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July 12, 2000


Responses to Paul Ebert and labeling


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Date: Jul 11 2000 14:13:37 EDT
From: Wayne Parrott
Subject: Re: Paul Ebert's response regarding labeling GM products

>I agree completely. Why is the GM industry afraid of letting the general
>public find out what they are consuming. The general public needs to know
>what they are eating and the implications of this. They will only learn
>when there is labeling of the products they consume. Then they will be
>interested in having an open fair minded discussion.

This statement gets to heart of what labels are for. The philosophy in
the USA is that the public has a right to know what they are eating, and
labeling regulations are geared precisely to address that point. Keep in
mind that genetic engineering is a process, not a product. As such this
process can result in products at are the same as what is already on the
market, or it can result in products that differ in some way. The former
type do not have to be labeled, the latter do.

Wayne Parrott
Dept. Crop & Soil Sciences
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-7272
(706) 542-0928/fax 0914

Date: Jul 11 2000 14:24:23 EDT
From: "J. Bishop Grewell"
Subject: Re: Paul Ebert's response regarding labeling GM products

Regarding mandatory labelling and its costs.

I cannot say that I read the report or know of its quality, but last year
the consultancy of KPMG analyzed the cost of compliance of mandatory
labelling for Australia. The report was commissioned by the Australia New
Zealand Food Authority (and was apparently done before the the decision on
how exactly Labelling would be done was made). Anyway, it found that the
cost of mandatory labelling would be about $3 billion or 7% of the
Australian industry's $42 billion in sales. I won't make a value judgment
on whether that is a significant cost or not, but I trust that most of
that cost would be passed onto consumers.

In my own opinion, I would happily eat cheaper food without labels under
the assumption that the people making the product would rather have me
back for more business in the future than have me harmed by whatever
product they sell. Under mandatory labelling, I don't get that choice for
a cheaper alternative, under voluntary labelling, I do.

Bishop Grewell

Paul Ebert wrote:

> AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Date: Jul 12 2000 23:12:04 EDT
From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: Re: Paul Ebert's response regarding labeling GM products

Paul Ebert RPh., "Non-affiliated independent thinker ", Durango, CO, US

Dear Mr. Ebert:

I see that you are a registered pharmacist. That diploma indicates that
you are well-informed about toxicology and pharmaceutical testing. From
practical experience, you will also be experienced in pharmaceutical
economics. I have some comments on your rebuttal to McHughen.

At 07:54 PM 07/08/2000 -0600, you wrote:
>It is a completely
>different thing to use biotech to insert genes into an organism and then
>that genetically modified organism out into the global environment.

In point of fact, transgenic crop plants, unlike microorganisms, are
unlikely to escape their fields and reproduce uncontrollably. The major
crops have been bred for centuries specifically to eliminate those
characteristics which allowed their wild progenitors to reproduce
successfully in the wild. For example, corn seeds are retained on the ear
inside the husk at the end of the growing season. This fact is well-known
to crop scientists and is a major reason professionals are unconcerned
about this "problem."

>If you
>want a fair comparison you would have to diagnose a plant with a genetic
>disease, then if you feel it necessary to save the plant replace the
>protein without changing the genetic make up of the plant.

Why not go beyond that repair and breed a crop plant that has an improved
function? Improved function has been the goal of crop breeding for
centuries. It is not new. Think of Luther Burbank for one example. Many
of those early breeders are not known to us by name. Consider that bread
wheat was not a product of nature, but of human breeding. Have you tried
to make bread from pasta flour? Pasta wheat (durrum) was one of the
progenitors of bread wheat. People have been improving crops for a long

>I hope the biotech agriculture folks will spare me the rhetoric about how
>biotech agriculture is needed to feed our over populated planet or reduce
>the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Reasonable people and
>have been warning of the problem of environmentally (I refer to an
>environment in which humans evolved and that I think is necessary for a
>quality life.

