimate concerns about the health effects of their products and the danger they might pose to the environment. It was easy for the activists (the plucky little guys) to play to those fears in opposition to Monsanto et al (the faceless mercenary corporate interests). In the argument over the Rothamsted trial, the playbook has been reversed.

First, instead of hiding, the scientists have been out in the open. Byexplaining their research to journalists at the Science Media Centre in London in March they could not be accused of keeping the trial secret. When activists announced their plan to destroy the crop, the researchers adopted a new tactic. Rather than condemning the threats and hunkering down, they issued a plaintive YouTube appeal. The video is not PR-slick or well-rehearsed; the researchers come across as genuine in their desire simply to find out the answers. Their message to the activists was to discuss the issues rather than resort to criminal damage.

The scientists have been keen to point out that the risk of pollen from their wheat reaching surrounding crops is vanishingly small because the crop is self-fertilising. So the urgency – claimed by the protesters – to stop a trial that could have profound effects on the environment simply did not exist. Also vital to the researchers' argument is that they are not Monsanto. The research is publicly funded, and the scientists have promised that the results will not be patented. So familiar jibes that the scientists are only in it for the money have missed their mark.

Another important ingredient has been the researchers' ability to tap into an emerging "geek consciousness" – a diverse, science-friendly army who were initially mobilised by Simon Singh's libel battle over bogus chiropractic treatments but who now flock to any attack on science. An online "Don't destroy research" petition, hosted by Sense About Science, has attracted more than 6,000 signatures and was tweeted by Stephen Fry, who lamented "the latest assault on what remains of Castle Enlightenment".

Something else which has changed is that genetic modification is no longer new. GM crops have been grown commercially around the world for more than a decade, and have been eaten by millions. Scary health effects that were always the most potent fears for average consumers (though perhaps also the least credible) have failed to materialise. And while the impact of GM crops has been far from benign in all instances, the logic that every case of manipulating plant genes is bad and dangerous is now demonstrably false.

Despite acres of coverage and glorious sunshine, the protest failed to really take off. There were an estimated 200 people at the event. But their seemingly fanatical opposition to the GM trial set against the reason and openness of the scientists has cast the whole GM debate in a new light.


Rothamsted GM crop-trial website taken down by cyber-attack

- Adam Vaughan, Guardian (UK), 28 May 2012

Cyber-attackers took down the website on Sunday night of Rothamsted Research – an agricultural research institute in the UK conducting a GM crop trial, just hours after a failed attack on the institute's field of genetically modified wheat in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

The researchers tweeted that they had been a "victim of [a] cyber-attack", and said "cyberbullying will prevent us informing the public." The website appeared offline for visitors from around 8pm last night, but was rebooted on Monday morning and was live again at the time of writing.

A pair of Twitter accounts purporting to represent the hacking collective Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Guardian has been unable to verify the accounts as being representative of the main Anonymous collective.

One reason to suspect the attack was not by those accounts' owners is that the tweets claiming responsibility – by @AnonOp_UK and @AnonOpsLegion – were posted two hours after the site went down. Anonymous commonly declares its cyber-attacks immediately after they happen. No one else has claimed responsibility.

The video appeal from Rothamsted Research

"Whoever conducted this malicious attack, please respect our wish to give public-funded science information to the public," said Rothamsted's official twitter feed this morning.

There has been speculation that the site was taken down by a distributed denial of service or DDoS, where a few hundred or several thousand PCs ping the target site, overloading it. Rothamsted Research told the Guardian: "We believe this was a distributed denial of service attack but it is unclear who was responsible."

The cyber-attack followed hundreds of people, led by the anti-GM Take the Flour Back campaign group, being prevented by police from attacking the researchers' trial crop. "If this wheat goes to commercialisation, there would then be cross-contamination and we would no longer have a choice about GM or non-GM," said Lucy Harrap, who helped to organise the event.

Rothamsted researchers previously released a YouTube video asking anti-GM campaigners not to damage their trial of GM wheat.

The wheat in the Rothamsted trial is genetically modified to produce a scent undetectable to the human nose that will deter wheat pests such as greenfly and blackfly aphids. Around 400 plant species, including peppermint, release the same chemical naturally.


