AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
Date: Jul 03 2000 18:20:47 EDT
From: "vedpal malik"
Subject: Re: antibiotic resistance
There is a very good description of the marker gene controversy in
transgenic plants at
Vedpal S. Malik
Subj: Re: Sisters against Kellogg
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2000 5:53:26 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Barry Hearn"
For list member's information, following is the text of EVAG's letter to
SSJ. EVAG is frequently challenged by those who claim to be
environmentalists regarding our staunch support for biotechnology in
agriculture. They may take the following as our rationale:
I write at the request of EVAG's steering committee to formally request
the Sisters for St. Joseph give very serious consideration to a position
apparently antagonistic to biotechnology in agriculture.
As we follow the GM food debate we are treated to wildly conflicting views,
hair-raising claims of risk and consequence, and promises of a golden age
plenty. Most of the risk claims are fairly extravagant and refer to extreme
hypotheticals - possible perhaps, but highly unlikely. Some of the claimed
need is also based on a premise of exploding population - something that
recent trends suggest to be overstated and peak human population will
occur sooner and be lower than previously anticipated.
I would ask your indulgence for a moment while I engage in a little
rhetorical question and answer.
"Is there an element of risk involved in bioengineering?"
The answer is, of course, yes, for there is no such thing as an action
without consequence. This is not to say that the emotive labeling of GM as
"Frankenfoods" is either justified or even close to accurate. Regardless of
the technique involved, all cultivated and husbanded species have been
modified by deliberate human action and have been since the dawn of
agriculture. It matters little whether this has been achieved by selective
breeding; hybridization; deliberate mutation by nuclear irradiation, as in
the UN's rice cultivar project in China, or; as in the technique under
discussion, by specific gene splicing. Everything that we consume, other
than harvested wild stocks such as fish, is "modified food". It does not
seem that this is necessarily a problem since human lifespans are
while, at least in the developed world, aging diseases such as cancer are
either static or declining. (With the exception of substance abuse-induced
incidence such as tobacco smoking or fashion and lifestyle incidence such
increased outdoor leisure activity and sun exposure leading to an increase
in skin cancers).
"Do we desperately need bioengineered foodstuffs to feed the world?"
Well, no, we don't, there are always alternatives. The world's population
will increase further and a significant number of people remain below
adequate daily calorie provision at present, so we do need to increase food
production. This can be done by "conventional" means, we can use enough
fertilizers and plough-down a lot more wildland and we can use enough
chemicals to suppress insect predation to the point where we can provide
sufficient calories for everyone, regardless of human population. But is
this the most desirable or the most ethical solution? Given human
nervousness over chemical exposure, is it even the least risk course?
Environmentally, is this a responsible or ethical course?
"Can biotechnology deliver any of the promised gains?"
It can certainly deliver some. Humanity utilizes about 4.5 billion hectares
(6 million square miles) for agriculture. Herrera-Estrella's team has
inserted a gene to let crop plants secrete citric acid from their roots.
This allows them to tolerate aluminium toxicity, which currently cuts crop
yields by up to 80 percent on 30-40 percent of the world's arable land.
Further, it allows plants to utilize insoluble phosphate. Not only are
insoluble phosphate sources considerably cheaper, a huge benefit for
impoverished farmers, but they are also significantly less likely to
contaminate the water table and will help reduce problems of fluvial
eutrophication. It is intended that this advance be given without fee to
impoverished farmers, although it is likely that licensing will be charged
in wealthy regions to fund further research.
Suppose that just this one technique reduces crop losses by half, therefore
trebling production, on one-third of the world's agricultural land. Do we
need that much additional food? On current population trends, we won't. So
what will happen? More marginal areas, the least economically farmed, will
be abandoned to return to wildlands - wildlife habitat in other words. This
will involve some significant social disruption certainly but it will also
be the most significant conservation act in human history. This is the
potential from just one bioengineering feat, not counting myriad potential
yield increases, large and small, from a broad range of projects currently
under trial or development.