Humans evolved in an environment of uncontrolled tuberculosis, water
polluted with typhoid and cholera, the air full of malarial mosquitos
etc. Human reason and skill provided public health measures that reduced
and nearly eliminated those problems in the prosperous countries. Why
should we not also improve the environment with insect-resistant crops
which require fewer or no pesticide applications? Why shouldn't folks in
poorer countries enjoy the benefits of this improved technology?

>Yes it has already been drastically modified, but we know
>this, let's not continue the drastic rate of change humans are capable of
>causing.) unsustainable population growth for decades, even longer, I
>Mendel mentioned it.

Providing adequate, healthy food is not the cause of increasing
populations. Whether populations are increasing or not, people in the
developing world need adequate nutrition. Transgenic crops promise to
food not only more abundant, but also healthier. By that I mean not only
that they this food will be more adequately provided with micronutrients
(like iron) and with vitamins and other nutritional factors, but also less
likely to contain fungal carcinogens (like fumonisin and aflatoxins) that
in humid areas commonly occur in grain. According to a recent USDA
"ARS entomologist Patrick F. Dowd found fumonisin levels 30- to 40-fold
lower in Bt corn than in non-Bt varieties." The aflatoxins, in
are some of the most potent carcinogens known.

> The impact on the environment of biotech agriculture
>will only be known many years from now just as the impact of pesticides
>only recognized years after there wide spread use. Unlike pesticides and
>even pharmaceuticals biotech, agricultural products won't simply be able
>be recalled,

Your premise is incorrect. See above.

>therefore biotech agricultural products need to be held to a
>very high standard of testing and public scrutiny of whether the risks are
>worth the benefits. Please see my other AgBioView letter of 7/3/00
>(attached since Professor Prakash did not provide it to the AgBioView list

In fact, transgenic crops are already held to a high standard of
scrutiny. That standard of scrutiny, however, is based on the nature of
the gene that is to be transduced into the plant, not the method used to
breed the plant. This difference is critical to the US system of
regulating transgenic organisms, which I am convinced is a good system.

>Gene therapy in humans when and if it becomes available is extremely
>controversial, as it should be. The ethical dilemma has been debated for
>quite a while, and the technology will require the support of the public
>before it is unleashed - hopefully.

The bioethics of human gene therapy has few (if any) implications for
debating the ethics of plant breeding. I don't see your point.

>The improper use of antibiotic and antivirals and there contribution to
>creation of resistant bacteria and viruses is an important problem with
>use of non-biotech drugs. As a responsible person in the field I will
>scrutinize the potential problem of as yet undeveloped biotech answers to
>human infections and there potential to create new strains of organisms
>resistance and even other unconsidered problems. Fortunately in the US,
>drug approval process is stricter than the food approval process.

The facts and the debate over use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is
unrelated to the issues of breeding transgenic crops.

>Regarding Bishop Grewell's point that mandated labeling is too expensive.
>This is a weak excuse, with all the money the biotech agricultural
>save the industry, they can probably fit it into the budget. As to the
>content of the label, "Contains Artificially Genetically Modified
>Agricultural Products" would be a good start. You are right regulation is
>not simple. People will either ignore the label and just buy based on
>price, marketing, taste, ect. But at least those that care will be
>and if they care they will look into the risk/benefit ratio of consuming
>supporting the product.

I cannot agree. I am unaware of any risks of consuming foods from
transgenic crops. Do you drink beer? Do you eat commercial bread? Do
you drink soft drinks made with high fructose corn syrup? Then you are
consuming the products of gene-splicing technology in microorganisms,
including yeast. Why single out transgenic crops?

If you are really concerned, you'd better become a hermit and live on a
self-sufficient subsistence farm. Your standard of living and your health
might take a dip as a result, but you'll live according to your
self-imposed standards. Please don't ask me to live by your unrealistic

>Jamie Bishop explains an important economic point: separating GM & non-GM
>products would require vast infrastructure expenses. My answer to this
>point is don't build a parallel infrastructure. Let the owners of the
>infrastructure choose to allow GM products to mix with non-GM. When the
>corn or what ever is packaged for the consumer if it contains any GM
>products it gets the label. The consumer then buys it or not.