The battle over GM: a noisy distraction

- Rob Lyons, Spiked (UK), May 29, 2012

They might disagree about GM crops, but both the haters and many defenders of GM share an eco-miserabilist outlook.

Depending on who you were reading, it was either a showdown between rational, progressive scientists and wacky, ignorant Luddites, or it was a brave attempt by caring greens to stop an environmental catastrophe. In truth, the Battle of Rothamsted seems to have been a bit of a damp squib.

The ‘battle’ came about because a campaign group, Take the Flour Back, announced that on Sunday it would protest against Rothamsted Research, a government agricultural research facility north of London, and destroy an open-air trial of a new, genetically modified wheat that produces a pheromone that repels aphids. The pheromone is already present in 400 other plants. The aim of the new wheat is to reduce reliance on pesticides. But in the minds of anti-GM groups, mucking about with the fundamentals of life is far more dangerous than using pesticides. The group’s video has all the hallmarks of green activism: patronising, scientifically dubious and riddled with anti-corporate conspiracy-mongering.

What was different this time was that the research centre didn’t take the matter lying down. Instead it appealed to the protesters not to go ahead with their action. Professor John Pickett and other researchers at Rothamsted wrote an open letter to Take the Flour Back, pleading: ‘We know we cannot stop you from taking the action you plan, nor would we wish to see force used against you. Therefore we can only appeal to your consciences, and ask you to reconsider before it is too late, and before years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever.’ A petition was launched by the scientific community – under the banner ‘Don’t Destroy Scientific Research’ – which has gathered over 5,000 signatures.

----cut ---------

But even those who stand up for GM reveal problems. While spiked has always been supportive of GM crops, it doesn’t help when scientists firstly overstate the case for them and secondly do so in the context of confronting one scare story with another. A textbook example came in comments made by Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser: ‘The future is really quite frightening. We are going to see enormous increases in the demand for GM food and who’s going to suffer when the food prices go up? The answer is the poorest of the poor… GM isn’t going to feed them all. It’s not going to solve the problem instantly. But it’s part of the sort of developments we are going to need to use to address some of these formidable problems.’

GM crops are not, as some claim, essential to feeding the world. We will be able to feed nine billion people without them (we almost certainly can already). The reason people go hungry right now is due to a variety of problems, most importantly poverty but also a lack of infrastructural development, barriers to free trade, and the missionary zeal with which NGOs and aid agencies promote low horizons in the developing world. The message to poor farmers is frequently: don’t think big or modern, think ‘appropriate’.

Scare-story justifications for GM also tend to close down discussion, something seen all too often in the debate about climate change, too. Those who believe in GM should be more concerned with explaining why it is in the interest of consumers to support this research, not trying to guilt-trip those with doubts into accepting GM. The irony is that when anti-GM campaigners say that we ‘shouldn’t take the risk’, isn’t that exactly the same argument made by climate-change activists who want to shout down opposition?

It’s good news if scientists are going to be more pro-active in defending their work and laying out the evidence for new technologies for us to judge for ourselves. It would be even better to have a defence of progress and human ingenuity against the pessimism of our fearful elites.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.


GM wheat trial protected by High Court injunction

- Philip Case, Farmers Weekly (UK)< 31 May 2012 06:00

The High Court has granted Rothamsted Research a civil injunction to protect its GM wheat open field experimental trial.

Rothamsted sought the order amid concerns that the trial, of wheat genetically modified to repel aphids, was under threat of destruction.

The protest group, Take The Flour Back, has threatened to "decontaminate" the trial site in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, unless the trial is halted immediately.

The application was brought on Tuesday (29 May) by the Lawes Agricultural Trust, the landowner, and other charities to protect work of "significant scientific and historical value to the UK".

The injunction forbids unauthorised access to the field trial site and the immediate area around it. A large perimeter fence, CCTV and 24-hour security already protect the trial.

Anyone caught breaching this injunction will face prosecution under the Contempt of Court Act, which could result in a large fine or even imprisonment.

Philip Brook Smith QC, for the charities, told the court that "trampling on crops in fields corrupts the scientific objective of the studies being pursued".