Consider, also, amelioration of the micronutrient deficiency that so
the rice belt. Potrykus' "Golden Rice" has already demonstrated enhanced
expression of beta carotene (vitamin A precursor) and work is under way to
insert iron fortification and so alleviate problems of both blindness and
anaemia caused by malnutrition in much of the Third World. Some 400 million
people are vitamin A deficient while almost 4 billion lack iron in their
diet. This seed stock is also to be made available to the most needy
There appears good potential for this technology to assist greatly in the
provision of adequate, affordable nutrient to all of our world's human
population. To do so while returning possibly 1.5b hectares (2m square
miles) of agricultural land to wildland over the next 50-100 years and so
greatly reducing pressure on habitat and biodiversity is a prize beyond the
wildest dreams of conservationists.
There are risks and uncertainties in biotechnology. There is also potential
for huge social and environmental gain. The decision to undertake any
of action is always a measured balance of perceived risk against potential
gain and there is always a "something" that might go wrong. Is the
to address nutritional deficiency in billions of people while returning
perhaps one-third or even more of the world's agricultural land to wildland
worth risking an unknown "something"?
EVAG believes that it is.
I urge you to consider very carefully your reticence over bioengineered
produce. Third World economies are heavily dependent on agriculture and the
hard currency generated from agricultural exports. Wealthy region
hypochondria may well force impoverished regions to ban technologies they
desperately need in order to preserve the markets they can not do without.
Should they really have to pay such a heavy price for our self-indulgence?
Please, think of the consequences of pandering to the irrational fear
campaigns propagated by misanthropes and special interest organisations.
Are we really so endangered by breakfast cereal that we should impose
blindness and death in less fortunate regions?
From EVAG's perspective, the prize is great and the risk is slight.
Are you so certain that the perceived risk is greater than the potential
Economically Viable Alternative Green
Bridging the gap between environmental idealism and reality.
Have you fed a starving person today? Visit http://www.thehungersite.com/
have a sponsor donate food on your behalf - costs you nothing.
Date: Jul 03 2000 23:58:02 EDT
From: Rick Roush
Subject: more from Ho
It doesn't appear that Ho paid any attention at all to the responses from
people on this list and the people whose research she cites. She is still
even citing her claims of harms to Swallowtail butterflies.
Below is the text of Dr. Mae-Wan Ho's contribution to the special
educational forum organized by Congressman Tony Hall, 29 June, 2000, on
Capitol Hill. There are even references at the end.
Can biotechnology help fight world hunger?
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Institute of Science in Society www.i-sis.org <http://www.i-sis.org> and
Open University, UK
Special Forum organized by Congressman Tony Hall, Capitol Hill, Washington
DC, 29 June 2000
Key Words: GM crops, CaMV promoter, horizontal gene transfer, world hunger,
organic revolution in science,
1. It's a great honor to be invited to speak here. I'm a scientist who
science and believes science and technology can help build a better world
and combat world hunger. But it must be the right kind of science and
technology, and it must be decided by people themselves. There is no
alternative to the democratic process of seriously informing and empowering
people. And I congratulate Congressman Tony Hall for putting on this
2. I am among the 327 scientists from 38 countries who have signed an Open
Letter to all Governments demanding a moratorium on GM crops because we
reasons to believe they are not safe (1). We are also calling for support
of sustainable agricultural methods that are already working successfully
around the world. There is genuine disagreement within the scientific
community. The public are not served by portraying the debate as science
3. Let me begin with recent report from Germany that GM genes in GM pollen
have transferred to the bacteria and yeasts in the gut of baby bees (2).
4. This kind of horizontal gene transfer involves the direct uptake of
foreign genetic material. It has been found to happen also in the field.
After GM sugar beet was harvested, the GM genetic material persisted in the
soil for at least two years and was taken up by soil bacteria (3).
5. Not only microorganisms, but animal cells, including human cells can
readily take up the GM constructs and the foreign genes often end up in the
cell's own genetic material, its genome (4).
6. Not so long ago, the pro-biotech scientists were insisting horizontal
gene transfer couldn't happen. Now, they are saying it happens all the
so no need to worry.
7. So the crucial question is whether GM genetic material is like ordinary
genetic material. The answer is no. There is a world of difference between
GM genetic material and natural genetic material
8. Natural genetic material in non-GM food is broken down to provide energy
and building-blocks for growth and repair. And in the rare event that the
foreign genetic material gets into a cell's genome, other mechanisms can
still put the foreign genes out of action or eliminate it. These are all
part of the biological barrier that keeps species distinct, so gene
across species is held in check. And that has been so for billions of years
9. GM-constructs are designed to invade genomes and to overcome natural
species barriers. Because of their highly mixed orgins, GM constructs tend
to be unstable as well as invasive, and may therefore be more likely to
spread by horizontal gene transfer (5).
