- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
Claims of organic food's purity is so much manure
Thursday May 18, 2000
You wrote (Is organic food dangerous? G2, May 16): "In 1998, Avery
published The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food ... It began: 'According to
recent data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control
(CDC), people who eat organic and natural foods are eight times as likely
as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E
coli bacteria (0157:H7).' The trouble was, the CDC denied ever having done
Mr Avery never contended that the CDC had conducted specific studies
comparing the food-borne illness risk in conventional vs organic food.
This is a ruse by the organic foods industry to protect themselves. The
"recent data compiled by the CDC" do exist - I'd be happy to supply you
with a copy. Of the 324 cases of
0157:H7 in 1996 traced by the CDC to contaminated food, 118 were from
organic foods. Considering that organic foods account for less than 2% of
the total food supply, but more than one-third of all food-borne cases,
the "eight times" greater risk statement is conservative.
Hudson Institute, Virginia, US
o I suppose we shall have to wait for deaths from organic food before
there are proper standards for the treatment of manure on organic farms. I
surveyed the Medical Journals for the 1990s and found 13 cases of 0157:H7
from organic food, with two deaths, both young children, out of a total of
about 150 cases. This again is much higher than expected, but is not a
direct comparative study. It is thought that fewer than 5% of all 0157:H7
cases are reported. The first serious comparison of E coli contamination
between organic and conventional food, carried out at the University of
Georgia and reported this year, indicated a 100-fold higher level of
faecal organisms in organic food.
I look to the Food Standards agency to carry out a thorough investigation
and this may either set people's minds at rest or result in the imposition
of new regulations that in my view are long overdue. While
washing vegetables is a sensible precaution for all sorts of food before
use and cooking food kills the dangerous organism, we don't cook lettuce
or other salad vegetables. Washing fails to remove contamination from
sprouting seedlings like mung bean and alfafa - 0157:H7 infections from
this source has killed 12 in Japan and the US, hospitalised 100 with
kidney damage and infected a total of 10,000.
Prof Anthony Trewavas
University of Edinburgh
o Organic farming is normally portrayed as being safer because "we don't
spray". In fact sprays must be derived from natural products. The
following "natural" sprays can be used on Soil Association organic
food: derris, methaldehyde and copper oxychloride. It may be these
chemicals are found naturally in some plant somewhere, but that hardly
means that they are any safer than synthetic pesticides.
Trinity College, Oxford
Date: May 19 2000 00:21:15 EDT
From: "Tracy Sayler"
Subject: Safeway Turns Back GM Foods Resolution
Safeway Turns Back A Genetically Modified Foods Resolution
SAN FRANCISCO - The fight over genetically engineered foods spread to
Safeway as shareholders defeated a resolution this week that would have
removed the products from the chain's stores nationwide.
Stockholders heeded the corporation's arguments: Barring modified foods
was ``impracticable ...and could put Safeway at a competitive
The failed dissident shareholder resolution said by selling unpopular
genetically engineered foods, Safeway wasn't making more money than it
otherwise would on traditional products. Yet, because of uncertainties
regarding safety, it was taking on unnecessary liability.
Safeway is just one of nearly two dozen companies that have faced this
kind of resolution over the past year, filed by New York's Interfaith
Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 300 so-called
``socially responsible'' investment firms and religious institutional
investors. And the coalition has no intention of quitting, said coalition
Some other companies targeted with resolutions have been Coca Cola,
PepsiCo, American Home Products, Archer Daniels Midland, Kellogg,
McDonald's, Campbell's Soup, General Mills, Kroger, Kraft Foods, Procter &
Gamble, Quaker Oats, Sara Lee and Monsanto.
The debate over genetically engineered foods has drawn more shareholder
participation than any other topic in the history of organizing over
corporate responsibility. That includes ending apartheid in South Africa,
said Conrad MacKerron, director of corporate accountability for As You
Sow, a San Francisco nonprofit and part of the national coalition.
``It went from zero to about 23 different companies facing action just in
one year,'' said MacKerron.
After the Safeway vote, Susan Vickers, a member of Sisters of Notre Dame
de Namur in Belmont, Calif., which owns stock in Safeway and supports the
resolution, said: ``Obviously, there needs to be more education on the
part of consumers and corporate management.
``We certainly will not cease our efforts,'' Vickers said. ``It's a real
health and safety issue for human beings around the globe and for our
planet. We have to pay attention to a more rigorous study of what are the
The resolution called for Safeway to stop buying any new foods made of
altered crops - corn, soybeans, canola or potatoes, which form the basis
of many cereals, oils, cookies, soy baby formulas, soft drinks and corn
snacks. It would have required labeling while Safeway phased out the
The food presents risk because toxins that act as insecticides build up in
some altered crops, the resolution said. In addition, it said, engineered
corn pollen may harm Monarch butterflies and some new plants may contain
In response, Steven A. Burd, Safeway CEO, president and chairman, said the
U.S. government and other prestigious groups generally endorse the use of
genetic modification and food biotechnology and ``stand firmly behind
In a statement, the corporation said Safeway would have serious difficulty
determining what constitutes an altered product, and labeling would place
the products at a competitive disadvantage.
(The San Francisco Examiner Web site is at http://www.examiner.com )
Date: May 19 2000 00:35:58 EDT
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Australia and Gene Technology Act
I read in a post to a listserve within the last several days that the
Australian government is about to propose a bill in Parliament that would
regulate gene technology.
I do not know what the draft of the bill states but I do know that the
Environmental Defenders Office (Victoria) Ltd (through Donald K. Anton,
Solicitor) prepared a bill titled, "A Model Act for the Comprehensive
Regulation of Gene Technology 2000." This bill has a heading which reads:
"A Bill for an Act to regulate all activities and dealings involving gene
technology, and for related purposes."
I have not read the bill word-for-word for several reasons, not the least
being that the bill printed on my printer at 132 pages.
The bill regulates gene technology defined in Section 10 as:
"gene technology refers to techniques that involve the isolation,
characterisation, modification of genes or other genetic material and the
introductioin of DNA into living cells or viruses; and includes cell
technology, which refers to techniques for the production of living cells
with new combinatioin of genetic material by the fusion of two or more
Moroever, the bill specifically regulates gene technology in contained use
and in pharmaceuticals, -- i.e. "all" gene technology means all.
I first encountered information about the bill when I received a listserv
e-mail from Donald Anton in which he (paraphrasing) suggested his bill to
the listserv as meeting the needs for a stringent, worthwhile domestic
legal regime regulating gene technology because, in his opinion, the
international law coming from the Biosafety Protocol was riddled with
exceptions, definitional limitations, and ambiguity. He wanted a gene
technology regulation law that had no exceptions, broad defintions for
broad coverage, and clear, unambiguous, comprehensive, and strict
regulation of all gene technology. I wrote to Mr. Anton requesting a copy
and he kindly provided a copy of the Model Act to me.
To give readers a feel for the bill, Section 3(1) of the proposal states:
"The primary object of this Act is to protect the health and safety of
people and animals, and to protect the environment, by identifying risks
posed as a result of gene technology, and by preventing, reducing and
eliminating those risks through regulating certain dealings with GMOs.
This will outweigh any economic or trade advantage that might be derived
from the gene technology to which this Act applies."
I used selected provisions of this proposal for the exam about
international agricultural biotechnology documents that I gave to my
students in my Spring 2000 course in Agricultural Biotechnology. Students
compared the Model Act to the Biosafety Protocol, which we had discussed
in class. Students considered the bill significantly more burdensome and
more antagonistic to biotechnology (gene technology) than the Biosafety
Protocol. I agree with my students. Indeed, with the caveat that I have
not read the proposal word-for-word, I have the impression that the bill,
if adopted in Australia, would regulate gene technology research in the
same way the United States did in the mid-1970s, immediately following the
self-imposed scientific moratorium on biotechnological research fom the
First Asilomar conference.
Please go to http://www.edo.org.au/edovic/policy.html and click on "A
Model Act for the Comprehensive Regulation of GeneTechnology" for a pdf
version of this document.
If I may, I would suggest that Australian scientists, who do any work in
gene technology (broadly defined), or any Australian, who thinks
biotechnology may have some benefit for Australians, human beings,
Australia, and other nations, should read this proposal.
I end with a question: If the information I read was correct that the
Australian government is about to introduce a Gene Technology Act, is the
Act that the Government is about to introduce the Model Act that I have
described or an Act that adopts substantially from that Model Act?
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, OK 73019-5081
FAX (405) 325-6282
Date: May 19 2000 08:21:37 EDT
From: J Ralph Blanchfield
Subject: Prince Chles's principles
I quote below two excellent articles responding to Prince Charles; one by
Steve Connor, Science Editor, in The Independent, 18 May; and the other by
Minette Marrin, in the Daily Telegraph, 19 May. But first, a
few comments of my own.
Prince Charles (or rather his activist ill-advisers who use him as a pawn
to advance their own agendas) is/are at it again. This is not new. As long
ago as 1996 he famously wrote:
""I believe that we have now reached a moral and ethical watershed beyond
which we venture into realms
that belong to God, and to God alone. Apart from certain medical
applications, what actual right
do we have to experiment, Frankenstein-like, with the very stuff of life?
We live in an age of rights
- it seems to me that it is about time our Creator had some rights too ..."
In the ensuing period he has neither reacted nor responded to two
questions that I sent to his Website in response to an open invitation to
the public to comment, and have subsequently posed on several
1. Do you not recognise that, if you are stating a principle you have
immediately compromised it, by saying that you do not accept interfering
with God's rights with food but are happy to do so with medicine?
2. If you adopt the theological approach, can you not conceive that
mankind's ability to improve the quantity and quality of food by carrying
out genetic modification is a God-given talent which should
be used wisely, and not be rejected out of hand?
We need to understand, and Prince Charles needs to understand, and to
help the public to understand that, in addition to whatever may be
achieved by improvements in population control measures, in conventional
agriculture and in more rational distribution of food supplies, feeding
the world's exponentially-growing population over the next few decades
will require a whole array of genetically-modified foods; foods capable of
growing in arid conditions, foods capable of growing in salty soils, foods
with enhanced nutritional properties, plants and animals capable of
resisting diseases that cause enormous wastage of food. Moreover, public
understanding and acceptance of genetic modification are equally essential
for there to be great beneficial advances in the field of medicine. Yes,
there are serious concerns and problems
relating to genetic modification, which responsible scientists recognise,
and which the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) listed in
its Position Statement on Genetic Modification and
There are two possible courses --
That taken by some groups and individuals, which is to exaggerate
problems, and to play on and amplify public fears, with a view to
preventing the acceptance, or even securing the prohibition, of
genetically-modified foods. This is essentially the same approach as that
was adopted by the Luddites, and those who in the past equally bitterly
opposed the legalisation of milk pasteurisation (the public health measure
that has saved more lives than any other, with the single exception of a
clean water supply).
The alternative approach, and one that responsible scientists commend, is
to recognise the real concerns and continue to address them by research
plus appropriate organisational and legislative measures. The
course of mankind's technical advance from being a cave-dweller has always
involved some risk and been fraught with unforeseen problems. The
challenge is, by foresight, and with the enhanced scientific tools
and knowledge now at our disposal, to predict the problems and solve them
before they happen.
HRH has resurrected his "we must not play God" theme. What a curious,
indeed indefensible, convenience to make a "moral" distinction between
"the stuff of life" (food) and "certain medical applications". Isn't it
merely a case that princes (and probably most readers of these words)
don't have to wonder where the next
meal is coming from, but all (even princes) may at some time be in dire
need of "certain medical applications"? It would be salutary for us to
remember the 800 million of our fellow humans who today do not get enough
to eat, and the extra billions of mouths to feed in a few decades time.
The worst immorality, the worst crime that we could commit for the future
of the human race, would be to allow Luddites to make us turn our backs on
the only techniques that will enable us to increase the world's food
supply on the huge scale that will be required, minimising the use of
agricultural chemicals and without vast encroachment on natural reserves..
Of course science ALONE will not solve with the problem of feed the future
world. But it will not be solved WITHOUT science.
"Playing God"? Someone wrote recently that when a religious or moral
leader stigmatises something as "playing God", it always relates to any
new development since the speaker reached early adulthood, never
to anything in place or in operation any earlier.
J Ralph Blanchfield MBE
Food Science, Food Technology & Food Law Consultant
Chair, IFST External Affairs
Web Editor, Institute of Food Science & Technology
IFST Web address <www.ifst.org>
e-mail: ICQ# 6254687.
ICQ Web page
Gulp! GM food is for you
By Steve Connor (Science Editor, The Independent)
18 May 2000
Save the world: plant GM crops
By Minette Marrin
Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2000
IT seems to me both sad and shocking that the Prince of Wales has used
his considerable influence, in his Reith Lecture on sustainable
development this week, to cast grave doubt upon science. He suggested
that science is somehow at odds with nature; that "scientific
rationalists" are at odds with proper feeling and a sense of wonder at
the world; in his call for a sense of the sacred, he even suggested
that a purely secular approach is more or less bound to be
environmentally irresponsible; in other words, the godless are
unlikely to be green, and so are "scientific rationalists".
He spoke of balance, but in effect he has set up a series of false
dichotomies. It is bad enough that this kind of thinking represents a
serious misunderstanding of what science truly is; worse still, it
will support the Luddite tendencies of this country's highly
professional environmental pressure groups, in their irrational and
unscrupulous determination to prevent scientific developments that
could do wonderful things - that already have done wonderful things -
to feed the hungry, enrich the poor and protect our environment.