British Nobelist Speaks Out on Genetic Modification, Synthetic Biology,

- ASTANA, Kazakhstan, May 24, 2012

Sir Richard Roberts, the eminent British biologist and Nobel Prize laureate, said today European opposition to genetically modified organisms is political rather than scientific in nature.

He also said "personal medicine" based on human genome research holds large-scale promise to improve the health of the world's people on an individualized basis.

Roberts, who won the Nobel in 1993 for his shared discovery of split genes, made his remarks at the Astana Economic Forum, a global conference of scientists, academics, multinational executives and government leaders.

"On a political level, governments must embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and not give way to European prophets of doom, who oppose the use of GMOs for purely political reasons," said Roberts. "It is important to note there is a complete absence of evidence that GMOs can cause any harm. Indeed to any well-informed scientist, traditionally bred plants seem much more likely to be harmful than GMOs."

Roberts predicted growing knowledge of the human genome will yield better medical treatments and diagnostics. "It is just as important that we learn more about the bacteria that colonize our bodies since they are an essential part of what it means to be human," he said.

He also predicated synthetic biology will enable scientists to build novel microorganisms from "scratch."

"Most exciting is the promise of stem cells where the challenge is to understand how they drive their differentiation into all of the other cell types in our bodies," Roberts said. "While I do not advocate prolonging life indefinitely, I am very much in favor of ensuring that as we age, the quality of our life does not diminish."


Embargo On Bt Brinjal A Great Disservice to India Says Academician
- Crop Biotech Update, June 1, 2012

Delivering a 19th Dr. B.P. Pal Memorial Lecture on "Research Priorities for Application of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture", Prof. G. Padmanaban said the embargo on Bt brinjal a great disservice to the country in terms of turning away researchers from the field of biotechnology. He further cautioned that even industry is reluctant to invest in transgenic crop research due to prevailing political and regulatory uncertainty on crop biotech in the country. "It is suicidal for a country to deny itself a technology option," he added.

The lecture was presided by Dr. P.L. Gautam, Chairperson of the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers' Rights Authority (PPVFRA) of India. Elaborating on the potential applications of transgenic technology to agriculture as multi-faceted and fascinating, he said that it is unfortunate that controversies, often based on wrong or exaggerated interpretations of scientific facts, have threatened the exploitation of this technology in India. It is not as if transgenic or GM technology will be a stand-alone strategy, but it can easily blend with traditional and alternate approaches to provide a holistic solution. None of the technologies are mutually exclusive and it will be a folly to deny this country of a technology option, he said.

"The debate for and against GM technology has raged all over the world and people have taken extreme positions one way or the other and it appears to me that this is not an issue that can be settled through arguments, he said. "Ultimately it has to be a political decision, based on a clear perception of its utility and a careful risk-benefit analysis and not be guided by populistic movements. One hopes that overwhelming scientific data and success on the field would eventually lead to realistic decisions being taken on the application of GM technology, which is highly relevant to improve agricultural productivity in India."

Full text of his talk at



The Biosafety Scanner


Biosafety Scanner - searchable database on global biotech crops and regulations with nice infographs and maps - CSP

Biosafety Scanner provides a range of useful information for the planning and management of GMO control activity in crop production, with particular reference to international commerce.

Data processing gives a concise picture of whether or not, in the country of interest, conditions exist which can favour GMO contamination of crop production or the import of products not conforming to European standards with regard to traceability and labelling requirements.
It will be possible, however, to evaluate the following by means of the information displayed and on the basis of the user’s needs:

1. how to source supplies and whether or not to request certification (should worked or semi-worked raw material need to be imported);
2. which batches should be controlled and which transformation event should be looked for in the analysis (should surveillance and monitoring programs have to be planned).


Video: Appeal to Protestors from UK Scientists


Show your support and say 'Don't destroy scientific research'.


Scientists at Rothamsted Research in an independent plea to protestors who want to "decontaminate" their scientific experiment, which is exploring one possible way to reduce the environmental impact of growing wheat, simply because it uses a genetic modification technique in the experimental process.

The website we refer to is http://taketheflourback.org/why-a-decontamination