10. GM constructs consist of genetic material of dangerous bacteria,
and other genetic parasites from widely different origins. They are
in new ways that have never existed, and put into genomes that they have
never been part of. They include antibiotic resistance genes that make
bacterial infections very difficult to treat. And, you never just put a
in by itself. It needs a gene switch or a promoter to work. Typically an
aggressive promoter from a virus is used to make the gene over-express
continuously - something which never happens in healthy organisms.
11. One viral promoter in practically al GM crops out there, including the
so-called second generation GM plants such as the 'golden rice' (6) is from
the cauliflower mosaic virus, CaMV for short. This CaMV promoter has a
recombination hotspot - a site where it is prone to break and join up with
other genetic material (7). It is promiscuous in function (8). Plant
engineers thought it works in all plants and plant-like species, but not in
animals. Just last week, we discovered in the scientific literature more
than 10 years old that this same CaMV promoter works extremely well also in
frog eggs (9) and extracts of human cells (10). It is already known to be
able to substitute for promoters of other viruses to give infectious
12. What will happen when these dangerous GM constructs spread? Remember,
constructs are made from genetic material of viruses and bacteria and are
designed to cross species barriers and to invade genomes. In the process,
there's the obvious potential that they may recombine with viruses and
bacteria to create new strains that cause diseases. The antibiotic
resistance genes may also spread to bacteria associated with serious
diseases such as meningitis and tuberculosis. GM constructs that invade
genomes may recombine with, and wake up dormant viruses that have now been
found in all genomes (reviewed in 8).
13. GM crops are turning out to be useless as well as unsafe. The bacterial
bt-toxins, engineered into many crops, are poisonous for beneficial and
endangered species such as lacewings, the Monarch butterfly as well as the
black swallowtail (11). Bt crops encourage new resistant pests to evolve.
Stink Bugs in North Carolina and Georgia are eating up the bt-cotton crops
(12) and have to sprayed with deadly pesticides. A study in the University
of Nebraska shows that GM Roundup Ready soya yielded 6-11% less than non-GM
soya (13), confirming an earlier Univ. of Wisconsin study which also found
that the GM soya required 2 to 5 times more herbicides.
14. The way to fight world hunger is definitely not GM crops. World
population figures have been wildly exaggerated. The figure of 10 billion
has been bandied about. In fact, figures have had to be revised downwards
several times in the late 1990s. By mid-1998, the UN's estimate was that
world population will peak at 7.7 billion in 2040, then go into long term
decline to 3.6 billion by 2150, less than two-third of today's number (14).
15. Population arguments are based on the ecological concept of carrying
capacity. Ecologists are increasingly finding that the more biodiverse the
ecosystem, the greater the carrying capacity (15), and hence the more
and wild-life it can support. Biodiverse systems are also more stable and
resilient. The same principles have guided traditional indigenous farming
systems, and are now being re-applied in holistic approaches that integrate
indigenous and western scientific knowledge (16). Some 12.5 million
around the world are already farmed in this way. The yields have doubled
tripled and are still increasing, at the same time reversing some of the
worst environmental, social and health impacts of the green revolution.
16. World market for GM crops has collapsed because people all over the
world are rejecting them and opting for organic sustainable agriculture
(17). An organic revolution is rising from the grass-roots and also
across the disciplines within western science. From quantum physics to the
ecology of complexity and the new genetics, the message is the same: nature
is dynamic, interconnected and interdependent (18). Proponents of GM
technology are stuck in the mechanistic era, it is that above all that
the technology both futile and dangerous. It is just not innovative enough!
17. In conclusion, GM crops are not safe, not needed and fundamentally
unsound. Far from helping to fight world hunger, they are standing in the
way of the necessary global shift to sustainable organic agriculture that
can really provide food security and health around the world.