That is precisely the opposite of what they say they want to achieve,
of course, but they are opposed to reason and to scientific
investigation; Prince Charles's Reith Lecture will only encourage
them. They will also have been very encouraged by the news story of
the day after Prince Charles's speech, that, as one headline put it,
"Rogue GM seeds taint UK crops".
The Ministry of Agriculture had to admit, after a highly questionable
delay of about a month, that large quantities of genetically modified
oilseed rape had been sown by mistake, both last year and this, in
British farmland; unknowing farmers had been sold, by mistake,
Canadian seed of which about one per cent was genetically modified. Of
course, this added to the deep opposition in this country to anything
to do with biotechnology, and a general New Age feeling that we must
stick to what is "natural" and "organic".
It's a wholly understandable feeling, and very powerful. It is
sometimes right, too, as with feeding carrion to cows, in the case of
BSE. But it is very usually wrong - feelings are of no use in judging
empirical evidence, or indeed without it. The public was disgusted by
Jenner's experiments in the 18th century with cowpox, and his
invention of vaccination seemed horribly unnatural. There were
cartoons at the time of humans with lots of little cow's udders
growing from their arms. Had public sentiment prevailed, smallpox
would probably be still with us.
Tinkering with nature, flying in the face of common sense, as science
seems to do, can be very scary. But the truth is that tinkering with
nature, and flying in the face of common sense, to put it in those
emotive and misleading terms, are what has made the West rich,
powerful and in a position to be compassionate to less developed
countries. Tinkering with nature has freed the West from back-breaking
peasant labour, famine, malnutrition and disease - all those evils
from which mankind has begged the gods for deliverance. But
deliverance came from science; scientists have been the great heroes
and heroines of the modern era, and not least among them many great
Prince Charles's opposition to genetically modified crops is well
known; he expressed it again very firmly in his Reith Lecture, arguing
instead for traditional systems of agriculture; "genetic manipulation
[sic]" he said, "seeks to transform a process of biological evolution
into something altogether different". What a pity it is that someone
of his stature has not taken the opposite position. For the truth is
that traditional or organic farming, however desirable it might be in
some ways, cannot feed the world.
What's more, genetic modification is, in fact, very much the same as
evolution, but simply speeded up. Its risks are largely misunderstood,
and usually wildly exaggerated. Its benefits could be dazzling. Many
minds in this country and in the European Union generally are no
longer open. In the United States, by contrast - home of extreme
consumer caution and massive class-action lawsuits - a House Committee
on Science sub-committee has very recently issued a report on the
risks and benefits of GM plants, named Seeds of Opportunity.
It concluded that there is no significant difference between GM plants
and similar plants created using traditional cross-breeding.
Biotechnology can reduce farmers' reliance on chemicals. The report
dealt with many of the common fears about biotechnology, including the
scares about the monarch butterfly, antibiotic resistance, allergens,
cross-breeding with nearby plants and so on, and concluded that GM
plants and foods pose no greater risks than those developed through
It also found that there is no evidence that transferring genes from
unrelated organisms to plants - stories of fish genes in tomatoes and
so on - poses unique risks. (Incidentally, humans share 50 per cent of
their genes with bananas.) In fact, according to this report, biotech
procedures allow for much more careful control and monitoring of risk
than classical breeding techniques. According to Nick Smith, the
chairman of the committee, "in the case of agricultural biotechnology,
the scientific community is as united as I have ever seen it on any
This won't be enough for anti-science, anti-any-unknown-risk zealots,
but isn't it enough for the rational man or woman? One of the most
exciting things about biotechnology is that it is actually very green.
GM plants can produce higher yields, in less favourable climates, with
less ploughing, less fertiliser and less insecticide, or less toxic
insecticide. That means less pollution, less soil erosion, less soil
exhaustion, fewer chemicals in the food chain and less back-breaking
work for humans and animals.
It means using less or no new land, leaving more land uncultivated and
wild; organic farming would certainly mean cultivating more land than
now. It means that more wild life could survive; scares about
butterflies have proved insubstantial. Of course there are all kinds
of problems. The worst is the problem of trust. Hardly anyone really
trusts big business or governments any more; perhaps we should have an
international Citizens' Advice Bureau of disinterested, world-class
scientists. But biotechnology for farming is an opportunity not to be
missed. As Darwin said: "It is not the strongest of the species that
survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to