As a druggist, you should know that high profit margins are enjoyed by
pharmaceutical companies. Those high profits allow the drug makers to
finance the incredibly expensive process of complying with government
safety testing regulations on new drugs and the very expensive GMP rules
for manufacturing approved products. Food is a low-margin business.
Guess what? Demands for separate distribution and labeling and extensive
testing of transgenic crops will make them uneconomical and drive them out
of the market. That is the real agenda of the anti-GMO crowd. They
really want to end the role of technology in food production, and they see
the anti-GMO argument as their lever to pull. They have an argument that
resonates with
the uninformed public, so they pull that lever as hard as they can.

Labeling is an argument that only makes sense if GMO crops are
unhealthy. Since they are not (and may actually be healthier), labeling
is just a ploy of the politically-astute anti-GMO crowd.

Mr. Ebert: Ask yourself, why is it that they people who know the most
about transgenic crops, including professors like C.S. Prakash and Tony
Trewavas, are its most avid supporters? Its opponents are mainly
by reasons that have nothing to do with the environment or with perceived
risks. I will except those worry-warts that find all modern technology
excessively risky. Several of these opponents have become very wealthy
feeding on the worries of others.

I am not employed by the plant biotechnology or seed industries and do not
receive any support from those industries.


John W. Cross

The Charms of Duckweed


Date: Jul 11 2000
From: Malcolm Livingstone Malcolm.Livingstone@tag.csiro.au


Just a quick point. Why do you not consider the discovery of a disease
resistant plant a change to the genome whereas a transgenic plant with the
same gene inserted to be genetically altered? Maize is "naturally" full of
transposons and retroviruses are widespread. Why are these crops not
inherently more dangerous? In fact they are theoretically more dangerous
but clearly most insertion events are neutral. If you are worried about the
escape of genetically altered plants into the environment why don't we ban
maize? This is not meant to be a trivial criticism I seriously can't
understand why maize is OK and transgenic crops are not.

Incidentally I am one of those environmentalists who have been warning of
the dangers of over-population etc. for decades. I am in favour of
sustainable development (a strange term really because I can't see how one
can be against it) I just think that GM technology is one way of attaining
it and I don't see these developments as frightening.

Malcolm Livingstone

The views expressed in this article are entirely my own and do not in
anyway reflect the views of my employer.

At 19:54 8/07/00 -0600, you wrote:
>AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
>Professor McHughen, and the many others that responded,

Date: July 12, 2000
From: "Paul Ebert"
Subject: What is natural


Many people over look the very important distinction between the long term
rate of historical evolution of species and the result on ecosystems
versus the very fast rate of change that we humans can have on the
evolution of species and the result on ecosystems. Natural evolution of
species including genetic changes due to retroviruses or other means is
different when it is forced by human intervention. We can not easily undue
what we have already done, but we can and should learn to take a larger
view of the implications of what we do. Because we have the power to use
methods that are at work in nature does not mean our use of those methods
is of no consequence to the complex interactions of a naturally evolving
global environment.

I am very interested in biotechnology. I think it would be foolish not to
continue the expansion of our knowledge, but as scientist's we should be
careful about how we use what we learn. We should learn from past
mistakes. Most universities require a broad liberal education. I hope that
once one moves into a narrow area of investigation they do not forget to
examine the larger implications of their specialty. I urge you to look at
the past mistakes of humanity's rush to adopt new technologies ignorant of
the long-term impact of seemingly benign action. I commend your interest
in biotechnology. Perhaps the work being done in agricultural
biotechnology can be used to mitigate many of the problems that the global
ecosystem has had forced on it by humankind's power to change the critical
balance that is necessary for a healthy environment.

I heartily support research into how we can use biotechnology to repair
the environment as well as the human condition, but we must be very
careful with a powerful technology. I would like to live in and leave to
those that follow a healthy natural environment, which I believe is
critical to our general and psychological health.


Paul Ebert