Notes and References
1. Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments calling for a
moratorium on GMOs <www.i-sis.org>
2. Barnett, A. (2000). GM genes 'jump species barrier' The Observer May
3. Gebhard, F. and Smalla, K. (1999). Monitoring field releases of
genetically modified sugar beets for persistence of transgenic plant DNA
horizontal gene transfer. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 28, 261-272; see also
"Horizontal gene transfer happens" ISIS News #5 www.i-sis.org
4. Reviewed by Ho, M.W., Ryan, A., Cummins, J. and Traavik, T. (2000).
Unregulated Hazards: 'Naked' and 'Free' Nucleic Acids, ISIS and TWN Report,
Jan. 2000, London and Penang www.i-sis.org <http://www.i-sis.org>
5. See Old, R.W. and Primrose, S.B. (1994). Principles of Gene
Manipulation, 5th ed. Blackwell Science, Oxford; Kumpatla, S.P.,
Chandrasekharan, M.B., Iuer, L.M., Li, G. and Hall, T.c. (1998). Genome
intruder scanning and modulation systems and transgene silencing. Trends in
Plant Sciences 3, 96-104.
6. This can be seen in the scientific report itself: Ye, X., Al-Babili,
S., Kloti, A., Zhang, J., Lucca, P., Beyer, P. and Potrykus, I. (2000).
Engineering the provitamin A (?-carotene) biosynthetic pathway into
(carotenoid-free) rice endosperm. Science 287, 303-305; see also ISIS
Sustainable Science Audit #1: The Golden Rice - An Exercise in How Not to
Science www.i-sis.org <http://www.i-sis.org>
7. Kohli, A., Griffiths, S., Palacios, N., Twyman, R.M., Vain, P.,
Laurie, D.A. and Christou, P. (1999). Molecular characterization of
transforming plasmid rearrangements in transgenic rice reveals a
recombination hotspot in the CaMV 35S promoter and confirms the
of microhomology mediated recombination. Plant J. 17, 591-601; Kumpatla,
S.P. and Hall, T.C. (1999). Organizational complexity of a rice transgenic
locus susceptible to methylation-based silencing. IUBMB Life 48, 459-467.
8. Ho, M.W., Ryan, A. and Cummins, J. (1999). Cauliflower mosaic viral
promoter - a recipe for Disaster? Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease
11, 194-197; Cummins, J., Ho, M.W. and Ryan, A. (2000). Hazards of CaMV
Promoter? Nature Biotechnology April; Ho, M.W., Ryan, A. and Cummins, J.
(2000). Hazards of transgenic plants with the cauliflower mosaic viral
promoter. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease (in press).
9. N Ballas,N., Broido, S., Soreq, H., and Loyter, A. (1989).
Efficient functioning of plant promoters and poly(A) sites in Xenopus
oocytes Nucl Acids Res 17, 7891-903.
10. Burke, C, Yu X.B., Marchitelli, L.., Davis, E.A., Ackerman, S.
(1990). Transcription factor IIA of wheat and human function similarly with
plant and animal viral promoters. Nucleic Acids Res 18, 3611-20.
11. Wraight, C.L., Zangerl, R.A., Carroll, M.J. and Berenbaum, M.R.
(2000). Absence of toxicity of Bacillus thuringiensis pollen to black
swallowtails under field conditions. PNAS Early Edition www.pnas.org
<http://www.pnas.org>; see also "Swallowing the tale of the swallowtail"
"To Bt or Not to Bt", ISIS News #5 www.i-sis.org <http://www.i-sis.org>
12. "Research Shows Roundup Ready Soybeans Yield Less". News Release
from IARN News Service, University of Nebraska
13. See Biodemocracy News #27 www.purefood.org <http://www.purefood.org>
14. World Population Projections to 2150, UN Population Division, New
15. See Tilman, D., Wedin, D. and Knops, J. (1996). Productivity and
sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems. Nature
16. See Altieri, M., Rosset, P. and Trupp, L.A. (1998). The Potential of
Agroecology to Combat Hunger in the Developing World, Institute for Food
Development Policy Report, Oakland, California; also Rosset, P. personal
17. Over the past four years, US corn exports to the EU have fallen from
$360 million a year to near zero, while soya exports have fallen from $2.6
billion annually to $1 billion- and expected to fall even further as major
food processors, supermarkets, and fast-food chains ban GM soya or soya
derivatives in animal feeds. Canada's canola exports to Europe similarly
fell from $500 million a year to near zero. From Biodemocracy News #27
18. See Ho, M.W. (1998). The Rainbow and The Worm, The Physics of
Organisms, 2nd ed., World Scientific, Singapore; Ho, M.W. (1998, 1999).
Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? Gateway, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin.